Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Land Reforms in India

Janadesh for a National Land Policy

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Thousands of tribal and Dalits who started their march under the banner of Ekta Parishad, from Gwalior on October 2nd, 2007, were not allowed to step out of the Ramlila grounds in Delhi. It was unfortunate that the government did not allow them to vent their voice at the parliament house, the Panchayat of our democracy. Minister for Rural Development, who has been well respected for some of his ministry’s project came to the meeting to announce that the prime minister has agreed to a number of the demands raised by Ekta Parishad and has decided to form a committee under his chairmanship. Those of us who have been observing this government’s policies know well that to get rid of a people politicians easily promise something for instant release which they later on forget. Ekta Parishad had demanded special courts for land settlement, which is actually very important given the fact that most of the land related cases in India have ended up in court cases. The second demand was implementation of the forest act, which is on the process and will definitely be challenged by the environmental lobby in the Supreme Court. Land is a state subject and hence it is difficult for the government at the center to promise anything. At the moment when the central government look meek while the state government and its bosses there are becoming more powerful, one will have to see the real agenda of the government and its promises. How will the central government convince the state government on the land redistribution agenda?

One need not to be an expert here to explain that the current phase of instability and violence in India is land related. The government of India knows well that deaths, by the Naxal violence in India is much higher than the so-called terrorist violence. Over 130 districts in India, mainly Chhatishgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Uttar-Pradesh, and Maharastra are under the Naxal influence. Naxal violence in two tribal states of India, Chhatishgarh and Jharkhand is unabated and growing day by day. Now, they are targeting the police and paramilitary forces. Just two days back, the son of former chief minister was shot dead in Jharkhand. Such violence will not stop unless the government introspect what is wrong with its policies.

The alienation of tribal and Dalits from their land is the biggest challenge that India face today and the government should understand it in right spirit. Not only the new economic regime where Special Economic Zones ( SEZ) have been created all over India has been exploitative of the nature but also our own indigenous caste system, which considered the Dalits and tribals racially inferior. So the battle of land in India is two fold. One external where you have the powerful corporations, multinational companies, big private companies in India and the internal forces of the upper caste elite which has hijacked every sector including the civil society and intellectual space. It is here the trouble start with the land movement. Some time, the issue of local exploitation of Dalits and tribal is relegated to backstage as the upper caste leadership in the movement only presents the politically correct external aggression. Hence SEZ and other colonization is an easy trap for all those who ignore the caste prejudices and violence on the Dalits and tribal.

For the government, both things come handy. At the moment they continue to invite big corporations to enter Indian forest and have no rehabilitation policy. In the mad rush for investment we have killed tribal habitat without really providing any alternative for their livelihood. The central government is expecting more than 300000 crore’s investments from SEZ. It says that it will create nearly 3-4 million new jobs. So far the government has notified about 133 SEZ and it expect 229 more soon. So far more than 48,000 hectares of land has been acquired for the SEZ. The government claim that about Rs 43,133 crore’s investment has already come been received and over 35,000 people have got jobs. One does not know how many people lost their livelihood and how many of these jobs went to the Dalits, tribal and other marginalized communities. Government’s SEZ policy has openly been criticized by IMF an institutions which all our neo-liberal governments look for guidance. Now, the violence is still a part of life in Nandigram (west Bengal) and Kalinganagar tribal have not forgotten the sacrifice of their fellow brothers and sisters when they opposed the Tata plant in the area. Struggle of the Narmada displaced tribal is still going. One must not feel amused at the government’s response to form another commission given the nature of our political parties to announce louder things before the elections. Madhya Pradesh government has on record said in the Supreme Court that there is no land available, which could be given to the displaced people. Now, if Madhya Pradesh, which is one of the biggest states of India and where a fairly large number of land is vacant, says that it has no land to be given to tribal, what would be the condition of other states. How will states of Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Orrissa and Rajsathan going to act on this where thousands of acres of land has been occupied by the powerful caste forces.

Two years back, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed a committee headed by noted economist Arjun Sen Gupta to look into condition of work and promotion of livelihoods in unorganized sector. The committee submitted it’s finding on July 7th, 2007. Some of the findings of the commission are actually a stricture against the government’s own neo liberal policies. It says ‘, as on January 2005, the total employment in the Indian economy was 457 millions, of which the unorganized sector accounted for 395 million, or 86% of the total workers. Of the 395 million unorganized sector workers, agriculture accounted for 253 million and the rest 142 million are in non-agricultural sector. The commission has estimated the total number of unorganized/informal workers at 423 million, of which 395 millions are in unorganized sector and 28 millions in the organized sector.’

Shockingly, the more bare factors of India shining comes in point number 7 of the report which says,’ over the decades while the percentage of the population below the poverty line has come down, in 2004-2005, 77% people, totaling 836 million, had an income less than twice the official poverty line or below Rs 20 per day per capita. These are the poor and vulnerable segment of the Indian population. About 79% of the unorganized workers, 88% of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes, 80% of the OBCs and 84% of the Muslims belong to this category of the poor and vulnerable. Contrary to the trend in the number of people below the official poverty line, the number of people in this segment has steadily increased over the years.’

Recently, I had an opportunity to see a document of European Union-India bilateral trade. I was shocked to see one of the findings that National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme ( NREGS) which ensures 100 days employment to rural poor, as an alternative to land redistribution. That would be a great mistake, if such anti poverty programmes were considered as a replacement to land reforms, which have historic roots world over. Just Six months back when I walked through several district of Uttar-Pradesh, nearly 400 kilometer for Land, Dignity and Freedom, the issue of special courts for land was one major issue demanded by the people. Other point came was the NREGS is not an alternative to land reform as it has failed to reach the people and also does not ensure employment to them. Thirdly, it was also pointed out that most of the communities who are dying of hunger are actually landless and fourth important point was that root cause of atrocities on the Dalits was their struggle for land rights. But today the Minister Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh’s answer in the Ramlila ground reflected this mindset in the government, which want to convince us that if there is NREGS, we should not demand for the land rights of the people. The argument the government make is that land holding is now reducing, family growing and we must not press it further to a condition of impossibility. That is a dangerous argument and can not bring peace in the country.

The activists for land rights are the victims of state oppression. Last month, two women land right activists were arrested by the Uttar-Pradesh police for ‘inciting’ the tribal under the charges of NSA, though these charges were later withdrawn. Increasingly, the governments have failed to respond to the question of land alienation of the Dalits and tribal and the voices of dissent are being scuttled through various means, by cooption or coercion. Nandigram, Kalinganagar, Khammam etc reminds us that people will not sit silently and will not even wait for NGOs to guide them. They will pick up their own issues and fight with the state if land issue is not resolved. Ironically, Chhatishgarh government arrested Dr Binayak Sen, a very respected human rights activists on the charges of helping the Naxal. Dr Binayak Sen’s problem was that he was raising the issue of human rights violation of tribal who were victims of police atrocities. So, we can understand how the governments in different states of India are treating the activists fighting for land rights and how are protest for land rights are being seen. This attitude needs change.

Often the government has maintained that land is state subject and their hands are tied. However, it reflects the mindset of those in power. Land Ceiling act has never been implemented properly. The Zamindari Abolition Acts have so many loopholes that it became virtually redundant in state like Uttar-Pradesh. There has been no land reform in Bihar. The situation in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh is alarming. Karnataka, Andhra, Tamilnadu, Kerala are already opening up themselves for the big companies. States like Orrisa, Chattishgarh and Jharkhand have gone ahead with wooing the investment without taking care of the vast tribal population. The result is now growing resentment against the government policies duly exploited by the Maoists and Naxalites.

The Arjun Sen Gupta committee clearly mentioned that the current economic policies of liberlisation and globalisation have not helped the poor. It has specifically mentioned government’s policy on SEZ, rehabilitation due to dams, urban planning by displacing millions of urban slum dwellers as some of the areas of concern.

Over 1.31 crore people are landless as per the government owns figures from the Ministry of Rural Development. These families as per the information, do not have even land for their own habitation. Most of the people who construct their houses or clusters are basically living on either the communal land or at the mercy of the other. The Uttar-Pradesh’s government recently passed a notification that all the Dalits who have possession of any communal land till May 13 2007, will be given legal entitlement for that land. The problem is how many Dalits have possession of the village communal land? Hence such announcement from the government look nice on papers but do very little to alter the situation at the grassroots.

Apart from the impact of displacement and land acquisition, which are policies, based issues,
One of the major hindrance in the land distribution of the land is the non existence of the
implementation of Land Ceiling Laws. We all know most of the biggest farmers politicians of
India has huge land, which they cannot acquire but which is benami. Those of us who have
been in the land rights movement for last 15-20 years have seen how even the Supreme
Court’s order are mis-interpreted and misused by the governments and it’s implementing
authorities with close association of the rural power elite. Hence the Dalits and tribals who
are victim of India’s racist caste structure have no chance of getting land unless land ceiling
act is implemented. This is because many states are now stating that there is no land
remained for redistribution. Most of the access land is in the hands of powerful farmers
Communities, which are politically very mobile and physically violent. It would be difficult to
seize land from Jaats, Gujjars, Rajputs, Bhoomihars, Bramins, Kurmis, Reddy’s, Thewars,
Marathas and Yadavas. These are the powerful communities in different parts of India. We have seen these racial prejudices of Indian political class in Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar district where 1164 hectare of the ceiling land was not redistributed to Dalits but wrongly went to immigrants Sikhs from Punjab who paid hefty sum of bribe to local powerful bureaucrats and political leaders. Nobody has power and courage to take on the powerful people who have huge farmhouses in Tarai region and who have kept the tribal as bonded in their own land. The governments definitely have no spine to seize that land.

Since the major drive to redistribute land under ceiling legislation; from about 1972-73 government estimates indicate that about 26 lakh hectares has been appropriated for redistribution from their erstwhile owners. Of this 8 lakh hectares is still undistributed due to on-going litigation and has not been given to landless beneficiaries. The government has signalled its intention to establish fast-track courts to deal with such cases and has indicated that it will specifically expedite the distribution of these 8 lakh hectares. These data are also doubtful. One more important factor is the Bhudan land. Most of the land acquired under Bhudan never reached the rural poor. We found that people have taken back their land after several years. A large number of lands were acquired by NGOs, big CBOs as well as for Ashrams, Gowshalas (cowherd). One need to remind the government that India would be the only country where land can be had in the name of religious book. There is no ceiling on farmland, land for temples, mosques or Gurudwaras; therefore people have used this strategy to evade land-ceiling laws. The NGOs, social movements do not speak on these politically incorrect things as it exposes their own deeds. There is need to take a hard stand on these issues as we continue to hear from government and authorities that there is little land. There is lot pretence as where is land? One does not understand why the government is unable to establish fast track courts for the land disputes particularly where the land ceiling act has been evaded and challenged.

Interestingly, according to government’s own figures; there is more than 50 laky hectares of
Public owned land that can be redistributed. This land can be delivered to landless
households; with an aim to distribute at least 0.5 hectares to each landless household. While
the government recognises that this may not be enough to turn landless households into
Surplus producers of food grains or other crops, it does believe that it will deliver some
Security and improve the social position and bargaining power of the landless in the
countryside. With the government already promised to give the tribal 5-hectare of land from
the forest, there is an increasing pressure to give the land to Dalits also. Problem with the
current regime is that it want to promise even moon to every one even when that might not be
possible. It is unable to offend the local ruling elites in the villages. It does not want to
capture land from the power elite. It does not want to offend the business, as it want to see its
sensex zooming. It wants to clean the Delhi streets for the common wealth games. It wants to
enjoy everything and therefore when the issue of Dalits and tribal are concern, it just
promises more so that people go home satisfactorily. It also want to tell the people before the
next election that the land redistribution is on its agenda.

If this government can not impose ceiling laws, how is it going to seize land from the
Possession of the powerful rural elite? What will it do? Good, Prime minister has decided to
head the commission for Land Reform, which India persistently sidetracked. Every time,
there was demand for land redistribution, the government would always say, it is a state
Subject. However whenever issue of land acquisition came, government did not hesitate in
doing so on an urgent basis. Land Ceiling has virtually been abolished. Central government
was keen to amend Land Acquisition Act to help the big companies acquire huge track of
land. In state like Andhra Pradesh, government both the current regime and previous one of
Chandra Babu Naidu went overboard to side track the historic Samata Judgment of the
Supreme Court, which clearly stated that the forestland in the agency areas of the tribal could
not be given for mining to multinational corporations without the permission of the local
tribal Panchayats. The government’s have always handled the issue with out any sensitivity.

Today, India is at war with its own people. Thousands of people have died in the land related
Violence and the government want to inform us that this is a law and order issue. Sorry, Mr
Prime Minister, if the onslaught on the livelihood of the dalits, tribal and other marginalized
continues, I am afraid, the forces of the war will win. Hope the prime minister and his
cabinet will keep their promise to millions of people of the country that there government
is serious on the issue of land redistribution and most important of these would be implement ceiling laws effectively without any prejudices and biases and disallow land in the name of religious trusts, Gaushalas. Let them also face-ceiling laws.

Land Rights in India are broader issue, not only region and community wise but also perception wise. Earlier it was mainly an issue raised by the left groups, later the Dalit and tribal organizations had it on their agenda. It is important to understand that no one organization can claim to represent India and its vast masses. It would be suicidal for the government to develop a coterie in the name of land rights. It need to open the debate on a broader level and run this debate throughout the country, otherwise, the issues would remain the same and nothing concrete could be achieved. At the moment, thanks to Ekta Parishad’s March the land agenda seems to have hit the media headline. Hopefully, they will not forget it later. One is sure that government too will be willing to broaden its debate and involve multiple players working on the land rights in different parts of the country so that diverse views could be debated before arriving at any decision.

Monday, October 01, 2007

In Conversation with Mr Bhagwan Das

‘It is good to break and bad to continue with a tradition that has subjugated the Dalits’

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Mr Bhagwan Das is one of the most reputed scholar on Ambedkarism and the issue of Human Rights of Scheduled Castes. Widely traveled, Mr Bhagwan Das has spoken at various national & international platforms on the conditions of Dalits in India and what is the best way of their emancipation. In freewheeling conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat, he speak of the state of Dalit movement as well as political parties in India.

Please tell us about your childhood? Being son of a sweeper, what hurdles and obstacles you faced with and how did your father react to them.

My childhood was different. My father came from well off family. After the death of his father, differences occurred in the family and he came to live near Simla. He was not educated, as he could not go to school. My father worked as a sweeper in the post office. He had a house of his own and saved money regularly. He loved reading and had deep interest in Ayurveda. He took special care to educate my sister and me. A Maulvi was kept to teach us. So it was different unlike other untouchable families of time where education was not considered important. He was financially well off and spend most of the time with his books.

In my native village untouchability was practiced in turning on the taps. The barbar did not cut my hair; we could not enter a temple. We had to ask Hindu boys to give us water whenever we had to drink it but since my family was well off, we did not face any difficulty in this regard.

How did you come in touch with Dr Ambedkar?

Dr Ambedkar, then a labor minister visited Simla. I had read about Ambedkar particularly reading Urdu newspapers. He was our harbinger of Hope. We did not anything about him except all anti Ambedkar campaign in Congress papers was the same as in Hindu papers. The only exception I found Ambedkar in Hindi newspapers was Kranti by Sant Ram BA.of Jaat Paat Todak Mandal.

I went to meet him for the first time as I waited for him for three hours because I was first a boy, all the people holding important position came and went away, At 7 pm I was taken inside his house. He looked at my face. I did not go to ask for anything from him but he said ‘ What do you want?’ “ I do not want anything, as I was already employed, I said. I told him about my family and about my applications. In 15 days, I got a letter of appointment. This time my boss was a Muslim. It was surprising that I found that most of the Muslims were terribly against me. Some of the Hindus were very helpful and progressive. Some of them were South Indian Brahmins and I found them quite progressive but Matlab Hussain, my immediate boss, had some complaint against me as I was overburdened with my work. I used to work till 7.30 pm. Everybody tried to exploit me. I left that job and joined Indian Air Force. I did not want to join army but navy appealed to me.

I was again selected for further training to UK but I had to deposit Rs 5000/- which I could not do that and left Air Force in 1946 and went back to my family in Simla. There I was working with Scheduled Caste Federation and I came across very progressive people belonging to the communist parties, and one very progressive in the party was Kameshwar pandit. There we read a lot of Marxist literature and also learnt about Chinese experiment. I read about Mao Se Tung but who appealed to me was Le Su Tse.

We used to hold study circle meeting. I was staying at Seva Nagar, in Delhi. It was a peon’s house where I stayed for two years, as I could not afford a better one. Then I shifted to Lodi Colony with a friend who was an ex communist. He was thrown out of the party. He had been a whole timer. He was very fond of reading, not just Marxist literature but general reading. Later, I was allotted house in Sarojini Nagar.

Here, I came in touch with Mr Shiv Dayal Singh Chaursia, a backward caste person and a few others who were working with him in the movement. I used to spend out time in Gandhi Peace Library. Chaurasia wrote a note of dissent in the backward classes commission. He took me to show the note of dissent, which was actually drafted by me to Dr Ambedkar. Dr Ambedkar did not have a high opinion about that note. He asked to keep the note for his comment but started putting questions about me. He had forgotten that he had met me earlier. I spoke most of the time in English and offered to work for him. It was three days in a week to which he agreed. Some times, he wanted to information/abstract about certain books for which I used to go to Library. But after the work was over, I used to sit with Dr Ambedkar for 10 minutes and put my questions.

What would you discuss with Dr Ambedkar? What would he say to the issue of such as conversion as he was promoting a particular idea of embracing Buddhism? What actually was your position on it? Why should not we convert to any other faith of our choice? Unfortunately, caste system goes along with you even after conversion? What choices do we have to save us from the oppression and exploitation of caste system?

One of the questions was on Buddhism as he was always asking us to embrace Buddhism. I asked that I could not enter a Buddha Vihar. How do you say Buddhism is better than any other religion? I have been to Burma, seen Tibetan Buddhism but have not come anything worthwhile. Study is different but as long as social practice is concern, I do not find anything different in it.” Ambedkar replied, ‘all you said might be right whether I studied Buddhism or not. Now onwards it would not happen again. Since I studied a lot books on Buddhism and since I studied books on religion particularly Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikkhism, Kadianis etc, but Marxism and Buddhism attracted me the most. About Sikhism, I have a very poor opinion. I came close to them because I was teaching two children belonging to them. One of the students father was a doctor, who used to invite me to Gurudwara. I used to go there. Then there was one festival on which they had a langer (community meal) in the Gurudwara. One man asked the doctor; ‘you are making us eat with the Churas and Chamars.’ It was a shocking experience for me in the Gurudwara. After it I studied Sikhism and found that they had 10 Gurus, all belonging to the Khatri caste, none married outside their own parental castes and the fourth guru included teaching of Ravidas, Kabir and others in the Guru Granth Sahib but in practice Sikhism is no different from Hinduism. If a convert comes from Carpenter community, he is a Ramgarhia, if is he a convert from scavenger then he is a Majhabi, if he is a convert from liquor seller then is an Ahaluwalia. Where is the caste system gone? If goes from the front door and comes back from windows. They never started a movement to condemn caste system. After that incident, I never went to a Gurudwara.

I was still critical of Buddhism but felt that if untouchable continue to follow the religion they have been following then there was no chance of their ever unifying. If Hinduism is preaching untouchability against their castes, these castes themselves practice untouchabiliity among themselves. Now for instance, if you go to a Chamar, he looks down upon sweeper and if you go to a sweeper, especially in north India to those who calls themselves as Balmikis, they will never do anything with Helas, doms and Mehtar. Because Valmiki movement started in 1930s and mainly started by Arya Samajis because they were converting to Christianity. One person Tetar was asking the Christians to convert them but the upper caste priests were not ready to convert them for the fear of losing the other people from the church.

Upper castes converted to Christianity after 1857. There were Muslims, Hindus who became Christians when the missionaries started converting the untouchables. They too had started going to church but the Holy Communion was a problem. The upper castes started their prayer meeting in the morning and the untouchables were told to conduct their church meetings in the afternoon. So Kashmir gate church had two services, one in the morning and other in the evening for untouchables.

I also found that people who were converting to Buddhism was just for the namesake. It is unique to India that even after leaving your religion and embracing the other religion they stick to their castes. You cannot get rid of your caste. Unfortunately, a majority of those converted to embrace Buddhism were Mahars hence Mangs were looked down upon by the Mahars as they did not bothered about Chambhars.

What were your impressions about Baba Saheb Ambedkar when you first met him.

My father used to talk proudly about him. The thing which impressed me very much when I first met him was his love for learning and second his character which was immaculately clean, his worst enemies could not charge him on this front and third his commitment to the cause of untouchables. But when I was working with him in the labor ministry, I found his involvement in developing this country. He sent six Scheduled Castes to UK who later held important positions in the central ministry. Besides the SCs, he was interested in the industrialization of the country after the British left.

A lot has been written about Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. Many Dalit intellectuals interpreted it as his anti Marx philosophy. Where does Ambedkar Stand on Marx?

He was not anti Marxist but against dogmatic people because the books written by Dange and other upper caste elite Marxists did not appeal to him. But he studied Marxism seriously and also the labor movement of UK. He was much interested in modernizing India and that is why he introduced this thing when he was labor minister. If you go to his writings in parliament, it has inclination for progressive and modern thinking and that is a common link between Nehru and Ambedkar and which writers have not highlighted, as they have not done independent research. They had much respect for each other. Ambedkar was not a great admirer of Nehru when he joined the government but when he had opportunity to interact with Nehru he opinion was very much different.

What is your reaction to the state of Dalit Movement today? There are so many republican parties as well as different caste based organizations. Then there is political philosophy of BAMSEF and BSP. What do you think is the future?

When Ambedkar entered the field he started Independent Labor Party and in that he not only had untouchable leaders but leaders from other communities such as upper castes who joined the movement and the party. In 1940 he felt that it was not enough so he formed Scheduled Castes Federation and it was exclusively for the untouchables of India. After India’s independence he felt that SCF was meaningless hence he started Republican Party of India and it was not a party exclusively for the SC people. He wanted to broaden the base and take up the economic cause for advancement of India but people who took over the leadership of RPI did not understand him and did not want to follow him. They wanted RPI for caste mobilization and hence it split on caste lines. Today there are so many wings of RPI that you do not even know.

You have been critical of BAMSEF? What were the basic differences that you found with them?

BAMSEF is not a political party. It says it is backward, SC and minority employees’ federation. If it is an employee federation than it is not a political party. BAMSEF was actually started by some people in Poona. They say we are trying to raise the consciousness of the people but how can a party, which has no political ideology and progrmme do that. But even today, strictly speaking it is not a political party. It is still utter confusion and now it has got spilt into three. And each speaking its own language and frankly speaking dominated by Chamar community in certain areas. In some areas of Vidarbha, it is dominated by the Mahars. It does not have an all India appeal because to organize SCs is not an easy job because they are divided into more than 800 castes. And there are castes and sub castes. Cast rivalry in there. Chamars are divided into more than 60 castes while Sweepers are divided into 12 castes. Valmikis are dominating the sweeper community but they cannot carry Dhanuks, Hellas, Doms and others with them.

So Dalit movement became a movement of a few enlightened castes. When I started Ambedkar Mission movement, I asked in writing that one member of the family must marry outside his/her parental caste. That is the only way to show that you work against casteism. In my case, I have relationship with 67 communities including Malas, Dhanuks etc. If you do not do it and then what is the use of saying that you want to break it?

What has conversion changed for the Dalits? One great Dalit cultural icon blamed conversion for taking away the revolutionary spirit from the community.

It is good to break and bad to continue in the tradition that has subjugated you. It is also important to understand whether it take away the revolutionary spirit or not. It is lack of understanding. Look at this way, if you continue to divide on caste lines you can never become a strong force. All Shudra castes are divided. And atishudras are hopelessly divided because of reservation as it gave opportunities only those which one enlightened made use of reservation and not others. In western UP, it was Jatavs who were the business and lay out number of educated people actually monopolized the jobs. What about others? In case they continue to remain in their communities/cast and not broaden their base, there is no hope. Second, here you are strengthening Hinduism, a religion which has exploited you because in ceremonies such as marriages, cremations, festivals, Mundans, you are following them and strengthening it. You are not strengthening yourself. In case the Dalit embrace other religion what will happen? They embraced Christianity but maintain caste. They embrace Islam and maintain caste because Islamic society is divided into three main castes Ashraf, Ajlaf and Afjals. Ashrafs are Shaikhs, Syed, Mughals and Pathans who came with invaders and they looked down upon people who converted here who were Ajlaf. And the third category people were the working class people; the lower castes and untouchables who converted to Islam were termed as Afjals. Today Butchers ( Khatiq) converted and claim that he is a Quraishi because they came from outside. Julaha is an untouchable caste but after conversion he claims himself as Ansari who came from Ansar. This fact remains despite all claims that Muslim society remains divided into three castes and there is no inter marriages. Christianity, Islam and Sikhism have failed because they were sticking to the originality of religion, presence of God and a book, which was allegedly created by God.

If people continue to be divided on caste line then what is the future? Religion is nominal or little value for the people. They stick to it mostly for political reasons, not because it gives them identity and history but majority of people who are forced into different religions, they only use it for marriages and burial. Nothing wrong with it. Dr Ambedkar thought, we need a revolutionary change and for that religion has to be changed. It needs to be on reason, compassion and brotherhood. He studied Buddhism and as Lord Buddha said towards the end of his life that there is no place for God. He wanted happiness of the people too. Unfortunately, the leaders of Buddhism were not able to carry that message. They maintained caste and at the same time call themselves as Buddhist.

What is the status of Dalit movement today?

Unfortunately, the movement never reached the agrarian communities. Dr Ambedkar chalked out a programme to reach 70% of our population, which lives in villages and was treated by the dominant communities very badly. If it is Marathas, Kunbis in Maharastra, it is Jaats and Gujjars in UP. He thought that Bengal is different. IN Bengal land went to Dalits because of reforms. Unfortunately, the leadership of the movement came from the urban areas. Educated, semi educated people took over the leadership of the movement. The movement did not go beyond that. Some people tried to educate people in the villages but working in the villages is very different, because society there is horizontally and vertically divided and land holding community is the worst enemy. What Ambedkar did was that he gave a call to the people to migrate to the cities. So the people who could not face situation in the rural areas migrated to urban areas but then the situation differs in every state.

In southern states the situation is slightly better in the sense because land was owned by the Brahmins and they have been thrown out in South but in the North India the land was not owned by the Brahmins but by the other people. They are the middle communities and became Hinduised. The village movement of landless people has not been initiated by RPI. They had it in their programme but it was never promoted because most of the leaders came from cities who were interested in winning reserve seats and used poor people for winning elections only.

Scavenger remains the lowest among the Dalits. How do you describe their condition today? What are the impediments in their development?

It is not a community itself. It is divided into 12-14 castes. But in South the division is not that bad. In Andhra Madigas who are basically Chamars but 7 castes among them work as scavengers hence the division is not that strict and harsh as in North India. Most of them are employed under the municipality, cantonment boar, and station staff offices. They have long traditions of people exploiting them and promoted as Jamadars in their department. Inspite of the fact that it is a lowly paid occupation, people pay bribe to get jobs even in Delhi you have to pay bribe to get job under MCD.

Unfortunately, efforts have not been made to unite the sweepers. Why? Because you took up the cause of one particular area and you choose a leader from these quarters. Others are working as private quarters in Mohallas under the bridge system. In this system you work under several masters, get left over food, old cloths, food on marriage or any other festivals so it is not but several local masters.

If they unite for economical weakness, they do not remain so for long. That is why the sweepers and scavengers even today remains to be one of the poorest and backward communities. One reason is leadership, second is economic and third is your locality. And this job does not need hard work. It is definitely a dirty work and looked down upon by every body. These factors resulted in many problems, like drinking and wasteful expenditure. Hindusiation has weakened them as they imitate. Efforts have not been made by different people and leaders to unite different castes and make them acquainted with the programmes of the government. Even the commissions have not been able to do that. Educationally, they are backwards because drop out rate is very high. Efforts have not been made to spread education in these classes.

I have been associated with the movement from the age of 16. I have also been associated with labor movement. Unfortunately ambitious political people take benefit of ignorance and backwardness of these people. Right kind of people are now training the Dalits and giving leadership but unfortunately ‘illterate’ people with little knowledge are long in the way and I think there is hardly any organization free from these accusations- Congress, BJP and others.

I am happy with the new youngs writing about the movements. When I meet them in conferences and seminars, I feel there is hope, though it is not easy. The population of right thinking people is taking an upward trend. Could you ever imagine that the sweeper of Punjab would hold mass conversion for Buddhism. New trends are coming up. New kind of leadership is coming. Unfortunately they do not have the mean to support them.

Political Power is the Master Key

Well, there was time when Baba Saheb Ambedkar said that. When you speak to different kind of audience’s particularly political leaders, it makes sense. But you will also have to get rid of the weakness with in the society. He also said promotion of education. What is being done on that side? It is wrong to say that he laid emphasis on political power. Political power with out right kind of ideology means nothing. I think people are misquoting Ambedkar that political power is the master key. He might have been speaking at Scheduled Caste Federation and with political leaders. But why we not talk about his other work. It is not enough.

Globalization has banged on our door. There are movements against it in various parts of India. Many of our friends have written positively on it suggesting that it would benefit the Dalits. Your take on it.

This government would have different complexion, if we had the 10% people in the civil services. Now with the judgment of the Supreme Courts they are going to suffer more. in the years to come. This globalization does not get attraction by the weaker section, at the moment. But then if in the globalization, the international movement on the issue of Dalits is properly handled, then even here in globalization they can have a share, if it is correctly done. Globalization has a political model and an economic model and it leads to empowerment but behind these ideas are people who want to solve their problems, find the market, create new market and create new classes. In western countries people are trying to create consciousness and awareness in the down trodden communities to develop leadership.

Dr Ambedkar was a truly humanist leader of our time but it look different castes have made him look like as if he was a caste leader. How do you describe Ambedkar?

He was a rationalist in thinking with the interest of SCs in mind. He never considered British to be the friend. But he got an opportunity because British wanted to expand the elected council but they elected other progressive people also. I think he was the most capable and learned person among his contemporaries. He had economic programmes which he could implement through Ministry of labor which was considered as orphan Ministry and through that he tried to promote industrialization of India and tried to create a class of the technically trained people. No body had done that earlier.