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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Colonisation 101

If you want to travel from Bhawanipatna to Khariar or Nuapada, choices are limited. A six hour bus ride or a roundabout of bus and train journey. In the six-hour bus ride, if you are early you might get a seat, if you are starting from the source you might get inside, if you agree to the conductor’s condition you might ride roof-top. “You are on your own” the condition is set while collecting ticket. Of course, I arrived just as the bus pulled off the bus-stand, didn’t even know the name or number of the bus and still was assured a seat. Problem for me was though to usurp its current and apparently unlawful occupant, an emaciated rural woman breast-feeding a less-than one year baby.

In Nuapada, my sister and host, explains the belligerence of her saag (edible leaf) vendor. “In less than a decade after the town was declared district head-quarter every prime land, every shop in the market now belongs to completely new faces. The people who ploughed this land, toiled in its roasting sun, produced all consumable (what you really need to consume), spoke its tongue-chhattisgarhi for generations are now displaced and dis-endowed. The country in its many tentacles- the law, the market forces and so on, encroached their hinterland. Their ancient root was auctioned off for some ethereal currency. The town is still a gram-panchayat, it has not reached the required population to be declared NAC. The town’s govt. officials are from other districts, the business persons are from other states, even the political representatives bear no distant relationship with the locale.

As I passively observed the colonization “conducted” by the state, leaving the people “on their own”, through the narration of the saag vender, I realized my own small act of occupation enroute. About 15 mins that the bus runs its engine in-futility, people in the bus-stand rush in. Seats are grabbed by first-come first-serve basis and tickets are bought later enroute. Unless of course, townsfolk like me who can’t rush and grab, goes ahead and ‘reserves’ the seat. Now, I can unseat a weak, rural woman carrying a child, and it is legal since I have a ticket with the seat number on it.

The new colonisation in Nuapada is also legal. That is the most damning part.

Caste through Democracy part-I

We must begin with an education of democracy. Without assuming democracy can be of just one form and can be summed up only thus, let’s define it as a process where all citizens participate in decision making and are influenced, equally. Because, most large democracies are representative democracies following an aggregation of choices/voices/votes, representation is crucial to uphold equality. It is just a form of governance to begin with, it does not do away with preexisting social groupings and social hierarchies. So it seeks to dismantle the later, at least in the functioning of the democracy.

The best way to appreciate it for educated people is to imagine the democracy as a set comprising of different types of elements in many different subsets. If there were no bias on how the elements are distributed inside the set, whatever be the proportion of different types in the set, that would be found in all the different subsets. Ideally! Like atoms of different noble gases in a closed system (having many open systems inside).This ideal situation is a democratic society free of any structural discrimination (the bias), and the different subsets represent public spheres like educational institutions, judiciary, government, scientific establishment and so on. This bias or structural discrimination does not have to be informed or conscious and negative always, it can just be the reinforcement of inherited privileges over generations. All these are what democracy aims to counter by striving to a) achieve adequate representation b) providing equal opportunities. Although, in popular discourse, both are used interchangeably, etymologically I think, they call for equality at different levels.

If we project the data of representation caste-wise, lets say, in govt. jobs, educational institutions and private sectors, into the above mentioned sets in a venn diagram, the ratio would be in favor of caste-hindus beyond reasonable acceptance in those subsets which can be definitely called power-centers and towards SC/ST and OBC in subsets of negligible importance. So it tells us then, in those power-centers which are basically democratic institutions, the voices of these ill-represented castes/social groups are least heard/considered to fit the way we would like it in democracy. That is why there is constitutional provision is to make adequate representation. This has be to be along caste/social groups because, although economic disparity can be displayed on that venn diagram just as well, adequate representation on economic well-being (or lack of it) doesn’t change that disparity as the newly represented, drawn from lesser economic standing, can be now no longer be classified as before owing to the economic privileges that come with it. Caste/religion, however is static.

A mechanism to ensure that objective is to enable people of those under-represented caste/social groups to participate different areas of democracy. Unless there is some rigidity in the mechanism in terms of its commitment to certain ratios, the unevenness that was the origin of this redressal will make it ineffective. Since democracy’s utopia is ‘there would not be any requirement for such redressal, that there would be no bias’, it  ensures the objective( of equal representation) is met through this mechanism, universally implemented wherever the representation is improportional. We have called it reservation.

The way reservation is perceived by people needs a “didactic inversion” like above, especially because most of us are introduced to reservation in the context of admission to colleges or employment when our personal interests are at stake and which leaves us feeling deprived either for ourselves or for our friends and family. This psyche- I dare say, becomes a fixture in analyzing issues which have ramifications not just at population level but also from and to countless generations. Instead an understanding on reservation must being with the education of democracy and unless our conceptualizations of democracy are widely unlike, we could not have much disagreement on the requirement and the mode of this mechanism-reservation.

Reservation, thus understood, is not a mechanism to uplift the poor, but certainly it can be fine tuned to bring representation from even the least represented groups within the under-represented groups. It is also not a mechanism to target the deserving, since it is not the individuals but the community/group/caste which requires it or not.

update: thanks Geetanjali for pointing out some typo.