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NATIONAL CAMPAIGN ON DALIT HUMAN RIGHTS is an Advocacy Platform committed for Dalit Human Rights at the Grass root, National and International levels. Dalits In News aims at sensitizing Civil societies, HR Mechanisms and providing updates of HR violations on Dalits for their Intervention.
NATIONAL CAMPAIGN ON DALIT HUMAN RIGHTS
Dalits In News
December 06, 2006
Still no tryst with destiny- The Hindustan Times- Editorial
Enforcing silence-- Front Line
The Hindustan Times- Editorial
Still no tryst with destiny
By Gail Omvedt
December 5, 2006
A half century after BR Ambedkar’s death, his home state of Maharashtra has burst into flames, with rioting following the desecration of a statue in far-away Kanpur and the atrocious rape, mutilation and murder of four people at Khairlanji near Nagpur. “The politics of flags and statues” is what one woman Dalit activist had once called the tendency to put up statues and riot over them. And true enough, ‘politics’, in the negative sense, had been involved.
Yet, there are serious issues underlying the recent Dalit upsurge, issues which cut to the heart of the Dalit condition in India today. These have to do not only with Dalits themselves, but also with today’s politics, today’s economy — especially its neglected agrarian side — and with the economic condition and psychology of the OBCs.
Ambedkar’s legacy was a multi-faceted one: Buddhism, constitutional politics, human rights for oppressed castes and women, and more. Politically, his movement was a drive for power, but not one for solely Dalits alone. He had the broader vision of transforming India .
He also knew that Dalits need allies. His first political party, the Independent Labour Party (ILP), was an effort to bring together workers and peasants of all castes with Dalits. This was successful in Maharashtra but had no presence elsewhere, and he transformed it in 1942 into the purely Dalit (but all-India) Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF).
Just before his death, however, he took two major steps. First, he transformed the SCF into the Republican Party — named after the party of Abraham Lincoln. This, like the earlier ILP, was intended to be a party of all the oppressed, and to signify this, it joined the first broad Left Front in Maharashtra , the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. A new, hopeful politics was being forecast.
Underlying this was Ambedkar’s awareness of the realities of caste: Dalits were a minority and needed allies. These could be found (if he wanted to maintain the anti-caste perspective) only in the shudras, or ‘bahujans’, what were to be known as OBCs. There were atrocities in Ambedkar’s time as severe as in ours; and he fought them just as fiercely (and with more wisdom) as Dalits are fighting them today.
Yet, he constantly sought the ‘OBC alliance’, urging non-Brahmins not to join with the Congress, discussing with the likes of Swami Sahajanand of Bihar and Periyar, and urging the desirability of transforming the SCF itself into a ‘Backward Caste Federation’.
His cultural and religious politics were similarly broad. Brahmanism, not caste Hindus (not even Brahmans as such), was the foe. “There are two enemies which the workers of this country have to deal with… Brahmanism and capitalism. By Brahmanism, I do not mean the power, privilege and interest of Brahmans as a community.
By Brahmanism I mean the negation of the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity,” he told Dalit workers in 1932. This formed the constant base of his politics. Brahmanism as a social phenomenon was destructive, not only to Dalits, but also to India as a whole, and he became increasingly convinced that to destroy it, Hinduism as such had to be renounced.
It was following his famous debate with Gandhi that he wrote Annihilation of Caste in 1936, arguing both for inter-caste marriage and the rejection of the basic Brahmanic scriptures. He finally accepted diksha of Buddhism in the massive conversion ceremony of October 1956. But Buddhism was never seen as being an option for Dalits only. He instead talked of a “prabuddha Bharat” — a Buddhist India, an enlightened India .
Economically, his position varied — from his conventional, if brilliant, writings of the Twenties on liberal economics; through his Marxist phase in the Thirties, which culminated in the call for ‘State socialism’ in the tract States and Minorities in 1946; to his version of social democracy after the disillusionment with Communism provoked by the Tibetan and East European invasions.
Thus, the election manifesto of the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1952 called for pragmatic politics. Yet, the constant features underlying this were a drive for economic development and prosperity, and a concern for the caste-oppressed and the toilers.
The SCF manifesto argued for pragmatism (which would provide the best development) in terms of public versus private enterprise, but noted: “One reservation the Scheduled Castes Federation must however make. Any scheme of production must in the view of the Scheduled Caste Federation remain subject to one over-riding consideration — namely, that there should be no exploitation of the working classes.”
Developments since Independence have left such hopes unfulfilled. Buddhism in India has remained a Dalit Buddhism and the Republican Party has remained a Dalit-only party. Buddhism has even been a feature of specific Dalit castes — Mahars in Maharashtra , Chamars to some extent in Uttar Pradesh. The second major regional Dalit castes (Matangs, Madigas, etc) often stress their Hindu identity in reaction.
Culturally, Brahmanic Hinduism has had something of a resurgence, backing the challenging political party, becoming aggressive in many areas against minorities, and Buddhists are often caught socially in a Brahmanic framework: Lakshmi and Ganapati along with Buddha and Ambedkar. In Maharashtra, except for stray individuals, only a small section of nomadic tribes in Maharashtra have joined the former Mahars in accepting Buddhism.
Politically, it took Kanshi Ram, starting in northern India, to carry the movement forward by building a party with Dalit leadership but appealing to enough OBCs (or MBCs, ‘most backward castes’) to capture power in the largest state in India. The Prakash Ambedkar-led Republican Party in Maharashtra imitated this success by encouraging the formation of an allied Bahujan Mahasangh. But this effort never took off.
Maharashtra Dalit politics remained split and stagnant. The BSP itself suffered from the tensions with the OBC-based Samajwadi Party and could never successfully move beyond UP or project a vision similar to that of Ambedkar. Its early days saw the proclamation of militancy, with slogans such as “Brahman, Bania, Thakur chor, baki sab DS4”. But these vanished. Economics and politics were not joined.
Economic developments provided prosperity, but not a widespread one. It cannot be said that exploitation of the working class has vanished. And finally, the efforts to form a solid Dalit-Bahujan alliance failed. Tensions rose, especially in states such as Tamil Nadu and UP, where it broke out into sporadic and widespread rioting. But the split was evident everywhere. Behind it lay the other great failure of Ambedkar’s dreams — this time on the economic front.
India did achieve prosperity, especially after the reforms in the Nineties. But this ‘India Shining’ proved to ignore Ambedkar’s “overriding consideration” about exploitation of the working classes. And the most neglected sector was agriculture, where a large section of OBCs worked as marginal farmers, and artisans bound to stagnating traditional occupations.
Caught in the new aspirations, yearning for a prosperity that they could never share, bound to TV serials that pictured every aspect of the new bright upper-middle class, their resentment kept turning against the Dalits who appeared to them to be a favoured and pampered minority. All they had left, as long as they remained caught in the Brahmanic mindset, was status.
And Dalits did gain something after Independence : bold aspirations and a new self-confidence, a readiness to defy the hallowed traditions that had kept them down. Clashes became more brutal, sometimes becoming widespread conflagrations, sometimes individual atrocities. The Dalit-Bahujan alliance that Ambedkar had hoped for is lying in tatters.
A final area of Ambedkar’s concern was women. He was a minister at the time when the Hindu Code Bill, the first attempt to remedy women’s ‘manuwadi’ exclusion from property rights, was made. Ambedkar resigned in 1951 when the Bill failed to be passed. In his resignation he stated memorably, “The Hindu code was the greatest social reform measure ever undertaken by the legislature in this country… To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu society, untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap.”
And what is the condition today? Laws exist, and women are making their mark in many fields, but women remain property-less and powerless. The widespread phenomenon of “deserted women” — women abandoned by husbands and left to go back to their marital homes where they remain labouring dependents on the family of their birth — shows their real condition. Manu reigns at the social level in the field of gender as well as caste.
Ambedkar’s legacy is one of hope — for a prosperous, exploitation-free casteless society. But 50 years after his death, in the land that still swears by Nehru and ‘Gandhigiri’, that hope remains to be fulfilled.
Gail Omvedt is a social scientist and author of Dalits and Democratic Revolution (Sage) and Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India (Viking)
There are serious allegations that democratic protest and social activism are being curbed in the wake of the Khairlangi murders.
ASHU SAXSENA HAS 20 criminal charges against her. She believes she is being victimised for fighting for the Dalit victims in Khairlangi.
THE slightest sound from the window causes Ashu Saxena to stop in mid-sentence and turn questioning eyes on her friends who get up to investigate. The sounds are inconsequential ones - a car halting, a passing motorbike that slows down, voices from downstairs - that you would not notice unless, like Ashu Saxena, you are underground. Her fear is so great that even the hinges on the front door are left unoiled: "Pata chalta hai jab koi andar ata hai" (We know when someone enters) is the terse explanation of the owner of the house.
Ashu Saxena lives in the twilight world common to many social activists in the districts of Nagpur , Amravati , Bhandara and Gadchiroli in east Maharashtra . Although she is not wanted officially by the state, she was picked up and detained by the police. Arrests such as these are random and the charges applied are either of a general nature or inaccurate. Activists say they have noticed a trend in these arrests. They say it happens whenever there has been some social disturbance or injustice. "We either come together to protest it or we do it individually. And the state doesn't like this so we are accused of anti-national or subversive activities and arrested as a precautionary measure or on some vague charges," said Ashu Saxena.
The social injustice that sparked the arrests is related to the state's inaction after four members of a Dalit family were tortured and murdered in Khairlanji village on September 29. The murder, believed to involve a land dispute, was undoubtedly a caste-related killing. The victims' bodies were dumped in a canal. The investigation was handled in a slipshod manner and it was only the pressure exerted by Dalit organisations and others that brought the Khairlanji murders to the notice of the general public.
Ashu Saxena is like a taut wire. Just released from jail, she is exhausted but alert. She sits rigidly, unable to relax even though she is in a safe-house and is meeting with people whose credentials have been vouched for. Her six-year-old son comes in from time to time. She says he is still traumatised by the memory of waking and finding his mother was not there.
Ashu Saxena was arrested from her home at 5a.m. on November 9. She was refused permission to ensure care for her son. She was taken from one police station to another and charged with 20 criminal actions including associating with naxalites. While the police claimed she was a key leader of the violent November 6 peace march, Ashu Saxena said, "I was involved with organising the commemorative long march that had been planned for November 12, but this never took place because of the absence of police permission."
She was not present during the November 6 agitation and believes she is being victimised for her work with marginalised people and for forming the Khairlanji Dalit Hatyakhand Kruti Samiti, a group fighting for justice for the four victims. It seems that Ashu Saxena's only `crime' is to be a full-time activist of the Mahila Jan Andolan Samiti, a group that fights for women's rights that is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). A former Student Federation of India member, she fought the 1992 elections to the Nagpur Municipal Corporation on the CPI(M) ticket. She was arrested, released, rearrested and released between November 9 and 12, and the police seem to be looking for a reason to take her into custody again. She has decided that it is best to stay in hiding for a while.
Anil Borkar and Sanjay Fulzale of the People's Democratic Front of India (PDFI) went through the same sequence of arrests, releases and rearrests. Borkar is the Nagpur convener of the PDFI, a left-leaning organisation concerned with social issues. He and Sanjay Fulzale were arrested from their homes on November 8.
Recounting the sequence of events, Borkar said, "Neither of us was present at the peace march [of November 6]. But on November 8, after Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil said that there could be naxalite involvement in the Khairlanji protests, we were arrested. Both of us were arrested separately - neither knew of the other's arrest. First, we were called to the police station for some inquiries. Then we were taken from station to station. No charges were framed and we were kept through the night.
"The next day the police told the Magistrate we were responsible for inciting violence against the state at Indora [the location of the march] and that we were naxalite supporters. On November 11, we were released on condition that we report twice daily to the police station. That very night we were rearrested on the same charge and then released on the night of November 12 [the day the banned long march to Khairlanji was planned]. On November 14, we came to know that the police were looking for us again." They are also in hiding. As Anil Borkar put it, "the harassment of the workers of people's movements has increased after Khairlanji".
Accusing someone of being a naxalite gives the police a carte blanche to carry out arrests. In a State that sanctions the misuse of power, it appears the police use this to crack down on moderate left-leaning social activists. The obsession with naxalism is so great that the net of arrests is spread wide.
In October, the police in Nagpur accused Sunita Narayan, an independent publisher, of selling anti-national literature and arrested her. She was harassed for three days and framed as a naxalite. Sunita Narayan was selling books on democracy and people's struggles (none of them banned) at the 50th anniversary celebrations of B.R. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism.
Post-Khairlanji, the Nagpur police were so jittery that they banned the performance of Ramu Ramanathan's play Cotton 56 Polyester 84 about the plight of Mumbai's textile industry. Saxena said, "The police uses its fight against naxalites as a two-edged sword. They arrest Left leaders under various charges including associations with naxalites and this way they manage to convey to their masters that they have checked subversive activities. At the same time they manage to stamp out any legitimate protests against social injustices. The whole thing is a facade for showing that the police have a situation under control."
The spate of arrests after Khairlanji bears out this thinking. But what is the advantage to curbing healthy social protest, especially with regard to the cover-up in Khairlanji? The answer is simple. The Khairlanji investigation was shoddy. It was shoddy because it was four Dalits who were killed and no one cared. When Dalit groups and others took up the issue it exposed the state's mishandling.
The arrest of protesters and activists is just the state's way of covering up its lapses. The police justify their actions by saying that Dalit protest meetings are being infiltrated by naxalites. However, even a basic analysis of Dalit thinking and naxalite ideology reveals there is absolutely no common ground between the two. Dalits agreed that their movement had weakened considerably in Maharashtra , but rejected the idea that it was guided by naxalites.
If left-leaning activists are harassed at a time like this, it is not difficult to imagine what happens to ordinary Dalits. Karuna Siddharth Gharde was picked up by the police on November 10 at a peaceful dharna in Nagpur , for protesting against the Khairlanji murders. Gharde's participation was limited to sitting with a group of fellow Dalits. No charges were framed nor was she interrogated. Her 10-hour stay at the police station can thus only be interpreted as intimidation. Likewise, Kamlabai Narnavre was arrested on the same day although she had nothing to do with the protest meeting. She was picked up from Nagpur 's Gittikhana Buddha Vihar, which she visits regularly. The septuagenarian, who finds it difficult to walk, said she was hit on her back. She too was kept at the police station for 10 hours without any formal reason being given. The women said no woman constable was present either at the time of being picked up or at the police station. They were kept there without charge until many hours after sunset.
Kishor Gaidhane, a Dalit social worker, was severely beaten by the police because he lodged a complaint against policemen who had beaten some Dalits unconscious after the November 6 peace rally. Seven policemen were transferred and Gaidhane was asked to withdraw it. He refused. Later, the police framed false charges of pelting a bus with stones against a 16-year-old Dalit boy. Gaidhane says the harassment continues.
Raju Narayan Ramteke, a Dalit autorickshaw driver was arrested from his home. His front door was smashed down by the police and charges of rioting were slapped on the bewildered Ramteke, who said he had only participated in a peaceful protest. He was jailed for three days. He alleged that he and others were subjected to casteist abuse at the Gittikhana police station.
Allegations of casteism have been levelled by Ashu Saxena against senior administrative officers in the region. Ashu Saxena is thankful that the Khairlanji case has been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. She believes that the administration has an anti-poor, anti-Dalit, anti-Left agenda that is being directed at curbing healthy social activism.
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