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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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.

Mea Culpa – I

In December, 2007, walking down in a relatively calming atmosphere of a geological research institute in Hydebabad, I commented to a rather agreeable friend, “I think fat people are less productive”

We were hurrying, almost running, because we were getting late for a movie. It was a family get-together, graciously hosted by my younger sister, and the friend was a guest. As both of us were lean, as most research scholars with prolonged delusion with their own projects would be, and it might have been the belief that we were walking quite fast that provoked such shameful prejudice. May be I had some people i didn’t like in mind, who happened to be fat. We had a serious quasi-scientific discussion of how our hypothesis was true.

Now, as I realize Fat is a class issue as well as a feminist issue, and have read few books/articles on this subject, I know how wrong I was.

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.

Perspectives: Obama Moment

Obama certainly transformed political discourse throughout the world. In India, his election to the White house-the “Obama moment”, has become a comforting wish. For some, Obama represents a fresh breath in politics. His message of “Change” became an instant hit in the media, among youngsters. His unblemished rectitude, unquestionable academic career and previously-held university faculty position awestruck many. Many Indians and observers of India look forward to such a messiah, who would transform politics (for them), someone who would cleanse the political system(of politics and politicians-which they so hate). And they stop there, they look to Ratan Tata, Narayan Murthy with hope. It seems the elaborate resume and clean image of Prime Minister Manmohan Sing failed to precipitate ‘Obama moment’. I have serious doubt if these people understand what democracy is. Continue reading

Why Dr. Watson Worries Me ?

If you are from the “statistically less successful groups/communities” (SLSGs), you face wastsons every other day.

One, as a close friend of mine and physics graduate student, suggested in an empathetic tone “thousand years of untouchability, denial to education and imposed hideous works, must have led to some kind of genetic inferiority among SC/ST people.” He, thats how explained the listing of SC/ST students in the trail end of “Merit Lists”. Another with a masters in Life sciences noted, “Brahmins must be genetically superior, look at their achievements, they are everywhere”.

Forget about “acceptability”, “political correctness” I already accepted the your experience as statistics on success. The question is, “are the inferences drawn from the statistics scientific enough ?” This jump from the statistical observation to the inference is so wide that they would fail miserable to bridge. And while they are at it, I would draw a parallel to similar remarks on other “statistically less successful groups”, mainly African-Americans and then demolish their contention invoking Stephen J Gould’s Mismeasure of Man, Ashley Montagu’s “Race and IQ“. Then I would explicate the socio-cultural disparity and historical odds that stood in the way of “SLSGs”. They would be startled (and deny) my accusation that, the system by default is against these groups even now.

Dr. Watson infuses life to my friends’ superstitions. He is a nobelist and one of the fathers of Molecular Biology. Anything he says has the potential to be “golden quotes”. And he targets the only SLSG i.e African(-Americans) on which major studies/research are based. I have grown taller since the first time this abominable swipe hurt me, I can now defeat decisively any such attack calmly and rationally. But for the younger ones of us, these rabble-rousers can cause irreparable psychological damage. So please before advancing or accepting , the remarks of Dr. James D. Watson (or any celebrity like him) note the followings

  1. Dr. Watson was suspended from Cold Spring Harber Laboratory, Long Island following his remarks, where he has be working for nearly four decades and was president from 1994 and chancellor from 2004 till now.
  2. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory does not engage in any research that could even form the basis of the statements attributed to Dr. Watson.
  3. Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists, said “While we honor the extraordinary contributions that Dr. Watson has made to science in the past, his comments show that he has lost his way, He has failed us in the worst possible way. It is a sad and revolting way to end a remarkable career.”
  4. Dr Craig Venter, who led the human gemone project counters Dr. Watson. He said, “Skin colour as a surrogate for race is a social concept not a scientific one,” There is no basis in scientific fact or in the human genetic code for the notion that skin colour will be predictive of intelligence.

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