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. )


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.