Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Laloo said 6 months, still waiting 6 yrs later


THE CRIME: On January 25, 1999, 23 Dalits were killed by suspected Ranvir Sena men in Shanker Bigha, Jehanabad.
THE CASE: Mehandia PS Case no 5/99. GR 171/99 State Vs Parmeshwar Singh (Ranvir Sena chief and others). There are 24 accused, 76 witnesses.
THE STATUS: Two chargesheets so far — 37/03 dated August 15, 2003, and 67/2000 dated February 26, 2000. On November 2, 2003, the case was transferred from the chief judicial magistrate to the sub-divisional judicial magistrate, Jehanabad, for framing of charges. Charges not yet framed. The reason? All accused must be present in court on one day for framing of charges. This has not happened yet. Two accused, Parmeshwar Singh and Kamlesh Bhat, are in jail; the rest are on bail. Witnesses can be called only when charges are framed.

SHANKER BIGHA: On January 25, 1999, at the cusp of the 50th year of the Indian Republic, 23 Dalits of village Shanker Bigha met their tryst with destiny. They were killed by a suspected Ranvir Sena squad, ending a chain of violence that had begun two massacres ago.

The Shanker Bigha massacre was "revenge" for the killing of Nawal Singh, a few days earlier, by the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC). Nawal Singh, in turn, had been on the MCC’s hitlist ever since the Mein Bersinha massacre of 1992.

In Mein Bersinha, six Dalits had been killed by the Ranvir Sena. The MCC has retaliated by killing 36 upper caste people in the Bara massacre of February 1992.

Yet the Naxals' eye had been on Nawal Singh, said to be a Ranvir Sena terror in the region, commanding 500 armed Bhumihars. Following his elimination, the Ranvir Sena had to hit back.

It chose January 25, an otherwise innocuous day that began with a bunch of upper caste men from nearby Dobdigha coming to Shanker Bigha to buy chickens. They bought 30 and, that evening, had a little party with country chicken and country liquor.

The locals found the visit to their hamlet amusing, but were glad that it had ended a period of tension. By 8.00 pm, more upper caste men came in, in small batches of seven or eight. Nothing seemed amiss. The women were in the kitchen. The men and children were ambling around. Shanker Bigha was preparing to retire for the night.

Then they struck. Quite suddenly, the visitors — invaders, really — were all over the village, just everywhere. They broke down doors, killed anyone they could find. It took only one bullet to rip apart Munna's body. Not difficult to do, if the target is a 10-month-old baby. Eventually, they killed 23, all from a sharecropper background. The oldest victim was 60, among the younger ones was a four-year-old.

Lallan Sao's house had a door too strong for the marauders. From within his sanctuary, he heard it all, right down to the three whistles that told the Sena men to retreat. He heard them shout ‘"Ranvir Baba ki jai" as they vanished into Dobdigha, Daulatpur and Hardia.

The government made its post-event noises. After the massacre, a Rs 5 lakh reward was announced for the head of Parmeshwar Mukhya, Ranvir Sena chief.

By the time Laloo Yadav and Rabri Devi arrived on January 26, one of the accused, Babban Singh, had already been arrested. Shanker Bigha was seething. Its people shouted at Laloo, they wanted Babban handed over to them for mob justice.

‘‘What happened to the killers in Bathe," they asked, referring to a massacre that had taken place in 1997 in the same police station's jurisdiction. Laloo had an answer. ‘‘The arrested persons in the Bathe case will soon face trial," he said, ‘‘for the Shanker Bigha case, we will constitute special courts for speedy trials, which will be completed within six months."

Six years have passed. Twenty-two of the 24 accused are roaming free. Let alone a trial, even the charges have not been framed. The Dalits of Shanker Bigha were promised a school after the massacre. Construction began on the small piece of land that was Madhura Paswan's only property. The school is still half-built.

"While taking over my land," remembers Paswan, ‘‘I was assured I would get the contract for building the school. But I got only the labour contract. On that account too, the contractor cheated me of Rs 25,000."

Within the unfinished school, adults play cards, children sit around and watch. Some of them do go to school, in Rupsagar Bigha, where one teacher grapples with a class of 300.

‘‘We go to villages other than Dobdigha to work in the land of the upper caste," say Paswan and other villagers, ‘‘but we are scared of going to Dobdigha ... And we are not sure if we will testify in court. But if the government and the police give us protection to tell the truth, we will say it ..."

Source: The Indian Express, November 30, 2004

Workshop on empowering Dalits, women in Panchayats

Chandigarh: A two-days workshop on ‘Empowerment of Dalits and Women Through Reservation in Panchayati Raj Institutions' today commenced at the ICSSR North-Western Regional Centre & Ambedkar Centre, Panjab University. Dalit panches / sarpanches, including women, besides a galaxy of scholars, social activists and administrators from four states namely, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh participated. In his welcome address,

Professor K.N. Pathak, Vice-Chancellor, Panjab University pointed out that statutory powers given to the people, particularly the lower sections of the society have not percolated to the people.The reasons behind this may be political, social, economic or administrative. Haryana Governor Dr A.R. Kidwai praised the radical contents of the Indian Constitution.

He revealed that there are 29 items relating to the social, economic and political life of the rural people that is to be transferred to the Panchayats under the 73rd Amendment of the Constitutions.

However, there is hardly any state that has transferred powers to the Panchayats barring a few departments. He said that unless the financial powers are decentralized and devolved onto the panchayats, they cannot improve in rural areas.

In the first technical session, four papers were read respectively by Kumar Suresh Singh from the Centre for Federal studies, Jamia University, Dr. Masood Ali Khan, Acting Director, ICSSR Southern Region, Hyderabad, Dr. Rozy Vaid from Punjab Institute of Rural Development and Mukesh Kumar, State Resource Centre, Rohtak.

The basic thrust of the papers was that though reservation has benefited the women and downtrodden in the rural areas, a lot is yet to be achieved.

Source: The Indian Express, November 30, 2004

Monday, November 29, 2004

7 yrs ago this week 59 Dalits were killed, charges are yet to be framed


7 yrs ago this week 59 Dalits were killed, charges are yet to be framed


The crime: On December 1, 1997, 59 Dalits were killed by suspected Ranvir Sena men in Laxmanpur-Bathe, Jehanabad.
The case: FIR Mehandia 126/97, informant Vinod Paswan. Case pending trial at the Additional Sessions Judge 11 Court, Patna.
The status: After the filing of charge sheets, the case was committed for trial in February 1999. Six years on, even charges have not been framed against the 24 accused. All but two of them are on bail.

Varghese K. George

When Bihar goes to polls in about three months, slogans of social justice will once again be heard. To the world outside, Laloo Prasad Yadav is the messiah of ‘social justice.’ For his coalition partner Congress, he is the only hope in a state that threatens to fall off the map.

In the past 15 years of rule by Laloo, an estimated 1,000 people have been killed by private armies, such as the upper caste Ranbir Sena, in 300 incidents. Left extremists groups have, on their part, perpetrated equally chilling massacres. Spending weeks in dusty, clustered record rooms across 10 courts in five districts — Jehanabad, Bhojpur, Gaya, Aurangabad and Patna — that are, roughly, Bihar’s zone of feudal violence, The Indian Express finds out how the wheels of justice move for the Dalits and the downtrodden in Laloo’s laboratory of social justice.

In the final month of 1997, this obscure rural corner in Bihar shook India. On December 1 that year, 59 Dalits were killed here in a massacre that had then president K.R. Narayan exclaiming, "It is a national shame." On the night of December 1-2, about 250 Ranvir Sena men crossed the Sone river from Bhojpur district to the Subhas Nagar Tola in Laxmanpur-Bathe. They surrounded the hamlet and started firing. It was as simple as that. Of the 59 who died, 26 were women; 19 were children under the age of 10. The victims were all Dalits.

The Ranvir Sena assailants had come from Barki Kharaon and Chotki Kharaon villages in Bhojpur. There were two "provocations". First, five people from the upper castes had been gunned down by CPI-ML activists only recently in the area. More immediately, there was a land dispute. Adjoining the Kamta village was a disputed patch cultivated by the upper caste. Landless Dalits, propped up by the Naxalites, had sought to forcibly harvest the crop.

In mid-November, these people marched down the village, seeking direct action on what they felt were overdue "land reforms". Among the marchers were some from Subhas Nagar Tola. "This land belongs to us," they cried. The upper caste groups were alarmed. The "rebellion" had to be put down, quickly. The result was the bloodbath on a dark December night.

They came in droves. Rabri Devi, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Ram Vilas Paswan, Mulayam Singh Yadav — Laxmanpur-Bathe hadn’t seen so many VIPs in its history. With the visitors, came the promises. Laloo Yadav, then in jail courtesy the fodder scandal, spoke to his wife, the chief minister Rabri. "The state government will constitute a SIT (special investigative team) and set up a special court to try the accused," the chief minister said. On December 5, she promised a special fund of Rs 54 crore for road construction in extremist-affected areas.

Maqdool Dar, then Union minister of state for home, arrived and said, "Private armies will be disarmed. Licences for firearms issued to suspected members of such armies will be cancelled." On December 4, Amnesty International called Bihar a "lawless state". It sought the disarming of the Ranvir Sena.

Today, the Ranvir Sena continues to be armed, continues to terrorise Dalits. As for Rabri's Rs 54 crore, nobody knows how it was spent. Laxmanpur-Bathe continues to be as inaccessible as it was in 1997. The roads are still a nightmare. A larger war on terror was also promised. On December 6, 1997, the Justice Amir Das Commission was constituted, to "probe the nexus between the Ranvir Sena and political elements". It had a six month term. Seven years have passed, the commission continues its endless hearings.

On December 13, after being released from prison, Laloo got to Laxmanpur- Bathe. Rabri and he arrived by helicopter. Rabri promised a special court for speedy trial. Laloo blamed the Left parties for Bihar’s tardy land reforms. He inspected the poor quality foodgrain supplied as part of the relief material, duly upbraided the district magistrate.

"No one will be spared," he said, "even the officers who have been helping these forces will be booked ... Give licences to these people." That last reference was to gun licences. When it was pointed out that the Dalits had no money for food, let alone guns, Laloo kept mum. "I will come again," he said, as he flew off. Laloo has never come back to Laxmanpur-Bathe.

The criminal case related to the massacre is a legal slowcoach, still at a very early stage. Even charges against the accused are yet to be framed. No special court has been designated, contrary to Rabri’s promise. Of the 24 accused, all but two are on bail. During the framing of charges all the accused must be present physically in the court. For the past 20 hearings, the line-up has been incomplete.

On July 10, 2004, Buxar Jail officials told the court of a Home Department "administrative decision" not to produce accused Pramod Singh in any court. Earlier there were reports that informant Vinod Paswan was being threatened by Birendra Singh, one of the main accused. Neither Paswan nor Singh could be traced in the village. "Birendra Singh is present in the village and he roams around free with guns. Who will want to testify in this case and die?" asks Panchan Paswan, a local in Bathe.

Bihar has no answer.

Source: The Indian Express, November 29, 2004

Sunday, November 28, 2004

5,000 Dalits from State to attend rally

Over 200 activists from various non-governmental organisations working for the rights of Gujarat’s Dalits, Muslims and tribals assembled here for their final state-level consultation before the scheduled World Dignity Forum (WDF) rally in Delhi on December 5.

Zakia Jowher, a senior fellow of ActionAid-India and coordinator of Aman Samuday, said the All-India People’s Rally organised by WDF at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on December 5 would be attended by nearly 50,000 Dalits of all faiths and denominations, indigenous people, women, minorities and unorganised workers. "This will be the first such congregation of such a large number of people facing social and economic deprivations of various types in the country. Nearly 5,000 of them will be from Gujartat alone," she said.

ActionAid regional manager Amarjyoti Nayak said in his address that despite Gujarat's industrial and economic prosperity, the state’s Dalits and minorities had remained much below the reach of the general development. "Their low literacy rates, school drop-out rates, poor sex ratio and land ownerships are issues of real concern, which the WDF seeks to address," he said.

As part of the WDF exercises, several initiatives have been made by the NGOs in the forum in various parts of Gujarat in the last three months. The NGOs and organisations include Behavioural Science Centre (BSC), ActionAid, Banaskantha Dalit Sangathan (BDS), Aman Samuday, Lok Adhikar Manch, Saurashtra Dalit Yuva Sangathan, Gujarat Jan Andolan and Gujarat Adivasi Mahasabha. Saturday’s state-level consultations were coordinated by Jowher and BSC director Dinesh Parmar. The speakers at this conference blamed the "right-wing politics" in Gujarat and other Indian states for the underdevelopment of the Dalits and minorities.

Source: The Indian Express, November 28, 2004

Stop Caste Panchayats’ Atrocities -- AIDWA

AIDWA Holds Citizens Convention

SWAMI Agnivesh warned that infringement of constitutional rights by self-styled gotras, castes and religious panchayats passing fatwas against women, dalits, minorities must stop or else these attacks against the weaker sections will be taken up at the United Nations Committee Against Slavery (of which he is the chairperson) as well as on the national and international fora.

He was among a battery of distinguished intellectuals, social workers, women and dalit leaders who expressed their determination to fight against all forms of inequality at a ‘Citizens Convention Against Attacks on Constitutional Rights’ by Self-styled Panchayats’ organised by the Haryana unit of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). The convention was held in the background of the now infamous Assanda village case wherein a pregnant woman, Sonia, was being forced by a gotra panchayat to dissolve her marriage and tie rakhis to her husband. Such cases of violation of human rights are on the rise in Haryana and it has forced AIDWA along with other progressive organisations and individuals to take up cudgels against such barbaric tendencies.

The convention included a public hearing of the victims and persons affected by such unconstitutional panchayats. The victims narrated the horrific details of their suffering. The large number of participants coming from all walks of life were aghast at the extent of sufferings which included physical and mental torture, worst forms of social boycott and family dislocation, economic ruin and social humiliation. The convention passed a detailed resolution demanding stern action against such blatant violation of constitutional rights and strict administrative and legislative measures to stop these violations.

The speakers in the convention included Professors Dr Choudhary, Surajbhan, AIDWA state general secretary, Jagmati Sangwan, Shubha, Dr Ranbir Singh Dahiya. Among those who attended the convention included Professors Khazan Singh Sangwan, Neelima Dahiya, Mahavir Sharma and Balbir Singh Rather (Principal); Dr O P Lathwal, Ramkishan Rather, Dr Baldev Singh, Mahavir Khatri, Dr Pardeep Kumar, Dr Vizir Nehra, Dr Ajmer Singh Kajal, Dr Santosh Mudgil and a host of prominent citizens. The large number of participants from all over the state forced the organisers to shift the venue in the open as the big hall proved to be inadequate.

Source: People's Democracy, November 28, 2004

Friday, November 26, 2004

BJP-RSS: A new mask

By Ram Puniyani

The humiliating defeat of BJP in the parliamentary elections followed by Maharashtra Assembly elections has created a crisis in the party. One of the measures taken to offset this demoralization and despondency has been to appoint, once again, Mr. L.K. Advani as the president of the party. Since so far the party has been operating on the plank of Hindutva and it seems this slogan has lost its sheen along with the issues which have been identified with it Ram Temple, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code.

This Hindutva has got politically and socially manifested in a rabid anti-minoritism as seen in the burning of Pastor Graham Staines and the state-sponsored carnage in Gujarat The party which catapulted itself to power by using these issues is at the receiving end. These emotive issues have failed to get them sufficient number of votes to come to power. Along with the organizational modifications, the political agenda is being recast under new slogans. The new words, which the new President Advani has put forward are Bharatiyata or Nationalism, and Integral Humanism from the ideology of Deendayal Upadhayay, who has been a hindutva ideologue.

What is new about Bharatiyata or Nationalism? Essentially it is an attempt to bring back a notion of Hindu Nationalism with a new label, old wine in a new bottle. BJPs Hindutva was an alternative to Indian Nationalism, the one based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (Community), the founding principles of Indias freedom movement and the basic premise of Independent India. BJP necessarily has to bypass the values that have made the modern India. In a way the Nationalism in the name of religion began in the nineteenth century, in opposition to the evolving concept of India as a Nation in the making, meaning that the new nation is coming into being through a mass movement and this nation opposes the caste and gender hierarchies, then prevalent. The Hindu Nationalism threw up Punjab Hindu Sabha, Hindu Mahsabha, and RSS at different points of time. What was common among these formations was the concept of Hindu Rashtra, opposition to changes of caste and gender equations and hostility to Muslims. These were matching exactly with the principles of Muslim League. What they shared in common was their opposition to freedom movement, and the accompanying social changes.

The other word was cultural nationalism, which again is apparently appealing but essentially derives itself from Brahminical values of Ram, Gita and authority of Hindu clergy. So with the failure of Hindutva in the popular perceptions, the opposition to the principles of Indian Nation has to be expressed in some other form. The closest word which can give the hidden message is being searched and it seems the waters are being tested by using the word Bharatiyata. The basic point is to avoid the word Indian Nationalism. As that word gives the potential of the values which got identified with freedom struggle. So this exercise is for the search of a new bottle, which can contain the Hindutva agenda, and also appeal to the people at large. The aim is to avoid using the discredited word Hindutva but at the same time to give the political message of RSS politics.

Since it is likely that Bhartiyata may not convey the message and RSS agenda fully, the dust from the books of Deendayal Upadhayay is being removed to bring forward a new supplementary word, which sounds appealing enough while giving the message of RSS Hindu Rashtra.

Another word which has been put forward by Mr. Advani as the agenda of BJP is Integral Humanism. Sounds appealing! What does it really mean? Mr. Upadhyay is essentially talking against the process of social change, the social transformation of caste and gender. According to him the communities are self-born organic entities, having an equilibrium which should not be disturbed to preserve the culture and values of those societies as they are. In this case it means that changes in caste and gender equations will be against the Hindu culture as being promoted, imposed by RSS. This is also the hidden message of cultural nationalism. Upadhayay also rejects Social contract theory, the basis of modern democracies, the basis of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He writes, "In our concept of four castes [varna], they are thought of as analogous to different limbs of Virat Purush (Primeval man). These limbs are not only complimentary to one another but even further there is individuality, unity. There is complete identity of interest, identity of belonging [...] if this idea is not kept alive, the castes instead of being complimentary, can produce conflict." (D.Upadhyaya, Integral Humanism, New Delhi Bharatiya Jan Sangh 1965, p. 4)

The real intent of this humanism is more than clear the way Mr. Upadhayay defines it. It is the ideology of RSS to preserve the status quo, to give sops and crumbs to the downtrodden while preserving the caste hierarchy. It stands for agreeing to cosmetic reforms while preserving the core inequality. This should not be surprising. One can see the whole RSS onslaught as a response to the deeper societal changes, the changes which eroded the caste-gender hierarchy, and the changes which threatened status quo. The rise of RSS can definitely be traced to the societal changes where the Shudras and women started asserting, where the privileged position of the entrenched caste elite felt threatened, where the authority of male over the female got questioned. RSS did begin as a response to non-Brahman movement, which was aiming to challenge the authority of Brahminical system and thereby the hierarchies inherent in those values.

The Gujarat riots of earlier decades were targeted against dalits around reservations for admissions to engineering colleges, around their promotions in jobs. After the riots of 80s, the RSS did change its strategy, instead of targeting dalits it aimed its guns more against minorities. At the same time, it undertook the process of social engineering to co-opt dalits and adivasis through Samajik Samrasta Manch and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, respectively. The RSS changed the line of attack, unleashed a section of dalits and adivisis to beat up the outer enemy, the Muslims, the Christians. Instead of directly suppressing the upcoming dalit-adivasi assertion, the section of this group is made to focus on the non-issues around Hindu identity. The trick worked for some time. Mandal and post-Mandal changes showed the ascendancy of BJP and it also came to fill a social space which was left by the dwindling Congress. As for these deprived sections, how far they can go with the engineered status is yet to be seen.

One is not sure whether the same old Hindutva agenda repacked in the new bottle of Bharatiyata and Integral Humanism will work. One must realize that despite the apparent debacle the vote share of BJP is quiet substantial. The RSS cadres, committed to its agenda are scattered all around, working under different guises and different banners and spreading the hate ideology in a ceaseless manner. The myths and biases against minorities will not vanish just because BJP has lost power. You scratch a liberal-looking person, the anti-minority biases will be exposed. The global situation is not making the matters any better. The U.S crusade against the jehadis, against Islam, particularly in the Middle East,is worsening the matters.

The hate mines laid all around by RSS and its progeny, the social common sense which has been drilled through different mechanism is creating ghettoes in city after city. It is also the fertile ground for the violence as and when it erupts to assume a communal colour. One has to wait and watch the strategy to be adopted by BJP. It has to be something based on raw emotions. Whether Ram temple will work or whether Godhra will be re-enacted only time will tell. But one must compliment Mr. Advanis ingenuity in locating new bottles from Hindutva store.

Source: ittefaq.com, November 26, 2004

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Dalits will assemble in Delhi to Gherao Parliament on 12th December, 2004

New Delhi, November 24, 2004

The All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations has been agitating for reservation in private sector for the last three years. A mammoth rally was organized on 14th December, 2003 at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi against globalization and privatization and just after that then PM, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, made the announcement that reservation in private sector should be given to Dalits. The NDA Govt. was so pro rich that privatization and disinvestment swayed its whole policies and that eventually harmed the interest of Dalits. The frustration of Dalits got expressed in the outcome of 14th Lok Sabha Election, before that it was not realized that how much this section of society was up in arm.

During the 14th Lok Sabha Election campaign, Congress promised to bring legislation to extend reservation to Dalits in private sector and same was prominently given space in Common Minimum Programme of UPA Govt.. Thereafter industrialists started opposing the move and it is the main reason that Congress is dilly dallying. Now the Confederation is out to take on fight openly to press for demands. The reports are coming from all over the country that a historical gathering will take place on 12th December, 2004 at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi. The main demands of the rally are -

1. Govt. to enact law to give reservation in private sector.

2. Govt. to defend the 77th, 81st, 82nd and 85th constitutional amendments pending before Supreme Court & reservation law to be enacted and placed in the 9th schedule of the Constitution.

3. To provide reservation to Dalits in Higher Judiciary and armed forces.

4. To provide equal and compulsory education to all.

5. Caste certificate of one state should be valid in other states.

6. To provide time bound promotion to Safai Karmcharies and ban contract system.

7. To provide employment to all and predetermined share of Dalits in land by reforming land laws.

We have started contacting leaders of CPI, CPI(M), NDA, RJD, BSP, SP etc. to sensitize them about our grievances. I have already written request for appointment with Prime Minister and President so that they are made aware of the demands before the rally.

(Udit Raj)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Historians biased towards dalits: UP minister

Lucknow

Uttar Pradesh Sports and Youth Welfare Minister R K Choudhury today alleged that the historians were biased against the Dalits.

Speaking at a programme on the 'Uda Devi Sacrifice Day', he said the historians had ignored the sacrifices made by Uda Devi on account of her being born in a Dalit family. He said it was surprising that the ''heroine of India's freedom struggle'' was still not regarded as a freedom fighter.

The Bahujan Samaj Sangharsh Swabhiman Samiti (BS-4) leader called upon Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav to include the stories of Uda Devi's valour in the state primary and secondary course curriculum. He also demanded that her name be included the list of freedom fighters and to make a memorial park in her name.

The minister said the historians should rise above the feeling of caste and religion.

Incidentally, Uda Devi had fought the British troops during India's freedom movement in Lucknow. While she bravely killed 36 British soldiers, she was shot dead by a soldier on November 16, 1857.

Source: United News of India (UNI) November 16, 2004

Monday, November 15, 2004

The fall of the Brahminist citadel

"Am I Veerappan?", Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati asked after he was arrested last Thursday (November 11, 2004) on charges of instigating the murder of his bete noire Sankararaman [1]. Not for nothing has it been said that looks can be deceptive; criminals don't have to look threatening.

No, I am not calling Jayendra a murderer yet. For all his past track record, he ought to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, his character (or the lack of it) is evident from those who have spoken out in his favor.

Narendra Modi, for once, forgot his Newton. Or, may be, he felt that if 2,000 murders (in Gujarat) can go unpunished, it's unfair for Jayendra to be punished for allegedly instigating a single murder. Actions from powerful people can have unpleasant reactions, though only rarely, and this must indeed be a disconcerting thought for Modi who promptly called the Indian Prime Minister to register his sadness at Jayendra's arrest.

Bal Thackarey, one of those regrettable blots on humanity, called it an insult to the "whole Hindu community." Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Ashok Singhal proclaimed it a "conspiracy by the Islamic and Christian forces", blathered about "non-believers" in general and promised revenge. Advani prophesied the arrest to have been made in "haste" or "under pressure." Vajpayee, that master of doublespeak who remained unperturbed in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom and, in fact, pinned the blame on Muslims -- "Aag Lagayi Kisne, Aag Phile Kaise" [Who lit the fire, How did it spread?], he had asked -- claimed that Jayendra's arrest had shocked the entire country. Good, now we know this man has feelings. But then, the Tamil Nadu Police seems more interested in finding out "Who committed the murder? How did Sankararaman die?"

Jayendra's list of supporters includes a whole lot of other Sangh Parivar [2] luminaries, but I guess you get the point. And it's not a mere coincidence that he finds so much favor with the top echelons of power in the Sangh. Sample his following utterances and the reason is obvious.

[In response to the question, "What is the difference between Hindutva and Hinduism?"]
"This is like making a distinction between insaan and insaniyat. All those for whom India is home, are part of Hindutva - whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim. It is our entire culture and way of life." [3]

[When asked about the VHP trying to foment communal passion]
"The VHP is only an organisation to spread Hindutva." [4]

[Disagreeing that the VHP is preaching an "ultra Hindutva", whatever that meant]
"For you, it may appear to be ultra; I believe VHP is an organisation that teaches and spreads the message of Hindutva." [5]

"If the [Shiv] Sena is getting aggressive it is purely because it is the need of the times. Even the scriptures recommend this ... It is here that leaders like Thackeray who can mobilise Hindus become crucial. If his style is high-handed, so be it. It is necessary." [6]

"The RSS and its frontal organisations act as a generator of Hindu awareness around the world." [6]

"The Muslims should stop offering namaz on days like December 6 [when a centuries-old mosque was destroyed by the Sangh]. What has happened has happened. They should learn to forget it. There is no more a masjid now." [6]

"Has Allah told them [Muslims] to fight all the time." [7]

Given his consistent and long-standing defence of Hindutva crimes, it's not at all surprising that the Sangh has come out swinging in support of Jayendra. Fellow seers have also spoken out, and Sri Sri Ravishankar has given a whole new meaning to the principle of presumption of innocence: "Saints cannot even think of committing such a crime", he said, apparently with a straight face.

The initial shock following the arrests have clearly worn off, and there doesn't seem to be anything spontaneous about the ongoing protests. If anything, they seem to be orchestrated by the Sangh organizations and/or by motley groups of (Brahmin) seers desperately trying to cling on to their privileged status in society. For those wedded to the hierarchical caste system, equality before law is indeed a bitter pill to swallow. Support for Jayendra from certain Muslim and Christian religious heads also need to be seen in this context -- their desire to maintain a privileged and irreproachable position in their communities, which they feel has been indirectly challenged by a fellow godman's arrest -- though it could also be a reaction to Sangh's vitriol against minorities.

Notwithstanding the Brahminical and Sanghi nature of the protests, the lack of an opposite viewpoint (barring some lone voices like that of Swami Agnivesh) from the Hindu community only crowns the likes of Jayendra and the Sangh as authentic representatives of Hinduism. More silence from the so-called "silent majority" in the Hindu community will only ensure their (and their religion's) fast track to universal ridicule and oblivion.

If the Sangh's response has been predictably virulent, the ruling Congress party's response has been predictable lame. After a long silence, Congress spokesperson Girija Vyas opined that "perhaps the arrest of the Swami on Diwali could have been avoided." Certain others in the Congress have echoed the Sangh line, probably out of blind obesiance to the Jayendra and/or in an attempt to pander to the Hindutva votes in the cow belt.

Quibbles about Jayendra's time of arrest are particularly irritating, for we have often seen -- most recently, in the Best Bakery case of the Gujarat pogrom -- that justice delayed is justice denied. The time is always right to do right, as Martin Luther King Jr. would say. The state ought not to wait for an auspicious time or the appropriate star signs and moon shapes to pick up a suspect, more so when the suspect is someone as powerful as Jayendra. People in positions of power are wont to muzzling any opposition -- particularly when they have everything to lose (as is the case with Jayendra) -- and in such cases, time is of the essence. Given Jayendra's economic might (as head of a 5000 crore empire) and well-entrenched political connections (the current president as well as several former prime ministers and presidents are known to be his followers, and Sangh leaders are already lining up to meet him in prison), there's every possibility of prosecution witnesses turning hostile if he is let loose. His imprisonment would certainly embolden the witnesses, and his fame rules out any possibility of his being subjected to torture, so the best bet to justice seems to be to maintain the status quo. At the very least, the state must promise and ensure full protection to all witnesses and their families.

The case is bound to get more and more interesting as the investigation expands, but there's another sub-text to this story. A section of the press has focussed on the ideological rivalry between the Brahminical Kanchi mutt and the rationalists headed by Periyar and proclaimed Karunanidhi (head of the DMK, a regional party based in Tamil Nadu) to be an inheritor of Periyar's legacy. That this is not quite the case is evident from the following comment made by Karunanidhi after Jayendra's arrest: "if a virtuous woman commits mistakes, she can get pardon by taking a holy bath in Ganges but if the Ganges itself commits a mistake, where can one go for pardon?" Such talk of "women's chastity" and "holy bath in Ganges" could hardly come from a rationalist. Though he has effectively ruled out any truck with the BJP [8], Karunanidhi still needs to go a long way toward extricating himself from the morass that is Sangh spirituality. Indeed, by choosing to focus solely on the alleged misdeeds of Jayendra the individual, he is letting the Brahminical underpinnings of the Kanchi mutt go unquestioned. It remains to be seen whether his current appeal to the state government to "ensure that the Mutt is being run to safeguard the interests of all sections of downtrodden people" will evolve into a principled stand or peter off as a one-time appeal meant to assuage the rationalists in his party.

The scene in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's camp is entirely different. Jaya has never shied off from revealing her Hindutva colors, be it in banning religious conversions or in publicly supporting Narendra Modi after the Gujarat pogrom. However, the electoral debacle earlier this year seems to have left her badly shaken. Her alliance not only lost all the parliamentary seats, but ominously enough for her, also trailed in all the assembly segments. Sensing the need for a mid-course correction, she promptly withdrew the ban on conversions and other repressive measures, but this by itself was hardly going to be sufficient. Recent elections in Tamil Nadu have borne out the essence of pre-poll alliances and it's here that Jaya found herself shortchanged. For instance, in the parliamentary elections, the Jaya-led alliance suffered a whitewash despite the voteshare of Jaya's ADMK dropping by only 1.63 per cent (since the 2001 elections). The difference between victory and defeat lay in the relative strengths of the BJP and the anti-BJP formations. With the latter showing no signs of breaking, and the BJP showing no signs of recovery in Tamil Nadu (where it had a measly 5.07 per cent vote share) or elsewhere (as evident from the electoral debacle in Maharashtra), dumping the BJP seems to be the prudent option. This is what Jaya seems to be doing with a vengeance now, for it should have been obvious that any move against Jayendra would invite the Sangh's ire and she still decided to go ahead with the arrest. In fact, her resolve to dump the Sangh seems to have been so strong that she basically acqueisced to the demands of the DMK (which had been threatening to launch an agitation demading a probe of Jayendra's link with Sankararaman's murder), something unthinkable given her bitter enmity with Karunanidhi. How this will affect Jaya's electoral fortunes is a matter of conjecture, but what is clear is that the BJP is in for a long political hibernation. All this despite the fact that the Sangh seems keen on tagging on to Jaya.

If this isn't good enough, the recent bonhomie between two regional parties in Tamil Nadu -- the Dalit Panthers led by Thirumavalavan and the PMK led by Ramadoss -- is even more cause for hope. The coming together of these two political formations (which derive their strengths from the dalit and the "low" caste Vanniyar communities, respectively), which had for long been at each other's throats, further skews the electoral arithmetic against the Sangh. Ramadoss has in the past too often sold himself to the highest bidder, but if his recent pronouncements are anything to go by, here in lies the genesis of a formidable third front that along with the Left parties could act as a check against the Brahminism of the dravidian parties. Despite constituting 20-25 per cent of the vote share spread throughout Tamil Nadu [9], dalits have so far been deprived of political power, but the fall of the Brahminist citadel and the new political formations might just prove to be the tonic for the dalit movement.

Notes and References

1. The Shankaracharya of Kanchi is arguably the most powerful Hindu godman alive. He is the head of the Brahminical "Kanchi mutt", a religious establishment headquartered in Kanchi in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and is reported to have had a long-standing feud with the victim, Sankararaman. Since his arrest, the police have also alleged Jayendra's involvement in an attempted murder of another critic.

2. "Sangh Parivar" refers to the family of 'Hindu' fascist organizations led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and in the U.S., by VHP-America. For a brief overview of the Sangh and the fascist underpinnings of its Hindutva ideology, see
http://www.stopfundinghate.org/sacw/part2.html and
http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/casolari.pdf

3. http://www.hvk.org/articles/0603/137.html

4. http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/mar/11ayo1.htm

5. Deccan Herald, March 12, 2003

6. "Kanchi Silk" (S Anand), Outlook, March 25, 2002. Also see S Anand's "I am Neither Happy Not Unhappy" (Outlookindia.com, July 9, 2003) for an analysis of Jayendra's "impartiality" with regard to the Ayodhya issue.

7. http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/jul/16inter.htm

8. In a statement released on November 9, 2004, Karunanidhi lashed out at the BJP for pursuing "policies that were against secularism, communal harmony and unity of the country." [Newindpress.com, November 9, 2004]

9. http://www.flonnet.com/fl2110/stories/20040521005612400.htm

Suraj Bhan to visit Bihar for probe into atrocities on dalits

National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes Chairman Suraj Bhan would be visiting Patna on December 5 to probe into complaints of atrocities on dalits in Bihar.

Bhan said on Sunday he would also visit the residence of the dalit girl of village Madha in Vaishali district, who was allegedly "raped and later murdered by some persons stated to be close to a leader of ruling party there."

He said the Commission had received a complaint in this regard from the family of the victim.

Bhan said he had summoned the Director General of Police and Director General of Health of Bihar to New Delhi on November 2 to asses the follow up action of the Bihar administration in the matter.

The Chairman said the administration had compensated the victim's family by providing "simply one quintal of wheat so far."

Source: Hindustan Times, November 15, 2004

Rightists protest, Dalits hail Shankaracharya's arrest

Amritsar/ Bangalore/ Dehradun, Nov 15 (ANI): The saga of protests and demonstrations against the arrest of Kanchi Shankaracharya Jyanendra Saraswati continued today.

While, many rightist organisations came out in the open for the seer's support, Dalits in Bangalore hailed the arrest saying that no concession should be extended and no undue favours should be made for him.

In Amritsar the state wing of Shiv Sena set ablaze the effigy of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Opposition leader M. Karunanidhi in protest against the seer's arrest. They demanded immediate release of seer.

SS district president Baldev Bhardwaj alleged that the Centre had committed a "blunder" by arresting Shankracharya which, he said, "wouldn't be tolerated".

He added that his party would continue its agitation in Shankracharya's support till he was released. He also issued a warning that they would go up to any extent to safeguard for the Hindus' pride.

In Dehradun, Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had to face the brunt. Youths belonging to various rightist organisations, including the RSS, showed black flags to the union minister and shouted slogans against him apparently holding him responsible for the seer's arrest. The police had a tough time to shoo away the agitated protesters.

Aiyar had come to Dehradun to visit ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Commission) headquarters. Notably, Aiyar belongs to Tamil Nadu where one of Shankaracharya's mutts is located. And, incidentally, the Tamil Nadu police only had arrested the seer from Andhra Pradesh last week.

Meanwhile, in Bangalore the Dalits hailed the Tamil Nadu government and its police's action in arresting him. They urged the jayalalitha government not to extend any special concession to the seer. At a meeting held here, the Dalit activists and intellectuals decided to urge the concerned state government not to show any concession and abide by the law of the land. VT Rajashekar, editor of 'Dalit Voice', later exclusively told this to ANI.

Source: Newkerala.com, November 15, 2004

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Backwardness is a backwards’ story

Srinjoy Chowdhury

NEW DELHI, Nov. 12. — Fifty-seven years of Independence and ten five year plans later, a study of the most backward districts in India shows that three-fourths of the worst twenty have Dalit and tribal populations of over 50 per cent.

Despite reservations for jobs and other opportunities, the benefits have clearly not reached the poorest of the poor, Planning Commission report says. In the worst 16 districts, scheduled castes and tribes constitute between 56 and 94 per cent of the population. Of the 447 districts evaluated, the worst states are expectedly, the usual suspects: Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar.

Parts of rich states like Maharashtra and Gujarat also have desperately poor districts. Some of them are in the worst 50 and 100, where no district from a southern state finds a place. In fact, the most backward southern district is Gulbarga, in Karnataka, ranked No 204.

Of the 50 most backward districts, evaluated on the basis of agricultural wages, output per farm worker, output per hectare and poverty ratio, the worst-placed is almost inevitably Gumla in Jharkhand with a 76 per cent SC-ST population, average daily agricultural wages (1996-97 figures) at Rs 22 and a poverty ratio of 62.44 per cent. The output per hectare is Rs 3,907 based on 1990-93 figures. Simdega, also in Jharkhand, is second and has similar statistics. Four each of the 10 worst districts are from Jharkhand and Orissa and two from Madhya Pradesh.

Sixteen districts from Jharkhand and 11 from Orissa are in the worst 50. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh follow with eight each. Rajasthan, Gujarat (Dangs), Maharashtra, West Bengal (Jalpaiguri) and UP have one or two each.

Source: The Statesman, November 13, 2004

Friday, November 12, 2004

Gibb tells of (dalit) child shelter 'horrors'


GARETH EDWARDS


REALITY TV show millionaire Johnny Gibb has spoken of the horrors he witnessed at a refuge for "untouchable" children in Southern India.

Mr Gibb, an officer with Lothian and Borders Police, has spent much of the last year at the refuge in Andhra Pradesh, run by the charity Scottish Love in Action (SLA).

The refuge is home to 320 orphans born as untouchables, or Dalits, who would otherwise be living on the streets.

And the first winner of television’s £1million Survivor challenge said he was stunned by the poverty and prejudice the children have to face every day.

Dalits face horrendous prejudice and are denied health care, education and other basic human rights. Historically, they were put to unwanted jobs, like latrine cleaning and animal slaughtering, and today they are still shunned and discriminated against.

Police regularly turn their backs when Dalits are beaten and even lynched, and they are so reviled in certain quarters that if their shadow falls on non-Dalit’s food, no-one will eat it.

During his stay, Mr Gibb witnessed this prejudice first hand, when a doctor at the local state hospital refused to clean and stitch a serious head wound for a child from the orphanage. Instead he ordered the cleaner, who was sweeping the floor, to do it.

"This kind of rejection is very common for the majority of Dalits," said Mr Gibb. "I met a woman whose two sons are at the refuge. Her husband died of Aids some months ago and she herself had only months to live.

"She had the most amazing courage and dignity and as she was sitting on the steps holding her sons, the tears were rolling down her face."

Mr Gibb also met Jyothi, 11, and heard how the young girl had been the child of a Dalit mother and upper caste father. The father was disowned by his family for marrying a Dalit, but after some years, they feigned forgiveness and invited him to bring his family to stay.

After a few days, his parents lured Jyothi and her mother into the countryside for a picnic and murdered the mother, drowning her in a river.

Jyothi’s father was broken by the tragedy and abandoned her in a town 65km away. She was taken in by a stranger as a servant, but he took her to the orphanage a year later to avoid paying a dowry for her.

Mr Gibb last night hosted a charity auction at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange, part of a fundraising fashion show for the refuge, which needs to raise £38,000 a year to keep feeding, clothing and educating the destitute children in their care.

Sixth form girls from George Watson’s College, male pupils from Boroughmuir High School and members of the Edinburgh Accies rugby team all modelled one-off creations designed by fashion students at Edinburgh College of Art.

Actress Siobhan Redmond hosted the event, which also featured hats designed by Primary Three pupils from Mary Erskine and Stewart Melville and made up by Fabhatrix. All the profits from the show will go to cover the cost of looking after the ever increasing number of children cared for at the refuge.

Many of them were found begging in the streets, sleeping in railway stations or scavenging on rubbish tips. Some have been rescued from prostitution, while others have been bought out of bonded labour, a modern day system of slavery where a parents debt is passed to their child.

Gillie Davidson, 59, a founder member of SLA, said: "The children in our home are safe, happy and loved, but numbers continue to increase. There are no salaried members of staff at SLA and all the profits from the fashion show, and all the funds we raise, will go directly to the orphanage.

"I believe that the plight of the Dalits is the new apartheid. But with help we can make a difference, however small."

Source:
Scotsman.com, November 12, 2004

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

RJD strategists work on dividing Dalits

GAYA: Perhaps in order to limit the damage caused by LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan's campaign against the RJD, the RJD strategists are working on a plan to isolate Paswans from other Dalit groups. And for that, a trial has been conducted in the Gurua area of the Gaya district.

On last Sunday, a big congregation of the Musahars, the most deprived among the Dalits, was organised on the Gurua High School premises. The Musahar Mahasammelan was presided over by Raushan Manjhi, vice chairman of the Zila Parishad, and RJD ticket aspirant from the Imamganj reserved assembly seat.

Though, the Mahasammelan was ostensibly convened as a show of strength by the Musahars, having a strong numerical presence in the Gaya district, the deliberations made it clear that it was more an exercise in Paswan bashing to isolate Paswans from other Dalit groups.

Speaker after speaker complained that Paswans have cornered most of the benefits of the Dalit reservation facility and the more deprived among the Dalits, particularly the rat eating Musahars and scavengers, have been short-changed.

What irked the Musahars the most was the perceived tendency among the followers of Ram Vilas Paswan to garner votes in the name of Dalit unity when the candidate belonged to their own caste and indulge in leg pulling if some Musahar had the chance to make it to the assembly or Parliament.

The conveners, including Bishun Deo Manjhi, Jagdeo Manjhi and Biswas Manjhi, repeatedly complained that when Ramji Manjhi, the Musahar candidate of the RJD, was in the race for the Gaya seat, a large number of Paswans, particularly the followers of senior LJP leader Rajesh Kumar, supported the BJP candidate and former IPS official, Balbir Chand, a rank outsider in Gaya district.

Murmurs were also heard at the Musahar rally to delete Paswans from the list of Scheduled Castes as they no longer needed reservations on account of a distinct improvement in their socio-economic stature, thanks mainly to the benefits of reservation. The creamy layer argument is advanced to delist the Paswans.

According to Phool Manjhi of Sherghati: "Asal malai to ihe log khaya hai. Humni to jhuthe badnam hue (the real benefit has been availed by the Paswans. We have been the losers)."

It is yet to be seen how LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan counters the move to isolate his caste men within the large Dalit umbrella.

Source: The Times of India, November 10, 2004

Globalisation and historically disadvantaged groups

The political and communicative consequences of globalisation have benefited marginalised groups such as the Dalits in India and women in Pakistan. Such groups can, to some extent, offset their paucity in numbers and inferior social status by building solidarity networks globally. Greater globalisation will eventually help the even weaker groups like Adivasis and gays raise their voice and be heard.

Historically disadvantaged groups are the most powerless and marginalised sections of any population. The Dalits (Untouchables) of South Asia (including those known in Pakistan as Chuhras and Musallis) are conspicuous among them. Indigenous peoples or aborigines — such as the Adivasis of South Asia, the Sami or Lapp people of Scandinavian countries, and the Australian aborigines — also suffer from long historical disadvantage. Closely following such stigmatised groups are those dispersed at all levels of mainstream society but socially and culturally considered inferior. Women belong to that category in almost all ‘high cultures’. A group that almost universally suffers from persecution is that of gays.

Things have changed for the better for some of them in some parts of the world after the UN-based human rights regime started recognising their special plight. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992), and the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (1994), are UN-instruments related to historically disadvantaged groups. Of these, only the convention on women’s rights is a proper treaty. The one on minorities is only a declaration and not a binding treaty, and as far as the rights of indigenous peoples are concerned the UN has only produced a draft that the General Assembly has yet to adopt. Gays are still not recognised as an oppressed group.

For such groups, globalisation furnishes an opportunity to connect with worldwide solidarity networks and UN agencies and thus attract attention to their oppression. We shall consider below the efforts of Indian Dalits and Pakistani women to internationalise their situation.

The legal status of Indian Dalits improved a great deal when in 1955 the Indian parliament passed the Untouchability (Offences) Act, which criminalised the practice. Also, by an act of parliament, quotas were fixed for the scheduled castes (Dalits) and tribes (Adivasis) in government services, central and provincial legislatures and educational institutions. Consequently some 22 per cent jobs were reserved for them. The Act applied to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains — all those rooted in the Hindu religious tradition. However, even when such measures have brought relief to them social taboos against them are still held widely in society and brutal attacks on them occur all over rural India. In any event, some 50 years of reservations have produced a Dalit intelligentsia that has been raising its voice against the continuation of the caste system.

In December 1998, the Dalits launched the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). On December 10, 1998, 50,000 signatures and the campaign memorandum were submitted to the President of India. Another 100,000 signatures were collected abroad and submitted to UN Commission on Human Rights. The UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights appointed an expert to study their situation in India and other South Asian countries.

The full impact of Dalit networking was felt at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance held at Durban, South Africa from August 31, to September 7, 2001. The BJP-led government tried to vilify the campaign as unpatriotic and misleading but it goes to the great credit of Indian democracy that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), an autonomous non-political state institution, presented a statement at the conference in which the existence of the practice of untouchability was accepted. It was, however, pointed out that efforts were afoot to root out the evil of caste hierarchy and untouchability from the social and cultural spheres. The World NGO Forum endorsed the view of the NHRC.

As regards the efforts of women in Pakistan to make use of globalisation in their struggle against oppressive laws and practices, we must recall that prior to General Zia ul Haq’s rule (1977-88), Pakistani governments had been quietly extending family-planning facilities and girls had started attending modern schools in greater numbers. Zia interrupted this egalitarian trend. In 1984 a Law of Evidence was adopted which reduced the worth of evidence given by a female witness in a court of law to half that of a male witness. Also, proving rape under the Hudood laws became extremely difficult, since it required four pious male witnesses to testify that the crime had been committed in their presence.

The government of Nawaz Sharif (1997-99) moved the so-called 15th Amendment or Shariat Bill in August 1998 in the lower house — the National Assembly. Had it been passed, it would have widened the extent of female subordination even beyond the ‘Islamic reforms’ of General Zia. It was opposed by women’s rights and human rights organisations. They formed an alliance and began a sustained campaign of protests and demonstrations. They received messages of support from international human rights and women rights NGOs and built up quite a campaign. On December 8, 1998, for example, ambassadors of countries that funded Pakistani human rights and women rights NGOs, officials of the UNDP, various government officials and NGO representatives attended a meeting held in connection with the International Human Rights Day. NGO speakers used the occasion to highlight the threat posed by the Shariat Bill to human rights and women’s rights.

The government hit back by launching a campaign in general against NGOs supported by foreign donors, but targeting human rights and women’s rights NGOs in particular. Pir Binyamin Rizvi, then Punjab minister for social welfare, accused them of propagating anti-national and anti-Islamic ideas. The intelligence services were given the task of screening NGOs. The 15th Amendment could not be passed because the Senate continued to defy the government. The military coup on October 12, 1999 terminated the parliamentary procedure.

The Adivasis have not been so enterprising in developing global linkages and the gay community of South Asia has not made use of globalisation because it lives in anonymity and fear, although in India some gay organisations have been founded and network with organisations in the West.

The above evidence should leave no doubt that the political and communicative consequences of globalisation have benefited marginalised groups such as the Dalits in India and women in Pakistan. Such groups can to some extent offset their paucity in numbers and inferior social status by building solidarity networks globally. Greater globalisation will eventually help the even weaker groups like Adivasis and gays raise their voice and be heard.

The author is an associate professor of political science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is Ishtiaq.Ahmed@statsvet.su.se

Source: Daily Times, November 10, 2004

Dalit inspector of police subjected to "atrocity"

Chandigarh, November 8:

The National Commission for SC/ST has indicted superintendent to IGP for committing atrocity on an inspector of UT Police, Kuldip Singh, who belongs to a scheduled caste.

Newsline had highlighted the issue on October 16. On a complaint of inspector Kuldip Singh, who was reverted to sub-inspector in August this year, the commission has recommended summoning of the IGP for explanation and for ordering criminal case against the superintendent. Dalit Rights Protection Forum, Punjab, Arunjeev Singh Walia, its senior legal advisor said the order was binding.

Source: The Indian Express, November 9, 2004

Hope for Sex Workers

by Usha Revelli

DR Sunitha Krishnan (33) started a youth Dalit organisation, Sadhbhavana in Bangalore when she was 19 years old. One day, while returning home from a Sadhbhavana meeting, 10 upper-caste men attempted to rape her. Krishnan managed to rescue herself, but her own family and community blamed her for the incident and rejected her.

Following that, Dr Krishnan decided that she would work only for the most oppressed and stigmatised.After completing her MA in social work, Dr Krishnan studied the psychological problems of Mumbai's sex workers for her PhD. In the late 1990s, she moved to Hyderabad and observed the alarming rise in trafficking of girls and women. In 1997, Dr Krishnan started Prajwala, which means a unique ray of light.

Prajwala today is one of the key advisors on anti-trafficking initiatives of the state government and other NGOs. With the support of partner NGOs and community-based organisations, Prajwala helps rescue and rehabilitate women and girls being trafficked and pushed into the sex trade.

Dr Krishnan conducted a study in 2002 on intra-state and inter-state trafficking in Andhra Pradesh. The study revealed that a majority of the females (12-35 years old) working in the red-light areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Goa were from Andhra Pradesh. The catchment areas for the traffickers included almost all the 23 districts spread across coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana regions.

Ad hoc activism should make way for concrete state policies for rehabilitation and restoration. That is why Prajwala has a blueprint for a participatory approach involving the government and the people, to check trafficking," says Dr Krishnan.

Prajwala's anti-trafficking activities include first and second generation prevention, rescue, trauma counselling and providing shelter to the victims. It also provides vocational training and livelihood opportunities to the women and girls.

Out of the 140 people working in Prajwala, 80 per cent are rehabilitated sex workers or rape victims. Prajwala has about 2,000 people as members of its mother committees groups working in slums and the red-light areas. The organisation relies on them to keep a watch in the area and report trends and incidents. In August 2004, Prajwala helped four survivors (former sex workers) get married.

Source: The Navhind Times, November 10, 2004

Reservations for Dalits as CSR?

Sukhdeo Thorat
10 November 2004

Why the reservation policy?
The policy of reservations in the public sector is being used as a strategy to overcome discrimination and act as a compensatory exercise. A large section of the society OBCs was historically denied right to property, education, business and civil rights because of the practice of untouchability. In order to compensate for the historical denial and have safeguards against discrimination, we have the reservation policy.

The policy exists precisely because of the discrimination in the private sector in terms of civil and political rights, discrimination in markets, land and capital, education and social services. It’s a riddle as to why there should not be a reservation or anti-discriminatory policy in the private sector. Some kind of an anti-discriminatory policy for the private sector is a necessity.

In countries like the US, the Affirmative Action Policy was started in 1964 after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act. It’s the same story for Northern Ireland, Malaysia, South Africa and Pakistan. Besides this, 52 countries have introduced reservations in the private sector. It’s only in India that the massive private sector is excluded from this policy. 70 per cent of those belonging to the Scheduled Castes live in rural areas that depend on agriculture and the rural non-farm sector that has no policy reservation but where discrimination abounds. Reservation ought to be extended to the private sector to correct the mistake we made in the 1940s.

It is wrong to say the reservation policy has not helped or that it is an irrelevant policy. These are wrong arguments given by the private sector. Reservation exists in government services, insurance, public sector undertakings, in educational institutions among the faculty and recruitment of students, and also in public housing. Then, there are finance corporations that provide finances to SCs and STs to start businesses.

The reservation policy in the public sector has benefited a lot of people. The Central government alone has 14 lakh employees. The proportion of Scheduled castes in class III and IV is well above the quota of 16 per cent and in class I and II, the proportion is around 8–12 per cent. So, the middle and the lower middle class that we see today from the Dalit community is because of reservation. With no reservation, the entry of these people in government services would have been doubtful.

The situation is similar in education. An article in the EPW (Economic and Political Weekly) estimates that there are seven lakh SC /ST students in higher education and about half of them are there because of reservation. Reservation has certainly helped but there are limitations in any policy with the way it is implemented. I would take the position that it has helped and should be treated that way.

The private sector has created a gross misunderstanding that the reservation policy is based on less merit. The entire reservation policy in India and elsewhere is based on the premise that it would recruit people with required qualifications. It is mentioned in the constitution that reservations for discriminated groups is subject to efficiency and that efficiency is judged by required qualifications. Therefore in class I and class II you have 8-12 per cent that is less than what is required because candidates are not available. Therefore it is a malicious propaganda by the private sector that reservation will affect merit and efficiency.

Tackling job scarcity
At the level of primary education, there is no discrimination on part of organizations. But the number of jobs and seats is less in comparison to the number of applicants. In such a scenario, private institutions should indulge in some kind of a discriminatory mechanism. The scarcity issue could be tackled by recruitments on the basis of merit. But this is not the case in the private sector, which makes reservation an essential policy.

The Indian labour market works in a discriminatory manner, in that it doesn’t recognise the qualification of the person but the person’s group identity. The conditions of caste and religion also come into play while making a selection. To counter this, countries like USA, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand, China and Indonesia have adopted the Affirmative Action Policy or the anti-discriminatory policy.

Malaysia could be cited as the best example in the south Asian region where the Malays or Bhumiputras are a discriminated lot. In the 1970s when the Malays came to power through a democratic process, they introduced a comprehensive Affirmative Action Policy not only for education and employment but also for land ownership. A large chunk of land was reserved for the Malays. Reservation also includes share capital and equity done through a national trust that gives money to private corporations to treat it as equity capital on behalf of the Malays. The Malays’ stake in the company’s share capital has increased from 2 per cent to 30 per cent.

Though India has a SC/ST finance corporation, it grants capital only for small businesses. But we don’t have the provision for the possession of equity share through which one can influence employment and other policies of the company.

The present discussion on private sector reservation is limited and biased. We are only talking of labour market reservation and employment in certain sectors of the private sector economy. There is no discussion over capital market; private housing, land market and government contracts to the private sectors. Moreover, discrimination in the product market is discouraging Dalits from starting their own businesses. Studies have revealed that nobody buys milk from the low castes or the Valmikis. They are even excluded by the milk co-operatives. The policy should be that the government buys milk and vegetables from them. Wherever there is discrimination, there has to be a safeguard in order to provide fair access to everybody. The focus should not be on the labour market alone.

It is false propaganda to say the benefits of reservation have been appropriated by the relatively better off sections of Schedule Castes. Out of the 14 lakh government employees, class III and IV accounts for approximately 65 per cent of the total employees. Studies have shown that they are essentially children of agricultural landless laborers or construction workers. One can rightly question as to why an economically well off Scheduled Caste be given economic benefits like scholarships and other economic concessions as they don’t deserve.

But reservation in jobs is a different story as both - the rich and the poor suffer from discrimination because of their background. The capacity and ability of a relatively better off Dalit to fight against discrimination is much stronger that that of an agricultural labourer. Both suffer therefore both require protection. So, the whole debate put forth by higher caste academics is wrong. There is no Dalit academician to counter this argument, as the rise of the Dalit academician is a very recent phenomenon. These are all stereotypes created deliberately.

Skill building
There is a need to focus on education and skill-building capacity of the Dalits, but that is the case with everybody and not just the Scheduled Castes alone. Illiteracy is not just the problem of SCs and STs. Only 10 per cent of our labour force is skillful. Though it’s a problem in each sector, the Scheduled Caste problem is more severe. Everyone requires education and skills, but the Scheduled Castes require something more as they suffer from discrimination and exclusion in the labour market and also in private educational institutions.

They need additional safeguards to have a fair access to the market. A poor Brahmin’s problem would be confined to education because he is poor. But the issue would be resolved if he’s given an educational scholarship. Beyond that he will not face discrimination. On the other hand, a poor Scheduled Caste suffers from illiteracy as well discrimination, which doubles his problems, thus requiring a dual policy. Education and skill development for a Scheduled Caste is imperative, apart from some sort of a positive policy that provides a fair access to the market. Therefore it’s not unexpected that in 52 countries, in addition to the policy of economic and educational empowerment of the minorities, there is a policy of affirmative action or reservation. And this is a strategy against discrimination, which is not required by the poor yet non-discriminated group.

Because the Scheduled Castes are educationally backward and they also lack modern skills, the government should provide them access to skill building and education at a lower expenditure. The next step should be to ensure reservation in employment as the private sector discrimination being amazingly high, the Dalits are sure to loose out. Studies have been conducted that show that only 3 to 4 per cent of the positions in the private sector are appointed through open advertisements. Most recruitment in the private sector happens through informal channels as it is a cost-saving exercise. The private sector is completely lying when they say that we are appointing competent people. Efficiency requires transparency and a mechanism wherein you provide opportunities to suitable and qualified people. In the private sector what counts is a social network. An untouchable cannot approach this social network.

Therefore, the private sector is wrong in saying that it is going for efficiency. Rather it selects the best one out of a limited number of people. But it does not necessarily go for the efficient and the best one, as this requires advertising the vacancy.
According to the National Sample Survey, the unemployment rate amongst the Scheduled Castes is twice the unemployment rate among others. This is partly because they don’t have access to information. TS Papola, former Advisor to the Planning commission has said: “It is well known and documented that recruitment in the Indian industry is highly informal and personalized. Several methods have been adopted to hire workers in factories and enterprise, but most of them fell into the category of particular needs, implying that they were accessible only to a particular group of people. Channels of information and routes of recruitment were both mostly personalized and therefore available only to a few.”

The government and policy makers have to be informed about the various forms of discrimination being practiced against the Dalits. There is a need of an affirmative action policy that gives more visibility to the problems of discrimination through communication. Due to lack of information stereotypical opinions are being formed about the reservation policy. The issues have to be brought in the public domain to a greater extent.

Social benefits of reservation
Reservation has tremendous individual and social benefits. A study by Tilak in the early 1970s works out the returns of the reservation policy. If you help one scheduled caste person through reservation, or what you call as externalities in economics, then it can lead to a lot of social benefits as one person can elevate several members of his family. So the rate of social benefits in society is high. Another argument by the high caste academicians asserts that reservation would lead only to individual mobility. This is wrong as reservation has helped group mobility through individual mobility. Though there are very limited studies done over this, yet these have to be stressed. This aspect has to be studied to prevent the dissemination of false propaganda.

Scenario in other countries
There are similarities as well as differences. An amazing similarity is some sort of an anti-discrimination policy wherever minority groups are being excluded.

There are three remedies. Firstly a law exists to prohibit discrimination on the basis of caste, race, colour, ethnicity, nation and social origin. There are legally binding policies to safeguard against discrimination of different group identities. However, it has been widely observed that merely passing a law doesn’t necessarily prevent discrimination. Racial discrimination is rampant in the UK despite a law. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, Roman Catholics are discriminated by the Protestants. There is a law against ethnic discrimination in Pakistan yet there is Punjabi discrimination against the Baluchis and the Sindhis.

Secondly, these groups have been historically discriminated and denied opportunities. Therefore, in these countries, certain methods have been used to improve their participation in the economy, society and polity. The USA calls the quota system - target and numerical balance. Therefore,reservation and affirmative action policies are just a mechanism to provide a fair access to the discriminated.

Thirdly, the reservation policy only addresses the problems associated with current discrimination, but there are many communities that have been discriminated in the past. A 1901, Act prevented untouchables from owning land, which was repealed only in 1947. The result is that only 95 per cent of the Scheduled Castes in Punjab and Haryana are landless labourers. Therefore, compensation is used to correct this historical wrong all over the world.

Malaysia reserved large tracts of land for the Malays. Jews too have been given compensation. In India Mahars in Maharashtra, who are untouchables, were given a one time settlement in the form of Maharwatan land. The differences are in terms of the sectors - private or public, to which these policies are applied. For example, in Malaysia there is an Affirmative Action Policy (AAP) for land market, credit market, employment, education and foreign policy. In the US it exists for the public sector and governmental educational institutes. In the private sector only legal protection is provided rather than the AAP.

The method of implementing these reservation policies varies across countries. The Indian quota system is good, but is confined to the public sector. Similarly, in China a minority university has been set up to give proper participation to the 56 minorities in China.

The issue of private sector reservation came up because of the structural adjustment programme, or what we call the new economic policy, introduced by Dr Manmohan Singh in the July 1991 budget. This has led to de-reservation in a way. The 1948 Industrial Policy Act of the Government of India had 18 sectors in the public domain, which has now been reduced to four only. Fiscal deficit has reduced the number of government jobs. The privatization and liberalization strategy has put the spotlight on the reservation issue. This doesn’t mean that there was no demand. The SC/ST commission had asked for reservation in the private sector in 1964, which was raised again in 1971 under the leadership of Indira Gandhi.

The private sector talks of social justice and philanthropy but does not have many voluntary initiatives to highlight. The private sector has completely bypassed what is called corporate social responsibility. The United Nations has a provision for multinational corporations that they should follow a non-discriminatory policy in countries that they are active. There are 17 countries under this provision, which have given in writing to the UN that they would follow a non-discriminatory policy. This means that MNCs also are morally bound to follow a non-discriminatory policy.

Director, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, speaks on reservation for Dalits in the private sector. A professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Thorat has worked extensively in the areas of social exclusion, Dalit rights, farmers’ issues, rural poverty, problems of marginalized groups like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the economics of the caste system.

Source: OneWorld South Asia, November 10, 2004

From Laborer to Landowner

Kavitha Kuruganti
10 November 2004

Nalgonda, Andhra Pradesh, November 9, 2004 (WFS) - Mailaram Padma, 38, bought her five-acre plot of land for just Rs 30,000 (US $1=Rs 46) in 1995. Years of unrelenting hard work has rendered this once-barren land into a productive, fertile agricultural plot. Today, the plot costs over Rs 300,000.

Padma and her husband Narasimha, 42, a Dalit couple from Chowderipalli village, Nalgonda district, were once landless. Narasimha was a bonded laborer. Their single desire was to own land that they could cultivate. In 1995, when Padma's father gifted her Rs 30,000, which he got from his pension fund, the couple decided to invest in land. They negotiated with a landowner for a five-acre plot that he owned. They bought it for Rs 30,000 and registered the land. The registration process cost them Rs 20,000 more (because the government does not waive stamp fees even when landless people or women purchase land).

By the time they had completed all the formalities, two years had passed. The first year of cultivation was very disheartening. They got next to nothing from the sesame crop they had sown. There was not a single tree on the land, and the topsoil had been almost completely eroded. By 1998, the couple had decided to sell off the land. Padma discussed the problem at the local women's self-help group (SHG). Peace - an organization based in Bolangir, Nalgonda, which takes up development work through SHGs - stepped in to help her. Organizations like the Hyderabad-based Centre for World Solidarity, which was already supporting sustainable agriculture in the area, also pitched in with technical and financial help.

These organizations helped the couple procure 50 tractor loads of nutrient-rich tank silt. Various tree saplings were planted around the farm to form a live fence. About five per cent of the land was converted into a pond. Field bunds, sown with green fodder for livestock, were built to conserve water. The hardened land was ploughed with a tractor.

With some help from Peace, the couple devised a cropping pattern for the land. Traditional knowledge, which has little place in modern cropping systems, stood them in good stead. They knew their soil and what the land required. Drought-resistant crops - like castor, sesame, jowar, pigeonpea and maize - were sown. Leguminous plants (that process nitrogen and enrich the soil) like pulses were sown between two cropping cycles.

The entire investment, including two rounds of tank silt application on the land, cost about Rs 9,000 per acre. The couple put in about a quarter of the investment, with the rest coming from NGOs. For investment calculations, the labour component is also factored in. This comprises the bulk of the farmers' contributions.

Did Padma ask banks for loans? Amused, Padma replies, "For people like us, it's very difficult to get any loan, leave alone for application of topsoil. They do not ever come to the fields and see what is needed."

Padma realized that it was necessary to look further ahead. She raised another Rs 6,000 from her SHG and purchased a buffalo in 1999. She had three calves from it, two of which draw the plough. She bought one more buffalo this year. There is enough fodder on the land to feed all her cattle. Besides milk for consumption and sale, the livestock provides her with precious organic manure -- up to 20 cartloads every year -- every application of which could last three years or so. She distributes this to different plots of the land on rotation.

The land yields have improved tremendously. Today, their annual income works out to about Rs 30,000. The pigeonpea crop has been their best bet so far, not failing a single time. They do not even need to use chemicals for pest-management on this crop. In fact, Padma and Narasimha have never applied any chemical fertilizers or pesticides on their land.

"The rains in our region are very erratic. Chemical fertilizers in this climate dry up our crops. Our neighbor used chemicals on her crops. Her maize dried up and the crop is much shorter than mine." This assertion is also borne out by scientific evidence that chemical fertilizers, during the process of assimilation and absorption, use up precious moisture and increase the heat content.

Owning their own land has transformed the lives of this couple. Narasimha was once a bonded laborer who earned about Rs 10,000 per year. He would even migrate to the cities for short periods when work was unavailable. Padma was a wage laborer, working on other people's lands. "Koolie bathuku kukka bathuku (A laborer’s life is like a dog's life)," she says. Today, their household is food secure. Five per cent of their land is devoted to paddy cultivation, which provides them with their staple food. They also produce most of the vegetables that they need.

In 2002, Padma required a surgery on her spinal chord, which cost the family about Rs 80,000. Two of her animals had to be sold off, along with some gold jewellery that she had bought with her savings. In addition, they borrowed Rs 30,000-odd from friends. Two years later, they have already paid off those debts with careful savings from their income.

Other farmers -- albeit only Dalit farmers so far -- in the neighborhood have adopted some of their farming techniques. There are even visitors who go there to see how these farming techniques work. Of course, not all is smooth sailing. Padma and Narasimha still have to contend with issues of farm credit, crop insurance and market support.

Yet, their story lends hope for fallow rain fed lands across the country. What is needed is a perspective that works with the inherent strengths of dry lands, instead of trying to convert them into irrigated lands by tapping into ever-declining groundwater levels. In a country that does not have a distinct and coherent policy on rain fed agriculture, Padma's story holds valuable lessons for such policy formulation.

Source: OneWorld South Asia, November 10, 2004

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

RSS's secret circular on dalits

Excerpts from the Secret Circular No.411 issued by the RSS:

[…] Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes are to be recruited to the party so as to increase the volunteers to fight against the Ambedkarites and Mussalmans.

Hindutva should be preached with a vengeance among physicians and pharmacists so that, with their help, time expired [sic.] and spurious medicines might be distributed amongst the Scheduled Castes, Mussalmans and Scheduled Tribes. The newborn infants of Shudras, Ati-Shudras, Mussalmans, Christians and the like should be crippled by administering injections to them. To this end, there should be a show of blood-donation camps.

Encouragement and instigation should be carried on [sic.] more vigorously so that the womenfolk of Scheduled Castes, Mussalmans and Christians live by prostitution.

Plans should be made more fool-proof so that the people of the Scheduled Castes, Backward Classes, Musslamans and Christians, especially the Ambedkarites, become crippled by taking in [sic.] harmful eatables.

Special attention should be given to the students of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes so as to make them read the history written according to our dictates.

During riots the women of Mussalmans and Scheduled Castes should be gang-raped. Friends and acquaintances cannot be spared. The work should proceed on the Surat model.

Publication of writings against Mussalmans, Christians, Buddhists and Ambedkarites should be accelerated. Essays and writings should be published in such a way as to prove that Ashoka was opposed to the Aryans.

All literature opposed to Hindus and Brahmins are [sic.] to be destroyed. Dalits, Mussalmans, Christians and Ambedkarites should be searched out. Care should be taken to see that this literature do [sic.] not reach public places. Hindu literature is to apply [sic.] to the Backward Classes and Ambedkarites.

The demand by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for filling in the backlog vacancies in services shall by no means be met. Watch should be kept to see that their demands for entry and promotion in government, non-government or semi-government institutions are to be rejected and their service records are destroyed with damaging reports.

Measures should be taken to make the prejudices amongst Scheduled Castes and Backward people more deep-rooted. To this end, help must be taken from saints and ascetics.

Attacks should be started with vigour against equality, preaching communists [sic.], Ambedkarites, Islamic teachers, Christian missionaries and neighbours [?].

Assaults should be made on Ambedkar’s statues with greater efforts.

Dalit and Muslim writers are to be recruited to the party and by them the essays and literature opposed to the Dalits, Ambedkarites and Mussalmans written and preached. Attention is to be paid to see that these writings are properly edited and preached [sic.].

Those opposed to Hindutva are to be murdered through false encounters. For this work the help of the police and semi-military [sic.] forces should always be taken.

Note: The excerpts are from the book, Saffron Fascism, by Shyam Chand [ Publisher: Unity Publisher, 855/2 Panchkula, Year: 2002 ]

Dalits in Jammu: Demanding to be Heard

Yoginder Sikand

Dalits account for almost a tenth of the population of Jammu and Kashmir or about a third of the population of Jammu province, but in discussions about the Kashmir question the Dalit voice is almost completely absent. Typically, the Hindus of the state are treated as a homogenous whole, although sometimes a distinction is made between the Pundits of the Valley and the Dogras of Jammu. It is, however, crucial to bring in the Dalit perspective when examining inter-community relations in Jammu and Kashmir, not only because of the numerical importance of the Dalits but also because they are among the most marginalised communities in the state.

There are 13 Scheduled Castes in Jammu and Kashmir, and the state's Dalit population is almost entirely concentrated in the Jammu province. In addition to the Dalits who are counted as Hindus are numerous Dalit groups who have converted to Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. According to T.R. Azad, a leading Ambedkarite activist from Jammu, historically the Dalits of the state, as elsewhere in India, have converted in large numbers to various religions in search of liberation from the caste system and the Brahminical religion that provides it religious sanction. Many Dalits who are today counted as Hindus follow sectarian traditions that are markedly egalitarian and anti-Brahminical, such as the Ravidasi panth and the Kabirpanth. These traditions obviate the need for the Brahmin as an intermediary, and also stress the equality of all human beings. In the case of the Kabir panth, inter-communal harmony, between Hindus and Muslims, is also stressed. Rituals, while not denied, are seen as ultimately of little value, with the focus instead being placed on individual morality and devotion to the one formless God.

Despite their large numbers, the Dalits of the state are not well-organised. The Ambedkarite movement, which is strong in various other parts of India, has not established a major presence in the state. There are only two Ambedkarite organisations in Jammu—the Dr. Ambedkar Education Foundation and the Dalit Sahitya Academy. ‘Don't get taken in by these fancy titles', a Dalit activist warned me. "They are just letterhead organisations, and their work is limited simply to celebrating Ambedkar’s birthday, protesting against victimisation of Dalit government employees from time to time and garnering Dalit votes at election time'. One reason for the weakness of the Dalit movement in Jammu, I was told by many Ambedkarites I met, is that the vast majority of the Dalits here continue to identify themselves as Hindu. A number of Hindu religious organisations are active in the area, working also among the Dalits, while, unlike in several other parts of India, Ambedkarite Buddhist groups have only a marginal presence here. Although some 2000 Dalits of the Batwal caste are said to have converted to Buddhism in recent years, they are said to be Buddhist only in name and to retain most of their Hindu beliefs and practices. Because the Dalit movement is still weak in the region, the 8 per cent quota for Dalits in government services remains unfilled, and many Dalit leaders are said to be associated with the BJP, which is generally seen as an anti-Dalit party.

Under Shaikh Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir was the first state to implement land reforms, as a result of which a large number of landless Dalit labourers received plots of land of their own. The economic conditions of the Dalits has thereby improved, and although the majority of the Dalits continue to work as labourers, artisans and petty shopkeepers, there is a small Dalit middle class, consisting almost entirely of government servants, who form the backbone of the fledgling Ambedkarite movement in the state. Despite the improvement in the Dalits' economic conditions, however, caste discrimination continues to be rampant, especially in the villages in the hilly regions of Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur. I was told stories of Dalits being forced to leave their villages by Rajput landlords for daring to take out a marriage procession in the streets, of Dalits being refused houses on rent, of Dalit students suffering the taunts of 'upper' caste students and so on. R.L. Jangral, who is one of the most senior Dalit officers in the Kashmir Administrative Services, relates how, when he was a lecturer in a college in Jammu, a Brahmin landlord refused to rent him his house simply because of his caste. ‘Such things are still widespread', he says.

‘Hindu Rashtra has no place for Dalits, except for at the bottom of the heap', insisted Nathu Ram, a young Dalit school teacher whom I met at the office Dr. Ambedkar Education Foundation, one of the only two Dalit organisations in Jammu. ‘Hinduism or Hindutva or call it what you will is simply a means to preserve and promote Aryan hegemony', he forcefully argued. Yet, he conceded that many Dalits are ardent supporters of the BJP. "They want to be known as super-Hindus in order that the ‘upper' castes accept them", he explained. At the same time as he bitterly denounced the BJP and Hindu supremacist groups, he came down heavily on Islamist militants in Kashmir. Although there are virtually no non-Muslim Dalits in the Kashmir Valley, he feared that if the state were to join Pakistan, the plight of the Dalits would only be further exacerbated. "Groups like the Lashkar see all non-Muslims, no matter what their caste or class, as, by definition, enemies of God. How could we ever agree to live under them?", he asked. However, he claimed that relations between Dalits and Muslims in Jammu were fairly cordial, noting that while many ‘upper' caste Hindus treated Dalits as untouchables, the Muslims, in general, did not.

A meeting of Dalit activists was under way at the Dr. Ambedkar Education Foundation when I arrived. They were discussing a range of issues, from politics and Buddhist culture to the problems of women and Dalits living in areas of the state affected by militancy. All the activists present on the occasion were in government service, a reminder that Dalits still cannot hope to rise up in the ‘upper' caste controlled private sector. Even as relatively privileged members of their society many of them continued to face caste discrimination. Few of them had any ‘high' caste Hindu friends, although some had good Muslim and Christian acquaintances. A consensus seemed to prevail at the meeting that religious conversion was the only way out for them, for they could, they believed, never find equality and acceptance in Hinduism. "In Hinduism there is no concept of a human being plain and simple. You are always identified as a member of one caste or the other, and the ‘upper' castes call us as Hindus only to inflate Hindu numbers", said a Dalit youth who teaches in a village school. Most of the men in the room felt that the solution lay in conversion to Buddhism, and some said that they planned to take the step in the near future. Yet, they also agreed that many Dalits who had not been influenced by the Ambedarite movement would not follow them. "They think they can shed their ‘low' caste identity by joining a Hindu sect and claiming to be Rajput or Brahmin, but this does not work in the long run', they insisted.

Just as getting the Dalits to agree on conversion was an uphill task, so too was seeking to broaden the Dalit movement to include all the Dalit castes, the men conceded. The Dalits of Jammu, as elsewhere, are not a homogenous category, being divided into more than a dozen castes. Internalising the logic of the Brahminical system, some of these castes claim to be superior to those considered to be below them in the caste hierarchy. This has made it immensely difficult for the different castes to work together, and has left the Dalit organisations in Jammu vulnerable to the charge of being a monopoly of the Chamars, the most numerous of the Dalit castes in the state. Yet, the men insisted that the Dalits must work together for without unity they would be bound to go unheard. "If the Dalit view is not heard when discussions are now on regarding the future of Jammu and Kashmir we will be the biggest losers", they stressed. It was imperative, they argued, that their interests, which they identified as separate from those of the ‘upper' castes, be taken into account when discussing the political future of the state. For this they underlined the need for Dalits to have a separate political voice of their own, pointing out that all the established parties in the state were either dominated by Kashmiri Muslims or 'upper' caste Hindus from Jammu, and hence could not be expected to champion Dalit concerns. As one young activist put it bluntly, "We've tried the Muslims and we've tried the Hindus, but they've done nothing for us. So we must speak for ourselves to get our voices heard."

Date: November 09, 2004