Wednesday, January 30, 2013
The Republic of Fear
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Mahrajganj is a border district with Nepal where the oppression of the most marginalized is complete. Though there is enough land in the district, it is rarely redistributed among the landless. The condition of the wage workers is difficult and the caste oppression is complete as report of the oppression does not come out. Our Humanise India journey had night halt on the republic day here as two of our Yatris, I Chandraih and Mustak Insaan exposed various miracles in front of villagers and school children who had gathered at the school in the night. It was damn chill in the night and we were forewarned not to speak too much on religion and conversion. The fact of the matter is that as a humanist we defend individuals’ right to choose their faith but we do not consider religion as important factor of human life and we have examples of Buddha, Kabir, Ravida and Rahul Sankrityayan from this very region who revolted against the brutal values of religion that violated basic principles of equality of human beings.
It was known to us that the Yatra will have uncomfortable zones as speaking against Untouchability, Caste discrimination and Communalism is bound to affect the power elite and caste forces in these regions who wanted that these issues are not ever raised. The problem arises when the so-called activists themselves use these pretext and avoid raising uncomfortable questions. I am narrating these incidents as how things are at the ground and in certain areas very disturbing and disappointing.
A spontaneous visit to Kanjar basti in the heart of Maharaganj town showed the disturbing trends which were witnessed in other districts also where we visited. The Kanjars falls under the scheduled caste category while they are demanding scheduled tribe status. The reason for that is may be because of their marginalization with in the Dalit movements too, they felt that under the scheduled tribe category they would be better placed. The fact of the matter is the broader Dalit movement has rarely raised the issues of the most marginalized. It is shocking to see when the Kanjar blamed the other Dalit communities along with the upper caste giving the same treatment. ‘ We face untouchability from with in the Dalit and OBC community too’, said a leader of the community. When they started organizing themselves and raised their issues for livelihood, land and job, they were threatened by the goons of Hindutva. People were beaten up and charged to have connived with Christian missionaries in lure for corruption. The problem with such goons is that they would rarely raise the issues of these communities but when they fight for their right, they are easily charged with trying to ‘convert’.
It was sad to see that the activists themselves who claim to work for the community try to avoid these uncomfortable questions. More than 500 families live in Indira Nagar’s kanjar basti, a majority of them are living in abject poverty and complete landlessness. It is painful to see their condition. On the 26th January when we proudly claimed to be a republic, Kanjar basti spoke what have they got in these 62 years. Open filth welcome you in the basti. A new colony Is being built up for the people but it is not completed and people do not even know when will it complete. There are only 123 houses being built for the people and that does not even satisfy one thirds of the people. They also say that whatever land was occupied by them, the houses are built on that structure only. Just a little 100 meter away, we see people living in makeshift tents. Their condition is completely disgusting. In the cold and chilly winter, the children and families sleep on the floor. Most of them do not have ration cards and getting the NREGA work is impossible as they are not even considered part of the society. Police arrest them for any theft that happens anywhere. They were actually ‘criminal tribe’ during the British period but despite government notifications against this law yet the police manuals have not moved away from the age old prejudices. It is shameful that these racial practices are still part of our consciousness. Ashish Nandi may say loads of them as he has the sophistication to say but let him have the courage to speak against these age old prejudices against Dalits existing in our society. Is it not corruption?
The Kanjars have their taboos and internal problems too which they expressed themselves. The biggest one is the liquor as that has destroyed their personal relationships. The women do not get work anywhere. A number of the families are earning through begging only. The girls are educated also but have no work as with Kanjar as caste surname none will ever give them work. They are disappointed yet when our journey reached their locality it was an occasion for confidence building. Women, young girls, boys and old men, all listened to us silently. The issue for them is their land and living rights apart from being harassed by the police for every threat.
Shouting slogan for their rights, they promised that they will fight their battle. The entire locality came to see us off at Maharajganj. They shook hand, hugged us and it was after years when they realize that people can touch them feel their own. The social activists who are afraid of touching our own people cannot really claim to work for human rights. It is shameful that political movements did not reach them and none took them seriously.
About 100 kilometers further in Padrauna, the district headquarter of Kushingar, we joined a huge demonstration of Nat community. They too are nomadic tribal and wanting the same status. After years of exploitation, Nats remain absolute landless. There are no ration cards for them and no allotment is made for them. They too face the same untouchability from different communities. It is sad to see that these most marginalized communities do not attract the priority listing of the authorities.
As we approarched a village near Kasya, the biggest town of district Kushinagar, our friends took us in the Dalit basti. Ofcourse, the basti is divided in to the same lines and perhaps the caste Hindus have played their card well. The right hand sides across the road are Doms and Bansfors, who are still considered untouchables with in various castes too including Dalits and OBCs. We get down and enter the Bansfor basti and speak to the people. They complain that the Chamar basti people do not allow them to sit with them and practice untouchability with them. The village Nai, the barbar, does not allow them to sit in his shop. They cannot get their hair cut there. No one offer tea in the local Dhabas. Unfortunate part is that the Nais or barbar community itself is humiliated a lot during the marriage ceremony.
For us, it was good that we united all of them and brought them to the house of our friends across the road and talked of unity among various castes. I know big talks of representation at the ‘national level’ but at the ground level the situation is not that easy is being presented to us. Caste prejudices are prevalent in our society and people are afraid to speak. It shocks that after years of independence, we have the same situation where people have to hide things. Many of the colleges invited us but internally the teachers are afraid along with their management fearing we might speak something ‘unwanted’. Why does this situation still exist in India? The country adopted a secular constitution and abolished untouchability but it is still practiced in absolute form in our colleges and institutions. The mid-day meal is not given together and these students are made to sit at the end in their own mats and the food is given to them separately.
The good thing is that the Yatra has generated enormous response locally as students; teachers and onlookers outside in the streets have felt for the cause that we are talking about. It is the cause of Humanising India that has attracted them. It was a satisfying day today in Kushingar as we felt that the message has gone across people and we were able to unite many of them in their common struggle for social justice and dignity but it will still take a lot of time as we are passing through the ‘Republic of Fear’ where caste identities are stronger and the forces of status quo have made different arrangements to remain in power by using smaller contradictions of Dalits and other shudra communities. It will only be possible if the poor and marginalized have more dialogue among them and wage a common battle against oppression of all kind and eliminate discrimination among them too.