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.



Her message is that democracy and transparency are the only answer – but the NGOs steer clear of politics, which makes her burn with indignation. She quotes Graham Greene, “He wrote, ‘Sometimes, if you are human, you have to take sides.’ They say we are not ready to compromise. I don’t know what they mean. Our minds are not inflexible, but perhaps our knees are inflexible. We are not down on our knees!” Her message is that politics is everything, nothing is apolitical. With crystal clear precision, she enunciates in capital letters, “I AM A POLITICIAN. That’s a dirty word, but I write it on forms as my profession. I AM A POLITICIAN!” We talk about the universal contempt for politics, as voting declines in the West. “Just ask them if they would like to emigrate to a totalitarian state,” she says. But does she worry that when freedom comes, people quickly forget as the everyday business of governing falls short of expectations? “I’ve always tried to explain democracy is not perfect. But it gives you a chance to shape your own destiny.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, in an interview here.

Somehow, I see the same “indignation” of some dalit/adivasi activists towards NGOs, which rest of the Indian middle class endorse merrily, and the same indulgence with politics, which rest of middle class abhor. Some sentiments arise from an experience of all possible forms of inequalities and a strong sense of social justice, which even people like Medha Patkar, who remain involved in social issues for such a long time, dont get it. You can see her  in this video (at 26:29 min) “hum to karyakata hein, koi neta nehi hei, karya na karta woh neta hota hei” (We are activists, not politicians. Those who dont act are politicians).

Neta, which literally translates to leader, has in the chattering-class parlance has become synonymous with politician, which has, in turn, become synonymous with “corrupt”. The origin of such lingo could only be at a safe yet privileged distance from politics. The caste-hindu middle class, which could thrive and benefit disjointed from the political system could only resort to such trivialization of democracy. The disturbing part however, is the Neta(leaders) of not just the civil society aka. caste-hindu-middle-class shun political system but the Neta( again leader here not politician) of a movement based on the strength of adivasi and dalits (of Narmada Bachao Andolan) disparages politics. It is true when in the same video, Prof. Vivek Kumar says, only the parliamentary democracy had delivered something to the strata of society he belongs, not the civil society. Proof of principle: Medha Patkar arguing for “Merit” of the people in the drafting committee (15:07 min). How do they belittle our struggle and understanding?

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

Whitewashing Caste Atrocities

“It is better a 100 guilty persons should escape than one innocent person should suffer”

This anonymous quote (often wrongly attributed to Gandhi) in no way presents the belief of Indian judicial system. But it is an euphemistic representation of the non-existent ‘culture of tolerance’ and/or righteousness in India. Viewed from the perspective of caste conflict, where Dalits are always at the receiving end, this translates into “better 100 perpetrators of atrocity walk free, no caste-hindu should be punished”. Kheirlanji is but just one such case.

Thats the only way I can think of not saying the entire system is not-casteist. In Kheirlanji case there were 46 people arrested, 11 charge-sheeted, 2 got life sentence, 6 got death penalty. This is a process of elimination, which also filtered out two serious charges, ” caste atrocity” and “rape”.

The court can claim lack of evidence, the CBI can’t, the public prosecutor can’t !! Be it sloppy investigation, perfunctory persecution or a caste-blind court, the truth is that “women don’t just get killed, not even in a war”. And when it comes to families being lynched where a mob participates as if it were a festival of sorts, the victims are always Dalits (OK, sometimes christians and muslims). The perpetrators’ caste can be anything, as long as they rank theirs higher. That is their trump card to acquittal. It is amazing to look into the data. Only 5% cases reach court !! That means 95% cases, a dalit lodges an FIR under SC/ST POA only to find that the her perpetrators pay her a ‘courtesy visit’ with their new-found impunity (or at least roam scotfree). Of the 5% the conviction rate is an abysmal 15.71 % (against a general i.e IPC rate of 40%). That makes the actual conviction rate less than 1 % !!! [link]. That was in 2001-2002. However, NCRB shows the cargesheeting rate (i.e the rate at which a registered complaint reaches court) is 91.3 % (SC) and 95.9 % (ST), and the conviction rate 27.8 % (SC) and 28 % (ST). [link]. That suggests a huge number of atrocities go unreported.

In such scenario, when the court criticizes out-of-court reactions (of dropping ‘rape and ‘POA’ charges) saying, ‘do such people know the law and evidences’ [link], I can only laugh. We know the Truth, do you ?