Sunday Reading -Satyamev Jayate- Aamir Khan silent on Ambedkar and Reservation !



Silence Eva Jayate
Aamir Khan not only deviously censored any discussion of Ambedkar and Reservation, but seemed content to use the 1920s language of high-caste reformers
S. Anand

This Sunday morning I received a call from a friend who alerted me to the tenth episode of Aamir Khan-anchored Satyamev Jayate since the focus was on caste and untouchability. I mumbled something about his spoiling my Sunday, but tuned in nevertheless. It began with Kaushal Panwar narrating her harrowing tale for about twenty minutes: from her childhood where she was forced to join her mother in cleaning shit to her pursuit of a PhD in Sanskrit. I was glad that the audience heard her say that the discrimination she had experienced in her school in a Haryana village was no different from what she faced in the enlightened campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi—where she continues to be denied a rightful job.

Following Kaushal, we were allowed a glimpse into the life of Balwant Singh, author of the tract An Untouchable in the IAS. I noticed a shot of him looking up to a larger-than-life portrait of Dr B.R. Ambedkar in his Saharanhpur house, and realized that so far—30 minutes into the show—there had been no verbal mention of Ambedkar. Balwant Singh, among the first dalits to enter a career in civil service in post-independence India, had said in his interview that he was perhaps the first and only IAS officer ever to be demoted to the rank of tehsildar. That had been edited out. I intuitively felt the show was going to scrupulously avoid any mention of two key ideas—Reservation and Ambedkar. I was hoping to be proved wrong. I wasn’t.

How did Kaushal Panwar do her BA, MA and PhD and land a job with Delhi University? What is it that facilitates access to hitherto-excluded spaces for dalits? What is the one policy that enables dalits to stop cleaning shit and reclaim their humanity? The one weapon that helps them get an education? Get a job? Reservation. And who made this policy possible? Ambedkar. But Aamir Khan wouldn’t mention the R and A words even once for fear of alienating his middle class audience, which as a friend perceptively said, is fed “bourgeois moralism of the most pathological sort,” on a programme where “the only solution turns out to be nothing more than emotional catharsis”.

Not surprisingly, Khan would also not mention the fact that an atrocity is committed on a dalit every 18 minutes according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The penchant Khan and his research team showed for various laws and statistics in the first two episodes of SJ that I had seen—on prenatal sex determination and domestic violence—was nowhere on display here. Hence no mention of the Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 and its dismal failure to curb violence against dalits. No discussion of a case like Khairlanji, where, in 2006, the mother and daughter, Surekha Bhotmange and Priyanka Bhotmange, had not just been raped repeatedly but tortured in ghastly ways (stripped, paraded naked, with fact-finding reports saying bullock cart pokers were thrust into their vaginas, and that Priyanka was raped even after her death). An interview with Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, the sole survivor of the Khairlanji carnage, may have not fit into the preordained script.

Then the show featured documentary filmmaker Stalin K. Padma and several clips from his three-hour film India Untouched. Again, the cherry-picked excerpts skirted any reference to A and R. In a cringe-worthy moment, Stalin even fawned on Khan and congratulated him for taking up the issue of untouchability on television 65 years after independence.

This was followed by homilies from His Holiness, Justice (retired) C.S. Dharmadhikari, who in his self-introduction, pretending to denounce labels, paraded every label of privilege that adorned his CV—including the ‘blessings’ allegedly bestowed by Adi Sankara on his ancestors. This man could equally pompously announce his Deshastha Brahmanness as his apparent rejection of it. I would have given up right then but for the fact that I had spotted Bezwada Wilson in the audience, and I was waiting to see if this leader of the Safai Karamchari Andolan—a man who had pioneered the demolition of dry latrines across India—would salvage the morning. He too was asked to narrate his early life, and he too shed tears. As did Khan with practised ease.

The next day I called Wilson and told him I was annoyed that even he did not bother to mention Ambedkar and Reservation. Wilson clarified that he indeed had. It had been edited out, as was his rant against the Supreme Court and Parliament—since both institutions had been dragging their feet on the issue of manual scavenging. Then he revealed something that shocked me. He said he had not been in the audience when Kaushal Panwar was being interviewed by Khan. I countered saying I had seen him ‘reacting’ to what Kaushal said on stage. “Even I saw myself in the audience and hence was shocked,” said Wilson. He said Kaushal had been interviewed in total isolation, in an empty studio. And yet on Sunday we saw, every once in a while, close-ups of fretful, anxious, pained and agonised faces of members of the studio audience as Kaushal was narrating her story. They even clapped on cue, like when Khan asked Kaushal her heroic father’s name. Clearly, all this had been manipulated and faked—with clever editing and splicing of shots.

I checked with Kaushal if this was true. It was. I further found that Khan and his team had shot interviews with two members of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry—its chairman Milind Kamble and key advisor Ashok Khade. They were informed just a week ahead of the 8 July telecast that their interviews wouldn’t be aired since they “did not fit in with the story”. In fact, when Chandra Bhan Prasad, mentor to DICCI and an exponent of ‘dalit capitalism’, watched the show with Kamble in Pune, they could not believe their eyes. Kamble’s interview with Khan had been shot with Dharmadhikari and Kamble seated next to each other on the studio couch; but Kamble had been weeded out. Prasad wondered if some ‘dirty trick editing’ made this possible. More likely, Dharmadhikari took a leaf out of Khan’s book and did not mind giving a ‘fresh take’ minus the unsuitable presence of Kamble. I also discovered that every participant on the show is forced to sign a ‘confidentiality agreement’ saying they will not speak about their participation—recorded many months ahead—in any social media.

In his weekly column in The Hindu, Khan began his discourse with “Gandhiji’s struggle” for “those ostracized as untouchables”. Perhaps Khan and his ghostwriters did not ever hear about what young Bhimrao had to face right in Satara at age 10. After a few paragraphs extolling Gandhi, Khan mentions “Babasaheb Ambedkar” in passing, as someone who led the drafting of the Constitution. Since the bulk of SJ’s episode chose to focus on manual scavenging, and since Dharmadhikari and Khan chose to highlight Gandhi’s imagined role in the fight against this practice—an issue largely and sadly neglected even within the dalit movement—let us turn briefly to what Gandhi said about “the most honourable occupation”.

Gandhi wrote in Harijan in 1934: “I call scavenging as one of the most honourable occupations to which mankind is called. I don’t consider it an unclean occupation by any means. That you have to handle dirt is true. But that every mother is doing and has to do. But nobody says a mother’s occupation is unclean.” In another essay entitled ‘The Ideal Bhangi’ in 1936 he wrote, “My ideal Bhangi would know the quality of night-soil and urine. He would keep a close watch on these and give a timely warning to the individual concerned. Thus he will give a timely notice of the results of his examination of the excreta. That presupposes a scientific knowledge of the requirements of his profession.” It is this stranglehold of Gandhism that has kept manual scavenging alive.

Ambedkar held a view that was the exact opposite: “Under Hinduism scavenging was not a matter of choice, it was a matter of force. What does Gandhism do? It seeks to perpetuate this system by praising scavenging as the noblest service to society! What is the use of telling the scavenger that even a Brahmin is prepared to do scavenging when it is clear that according to Hindu Shastras and Hindu notions even if a Brahmin did scavenging he would never be subject to the disabilities of one who is a born scavenger?” Ambedkar argued that in India a man is not a scavenger because of his work, but because of his birth irrespective of whether he does scavenging or not.

Khan and his team not only deviously censored any discussion of Ambedkar and Reservation, they seemed content to use the 1920s language of high-caste reformers. A friend chided me saying I shouldn’t expect Khan to be an activist. But surely my friend did not know how Khan manipulates and fools his audience—in the studio and outside—to nod and cry at moments he chooses. Wilson said, “In fact, during the shoot it was not I who actually began crying. Aamir Khan started to cry, so I was forced to cry along.” Khan obviously thinks we can flush away middle class shit with tears.

S. Anand is publisher, Navayana. A shorter, edited version of this appears in print. OUTLOOK

Why silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment and loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons ?


Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy

Vol – XLVII No. 22, June 02, 2012, economic and political weekely | Anand Teltumbde

Why has there been such a silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment acquitting all those accused of killing 21 dalits? At the same time, what explains their loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons in the textbooks? Has the elevation of Ambedkar as an icon relegated the dalit leadership to a politics of empty symbolism? Is the issue of a lack of accountability in the judicial system towards dalits not more important than the hollow iconisation of Ambedkar?

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Bathani Tola 1996. After 14 years the case was decided by the Ara Sessions Court in May 2010 convicting 23 of the accused; three were awarded the death penalty and 20 with life imprisonment.

The verdict was challenged and the division bench of the Patna High Court delivered its verdict on 16 April 2012, reversing the judgment and acquitting all the accused. The judgment stunned every sensitive Indian who knew the ghastliness of the massacre of 21 dalits in this hamlet in Sahar block of Bhojpur district of the then unified Bihar state on 11 April 1996. It did evoke angry reactions but mostly from family members of the victims at Bhojpur, Gaya, Aurangabad and Arwal, all within 60 km of Patna.

In a ritualistic manner the Nitish Kumar government, accused of disbanding the Justice Amir Das Commission that was instituted by the then Rabri Devi government (March 1998) to investigate the political backing for the notorious Ranvir Sena, issued a statement that the government would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. With that, the massive act of rubbing salt into the wounds of the poor was pushed under the carpet. No television debate, not much media concern or highbrow analysis either!

Another controversy broke out over a cartoon that was drawn 63 years ago by a noted cartoonist of yesteryears, Shankar Pillai ofShankar’s Weekly, which showed Babasaheb Ambedkar sitting on the Constitution depicted by a shell, mounted over a snail and Jawaharlal Nehru with a raised whip behind, all in the public gaze. The cartoon was a part of a Class XI Political Science textbook since 2006 and hence there was something fishy about it being noticed by politicians only now. As the grammar of electoral politics mandates, Kapil Sibal, the union minister for human resource development, with extraordinary sensitivity apologised and asked the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the creator of these textbooks, to withdraw the cartoon immediately. However, the controversy escalated and culminated in the ransacking of the office of Suhas Palshikar of Pune University by some Republican Panther activists who hogged the headlines and prime time on all the television channels.

Notwithstanding the content, at the most basic level these two instances throw up an important question about the attitude of dalits: Why are they moved only by emotional issues and keep ignoring the material issues that impinge upon their existence?

The Ambedkar Icon

The entire dalit emotional charge is concentrated in the Ambedkar icon. Given the monumental contribution of Ambedkar to the dalit cause, it is natural that he is considered as their emancipator, a messiah. Further, given the state of the dalit masses, it is also natural that he is iconised. Ambedkar’s icon replaced their gods and symbolised their self-esteem, honour and prestige. It became their beacon, a rallying point to carry on with their emancipatory struggles. As it did all this, it became susceptible to manipulation by vested interests. The fi rst such manipulation came from within, by a section of college-educated urban dalits who painted it with shades that suited their self-interests. The icon was shorn of Ambedkar’s vision of radical transformation of India expressed, for instance, in States and Minorities and he was portrayed as a caste-based reservationist, constitutionalist, an anti-materialist and mind-centric Buddhist. When electoral politics became increasingly competitive with the rise of the regional parties of the middle castes, the political class realised the importance of the dalit vote bank and used this icon to infl uence dalits.

Suddenly, Ambedkar, who faced ignorance from the mainstream all through his life, became its darling. It began erecting his statues, naming roads and institutions after him and paying eulogies to him. It went on further strengthening this icon in increasingly distorted ways that would distance dalits from reality.

Once entrenched in the psychology of the dalit masses, it became a matter of competitive display of devotion in order to appeal to them. As dalit politics became rent-seeking from the mainstream political parties, many charlatans rushed in as leaders, feigning deep devotion to the Ambedkar icon to claim the support of dalits. The louder one shouted allegiance to Ambedkar, the bigger the leader one became. The more irrationality displayed in devotion to Ambedkar, the better the Ambedkarite. The real Ambedkar was forgotten in this process – Ambedkar, the iconoclast, the painstaking truth seeker, the fearless fighter for the cause of the oppressed, and the universalist dreaming of the world sans exploitation and humbug. It was forgotten that he struggled to solve the existential problems of dalits. Even his decision to renounce Hinduism and embrace some other religion had actually emanated from the need to counter the vulnerability of dalits in villages if one goes by his original explanation in Mukti kon Pathe (“Which way the deliverance”) which basically is about their atrocity-prone existence. And of course, he lamented at the fag end of his life that whatever he did just benefited the urban dalits and he could not do much for the rural folks.

The Cartoon Controversy

It is this iconisation that is behind the cartoon controversy. Without going into whether such a cartoon was necessary to be included in the textbook, given the proclivity of society to negatively interpret it, the fact remains that it was there for the last six years. If it had not caused any problem until now, it was unlikely to do so in the future. One need not accept the explanation provided by Palshikar, one of the advisors to the NCERT, that the cartoon was meant to enliven interest in young minds insofar as it presented a piece of the past before them, and was complex enough to yield various interpretations. But that in no way warrants ransacking his office. It is sad that it was the activists of the Republican Panthers – the radical non-parliamentary outfi t that has forced the overzealous state to incarcerate its members (Shantanu Kamble, Sudhir Dhawale and many others) for their revolutionary profession – who attacked Palshikar. It only shows how deeply internalised the Ambedkar icon is among dalits that it overwhelms even their revolutionary politics.

The controversy was raked up by Mayawati in Parliament, who badly needs to reconsolidate her core constituency of dalits in the wake of the fi ssures that showed up in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in order to be prepared for the general elections any time before 2014. It has been the core stratagem of her party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, to make creative use of icons to build and maintain its constituency. Not to be left behind, all other dalit leaders, particularly the more unscrupulous ones like Ramdas Athawale (who has established an alliance with the anti-Ambedkar Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party combine) and Thol Thirumavalavan (the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (dalit panthers) of Tamil Nadu, who switches from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)to All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to DMK with ease as per the electoral prospects), raised their angry voices. As if there are no issues other than the Ambedkar icon (and of course reservations) to vent their anger!

The increasing misery of the vast majority of dalits in the absence of quality education, falling job opportunities (reservations arguably cater to only a minuscule section and that too the relatively welloff among them), declining public health and general contraction of the democratic spaces are all of no issue to them. Such is the power of the Ambedkar icon that for dalits Mayawati spending Rs 86 crore to renovate her residence or Athawale building a palatial house in a prime location in Mumbai have become non-issues. Even the rising incidents of atrocities which dishonour their women every day and devour their lives have become non-issues!

Dalit Blood, No Issue

The acquittal of all the 23 Ranvir Sena men who butchered 21 dalits in Bathani Tola therefore does not become an issue for the dalit leadership today. Bathani Tola is not a unique case; it only reinforces the pattern formed by many such judgments in other atrocity cases. For example, the Karamchedu (Andhra Pradesh) case went exactly the same way as the High Court of Andhra Pradesh acquitted all the 50 accused. It was only in the Supreme Court, after 23 long years, that one accused was awarded life imprisonment and 30 others were given varying amounts of punishment upto three years. In Khairlanji (Maharashtra), in the wake of a public uproar, the special district court had awarded death to six and life imprisonment to two, which was foolishly celebrated by some dalits leaders who forgot the fact that 35 culprits were already discharged and the court had taken away the very ground for harsher punishment by observing that there was no conspiracy, no sexual violence, and no caste angle. In the infamous Laxmanpur-Bathe (Bihar) carnage by the Ranvir Sena, the verdict of the lower court came after almost 13 years, sentencing 16 people to death, 10 others with life imprisonment and a Rs 50,000 fine, while acquitting 19 for lack of evidence. The pattern indicates that the lower courts, under public pressure, award harsh punishments, the high courts mostly invalidate them and if they are persisted with, the Supreme Court upholds parts of it. The long legal battle, which no ordinary dalit can afford, effectively takes away any justice from the fi nal judgment.

Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik recently (17 April 2012) expressed concern over the dismal conviction rate (just 3% to 8%) in such atrocity cases. This exposes how the atrocity cases, which are admitted with extreme reluctance by the police, are deliberately weakened in the investigation or invalidated by non-compliance of rules, mishandled by the prosecution in the courts, and at times perversely adjudged by the courts themselves under political pressure.

In the Bathani Tola case the court rejected the evidence of the eyewitnesses on the weird argument that they could not have been present at the scene. If they had really been there, the court observed, they would have all been killed.

What lies at the root of this malady is the total lack of accountability in such a legal process. Is that not an issue for dalits to agitate against?

Cartoons All! Politicians and Self-Seekers


MAY 14, 2012

The uproar over what is being referred to as the ‘Ambedkar cartoon’ in the class XI textbook prepared by NCERT first began over a month ago, that is to say, almost six years after the books have been in circulation, been taught and received high praise for their lively style and a critical pedagogical approach (more on this below).  It was a political party – one of the factions of the Republican Party of India – that decided to kick up a ruckus over ‘the issue’ – that is, the ‘affront’ to Dr Ambedkar that the cartoon in question supposedly constitutes, and the resultant ‘hurt sentiments’ that it has caused. Very soon everyone began to fall in line, and practically every member of our august Parliament was vying with one other to prove that  they were indeed more hurt than their colleagues. One of them, Shri Ram Vilas Paswan has even demanded that the NCERT itself should be dissolved!

Good old Jurgen Habermas – and good old Habermasians  – have always invested a lot in forums like the parliament, that are to them the hallowed institutions of ‘rational-critical discourse’ where through reasoned argument people convince each other. That is how the voice of Reason ultimately prevails in democracies. I have always been suspicious of this claim and have thought that Habermas’ empirical work on the decline (‘structural transformation’) of the public sphere was more insightful than his normative fantasies. Long long ago, his empirical work on the transformation of the public sphere showed that it was the rise of political parties that had actually destroyed all possibilities of ‘rational-critical discourse’, where organized passion in the service of immediate political interests carried the day.

But believe it or not, the text book and the cartoon that is now in the eye of the storm, isnormatively speaking a Habermasian tract. In other words, it invests too much in this fantasy of rational communication. The text below the cartoon (reproduced above) says:

” Cartoonist’s impression of the snail’s pace with which the Constitution was made. Making of the constitution took almost three years . Is the cartoonist commenting on this fact? Why do you think the Constituent Assembly took so long to make the Constitution?”And much as I personally disagree with this  romantic representation of what went on inside the Constituent Assembly, here is what the textbook it self has to say, perhaps as its own answer to the question posed in the text below the cartoon:..

Read more at Kafila

Ambedkar Cartoon Debate: A Perspective


 

Ambedkar Cartoon Debate: A Perspective

 

A raging controversy has erupted over a 1949 cartoon of Ambedkar and Nehru in a NCERT political science textbook, leading to an uproar in Parliament, and an announcement by the HRD Minister that the textbook would be withdrawn from circulation till the cartoon was removed.

We strongly condemn the attack by a mob on the Pune office of Suhas Palshikar, one of the authors of the textbook. Political leaders should stop orchestrating such violence, that smack of the right-wing assaults on dissenting voices. Debate on educational content is welcome, but cannot be dealt with through physical attacks. There is an urgent need to view the matter at hand in the light of reasoned debate. The note below is our stand on, and contribution to, this debate.     

 

On the one hand presence of the 1949 cartoon by noted cartoonist Shankar in the NCERT textbook, is being described as offensive to Dr. Ambedkar, and as part of a political conspiracy to denigrate Ambedkar. On the other hand, the makers of the textbook have resigned in protest against what they hold to be the infringement on academic freedom, and there has been an outcry against censorship. We hold that there is a need to go beyond these two polarized and black-and-white positions, and consider the issues involved, in a spirit of reasoned debate.

First, is the cartoon as it appears in the textbook, really indicative of a malign attempt to denigrate Dr. Ambedkar? To arrive at an answer, let us take a closer look at the concerned chapter, as well as the process of preparation of the textbook.

The concerned chapter, in which the cartoon in question appears, is titled ‘Indian Constitution: Why and How.’ The chapter closely examines the democratic goals, political debates and political interests that informed the process of preparing the Constitution. It is as such very sensitive to the question of caste and communal discrimination and civil liberties. For instance, the section subtitled ‘Limitations on the powers of Government,’ discusses a scenario where the authority empowered to make laws, enacted laws that imposed dress codes, curbed freedom to sing certain songs, or decreed that “people who belonged to a particular group (caste or religion) would always have to serve others and would not be allowed to retain any property” or “that only people of a certain skin colour would be allowed to draw water from wells.” It then explains how one of the functions of the constitution is to set limits on government’s powers, by specifying fundamental rights, civil liberties, and other principles that no government, as a rule, can trespass.

Apart from the Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon by noted cartoonist Shankar, there are several other cartoons that are featured in the chapter, each accompanied by certain thought-provoking questions, which can be answered by reading the chapter’s text itself. For instance, there is a telling cartoon, also by Shankar, on page 7, showing Nehru with two faces, one turned towards a concert of politicians singing Jana Gana Mana, and another turned in the direction of politicians chanting Vande Mataram. The text below comments “Here is Nehru trying to balance between different visions and ideologies,” and asks students to identify these contending forces and try and think about who would have “prevailed in this balancing act?”

The cartoon that is at the centre of the debate, appears on page 18. The text beneath it reads: “Cartoonist’s impression of the ‘snail’s pace’ with which the Constitution was made. Making of the Constitution took almost three years. Is the cartoonist commenting on this fact? Why do you think, did the Constituent Assembly take so long to make the Constitution?” If one reads the accompanying text relating to deliberations of the Constituent Assembly, the answer to the above questions that is suggested is certainly not that Ambedkar was slowing the process and Nehru trying to whip him into going faster. Instead, the text actually spells out the different contending ideas and the painstaking and time-consuming debates, in a very positive light, as an exemplary democratic process. It says, “The voluminous debates in the Constituent Assembly, where each clause of the Constitution was subjected to scrutiny and debate, is a tribute to public reason at its best. These debates deserved to be memorialised as one of the most significant chapters in the history of constitution making, equal in importance to the French and American revolutions.”

So, the textbook as such does not endorse the criticism of the ‘snail’s pace’ of the Constitution. Rather it presents the cartoon as a contemporary comment, and then asks students to consider if the comment is justified? It asks why did it take so long? Was the time for debate well spent? Isn’t it healthy for democracy to take a long time to work out a consensus through reasoned debates?

Further, it is also true that in the process of drafting the textbook, several academics, including leading dalit social scientists, were shown the textbook, who did not at the time make any objections to the inclusion of the cartoon.

A Case for Review of the Cartoon

A close reading of the chapter in the context of which the cartoon appears, establishes that the cartoon and the textbook were unlikely to be motivated by anti-dalit intent. However, that said, is the cartoon itself appropriate or sufficiently sensitive to the context of a society where biases against dalits continue to be rampant, and where dalits are often treated as and held to be subservient to upper castes, and where Ambedkar statues are often vandalised? Surely, there is need to subject the cartoon too, to the process of ‘public reason’ that the textbook itself upholds in its discussion of the Constitution?

The cartoon shows Ambedkar on a snail called the Constitution, driving it with a whip, and Nehru behind him, whip in hand, while the entire nation watches. The problem arises from the perception: is Nehru driving the snail with a whip? Or is he driving Ambedkar with a whip? If the latter, then the image of an upper-caste PM driving a dalit – that too a leading dalit figure who is an icon to the dalit community – with a whip, makes for uneasy viewing. That it did not rouse such a response in its own day, and that Ambedkar himself did not object, is beside the point. Today, the aroused political consciousness of the dalits has made us all more sensitive to such problems of representation, and rightly so. Similarly, many images of women which in 1949 might not have aroused comment, would certainly invite objections today. 

The NY Post once had to apologise after there was a furore against a cartoon it carried, depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee who has been shot dead by police officers, who comment, ‘They’ll have to find someone else to write the next Stimulus Bill” (the scene was a parody of an actual incident where a chimpanzee who violently attacked a woman was shot dead). The cartoon was, on the face of it, a comment on the ‘Stimulus Bill’ being introduced by the US Government. Now, cartoons depicting George Bush as an ape did not invite protest. But the depiction of the US’ only black President as an ape being shot dead, raised uncomfortable resonances of the long history and continuing racist culture of depicting black people as sub-human and inflicting violence on them. Is it not possible that the cartoon showing Nehru and Ambedkar might (perhaps without the intention of the cartoonists and the textbook authors) carry similar resonances evoking the history and continuing culture of holding dalits to be subordinate to upper castes, as ‘taadan ke adhikari’ (deserving of a thrashing)?

It is true that all those who prepared the textbooks, and the experts including dalit intellectuals to whom it was sent, did not, during the preparation of the textbooks, see the cartoon as objectionable. But if in retrospect, there is widespread resentment against one interpretation of the cartoon and the wisdom of its place in the textbook; if the cartoon is seen as having a (possibly unintended) potential to strengthen caste prejudices and distract from the overall spirit and purpose of the chapter, we believe there should be a review of the cartoon. We believe the authors of the textbook should be open-minded and willing to reconsider the wisdom of their choice, and that there should be a review of that cartoon in that chapter, by a panel of academics including the authors as well as leading dalit intellectuals. If the panel finds the cartoon to have any potential to strengthen casteist notions, it should be replaced with more appropriate content.  

 

No to the Culture of Censorship and Bans,

But Yes to Willingness to Revisit Textbooks in the Light of Democratic Concerns and Egalitarian Principles   

Should we support the ban on the cartoon and textbook imposed by the HRD Minister? In the first place, we question the commitment and concern of the range of leaders who are doing politics over the cartoon. After all, we wonder why not a single of these leaders – be it of the ruling Congress, or the Dalit and ‘social justice’ parties – is yet to raise any concern inside Parliament over the recent shocking acquittal of all the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre, where 21 dalits, mostly women and children were slaughtered by an army of upper caste landowners?

Secondly, we must recall the ugly precedents of right wing forces dictating bans and censorship of educational material – be it the question of beef-eating in textbooks of ancient history, the recent withdrawal of Rohinton Mistry’s novel in Mumbai University, or that of AK Ramanujam’s essay in Delhi University. A culture of political decrees on the content of our textbooks and curricula is extremely dangerous and unhealthy. Such educational material must be decided through a process of reasoned debate and discussion. And we should also not play into the hands of the prevailing culture of banning expressions of political dissent: Mamata Banerjee’s crackdown on a cartoon of her, and Kapil Sibal’s attempt to remove images critical of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi from the internet are cases in point.

However, while firmly rebuffing censorship and bans, we should always be willing to revisit educational material in the light of fresh concerns about upholding egalitarian principles.

 

Will Reviewing the Cartoon Be a Surrender to Attacks on Academic Freedom?

One question is being asked: “If we agree to review this cartoon in response to hurt dalit sentiment, tomorrow will we able to protest and object when right-wing groups demand deletion of anything claiming ‘hurt’ to hegemonic ‘Hindu sentiment’, as the saffron right routinely does?” This argument is flawed. There is a world of difference between amending a textbook to appease certain political or social groups, and between doing the same to uphold democratic principles and egalitarian values. After all, when the saffronised textbooks of the BJP regime were replaced, was it an act of censorship or ‘appeasing’ minority sentiment – or was it a necessary act of correcting bias? This time, too, the cartoon should be reviewed, not only because dalits say it hurts them, but because there is a possibility that it goes against egalitarian values and is not sufficiently sensitive to the dominant discriminatory culture that prevails in society.

Would review of the cartoon amount to denial of freedom of artistic or academic expression? No, because textbooks should be a collective endeavour, seeking to encourage and uphold democratic values and egalitarian principles. This particular textbook too is a product of such a process – and there is nothing undemocratic about revisiting that process in the light of fresh concerns about egalitarian values.

Kapil Sibal has hinted that all cartoons that ‘disparage’ any political leaders might be reviewed, and now other MPs too have objected to all the cartoons in the textbook, on the grounds that they show politicians ‘in a bad light’, and is therefore ‘dangerous for democracy’! This is preposterous and must be opposed tooth and nail. All public figures are legitimate subjects for lampoons, and banning such would amount to banning dissenting voices. Most cartoons in the textbook under question actually strengthen democracy by encouraging a questioning rather than reverential mindset in students. In this context, this particular cartoon of Ambedkar and Nehru should be reviewed, not because it is critical of leaders, but to investigate if it has a potential to reinforce discriminatory caste stereotypes, and to replace it in case it does so.

This particular cartoon in the textbook should therefore be subjected to a serious process of review by an appropriate panel of academics including the authors and other experts including leading dalit intellectuals. And if the cartoon is found wanting in sensitivity to existing discriminatory caste stereotypes in society, it should be replaced.

 

Issued by All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Left and Democratic Teachers’ Forum (LDTF) 


Contact: aisahq@gmail.com,   

Anand Patwardhan’s paean to Dalits, that took 14 years to compose


A Song that will be sung

Anand Patwardhan’s paean to Dalits, that took 14 years to compose, probes even as it praises, says Saroj Giri in Tehelka

Tragic remains People killed in the police firing in Ramabai Colony in 1997

THERE IS an entrenched tendency to represent Dalits fighting for rights and reservations as just (another) competitive bloc vying for self-interest and power. It leads to a pernicious inversion: ‘Dalit rights’ dividing the nation along caste lines. Victim as perpetrator! Anand Patwardhan’s film Jai Bhim Comrade takes us beyond the grid of cynical power, revealing a vibrant and militant world. It is structured around the double movement of a paean and an elegy. Yet it ends on a note of optimism.

PatwardhanPhoto: Shailendra Pandey

This world is brought to life through intimate portraits of ordinary people, activists and artists in their struggle and in the everyday, often through a telling and retelling of the life and teachings of Dr BR Ambedkar. You see Dalits able to distinguish their politics and struggle at the level of a lullaby, resolve it at the level of school children, question the existence of God or of ordinary people singing the virtues of reason and celebrating festivals outside of the Hindu calendar — a wide and captivating array of images.

The film brings this world to life without any apparent mediation. No authoritative voiceover: it speaks through the voices of people and music, through personal conversations, cultural expression and political speeches. Patwardhan’s forte is his deep immersion in Dalit life, unaffected and sincere, spread over 14 years. In particular, his close comradeship with the late Vilas Ghogre, the Dalit-Marxist artist, inspired the film.

In spite of the immersive positioning, the film is not an ethnography (as Patwardhan has pointed out elsewhere) since ‘politics’/struggle is constantly in focus. And yet, the film avoids foregrounding the internal struggle among the followers of Ambedkar on key political questions — something which would have cast the Dalit world and the immersion in it in a different light.

Scenes of Dalit workers engaged in back-breaking labour in garbage dumps under abject conditions are juxtaposed with fiery speeches and songs in progra – mmes by leaders elsewhere. The major running thread is the aftermath of the Ramabai Nagar (Ghatkopar, Mumbai) police firing on Dalits protesting the desecration of Ambedkar’s statue in July 1997. Ten Dalits were killed and Ghogre committed suicide in protest and horror. Dalits narrate accounts of gruesome atrocities elsewhere in Beed, Khairlanji and other places, and the stony complicity of the state machinery. Official records show that two Dalits are raped and three killed daily in India. The actual statistics are higher.

Scenes of stark injustice contrast with equally stark compromises and betrayals that slowly and depressingly unfold in Dalit politics. Bhim Sena and Shiv Sena join hands, Narendra Modi garlands Ambedkar, Dalit masses applaud. Dalit leaders hobnob with the Congress and the Shiv Sena or BJP, precisely those who engineered atrocities. The politics of forgetting and remembrance reaches a feverish pitch. Towards the end, the court verdict on Ramabai Nagar again exonerates the prime accused, Manohar Kadam, the police officer who ordered the firing. In a travesty of justice, he is let off on bail and his punishment again recedes to the background.

Official records show that two Dalits are raped and three killed daily in India. The actual statistics are higher

The vibrant, defiant spirit of Dalit life-world now seems to be sapped. Corrupt and dubious forces do not reject this world but appropriate it! The paean gives way to elegy. The film now tries to emerge from its immersion, possibly wash it off and retrieve an optimistic point towards the end. The way it does this recasts all that has gone before, revealing how the film is silently structured.

This optimism is expressed in the agency and voice of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a cultural organisation which wants to start afresh. They foreground the internal struggle within Ambedkar’s legacy, so that there is no one Bhim. Sheetal Sathe and her team sing from a Spartan stage. She insists, with a beaming face, on a new Bhim, opening a new register in the narrative. KKM’s politics and aesthetics, crisp and rhetoric-free, avoid invoking Ambedkar as an icon or messiah, instead appealing to the people to get mobilised — a clear departure from the cultural performances and political speeches that raise Ambedkar and let the Dalits down.

Now there is no one Dalit life-world in which to immerse or just one Bhim to follow. There is not even an autonomous Dalit specificity based purely on caste. ‘Dalit’ as a generic term for the oppressed and exploited invokes the question of class. It’s a body blow to any kind of ethnography, a kind of a critique of the film’s dominant trope of immersion — is this why the film later invokes Sheetal’s mother who tangentially critiques or restrains the KKM? Was the earlier immersion then enabled by ‘choosing not to choose’ to split Ambedkar’s legacy?

The question assumes salience since this perspective takes us back to the period after Ambedkar’s death in 1956 to a tradition within Ambedkarites that examined caste through class and land relations. Recall the famous ‘Jail Bharo’ campaign for the redistribution of surplus land to the landless peasants in Konkan region of Maharashtra. It was led by the ‘rustic’ Dadasaheb Gaikwad, eventually sidelined as unfit to carry on in the footsteps of Ambedkar as a ‘saheb’ doing high politics, with university degrees and law books in hand. Or RB More, a close associate of Ambedkar and chief organiser of the Mahad Satyagraha (1927), who parts ways with Ambedkar by joining the Communist Party.

So class was a live issue even among Ambedkarites like Gaikwad. The Left might have been one-sided in their focus on class but that cannot be a pretext to then drive class out of the picture. For that will undermine even an effective caste struggle — which is the real (disavowed?) lesson of the film. The question unasked: if the Shiv Sena-BJP is able to co-opt Dalit voices, was there something in the iconisation of Ambedkar which allowed this to happen?

PATWARDHAN’S EARLIER masterpiece Father Son and Holy War (FSHW) wonderfully exposed the ideals of machismo underlying Hindutva politics — how high symbolic politics derives from certain enduring social mores in the mundane everyday practices. But is Dalit politics or Left politics too informed by such or a different kind of a machismo? In Jai Bhim Comrade, an elderly woman claims to follow Ambedkar’s critical approach but is unsure of extending it to her relationship with her domineering husband. An FSHW moment?

The film is a repository of a rich and textured lived social history where caste and class intertwine. Ghogre, the story goes, was wearing a blue band (Ambedkarite colour) at the time of his suicide, thereby apparently affirming his ultimate castigation of Left politics as unable to address the caste issue. Let us accept this castigation. But recall Ghogre singing a working class song, Ek Katha Suno Re Logo, Hum Mazdoor ki Karun Kahani in a working class area in Mumbai with tall buildings in the background — a striking image. The associated affect and the emergent structure of feeling are absolutely revolutionary and proletarian. It has a richness accruing precisely from an absence, without a grand stage, without the symbolic excess or rhetoric of the kind we see in the other Dalit cultural programmes that one way or another overlap with mainstream Hindu programmes. No wonder the filmmaker too seems more attached to what can be seen as a proletarian singing scene, which is neither specifically Dalit nor neo-Buddhist. Is class and its symbolic field entering the picture again? There are several other instances like this in the film.

Far cries Stills from Jai Bhim Comrade

Can we then say that the film’s portrait of Dalit politics unfolds into an elegy of a pure caste-based politics? Isn’t Patwardhan, in spite of his apparent conscious intentions, reinstating class and giving it its due? Nothing to be depressed about, however. One starts with caste and wants to stay with it (the rational conscious movement of the film), partly to make up for the apparent blind spots of the Left parties. And yet, in the search for optimism, class sneaks in (the disavowed movement) not to undermine caste but to firm it up, to make it politically legible and efficacious for a radical politics — happening here under the sign of a new Bhim. Thanks to the rich complexity of the film, such fine conjunctures of caste and class are made visible.

One starts with caste and wants to stay with it, partly to make up for the apparent blind spots of the Left parties

This has immediate resonance. With the upward mobility of the OBCs (responsible for most recent attacks on Dalits), caste as the basis of atrocities on Dalits attains a deadly efficacy when it is stamped by the distinction of class. More starkly, this concerns Dalits themselves: the case in Khairlanji is a gruesome illustration. Dalits in top administrative posts refused to side with Dalits facing terrible violence at the hands of upper castes. As is well-documented, having undergone ‘class transformation’, Dalits in top administrative posts sided with upper caste perpetrators of the heinous attacks on poor Dalits.

Finally, the basic dilemma of Left politics today comes to the fore. Popular movements and electoral mobilisation of the marginalised are appropriated by mainstream or right-wing parties, the judiciary and courts again and again let you down, while those who still resist and dissent (like the KKM) are labelled Maoists. And not making matters easy is Sheetal’s mother who has this to say: “At every performance, my children assured me that they’d never take up arms, that they’d change the world only through song and drums.” What is to be done? The film is an artiste’s passionate plea to pose the question again for radical politics. It is a powerful intervention.

Giri teaches Political Science at the University of Delhi.

Children of god ?- Kuldip Nayar


Kuldip Nayar

Kuldip Nayar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kuldip Nayar

in Dailystar
When an Australian editor posed a question to the Indian press on why it never had a dalit, the untouchable, at a top position in journalism, I felt embarrassed. I considered it an omission which should have been rectified long ago and felt confident that it would happen before long.

But after noticing that no attention was paid a few days ago to the 121st anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a Gandhi for the dalits, I have come to believe that the discrimination against the dalits is a prejudice which would take many decades to wear off. They are at the lowest rung of the Hindu society which develops a bias against them at an early age and has no shame in perpetuating it.

The only thing to remind Dr. Ambedkar was a full-page advertisement sponsored by the central government in leading newspapers. There was also a small function around his portrait in the central hall of parliament which is out of bounds for an ordinary citizen. I did not see television channels showing any programme on Dr. Ambedkar, nor did I find any edit or article in any newspaper to recall his services.

Dr. Ambedkar is the framer of India‘s constitution and we owe the parliamentary system to him. This is enshrined in the constitution. I recall how boldly he stood in parliament to have a provision against untouchability, the bane of Hindu society, and how he expressed hope that the prejudice would disappear. Yet the upper caste has proved him wrong.

Reservations given to the Scheduled Castes, namely the dalits, are laid down in the constitution. But this was despite his opposition. He was against reservations which he compared with crutches by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and other Congress leaders prevailed upon him to accept the provision for 10 years.

Little did Dr. Ambedkar realise at that time that political parties on the one hand and the vested interests among dalits, particularly the creamy layer, on the other would go on prolonging reservations for electoral advantage. So demanding is this consideration that reservations are given extensions decade after decade without a debate in parliament.

The Hindu society should be grateful to Dr. Ambedkar that he and his followers embraced Buddhism. He had threatened to convert to Islam along with his dalit followers to escape discrimination. Mahatma Gandhi beseeched him and even threatened to go on fast unto death. Dr. Ambedkar bowed before the wishes of Gandhi but refused to return to the fold of Hinduism.

Even conversion has not helped the dalits. They are more or less treated in Islam, Christianity or Sikhism in the same way as in the Hindus society. The dalits carry the tag of discrimination and helplessness wherever they go, although the three religions claim equality for the followers. Therefore, the dalits have not escaped the rigours of caste system even outside Hinduism. The Sachar committee has pointed out the inhuman treatment meted out to them even when they have embraced Islam.

Gandhiji christened the dalit as Harijan, Son of god. But it reflected a patronizing attitude which the dailit scornfully rejected. Why the dalits, who constitute some 17% of India’s population, have continued to stay in the Hindu society despite all the insults heaped on them is beyond me. They have never revolted nor have they taken any step to harm the Hindu society which still does not give them even a modicum of individuality.

A few years ago some dalits, led by Kanshi Ram, constituted a political party of their own, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). It has won them political recognition but not social status. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, despite corruption and her authoritarian trait, has given dalits the feeling that they can go to the police station and register complaints. They are offered even chairs as is the case with members of other communities. Home Minister P. Chidambaram‘s advice to dalits to join major parties to enjoy power does not mean much. They followed the Congress faithfully for 45 years. but their lot has remained the same as it was.

Even now the dalits carry night soil on their head. The government proposes to prohibit the practice which was contemplated 50 years ago. The home ministry issued instructions even at that time. Apparently, very little has happened since because the government is enacting a law to stop the practice. The dalits would do well if they were to refuse to carry night soil on their head. Yet they are economically so poor that they cannot afford to risk the livelihood.

At the same time, crimes against the dalits have not lessened. There is a proposal to give arms to them in what are called “atrocity prone areas.” Obviously, the government has failed to protect the dalits and their property. Unfortunately, the police force is also on the side of the landlords and other vested interests who treat the dalits as their subject like the maharaja used to do.

Official figures reveal that there is a huge backlog of cases relating to the atrocities committed against the dalits. Had the centre been serious about preventing atrocities against them it would have taken measures like special courts, fast track prosecution and steps to dispose of cases quickly. Strangely, the Patna High Court has acquitted all the 23 persons accused of perpetrating the massacre of 21 dalits at Bathani Tola in Bhojpur.

It should have been clear by now that no law or no government action can do away with the evil of untouchability. You cannot succeed if the mindset does not change. What the children have grown up with in the name of tradition or religion is prejudiced and cannot be effaced until the society is forced to give up bias which has got entrenched.

The country needs a social revolution. Alas, I do not find any meaningful movement to bring it about. Take, for example, the belief that girls are a burden. How many of them are killed either in womb or after birth is not possible to count. That it happens mostly in north India, particularly Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP is no solace.

A sustained effort to change the mindset and remove the clogs of superstition can make a dent into this widely prevailing evil. But no political party is interested in doing so. Nor are the activists because they are aiming at economic changes. Social problems are begging for attention.

The writer is an eminent Indian Journalist.

The grammar of politics and anarchy


On Ambedkar’s birth anniversary remembering his prophetic words about protecting constitutional methods

Ajit Ranade

Posted On Saturday, April 14, 2012 ,Pune Mirror

When Dr Bhimrao Ambedkarwarned against the real dangers to democracy, he was both prescient and propheticBhimrao Ambedkar, the fourteenth and youngest child of Dalit parents, whose father served as a sepoy in the British military cantonment at Mhow (near Indore), was born on April 14, 1891. He was twenty-two years younger than Mohandas Gandhi, and died in 1956, just a few years after Gandhi. But together these two had a lion’s share in the making of modern India.

Their origins, upbringing, experiences, language, world view and strategy were very dissimilar. Gandhi romanticised about the self-sustaining village life and economy. For Ambedkar, life in a village under the scourge of caste and untouchability, was nasty and brutal.

Gandhi strived to rid untouchability through moral purification, and change of heart of upper-caste people. Ambedkar would rather depend on instruments of the state and rule of law. Gandhi did not support a separate electorate for the Dalits, but agreed for Muslims, Sikhs and others. Ambedkar wanted a separate electorate, but couldn’t prevail.

Gandhi threw away western clothes, and preferred a simple loincloth, whereas Ambedkar’s suit and tie was symbolic, and inspirational to his millions of followers. They also differed deeply on their view of Hinduism, with Gandhi seeking spiritual guidance, whereas Ambedkar considering it deeply flawed (especially because of social stratification). There are other differences too numerous to list here, but the remarkable thing is the unity of the ultimate goal that both sought.

They both looked to a future society based on justice, equality and compassion. On the issue of caste, it can be said that such was their influence, that they together changed in sixty years, what was entrenched for more than two thousand years. They also had many commonalities, such as their law degrees, and stints abroad.

Gandhi also had an indirect role in ensuring that Ambedkar became the father of the constitution. This great document, on the basis of which the Indian republic was born, was a thoughtful and scholarly synthesis of all the great democratic traditions of the world.

During the historic concluding meeting of the Constituent Assembly (charged with creating the republic), on November 25, 1949, Pattabhi Sitaramayya said, “What after all is a constitution? It is a grammar of politics, if you like, it is a compass to the political mariner.”

In that same session, Ambedkar, using similar metaphor (of grammar), warned against the dangers to democracy: He famously said: “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing, in my judgment we must do, is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives.

It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution… abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and Satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods.

These methods are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.” These words are prophetic, for they warn us of dangers that are alive even today. Whether it is ‘taking to the streets’, or ‘spontaneous outburst of emotions’, or dharnas and riots, the dangers of breakdown of constitutionality are still real. It was one thing to fast against the British rule, but quite another to fast against a constitutionally-elected government.

In that same speech, he had prophetically warned against hero-worship and blind idolatry (read sycophancy). He said, “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”

Finally, he also warned against social and economic inequality. He said, “How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.

We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this (Constituent) Assembly has so laboriously built up.” Spoken decades before the scourge of the Maoists, Ambedkar was prescient and prophetic.

Why have we banished our own brethren?


SHURA DARAPURI, in The Hindu

On the eve of the moving of the Draft Constitution in 1949, Dr. Ambedkar expressed his insurmountable fear over the existing inequalities in Indian society. He observed:

“On 26th Jan 1950 we are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man and one vote, one value. In our social and economic life we shall by reason of our social and economic structure continue to deny the principle of one man, one value.”

Dr. Ambedkar was well aware of the discrimination faced by Dalits due to the institutionalised caste system. He said: “On the social plane, we have an India based on the principles of graded inequality, which means elevation of some and degradation of others. On the economic plane, we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty.”

Dr. Ambedkar’s observations were true, made on the basis of some of his own painful experiences, when way back in 1918 in spite of attaining high educational qualifications he was not allowed to drink water from a pot ‘reserved’ for the high caste professorial staff at Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. Dr. Ambedkar realised then that education had not succeeded in bringing out the desired attitudinal change in most of the “upper” caste people towards Dalits. “Upper caste” in village or city even with the highest degrees shared the same mindset when issues of Dalits emerged.

Only recently, on 15 February 2012, at Daulatpur village in Haryana’s Uklana region, a Dalit youth had to face the wrath of an upper caste when in a bid to quench his thirst he drank water from a pot located on his premises. Once his caste became known, his hand was chopped off with a sickle. Even though we are living in the 21 century and make claims of having the world’s largest democracy, there is little change in the attitude of the upper caste towards Dalits, literate or illiterate.

Surveys* show that 27.6% of Dalits are still prevented from entering police stations and 25.7% from entering ration shops. Thirty-three per cent of public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes, and 23.5% of Dalits still do not get letters delivered in their homes. Segregated seating arrangements for Dalits are found in 30.8% of self-help groups and cooperatives, and 29.6% of panchayat offices. In 14.4% of villages, Dalits are not permitted even to enter the panchayat building. In 12% of villages, they are denied access to polling booths or forced to form a separate line.

In 48.4% of villages, Dalits are still denied access to common water sources. In 35.8%, they are denied entry into village shops. They are supposed to wait at some distance from the shop, the shopkeepers keep the goods they bought on the ground, and accept their money similarly without direct contact. In teashops, again in about one-third of the villages, Dalits are denied seating and are required to use separate cups. In as many as 73% of the villages, they are not permitted to enter non-Dalit homes, and in 70% of villages non-Dalits do not eat together with Dalits.

In more than 47% villages, bans operate on wedding processions on public (arrogated to upper caste) roads. In 10 to 20% of villages, Dalits are not allowed even to wear clean, bright or fashionable clothes or sunglasses. They are not allowed to ride their bicycles, unfurl their umbrellas, wear sandals on public roads, smoke or even stand without the head bowed.

Restrictions on temple entry average as high as 64%, ranging from 47% in Uttar Pradesh to 94% in Karnataka. In 48.9% of the surveyed villages, Dalits are barred from access to the cremation grounds.

In 25% of the villages, Dalits are paid lower wages than other workers. They are often subjected to much longer working hours, delayed wages, verbal and even physical abuse, not just in ‘feudal’ States like Bihar but also notably in Punjab. In 37% of the villages, Dalit workers are paid wages from a distance, to avoid physical contact.

In 35% of villages, Dalit producers are still barred from selling their produce in local markets. Instead, they are forced to sell it in the anonymity of distant urban markets where caste identities somewhat blur, imposing additional burdens of costs and time, and reducing their profit margin and competitiveness.

Just because they happen to be born in the “wrong community,” Dalit families are subjected to some of the extreme forms of humiliation and degradation generation after generation. They are treated as worse than animals. So much so, now most of them have internalised discrimination as their fate and they dare not raise voice against their tormentor for fear of punishment. For, they know even if they protest they have no hope of getting justice. That is because a majority of the positions in the government set-up are occupied by the “upper castes.”

And even if with great difficulty a lower caste person tries to make it to those positions, he is kept out through shrewd manipulations. Between 1950 and 2000, 47% of Chief Justices and 40% of judges were of Brahmin origin, according to a parliamentary committee report. In order to continue their monopoly over important positions, upper caste people have fought tooth and nail using all possible means to keep Dalits from even dreaming of aspiring for those positions.

To break the domination of upper castes, it became necessary to introduce affirmative action for and positive discrimination of Dalits, as part of the policy of the government. But implementing positive discrimination has not been an easy task and many seats reserved exclusively for Dalits still remain vacant, again because of the shrewd manipulations of the dominating castes.

In spite of traditions of high educational qualifications, many feign ignorance of the constitutional laws; rather they do not want to understand them because of their vested interests. In spite of glaring atrocities against Dalits, they are reluctant to share with them positions their families have been holding for ages. Complicity of the state makes situation worse, allowing crime against Dalits continue. Equality remains on paper.

Even today, given a chance many still do not hesitate to shift all the blame on the colonial regime for most of the ills existing in Indian society, especially for dividing the country. The British government even today is being accused of making a mockery of civilisation and its principles by its hypocritical actions. But now their place is taken over by our own country brethren, the only difference being ‘hypocritical action’ is directed against their own countrymen.

Some of the “upper castes,” it seems, are bent on leaving behind Britishers when it comes to the issues of oppression. Dalits are targeted most because the perpetrators are aware that they are not empowered. On July 11, 1997, sub-inspector M.Y. Kadam left General Dyer of Jallianwalabagh massacre behind, when he fired shots at his own countrymen and co-religionist Dalit protesters, above the waist, who had gathered in Ramabai colony in Mumbai in protest against desecration of Dr Ambedkar’s statue.

Moral and ethical issues and democratic values get subordinated in the face of corruption perpetuated by the oppressive caste system. There is not even the remotest desire to make democracy more functional. The caste system with graded inequality remains popular amongst those whose privileges are associated with it. For the same reason, the idea of egalitarian society fails to gain currency in their quarters. Lessons like, “United we stand and divided we fall” are hard to learn and even if by mistake they are learnt, they become hard to implement. Caste is meant to divide, not unite. A nation which lost its freedom on that account should be cautious, lest its divisions drive it to a state of subservience to an alien rule again. What ‘hidden pride’ lies in discriminating against and oppressing one’s own countrymen and co-religionists is hard to discern.

* (The details of the surveys have been sourced from the book, Untouchability in Rural India, authored by Ghanshyam Shah, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat, Satish Deshpande and Amita Baviskar published by SAGE Publications, New Delhi,2006).

(The writer is Head, Department of History, BBAU, Lucknow, Email ID is: shuradarapuri@ gmail.com)

 

 

Release Abhay Sahoo: Free India


By K. P. Sasi

28 February, 2012
Countercurrents.org

I do not know whether we won the freedom of this subcontinent called India because of Gandhi or Ambedkar. While thousands of people worked selflessly for the freedom that you and I enjoy today, and often take it for granted, without realising that this freedom is fast eroding under our own feet, there were certainly some individuals who shaped our present spaces due to some of their selfless actions of their past. While Gandhi was celebrated for his role in the freedom struggle of our ancestors, I believe that our real freedom was shaped by one great man’s work: The structure of Indian constitution created by Ambedkar. It is due to his work that I am able to express my freedom of expression, freedom of identity, right to protest and freedom to dissent along with many other areas of freedom that all of us enjoy. But I am also aware that we are going to lose all these very soon, if we are not vigilant.

After the colonial rule, the Indian State remains today under a different form of colonial force without the direct presence of the colonisers. Under this neo-colonialism, our lands, seas, hills, forests, water bodies and minerals are looted more effectively than what Britishers could ever imagine. In this process, some Indians are able to deposit vast amount of black money in foreign banks. While such news hit the newspapers, nobody questions where such money is coming from. It is certainly a loot of our own rights of our environment. But what doesn’t hit the headlines of the sensational media is news about another section people: Hundreds of people who are languishing in Indian Jails for the simple crime of continuing to fight for our freedom. Abhay Sahoo, the leader of anti-POSCO struggle in Orissa is one such person.

Abhay Sahoo is a warm person, simple but determined. He is in prison today with 50 fabricated false cases, four of which cannot be bailed. But he is not alone. There are over 200 fabricated false cases on over 800 activists of the anti-POSCO movement, whose freedom is restricted without being jailed. But they were attacked by the police and the goons of the company for defending their lands. Having faced bullets and bombs in this non-violent struggle for India’s freedom, our Gandhis and Ambedkars are not in position to join them for their rescue. Because our political ancestors only remain as statues, roads or postal stamps for modern India. Hence, even their followers cannot defend the new freedom struggle represented by the anti –POSCO struggle. The only crime of the villagers who defended the multinational giant called POSCO is that these committed and brave men, women and children fought for the freedom of their lands – A freedom that you and I wish to enjoy without remembering the sacrifices of our political ancestors.

Read more here

 

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