Friday, January 01, 2010

The Tribal Question

Sandwiched between the rhetoric of ideologies

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The last week of December passed at Periyar Thidal in Chennai. It some how stuck to me why the loud mouthed philosophers writing eulogy on Marxism and Maoism in the west, never ever thought of writing something on people like Periyar, Ambedkar and Phule. How have the Indian elite residing abroad forgotten these great icons? Was this conspicuous or an intelligent way of brahmanical crookedness when they speak of ideologies in today’s world.

When Christopher Jefferalot wrote ‘Silent revolution in India’, he understood the changes happening in Indian society. Of course, for the upper elite of Indian intellectuals masquerading as Marxists or Maoists, it was not more than the bourgeoisie game of an identity politics. The whole decade of 1990s was the biggest blow to brahmanical forces in India in the post independent India. The forces of Mandal defeated the forces of Kamandal in the political field but unfortunately there was no periyar, Phule, Ambedkar who could convert this political mobilization as a lethal force for social change which could have dismantled the brahmanical hegemony in India. This resulted in growth of numerous local contradictions which were rarely discussed as the fight was against ‘big enemy’. When you ignore local differences and feel that rather then discussing on them, it is better to keep them under the wrap, a political revolution is found to fail. And the who political change brought by Mandal is there but the leaders are not more then puppets of their brahmanical bosses or following up the same politics of hegemonies of their past masters. Despite their ascendency in power, BJP was mandalised and even the aristocratic Indian left parties had to realize that caste was an important issue in India. The whole decade was a debate on caste issues, the issue of Dalits and Bahujans.

Then came the age when the brahmanical forces started targeting this Dalit Bahujan alliance under a new guise. Now, the backward communities became the biggest villain. Particularly from Tamilnadu, this new thought promoted clandestinely by the Brahmins made Periyar the biggest anti Dalit in the region, undermining and ignoring his whole work against caste system and for women’s liberation. The situation in Uttar-Pradesh also turned like that and Bahujan was converted to Sarvjan for political purpose. One understands this dynamics of politics that the leaders of backward classes in the north remain foot soldiers of Hindutvas. No one can deny this fact today the emergence of shudra leaders in the Sangh Parivar. It will always happen when the secular places will become the den of caste Hindus to preach their ugly sarva-dharma concept, keeping aside the dirty game of caste politics and discrimination against the Dalits. The backwards and the Dalits found it nearly impossible in the party structures of the left and the center of the left and for their politics they will move some where else. The Hindutva protagonists’ used it best for their pusposes. Secularism is not just a few preaching by these elite which is far away from the people but participation in our national life by different nationalities which in India are reflected through caste identities.


At the Periyar Thidal, I found Periyar decrying Gods. How could this succeed in Tamilnadu. Despite all reservations and this article will not have enough space to discuss that, Periyar’s social movement in Tamilnadu worked. It broke the back bone of the cultural values propagated by Brahmins. Yes, the hatred against him grow and still exists as a Tamiln Brahmin today find more happiness living in Delhi then in Chennai. During my return, a university profession from Tamilnadu was proudly expressing her Brahmin lineage and condemning Periyar as an illiterate. ( Periyar was not even a matriculate). When I told her about Periyar’s social movement for women, she simply said that he married to a much younger woman then him. But what is the problem of two adults marrying to each other. It is a private matter and the woman who married should answer to that and no third party has any business to decide what is happiness for her, I told this woman.

The point here is that the Brahmins have never forgiven Periyar for his work of awareness in Tamilnadu. As a freethinker, I do not suffer from any particular ism and for me every great man is open to questions and might have made mistakes. We remember their good work and learn from their mistakes but condemning a man on his caste and looking upon him in utter contempt.

The work of Ambedkar and Periyar provided a new hope of life to all those who were victim of brahmanical hegemony. Not only they, Phule, Sahuji Maharaj, Ayothee Thass, and many other revolutionaries actually felt that dismantling the caste system was the precondition for an enlightened India. Ambedkar visualized it in terms of Prabudha Bharat. Almost all of these ideologues felt the biggest threat to India is through the hegemony of the brahmanical system and hence they worked to uproot it. It was not just political control over the Bahujans but also emotional blackmailing of the oppressed communities through ritualistic jokes in the name of puja-archana.

But social reform was never on the agenda of those who claim to speak on behalf of the Maoists. They can only speak about imperialism and that too of global order. It is shocking that all those who are speaking against the Maoists violence have been turned as ‘state agent’ while those claiming to represent the ‘movement’ champion the cause of the
‘Helpless’ tribal as if they did not fight their battles. Why we ignore historical battles in Jharkhand, Bastar and elsewhere.

Have the tribal become so helpless that they are unable to fight their battle? Is Maoism and tribal identity the same? It is made to believe like that. It is made to believe that it is a battle of social justice. Battle of social justice is much bigger an issue and can not be fought by becoming the messiah of the tribal and importing the upper caste leadership on them.

During the British war, the Hindus were quick to jump on Gandhian Khadi to look better and superior to others. M.N.Roy termed as a fascist tendency. He said that Indian fascism would be quintessentially a cultural onslaught. It may not be violent like what happened in Germany he wrote, but assimilation and annihilation of culture of the oppressed communities. Soon, from Gandhi-ism, the elite jump into the Sangh parivar nationalism. Then the more articulative of them shifted to Marxism who would discuss Vietnam and American hegemony world over but had no time to see what happened in Eastern European countries where freedom to express became an alien term. In the 1970s, it was the socialist leaning of the people which made them feel superior to others. They would talk about ‘taking’ care of the poor and felt that since they do not believe in caste hence caste does not exist. In the battle against emergency all these forces joined hand and gave a new legitimacy to Sangh parivar in the national politics.

In the eighties, civil society groups began to develop and a new agenda of developmental work was put on test. A number of big names ventured into it and therefore many big institutions developed. In the 1990s, the slogan of Kanshi Ram ‘ Jisaki ladai, uski aguwai’ ( the leadership should rest with those who are struggling..) rented in the air. Vote hamara raj tumhara nahee chalega nahee chalega.. our vote, your government will not work will not work). So, most of the deprived sections went their own way ignoring all these ideological calls. For them, the issue of their identity became more important. Most of them felt that they had been systematically denied history by these elite ‘movements’.

1990s was important for mandalisation process. But it was also important for undoing it by Narsimha Rao, in the form of Structual Adjustment programmes of the World Bank. Those frustrated with reservation policies of the government found it relieving to get into the ever growing private sector. The upper castes soon found their way into it. The elite again started glorifying the new term of globalization. The same time, we saw growth of Hindutva’s forces in the Center through their vicious anti Muslim propaganda. We saw massacre of the Muslims happening in Gujarat and nothing happened. Despite all noises at international and national level, no social movement could develop in Gujarat which could threaten the existing regime of hatred there. Narendra Modi grew stronger and stronger despite all efforts to nail him down constitutionally. The law remains meek to those in power.

As the privatization of the national resources continues, a new agenda was sought to be imposed on the country. It is the agenda of the loot of people’s property. It is interesting to see that in this loot, many of the powerful people and their communities are also involved yet no voices. Thousands of hectares of land has gone to local industrialists and no voices of concern. Yes, most of the land movement is visible in the form of anti SEZ protests. The rulers have succeeded in compartmentalizing the land movements. Those fighting for water, forest, land remain stagnant. There are very few who want to remind government of historic duty of redistribution of land. Government does not have land they say. One does not know why such nonsensical argument comes when the Ambanis, Tatas, Jindals, Posco, Vedanta etc have acquired huge track of land. Is redistribution of land not the issue because it belong to mostly Dalits? Is there a general antipathy in the social movements towards this as they fear that among the Dalits, the acceptance of upper caste leadership would be difficult? No, a number of those who are today claiming victim hood have been victimizing the Dalits for years. The ‘poor’ caste farmers were never with the Dalits and were in fact experts in exploiting them. It is this tragedy that the social movement remains isolated among their own communities and those who speak on rhetoric have their field day in emotionalizing the people without carrying it to a logical conclusion. Now, there are new shapes given to the movements. It is called ideology. That it is an ideological war. One does not know what ideology is for people whose resources are snatched away from them. For him the biggest issue is how to get it. So whether a Maoist come for him or a Christian priests or an RSS wallah, all those who can help him get land is a leader. Tribal isolation has become an important milestone for every one to propagate their ideologies at the cost of tribal interests.

It is no denying the fact that Adivasi land is under the target by the government and all should join hand in the battle against illegal land grabbing. They remained isolated for years. Romantics of this isolation say they do not need development. They appreciate their culture. They used to do same with Dalits and backward classes unless they found an Ambedkar and Periyar. None of them actually glorified the age old traditions. The biggest battle against the exploitation has to be demolition of the caste based structure and gender discrimination based in our society. The day brahmanical hegemony breaks, the Dalits, Adivassis, backward communities will question their own leaders who use them as a tool to get into power.

Today, through issues of Adivasi, the same debate is being converted into us verses them. George W Bush when attacked Iraq said you are either with us or with Saddam. In the past one year, the writings on tribal issues have turned like this. You have to be a Maoist sympathizer to look Adivasi friendly otherwise you are a government agent. See the irony of this, these writings are emerging from those who have their own fan following in the government, who gets great honorarium from the same capitalist media they decry, who work in the same universities in India and abroad which are funded by the government and these so-called capitalist governments. So the professors in a university who used to have a tag of being ‘ intellectual’ have now a new tag ‘ leader of the movement’ and their only work is to decry every one else who do not agree with them. And this trend is growing. Former IAS officers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists, all becoming leaders of the movement taking the space of those who have been involved in it for years, who have spend their lives for the cause. The thin line between media activism and activism has disappeared. By one PIL people become movement leaders, by one public meeting or one writing you are turning people into movement leaders. Frustration will grow. My question is not to question all those who are working for people. My question is with those who refuse to accept diverse view points of a problem. It is a new kind of jingoism which is turning the entire debate on a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. The issue of the rights of the tribal and dalits is immense. None deny the issue of people right over their resources, but how the battle has to be fought and won is different. I can only wish if the tribal had their own Kanshi Ram who could have made them emerge as an independent entity and not look for messiahs. Dalits in India salute Kanshiram for this political contribution that he has made them an entity where they can stand at their own in this democratic polity. Tribal need political leaders who can stand at their own and fight their battle at their own and not look for imported messiahs. Once they have this, they will win the democratic battle and their own survival as their political class will not remain unaccountable as it seems today.

2 comments:

nisha said...

Just because dalit is a broad umbrella term, a leader of a particular dalit group does not become capable to leading all dalit causes in all regions. So agree with you that there is a need for Tribal leadership committed to the causes of the Tribal women and men.

Also, no movement that fails to target the fundamental premise of inequality, will bring about revolution, because the same social system would continue to prevail with a bit of quilt work.

And like the title of your blog!

Manuski: Humanism for all said...

Thanks a lot Nisha. I saw your blog and though I have not gone through, i loved at first sight. Please do get in touch at my alternative mail id vbrawat@gmail.com

regards,