Life after death of Niyamat Ansari


FRIDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2013 00:05
SANTOSH NARAYAN | RANCHI , Pioneer

 

Niyamat Ansari’s family is yet to breathe easy. It’s been nearly two years since the whistleblower was killed. His wife Nuroosha Bibi has got work in January this year but is yet to draw her first ‘salary’.

Worst of all, the frightened family has had to abandon its original village Jharua (Manika block) and settle in Latehar town.

On March 2, 2011, Ansari was dragged out of his house, brutally beaten up and murdered by local goons for exposing MGNREGA embezzlement.

Narrating her unending hardship to The Pioneer, Nuroosha Bibi said the family of eight have had to survive on pennies. “We would get some agricultural work on others’ farms and make ends meet. No one gave us land and we were left with some tand (less productive) land only. Nothing but maize grows there,” she says.

After Ansari’s murder, his parents’ old-age pension has proved too little to survive on, leave alone provide proper education to his three children and those of his sister —Saida Bibi, a widow.

Nuroosha has now been given a temporary job in a Government office at Latehar. “I am working in DRDA office on a daily basis since January 22. But they are yet to pay me. The bada babu (senior clerk) told me I would get Rs 195 a day. But that would be for working days only and not for Sundays or holidays. I don’t know how I will manage,” she says in a chocked voice.

The cold-blooded murder had created a furore at national and international levels in 2011. Activists such as Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, Arundhati Roy and others had raised the matter on various platforms. As a result, a team headed by BK Sinha, the then Secretary in Union Rural Development Ministry, visited Kope gram panchayat and filed a detailed report. It admitted rampant corruption and the role of contractors in the rural job scheme.

Despite the attention it grabbed, Nuroosha Bibi was forced to abandon her husband’s house, succumbing to pressure, mostly from associates of forces behind Ansari’s killing. “I had some money from my marriage and also from Saida. By collecting savings, I somehow managed a house at Latehar, though it had no windows or stairs. But I did not want to live in the village. They used to laugh at me, threaten me and pass comments. I was feeling extremely frightened.”

Her sufferings have not ended. About two months ago, money and valuables were stolen from her house and there has been no police action.

The Government deposited Rs 3 lakh as fixed deposit in her name about seven months ago, but not before draining efforts. “The file was moving very slow. We approached officials in Delhi and in Ranchi. Finally, when we met Arjun Munda and Jairam Ramesh (Union Rural Development Minister), the process speeded up,” said Shayama Singh of NREGA Help Line, an NGO working to bring transparency in the scheme.

However, Ansari’s family is still awaiting Rs 1 lakh and a permanent job as compensation that was reportedly announced by former CM Arjun Munda and promised by then Deputy Commissioner Rahul Purwar. It will come only after the case finally concludes, a distant dream indeed.

Nuroosha Bibi is not sure about the fate of the case. “I have no knowledge of legal aspects as I am not very educated. They are in jail but for how long, I don’t know and also when the case is going to end,” she says.

Ansari’s case is just another grim instance on how it does not pay to blow the whistle.

 

#India-The quiet grip of caste


Jean Drèze, Hindustan Times
November 28, 2012
Some time ago I visited a Dalit hamlet in Rewa district. It was hemmed in on all sides by the fields of upper-caste farmers, who refused to allow any approach road to reach the hamlet. There were short roads inside the hamlet, but they stopped abruptly at the edge of it. The hamlet felt like an island, surrounded by hostile territory. I wondered whether any other country still cultivated such absurd and monstrous practices as the caste system. 

The next day I read an interesting article on this subject, written by my esteemed colleague André Béteille (The Hindu, February 21, 2012). The article began by pointing out that the hold of caste in social life is subsiding in many ways. For instance, the association between caste and occupation is becoming less rigid (as Chandra Bhan Prasad puts it more succinctly, “pizza delivery is caste neutral”). Similarly, the rules of purity and pollution are a little more relaxed today than they used to be. Following on this, Béteille argues that “organised politics” is the reason why “in spite of all this, caste is maintaining its hold over the public consciousness”. I submit, however, that there are simpler reasons for the survival of caste consciousness.

The real issue, actually, is not so much caste consciousness as the role of caste as an instrument of power. But the two are linked. To convey the point, some of us collected information on the share of the upper castes in positions of power and influence (POPIs) in Allahabad — the press club, the university faculty, the bar association, and the commanding posts in trade unions, NGOs, media houses, among other public institutions. The sample covers more than a thousand POPIs, spread over 25 public institutions. The share of the upper castes in this sample turns out to be over 75%, compared with around 20% in the population of Uttar Pradesh as a whole. Brahmins and Kayasthas alone have cornered about half of the POPIs — more than four times their share in the population. These are approximate figures, partly based on guessing castes from surnames, but the pattern is clear: upper castes continue to have overwhelming control over public institutions.
An attempt was also made to identify Dalits in the sample. This required further enquiries, since Dalits often do not have distinct surnames. In fact, many of them have no surname, or, at any rate, are listed in official documents (such as employee registers) under names — or nicknames — such as ‘Chote’ or ‘Sunita’. That itself is quite telling. More importantly, there was no evidence of any significant presence of Dalits in the sample institutions, except a few — such as the university faculty — where mandatory quotas apply.

The dominance of the upper castes seems to be, if anything, even stronger in institutions of “civil society” than in state institutions. For instance, in Allahabad the share of the upper castes is around 80% among NGO and trade union leaders, close to 90% in the executive committee of the bar association, and a full 100% among office-bearers of the press club.

Even trade unions of manual workers are often under the control of upper-caste leaders. There is some food for thought here about the grip of the caste hierarchy on social institutions, including some that are otherwise anti-establishment.

Perhaps Allahabad is particularly conservative in caste matters. It is, of course, just one city, and there is no intention here of singling it out for special attention. The point is to illustrate a general pattern that also applies to varying extents in many other parts of India. Indeed, many recent studies have brought out the continued dominance of the upper castes in media houses, corporate boards, judicial institutions, and even cricket teams.

Coming back to the issues raised earlier, it is not clear why “caste consciousness” would die in such circumstances. The dying of caste consciousness, in this situation, would sound like a good deal for the upper castes, since the system of domination would continue without much notice being taken of it. Dalits, for their part, have absolutely no reason to be unconscious of the dominance of the upper castes. A Brahmin who enters the press club and joins the company of other Brahmins and upper castes may be unconscious of the situation, and even feel proud of his lack of caste consciousness. But a Dalit who enters the same room and finds himself surrounded by upper-caste colleagues, some of them possibly active custodians of the caste hierarchy, is unlikely to feel at home. Similarly, the Dalits who are marooned in isolated hamlets of Rewa can be forgiven for feeling a little caste conscious.

No one can be blamed for being born in an upper caste, since it is not a matter of choice.
But perhaps this privilege entails a special responsibility to fight the caste system, instead of leaving that to the Dalits — or worse, obstructing their struggle for equality (like the landlords of Rewa).

Surely, for instance, there is a role for greater attention to “diversity” in public institutions, of the sort that has significantly reduced ethnic or gender imbalances in other countries. What prevents the bar association, NGOs or trade unions in Allahabad from ensuring that they do not become upper-caste clubs? Perhaps there is a constructive role here for caste consciousness of a different kind.

Jean Drèze is visiting professor, Department of Economics, Allahabad University
The views expressed by the author are personal

Appeal for Contributions for Relief Camps in Assam


Over two lakh persons are still housed in relief camps in Dhubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar districts of Lower Assam, in the wake of a series of violent clashes. This is down to about half the peak of nearly five lakh people in camps, making it one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in independent India. All these internally displaced persons fled from their villages in fear of violence, and many because their homes were torched and belongings looted. There is little hope that everyone will be able to return home in the immediate future.

The camps are lodged mostly in schools and college buildings; sometimes a few classrooms and a courtyard house a few thousand people. The Assam state government assumed full responsibility for the camps, and its officials coped with the sudden explosion of the refugees. The state supplied food, some money for utensils and clothes, and ensured primary health protection.

So far the camp residents are only surviving on bare rice and dal everyday. They need at least a plastic sheet to sleep on and mosquito nets. The camps desperately require many more toilets and clean drinking water, the lack of which threatens epidemic outbreaks of cholera, gastro-enteritis and malaria.

Children suffer in many ways. There are no arrangements to study in the camps, and most students lost their books to the fires that consumed their homes. Since most camps are housed in schools and colleges, local students also cannot study.

The state and humanitarian agencies — the latter regrettably substantially absent so far — must help people return and rebuild their homes, schools and livelihoods. Children and young people must be assisted to resume their studies and normal life, without fear and dislocation.

The major duty for relief and rehabilitation lies with the central and state governments. But in a humanitarian emergency of this magnitude, it is important for people of goodwill everywhere to reach out to help and heal, to assist in relieving immediate suffering, but also as a gesture of solidarity and caring with the suffering people of both affected communities, the Bodos and Bengali Muslims.

In a very small initiative, humanist young people have decided to work together for relief and reconciliation. This initiative would be in collaboration with TISS Guwahati. Initially joint teams of young Bodo and Bengali Muslims will supply relief materials and services in the camps together. The initial focus is to support children and youth in these camps with textbooks, play things, clothes, etc, and women with clothes, sanitary napkins etc; and also utensils, treated mosquito nets etc.

We reiterate that this is a very small modest effort, and is not suggesting that this is contributing to any solution of a very complex and old problem. It is just intended as a very small gesture of collective caring. We have set a target to raise at least around 20 lakh rupees initially, to make a small tangible contribution.

We appeal to people of goodwill everywhere to contribute to this small effort. The entire money would be transferred to the joint youth group in Assam, to use entirely for purchase and distribution of relief material in both the Bodo and Bengali Muslim camps. The accounts will be managed by the Centre for Equity Studies, which will get these independently audited, and the audited accounts will be placed in the public domain.

We would also like to request you to widely circulate this appeal amongst your friends and family.

With best wishes,

Amita Joseph, Amitav Ghosh, Anu Aga, Aruna Roy, Avi Singh, Bela Bhatia, Biraj Patnaik, Dipa Sinha, Harsh Mander, Jean Drèze, Karuna Nundy, Kavita Srivastava, Mathew Cherian, Nandita Das, Nikhil Dey, Pervin Varma, Rahul Bose, Ram Punyani, Reeta Dev Barman, Ritu Priya, Sajjad Hassan, Sejal Dand, Sharmila Tagore, Vandana Prasad, Vijay Pratap and Warisha Farasat

For Aman Biradari

For further details, please contact
Jeevika Shiv (9899572770, jeevikas@gmail.com) or Ankita Aggarwal (9818603009, aggarwal.ankita87@gmail.com)

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(Please mention the purpose of the donation while making the contribution and e mail your PAN card number and postal address atanoop_wdk@yahoo.com)

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A/c Number: 4114000100539095, Swift Code: PUNBINBBISB, IFS Code: PUNB0411400
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