#Chhattisgarh, a primitive tribe in trouble #indigenous


KAWARDAH (CHHATTISGARH), February 28, 2013

Suvojit Bagchi

Hut of Primitive Tribes crushed by administration, hundreds homeless. Photo : Special Arrangement
Hut of Primitive Tribes crushed by administration, hundreds homeless. Photo : Special Arrangement

Administration argues pulling down their huts will ensure ‘safety of wildlife’

A day after the Union government announced a Rs.100-crore grant for Chukutiya Bhunjia of Orissa, a primitive tribe which lives on the eastern border of Chhattisgarh, 30 huts of the Baigas, another primitive tribe, were razed to the ground by government officials in the western part of the State.

The incident took place on February 18, adjacent to the Bhoramdeo Reserve Forest in Kawardah district. While officials reasoned that it was done to ensure the ‘safety of the wildlife,’ the eviction is in violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.

The two overlapping villages, Rajanacha and Baijadhap, in the district wore the same look as that of villages ravaged by members of the Salwa Judum in south Chhattisgarh between 2005 and 2009. A team of 20 forest guards and the police raided the villages with “clubs, axes and pistols,” said Bijadhap residents, an allegation not denied by officials.

While no villager was beaten or detained, the officials axed all stocky twigs that held the interwoven mats of dry leaves. A similar operation was carried out in the same villages two weeks earlier. “Officials have threatened to… arrest us, if we resettle here,” said Budhni Bai, an old woman who was unsure about her age.

As 30 houses of sun-dried leaves, grass and twigs were crushed, roughly 60 Baiga families of 200 members became homeless. The families stuffed a few household items in large cement bags and were sleeping in the open on plastic sheets spread over their destroyed home. Around 100 Baiga men and women are busy building their houses before Chhattisgarh’s cruel summer sets in. “The other day when a hailstorm started, I freaked out; he ought not to have been born now,” said Amrita Baiga, 25, feeding her three-month-old son Gopal.

The Baigas are not sure when they built their first house in Kawardah. But going by the map produced by Jawaharlal Nehru’s tribal affairs adviser, Verrier Elwin, in his book The Baiga, the “extraordinarily shy” community is in Kawardha and adjoining hill areas for centuries. Yet, the community does not know why they are asked to “vanish.” Bijadhap residents said they were “asked to leave Bhoramdeo and settle in Bijadhap around 2006 by Forest Department officials.”

The FRA says forest-dwellers have complete right to forestland and they cannot be evicted. In case of their displacement for development, gram sabhas will have to approve the government’s offer in writing. Moreover, ‘a resettlement or alternatives package’ has to be prepared to secure livelihood for the affected individuals and communities, and “no resettlement shall take place until facilities and land allocation at the resettlement location are complete.” These norms are violated in the eviction of the Baigas. Let alone the consent of the gram sabha, even Assistant Commissioner of Tribal Affairs Department M.L. Deshlahre was not aware of the eviction; he came to know about it from this correspondent.

Divisional Forest Officer Vishwesh Kumar told The Hindu that the Baigas came “on their own” to the plains from Bhomradeo in 2006 as they faced “water and other agricultural problems” in the forest. “How can we give settlement according to the FRA since it is meant for only those who are resettled before 2006?”

Chhattisgarh’s tribal affairs experts differ. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of them said it was not correct to say the displaced Baigas came from the forest “on their own” before 2006. “The Forest Department evicted the Baigas before the FRA came into force. Hence, the tribals should be adequately compensated as per the FRA and the rehabilitation policy of the Central government, which is in place for a longer time.”

On the other hand, Mr. Kumar said the administration was “trying hard” to find a solution, and the issue had been referred to the higher authorities.

An activist, who is trying to organise the Baigas, said the archaic wildlife laws and the highhandedness of Forest Department officials helped Maoists carve out a base in south Chhattisgarh. “The government is making the same mistake in the rest of the State.”

 

#India- Air attacks in Mizoram, 1966 – our dirty, little secret


19 FEB, 2013,  ABHEEK BARMAN,ET BUREAU

The original villages, crops and granaries were destroyed to deny wandering insurgents shelter and food.

The original villages, crops and granaries were destroyed to deny wandering insurgents shelter and food.
One month and four days after becoming prime minister of IndiaIndira Gandhi was faced with a problem familiar to her father, Jawaharlal Nehru: an insurgency in the north east. On February 28, 1966, the Mizo National Army (MNA) revolted against India and fighting broke out across the region. In response, the Indian state did two unprecedented things.

By March 2, the MNA had overrun the Aizawl treasury and armoury and was at the headquarters of theAssam Rifles. It had also captured several smaller towns south of Aizawl. The military tried to ferry troops and weapons by helicopter, but was driven away by MNA snipers.

So, at 11:30 am on March 5, the air force attacked Aizawl with heavy machine gun fire. On March 6, the attack intensified, and incendiary bombs were dropped. This killed innocents and completely destroyed the four largest areas of the city: Republic Veng, Hmeichche Veng, Dawrpui Veng and Chhinga Veng.

Locals left their homes and fled into the hills in panic. The MNA melted away into surrounding gorges, forests and hills, to camps in Burma and the then East Pakistan. The air force strafed Aizawl and other areas till March 13. One local told a human rights committee set up by Khasi legislators GG Swell and Rev Nichols Roy that, “There were two types of planes which flew over Aizawl — good planes and angry planes. The good planes were those which flew comparatively slowly and did not spit out fire or smoke; the angry planes were those which escaped to a distance before the sound of their coming could be heard and who spat out smoke and fire.”

This was the first— and only — time that the air force has been used to attack Indians in India. It cleared Aizawl and other cities of the MNA, but did not finish off the insurgency, which would last for another 20 years. Till the 1980s, the Indian military stoutly denied the use of air attacks in Mizoram in 1966.

By 1967, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was in force in the area that is now Mizoram. That year, the eastern military brass, led by the then Lt General Maneckshaw, and government decided to implement the second terrible thing it did in Mizoram. This was called ‘regrouping of villages.’

At the that time, there was one road coming south from Silchar in Assam, that traveled all the way down to where the state’s limits ended. To the east and west of this road were vast tracts of forests, hills and ravines, dotted with hundreds of villages.The military plan was to gather villagers from all over, and cluster them along the side of this road. These new, so-called Protected and Progressive Villages (PPVs), were nothing but concentration camps, minus gas chambers. The movement was supposed to be voluntary — people in some far off hamlet were supposed to jump with joy when told to give up their land, crops and homes to trek hundreds of miles and live behind barbed wire. Actually, the military told villagers to take what they could carry on their backs, and burn everything else down. Elders signed ‘consent’ papers at gunpoint.

In every case, villagers refused to move. When they were coerced to march, they would refuse to burn down their properties. Then, the military officer and his men would torch the whole place down. They would march in a column guarded by the military, to their designated PPV.

Life here was tough: each resident was numbered and tagged, going and coming was strictly regulated and rations were meagre. In the PPVs’ confines, tribal conventions broke down. In the scramble for scarce resources, theft, murder and alcoholism became widespread.

The regrouping destroyed the Mizos’ practice of jhum, or shifting cultivation. There was little land inside the PPVs and their original jhum areas had been left far behind in the interiors. Farm output fell off a cliff. Mizoram suffered from near-famine conditions, supplemented by what little the military could provide, for the next three years.

Why were the villagers herded into the PPVs? The military reckoned that keeping villagers under their eyes would keep them from sheltering insurgents or joining the MNA. The original villages, crops and granaries were destroyed to deny wandering insurgents shelter and food.

These ideas were picked up by our officers from the colonial British playbook. The British had regrouped villages during the Boer war in the early 20th century, in Malaya, where they interned Chinese in special camps and in Kenya where villages were uprooted to crush the Mau Mau revolt.

The British could get away with all this because they were inflicting pain on a subject population. The Indian establishment had no such fig leaf: it was giving grief to its own citizens.

The scale of the Mizoram regrouping was awesome. Out of 764 villages, 516 were evacuated and squeezed into 110 PPVs. Only 138 villages were left untouched. In the Aizawl area, about 95% of the rural population was herded into PPVs. No Russian gulag or German concentration camp had hosted such a large chunk of the local population.

The first PPVs were dismantled in 1971, but the last ones continued for another eight years. The MNA revolt ended in 1986. No government has expressed regret for the bombing and regrouping.

 

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?

10-year-old’s RTI posers stump PMO, Government


NEW DELHI, May 25, 2012

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, The Hindu

Girl questions father of nation status for Gandhi

When some simple questions came to the mind of Aishwarya Parashar, a
Class-VI student of the City Montessori School, Lucknow, she did not
let them languish unasked. She went seeking out answers through the
Right to Information (RTI) Act. Aishwarya’s inquisitiveness and
willingness to pursue the source of information has yielded, till
date, the establishment of a public library on the site of a garbage
dump and the nation being better enlightened about the Father of the
Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

All of just 10 years, Aishwarya is a confident little girl, who
herself answers a mobile phone and urges those wanting some written
information from her to send her an SMS giving their e-mail ID and
even forwards e-mail and communicates about her work on her own.

“I have so far filed three RTIs with the Prime Minister’s Office,”
she says, adding that “the first one was [a query] about who gave the
order for printing Mahatma Gandhi’s image on currency notes. I was
told in a reply that it was in 1993 following a meeting of the Reserve
Bank of India.”

But it was her subsequent RTI asking the PMO to tell her who conferred
the title of Father of the Nation on Mahatma Gandhi, which confounded
the government. From the PMO, the query went to the Ministry of Home
Affairs and to the National Archives of India, before Aishwarya was
told that “there are no specific documents on the information sought”
by her.

‘Surprising’
“That was really surprising because I never thought it was such a
difficult question since even our history books taught us that Mahatma
Gandhi was the Father of the Nation.”

The first reference to Mahatma Gandhi as Father of the Nation goes
back nearly 70 years when Subhas Chandra Bose referred to Gandhi thus
in a radio address from Singapore in 1944.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too had, in his address to the nation
upon Mahatma Gandhi’s death, referred to him as Father of the Nation:
“Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there
is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or
how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father
of the Nation, is no more.”

After getting an unsatisfactory answer to her query on this issue in
March this year, Aishwarya on April 24 asked the PMO who had declared
Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2 as also Republic Day
and Independent Day national holidays. To her surprise, she got a
reply dated May 17 that such orders were never issued.

Favourite query
The question most dear to Aishwarya’s heart was posed by her in 2009.
“That was the time when Lucknow was in the grip of swine flu. There
was a big garbage dump near my school, but I only got to see it one
day when my mother came to pick me up as my cycle-rickshaw had not
come. For the parents there was a separate entrance, and on the way
back home I spotted this dump.”

With the help of her mother, Urvashi Sharma, who is a social worker
and RTI activist, Aishwarya penned an application in her own
handwriting. “I had marked that query on the garbage dump to the Chief
Minister and thereafter the Uttar Pradesh government got the dump
removed, and our school constructed a public library on the site.”

Her father, Sanjay Sharma, is a lecturer.
Ambition


Aishwarya wants to become a doctor. Asked why, she quips: “Whenever I
go to a hospital, I see that the poor patients have to first shell out
money in order to get treated. I will, on becoming a doctor, go to the
slums at least once every week and provide free treatment to such poor
people.”

Stop tampering with NCERT textbooks #censorship


PEOPLE’S UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES

RAJASTHAN
Jaipur,
12th May, 2012
Statement by the PUCL, Rajasthan branch
On the controversy created by the Indian Parliamentarians on the BR Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon
in the NCERT text book of Standard XII
 
STOP TAMPERING WITH NCERT TEXT BOOKS
LET HUMOUR REMAIN IN INDIAN PUBLIC LIFE
 
The PUCL, Rajasthan branch and other intellectuals in the city are shocked at the unnecessary controversy created by a section of the Indian Parliamentarians with regard to  the cartoon of 1949 on Nehru and Ambedkar, on the pace of the making of the Indian Constitution, made by the eminent cartoonist Shankar Pillai and published in the Standard XI Political Science Text Book of the NCERT. What is extremely disturbing is the manner in which education minister Mr. Kapil Sibal apologised in Parliament and conceeded to the demands of these Parliamentarians by stating that he has directed the NCERT to remove the material and stop the distribution of books. Not stopping there, he also stated that he had taken action by setting up a committee to look at the entire gamut of cartoons in textbooks and their content to ensure material of this nature is taken out of textbooks, before the next session.
We are absolutely certain that there is nothing objectionable in the Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon by itself and the text presented with it if at all is extremely laudatory of the hard work and democratic process that the constituent assembly had adhered to under the leadership of Sh. BR Ambedkar. And the question asked of the students in the context of the cartoon actually is getting students to question Shankar’s presentation of the “snail’s pace” represented. We would like to ask whether parties have really read the text with the cartoon or is it merely criticising to appease the Dalit vote bank which they represent.
In the past also texts have been deleted and books have been tampered with, and people have had cases filed against them merely in the name of upsetting public opinion. It is important to know that the endeavour of education is not to indoctrinate the minds of the young or teach them any one ideology. According to us the primary objective of education is to create a quest for enquiry and learning to think. Providing diverse points of view becomes essential to the educational process.  Education essentially means having openness towards all points of views and also the young must know that there are many dimensions to any issue.
We all are well aware that both from the point of view of content and presentation the NCF 2005 and the books that were produced by the NCERT were a milestone in the history of education in India.  These books are also of high quality,  hardly seen before in our Government schools. These books create a questioning and critical mind in the children.  In terms of pedagogy these books are extremely innovative.
The PUCL strongly condemns the move of tampering with the content of these books and in particular the decision of removing the cartoons from the books, this needs to be opposed strongly. The PUCL is bringing together intellectuals, literary minds, art lovers and will initiate a dialogue on this issue with public and the media.
We are,
Prem Krishna Sharma,  M Hasan, Kavita Srivastava, Prakash Chaturvedi, Komal Srivastava, Radhakant Saxena, Vishwambhar, Govind Beniwal, Shiv Singh, Rajendra Saiwal and Rajeev Gupta
Address for Correspondence: 76, Shanti Niketan Colony, Kisan Marg, Jaipur -302015
Phone No: 0141/ 2594131, pucl.rajasthan@gmail.com

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,   

Delhi: Dead girl found at Metro Station


A dead body of a 22 year old girl has been recovered near the Nehru place metro station.

Police is suspecting that the girl was first raped and then murdered. Crime in the National capital is on rise

The Cover Up


By- Anand Ranganathan

A mongoose is a strange animal. In the wild it lives largely underground, spending a considerable chunk of its time constructing large burrow complexes that are as gawk-worthy as any of the upcoming mega-commercial projects you come across from Ahmedabad to Greater Noida. In the cities, you can see it scampering about open drains of unauthorised colonies. But, people like the mongoose. Grandmothers speak of its back-to-the-wall scraps with the cobra, of its bloodied nose and bloodshot eyes and way of digging its teeth deep into its slithering thrashing enemy. A mongoose has bravado and because of this it is also narcissistic, and so it likes to parade around the battle scene much like a triumphant boxer. It knows no fear, has no sense of right or wrong and feels no remorse for its victim. The mongoose likes to move on.

Man too is a strange animal. He is narcissistic, knows no fear, and like the mongoose wants to move on. But man is not strange because of these qualities. No. Man is strange because he refuses to believe that he is an animal, because he demands what he calls ‘justice’, because he believes that the evil among his tribe will be punished.

There is a telling scene in the film Gandhi – its authenticity also referenced in the book Mohandas – where, at a meeting called to discuss Bapu’s decision to shelve the Non-Cooperation Movement in the aftermath of the Chauri Chaura incident, Nehru pleads: “But, Bapu, this is too drastic. The movement is a resounding success; the Brits are on their knees…and just because five policemen were killed you are calling off the whole thing?!” There is a moment of silence. Patel concurs emotionally while Jinnah’s poker eye stares through the monocle. Bapu says: “Tell that to the widows of those five policemen; you do that.” Historians may debate the effect the Non-Cooperation Movement may have had on the oppressor’s psyche had it continued unabated with the same vigour with which it was launched. But the fact remains that India got Independence precisely twenty five years after that one single sentence was uttered.

Men who are brave walk alone, but not those who have bravado – these men need a gang, a squad of like-minded people who see eye-to-eye but are blind to their leader’s failings; and onwards and upwards moves this bandwagon, from city to city, state to state, country to country, strength to strength. All along the route, for every man who shouts and screams, “Injustice!” there are a hundred who say “What nonsense!” For every man who feels for the widows of those five policemen, there are a thousand who shout him down with cries of, “The movement must go on! WE must move on!” For every woman who wants to be a mobile republic, there are a million who want their republic to have mobiles, and cars and washing machines and mining leases.

Injustice? What injustice? Pop into a lab if you want to see injustice; stand and stare at the rat who ekes out a pitiful cream-coloured dropping soon as its peritoneum is jabbed with a cruel needle; watch the guinea pig just before he’s about to become a guinea pig; admire the monkey who pretends death in case it is pulled out and sacrificed for a data point.

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