Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Shame - Still untouchable, still oppressed

Ahmedabad, December 29: IN the land of Mahatma Gandhi, who fought to end untouchability, two events brought into focus the fact that segregation and oppression of Dalits is very much a part of life in some rural pockets. That the events were shocking drove home the point that otherwise people simply take such practices for granted.

The first was the suicide of the husband of a Dalit sarpanch of Kamrej village, in the Bhavnagar district. Gangaben Maru (see photo) alleges in her police complaint that continued harassment by Haresh Sanga, the Bhavnagar taluka panchayat president, who wields considerable clout in the region, had led to her husband Jetha's suicide.

Ironically, it was Sanga himself who had backed Gangaben's candidature and urged her to become the sarpanch. The problem began, according to Gangaben, when she refused to toe his line and pay him the five per cent cut from government grants that he demanded.

For five months she wasn't allowed to attend panchayat meeting. She and her husband would be threatened and abused when she moved out. When they did not give in, Sanga and his henchmen tried to have a no-confidence motion moved against her.

She says she had all along informed the authorities and sought police protection. But before she could obtain protection, Jetha was found dead in a field: he had apparently committed suicide. Sanga has since been arrested.

The other event was the coming to light of segregation of upper- and lower-caste students for the mid-day meal in village schools of the Surendranagar district. When Dalit teachers opposed the practice, they found themselves alone. What is worse, they found themselves transferred as the administration worked out local compromises. Education department officials claimed they were helpless: without segregation, upper-caste families were refusing to send children to school so attendance was falling.

Source: The Indian Express, December 30, 2003

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Writer, teacher, woman, Christian, Tamil and Dalit

She looked like any ordinary Tamil woman in her neat and simple sari, her smooth, dark plait. But when she smiled, I knew there was something more to Faustina, better known as Bama, the writer. The smile was full-fledged, hopeful, and how precious this hope was I only realized when I read her autobiography, Karukku, then heard her speak of her life.

Bama is a Dalit. She has other identities: writer, teacher, woman, Christian, Tamil. But it is her Dalit self that shapes and brings together all her other identities. When she recalls her childhood, there is her immediate family, the village, the world of many communities and their inescapable dynamics. The immediate family explains much of the early foundation for a life of work and commitment. Bama's father, who was in the army, was determined that his children should get a basic education. Her mother, an illiterate coolie, supported her with perceptive advice. Her brother encouraged Bama to reach for everything almost impossible for a young Dalit woman - educational achievement, independence, teaching and writing.

The village Bama remembers has beautiful mountains, tanks, fields and woods. But all this is not just "nature". It is part of the hard business of making a living. The fields are there to be worked in, the mountain woods to be searched for firewood. The people who were part of Bama's childhood are divided into two fundamentally different groups: those who have to work hard every single day of their lives and those who do not seem to have any such problem. But there is more than this basic division. There are any number of groups and sub-groups, and each one has an illegible name.

Perhaps this is what emerges most sharply in Bama's written and spoken descriptions of growing up: the overwhelming sense that the village which extends just up to the bus terminus, "as if our entire world ended there", is divided into clear pockets of caste. There is the settlement of Nadars, who climb Palmyra palms for a living; there are the Koravars who sweep streets; the leather-working Chakkiliyars; the Kusa- vars, who make earthenware pots; the Pallas, the Thevars, the Chettiyars, the Aasaaris, the Udaiyaars. And Bama's own community of agricultural labourers, the Parayas. "I don't know how it came about that the upper-caste communities and the lower caste communities were separated like this into different parts of the village," writes Bama, "but they kept themselves to their part of the village, and we stayed in ours. We only went to their side if we had work to do there. But they never, ever, came to our parts. The post-office, the panchayat board, the milk depot, the big shops, the church, the schools - all these stood in their streets. So why would they need to come to our area?"

By the time Bama completed the eighth class in her village and went to high school in a neighbouring town, she knew what untouchability was very well. It meant being the children of servants, of cheap labour. It meant her old grandmother calling a little boy ayya ("Master") and obeying his commands. It meant that the Naicker women would pour drinking water from a height of four feet into their cupped hands. Or it meant eating leftovers from the Naicker kitchens. Most of all, it meant being taunted, on the streets or in school, as a Paraya. Even a child knew what it was like to be thought of as contemptible - as a "Harijan".

Bama studied hard. But no achievement in school or college would change what she was in the eyes of the teachers or the hostel-warden or the people in the bus. Even if she got the best marks in class, even if she was determined to earn respect, she was only a Paraya. Perhaps it was this growing realization that she would never "transcend" this identity that made her embrace it, not with resignation, but with a new zeal. She decided to become a nun so that she could teach Dalit children without the prejudice that was part of their experience in school.

Bama hoped to teach in a village school. But the religious order had other plans for her. Over the years, she began to see how romantic she had been to think that being part of a powerful institution like the church would enable her to help Dalit children. She then remembered what her mother had said when she wanted to be a nun: "They will ask you to plant something upside down to show you are obedient. And you won't do it, I know."

After seven years in a world unlike the real world she grew up in, the real world she hoped to help change, Bama left the convent, only to find she did not know "how to live". It was this terrible period of isolation that forced her into doing something that would help her to survive. She began writing about her childhood; about being Dalit. She wrote about a culture of survival - the hard work, and the noise, whether of songs or quarrels. She had the women speaking in the earthy language they actually spoke in - "the only armour" these women have against both landlords and husbands. She wrote in the dialect she had grown up speaking. She called this story of a Dalit life Karukku, a double-edged reference to the stem of the palm leaf. The serrated edges of the leaf recalled for Bama not only the "social cuts" people like her got every day, but also the more important fact that they had to cut through this stifling system.

The book, when finally published, caused a furore. Her own people were furious that they had been shown as "ugly". She was not allowed to enter her village for almost seven months. Then understanding grew, particularly am- ong the young, and she was invited to the village for the erection of an Ambedkar statue. Among the rest of her readership, there was discomfort about the subject matter of her writing; about her narrative style, and her language, which was criticized as neither beautiful nor acceptable.

But she made many others proud. In the succeeding years, though Bama was often lonely, often tired of presenting a tough exterior, Bama managed to do the unthinkable. She got herself a job as a schoolteacher; she took a loan and built a small house where she learnt to live alone; she wrote more, stories of breakthroughs people made so that they would not be broken themselves.

She is now clear about her life's mission: to fight the "worst injustice". And what, in her opinion, is this injustice? "Because Dalits have…been told again and again of their degradation, they have come to believe they are degraded…they have reached a stage where they themselves, voluntarily, hold themselves apart...The consequence of all this is that there is no way for Dalits to find freedom or redemption."

As her reader and admirer, I can only hope Bama's voice will reach all Indian children, so they learn the truth about the society they are heir to.

Source: The Telegraph, December 28, 2003

Friday, December 26, 2003

Hurdles Ahead

The issue of reservation could open a can of worms even as many laud the roadmap for reforms in civil service

By SANJAYA DHAKAL

Under pressure to address issues of under-representation of women, Dalit and indigenous people, the government has formulated a roadmap for civil service administration.

But the hurry in which the government has introduced the roadmap has raised serious questions over its long-term efficacy with senior bureaucrats expressing doubts even as activists have welcomed it as a positive beginning.

The government has formulated the roadmap proposing 20 percent reservation for women, 10 percent for Dalit (untouchables) and 5 percent of indigenous people beginning April next year.

The Administrative Reform Commission (ARC) headed by the Minister for General Administration Buddhiman Tamang has already approved the roadmap, which now awaits the cabinet green light and amendment in the present Civil Service Act. As the Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, himself, is said to have taken the keen interest, the roadmap is expected to be approved within April.

The government officials have said that the roadmap will propose time-bound reservations for the said communities. The government's chief secretary Dr. Bimal Koirala hinted that initially, it would be in place for five years.

Apart from the proposals for reservations, the roadmap also recommends that all the government ministries should have at least one woman joint secretary and an under secretary at their respective ministries by mid-July, 2004.

To facilitate women's recruitment, it also proposes that female employees in the universities and state-owned public enterprises will be provided the opportunity to fight for the first and second class officers' posts without any age bar.

Likewise, it also aims to make the curriculum of the Public Service Commission (PSC), the constitutional body authorized to recruit bureaucrats, gender friendly, and coaching classes will be conducted at local levels to encourage women candidates to apply for the civil service posts.

The women and other activists have welcomed the step as a positive beginning while senior bureaucrats opine that it may not work effectively.

"This is a good beginning. We have been calling for 33 percent reservation for women. So, there is a need to increase the reservation for women," said Dr. Durga Pokharel, chairman of National Women's Commission (NWC).

Agrees Dr. Krishna Bhattachan, former chief of the department of sociology at the Tribhuwan University - the oldest and largest university in the country. "The discrimination against minorities like women, Dalit and Janajatis are extreme. This step, although grossly inadequate, is a positive one," said Dr. Bhattachan, who has been involved in the advocacy of the rights of Dalits and indigenous people.

However, senior civil servants do not think the new roadmap will work for the country's benefit. "Look at how the reservation policy failed in our neighboring country India. We should have gone for better advocacy and training to make women, Dalit and Janajatis capable of fighting civil service exams on their merit. Even now, the civil service remains unattractive to qualified people. There is an urgent need to make our officers more efficient and capable. Such reservations will not help as it will mean that while one set of people will have to work and study hard while another set of people can just benefit from the quotas," said a member of the Public Service Commission (PSC).

"Today, they are asking for reservation for women, Dalit and indigenous community. Tomorrow many other minority communities may make similar demands. Can we afford to open up such a dangerous Pandora's Box?" asked another senior civil servant. He also said such policies cannot be made time-bound as they will become a political compulsion for the subsequent governments.

His views are shared by a joint secretary Dr. Niranjan Prasad Upadhyay, who also works at the PSC. "This kind of policy cannot be introduced in such a hurry and without adequate homework and consultations with stake-holders," he said.

In fact, the government had proposed reservations for the under-privileged segments of Nepalese society in its 'progressive agenda', which it had put forth during the government-Maoist dialogue in August this year. Although the dialogue collapsed, the government had been saying that it will go ahead with its proposals.

And then there are people who said that the current, being a nominated one may not be a properly legitimate one to announce policies with such far-reaching consequences for the nation. "I am not sure this government is qualified to announce such ambitious proposals," said another senior bureaucrat, not wanting to be named.

But Dr. Bhattachan believes that any government should be welcomed if it takes positive decision. "You have to look at the merit of the decision," he said.

There are well over 100 ethnic and caste groups in the country and well over 100 languages and dialects. However, there is a tell-tale disproportionate domination of limited caste groups particularly Brahmin, Chhetri and Newar in politics, administration and education. Occupying around 37 percent of the total population, these groups' share in the integrated national governance is 81.7 percent. Their involvement is strong in all major spheres of nation including politics, judiciary, parliament, business and economy. While the Dalit communities share almost 20 percent of the total population of Nepal (23.4 million), the country did not see a single Dalit minister since the restoration of democracy in 1990. The case of Janajatis, though not as bad as Dalit, also warrants serious attention.

There is an extremely disproportionate representation of women in all sectors of life. Take for instance the share of women in different sectors - according to different reports, women occupy 50.03 percent of population but compared to male (adult) literacy of 62.2 percent, the female literacy is only 34.6 percent. Their share in civil service is around 8.55 percent. There are only 2.04 percent of female judges. The share of female teachers is 26 percent. Among the media personnel, only 22 percent are women. Their share in the last House of Representatives, an elected legislative body, was 5.85 percent.

Many say that the disproportionate representation of various communities is also one of the reasons for the conflict in the country.

"The country's uneven development, poverty and underdevelopment, existing social and economic deprivation of socially excluded and ethnic communities provided a congenial environment for the organizational expansion (of the Maoists)," said Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, former finance minister. The rank and file of the Maoists consist of people from deprived communities.

As such, the government's roadmap can indeed become a landmark in bringing about a change in Nepalese society and address the problem of social exclusion to an extent. But the lack of adequate homework and planning could also undo the roadmap as there is a credible threat that the civil service can become further incapable and inefficient when people are recruited based on quotas rather than merits. Any decision has to weigh in all the options available as Nepal can ill afford to act in haste and repent in leisure anymore.

Source: Nepalnews.com, December 26, 2003

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Dalit segregation is taught in Gandhi's Gujarat

CHOTILA: At least seven Dalit teachers have been transferred in Gujarat's Surendranagar district for objecting to segregation of upper- and lower-caste students during mid-day meals in some schools.

Now upper-caste parents in other villages are using the threat of transfer to keep Dalit teachers from opposing the practice.

``During training, we are taught to treat every student the same irrespective of caste or religion, but here it is not so,'' said Girishbhai Wadher, a Dalit headmaster who was transferred from the primary school in Bhojpari village to one in Mehindad, and then to one in Kabran. Wadher, who joined service three years ago, said the discrimination was not so rampant or visible when he joined three years ago.

``In August some upper-caste parents in Bhojpari and Bhojpara villages asked the mid-day meals in-charge to make Dalit students sit separately,'' he said. ``When I and two other teachers protested, the villagers came and told us they would socially boycott the entire Dalit community in the village.''

Some teachers are too scared to talk, fearing that Dalits in their villages may be attacked. The fears are not unfounded: Dalits in Bhojpari village were beaten up on September 29. Said Inspector N. Ninama of the Chotila Police Station, ``An FIR was lodged on October 2 and we arrested 41 people, including sarpanch Karansinh Uttedhiya, for the attack. A day later, they were released on bail and held a dharna outside the district primary education officer's (DPEO) office, demanding that the teachers be transferred or they wouldn't send children to school.''

Wadher and two others_ Laljibhai Anjaria and Chaturbhai Chauhan_ were transferred on December 3. Before that, four Dalit teachers had been transferred in September.

DPEO P.F. Pargi, who acknowledged that Wadher had complained to him, said that this was only a temporary arrangement ``till things cooled down.'' He said: ``We cannot afford to have 200 students not attending school because of such a problem.'' ``Therefore, the only solution was to shift the teachers temporarily,'' he said. ``I think the issue has been solved for now.''

Asked what he was doing about the segregation of Dalits and non-Dalits, Pargi had no answer.

The social justice & empowerment department hasn't even taken the matter with the seriousness it deserves.

``We feel threatened,'' said one teacher. ``In most villages here, upper caste parents want segregation. We are seen as troublemakers. How can we work in this atmosphere?'' said P.G. Parmar, a Dalit leader and president of Gujarat Backward Class Communities Association, ``While feudalism is strongly prevalent in Surendranagar, sadly it has crept into the classrooms. The children don't even know why they are asked to keep away from school. We've written to the National Human Rights Commission.''

For the Dalit teachers, it was also galling to see that none of their upper-caste colleagues stood by them or raised a voice of protest when they were transferred. But then, many of them stood to benefit from the transfers.

Source: Newindpress.com, December 16, 2003

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Less in numbers, more in menial jobs

New Delhi, December 5: YOGESH and Siyaram are busy sweeping the red carpet. These Dalit migrants are from a village near Aligarh. As a stark life-sized exhibit near them - part of the ongoing photo and poster exhibition on the state of Dalits titled Hidden Apartheid - states that nearly half the sweepers in India are from the Dalit community. A number greatly out of proportion considering they are only 16 per cent of the population.

The exhibition, organised by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the NGO Anhad (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), is timed to coincide with a Dalit Swadhikar rally of Dalits and human rights activists setting out tonight from Delhi to reach Mumbai for the World Social Forum on January 16.

Flagging off the rally, former president K.R. Narayanan argued that the condition of the Dalits was the touchstone of the condition of India since it revolved around fundamental issues of access to basic resources and livelihood in a time of growing disparities, evident in the rise in the number of Dalits below the poverty line.

Praising the NCDHR's he expressed hope that the exhibition would ''awaken peoples''' conscience.

Researched and designed by social activist Shabnam Hashmi and designer Pervez, the exhibition powerfully depicts the numerous disadvantages that the Dalit community in India continues to face. The show draws attention to their low numbers in secondary schools and universities, government bodies and academic posts, and on the other hand their high representation in menial jobs.

Drawing extensively on newspaper articles and government reports, it juxtaposes national statistics with studies of individuals who are battling discrimination and violence - a woman panchayat leader, a family who dares to enter the village temple, a scavenger.

Source: The Indian Express, December 6, 2003

Less in numbers, more in menial jobs

New Delhi, December 5: YOGESH and Siyaram are busy sweeping the red carpet. These Dalit migrants are from a village near Aligarh. As a stark life-sized exhibit near them - part of the ongoing photo and poster exhibition on the state of Dalits titled Hidden Apartheid - states that nearly half the sweepers in India are from the Dalit community. A number greatly out of proportion considering they are only 16 per cent of the population.

The exhibition, organised by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the NGO Anhad (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), is timed to coincide with a Dalit Swadhikar rally of Dalits and human rights activists setting out tonight from Delhi to reach Mumbai for the World Social Forum on January 16.

Flagging off the rally, former president K.R. Narayanan argued that the condition of the Dalits was the touchstone of the condition of India since it revolved around fundamental issues of access to basic resources and livelihood in a time of growing disparities, evident in the rise in the number of Dalits below the poverty line.

Praising the NCDHR's he expressed hope that the exhibition would ''awaken peoples''' conscience.

Researched and designed by social activist Shabnam Hashmi and designer Pervez, the exhibition powerfully depicts the numerous disadvantages that the Dalit community in India continues to face. The show draws attention to their low numbers in secondary schools and universities, government bodies and academic posts, and on the other hand their high representation in menial jobs.

Drawing extensively on newspaper articles and government reports, it juxtaposes national statistics with studies of individuals who are battling discrimination and violence - a woman panchayat leader, a family who dares to enter the village temple, a scavenger.

Source: The Indian Express, December 6, 2003

Less in numbers, more in menial jobs

New Delhi, December 5: YOGESH and Siyaram are busy sweeping the red carpet. These Dalit migrants are from a village near Aligarh. As a stark life-sized exhibit near them - part of the ongoing photo and poster exhibition on the state of Dalits titled Hidden Apartheid - states that nearly half the sweepers in India are from the Dalit community. A number greatly out of proportion considering they are only 16 per cent of the population.

The exhibition, organised by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the NGO Anhad (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), is timed to coincide with a Dalit Swadhikar rally of Dalits and human rights activists setting out tonight from Delhi to reach Mumbai for the World Social Forum on January 16.

Flagging off the rally, former president K.R. Narayanan argued that the condition of the Dalits was the touchstone of the condition of India since it revolved around fundamental issues of access to basic resources and livelihood in a time of growing disparities, evident in the rise in the number of Dalits below the poverty line.

Praising the NCDHR's he expressed hope that the exhibition would ''awaken peoples''' conscience.

Researched and designed by social activist Shabnam Hashmi and designer Pervez, the exhibition powerfully depicts the numerous disadvantages that the Dalit community in India continues to face. The show draws attention to their low numbers in secondary schools and universities, government bodies and academic posts, and on the other hand their high representation in menial jobs.

Drawing extensively on newspaper articles and government reports, it juxtaposes national statistics with studies of individuals who are battling discrimination and violence - a woman panchayat leader, a family who dares to enter the village temple, a scavenger.

Source: The Indian Express, December 6, 2003

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Caste crucible's neighbour becomes lab

RADHIKA RAMASESHAN

Chhattarpur, Dec. 1: If Mandal and Dalit power have become political realities in Uttar Pradesh, can neighbouring Madhya Pradesh be far behind? Yes and no.

Caste has "influenced and determined most elections in India", said observers about the caste-factor in the Assembly polls. However, in the districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh, this explanation was amended to mean that the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party effect had percolated the borders and the backward castes and Dalits were asserting their identities more forcefully.

Evidence of this was visible in the crowds that milled to Chhattarpur on November 25 when BSP leader Mayavati addressed a rally. Young and old, men, women and children poured in in trucks, jeeps and tractors or trekked from distant villages, shouting "Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari, uski utni bhagyidari (The greater the numbers, the higher the representation)".

"These people only understand the language of the oppressor. But our great Digvijay Singh carries them on his head like a crown," muttered Kuldeep Singh, a Congress worker from Chauka village 20 km from Chhattarpur. The Congress member was visibly upset over the chief minister's move to distribute title deeds (pattas) to Dalits and regularise their land holdings.

"I may support the Congress publicly, but in my heart of hearts I feel cheated by Digvijay," said the Congressman from Chauka. He felt that the chief minister let him down, following the arrest - under the SC/ST Act - of landowners who opposed the distribution of the deeds. "A law-abiding man like Thakur Jagat Singh from our village, who shuddered to even think about a jail, was put behind bars," he said.

Munni Lal Prajapati, the Dalit sarpanch, was a beneficiary of the patta scheme. However, Prajapati said he would vote for the BSP and not the Congress. "When we have the real thing, we go for a second-hand one?" asked the sarpanch.

"The biggest problem is social inequality. Dalits continue to remain slaves as they were under the British. Thakurs, who claim to be descendants of this or that royal family, rule the roost and nobody can stand against the terror they unleash," said J.P. Nigam, the BSP candidate from Chhattarpur.

"Tika Ram Yadav, the president of the Yadav Samaj here, was murdered because he said he would contest the last election. Then, when a Lodhi Rajput defeated a Thakur in the last panchayat elections, he was killed," alleged Nigam.

"Even today, men and women from the most backward castes and Dalits are forced to entertain Thakur landlords. They have no land, no fishing rights, no right to use the forests even for their daily quota of firewood," asserted the BSP candidate.

Nigam sourced the power disparity to the non-implementation of land reforms and compared the situation with Uttar Pradesh.

"In Uttar Pradesh, Chaudhury Charan Singh scrupulously enforced the Land Ceiling Act. This, coupled with the spin-offs of the Green Revolution, made the Jats and backward castes economically self-sufficient and strong. Economic empowerment gave them social pride and the next logical step was political participation," he said.

"In Madhya Pradesh, Dalits and backward castes cannot become powerful simply by contesting elections," claimed the candidate.

This is why Nigam and others were sceptical of how much BJP leader Uma Bharti would deliver in the socio-economic sector if she were to become chief minister despite being from the Other Backward Classes. "The OBC effect is nil. Her appeal is purely regional," Nigam felt.

Gauri Shankar Pathak, the Khajuraho-based BJP Kisan Morcha vice-president and a close associate of Bharti, warned that if her backward caste antecedent was overplayed, the BJP could stand to lose. "If Uma becomes casteist, she will never become the chief minister because the BJP takes every caste along with it," he said.

Source: The Telegraph, December 2, 2003

If demography is destiny...

A demographic challenge that lies ahead is the growing strength of Dalits. Given their higher birth rates, Dalits today matter more in elections than before, says R Jagannathan

States in the US are worried that Indian software engineers will take away their jobs. Unions in the UK are up in arms because Indian BPO firms can endlessly undercut them and grab contracts.

The Assamese are angry that Biharis — not to speak of Bangladeshis — are reducing their job opportunities and making them a minority in their own state. In metros like Mumbai and Delhi, the growth of migrant workers from the poorer states of India — apart from Bangladesh and Nepal — is already spreading angst among the locals.

Despite the short-term worries about local jobs, what’s common to all the above cases is the demographic challenge. In the West, the median age of the population is rising due to declining birth rates and increased life expectancy — exactly at a time when India has a surplus of educated employed. Skill shortages are now surfacing as there exists a higher demand for Indian software services, teachers and doctors.

In fact, a recent study by a high-level strategic group headed by Planning Commission member N.K. Singh says that skill shortages in countries such as the US, UK and Germany will rise to around 32-39 million over the next two decades.

This constitutes an opportunity for India to grab business worth $ 133-315 billion in remote services like BPO and through the import of customers (like bringing in patients for surgery and recuperation in India.) Even China and Russia may not be as well placed as India to serve this market gap due to changes in their own demographics and ageing populations.

Of all the problems faced by societies, it is always the demographic challenge — whether of high birth rates or low — that is the most difficult to confront. The reason: Demographic change compounds at a slow rate — slow enough for most people to miss its import in everyday life, but it’s faster than the ability of communities to change course.

The developed world knew long ago that it had a problem with the rapid ageing of its workforce, but it could do little about it because decisions to reproduce (or not to) are made by individual couples. It’s not something a state can influence beyond a point. What makes sense for an entire community — having more children — may not make sense for an individual couple because of economic factors.

Even in India, there are huge demographic challenges ahead. Internal migration — assuming it to be a function of wage differentials and the relative growth rate in populations — could start increasing from the Bimaru areas due to the huge drop in birth rates, especially in the south.

States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have already achieved a net reproductivity rate of one — which means they are only producing enough children to replace the ones dying off. Bimaru migration, I surmise, has thus far been concentrated in the northern and eastern states due to closer linguistic affinities. But this could change as the southern economy booms and the workforce starts developing gaps.

Politically, the relative drop in the population share of the south means that every Lok Sabha seat represents fewer people in the south than in the north. But internal migration could change this — making ethnic Hindi-speaking people an even stronger political force than before.

We should thus be prepared to face more calls for regionalism than before. The massacre of migrants in Assam is only an early warning signal of what could happen elsewhere in India. The Shiv Sena’s muscle-flexing over railway jobs in Mumbai is one such straw in the wind.

Another challenge will be the growing strength of Dalits and the underclass. Given their higher birth rates so far, Dalits today matter more in elections than before. The rise of Mayawati is in no small measure due to this demographic change. With the upper castes, and increasingly some of the better-off OBCs, slowing down in terms of reproductive rates, the Dalit voice will get stronger in the future.

A even bigger demographic challenge — perhaps spread over a longer timeframe of 40-50 years — will be the growth of the Muslim population in India and the rest of the subcontinent. It is no secret that the Muslim population in India, and the subcontinent as a whole, is growing much faster than the other communities.

One research study by the Chennai-based Centre for Policy Studies shows that the number of people belonging to religions of non-Indian origin (basically Islam and Christianity) could exceed those that were indigenous to India by the 2050s if one takes the subcontinent as a whole. (Demography is no respecter of national boundaries, as the Mexican influx into the US or the Bangladeshi influx into India shows.)

During these 50 years, the economic challenge will be of an ageing Hindu population, and a much younger non-Hindu population. That will bring its own political and social challenges. Demography offers a new challenge to democratic societies — and this challenge cannot be ducked by shying away from the numbers.

Source: Business Standard, December 2, 2003

Monday, December 01, 2003

Exploring the travails of Dalits

A novel Dalit Padum Paadu written by Dr Savitri Viswanathan and Dr Anandi Ramanathan, a translation of classical Japanese novel Hakai ((Ten Commandments) was released by Ryuzo Kikuchi , Consul General of Japan in Chennai recently. Savitri and Anandi said that they chose to translate Shimazaki Toson's classic Hakai, because the Japanese novel had a lot in common with India's social structure.

The novel explores a theme that has haunted the country for decades - untouchability. The novel was more on fighting an unjust system and winning it and the sacrifices one should make along the way.

The function was presided over by noted Tamil scholar Solomon Pappiah.

Earlier, Raj Gauthaman, who introduced the novel said 'the struggles for self-emancipation of downtrodden and marginalised people all over the world, including Eta of Japan and Dalits of India are fundamentally the same'.

Source: News Today, December 1, 2003