In defense of Prakash Amedkar’s recent statements on political reservations and Afzal Guru


In Defence of Prakash Ambedkar

by Anand Teltumbde

Prakash Ambedkar’s recent statements that the political reservations given to dalits (scheduled castes) and the requirement of mentioning caste in school leaving certificates should be done away with, as also his stand against the hanging of Afzal Guru, all of which have evoked varied reactions, need to be reflected upon.

Prakash Ambedkar is the leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) – a political outfit that seeks the unity of dalits and backward castes of the lower echelon in Maharashtra with some amount of success to its credit. Three times Member of Parliament and grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, with his offbeat views, he is not a stranger to controversies. Some time ago he had created a stir among dalits by publishing a book in Marathi entitled Ambedkar Chalval Sampali Ahe (The Ambedkarite Movement Has Ended). He made two statements recently, creating a furore among certain sections of the public. In the first statement, he said that political reservations given to dalits (scheduled castes) and also the requirement of mentioning caste in school leaving certificates (probably school records) should be stopped. The second statement was against the hanging of Afzal Guru. What is interesting is not the reactions they elicited but the pattern of these responses. While the first statement evoked angry reactions within dalit circles, notably the established dalit leaders and their hangers-on, it was mostly praised and welcomed by others, apparently those from the Hindu Right. The second statement met with a deafening silence from the former and angry reactions from the latter. The so-called progressive India, of course, kept its “dignified silence” on both.

Political Reservations

The genesis of current political reservations for dalits is directly traced to the infamous Poona Pact Ambedkar had to sign under pressure from Gandhi’s fast unto death against the communal award of the British prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald in the aftermath of the three round table conferences (RTCs) in 1931-32. Gandhi – who participated from the second RTC following the Gandhi-­Irwin Pact of May 1931 – vehemently opposed Ambedkar’s demand for separate electo­rates for dalits with an alibi that it would destroy Hindu society. At the end, Ambedkar won the argument and got dalits separate electorates, establishing for the first time their separate political identity from Hindus. In the prevailing political climate, with such demands from various communities, it spelt a milestone win for dalits and a corresponding loss for the Congress. Gandhi declared that he would oppose it and went on a fast unto death in Yerwada Jail from 20 September 1932. On the fifth day, after ensuing countrywide ­tension, he succeeded in blackmailing Ambedkar into giving up separate electorates and instead accepting more number of reserved seats in joint electorates along with a plethora of promises that the Congress would work for the ­upliftment of dalits.

These reserved seats were to be ­secured through two-stage voting; in the preliminary round, only dalits would vote to elect their four potential representatives and in the subsequent round all voters would elect one from among those four. This two-stage system was dropped after the adoption of the Constitution yielding the current form of reserved seats where a dalit representative gets elected by all the voters. It was ­incorporated in Article 330 of the Constitution for an initial period of 10 years, with a proviso that it would be reviewed at the end of the period and dropped if needed. However, ever since, despite there being occasional demands from dalits to end this system, it gets automa­tically renewed every time before its ­expiry with exemplary unani­mity, ­establishing its value to the ruling classes beyond doubt.

These political reservations opened the floodgates of co-optation of dalits and decimated the possibility of their ­independent representation. Since dalits had little impact on the election of dalit politicians, the latter did not need to care for them, leave alone representing their ­interests. Rather, since their election ­entirely depended on the ruling-class parties for resources and vote banks, the dalit leaders became totally subservient to the leadership of these parties. The reserved seats served as politically inert additions to the tally of the ruling-class parties and as an important conduit for managing this inflammable section of the populace. The negative fallout of this system became evident when genuine dalit candidates were easily defeated by political pygmies with ruling-class party support. Ambedkar himself lost in the 1952 general elections to one Narayan Kajrolkar, a Congress candidate. He was again defeated by a political non-entity, one Bhaurao Borkar, fielded by the Congress in a by-election for the Bhandara Lok Sabha reserved seat in 1954. He ­realised that the system of political reservations had become an instrument of perpetuation of slavery and demanded its end on 21 October 1955.

While this reservation has been fully implemented, not a single dalit representative has ever raised his voice against any of the anti-dalit government policies or against the increasing incidence of atrocities. Rather, there is a plethora of examples to prove that they directly or indirectly supported such policies. Even during the post-Ambedkar period, the dalits kept on demanding an end to such reservations, but the ruling classes would not let go of this golden goose. In 1974, the Dalit Panthers of Gujarat had symbolically set fire to Article 330 demanding its end. In 1982, the 50th year of the Poona Pact, Kanshi Ram had launched a countrywide movement for its end, stating that such reservation had created a tribe of chamcha(stooges). But all this history is inconsequential to opportunists like Ramdas Athawale, who reap the “strange and bitter fruit” of this policy, even as they accuse Prakash Ambedkar as being anti-dalit.

Towards Annihilation

While the demand for ending political reservation is clearly justified, the demand for removing caste from school records may be cosmetic so long as reservations in the educational sphere are continued. It may however be justifiably said that those dalits or non-dalits who do not want to mention caste in school records should be allowed to do so. ­Today many people are humiliatingly forced to record the caste and religious identities of their children at the time of admission even though they do not ­believe in them. It may thus be viewed as a laudable suggestion to have a “no caste” option available for those who want to transcend this evil. This might bring down the number of people wanting to avail of reservations and also ­reveal the size of those who detest the caste system.

While this could be proposed as a minimalist solution, it is time one deeply reflected over these caste-based policies which have effectively perpetuated the caste system. Objectively speaking, caste-based reservations only matter in the professional courses being offered by a few reputed institutions – the Indian ­Institutes of Technology, the Indian ­Institutes of Management, and the like. The fact that reservations in these elite institutions go unfilled year after year for the want of candidates implies that not enough students qualify to reach these institutions even after lowering the qualifying cut-off to a dangerous level.

Dispassionate analysis of this pheno­menon would point to the weak foundation of dalit students, which in turn is attributable to the multilayered school education system that dishes out education to children according to the socio-economic standing of their parents. If all children were provided with free, quality education through a common school system as envisaged in the Constitution, there may not be any necessity for having such discriminatory caste-based ­policies. The implementation of the right to education (RTE), which was reluctantly bestowed as a consequence of a Supreme Court judgment and instituted by the much trumpeted RTE Act 2010, is much in violation of the original provisions of the Constitution. It has legitimated the multilayered educational system, mischievously bringing in reservation for the weaker sections as an antidote. ­Dalits as a social group can be seen as the worst victims of this so-called RTE but so effective is their political management that none of their leaders has raised even a feeble voice against it. Job reservation has been rendered ineffective because of negative growth of employment in the public sector since 1997. But instead of noting this stark reality and raising one’s voice against the neo-liberal policies of the government that have brought this about, dalit leaders keep singing the song of reservation and even claim that globalisation has been beneficial to them. Surely, such a stand is not conducive to the “annihilation-of-castes” vision of ­Babasaheb Ambedkar, just reiterated by Prakash Ambedkar.

Afzal Guru

There is an unspoken dictum that dalits are not supposed to speak beyond caste and therefore Prakash Ambedkar’s statement that Afzal Guru should not be hanged might be prima facie disturbing to many. Statesmanlike, in mid-December last year, Prakash rationally argued that the majority of Kashmiris wanted to be part of the Indian union, but if Afzal Guru were hanged, “they will doubt whether they will be part of a secular ­India”. He therefore demanded that the status quo on Afzal Guru be maintained. The statement tacitly implied that the majority of Kashmiris thought that Guru did not deserve the death sentence and if he were to be executed, this would be viewed as being communally inspired.

Afzal Guru’s conviction as well as ­execution has been commented upon by many legal luminaries and human rights activists as being in violation of the law. But, all Prakash Ambedkar did was to demand that the status quo be maintained. This however evoked venomous reaction from sections of the right-wing who had just showered praises on him for his views on reservations. While the angry reactions to his views on reservation from his rivals in dalit politics, who ­always did the bidding for the ruling classes, are understandable, so also is their silence on Afzal Guru. But, what is interesting is the extreme responses of love and hate from the Hindu right-wingers. As the views of individuals unprompted by any organised effort, the comments may reflect their general opposition to caste-based reservations, the sections of the Indian Constitution that have a bearing on these, and the Congress, which is identified as the progenitor of such reser­vations, but the fact is that the Bharatiya Janata Party, their party, today commands the maximum number of reserved seats. What is disturbing in this entire episode is the silence of the self-proclaimed ­progressives.

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

Economic & Political weekly, Vol – XLVIII No. 11, March 16, 2013

 

Why India Needs The Death Penalty


CARTOON COURTESY: FACEBOOK
OPINION
India is not a weak state. This is not about Politics but Justice. Justice must not only be strong but also seen to be strong.

So, The Law has been taking its Own Course, without any help from the political bankruptcy of the Kangress party. The Law took its Own Course and hanged Ajmal Kasab before a Parliament session and co-incidentally Afzal Guru before another Parliament session. The Law’s Own Course is stranger than the river Kosi which changes direction at will (actually, even the Kosi river changes directions because of corruption in the unnecessary embankments the Bihar government builds).

Criticism that the United Progressive Alliance government helped the Law take its Own Course has been taken too personally by the otherwise thick-skinned government. So personally that they even have a response! There’s been unfounded criticism  that Afzal Guru was unfairly targeted to deprive the BJP of a stick they’d been beating the Kangress with, to play to the gallery, to appear strong, pro-active and to prove that we indeed have a government in place. But you can’t please everybody. For instance, Omar Abdullah, otherwise a good boy, had the gumption to ask the Gandhi Party to ‘prove’ that Afzal’s was not a selective execution.

The Collective Conscience of Society, by which we mean the evil side of Rashtrapati Pranab Poltu Mukherjee, Misses Sonia Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh and Shri Sushilkumar Shinde, has thus been awakened. Replying the critics is easy. We can just hang a few more people. There are so many to hang, where do we start? Let’s dispense with some non-Muslims for a change? After all, Rarest of the Rare happens Every Third Day. Let’s find someone who’s not a political hot potato. No Khalistanis or Tamil nationalists please, we can only hurt Kashmiri sentiments because Misses Gandhi is 50% Kashmiri and Rahul baba 100% only. Rajiv Gandhi’s killers have already been forgiven by Priyanka didi.

And so they found four guys who killed 22 people in a landmine blast. Five of themwere policemen. Waging war against the state, killing policemen. When policemen kill people we say “Law and Order” or “Encounter”. That’s exactly also what we can say when we hang killers of policemen!  These four guys were with that bandit Veerappan, the Collective Conscience only wishes he was alive so we could feel rejoice with the thought of him choking to death. But since we killed him in an encounter long ago, we could kill these four. Killing people who kill people is the best form of reforming killers. If Sharia states do it why can’t we? We are the land of Due Process and self-multiplying Gandhis.

Killing those four in return will definitely establish that India is a country where the Rule of Law Prevails. That will leave only 472 more Rarest of the Rares to be despatched.  God knows how many political crises the United Progressive Alliance government will face until elections come. How many more chopper purchase scams, how many more exposes by whatshisname Kejriwal, how many more people taking exception to rape and demanding stupid committee reports to be implemented as if these people own the country! Not even Digvijaya ji’s personal Swami and astrologer can tell the embarrassment that’s in store when there will be assembly elections in five states later this year. Some irritants will ask for food security bill and some will say budget is not good and inflation is too much and cash is not transferring through Nandan Nilekani’s nose. Every time the ungrateful aam aadmi whines like a cry baby, show them the Collective Conscience. Hang some bastard and the camel will come under the hill!

There may be some teething troubles like lack of rope but rest assured the Planning Commission will do something and we’ll pull off the Great Indian Rope Trick just as well as we pulled off the Commonwealth Games.

So what if a little bit of lying is needed? Lying for a good cause is as good as speaking the truth, as Advani ji, Narendra Modi ji and George Orwell ji always say. Why can’t the Kangress take the best of Hinduism from the Hindutvawaadis? To give you the example of lying for the good of the Collective Conscience, Chiddu had said Afzal was not being hanged because executions are by Serial Order. Much older mercy petitions have not been disposed off, he had argued, so why are you harping on Afzal? If anyone now asks what happened to Chiddu’s Serial Order theory, we can just say he was a bit over-influenced by Nandan’s UID numbers. He now looks after the fiscal deficit, Shinde is da man.

Similarly, don’t let these four Veerappan guys meet their lawyers once Poltu da rejects their mercy petition. If they can’t meet lawyers how will they sign on affidavits asking for judicial review? See how smart we are! Don’t reveal the date on which we want to hang them, we’ll decide depending on when Arnab Goswami is particularly angry with us. If somebody goes to the Chief Justice asking him to stay the execution, he can always say what proof they are going to execute the next day?! Pray tell, when there is no baans how will anyone play thebansuri.

But listen, we can’t hide from the public that we’ve rejected their mercy petitions. Such special honour is only reserved from Pakistanis like Ajmal Kasab and Kashmiris like Afzal Guru. That’s because Kashmiris are an integralpart of India,and Pakistanis our estranged brothers (Sardar Patel ji and Nehru ji helped create Pakistan.) Letting the public know that we’re going to hang the four Veerappan guys, they may go to the court and delay their execution by arguing that we delayed it! Just like that Saibanna character.

To help the Law take its Own Course, we must always hang people in secrecy, not give the losers time to cry before their families or write long last letters or god forbid, meet their lawyers to file review petitions! Already that Saibanna escaped our rat trap and went crying to the court, arguing that he should not be hanged just because we took so long to decide to hang him. What hypocrites these human rights types? Don’t those they killed have human rights? First these people complain like cry babies that the Law takes too long to take its Own Course, and when the Law takes its Own Course they still complain and say want the Law to take even more time to take its Own Course! Do they believe in the Constitution of India? Are they Maoists or what?

We ourselves had to stop that Rajoana‘s execution because the Sikhs don’t want it. Arey, is Collective Conscience of Society not applicable to the Sikhs? Are the Sikhs not an integral part of India like the Kashmiris? Why is the BJP not demanding Rajoana’s execution? This is why we hate hypocrites and always ask people to vote for Kangress. This is why the Kangress is a Secular party.

These human rights types, who think only humans have human rights, don’t realise we are in the new India – India After Rahul Gandhi. They give silly arguments from Old India. They cite some Kehar Singh vs Union of India (1989) and B P Singhal vs Union of India (2010) to say the orders of the President under Article 72 of the Constitution are subject to judicial review. Arre, what is the point of giving Rashtrapati ji the power of mercy if it is still to be subjected to judicial review once the Law has taken its Own Course.

Didn’t the Law take its own Course when three thousand trees were cut to make up for the big tree fell in 1984? Didn’t the Law take its own Course when Gujarat played Holi with Muslims? In Bhagalpur, Kokrajhar, Khairlanji and so on, didn’t the Law take its Own Course? So why are these hypocrites defending Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru and those Veerappan’s buddies?

Just as promises are meant to be broken, mercy is meant to not be given. India is not a weak state. This is not about Politics but Justice. Justice must not only be strong but also seen to be strong. Those who confuse Justice with Politics and claim that Law has taken some course other than its very Own, forget that as Misses Gandhi once said, Yeh janta hai sab jaanti hai.

All these people need to understand that we are not like any other banana republic. We are our own indigenous Hindu banana republic with secular values, democracy, freedom of speech, rule of law, independent Kangress-friendly media, Kashmir, ten per cent growth rate. (Ok, Montek ji will double check the latest growth rate and let us know.) Other banana republics don’t have these things.

We the Mango People of Banana Republic, let us hang the guilty, Parliament session by Parliament session. Let us bang our heads on the wall and say Jai Hind! Jai Sonia! Jai Hind!


This was first published in Kafila

 

‘ Mahatma Gandhi would have embraced #twitter


By Express News Service – BANGALORE

09th December 2012

Mahatma Gandhi would have embraced Twitter with open arms because of the medium’s brevity in communication, columnist Sudheendra Kulkarni said at a session on ‘Literature in Twitter Era’ at the Bangalore Literature Festival  (BLF) at Jayamahal Palace on Saturday.

Kulkarni, who has written a biography on Gandhi, likened the Twitter form of communication to Gandhi’s life and message.

“The beauty of it (Twitter) is its brevity of communication. Gandhi, too, was known for brevity in his thoughts, which were few in words but equally powerful. That is how the young generation must use Twitter,” Kulkarni said.

Joining him in the session, brand domain expert Harish Bijoor said there will be no contradiction between literature and technology.

According to him, ‘Twitterature’ is a new genre of literature that needs to be encouraged. “Twitterature is literature in 140 characters. There are some tweets that make us introspect and think when it was that we did something the last time,” he said as he read out a few tweets from @averyshortstory.

Bijoor said there are 146 million Indians who spend 8 minutes on the Internet everyday and this number would double by 2014.

“We know that you cannot write a love letter in 140 characters and it needs literature. But getting  prescriptive is not the right thing to do,” he said.

 

Sedition Law is against spririt of Democracy- Binayak Sen


Kractivism in Actionp- Free Binayak Sen Campaign

Kractivism in Actionp- Free Binayak Sen Campaign

Binayak Sen

I was convicted of sedition (section 124 of the IPC) on December 24 (Christmas eve), 2009, and awarded life imprisonment by the additional sessions judge, Raipur. I had already spent two years in jail as an undertrial before the Supreme Court granted me bail. Following my conviction, another four months was spent in a solitary cell before the Supreme Court suspended the sentence and granted bail, remarking in the process that there did not seem to be any evidence against me.

A hearing of my appeal in the Chhattisgarh High Court is now awaited. Afew days ago, human rights organizations gathered in Delhi to welcome back from jail Seema Azaad, the general secretary of the UP PUCL. She had also been convicted of sedition and awarded life sentence on the basis of some innocuous documents found in her possession , and then was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court after having spent two-and-a-half years in jail. I was reminded of all these events when i joined the Mumbai Press Club to greet the young cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, following his release from jail on September 12. He had spent four days in jail after being charged with sedition , allegedly because of the content of some of his cartoons .

These charges were deemed to be so patently absurd that Aseem’s incarceration aroused a storm of protest, resulting in his prompt release. Sedition is said to have occurred when any attempt is made to bring the government of the day into disaffection . Mohandas Gandhi was convicted of sedition by the British Imperial government in 1922. Arguing his own case, Gandhi told the judge that he had no affection for the British government and, moreover, he felt it was his duty to inform his fellow citizens as to why he had no affection for it.

While convicting Gandhi, the British judge felt it necessary to apologize to Gandhi for his act, to which he was bound by his duty as a judge. Such stories are part of the folklore of sedition, and create the impression that sedition is about well-known or relatively resourceful people standing up to a bumbling state power. Nothing could be further from the truth. The most important lesson i learnt in jail was that there are vast numbers of people accused of sedition and incarcerated for this reason. To take just one example, several hundred very ordinary men and women participating in the peaceful anti-nuclear agitation in Kudankulam have been charged with sedition. The state today stands guarantor, under the doctrine of eminent domain, to a country-wide process of expropriation of common property resources — land, water, forest, minerals and traditional knowledge such as knowledge of biodiversity.

Communities, whose survival is dependent on their access to common property resources, find their survival threatened by this process of expropriation. Resisting this process becomes key to the survival of these communities , and the law of sedition is one of the important resources deployed by the state in order to suppress this entirely legitimate resistance. Communities cannot be expected to acquiesce in their own extinction, but the state seems perfectly prepared to deploy its resources, both juridical and military, in order to ensure that its writ should run. The application of sedition is also contrary to the spirit of a democratic polity. After all, the process of building up political alternatives has to be based on holding — and advocating — views that are contrary to those held by the current holders of power. Sedition serves the power holder very well, because any heterodox opinion can promptly be limited by being safely put away. Human rights workers and their organizations across the country have come together to press for repeal of the sedition law and other similar laws. They are jointly engaged in a signature campaign, and a series of public meetings, to petition Parliament for the prompt repeal of these archaic and antidemocratic legal formulations, which constitute a real danger to the development of a genuinely democratic polity. The writer is an academician, pediatrician and a human rights activist

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.

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

 

We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink: Vikram Seth


The Speech upon Inaugurating the First Kolkata Literary Meet, 26 January 2012

Thank you very much for inviting me this Republic Day to inaugurate the first Kolkata Literary Meet – or KLM – or (most aptly of all) ‘Kolom’.

By the word ‘kolom’ I imagine we mean not only the pen but also the typewriter and the computer – in other words, any means of writing. The ‘kolom’ represents them all.

I am happy and honoured to be here – in this place, during this year, on this day, for this occasion.

In this place, because I am back where I was born.

During this year, because it is a century and a half since the birth of Tagore.

On this day, because it was today, more than sixty years ago, that we put into effect the book of law by which we as a nation live.

For this occasion, because it celebrates the word not as law but as literature, the expression of ourselves as human beings.

I shall call these the four ‘ko’s, following the Bengali style: Kolkata, Kobi, Constitution, Kolom: the place Kolkata, the year of the Kobi, the day of the Constitution, the occasion of Kolom.

Let me say a few words about each of these.

***

[KOLKATA]

Kolkata is where my life began.

Birth is easy enough. I have no memory of it. Any pain or inconvenience was borne by my mother. I was born in the Elgin Nursing Home – which doesn’t exist any more – at 1.48 in the afternoon. I was called Amit. That is the name that appears on my birth certificate. I have seen the document. It is green in colour.

I was called Amit because when my mother was pregnant with me, her friend Kolyani Bannerji read Tagore’s Shesher Kobita to her and, as you know, the rather wimpish hero of that novel was called Amit. My mother, though from UP, speaks Bengali and loves Bengal. She decided that if I was a boy, I would be called Amit; if a girl, Ameeta.

But my father’s family, who live in Panipat, had different ideas. The first-born son of each brother in the family had to have a name beginning with the syllable ‘Vi’. It was a family tradition. My father’s eldest brother had named his first-born son Vijay. My father’s second brother had named his first-born son Vinod. What was all this Amit nonsense? They vetoed the name and told my parents to think again. The name Amit (written in ink) was crossed out on the green birth certificate and the name Vikram was pencilled in. And since Kolkata is possessive of its children, although I am not Bengali, I have once or twice seen myself referred to in newspapers here not as Vikram, but (I am proud to say) as ‘amader Bikrom’. And I for my part certainly consider this city to be ‘amar Kolkata’.

I am always happy to return here, in fact or in fiction. I spent formative years of my childhood here – on three separate occasions. The parts of A Suitable Boy that I most enjoyed writing were the scenes set in Calcutta, whether it was with the garrulous Chatterji family (I especially enjoyed writing about the shocking Meenakshi), or at the Eden Gardens, where Lata’s three suitors, Kabir, Haresh and – yes – Amit, meet at an India vs England cricket match. In fact, the Bengali translation of A Suitable Boy by Enakshi Chatterjee (I am told it is a very good translation) is called Sot Patro, which of course makes one think immediately of Abol Tabol and the immortal Sukumar Ray, the father of another immortal, Satyajit Ray, who was no mean writer himself.

***

[KOBI]

The thought of authors past leads me back to the second ‘ko’ or ‘Kobi’, whose 150th anniversary we are celebrating and have been celebrating this past year.

One can say many things about him. I will say just three.

The first is this. I apologise to him for the fact that my parents renounced the name of Amit. But since he himself, when asked by parents to name their children for them, saddled so many children with impossible names, I am sure he will be tolerant of our sacrilege.

Secondly, today of all days, when our thoughts turn to where we are going as a country and as a people, it is right that we should think of him, because he was the creator of what – after his death – became our national anthem, an anthem that is intriguing because it is so ambiguous – not only with regard to who exactly is being addressed, but also because it must be the only anthem in the world to end not on a shadaj but on a madhyam – not on certainty and finality but on ambiguity and continuity. Of course the national anthem is only the first of five stanzas of a song. But still, this ambiguity and continuity seem to reflect, at least to me, some aspects of the openness and open-mindedness of the poet himself – who was writing at a time when many people’s views were becoming closed and rigid.

The third point about Tagore has to do with the limits of reverence. I am not now talking about the tendency to revere Tagore himself, which is a mild malady in these parts. No, I’m talking about Tagore’s attitude to someone he himself admired: Gandhi. Tagore may have venerated him and called him the Mahatma, but he disagreed with a lot of what he said – on non-cooperation, for instance; or on modern science; or even on nationalism. He did not let his admiration gag his criticism, sometimes quite strong criticism. Other people disagreed with Gandhi too, some less reverently, some indeed very bitterly. Nehru and Patel disagreed with Gandhi on the question of accepting the inevitability of Partition. Bose disagreed with Gandhi about reserving the option of violence when used against the violence of foreign occupation. Ambedkar disagreed with Gandhi on the question of rights for Dalits, as opposed to pity and accommodation. In some cases, Gandhi used what some would consider unjustified tactics to get his way: a fast against Ambedkar, a boycott of Bose.

I say this because, though most of us may well think of Gandhi as one of the greatest Indians who has ever lived, we can and do criticise him. This highlights a general principle. There is no human being born since our species first came into existence whom we should consider immune from criticism. Let me repeat that. There is no human being born since our species first came into existence whom we should consider immune from criticism. No one. Whether from the fifth century BC or the first century AD or the seventh century AD or the twentieth century AD. No human being is above criticism.

***

[CONSTITUTION]

This leads straight to the third ‘ko’ of what I wanted to talk about: the Constitution. ‘We the People of India’, in the famous phrase, gave it to ourselves on the 26th of November, but it came into effect two months later on the 26th of January, sixty-two years ago. The day was chosen because twenty years before that, Nehru, on behalf of the Indian National Congress, had declared Complete Independence or Purna Swaraj.

But was this self-rule or independence intended to be limited to independence from foreign occupation? The writers of our Constitution, from Ambedkar on, most assuredly did not think so. It was to be independence from tyranny of all kinds, including tyranny of thought and expression and belief, the tyranny of those who think one should not speak one’s mind. These and other aspirations are embodied in the Preamble, the words that precede the actual Articles of law.

Among its succinct and inspiring words are these:

‘LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.’

Liberty is one of four words – the others being Justice, Equality and Fraternity – which are the keys to the Preamble and, indeed, to understanding the Constitution as a whole. So here it is once more: ‘LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.’

But let me ask you – not as writers or readers but as plain citizens, as ordinary Indians – Where is this liberty today? Yes, the liberty of faith and worship are alive and kicking, but what about the liberty of thought, expression and belief, those liberties that equally make us what we are and give expression, insight and dignity to our lives? We are opening our gathering here on Republic Day a mere two days after another gathering – based like ours on the word and the freedom of the word, on the mind and the freedom of the mind, on the heart and the freedom of the heart – ended with a disgraceful exhibition of the suppression of the word, the suppression of the mind, the suppression of the heart.

To avoid a gut reaction to particular names, let me present the situation to you without names – as a case study, if you like – so that you can see it in its full absurdity.

One of the most prominent and admired authors of our times was not permitted to appear and address an audience in person – and then, in the strangest twist to the tale – was not permitted even to appear on a screen to address them. No one was going to be compelled to hear him. As it happens, he was not even going to talk about a book of his which had proved controversial, and which had been published more than twenty years ago. Indeed, he had even appeared in person at the very same venue five years ago, and there had been no protest. And yet he could not speak to those who wanted to hear him.

People are not fools. It is election time. Everyone knows the truth. The whole affair was started because of power and politics and the misuse of religion; it was whipped up because of power and politics and the misuse of religion; and the government knuckled under and enforced this disgrace because of power and politics and the misuse of religion.

Frankly, this is madness.

God and the prophets do not need bullies to defend themselves.

God and the prophets do not need bullies to defend themselves.

Neither the bullies who shout nor the bullies who enforce.

We are a constitutional nation, not a religious dictatorship. Unless he or she threatens violence, you do not have the right to gag or bully or dictate to your neighbour – or decide what he or she can say or see or hear.

You do not have the right to go up to the three monkeys and with your own hands cover up their mouths and eyes and ears.

You cannot use the argument of ‘religious morality’ to do this. As Dr Ambedkar said, there is something more important in a republic, and it is known as ‘constitutional morality’.

***

[KOLOM]

I will now go to – or, rather, return to – the fourth ‘ko’ or Kolom. I have touched upon the word in law and literature. But especially when one thinks of Tagore, one also thinks of the word as a graphic form, a form of art. I am very happy that Sunil Gangopadhyay and I – as part of this inauguration – were asked to write the word ‘kolom’ in black paint on those white boards there. As you can see, Sunil Da has written it in Bengali and I have written it in English and Urdu. It is interesting that three of the world’s great civilisations, the Hindu, the Islamic and the Judaeo-Christian, are thus incorporated on those boards, just as they are part of our common discourse. This is the richness of our country; we cannot allow it to be filtered and thinned. This is the strength of our country; we cannot allow it to be contorted or distorted.

Let me end with the two opening lines of a poem by Tagore that I have known – in his own English translation – since I was eleven years old. It was one of our school prayers and it expresses his aspirations for India.

‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free.’

Let me repeat that: ‘Where knowledge is free.’

Those who try to cloud our minds with fear are the enemies of both knowledge and freedom.

We cannot let our republic, our beloved republic, our constitutional republic, our free and free-speaking republic, be hijacked by fear. It happened once in the Emergency. It must never happen again.

We cannot let them close our mouths and eyes and ears.

We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink.

Kolome kali jeno na shokaye.

May the kolom flourish.

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