Enforcing Impunity

The recent judgement of Laxmanpur Bathe Massacre, where the High court bench chaired by Sinha and Lal acquitted all the 26 accused, 16 of who were previously given death sentence, casts serious doubts on the role of judiciary (along with the involved investigating agencies) in delivering justice when it comes to Dalit atrocity. A massacre of 58 Dalits by a gang of men (Ranvir Sena) going unpunished after 16 long years is a travesty of justice which a democratic country should be ASHAMED of.

There is an important dimension to Dalit-atrocities that often a deeper involvement into the issue brings forth. The impunity an ordinary caste-hindu enjoys in doing anything illegal, uncivil against a Dalit. The same caste-hindu might never pick a quarrel with another caste-hindu but feels free to transgress a Dalit’s right whenever she feels uncomfortable. In small societies, such as villages there are social stigma (negative reinforcement) against bad behavior/criminality, but only if it is against the caste-hindus. Bad behavior/criminality against the Dalits are justified by tradition and religion. This “perceived impunity” that even a pre-teen caste-hindu is so conceived is not biological, THERE IS NO INNATE CASTEIST FACULTY, but inherited prejudice duly enriched myths, mythologies and religious scriptures and emboldened by the deeds of her fellow caste-hindus.

In the villages, where most of these Dalit-atrocities occur, there is NOTHING which breaks the “perceived impunity”.There are three important agencies which break the news to the stone-age caste-hindu villagers that, that is in fact no impunity.

First, is the school where probably the next best thing children can learn after alphabets and arithmetics is the principles of mutual-respect and co-existence.  In fact, these things children should learn along with or even before they learns the prescribed school education. The school years should enhance the rationale of these principles, which will let the pupils question their ‘inherited prejudice’ at least.

Second are the law-enforcement agencies, the police, the court, and many other govt. agencies. Ideally the guidebook for them is the constitution and the penal codes, which grant none of the ‘perceived impunity’. Any case of establishing and protecting the rights of a marginalized group would serve as an example for the hapless caste-hindu pree-teen who was otherwise going to turn out to be carrier of the disease- casteism.  A collusion of caste-hindu brotherhood and irrational religiosity help enforce the “perceived impunity”.  The court verdict like the Patna HC on Laxmanpur bathe, in the pretext of ‘lack of reliable evidence’ makes the perceived impunity real. It is not the final verdict yet, there is a Supreme Court, of course, but it does tell a crucial fact. The apex court thinks, the killers can not be punished.

With a Casteist Judiciary like that, the third, and probably the last way out of this abyss of ignorance (as you might have guessed the “percieved impunity is just plain ignorance or inability to accept the truth), for the poor caste-hindu is Newspapers.  Remember, how Indian express took up the cause of the two slain IAS officers, by covering the issue in front page, day after day? How The Hindu serialized publication of wiki-leaks? These newspapers very well consider themselves opinion makers, and they are to certain extent, in addition to their role as reporter of facts. None of these papers wrote up an editorial condemning the derelict judiciary or criticizing the court verdict. These National Toilet Papers (again to use VTR’s word) have criticized court rulings before, in all too subtle ways to extricate themselves from the law’s tentacles. More importantly, when Dalit parliamentarians forced the MHRD to admit changes in school textbook, because some cartoons were defamatory to Dr. Ambedkar, these were the paper who surfaced more than 89 editorials and open-editorials, a list of those are with me. None of them would say it, at least, it was wrong on the part of the court to justify Dalit killings, and letting the accused free, even when surviors are unequivocal on their identification and even without a directive to the police/CBI to bring the culprit to justice.

The impunity for caste based violence (forget discrimination!) is sanctified by Hindu religion, employed primarily to subjugate Dalits, to deny them them their dignity and individuality, is guranteed by the court and actively encouraged by education and media.

Update: “The Hindu”, our responsible newspaper deems it necessary to publish an editorial on “Persecution of Jwala”. Apparently, the female start badminton play not being allowed to play in Denmark by Badminton Association of India is quite more serious issue than massacres like Laxmanpur bathe.

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The Uselessness Of My Activism

Activism is not sharing newslinks, quotable quotes in wallpapers or snippets of wisdom in FB. Activism, I believe, is a constant engagement with certain issues of societal relevance, and elevating your concern for wellbeing of the larger, but more importantly, less privileged sections of the societies/groups including yours. It might include informing yourself with details by reading and discussing, sharing your thoughts by writing and discussing and giving voice to what you believe in by standing up for it, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. This “constant engagement” take a toll on your otherwise personal time and space as well as your professional progress. So it might be wise to judge the usefulness of such activity.

Recently we were protesting a case of Dalit atrocity. As the protest march ended at a police barricade which we didnt even try break, we were doubtful if our tiny gathering of 100 odd people will break the stoic silence of the government or the indifference of the administration. As a fellow protester was uncertain if these benign protests could change anything, I wondered if a more passionate protest involving arrest or detention would actually do anything more. We have done the latter too, at another time for another issue without much success.

The previous night in JNU campus, the effectiveness of any sort of protest were thoroughly discredited. These budding intellectuals, very few in numbers, young and passionate, viewed non-violent protests and reliance on state as an enervating posture which forced more and more atrocities on Dalits. If your only shield is cracked, further strike are inevitable. Violence is the only answer, was a point of view. Not violence, but deterrence through physical, communal strength or even arms was necessary and sufficient, was another.

I didn’t agree. A lot of us didn’t, not because we were opposed to violence by principle or bound by a moral. Although we swore on Ambedkar to look for constitutional means, we also know “decolonisation is a violent process”(Fanon). I did not agree because, the “grammar of anarchy” simply fails to put the goal in sight. In an increasing Orwellian state, achieving a honorable and atrocity-free living for Dalits through arms and revolution was somehow not working out in my head. Counter-attacks on the caste-hindus in Bihar by the MCC, neven stopped Dalit atrocity. Easy arms in black neighbourhoods, didn’t stop race-related crimes in USA. I am not a avowed non-violence supporter, nor I believe violence is even off the table as long atrocities continue, but I dont see it as a strategic alternative.

What else is then the point of my involvement? I doubt if any of my protest have ever led to or accelerated success. Nor have I ever converted anyone with discussion. I have won arguments, but winning argument is not winning heart. Like Yogendra Sikand, none I have shared, discussed with have changed, appreciated the concerns and taken up the issue leaving the chief aspect of my activism i.e. “information is knowledge”, “Truth itself is the catalyst for revolution”, in utter suspect for its usefulness. That does not mean though, I will leave activism. The usefulness of my activism, so far, is finding out to what does not move the people, administration, government here. May be one day, knowing this, will help us end our struggle, “by any means necessary” like Malcolm X said.

Dont Kill Hikaka

To kill a tribal politician, while releasing the foreign tourists will not be a good thing for the brahminical leadership of Naxalite movement in Orissa. Tribal people will recognise this dual treatment and revolt against the rank.

Will Amitabh Bachchan turn down doctorate for rights of dalits?

by Nilratan Shende

Months of media coverage of the “racial attacks” on Indian students in Australia and it’s responses led to proactive rallying around widespread condemnation by constituents of the democratic institutions e.g. legislature, sections of bureaucracy, civil society organizations, joined by high profile celebrities.

The media and celebrities were lightening quick to highlight the issue, and were vocal against “racial” attacks. But nature of uniform vocal response over other forms of discrimination should establish their concern as genuine or hypocritical. The media and celebrities, who promptly protest racial discrimination, conveniently shy away from being proactive in preventing discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, language, religion and atrocities that stem out of inhuman practice of untouchability.

One would like to question, why are celebrities and media oversensitive to the racial discrimination? How do they manage to turn a blind eye to the conspicuous, heinous, brutal caste discrimination in India that seems to be increasing every year? Why does such a paradoxical stand on discrimination exist among celebrities and media fraternity?

One of such response was from legendary actor Mr Amitabh Bacchan who turned down doctoral decoration of Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia in order to protest the racial attacks on the Indian students.

Does he maintain a uniform stand on the prevailing discriminatory practices? Isn’t it a response of a hypocrite who maintains duality to discriminatory forms? He is protesting against racial attacks but has he turned down or returned any honour or award conferred to him by the government of India in protest against caste discrimination and practice of untouchability? He is asserting his voice against racial attacks on Indians studying abroad but why does not he express his views when people of African heritage walking on the streets of Mumbai are humiliated with the “N” word or when Indian nationals from north-eastern states are abused with racial slurs? Will he stand up and express similar sentiments for the marginalized Dalits and Tribes?

Why does not Mr. Amitabh return all civil honors conferred to him by Government of India in protest against increasing atrocities of upper castes over Dalits? Amitabh Bacchan would really set a precedence if he showed similar kind of sensitivities to the plights of Dalits and tribes in India. Whether his stand on racism was genuine or a publicity stunt would be revealed over the actions he adopts in order to provide visibility to the issues of discrimination back home. Activists, civil society organizations dedicating their lives for the social movement may brand him as hypocrite if he fails to initiate similar protests in providing visibility to the exploited, oppressed Dalits and tribes. But it’s up to Amitabh Bachchan to decide whether he wishes to be contended with and lead a life of the reel hypocritical hero or the real advocate of justice and peace in the wake of increasing discriminatory practices against Dalits and Tribes stemming from caste system and practice of untouchability.

On one hand his consciousness does not allow him to accept the decoration offered by an Australian University but on the other hand it allows him to accept the honours, awards and doctoral degrees offered by Indian government and universities in the midst of practice of untouchability leading to gross violation of human dignity. Amitabh Bachchan is like one of the millions of other Indians who pretend to stand up and fight for discrimination.

The paradox of preferring racial discrimination to caste discrimination in their protests roots from upper caste consciousness which identifies with larger humanitarian issues. Their quest for equality and justice is prominent in case of discrimination of racial abuse against Indian citizens of higher class who are mostly higher caste as well. Isn’t this a fair enough indication that their pursuit for equality and justice is limited to their own classes and castes while conveniently ignoring the plight of the millions of vulnerable Dalits and Tribes in India against whom systematic violence is perpetrated for demanding social and economic equality, justice. The case of Dalit massacre of Khairlanji, its deliberately delayed airing and support for quelling Dalit demonstrations in the name of “law and order” would be one of the many glaring instances of the hypocritical quest for justice and equality of the electronic media and celebrities alike.

The Indian media who have been acting as a “watchdog” and “custodian of justice” in recent racial attacks need to introspect deeply to their purposeful oblivion of the crime against Dalits and Tribes. It does more harm than good as it only strengthens the dominant social structure while leaving the prevailing discrimination and injustice untouched.

Fourth pillar of modern democracy, the media, which has deliberately maintained partisan image of issues of the vulnerables, could do the world a good towards the larger goal of attaining discrimination free egalitarian society. This can only be achieved by abandoning prejudiced opinion, presenting victims’ approach and perspective from below and backing it with genuine actions for the larger interest of discrimination free egalitarian accommodative civilization.

(Nilratan Shende is a graduate student in Humanities and Social Sciences. )

A letter to The Indian Express

While Dalit movement is riding the high tide of political empowerment in UP ( or at least it seems so at the surface) there are islands archipelagos of Dalit villages/panchayats where democratic rights remain subdued.  That’s a fact. But newspapers use the term “Dalit” for every small and big political parties and political movements, whereas the term “Harijan” is used often for political disputes at village/panchayat level. Is it 1.) casteist insinuation, 2.) matter-of-fact reporting, 3.) recognisation fo the fact that “Dalit” is politically  and psychologically empowering term while  “Harijan” is a futile, powerless euphemism or 4.) an effort to impose the term once again?

Here is my letter to Indian Express. (I received no reponse)

I strongly protest use of the word “Harijan” in the news item dated Dec 15th, 2008.

At the outset I would like to congratulate reporter Mr. Kautilya Singh for bringing out yet another case of intimidation of Dalits by caste-Hindus and callousness of the administration in enforcing constitutional rights of the Dalits.  However, educated Dalits (the ones who read English newspapers like Indian Express) deplore the use of term “Harijan” for themselves and for members of their community. As a national newspaper, Indian express probably knows the comtempt and disquiet Dalit community nation wide associates with the term. I would like to remind you that CIC had sought to ban the words “Harijan” and “Girijan” in Lok Shabha for being “unconstitutional and deragotory”, which was reported in Indian Express itself.

If in a remote village Dalits are called by their occupational caste names or mere acchut (untouchable) that does not give a reporter the context or legitimacy to report with those extremely offensive words. Likewise, even though Dalits of Malasa are called “Harijans” by other villagers (or called themselves so), the Gram Pradhan seat is reserved for Sceduled Castes and hence SC was more appropriate word in such context, if “Dalit” must be avoided (I wonder why?).

In a time when the whole nation seeks to be socially sensitive and responsive to the minority and neglected communities, Mr. Kautilya Singh’s choice of word comes across as crass and offensive. It is unfortunate that either Indian Express does not have a policy on such emotive issue or it was ignored.

Dalit community would much appreciate such reportage, if it didnt come packed with derogatory words, for the news itself was despairing.

Vote-Share Is Not Acceptability

The father of a 13yr old girl has writen to Ms. Mayawati not to induct Aruna Sankar Sukla, a former SP MLC into BSP.  Sukla  has been threatening the family of the girl who was brutally raped by Sukla’s nephew and his friends. [link]

In an unrelated(!) news, Ms. Maywati defends ‘law and order’ of the state.[link]

She also defended her decision to induct persons with criminal antecedents into the BSP and said, “I have inducted such persons only after they have promised to reform themselves. If they continue with their activities, I will not waste any time in showing them the door.”

She also claims to have suspended ‘officials found negligence of duty’ in Bhaghpat shootout. Why should lower officials be sacked for negligence, if politicians are not?

Personally, I dont think eliminating criminal-politicians or allgeded-ciminal politicians from political parties is a pragmatic approach to contain crime in  society. They will just ride the back of another party or contenst and win independently. But you can’t give them all the hot-seats of power on a simple promise to reform themselves! It seems BSP does more than that. Ms. Mayawati keeps close eyes on her party members. There are a network of spies on each member of the BSP, reporting daily to the BSP chief. [link]

But the kind of oversight Siddiqui hints at borders on paranoia: five persons per BSP candidate in Delhi. And even he himself, he shrugs, knows he is being watched, with a daily report duly filed on his activities.

Is it an effective strategy? Does this restrain the party members with criminal past who are, without a doubt, important for electoral success? Ms. Mayawati has done whatever it takes to shore the vote-share of BSP. She brokered power-sharing deals with SP/BJP, campaigned for Modi, diluted the POA, had the party disciplined to the level of the accusation ‘undemocratic’, shifted from Bahujan to Sarbajan and all of  it yielded result. The results are optimistic, if not exciting, even though the path was not.  I hope it is just wading through the sewage to the prized land. BSP have not grown by leaps and bounds, the growth has always been slow but solid, the ground is won in inches. And one day, I hope, with a fearsome presence in India political arena, BSP would take unwavering stand on issues that even the middle-class fancy.

But if a 13yr old girl and her family are victimized and their persecutor is provided political immunity by non-other-than BSP and Behenji,  every BSP supporter, including me, is bound to be sad and confused. These are the same people, the brahmins/caste-hindus, land-owning caste who used to victimise and terrorise dalit/muslims/minorites. If its not pracitally possible to end their attrocity, Behenji must not encourage them by accepting them into the party fold.  Otherwise the acceptability of BSP will remain doubtful.

Big dreams aside, lets make a small efforts towards justice with the small gains we have made.

Who are you kidding?

Ms. Sonal Shah, Obama transition team member, renounces her VHP affiliation in a statement given to NextGov and National journal.

In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 — thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved — I would not have associated with the VHP of America.

Sadly, CounterPunch and Senator Santorum have suggested that I somehow endorse that violence and the ongoing violence in Orissa. I do not — I deplore it. But more than that, I have worked against it, and will continue to do so. I have already denounced the groups at issue and am hopeful that we can begin to have an honest conversation about the ways immigrant and diaspora communities can engage constructively in social and humanitarian work abroad.

Remember Graham Stains !! He was burnt alive along with his two boys of ages 9 and 7, in sleep. That was January 1999.  That was the crime of VHP and Co. she could not have missed.  It should have opened her eyes, if she was misled by the VHP of America. Because that was just one of the series of anti-christian (anti-tribal) violence that were happening long before that and still continuing  in Orissa, which drew national/International  condemnation.  And she raised fund for that.

Your renouncement Ms. Shah?  Its too little, too late.