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.


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. )

Little Modi’s Corporate Safari

He pitched himself against non-existent contestants Mian Musharaf, Itali ki beti in elections. Should you be asking then if the people were choosing the Premier of India, Amrika-style? Siriman Narendra Modi does not contest election, he seeks referendum. Also, there is hardly any remarkable opposition leader in Gujarat Congress, which remains the main and weakened opposition party against the mean and powerful ruling BJP. BJP’s intra-party dissidents, loyalist to the former BJP CM are sternly dealt with. Reelected twice in a row and gaining support from unexpected (or most expected as you ‘ll see in a jiffy) quarters, the three-time chief minister has his prop-roots anchored deep in Gujarat politics. Remember that SMS, “I was CM, I am CM, I will be CM forever”. That was not the confidence of an elected representative, it the chutzpah of an authoritarian.  When he spelt out CM meant common man, he probably meant, “that does not mean I wont be PM”.

“A single irremovable party is a dictatorship”-Rosa Luxemberg had said. If not dictatorship, it is a dysfunctional democracy. Or simply Majoritarianism. Secularists of India are turning in their graves. No, I am not saying secularism is dead yet, but the secularist are put into their little boxes with their armchair and laptops, and are buried. Six feet under. How else can you explain months-long violence, rape and arson in Khandamal, Orissa, and year after year around Christmas. Like most Hindu festivals, Christmas will soon be appropriated by Hindus in Orissa, may be as ‘Nun Vijay Divas”. Like their festival of “lights” and of “colors”, it will be festival of blood. Warm blood, with a smell of cast iron. The secularists are perplexed. On what feet Modi  stands?

The answer is simple two-pronged. Hindutva and Corporatism. Hindutva is all-so-known, what needs explanation is corporatism.

Corporatism, or “corporativism,” originally referred to Mussolini’s model of a police state run as an alliance of the three major power sources in society—government, businesses and trade unions—all collaborating to guarantee order in the name of nationalism. What Chile pioneered under Pinochet was an evolution of corporatism: a mutually supporting alliance between a police state and large corporations, joining forces to wage all-out war on the third power sector— the workers—thereby drastically increasing the alliance’s share of the national wealth.

Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism- Noami Klein

Corporatism effectively provides a free-run for the corporate and business houses. In the process the state swells up in foreign investment debt and economic inequality. Gujurat is witnessing all of that. The social cost is colossal; Gujarat ranks 14 out of 17 major states in India state hunger Index (only above Bihar, Jharkhand, and MP). Compared with the Nutrition Index of 1994, Tamilnadu, Assam, Maharastra which were ranking below Gujarat have moved way up. The only states that lagged behind Gujurat, then and now, are undivided Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. There are indications that schemes for the poor are not implemented. Much more needs to be dug out, and said. Poverty has declined in Gujarat, so has everywhere else. The argument is how much redistributed is the fruits of development that you are bragging about in your state.

The state facilitated the strengthening of the upper castes through, for example, land reforms and the distribution of political goods. However, as the state became the source of the upper castes’ domination, their dependency upon it for their well-being and legitimacy increased, and this, in turn, impaired their authority over the backward castes. In the past, their domination had functioned as a surrogate for a state. They had been able to gain command over the rest of the society through various mechanisms of patronage. Now, with the growing penetration of the state, when traditional modes of mobilization and control were changing, the upper castes began losing that form of The crisis evolved as political parties began to recognise the electoral importance of backward groups.

Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: Violence in Gujarat- Ornit Sahani

Strengthened as they were by then, they sought to undermine the welfare state by shifting the opportunities of economic well being to private institutions, owned by them financed by the state, drawing unrestricted resources from the state. Because that is how their would dominate and function as a ‘surrogate for the state’. No, they didn’t come up with this conspiracy, but when it was presented to them by the investors and industrialists they readily bought it. Unhindered free-market economy requires someone at the helm of affairs who not only ignores dissidents but suppresses them if be needed. This is exemplified from the Southern Cone of Latin America to the Asian Giants in East. Modi has that autocratic timber, no doubt, but the process was set in motion long back.

The pogrom of 2002 against Muslim is not just a religious extermination. They meticulously planned and targeted all Muslim business houses also. Earlier riots were directed against backward castes, Dalits. Despite the incriminating evidences against the BJP/VHP/RSS, the political combine remained heavily financed, by individuals and corporates. Without financial backing Hindutva could not penetrate that deep since it thrives on unpopular themes like conflict and orthodoxy, and financial backing would not come from corporate houses if Hindutva was not profitable. Modi is just another facilitator.

Be warned all development-freaks. Atal Bihari Vajpayee played ‘the dove’ prank with you. As the prime minister of India, he allowed thousands of Indians to be butchered, burned and raped, or whatever sequence the perpetrators’ perversion allowed, and he condoned it. His nuclear brinkmanship cost heavily to India, and the south-asian subcontinent. Modi is playing the ‘development’ prank now. When the same businesses houses which argued state withdrawal from market are lining up for bail out around the world, India needs to rethink its development policy well-ahead of time.

In Dec 2002, wiping blood off their hands,  BJP Govt. signed a pact with Bush administration ‘not to send each other’s national’ to International Criminal Court. India must ratify ICC and scrap the above pact so that in future such massacres are prevented and people like Narendra Modi are persecuted for genocide, not touted for the CEO of the country, as if the Indian state is only for their insatiable profit.

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.

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 ?