Friday, December 29, 2006

P.K.Mahanandia : A Living Legend

A Dalit as India’s cultural Ambassador in Europe

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

We all celebrated when Bobby Jindal made it to American Congress several years back. Similarly whether it is Mahendra Chaudhury in Fiji or Vasudev Pandey in the Carribeans, Indians always rejoice on the victory of their ‘own’ people. But, it is strange that an Indian who is known as the ‘cultural ambassador’ of India for his noble efforts to propagate Indian arts and culture in Sweden, remain unknown to a large tribe in India. It is certainly because he happened to be a Dalit and has no public relation firms to publicise his work and achievements. Nevertheless, PK Mahanandia’s life and achievements can give us many lessons of how we treat our geniuses and that if opportunities are provided any body can shine under the sun. Moreover, in a country where caste hatred dominate our discourse, Mahanandia got an opportunity to develop his life and show his skills to the world only after he left India. He got married to Swede Nobility after a pure love story, which virtually had no parallel? Much before, he could achieve so many distinctions even as representing Sweden at various UN conferences, Mahanandia was humiliated in his home state of Orissa and later in the streets of Delhi just because he happened to be born in an untouchable family he had no God father who could guide him and provide support to pursue his dream to become an artist? It is important that we should understand what this story tells us. So first let me introduce him to you. Yes, Mr P.K.Mahanandia, would have made it to Swedish Parliament this year had his party Junilistan received some more votes at the national level. Mr. P.K.Mahandia became legend in his own lifetime for his amazing work, his love story and his contribution to strengthen the multicultural life in Sweden.

PK as he is fondly called was originally Pradyumna to his parents. Born in an untouchable weaver family, in 1949 in a village of district Kandhapada, Orissa, this outcaste always had a fascination for the nature. He had seen the dangers of the Varna system and how it reduces people to nothing. An individual become useless because of his caste identity. His father was a postman who later rose to become postmaster. The father wanted to educate his children and hence PK was sent to local schools yet his caste identity always came in between to haunt him. His fellow student would laugh at him and mock his family and caste. Knowing this, his father arranged him a hostel at Mahendra High School but here also the cook behaved in the similar fashion what I would recall what Dr Ambedkar witnessed when he returned to India from Abroad. It agonized the young mind of Pradyumna. I am sure all those who are reading this would understand that caste is not class in India. It is worst than any other disease,

Pradyumna was a born artist who had grown in the lap of nature. From the college days, his art started reflecting in his various works. But very unfortunately Pradyumna was unable to concentrate on his education. While he remained weak in mathematics even though, he was a keen student of science at the school level.

He later joined Viswabharati to study art on the advice of his elder brother. Despite his selection at the art school, it became impossible to pay the high fee and he had to return home disappointingly. It was more disappointing that this legendary artist could not find a Bhadrlok gentlemen taking care of him and exploring his art. One wonders what were the virtues of Vishwabharati if it could not nurture a talent in India. But perhaps that is not in our traditions particularly when we all suffer from Dronacharya syndrome. Hence, after his failure to get admission in Vishwabharati, he joined college of art, Khallikote, which was affiliated to government of Orissa. But that did not satisfy his quest to develop art and he finally took admission at Delhi College of Art to study Fine Arts 1971.

In Delhi he had to face similar problems. The struggle continued where he slept on the streets and used the public toilets. He still remembers those horrible days when he used to roam around particularly near the old coffee house, which is now Palika Bazar More painful was that there was no body to help him provide him the basic necessities of life. He would walk barefoot and was virtually homeless till a friend Tariq Beg shared his accommodation with him. Talent never remain hidden and with in few years, Pradyumna became an expert in making portraits, as his biographer noted Oriya poet of international repute Mr Jayant Mohapatra writes ‘, The excellence of the portrait of the cosmonaut Valentina Tereskova was the first in his efforts at portraiture, and remains a memorable creation for all time. His art became topic of discussion everywhere, and his name found prominent place in the country’s newspaper. Pradyumna could then easily obtain permission from the Delhi High Commission and he began to take his art to the streets, sketching and painting near the Fountain in New Delhi’s Connaught Place.’

In 1975 Charlotte, a Swedish student Charlotte came to know about the creation of portraits by Pradyumna, in a leading English Newspaper the Hindustan Times. Perhaps, that changed the entire life of Pradyumna. Charlotte decided to visit his exhibition and went to Connnaught place where Pradyumna was making portraits of those who desired so. Watching him make portrait of people made immediate influence in the mind of Charlotte. During the making of portrait for Charlotte both of them fell for each other. They married according to local traditions and Charlotte was later rediscovered as Charulata and in short Lotta.

While Charlotte had to return to Sweden because of her visa, Pradyumna decided that he would go on his own to that country. May be, the traditional ‘purushartha’ or ‘manliness’, prohibited him to take a favor from his wife who could have easily send him an air ticket. It was nearly impossible to earn that much of money by designing portraits in the streets of Connaught place in the mid seventies. So one fine day, Pradyumna realized that he probably might not earn the amount of money required to buy an air ticket to Stockholm and therefore he decided to go to Sweden on Cycle, which was his support system to commute in Delhi. It was 1977 and Pradyumna started from Delhi and passed through Amritsar and reached Afghanistan. From there he proceeded to Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Germany and Austria, Denmark and then Sweden. PK remembers how difficult it was for him to travel in these tough mountainous regions. At the Sweden border, Pradyumna was stopped by the immigration authorities, who wanted to know the purpose of his visit to Sweden. The poor fellow showed them his marriage photographs and letters with Charlotte which the officials refused to believe. The official found it unbelievable that a woman from Swedish Nobility would marry to an ordinary man from India. They feared that the man was lying and therefore they called her. It was only after Charlotte informed that that the said man was her husband that the authorities decided to let him in. It was remarkable that Charolotte had never referred to her family background to Pradyumna very unlike with our stiff traditions where family background and father’s business becomes bigger subject than the individual getting married.

This shows also a clear difference between the two cultures. The Indians value system and the Swede culture. At a time when we have witnessed many honored killings in India because of the caste tag, a woman of Swedish aristocracy marrying to an Indian Untouchable boy in the 1970s was itself unbelievable. For an India, which is still struggling to accept that Dalits are equal partners in development, this is an important lesson. When I asked this question to PK Mahanandia as what difference he found in the two cultures since he has been living in Sweden for nearly 40 years, he said, “I personally never felt any discrimination in private or in public. May it is due to my personal image in this country. People respect me by knowing my background as an outcast and married in the Swedish aristocracy’.

It is interesting that PK has been able to find some relationship between India’s caste system and similarities in Sweden. ‘Perhaps you know CHATURVARNA, of India is the same as in ancient structure of Nordic society. In Sweden It was called "Fyra StÃ¥nden. "Swedish society was divided into four main groups ADEL, PREST, BORGAR and BONDE. Their birth professions were like Chaturvarana in India. If you enter into Swedish Parliament There is a room of Chaturvarna (Where I had arranged Dalit arts exhibition), you can se 4 huge oil paintings representing Adel, prest , borgar and Bonde like Kshatriya, Brahmin, Vasya and Shudra. It seems Sweden has already come over the problem of Chaturvarna a long time back but India is not able to get rid of Chaturvarna mentally”, he says.

Mr. Mahanandia says that India can learn a lot from Sweden, as they are a better democracy than ours. India has a long way to develop itself into a mature democracy.

Interestingly, a documentary film on his life, broadcast by Swedish National television three times, became the entry point for common Swede to hear and understand the word "Dalit". Impressed with his impeccable credential P.K.Mahanandia was invited by a new political party JUNILISTAN to visit European Parliament Brussels and then nominated as a candidate to contest the elections for the Swedish Parliament. ‘I personally got 9.7% of all votes where margin is 8%. It means I would have come into the Swedish parliament if my party had got 4% vote in whole of Sweden. Last EU election 2002 party had got more than 14. %,” Says Mahanandia.

In Delhi, as the Lok Sabha passed the reservation for OBC bill, the merit mongers have again taken to the streets decrying government actions. Merit is again the talk of the town and Dalits are lampooned as dull, ordinary, lazy and non-meritorious people. I felt compelled to ask Mr Mahanandia, who is a living legend and respected for his art all over the world as what is his view of merit. He said, ‘Merit does not belong to any caste, creed or sex. If opportunity is given any one can rise. Reservation should be according to the population of the area in private and in public’.

Many of the dalits have converted to other religions because of the continuous humiliation at the hand of the caste Hindus. What is the right choice, I ask. According to him, ‘Buddhism is more human and more democratic way of living, after all now whole world is crying for humanity’. He sincerely feels that the struggle of Dalits is a battle of whole humanity. While treating love and marriage is private affair, he feels that discrimination is a disease and can only be cured by individuals. So it is important to understand that individual is supreme and that caste discrimination kills individual identity.

In 2005 Orissa’s Minister of State Mr Nagendra K Pradhan proposed his name for Nobel Peace Prize, for his outstanding work to promote peace and art all over the world. PK has started Orissa Cultural Centre in Boras, Sweden.

The most important part of Mahanandia’s achievements is that he is not bitter even after having faced so much of discrimination in life. In fact, his contribution to spread Indian art, culture and handicraft has been immensely respected and acknowledged in Sweden and other parts of the world. More over, in 1979 he instituted scholarship for needy students of art, Indian dance and music. His village had severe water problem and PK understood this and arranged drilling tube-well for solving the water crisis. In year 2000, he built ‘eco-cottage’ to encourage village tourism in Orissa. He regularly supports and sponsor activities in his village. A large number of his admirers visit this eco village in Orissa. It is a tribute to his conviction and work that 20% of his income is invested in Orissa.

As a rare individual, P.K.Mahanandia is a role model for all those who aspire high and fight against the unnatural injustice imposed by a priestly class. In Mahanandia’s success lies great lessons of humanism for India and its people. Indians need to be proud of him and his achievements but at the same point of time must introspect how legends like him are nurtured and respected world over but not in their own country. How long will we allow this to happen and then claim that we believe in ‘ Vasudhaiv Kutumbkum’. More importantly, can we really say that discrimination in India is based on economic condition and not on the basis of the caste identity of an individual? P.K.Mahanandia’s story also reminds us to get rid of our ‘matrimonial’ values based on caste and religions and bring different culture together by human bondage based on purely inter personal relationship of love, respect and affection.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hunger and Starvation in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh

Dance of death haunts Mushahars in Kushinagar

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

It was another visit last week which left me exasperated, shocked and helpless as why the government, civil society and the concerned citizens have failed to address the issue of hunger, malnutrition and starvation. While politicians in Uttar-Pradesh are preparing for polls, the Mushahars, Bansfors and other such marginalized communities think of meal next day. There are many houses where people do not eat for many days, some time over a week. It is wintertime and one has to see to believe how chilling it is in the eastern Part of Uttar-Pradesh. With out any quilt or warm cloths, the children, aged people burn dry leaves which some time become their funeral pyre. The thatched hut catches fire very easily. But what happen if the hut catches fire? The officials go after a long week and might give them a thousand rupees or some kerosene and grains and get rid of their duty.

The energy of the organizations is more on bringing the people into the temples despite the known fact that the god is not going to give the poor anything. In fact, the God is there to take away whatever little they have. The same energy and publicity does not come for the rescue of those who are facing severe hunger and malnutrition. Some say that god loves the poor and that is why these deaths are happening in the Mushahar belt, perhaps the poorest of the poor. The fear of god is so much that people have given their children such names, which add to their humiliation. So we have names like Bikau
(saleable), Kukkur ( dog), Thug ( You know well). It is these names deliberately suggested by the priests so that they can do away with evil spirit. Poor Mushahrs are doing everything to do away with the evil spirit and nothing happen. We have huge boards of the ‘valiant ‘ ‘ Hindu Yuva Vahini’ of Swami Adiyta Nath, famous man from Gorakhpur who has been organizing the ‘Hindus’ against the possible threat of ‘Islam’ and ‘Christianity’. Buddhists are busy for organizing the 2550 years of Buddha’s parinirawana and crores of rupees will be spend in Kushingar itself but none of them have time to spare a moment and visit these villages where people continue to die and children continue to suffer.

It has been for more than four-five years that this region has seen alarming preposition of hunger related deaths. Then there is this strange brain fever and Kalajwar which comes to kill the Mushahar children. The thugs are active here to tell the people against the polio drops to be given to the children under the pretext that it would hurt.

Social Development Foundation has been raising the issue of hunger in this region and working constantly with the local groups and community organizations in these regions. We are providing you a few incidents of hunger during past few months, which reflect the grim nature of the problem. These incidents also shows how the government schemes have failed to change the life of people as there is lack of sincerity on part of the officials and authorities responsible to implement them. This apart, the deadly Japanese encephalitis (brain fever) has again targeted the children and according to newspaper reports more than 30 children have died so far in the area.

Landlessness is one of the reasons for hunger

Bikau 26 years old Mushahar used to live in Jamunhiya Tola of Dumri khash village in Chauri Chaura district, with his 70 years old mother and other family members. He used to get Rs 10/- per day for working in a private school in the village. The family also worked as agricultural labour but many days there was no work. The family did not have any ration card. The family was living in hunger with no cooking for many days. Finally Bikau died on 19th October, 2006.

Banshi s/o Thug, age 60 years Pipra Bujurg, Padrauna died on October 26th, 2006. He fell ill because of malnutrition and finally succumbed to his disease.

Jhagaru s/o Sanwaru aged 55, village Basdila, khadda, Kushinagar, died of financial constraints. He was suffering from various ailments and had to mortgage his land to some one to get medical treatment. He did not have anything to buy. Due to his inability to work, he remained starved for many days and finally died.

Marchchia w/o Shyam Lal, age 50 years died on 21st November 2006. She was living with her younger son and did not have an Antyodaya card. Family sources said that they did not cook any food for over 4 days. The cremation was done with the help of villagers.

Kamlawati, Mauna Garhwa, Bhagalpur Block, Deoria died on November 28th, 2006

Narayan Dom, 45 s/o Ganesh, village Dudhai, GP Chaf, Kushinagar died on December 9th, 2006. The villagers collected fund to do his cremation. His wife Rumali, mother and children were living in a rag-tag hut. They do not have a single inch of land to work on. According to his mother Shukravari, the family did not eat anything for the past eight days. It is ironical that his Antyodaya card also could not provide him any food. The fact is that the people have no money to buy ration. Moreover, the ration shop owners behave like the village bureaucrats and open the shop according to his convenience. According to family members they get ration for one month at the price of Rs 125/-, which is higher. They are not told of the break up of it. The ration was paid for one month and the Kotedar has filled up the farm for three months.

Such situation exists everywhere in Kushinagar and Deoria districts of Eastern Uttar-Pradesh. Social Development Foundation has raised these issues of hunger and starvation deaths in the Eastern Uttar-Pradesh for the past few years. In fact, my film, ‘Bhookh Se Ladte Mushahar’ amply tells the grave ground reality in the region. Ironically, Kushingar is not only an international town because of its relation to Lord Buddha but government of India has declared it as one of the district under the National Employment Guarantee Scheme and despite these facts the situation in the district remain unaltered.

State of affair of the government schemes

In village dhobaha, under Gram Sabha Mainpur, Kushinagar, the pathetic condition of villagers reflects the nature of work. Bhadahi s/o videshi is a landless agricultural worker with five sons and 2 daughters to feed. No person is educated in the village and the Pradhan does not want to come. They do not have any ration card to buy the subsidized food. Some time they eat ‘Bajare kee roti’ and maze. The kerosene is costing them Rs 40/- per liter from the black-market. Most of the bustee remains in dark in the night. There no pecca house (constructed house) and nothing to eat at the school for children. For the past two years one of the students have got scholarship says the villagers. According to Bhadahi and other villagers, the Pradhan took Rs 700/- to get the account opened for the Indira Awas Yojana but so far nothing has happened.

In the village Rajwabar, Khadahi, Bauki, 65, has four children. She does not have a ration card. She goes to reap, harvest the field of local powerful people and get Rs 10/- for a days work. Jagdish, 60 with three children want to work but did not have it. It is shocking that none of these people have got work under the NREGA which actually makes right to work as a fundamental right. It clearly indicates how our institutions have been functioning at the village level. When I ask him whether they went to the Pradhan (Sarpanch) of the village for the work, pat came the reply,” He would not give us any work. He look down upon us.’ Bimli, a Mushahar woman of the village went to the Pradhan for the work but returned empty handed. ‘ None of us have our job card for the work. We do not even have ration card.’ There are about 31 families in the Tola and all of them living as illegal squatters as Panchayat has not legally handed over the land. Not a single house is constructed on bricks or mud. The huts have the danger of catching fire in case of any mistake by the families. In the chilly cold wave, it become tiring for the children to live hungry yet here they have no options. Subhawati has seven children but no land. She does not have ration card to buy grains. Ram Surat has no land and yet has an above the poverty line card. The villagers here complain that for getting an Antyodaya card they have to pay a bribe of Rs 300-Rs 500/- per card.

In village Kuhlva Pokhar Bhinda which falls under Kasaya block, people charged village Sarpanch Hari Narayan of helping his own family people. Hari Narayan is a Dusadh, which is a Dalit community here but relatively better than the Mushahars and Bansfors. The Sarpanch has collected all the job card of NREGA and no work is given to the people. The ration shop owner takes Rs 110/- Rs 125 for providing Antyodaya variety of ration, which is 25kg rice at the rate of Rs 3/- per kg and 10 kg of wheat at the rate of Rs 2. The total amount for this come to Rs 95/- yet despite all the instructions the local ration shop owners charges the freight and other charges from the poor villagers.

The school children openly mentioned that they have not been getting any mid day meals in the schools. For the past three months it was not there and have just started and that too is Khichadi. Ask any Mushahar about his earning and ration card and the answer is similar.’ We are Mushahars. We do not have any land even for constructing a house.

No job cards under NREGA

In a shocking incident Shankar 25, who has a son now, had to shift to his wife’s parental home in the absence of a place to live in the village Ram Swaroop and his brothers too have no land. They got some work under the NREGA but just for three days. Later, the Sarpanch took away their job card under the pretext that the cards need to be verified by the higher authorities only then the money would come.

In village Benupur under Gram Sabha Saphan about 60 families of Mushahar lives along with other communities. Total number of families in the Tola is 141. About 40 of them have got job cards and were allocated work for 4-6 days. None of them have land to till and just 11 families have Red card for the Below the Poverty Line category.

According to Ramesh, a local Mushahar agricultural worker, Mushahar children have not got any scholarship in the school. There is no mid day meal. A local ‘social activist’ asked the villagers to contribute their land for building a school for the community. The Gram Panchayat gave him land, which was being tilled by the Mushahrs. The man never developed the school. Instead, put a hut in the location, which later caught fire. One does not know whether the fire was accidental or mischievous but a number of Mushahrs are facing charges for threatening the social workers. It is very unfortunate that there is no school. Mushahar Vikas Pahal, an organizations also started a school and promised scholarship yet not much has been done.

What do we do

The condition of Mushahrs and other such communities is worsening in the region of Kushinagar, Gorakhpur, Deoria and other districts of Uttar-Pradesh. Social Development Foundation has been working with local NGOs and community based organizations in the region and has been highlighting the issue of hunger, malnutrition and landlessness for past five years. We feel that time has come to take this issue to a logical conclusion. For the officials in the government it is easier to say that these are not hunger deaths but let the officials say ‘what kind of life is it’ if a person does not have two time ordinary meal to eat. Can doctors claim that whatever Mushahars are eating at the moment constitute ‘diet’ according to medical ethics? The fact is that the life these people are living is utterly miserable and disgusting and need a concrete answer from all of us who are concerned about their plight.

It is time for various organizations to come together and act on it and take the authorities to task. Half-hearted measures of distributing ration do not work. The fact is that Mushahars and Bansfors have lost their traditional rights. They have very little land and virtually jobless. There is no education for the children. How will they educate their children when they do not have a hut to live and some thing to eat? Let us come out of hypocrisy and develop a comprehensive package to deal with this chronic hunger, which has killed thousands of people so far. The issue of hunger and starvation cannot be addressed from these half-hearted measures of so-called employment guarantee, which ultimately become tool for the local political class to oppress the poor. It is important that civil society, NGOs, government officials sit together and chart out a long term action plan to save the people from this manmade onslaught of hunger and malnutrition.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ambedkar, Ayodhya aur Dalit Andolan

Book Review

By Ram Puniyani

(Book Reviewed: Ambedkar, Ayodhya aur Dalit Andolan by Vidya Bhushan Rawat (Hindi), Danish Books, Delhi, p. 147, Rs 100)

The mobilization of dalits and Adivasis in large numbers by 'RSS combine' to act as its foot soldiers made many a social activists feel disturbed about the ongoing political dynamics. How come a politics which aims precisely to suppress these sections of society 'succeed' and succeed so well in getting them do the mayhem and killing? The question has been addressed by many a social activists, concerned scholars but of course more needs to be said about the same in the complex political scenario where caste dynamics is very central to the political processes going on. It is this context that the torture of a dalit family by upper castes, relatively, is important. While going through the book one is regularly reminded about the intense commitment of the author to the social issues and his grasp on the ground reality. The latter fact becomes obvious as many of these articles relate to his experience as a political worker devoted to dalit issues in particular.

The book is a collection of Rawat's articles written at various points of time. He points out that the Hindutva of RSS combine and Ram temple movement are essentially not religious phenomenon but are the one's guided by the political agenda aiming at crushing the self respect of dalits, social and political rights of dalits. One very simple but pertinent observation of his draws our attention to the name of awards and what type of values they represent. The example he has chosen is that of Dronacharya, the guru who asks Eklavya to sacrifice his thumb as the Guru Dakshina (the offering to the guru for the education given). This is essentially a pointer to the caste rules of the Brahminical values dominated society, where a dalit cannot be given education. Can we call ourselves as democratic and just if our awards are named after such Gurus?

RSS combine has been doing its best to widen the divide between the dalits and Muslims, two very deprived sections of our society. Its wily character is visible all through, to select 6 th December the anniversary day of Dr. Ambedkar for demolishing the mosque, and getting a dalit boy to do the shila pujan for Ram temple! While Ambedkar's ideas about Brahiminic Hinduism are very clear, he regards it as a curse for dalits, and says that though he was born a Hindu he will not die a Hindu, at the same time the propagators of Hindu Rashtra are projecting as if Ambedkar and RSS were having similar set of ideas! The hold of theory of Karma is keeping the dalit community in the throes of backwardness, all the social reformers for dalits had resorted to 'reason' as against faith propound by the politics in the name of religion. The author moans that while Dr. Ambedkar's Buddhism was based on reason today the ritualistic aspect of Buddhism is given more importance. The only path of liberation for the oppressed is to come out from the grip of the religious dogmas, the grip of proliferating Babas, Acharyas and to resort to the struggle of the rights of the oppressed.

Rawat questions the necessity of politics, which wants to resort more and more to caste identity. While we want to struggle against the very caste system how we can ourselves operate on the basis of caste. Even within dailts there are gradations, caste as graded inequality, the prevalent notion thus is not just about opposing the RSS combine's Hindutva but also those tendencies amongst dalits, which legitimize caste identity. The opposition to those opportunist leaders, who trade the dalit votes for the narrow selfish goals, also comes out loud and clear. While he upholds the contribution of Kanshiram, the mentor of Mayawati, he is critical of the current BSP policies of allying with upper castes, and thinks such opportunism cannot pay dividends in the long run. It should be pointed out that Dr. Ambedkar preferred to resign from the union cabinet rather than opportunistically continuing in the cabinet when his ideas were being ignored.

The author has got the essence of Ambedkar thought. He wants the dalits and those standing for dalit rights to concentrate more on the thoughts of Ambedkar rather than his statues. One will question his characterization of the Congress during freedom movement. As per him, and correctly so, Muslim League represented the interests of Muslim Nawabs. His formulation that the Congress was just the representative of Hindu landlords is off the mark. Congress was a broad platform, which had the right winger representative of landlords, the centrists like Gandhi and the radicals like Nehru who were for land reforms and progressive social policies. The representation of Hindu landlords was mainly with Hindu Mahasabha and very marginally with Congress, and later RSS articulated the interests of this group at ideological level. We need to see the social phenomenon just in black or white colors, there are shades of grey

Surely his comparison of Fascism with the politics based on the laws of Manu is very apt. It is for that reason that the Hindutva forces have been talking highly of Manu's laws, and wanted Indian constitution based on this book, Manusmriti, which was burnt by Dr. Ambedkar. Rawat brings to our notice the thoughts of M.N.Rpy, the outstanding radical humanist, who contributed many original ideas on the politics in Indian context. And Roy's analysis of Fascism matches with Hindutva agenda as it unfolded during the BJP led NDA regime and the ongoing politics in the states' ruled by BJP. The last article of the book on 'Dalit movement on the crossroads', is the most thought provoking one. The trajectory and pitfalls of dalit movement are well highlighted and surely these thoughts can be the building blocks for the future of the dalit movement, if it has to succeed in getting justice for the large sections of Indian society.

While some of the formulations are brusque and need refinement, overall one will tend to appreciate the views of this young and dynamic writer-activist. His rooting in the thoughts of Ambedkar and M.N.Roy is a valuable combination and gives a correct picture of Indian society. One only hopes , that he author converts some of his articles in to theme essays, which can be more comprehensive in doing justice to the topics under discussion.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dalit Protests in Maharastra

Is a new Dalit movement emerging from Maharastra ?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

If television channels are to be believed then the Dalit rampage in Maharastra is an outcome of what they term as ‘simple’ incident of desecration of Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s statue in Kanpur. ‘Even when Kanpur was not burning why should the Dalit protester take Mumbai to ransom’, an anchor remarked. The responses on various websites were like ‘send’ these guys back to villages or ‘appeasement’ by the government. The other felt pain to term it as ‘political’ while liberals were questioning the wisdom of the Dalits about why they have been pained over a statue. ‘ Do we need statues in India, said a hypocrite TV anchor. Surely, we do not need statues in India but
who have more statutes then the parents and grand parents of these anchors and experts. Can they tell Lal Krishna Advani and his company, as why are they fighting to put two statutes where the Babari Masjid once stood. So many statutes of Hanuman and other gods are there taking our large space while very little for human being to live a life of dignity in India. If we become iconoclast in India, the Brahmin would go out of work for they have monopolized to keep all these statutes in every part of India. What are these temples about and why should they keep so many statues of so-called Gods. Throw them away and give these temples to the poor and all our housing problems would be resolved.

Coming back to main point of Dalit fury in Maharastra where life has been paralyzed. ‘It is ironic, said few experts, that Dalits in UP are not doing anything but in Maharastra they are unnecessarily agitated.’ Now, the powerful UP Police, which spinelessly goes around with the local MLAs, has arrested a young man called Arun Valmiki for allegedly defacing Ambedkar’s statue in Kanpur. That is the best tradition of a brahmanical administration to covert an issue of Hindu hatred into an internal Dalit fighting. You can see how immediately after the Khairlanji incident, the one person who was suspended for dereliction of his duty was a Dalit constable. So the authorities feel that a constable has not filed FIR and therefore need punishment but the powerful upper caste hate campaigners sitting in the offices remain untouched and unaccountable. What is the power of a constable if a crowed is on rampage? Why no police officer was dismissed or suspended for dereliction of duty in Khairlanji.

Therefore, the uprising in Maharastra has a signal for the self styled mainstream Dalit political leaders and parties. Mend your ways or get lost as the young Dynamic Dalit leadership would emerge out of a crisis from Maharastra. It is certain that incidents like Khairlanji and Gohana would fuel the Dalit anger and turn them to streets. Out of this anger and frustration would emerge a leadership which would not compromise like their leaders.

Painful it is, when one see, how the mainstream Dalit political parties find no shame in aligning with the thugs of Hindutva and even campaigned for them. How can an Ambedkarite ever think of joining hand with fascist forces in India without offering an apology? And it is not just once; the same forces are again ready to embrace the Hindutva for their own ulterior motives.

One can see what happen to Hindutva. It is a philosophy of betrayals. It betrays those who it embraces. See how moralistic Lal Krishna Advani was yesterday in Parliament when he felt ‘shocked’ and ‘shameful’ as central minister Shibu Soren was convicted. And our CBI want death sentence for him. The same CBI, which cannot get punishment for Narsihma Rao or Rajiv Gandhi in the Boforse Scandal and which spinelessly, took order from Lal Krishna Advani when he was home minister and facing cases of Babari Masjid Demolition. I am sure, Advani would demand the same punishment and feel double shock after hearing Navjot Singh Siddhu, a BJP MP, very loud mouth, for allegedly murdering a person in Punjab. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has held Siddhu guilty for the same. One hope we will have same kind of ruckus in Parliament by the Hindutva party.

It is more than shocking that our Parliament did not have time so far to discuss violence on Dalits. They do not have even time to discuss why the courts are intervening in the matter of executive. The fact of the matter is that our political class is the most opportunistic one in the world and the Dalit leaders are no different than their brahmanical masters. They have used money and funds to propagate their own interest while keeping quiet on the violence against Dalits. Over two months have passed and Parliament has not time to discuss Khairlanji while issue of Saurav Ganguli’s inclusion become more important for politicians to debate in the parliament.

Khairlanji was flashpoint in Maharastra. Incident of atrocities against Dalits are on the rise. Like every incident related to Muslims, the state had the easier way of describing the incident as ISI sponsored. Now with growing dalit violence, it is the Naxal intrusion in the Dalit ranks alleged the officials.

Those who do not understand the importance of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar in the lives of millions of Dalits world over make the folly of terming these events as shocking and well planned incidents as ‘nothing’ specific. Ambedkar’s statues are not like any one else’s statues. They are not erected by the governments as done in many other cases of so-called ‘freedom fighters’ and political leaders. Ambedkar symbolize Dalits fight for Dignity and honor. Ambedkar mean the strongest and most potent symbol of Dalit power and assertion.

Maharastra government’s failure to punish the perpetrators of the Khairlanji violence is like other incidents. We have not heard what happened to the conspirators of Kumher massacre in Rajasthan or Tsundur in Andhra Pradesh. There is virtually no information to what happened to the perpetrators of ghastly crimes in Gohana and Jhajjar in Haryana. Therefore, it is a pattern to attack the Dalits whenever they assert their identity. Whenever they perform better than any upper caste Hindu, Dalits would have to pay price, that is what our system has failed to protect the dalits against this savagery of the upper caste Hindus.

A friend recently asked me that the violence against Dalits is mainly being perpetuated more by the backward communities so why I had used the word upper caste violence against the Dalits. Agreed, that the backward communities are the front rankers in hitting the Dalits but they are faithful slaves of the brahmanical institutions of criminal violence against the Dalits. The entire brahmanical structure is based on caste based identities and every caste feel proud of identity in terms of ‘bigger’ than the lower one. Ambedkar defined it as ‘graded’ inequality. It was not a fight between equals and unequal. The battle here is more difficult because of the compartmentalization of our caste structure. Brahmanical values thrived on this rigid regimentation of communities in their identities and their contradictions. Hence, the backward classes or simply the hinduised shudras may be attacking the Dalits but they are simply following the guidance of the brahmanical scriptures and values which rule on the small contradiction between different communities. Lastly, every person above the level and who instigate violence is an upper caste in relative term because that is the nature of caste violence in India. It is important to understand this psyche of the Varna system. The Dalits, backwards and even the upper caste Hindus who feel uncomfortable here, must understand that as long as you are part of Varna system you would always oppress the lower one. That is for sure as we feel immense proud in our identities. Dr Ambedkar knew this and provided a humanist Buddhist alternative which he redefined according to his own convictions and embraced with nearly half a millions followers in 1956. It is important that without changing our social system, the Dalits and backwards would continue to fight against each other. The Dalits have taken the leadership. A large number of them have embraced Buddhism and do not live in the past of caste system. It is now essential for the backward communities if they feel that they too are victim of the caste system, they should follow the new path. Nothing will come out of anti Brahmanism if we are not embracing a new socio cultural system. Anti Brahmanism would only strengthen the next powerful communities and they would do the same as the Brahmins did as it has no philosophy only nepotism and identity to work on. The Thevars, Yadvas, Kurmis, Kunbis, Jats, Gujjars, Marathas and so on would continue to suck the blood of the Dalits as they inherently feel themselves as ‘higher’ than the Dalits and hence are not ready to follow the Dalits. How can they do it hence they are ready to follow various Brahmin Swamis but at the same time raise the slogan of ‘anti Brahmin’ movement for political purposes. Such political purposes will not solve the socio cultural crisis of India as long as we continue to be part of Varna system.

Now, there is some uproar in Parliament but that would not suffice. Political allegation would be made by parties to score their political points. The Hindutva party can blame every one from the SP-BSP to the congress and nothing will change. The silver lining from Maharastra’s spontaneous movement is that it has resurrected the new dynamism. Baba Saheb always felt that a radical powerful dalit leadership would always emerge from a movement or agitation though the Dalit leaders who retires from the government jobs first create a party and then want people to follow them in their pursuit for power. But, here the situation is different as Dalit youth have taken to the street and particularly the presence of women in the movement shows how far the movement has gone.

It is therefore important for these dynamic youths not to allow political parties use their initiative for their own political purposes. They should use this opportunity to develop a vibrant Dalit movement with strong political convictions which can send jitters in the spines of all those who want to co-opt the great legacy of Baba Saheb Dr Ambedkar. If the youths do not take the leadership in their hands, they would end up as what happened in the creation of Uttaranchal state. A spontaneous movement of the students created the state though wrongful demands yet after the creation it is the mainstream parties who are reaping the benefits of it. The parties have forgotten virtually all those who laid down their life. Nepal has similar example. The power is in the hands of those who licked the boots of the king and served him like slave and those died protesting against monarchy are forgotten easily. The followers of Ambedkar should not allow this to happen.

Dalits saved the democracy in India curtsy Dr Ambedkar. They vote in large number and participate in the festival of democracy more than any other community. And nearly sixty years have passed to freedom of India and our institutions and social system remain confined to a few elite caste and groups. Why have we allowed this to happen? How prophetic Ambedkar was, when he said that if there were no social democracy, the Dalits would themselves blow up the political democracy in the country. What happened in Maharastra was a clear case of frustration in the Dalit youth, when the system so laborious developed by Dr Ambedkar, refused to shed its biases and prejudices against the Dalits. How long will Dalit glorified this great democracy and Parliament when every day their life is endangered and their livelihood is snatched from them. It is not that the entire Maharastra burnt out of a desecration of Baba Saheb’s statue which was most unfortunate but the unease was there as the shameless government of the state had done very little to bring the culprits to the book. If the democratic institutions do not give justice to the Dalits on time, mere symbolic presidents, prime ministers and chief ministers would gladdened the heart of them for a few days but in longer term, would increase the unease. And remember, it would be difficult for any government to curtail the Dalit rage if political democracy does not pave way for social democracy. It is clear that Dalits have ideological clarity and strong convictions than most of the other communities. It would be nearly impossible to stop them now if the governments, political system does not behave in an unbiased way, without prejudices.

Already, newspapers are writing a lot on the so-called infiltration of the Naxal movement in the Dalit groups but the happy news is that Dalit Panthers are resurrecting and it is reassuring that Maharastra would again lead the Dalits all over the country with progressive ideas and uncompromising stand on various issues confronting the nation. If the movement has to survive and lead the country, the Dalit movement, who ever leads it, has to reassure its people to say a big NO in an unambiguous term to the communal fascist forces and secondly fight the honor of the people against the onslaught of international parties colluding with the national one, on their natural resources. In the meanwhile, those who say that UP Dalits are not agitated because of BSP is leading them, may be wrong in future. Dalits in Uttar-Pradesh may vote BSP for political purposes yet inside their heart they are highly agitated. And surely flirting with the upper caste and the Hindutva would further damage the cause of the Dalit empowerment. But the more the Dalit leadership fails the people, the better it is for a new radical Dalit leadership in the state. Maharastra, they say, did not have a Dalit leader but the movement would definitely throw leadership and surely, Uttar-Pradesh Dalit will also find a way out, if their political leaders continue to play games with the Hindutva as well as capitalist power elite. It is time of reckoning in the legacy of Ambedkarite movement and a time of introspection for our political parties and governments.

December 1, 2006