Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hunger in Uttar-Pradesh

Hungry world of Dalits in Poorvanchal

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The so-called War against Hunger started at the 1997 Rome Summit where world leaders pledged to support programmes to eliminate hunger and alleviate poverty to half of that time’s below the poverty line people who do not even earn 1 USD a day. That time the number was estimated to be 864 million and half of them were in South Asia. It is strange that since 1997, these world leaders have started forcing the third world countries to comply with the norms that are essentially anti poor. Social security is an old word of socialist era and considered to be out of date in India. The Hindutva government that time was going crazy over the India shining approach just ignoring a vast number of masses who were dying of hunger and starvation. In fact, those of us who were bringing these issues to the public domain were discouraged. Media did not want to broadcast and publish the stories which spoil the taste of their subscribers in the morning.

Background of the work on hunger

That way 2004’s general election was a watershed. It was an election fought on the false premise of India shining. Despite hunger and starvation deaths in various parts of India particularly Orissa, Rajathan, Chhatishgarh, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar-Pradesh nothing moved much in the government front. People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a petition in Supreme Court in 2002 against the hunger deaths in 7 states. The Supreme Court issued notices to these states and their anti poverty programmes and as a civil society follow up of the entire case National Right to Food Campaign took birth. The Supreme Court issued various directives to the governments particularly in relation to Public Distribution System, BPL Cards, Widow and aged pension schemes, Integrated Child Development Programmes. The hearing continue but the real changes do not occur.

The campaign was launched on the premise that Food Corporation of India’s go downs were overflowing with grains ( in fact grain got rotten ) while people were living in abject hunger and poverty was a shame to India.

In the 2004 elections therefore, when the UPA government came to power in Center, it looked as if it has learnt a few lessons from the past government. A National Advisory Council was formed with eminent names like Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy were made members under the chairpersonship of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The government decided to renew the anti poverty programmes. Since fund were never problems with the government’s finance ministry went out to woe the rural masses. Campaign was launched for a bill like the Maharastra’s Employment Guarantee Programme so that every one gets employment. The government’s bosses also felt that this programme could be a good idea to implement their own liberalization and privatization process and ‘purchase’ the people with one hundred days employment.

One hundred districts were selected for National Employment Guarantee Scheme for the first phase. Now new districts have been added to the list but violence continue in rural India. A large part of India is under the Naxal influence and it is growing day by day. People are still dying of hunger despite millions of dollars being pumped by the aid agencies and the government. We must ponder over this situation otherwise India’s poor will revolt one day and trash everything that we call democratic.

Conditions prevailing in Uttar-Pradesh

It is rather unfortunate that despite a clear verdict of the masses against the concept of privatization and economic liberlisation, the rulers do not want to change their track. Earlier after the elections we saw over throwing of the government in Haryana, Punjab Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The biggest turn around was Uttar-Pradesh. While the analyst might claim that it was Mayawati’s Brahmin-Dalit combination that got her victory, it would be simply generalizing the facts if we ignore the fact the UP people also voted against Uttar-Pradesh Shining and policy of private crony culture of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and his government.

Therefore, when Uttar-Pradesh was shining, just a few months back, I was getting lot of information related to hunger and starvation deaths in the Eastern Part of Uttar-Pradesh. During the past five years in particular, having spend a lot of time with activists and villagers, I realized that the aid agencies, the government and the so-called civil society organizations are far removed from the grassroots reality. Even the media was not reciprocating it at the national level while the local papers were reporting incidents of hunger deaths.

Four districts of Poorvanchal (Eastern Uttar-Pradesh) namely Maharajganj, Kushingar, Deoria and Gorakhpur witness the dance of death every year. Two of these district Kushinagar and Gorakhpur were selected for the NREGA programme while Maharajganj has also been selected for the same from this year. All these districts saw a large number of deaths due to hunger and malnutrition despite all these programmes. The pattern was similar yet nothing happened. When we decided to move on a Padyatra in these districts, it was in fact a reiteration of our earlier stand about the failure of not only aid agencies and government but also civil society. Let us investigate some of these programmes and international campaigns.

18 tribal children died in Raup village of Sonebhadra district in 2004 and the National Human Rights Commission issued notice to the state government. A very senior activist Late M.A.Khan would always question the ‘national’ campaigners who would come for a day in Sonebhadra and disappear after ‘attaining’ everything. These national organizations destroyed the local initiatives by creating division in them. Khan died an unsatisfied man, a man who would have got huge funds to support his work on hunger yet remain penniless till he breathed his last. A mobile library in his ownself, Khan’s work was used by many for their projects in the area.

What irked Khan was that Sonebhadra has a large number of NGOs with ‘National’ outlook. These days apart from being from the ‘press’ get you exclusive sitting at most important places, a tag from human rights also give you strength to manipulate things. With international human rights organization jumping in local fray and acting as a party, the human rights have become abusive term. Agencies write letters on every individual cases of ‘dowry’, ‘rape’ ‘sexual harassment’ and everything under the sun. These organizations are not running any systematic campaigns but are totally depended on the fancy of a few individuals who not only manipulate things but also pretend as if they are the sole protectors of the civil liberties in their area and their life is under the ‘threat’ from the landlords. The agencies who support such propagandists forget to ask their own background as a majority of them have established background and it is rare that they would speak against their own family and caste men. Activists from Uttar-Pradesh are rather smarter in this. They claim to have been fighting against ‘caste’ system but do not give any idea to local communities and people as what is the panacea for it. These are provided to international masters only who present them to their donors as their ‘work’ in India. Most of these international fellows have got strong support from their own communities, as it is rare they would speak against their own community. Hence if you are a Thakur, you will bring the cases of Brahmins, Yadavas, Kurmis for oppressing the Dalits terming them as ‘feudal lords’, while if you happen to be a Brahmin, the cases would be different, so will be the case with Kurmis and others. Everybody try to save the interest of their own community making the other community oppressing the Dalits. So, the downfall of Uttar-Pradesh is in the nepotism and propaganda that these human rights fellows unleash through internet and emails.

The National Right to Food Campaign became a tool to further their own interest and you do not know how many of them exist in Uttar-Pradesh. The politics in the NGOs is more rampant in Uttar-Pradesh. In the name of so-called advocacy and lobbying they make every criminal case as a human rights violation case and if their activists are involved in local feud, it is termed as a threat to their life.

Development need community centered approach

Aid agencies flocked to Sonbhadra, Varanasi, Kushingar, Bhadohi, Bundelkhand and other such ‘poor’ district to ‘eliminate’ hunger yet despite all this people continue to die of hunger. In Kushinagar district’s Koilaswa village became the hub of activities for aid agencies. Number of community organizations were created and their only visible work was ‘wall writing’ related to the rights of Mushahars. One must ask these agencies and their partners as where has the money gone and why even a village with about 500 Mushahar families still have largest number of hungry people and unsafe huts. This village saw 18 children dying of Kalajwar several years ago. Most of the Mushahars here live in huts. Very few of them have got the NREGA card to get some work. None of them can claim to have got even 10 days work under NREGA. Last year, when I visited to this village, a large number of huts were burnt due to fire but this year some of these houses were being constructed under Indira Awas Yojna. The Sarpanch, the secretary of the Panchayats is corrupt say the people but where are the organizations working. Why do they not organize people and take them to the district magistrate and show them them the condition of the NREGA schemes in the area. The fact of the matter is that we claim to create a civil society in the poorest areas. My question is whose civil society it would be ?
How come the work being done on Mushahars, Scavengers do not have persons heading from these communities? It is here the aid agencies have defaulted. They promoted Dalit groups in the name of Dalit identity but rarely bothered to check further whether the same kind of identity which different caste groups are demanding have been accepted by them. When we talk of scavenger or Mushahars or Rajbhars why is that it is the people from other communities leading the movement and not from them. The argument that these communities do not have ‘leadership’ skills is racist and brahmanical in nature and need to be questioned.

It was this long thought that came in mind trying to analyze the caste scenario with poverty that I realize that developmental agenda would have to be community based. Fifty years programmes of development never reached the people. The targets were not specified clearly. They were vague and not according to the demographic set up of the villages. Hence Mushahrs, Bansfors, Rajbhars, Pasis and Chamars remained at the margin. Though people might argue that after Maywati’s ascendance to power Chamar have been ‘empowered’, this notion itself is wrong. The community, no doubt, is politically assertive, yet economically very marginalized in the Eastern Uttar-Pradesh and Bundelkhand.

Humanism Needed

Hunger is not natural but man made with deep socio-cultural dimension. When the major district of Poorvanchal, the rural poor do not possess enough grain to cook two time a meal, the forces of rightwing Hindutva are equally powerful. Just when Navratris are finished, the Goddess Tarkulha Devi’s temple witnesses thousands of goats being slaughtered to please the goddess. And it is not just one goddess, such temples exists all the districts. Kushingar is famous Buddhist center as Buddha preached here for 20 years and died at the end. Japanese, Thai, Barmese, Korean temples are present here. More and more religious groups are coming here to spread their wings. Not only the famous Gorakhdham peeth headed by BJP MP Mahant Aditya Nath have made great inroads among the communities but not on working against hunger but hatred. You can find posters of Hindu Yuva Vahini everywhere. At a place during our Padyatra when I asked to a villager, as ‘which community he belonged to ?’, the emphatic answer was that only ‘Hindus’ live here. Which clearly indicate that they were not keen on speaking on poverty on hunger but on anti Muslim rhetoric’s. In Deoria, we went to a village called Mundera Mishra where a large number of fishermen community live apart from the powerful Brahmins. As soon as we started talking about anti poverty programmes, about the ration cards and other such schemes, the people from Brahmin community came and started altercating with us. ‘ As long as you will allow the Muslims to eat everything that our country produces, we can not alleviate poverty’. I was shocked to hear this as there were no Muslims in the village and we were talking about issue of fishermen, ration card and anti poverty programmes in the village.

Walking towards Rudrapur from Deoria, we met with a group of boys catching rats. They belonged to Rajbhar community. As mentioned earlier three communities of Mushahars, Rajbhars and Chauhans are living in pathological hunger and forced to eat rats. The children who should have been going to school actually were grazing the cattle’s on a rainy day. None of them go to school. The food situation in their house was difficult. They caught several rats and took us to a school to roast them like Kababs. One could see the glee in their faces as they enjoyed their lunch after such hunger. One wonders where the aid agencies have gone. Rajbhar and Chauhan community does not come under the Scheduled Caste category but their condition can not be regarded as better than the Dalits. Yes, they are MBCs and are forced to live in isolation and ostracisation. It was village Sarora where I did not see a single rajbhar house which could be pucca.

On the road we met a Rajbhar tractor driver who was not very happy with the turn of events in Uttar-Pradesh. Clearly, his thoughts were not with Behenji and were saddened with the demise of the Rajbhar party of Om Prakash Rajbhar. I asked them as why don’t they organize community for their socio-economic-cultural benefit. Why we need to politicize all the issues when the basic issue of hunger and poverty have not yet resolved.
Tragedy in Uttar-Pradesh was that while people were politically assertive may be they have sold their conscience to their caste identity but beyond that nothing is moving. Normally, no body question their political leaders for the work they are not doing. People do not seem to be interested in listening to other communities. If you belong to same community they become over enthused. This actually has resulted in a generation of middlemen who sale the community for small pie.

In the Vindhyawalia bastee of fishermen, I did not find a single house to be pucca. The fishermen have lost their habitat because of soil erosion brought out by the river Chhoti Gandak. In the absence of fishing people migrate to other states particularly to Goa for sand mining. We saw many of those exploited hands during our visit. It was shocking to see how the mining has not only made them entire generation of fishermen slave to several diseases including skin problems and breathing problems.

In many Mushahar bastees children do not go to school. At one village out of nearly 300 children, I could speak to only two who claimed they were going to school. The schools are quite far and most of the time the parents have no money to pay the school fee and hence are unable to send them. Moreover, the exploitation is so much that children once scolded by the teachers seldom go back. Local liquor is a daily routine. Most of the women are involved in making liquor. During summers Tadi is favorite drink. Even the children drink it for Rs 5/- a glass. They remain hungry during the entire day.

Japan government and world bank are working on Maitryee Project in Kushingar which will displace about several hundred small farmers as it need to acquire over 600 acre of land to build biggest Buddhas of Bamiyan type. It is very unfortunate that while Kushinagar and all these nearby areas are witnessing Tandava of hunger for the past 10 years, none of the so-called religious groups ever bothered about their fate. Superstition is very high in the region and poverty is linked to fete and the bad karma of the previous birth, therefore justifying the current structure of injustice and exploitation.

That is one reason why during our padyatra, we made it a point to raise the issue of right over people’s resources and for dignity and freedom. Our campaign was not just limited to land redistribution but against the exploitative nature of our society, our caste system and ritualistic religious values which dehumanize the people.

Environmental Dangers

It is strange that the environmental degradation and its impact on communities such as fishermen and farmers have rarely been raised in Poorvanchal. Perhaps because during the past few years environment has become a subject for the urban elite to discuss where they can think of throwing the communities like tribal away from the forest. But, in Poorvanchal, the issue is real and the threat as ever. All the major rivers of Poorvanchal, Rapti, Chhoti Gandak, Gurra, Amy etc are thoroughly polluted. They have turned to gutter as the sewage water of the distilleries and sugar factories flows into them. There is no anti pollution measures and one wonder what is UP Pollution Control Board is doing. In Kaptanganj and Ramkola towns of Kushingar district the local sugar mills and distilleries are throwing huge chemical waste in the river Gandak. The sewage water spills into the fields thus destroying the crops. In fact many time there have been agitation against the same in Ramkola where farmers are genuinely agitated over the destruction of a vast track of their land. The drinking water is contaminated and most of the people in area suffer from various diseases. In March 1999 an agreement was signed in the presence of district magistrate along with farmers and UP Sugar Corporation Ltd under which the sugar mills had to develop sewage water treatment plant and would pay compensation to the farmers. It was also agreed that in Mathura Nagar area of Ramkola over 7 people had died during 1999 with drinking contaminated water. Things have not changed yet after so many years. One can see the burnt field with stinking smell which make any one sink.

About 6 kilometer away from Chaurichaura is famous Sardar Nagar owned by Sardar S.S.Majithia whose terror also run in the village. Without any treatment plant the sewage is drained into river Gurra, a tributary of Rapti. Farmers are agitated over it and fishermen have lost every thing, as there is no fish catch these days. Now, the village people are planning to approach the court. When our Padyatra approached the Sardarnagar distillery and was taking photographs and video shoot of the area, the company stalkers started haunting us. ‘ Why have you come here ? Who are you ? Show us your identity card ? I told the person that we are on a Padyatra and are looking the environmental hazards of the sugar factories and other mills in the area. And that people are complaining and they have a right to seek redressal. The person threatened us not to take further photographs. ‘ We have certificate from UP Pollution Control Board’ he said and I retorted back as why he was worried then?

Sardarnagar factories do not have sewage line. A large number of sweeper who live in the vicinity have been working on contract labour for the past 20 years and their salaries have not gone beyond Rs 3000/-. They were shown the door when they question for more salary and bonus etc . It is no secret that manual scavenging is prevalent inside the campus of the sugar mill and distillery as the toilets are kuchcha. While the company may make the pollution control people fool by saying they have now flush toilets, the fact is that inspite of that, these toilets and their pits need to be cleaned annually and it is the local Hellas (Muslim Scavengers) and Bansfors who are doing the cleaning work.

Apart from chemical waste in the rivers, the other threat to the rivers of Poorvanchal is from the mechanized sand mining. Rivers particularly Chhotigandak has gone deep down with sand mining and it is adding to the woes of farmers every year during the monsoon as often it change the track and erode the different area. Many localities, villages have been permanently submerged because of this soil erosion by river Gandak, and Ghaghara.
They are considered to be the most dangerous rivers. In Gorakhpur district river Rapti often play havoc and people still tremble narrating the horrific tale of flood in 1999 and 2002 when hundreds of villages disappeared. Thousands of hectares of land is now turned sandy and farmers have no other choice but to migrate and become labours.

Prevailing Hunger and malnutrition:

Navami is 25 years old. He has three sons and two daughters. Living as an encroacher on the road, he has turned saffron these days after a cow hit him on his leg. The family went to a local Jholachaap doctor for the treatment who has in fact destroyed his feet. He has become virtually disabled and is barely able to walk. Navmi’s father lives about 200 meter away from his Jhopadi in the Mushahar Bastee of Bishanpurwa village in Premwalia Panchayat of district Kushingar. Bishanpura is predominantly a Dalit habitat in which a substantial chunk of Chamars and Mushahars live. Chamar because of the politicization process in the past 15 years are relatively better organized and aware of their conditions but Mushahar because of their lesser numbers as well as worst economic conditions remains on margin. At a distance of about 8 kilometer from the town Kasaya, Bishanpura present two different world, one of the upper castes, mobile backward communities and the other of Mushahars and Chamars.

Though the village activist claim that the condition of Mushahar in this village was relatively better than anywhere else but a visit to their thatched hut reveal the truth. It is not just the war against a corrupt society but cultural practice which has subjugated them for years. Entering at many houses, I found people cooking snails. At many houses the morning break fast was not ready yet.

Like many others, Navami does not work and his physically challenge father earn livelihood for him. His wife Akali is at the later stage of pregnancy. Looking at her, one wonder, how healthy would be the child when born. ‘We keep fast for most of the days as Navami is not able to work’, says Akali. She adds that he is not interested in the family, as he has now become a saint. “ But how come despite being a saint, you became pregnant, I ask. Don’t you think that it is also your duty to minimize your burden? Her small hut does not have anything. They do not possess any ration card. None of them know about National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme under which every unemployed male or female in a village would get a minimum of one hundred days work. Now the UP government has increased the minimum wages to Rs 82/-. But see the irony Navami has none of these cards. It would not be surprising if in the absence of any government aid he and his family starve. One can imagine as what would be the fate of his unborn child. Navami’s elder daughter is at the field behind their hut doing some work. I ask her about whether she has eaten any thing. The answer is in the negative. She inform me that the family does not cook and that she and her brothers remain hungry. By the time, we were conducting our interview with her, Akali was going to beg the left over food for their lunch.

B: Leelawati Gupta is a young widow living in a small hut in Deoria district. Her husband died of tuberculosis about eight months ago. Gupta was a Halwai who could not afford the family of five children. The family left for Siligudi in the hope for better future. The debt compounded and therefore the local debtors took over the house of the family in lieu of their debt. Gupta died of tremendous pressure. The family did not have anything to eat. A good Halwai family turned into a completely workless family. There was nothing to eat for the children.

Today, Leelawati’s eldest daughter is also left by her husband. She live along with small daughter at her mother’s hut. Half of the week, they keep fasting. No help came from any quarter. Leelwati moved from one place to other but of no help. They did not have a ration card to procure food items. There was no help from any where. The children for not going to school but working. Four months after the death of her husband, the Panchayat thought of her giving her a BPL ration card. She sales the rice from the village and earn around Rs 35 a day but that too in kind form. There is no other source of income. The young daughter left by her husband is equally baffling her. The family is on the brink of collapse and may use escapist tendencies to survive.

Idrish Ansari has a small rehari shop of eggs. With a small gas stove, he make omelet for the customers and also sale boiled egg. In the small town of … one does not know whether he would be able to take care of his family of 9 children. He has got a small house under the Indira Awas Yojna but that house cannot accommodate all the family members hence 7 of them sleep in an under construction under ground floor of a house owned by a local landlord. Idrish has a buffalo as well as horse for marriage parties. But these days when the parties hire cars and electronic items, the bridegroom in horse is becoming rare day by day. The resources are scant day by day. Idirsh does not possess a ration card and his condition show that the family and children are going to face very difficult time in next few months if the help does not come.

In the Deoria town we visited the urban slums. In the Ambedkar Nagar bustee we met a number of Bansfors. The families are living in miserable condition. I met many children and none of them go to school. Most of the people work part time and have no source of income. The women and children are involved in manual scavenging. In the family of Six children, I find them eating Sattu for their lunch. One of the child was epileptic. He was unable to open his eyes. The wife presented a miserable picture. There was no food. No government scheme has reached the village. There was no ration card to procure subsidized rice from the market. It was surviving on the edge and one can rarely describe them to narrate. The child in the family was in danger if not takes care properly. They are three families and the card of Above the Poverty Line is issued to their mother. It was a tragic site as how the sweeper community is facing not only indignity but also ostracisation and starvation. The people claiming to work on hunger are rarely reaching them.

36 families of Bansfors are living in miserable condition on the road at civil lines. They weave basket and barely earn Rs 30 per day. Most of them used to sleep on the road till one day the district administration decided to shunt them away to another place without thinking whether human conditions prevails in that area or not. A number of women still cry, as they have no other source to live.

Hungry Swachchakars

Hunger is everywhere. The only difference is that your eyes and heart need to be sensitive enough to hear those pains and miseries. NGOs have turned hunger into a project for their own self without ever evaluating their own work. It is rare to speak about urban hunger since most of these cases occur in rural area but the Sweeper community in many of these places is suffering in silence. Manual Scavenging is going well without any stoppage. How do you stop without providing alternative to the people? Most of the families were eating Sattu and children do not go to school. No government scheme reach them and very few of them had got ration cards.

In Rudrapur, I found a happy scavenger mother telling me how her 9 years old daughter Arti takes care of the family every day. Arti was grinding Mashala when I met her. Afterwards, her mother took me to her hut and showed that their girl can cook. It was shocking when I ask why were they imposing family burden on a young child. Arti’s father was a Rikshapullar and their earning was not enough to sustain the family. They were not able to send their children to school.

We visited many homes and saw their condition. Writing about hunger make you some time repeating things but then it is the issue and we need to focus more on them. In most of the municipalities including Laar, Rudrapur, Deoria, Gorakhpur, Chaurichuara, Mau the condition need to be assessed carefully. That manual scavenging is going on uninterrupted because the government has failed them to provide any help and the organizations of civil society used their plight for their own purposes without making community feel that there is a discrimination and they should stand up against the same is a national disgrace and we all must take the blame.

In most of the municipalities, many of the Balmikis were kept under contract labour by Mulayam Singh’s ordinance. In towns like Laar, they had not got their salaries till date after their appointment forcing the people to reengage them in manual scavenging.

Right over resources can not be compensated by NREGA and PDS system

It is ironical that campaigns to eliminate hunger are not talking in terms of livelihood. If situation has to be seen in this perspective, most of the Mushahrs are dying because they are landless. They used to depend on forest but that too has been out of reach for them now, as forest department is getting murkier day by day. Rajbhars are another community which is totally landless and live in complete isolation. Their power of vote can not change much of the Panchayats local political equations. We have seen how the NREGA and food for work programmes are being appropriated by the powerful communities of the village. Fishermen are dying of hunger because they have lost everything. Their lakes are drying up and sewage water has killed the fishes. Other communities like Chamars, Pasis, Chauhans, Mushahars are totally landless and therefore workless. They are just political in terms of their caste identities but their political class seems not be interested in raising these issues of livelihood. Even the workers of their community do not seem to be working on socio-cultural revival of the community. Identity is fastly becoming a tool for the political Dalals to mobilize people for their own nefarious goals. This culture of considering communities as pocket borrow will have to be changed in Uttar-Pradesh and that could only happen if the agencies work wholeheartedly on an emergency basis with community’s social organizations. Advocacy and Lobbying for greater ‘national’ cause can not be bigger than the local cause of the communities. Uttar-Pradesh does not have infrastrcture. Schools are without teachers and toilets. The public distribution system is in complete mess in Uttar-Pradesh. This is accepted by the advisers of the Supreme Court in their report. Most of the eligible people never got the entitlement and again the power elite in the rural structure grabbed all these opportunities. But it is also a fact there is nothing in the PDS which any good person would like to purchase. Most of the people never get kerosene, and sugar on their cards. In fact, the activists are now asking that it need to be like supermarket where people should be allowed to procure all other items like stationary, books, masalas, and ration on a subsidized rate.

Government need to focus on education, electricity and drinking water only then Uttar Pradesh will shine for all. For the civil society organizations, it would be better not to consider people as showing their strength in Lucknow and Delhi but do some concrete work at the village level, sharing their agonies and making them feel as part of civil society but not as their leaders but developing leadership qualities in each of these communities. Hunger will not end unless we challenge the very basis of karma theory and bring people out of the religious rituals, which make them bonded to thugs and tantriks. Hunger will not end unless the government and organization feel that it is really not an issue of charity but right over resources. Give the fishermen better rivers and lakes and they will not ask for NREGA. Protect the farmers from the onslaught of the spoiling factories and they will do wonders. And finally do fill your promises to redistribute land to all landless communities and I bet they will shine for us all. If we do not learn lesson from other parts of the country and violence growing there, the day will not be far when we will witness same war in Uttar-Pradesh and peace would be the biggest victim.


Land, Dignity and Freedom footmarch which covered around 140 villages, 7 urban slum in four districts of Maharajganj, Kushingar, Deoria and Gorakhpur district, It started from Tilakwania village in Ghughali town of Maharajganj district on June 1st, 2007 and culminated at Chauri Chaura on June 22nd, 2007 with a total of 370 kilometers. Organised by Uttar-Pradesh Land Alliance and led by Shri Vidya Bhushan Rawat, Director, Social Development Foundation, Delhi, the Padyatra raised the issue of hunger, land, water and sustainable development. Nearly 20 Padyatris including women and girls from the marginalised sections of society walked this distance in scorching heat for full 22 days. It raised the issue of the failure of the previous government to deal with the issue of livelihood of marginalised communities and their continuous marginalisation through hunger, malnutrition, poverty and depression. It also voiced its concern over growing communalisation process as well as spreading of superstition among the poorer sections of society. At many places the marchers spoke to small gatherings, met people, visited affected areas and conducted social audits of schemes like NREGA.

At the culmination of 22 days padyatra at Chauri Charua, we demand the following :

1. The government must take special measures to improve the condition of Mushahars, Rajbhars, Bansfors, Nonias, Machchuaras, Dom, Swachchakars, Pasis and Chamars. These communities are living in abysmally degrading conditions and need special measures.

2. In the Eastern Uttar-Pradesh the Sand Mafias are controlling the rivers like Chhoti Gandak, Gurra, Rapti and Ghaghara. The mechanized sand mining has resulted in soil erosion by these rivers during monsoon. Thousands of hectare of land has turned infertile. In Brahmapur region Rapti has destroyed Ranapar area. In Kaptanganj and Ramkola towns in Kushinagar district are facing severe soil erosion due to sand mining. We demand immediate halt of mechanized sand mining and ask the government to allow the fish worker to do the same but government should fix up a limit for the same.

3. In many villages of Eastern Uttar-Pradesh powerful local people have illegally grabbed the land given to Dalits and Most backward communities. In many villages, the Dalits are not even allowed passage to move out. Government must ensure that every person live with dignity at his/her land that every one has a right to access road in his/her house.

4. The Sugar factories and distilleries in Ramkola, Kaptanganj, Deoria, Rudrapur, Sardarnagar
are throwing chemical waste in the rivers like Chhoti Gandak, Rapti, Amy and Gurra resulting in heavy pollution in the rivers. The fish workers are facing hunger, as the fish catch is almost nil. Apart from this, the waste has spilled over to a vast agricultural land turning them completely barren and dangerous. The ground water in most of the eastern UP town is contaminated which is a severe threat to public health. We demand immediate action against these factory/mill owners and ask the government to compensate the farmers who have lost their land to these mills. The Pollution Control board should be asked to explain as why they continue to allow such hazards industries to run.

5. In Kushingar and Gorakhpur the condition of National Employment Guarantee Scheme is a matter of grave concern. It has not been implemented accordingly. We found work being done through tractors and people without work despite having the valid card. The scheme seems to have failed because of the connivance between the village Pradhans and block officials. We demand severe action against erring officials to implement the scheme and ask the government to form a monitoring and evaluating committee which should include civil society representatives.

6. In Poorvanchal, we found lot of discrepancy in the distribution of ration cards. Those who should have been eligible for the cards have not got it while others have got it. We demand strong action the Sarpanches and officials who are involved in nepotism and corruption. We also demand from the government that the reach of the Public Distribution System should be expanded and it must include important edible items, books, and cloths, Masalas etc so that the poor can benefit from this.
7. Hunger and starvation is prevelent in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh. A majority of families do not ration for two times. The children have uncertain futrue. It is shameful that children from Mushahars, Chauhan, Rajbhar etc are eating rats and fishermen are forced to survive on snails.
We demand the government to focus on these communities with special programmes particularly developing schools in the villages with mid day meals and other incentives for school children and their parents.
8. The government must form special Land Courts to settle land disputes and implement the land reform measures strongly and effectively. The government must concentrate on giving communal entitlement. We also demand that women should be given priority in allotment of agricultural land and all new entitlement whether residential or agricultural should have joint entitlment.
Today on the day of culmination of Padyatra we committ ourselves to continue our struggle for Land, Dignity and freedom. We will continue to make government aware of the ground situation while fighting for our rights democratically. We also want to make it clear that this war of independence is not possible with out the support and alliance of anti caste, anti communal, anti superstition and progressive forces in which the role of women, Dalits, Most backward communities and tribals have an important role to play. We also feel that this for dignity and freedom we have to take inspiration from Baa Saheb Ambedkar, Jyoti Ba Phule, Savitri Bai Phule, and EV Ramaswamy Naicar. They remain our icons and role models in our struggle for the creation of a civil society.

Following organisations signed the resolution

Uttar-Pradesh Land Alliance,
Social Development Foundation, Delhi
Food for Hungry Foundation, Delhi
Dr B.R.Ambedkar Gramodyog Sansthan, Deoria
Swachchakar Kalyan Samiti, Ghazipur
Smt Sonia Gramin Mahila avam Bal Kalyan Samiti, Deoria
Lord Buddha Trust, Kushinagar
Hitkari Sewa Samiti, Deoria
Jan Kalyan Sansthan, Chauri Chaura, Gorakhpur
Palanjivi Samiti, Rudrapur, Deoria
Mushahar Shakti Sanghthan, Deoria
Tharu Development Society, Lakhimpur Khiri
Tal Ratoy Machchua Jan Kalyan Sansthan, Mau
Bharatiya Jan Seva Ashram, Jaunpur
Chitrakoot Sewa Ashram, Chitrakoot
Dalit Mahila Mukti Morcha,
UP Machchua Adhikar Manch, Rudrapur
and number of others

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nationhood Redefined

Strong caste identities pose serious challenge to brahmanical supermacy

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Hindu Society is a myth but caste is a reality. And this reality has been widely accepted in Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar where caste assertion is growing and those without any political representations are living on the margins. It would look absolutely fanatical if you talk of caste as a nation but reading V.T.Rajshekar’s book ‘Caste, a Nation with in the Nation’, recipe for a bloodless revolution, reveals the importance of the subject. He is not the only one who speaks on the issue but definitely perhaps among very few who are unapologetic about speaking it and quotes reasonably well from Anthropological survey of India report ‘ People of India’ which was headed by an IAS officer Mr K.S.Singh. Singh maintained that there are 2800 castes in which 450 are scheduled castes, 461 scheduled tribes and 766 backward classes. The report, which says that ‘ Indian society continues to be a collection of castes and communities,’ has been hidden in the dusty files of the ministry.

It is a fact that people closely connect on the basis of their caste more than any other identity. A person lives in various identities including the individual one. There are identities, which are linguistic, regional, and ethnic yet the Indian sub continental reality is that it would be entirely baseless to say that the caste identity does not exist. If caste were not a reality, Bangladesh would not have come into being. The fact of the matter is the Punjabi Muslims had always treated the Bangla Muslims with utter contempt. A former general in Pakistan justified in his book for non-inclusion of the Bengalis in elite services of Pakistan for they ‘lack’ merit.

Caste Identities will ultimately eliminate the brahmanical supremacy

What Rajsekhar has tried to put in bravely is that caste system has to be opposed but castes are different identities. That is a fact because Dalit is not a one word or one world as it includes a variety of castes and each one has its own world. Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar, when drafted the constitution, mentioned it as Scheduled Castes. So he was aware of the fact of the diversity with in the Dalit Bahujan societies. Caste is a reality and not rhetoric and has been wonderfully explained by Mr V.T.Rajshekar. In fact, he was among the very few whom out rightly supported quota on the basis of the percentage of the community. The issue of Mala Madiga, Mahar-Mang, Chamars-Valmikis and others would get resolved easily if there were broader feeling of sharing the space with even the nondescript communities. It is also interesting that the author says the abolition of sub castes would not help the Dalit Bahujan but to the brahmanical Hinduism. If Hindus are so interested in caste elimination why the elite want to confine their marriage in their communities. If caste is a rural phenomena and not an urban one, why the hell it is not eliminated from our English newspapers and their matrimonial columns? The caste consciousness of the Dalit Bahujan would make the struggle stronger which the upper caste Hindus fear too much and therefore the ‘saintly’ advise of ‘elimination’ of castes without touching the caste system.

Rajshekar is unique in theorizing and people like me have always taken those theories further. Like, the demand for elimination or annihilation of castes normally comes from the powerful groups. It is no secret that why this issue has rarely been raised by the poor. Why are Brahmins so interested in demolition of caste they so wonderfully created? The answer is provided by the author himself. Today, using caste identity is not beneficial for the Brahmins. It is beneficial for the Dalits and the bahujans for democracy is a number game and therefore assertion is important. Secondly, it is important whether denouncing caste has in fact resulted in demolition of the brahmanical structure. It is easier to say ‘ I do not believe in caste’, but how many of them have excluded from their social rituals and practices based on caste system. The answer would be in negative.

On December 16th, 1993 Rajshekar wrote a historic editorial in Dalit Voice: Strengthen every caste to annihilate Brahmanism’. This was an important departure from the so-called academic theories, which talks of ‘elimination’ of caste system without really intending to do so. In December 1992 Babari Masjid was demolished and Dalit Voice was the only journal, which wrote that myth of the Hindu tolerance was exposed. Some of us who developed our understanding though reading Dalit Voice and the material referred by its editor, realized that the aim of the Babri demolition was not really against the Muslims but subjugate the Dalit Bahujan masses further which were aggressively asserting their caste identities in the aftermath of the anti Mandal protests in north India. An analysis of the post Mandal situation in India reflect explains unambiguously that had it not been the assertion of Dalit-Bahujan, India would have turned into a fascist state. Is not it a reality that after the Babari mosque was demolished the Dalit Bahujan of Uttar-Pradesh joined hand and threw away the fascist government of the Bhartiya Janata Party which thought that they would come with thumping majority. Is not it true that both Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, many of our educated elite might make us believe are the worst Indian states, have virtually decimated the Sangh parivar. And what are the reasons for the same? It is the growing assertion of the Dalit backward communities in these states, which has kept the Hindutva family thoroughly marginalized. In the latest round of bout, again the people of Uttar-Pradesh have brought back a government led by a Dalit woman and both the upper caste parties are at the margin. It is another factor that the fall of Mulayam Singh Yadav must be attributed to upper castes and hence Maywati has to be extra vigilant when she makes Brahmins her ally, as they have not come to Maywati leaving their feudal caste mindset but because of compulsions. And marriage of convenience breaks ones compulsions are over. It is important to understand that while the caste identities have challenged brahmanical supremacy, further degeneration of it would bring back the brahmanical elite. Uttar-Pradesh is a case example. While the main political struggle here is between the Dalits and backwards, it is the brahmanical elite, which has become the most sought after in the state. But if the Dalit Bahujan are understandable this question would also get resolved soon.

Connect to History

The best practice of the brahmanical manipulation was that they were non violently violent as Rajshekar has pointed out many times. They institutionalized violence and made everything that benefited them as sacrosanct. So, for the poor Dalit Bahujan, the Brahmins made them hate them, so most of these communities hated themselves and their communities. Abroad, people used to write their surname with the work they do like the Shoe maker put their sir name as Shoemaker, similarly other sir names originated as Smith, Goldsmith, Blacksmith, Butler, etc. But here the Brahmins asked to hate us. How can the people or a community progress if they do not know their own history and hate them. Every now and them the ruling elite talks of the contradictions among the Dalit and Bahujan classes but the fact is that contradictions are there in our lives as Mao Tse Tung said in his famous work ‘ On Contradictions’. Human history progressed with these contradictions. Is not there a contradiction between Brahmin and a Thakur or a Kayastha or a Bania. Differences are bound to happen in a diverse society and they will be there in the Dalit Bahujan also as they are among the upper castes also. However, contradictions would always be used to divide the Dalit Bahujan masses to fulfill the grand agenda of the brahmanical elites in India and therefore Baba Saheb Ambedkar said, ‘ As long as oppressed classes do not turn to ruling classes, internal contradictions would remain.

Hinduism is a Political Theory

Again, an important point expressed in the book is that Hinduism is not a religion but a political theory. Some people differentiate between Hindutva and Hinduism for they believe the idea of Hindutva was propagated by Vir Savarkar while Hinduism, they feel, is essentially a very tolerant religion. This is historically inaccurate and incorrect for various reasons. One, Hinduism as such is not a religion but essentially meant to address the people living in India, a name was given by the Mughal invaders. Originally, it was Varnashram dharma, a religion based on caste and colour. But in real terms it is a political theory as mentioned by V.R.Rajshekar quoting profusely to Baba Saheb’s writings, as define our civil laws and is aimed at controlling our freedom, our social and cultural life. This institutionalization has made every working masses totally depended on Brahmins to get social legitimacy.

How do you abolish caste system? Academics over simplify them in terms of education, urbanisation or industrialisation and inter-caste marriages. The author brilliantly exposes all the three. Education as he rightly points out is ‘an instrument of oppression in the hands of ruling classes to retain its dominations over its subjects. Secondly, caste is not just confined to rural India but also to urban India and therefore caste clashes would only strengthen the Dalit-Bahujan’s determination to understand and strengthen their caste identities. Inter caste marriages have not taken place yet. Most of the marriages are one like the Brahmins girl marrying elite Dalit mens who are either government servants or politicians. They is not really inter caste marriages as marriages at local levels and village levels have not been possible. So these cases may be termed as rarest of rare despite various interest factors involved in it.

Urbanisation and industrialization has not really helped the Dalit Bahujans as it might have helped in other countries. The caste struggle would ultimately lead to revolution and rightfully the author suggests that Marxian dialectics of class has to be modified in Indian terms replacing it with caste. Another important point that the author mention is that urbanization in India has pushed the Dalit Bahujan to further brink unlike other countries where urbanization is considered to be a better option for replacing the old feudal system but in India urbanization is creating new slums. It is hitting the Dalit Bahujan rock hard.

Qualities of a True Ambedkarite

While speaking strongly for caste identities the author feel that an enlightened Ambedkarite must rise above the narrow caste interests. Dr Ambedkar always felt proud to be born in a Mahar community but his struggles and fight was for all the downtrodden communities. Can any one say that he fought for Mahars? The point that the author wanted to make is that every community is today seeking its space under the sun. The communities have to do that because otherwise they will be thoroughly marginalized. They go the other way because their aspirations are not fulfilled. Aim of strengthening caste identities is not to divide the Dalit Bahujan’s movement but to strengthen it. Basically with in ourself, there has to be a proportionate representation. Every caste has a history and they are tracing that history and it is good they are doing it. As Baba Saheb, no community can move forward which remains isolated and unknown to its history. So author want caste identities to eliminate the brahmanical system and wish every Dalit Bahujan individual to rise about the petty caste considerations which is the essence of is thesis.

Religion never unites

The author has come out very candidly that only Buddhism can unite the Dalit masses. It was the message of Baba Saheb to dalits to embrace the righteous path of Buddha. Rightly, he suggests that religion has never been uniting factor. Hinduism is nothing but caste and once caste are abolished Hinduism will be eliminated. Similarly despite conversion to Christianity, the Dalits still remain the Dalits. They are not allowed to join the churches of upper castes. Marriages are exclusively caste based. Even Islam has been unable to unite people. Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam but what happened. Bengali Muslims refused to believe the Punjabi Muslims as Baba Saheb has said, ‘ Religion can help to produce justice with in a community. Religion cannot produce justice between the communities. The call of nation and the call of community has proved more powerful than the call of religion for justice’.

Recently on a trip to Uganda, I was shocked to see that even outside India, people are unable to leave their castes. I met a few Indian Sikhs in a Gurudwara called a Ramgarhia Gurudwara in Kampala and most of those who come here are Dalit Sikh. A Dalit woman told me that there is a separate Gurudwara for Jat Sikhs. Similarly, there were several temples among the Gujaratis. A Ugandan friend Deo who is chairman Uganda Humanist Association blamed Indian to be confined to their caste interest and color conscious. So despite same religion, it is the caste which has been dominating factor.

Political Participation is essential to tame the Hindutva

In Uttar-Pradesh BSP has experimented one thing today. Brahmins and other upper castes have joined the party and became ministers and senior bureaucrats. There is hardly any Dalit officer close to Mayawati in charge of her office in Lucknow, which is a shocking reality. Now, most of these upper castes have joined the BSP without losing their identity. Whether they agree to the mission of Baba Saheb or not is not their concern. They joined BSP to save their interest and use this opportunity to strengthen them. Strengthening caste identity should not mean that we forget the racist nature of Hindu society. Strengthening caste identity does not mean that we follow the system given by the Brahmins and which was termed by Baba Saheb as graded inequality. It is this graded inequality injected the Manusmriti which has resulted in Brahmin playing the sole arbitrator of our disputes. It is this graded inequality, which does not allow the caste to come together. It is therefore important that caste identities are treated as per and used in terms of different ethnic identities and not a basis of exploitation, which has rightly been condemned by the author. The caste identities are strengthening our democratic process. I remember talking to a Muslim activist from Iran who was exiled. When I spoke her as why they not talk about each religion and target Islam only. I talked to her about Hindutva and the answer she gave was that India has such diversity of Gods, and Goddesses and caste and communities that it would be difficult for any one to impose one set of rules and laws. It is true that this diversity of caste and region has saved India from going to fascist way. Take for example the recent elections. Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan have strong Hindu undercurrent and violence against the minorities is very high in these states. While the state such as Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar have not seen much violence against minorities after the post Mandal transformation. Why? The answer is simple. The Dalit Bahujans in UP and Bihar knows well that the Muslims and Christians are their blood brothers. These political understandings of Dalit and Muslims have kept the Hindutva far away from revival. But in Gujarat, Rajsthan and Madhya Pradesh, there is very little assertion of Dalit Bahujan therefore they have become favorite hunting ground of the Hindutva. The Dalit and Bahujan are not proud of their community identity in these states. They are not politically mobile and there are no efforts to organize them at the ground level therefore giving the forces of Hindutva a free hand to hit at minorities.

Non-assertion of communities and apoliticisation has killed this aspiration to share power. As mentioned earlier, the Hindutva forces are powerful where the Dalit Bahujan have no political assertion and where they are hiding their own identities. Identity could be used to oppress and identity is the best tool in democracy to assert. In the past few years who are the communities dying of hunger and starvation? From my personal work among them, I can say, they are Mushahars, Bansfors, Kols, nomads, and tribals. Now, why are they dying of hunger? Because there is no assertion among these communities. Here their Jati become a symbol of oppression. They are oppressed because of non-assertion and non-political representation. In the absence of political assertion and representation, the religious thugs go and do the ‘charity’ work. Charity is never done to provide any body rights but to demean a community. The brahmanical charity can feed them for a few days but make them hate their identities.

It is here that caste thesis of VT Rajsekar is important. How do we ensure that even these minorities get a share in power structure? If we can provide them a share in our political structure and social structure on the basis of his population, it will ultimately give way for a social cohesion of Dalit Bahujan. Democracy is not majoritarian rule but it must ensure the minorities that they are safe and have space in mainstream structure. The minority among the Dalits remains unrepresented and therefore disgusted. This disgust is used by the upper castes easily to put them in fight against their own brethrens and therefore it is essential that while we strengthen caste identities we must condemn caste system and exploitation based on caste. We must not allow the brahmanical techniques to ruin the Dalit Bahujan Unity.

V T. Rajshekar’s book is an important milestone in caste debate. It has broken many myths and it has to be taken further. The important mention is caste as a nation. He has also broken the myth of nation hood and suggested that in the storm of Dalit Bahujan if the rights of a Brahmins are being denied, a true Ambedkarite would have to stand for the human rights of the individual. While, from the title of the book it looks as if the author is promoting rabid casteism yet reading it gives refreshing ideas.

Today when caste groups are behaving in primitive ways, I am sure an individual has to be saved from those who want to decide about every thing in the name of community identity. Despite caste identities, individuals take different route and go beyond their castes, and therefore become an issue in the communities. We have seen how the Hindutva gangs have terrorized the youths who married in different communities. Caste identities are good to assert and linkage to our culture and a way to stop the march of the Hindutva but at the same time they cannot be allowed to behave in the brahmanical fashion to decide about our future. That would be the most dangerous part. As I mention caste identity must not be allowed to oppress and exploit. If caste identities are based on equality, I am sure there will be more inter community marriages in future but if they remain confine to their self made beliefs that one is higher than the others, the greatest ‘gift’ the notorious Brahmins gave, then I am afraid mere assertion of identities will only strengthen the brahmanical system, though it may eliminate Brahmins as a community and might be replaced by others but at the end the ideas thrown by the Brahmins would always remain intact. The author has himself suggested that we must eliminate caste system based on hierarchical values of the Manu Smriti and once we do it, all the caste will be equal even when they have diverse profession and then there would be no violence even if two individuals crosses their own community line to get married. This is an excellent book and the debate must go further including the democratic rights of an individual with in the castes and how castes should follow their own customs and traditions leaving the dependence on Brahmins for every rituals. That would ultimately eliminate the brahmanical domination in our daily life.

Caste: a nation with in the Nation
recipe for a bloodless revolution
Author: V.T.Rajshekar
Published by Books for Change, Banglore
Rs 140/-
Pp : 121
Available in Hindi also.