Friday, July 25, 2008

Democracy : by the poor for the 'bigger'

A no confidence in current form of Parliamentary democracy

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

There have always been debates on which is the right form of governance for India: a presidential form of government or Parliamentary system adopted from the British. It is not that only two forms of governance are found world over and whatever be the constitutional provisions, in the end, it is the people, who are responsible make or unmake a system. Unfortunately, a society like India and when I say India, I include all in the South Asian region, is feudal and undemocratic in nature. Hence, how is it possible, that undemocratic people could make democracy successful? This question needs to be investigated and ponder over.

Dr Ambedkar when pressed for separate electorate for the depressed classes, feared that in the Parliamentary form of government, the voices of dissent would always be decried. It is a majority vote but majority can not always be right. Secondly, he feared that those who will represent the oppressed community might not be the ‘well-wishers’ of the community as they will be more bothered about getting votes of other communities, particularly if they are fighting from so called reserve constituencies, their worry would be more on focusing on other communities rather than their own. This will only create a leadership which would be corrupt and could easily be co-opted. Hence there was upper caste leadership of a majority of parties giving the Dalits ‘symbolic’ presence in their parties. Babu Jagjivan Ram and Dev Raj Urs were exception and immensely talented and committed politicians who rose to those heights despite all odds. However, they did not challenge the brahmanical supremacy and were part of parliamentary set up. Tamilnadu was the perhaps the only state where this ideological challenge to brahmanical system was open and in a more crude fashion.

It happened till 1990 before the wave of the Mandalisation process changed the political set up in the country and our parliament saw a virtual change in its demography as it was the dominance of Dalit Bahujan in the apex body of decision making. A new set of chief ministers and regional kshatraps took over the leadership who were more autonomous and blunt in their attitude and never really depended on the mercy of a power centre. We had likes of Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav who were rising high while Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav and others were ruling the state. Even in the Hindutva party of BJP, Kalyan Singh and others were enjoying their new found prominence. But one man was not in this entire scheme of things. Far away from the power brokers, he was silently making a revoluation in the villages and towns of India, waking the Dalits and spreading Ambedkarite perception. His name was Kanshi Ram. The Bahujan Samaj Party, that he formed actually could not succeed during his life time and remained confined to Uttar-Pradesh at large despite brave efforts to spread in states like Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. And he gave representation to those people who could never have even imagined to become even village Pradhan. It was a complete change from vote hamara raj tumhara to vote hamara raj bhee hamara philosophy. It changed the politics of Uttar-Pradesh so strongly that the brahmanical manipulators worked overnight to deconstruct the phenomena and break the multi caste alliance in Uttar-Pradesh. Ambition, egos created hurdles to further the cause of Dalit bahujans and the result is the reversal of strategies of two main political outfits from UP, mainly the SP and BSP. Both today target the upper castes who are enjoying this immense display of ‘affection’ from the Dalit Bahujans, as if they were dying for it from centuries.

The slogan of Dalit Bahujan grew up and we felt that leaders would do justice to their people. Instead they became Supremos and the distance from the party men and common man grew larger. We have more vehicles, armed commandos and power brokers surrounding them. These power brokers switch their loyalties according to those in power and their character was reflected very much during the no confidence vote in Parliament on July 22nd. But before that whatever happened not only shames us as Indian but will force us to think of whether we should really be proud of this democracy which is license to legtimise the illegitimate.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh smiled and the devotees of the high command danced in the street that their party has won the vote of confidence so that they can go further their grand international agenda, which once upon a time was the desire of saffron party.
The Hindutva party was talking of corruption that allegedly ‘purchased’ some of their MPs. The discussion was on nuclear deal which was an important issue as it will have long term impact on our foreign policy issue as well as internal maters. Unfortunately, it became a war between Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, his loud mouth deputy Amar Singh and Behenjee who came from Lucknow to ‘take over’ Delhi. And in this entire exercise whatever happened would make us ponder things whether this form of representative government and parties really help us or we are just happy that some one from us is ruling the country. The question remains whether the some one from us will remain some one from us or some one from them. That is the question.

The question I am raising is a bigger one. And it is not that we became worried by seeing a few member of parliament showing the displaying one crore rupees in parliament. That too is an issue but from the point of view of the Dalit Bahujan perspective, and what Ambedkar had perceived when he questioned the governance and sought protection and participation of the Dalits in the social set up.

Let us first come to what Ambedkar said about Indian democracy in an interview to Voice of America on May 20th, 1956. He asks this question whether there is a democracy in India and he says: ‘Democracy is quite different from a Republic as well as from parliamentary Government. The roots of democracy lie not in the form of Government, Parliamentary or otherwise. A democracy is more than a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living. The roots of democracy are to be searched in the social relationship, in the terms of associated life between people who form a society.’

What Ambedkar envisage and terms ideal are completely contrast to our political parties who are out and out there to hail their caste. As a Thakur MP of the BJP, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh switched his loyalty to Samajwadi Party, another one, Amar Singh said that he is a Kshatriya and never afraid of any one, he speak the truth, as if it is only his trait and all other communities are liars. But what Amar Singh was speaking was a deliberate attempt to create confusion and chaos in Uttar-Pradesh. With Dalits solidly behind Mayawati, Mulyam has to give a call for other communities to rally behind him. The problem in Uttar-Pradesh is not just caste identities but now sub stratification which is refusing to bring different Dalit communities together. Also there are many marginalized MBCs who need to be there are simply out. Hence the political mobilization in Uttar-Pradesh based on sub caste is becoming a self defeating exercise and will have wider consequences. Problem with identity and assertion is that they end up in creating a male dominance and a culture of hatred. Here Mayawati is definitely an exception. When the time was to sit together and discuss the issues, so much disbelief is bound to threaten the very cause of an egalitarian society which could be termed as democratic as Ambedkar perceived.

And to further his cause he points out: “The Indian society does not consist of individuals. It consists of innumerable collection of castes, which are exclusive in their life and have no common experience to share and have no bond of sympathy. The existence of caste system is a standing denial of the existence of those ideals of society and therefore of democracy. An Indian cannot eat or marry with an Indian simply because he or she does not belong to his or her caste. An Indian simply can not touch an Indian because he or she does belong to his or her caste.” Ambedkar questions the political system and how Congress party field its candidate and how they are selected carefully on the basis of their caste. Ambedkar says : “How does an Indian vote in an election? He votes for a candidate who belongs to his own caste and no other Further he considers caste system as a bane to democracy. ‘ Castes are not equal in their status. They are standing one above another. They are jealous of one another. It is an ascending scale of hatred and descending scale of contempt. The feature of caste system has most pernicious consequences. It destroys willing and helpful cooperation.”

Then formation of politics based on caste identities is relegating the basic issues and killing the individual concerns. Hence to come to power and attract more people, you just refuse to listen to your own people. While there is no doubt that Mayawati and BSP has got full support from her community in particular, the fact is that it is suffering in silence also. The prime ministerial posts, corporations etc are under the control of the bhudevtas. The same thing happened with Mulayam Singh Yadav who in technical terms should have been a friend of Dalits but unfortunately can not be given his track record, still being a farmer, his all efforts were to ignore Yadavas and attract the other communities. So, to remain at the top, the leaders are killing their second generation leaders. They do not get importance. Even when RSS made BJP, were the corporate honchos who were sitting with the party bosses in power. What I mean is that biggest fault of Indian democracy is its hypocrisy. Of course, like many, I too say that a bad democracy is better than any military dictatorship or a theocratic state yet if after fifty years of democracy, we have not been able to give justice to our communities.

Today, BSP is in power in Uttar-Pradesh. We all are happy and should rightly be so but what is the cost. You have got more than 65 Brahmins elected as MLAs and another 64 upper castes who had become redundant after the Mandalisation process particularly in politics. But today, they are the most sought after leaders. How can a villager, who has been exploited by these gangs, vote to same people, and simply because he has power to capture vote and the party has fielded him. Why are we denying individual his or her right to select people according her choice? Why can not we question their basic qualities? Why our leadership wants people to remain ignorant and worship them which Baba Saheb said would be damaging to the society as a whole. It is not that the Brahmins do not worship. They worship but then why should we follow their damn culture which has destroyed our culture and value system which was still much better and open in nature where individual had freedom to enjoy and life live of his own. Kanshiram’s slogan was virtually made redundant with the old philosophy of ‘vote huamara, top hamara baki tumahara. and this baki tumhara has created a lot of disquiet at the lower level as mafias, petrol pump owners, liquor mafias are the leader of the party but people still do not complain because those who have suffered for years, are waiting to see their leader in the position of the prime minister but whether it can change their fate or not does not matter.

Many of you saw the vote on the confidence Motion in Parliament. We heard speeches and found how politicians were organizing the press meets and happily claiming victory. A new alliance has been formed with BSP, left parties and other groups. One hope that the alliance will remain a long term friendship and will not disappear because change of commercial interest and political ambition of our leaders. In this age when politicians dine with you, sleep with enemy in the evening, come back to you for breakfast and vote on the motion once he is confirmed the deal as event showed, then we have to seriously think what exactly is empowerment of the community. Communities empowered through political process but unfortunately that has become highly apolitical. When left parties withdrew the support and Samajwadi Party decided to support the government, it was Amar Singh all the way on our television channel. Rajdeep Sardesai wrote an article how ideologies have become redundant and that the left has now become new ‘untouchable’. While, I have no love for CPM and its allies particularly not just because of Nandigram and Singur but because of the prevailing violence and discrimination against Dalits in West Bengal particularly against the immigrants scavengers in Howarah and Kolkata, one need to compliment them on the issue of nuclear deal, at least they were not party to government’s whims and fancies. They did not withdraw the support but were forced to do so. But question is different now. We have a UNPA and now Ajit Singh, Deve Gowda and Chandra Babu Naidu have expressed opinion that Mayawati is their ‘leader’. Actually, it does not mean that the upper caste supporters of these political parties will stop violence against Dalits. An alliance based on conviction is natural and long term but if it is on the basis of compulsion for survival then it would be damaging and defeat the purpose. All of them know the importance of Dalit votes in their states and want to have it at any cost. Despite their own parties virtually decimated in the states for their anti poor performances, they still feel to grab the chair in Delhi one day.

We might call it a strategy to reach the large segment or give it whatever name, it does not make any sense as long as the people who are victim remain the same as well those victimizing remain the same. If upper cast leadership used the Dalits for their purposes, the upper castes today are using Dalit Bahujan leadership for their own purposes. And that too when they are big mafias, who exploit our people, kill innocent lives and enjoy their freedom.

Yes, the most astonishing factor of the vote on the confidence motion was the MPs in the jail came voting. Facing with different charges, they were smiling and giving great sound bytes to television cameras. They never considered them criminal as ‘charges’ have to be proved in the court and nobody has power to do so. Not even state. During her previous tenure Mayawati taught Raja Bhaiya a lesson but her fight against corruption and mafias remain a matter of convenience as she targeted them according to their loyalty. Today, one man who joined BSP on the motion, was Atiq Ahmed, a member who won on Samajwadi Party ticket from Phoolpur constituency in Allahabad. Known for his ‘power’ in Allahabad region, Ahmed had allegedly been responsible for killing of a dynamic young Dalit leader Raju Pal from his own constituency. Raju Pal was an MLA. He was killed by the goons during the broad day light. Lot happened afterwards. As soon as Mayawati came to power, the police filed charges against Atik Ahmed and an Allahabad court issued non bailable warrant against him terming him as proclaimed offender. His property was attached and both he and chief minister Mayawati claimed that they face threat from each other. Interestingly Atiq Ahmed was arrested by Delhi police in August last year and then handed over to UP police. Though, Raju Pal’s widow Pooja Pal has won the Allahabad (West) seat, the question is how long will we compromise with those who are responsible to hit at our people at the ground, in the villages and small towns.

Hence, when somebody says that politics today has become non political, it reflect the grave reality. It has become a tool to legitimize everything that is anti people. Whether the criminals or other corporate interest, the common man, the committed activists remain frustrated. Where are the leaders with a vision and with pain and anguish of the community? We all feel proud of any one who is from one among us, if he or she reaches the height. It enlightens us, it gives us hope but when such situation comes, one wonder how is democracy functioning. In this democracy the biggest faith comes from the Dalits. It is they who votes in the largest number and elect our representative, but it is they who are betrayed. They elect leaders who later sale themselves and openly admit of bargaining and not for their community but for themselves and for children. They feel ‘our happiness is communities happiness and not the vice versa’.

Ambedkar had never envisaged this society. He talked of a Prabudha Bharat, an enlightened India. When we embrace his ideals we leave behind all those destructive and divisive brahmanical values which degrade us. Ambedkar, a man of dignity and modernity is again reminding us to create rebels who could question the injustice being done to them but also question. It is time to revisit the Poona Pact, and ponder over the warning what Baba Saheb had given to us, the ideals that he stood for and where do we stand. The perils of Parliamentary democracy were well-known to Baba Saheb and that is why he talked of separate electorate so that a responsible leadership is elected from the Dalit communities which do not succumb to upper caste lies and mischief. He was blackmailed to sign the Poona Pact and the rest is history. Baba Saheb himself became the first victim of the joint electorate system and could come to Lok Sabha from Bengal only. Though, some may feel this debate as outdated but given wide discontent in different communities which are still unrepresented in our system, is not it a time to ask for a responsible and accountable representation which could be proportionate to their numbers. Democracy can not go on become the mistress of corporate and mafias and doing all anti people things. It will have to rediscover it so that people do not have no confidence in the system itself. Prime Minister may feel happy but every right thinking person feel betrayed on the way things are moving. Before it reach cynical condition, its time to think over it and initiate a process.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Caste and Prejudices

Debrahmanise the Education’s holy cows

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Let me start this article with complimenting young Anoop Kumar, who has brought out a crude reality, the mess created by the caste prejudices in our educational institutions particularly those of higher learning. Anoop Kumar’s report on the conditions prevailing in Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, particularly in their treatment to Dalit students is actually not new. Those of us, who have been interacting with the Dalit students know well how these institutions are the domain of the brahmanical elites of India. We know how similar reports about IIT Powai also came out last year but passed as unimportant. Anoop Kumar need compliments for his work as it was timely and has helped highlight the issue of discrimination against Dalits at various level, particularly now at the centers of learning as Dalits are now challenging the brahmanical elite in their own caves.

Prior to the IIT’s discriminatory attitude, we had seen the prevailing conditions in AIIMS, India’s premier medical institutions which I renamed as All India Institute of Manuwadi Studies, as the students there were not really interested in learning and treating the patients but involved in controlling the institution. And one wonder why the Thorat
Committee report is pushed under the carpet which investigated the entire case of harassment of Dalit students in AIIMS. The way the anti reservation stir was created and publicized in the media shows how far the brahmanical mindset can go in denying the Dalits and other marginalized communities their constitutional guarantee as they rightly feel that once these institutions are debrahamnised, the hegemony of a particular caste will crumble and that is why such resistance against reservation.

It is also time to ponder as how just a few hours ago, the brahmanical friends of Dalits have been citing examples of the OBCs as being the real enemy of Dalits. Now time to think, whether, India’s elite institutions really have been debrahmanised. The Shudra slaves of the brahmanical system might be a cause of concern for the Dalits in the rural India but the fact of the matter is that they are no where in the institution of higher education and elsewhere to discriminate against Dalits. In these institutions of knowledge live the ‘soul’ of brahmanical order and they will go out and out to resist any changes in the structure in them.

Hence, it is time to take of their activities, expose their caste prejudices and use all methods that we have to debrahmanise them. These institutions dominated by the modern day Dronacharyas are a blot to civilization and time has come to make our final assault on them otherwise, they would never allow this to happen. They will use courts, media and even our political parties which want to look ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’ and are ‘interested’ in helping the ‘upper caste’ ‘poor’ students also. What should we do ? Expose them, unite all the oppress communities as hatred against them is common, push the agenda internationally also, send the reports to all international bodies like EU, American Congress, British Parliament and human rights bodies. Many nationalists would object to this, but definitely for us, when the media become a party to this whole
Nexus, it is important to make international community aware of such practices which still exist in India.

The games of brahmanical deception are bigger. They come through fake certificates in the name of Dalits to anything under the sun. that’s why transparency international finds India one of the most corrupt countries. Hence any one who is getting benefit under the quota for Dalits may not even be originally a Dalit. The case against an upper caste doctor in Delhi is still going whose ‘parents’ got him ‘adopted’ by his ‘Dalit’ servant. He did not know the game and signed things long back. So the upper castes are ready to become anything to get access to these institutions.

Even when the reservation never had an economic criteria and no body ever ask that the general seats should be filled with the poor students because the entire anti reservation debate is not based on merit but on total hatred and prejudice. It is an attempt to block the entry of Dalits into these institutions. If they enter by dint of their work, then they will be targeted.

About a year ago, our friend from United States send a general mail about a ‘poor’ Dalit
Student being kidnapped and kept as bonded in Badarpur area of Delhi. The mailer wrote a note that all the Dalits should help this guy from the clutches of the brahmanical forces. It was mentioned that this poor Dalit boy had done his MCA from Banarse Hindu University (BHU). The story goes like this that Mahesh hailed from a landless family near Faizabad. He had to take loan from some Vishwakarma ( MBC) for his education. Unfortunately, at the time of his final examination, his father fell ill and he had to further take the loan. Vishwkarma paid him the money but in lieu of it, he took the original certificate of this boy. When Manoj did not pay money, this man sold him to some truck driver in Delhi and since then he has been working as a bonded cleaner in the truck.

The contact number of this case was given. Out of sincerity, I decided to follow up the case by checking with a number of friends in Delhi. Since there was not much of information available about the person, I called Sanjay Chaudhury, our friend in Banglore, who was actually a friend of Manoj. Afterward, Sanjay became a dear friend. In him, I found a person really concerned about his fellow student friend. We both, kept in touch on phone and every day there was a new story coming up. Sanjay was passing me the vehicle numbers and I was becoming made contacting a few friends in the UP Police to find out. Sanjay too gave the details to a big legal luminary in Delhi who passed the information to UP’s police chief Vikram Singh. The police started calling me about it but they were too disturbed that every information that Sanjay or I was giving to them was turning out to be fake. For us this was a bad situation.

One day, I decided to put this information to some Dalit friends of BHU. I thought, it would be better to check with them the antecedent of Manoj and how come a person who has done his MCA, can be held like a mouse by a truck driver. All those police officers, I spoke to, actually felt that this person is absolutely of a brahmanical mindset, a slave. Our friend in BHU informed that Manoj was a very simple person but never really participated in Dalit programme. Ofcourse, the Dalit students used to collect funds for him to pay his fees because he was not in a condition to do so. I asked my friend Deepak Gautam, who is doing Ph.D. from BHU to investigate it separately. Let the police do the work, but let us also find out the details of this person, who he is and where he hails. In between Sanjay informed me that Manoj is not wanting the case to be pursued. I felt bad that for the past five six months, we had really felt disturbed because of his case, calling to different officials in UP, MP, Delhi and Chhatisgarh for help and this person has been telling us different stories and now he does not want us to follow. Something came up in my mind and I spoke to Deepak to go the Computer science Department and find out the details, the family of this boy. While the police was raiding different places and found that this person does not exist and all the addresses he has been giving us were fake. Our condition was becoming more embarrassing. Just when things were getting out of hand, Deepak informed me shocking news. ‘ Sir, Manoj was not a Dalit student, he was actually Manoj Pandey, and has betrayed us. For us the case was closed. I was keen the BHU Dalit student group file a case against him for forgery but nothing seemed to move.

The point I am mentioning here is how the Brahmins are ready to become Dalits, use their money and romanticize their poverty. Deepak informed me that University was not keen to pursue the case. Why will the university pursue a case against a Brahmin boy who has through forgery not only cheated the constitution but cheated the friendship of a number of his friends?

But the same facility is not available to the Dalits. Abhishek Priya Anand was a bright student pursuing a specialized course of Ph.D from National Law College, Raipur. A bright science student, Abhishek joined the university by dint of his merit and not through a quota. He completed his M.Phil on time. A change in the vice chancellor of the University changed his fortunes. The new vice chancellor, a shameless upper caste, never felt that he would be destroying the life of a bright student. He told Abhishek that the courses that he had applied for are not available in the University. Abhishek’s scholarship was also stopped. He complained to National Human Rights Commission. I filed the petition in the Commission but except for sending a show cause notice to the state, the Commission does not even know whether it has got the answer or not. These so-called autonomous bodies mean nothing for people who want justice. How long would a young boy wait for it. Today,. IIT’s students do not come out in open because they know that the teachers have the capacity to destroy their career. These modern day Dronacharyas want Eklavyas and modern day Dalit is not ready to follow the ideals of Eklavya. They are asking for their rights and share. The national institutions of repute could not save Abhishek. His vice chancellor threw him from the hostel for his blasphemous act of contacting the NHRC. Now, we talk so much but rarely find time for our fellow brothers. The person who fights the first hand knows it well that it is a difficult battle ahead. Abhishek dream of pursuing a Ph.D. lay shattered but then he is a dynamic boy and is pursing his dream from somewhere else. But not every one could be Abhishek. The family background of the youngsters shows that they can not wait for long. Parents want their children to send them money. They might not even know that their son or daughters pass through such a horrific test of life in these brahmanical institutions.

At every level there are such people who are out to harass the bright Dalit students. In 2001-2002, a bright young Engineer Jyoti Prakash Bishwas was harassed by his Bengali bosses on various charges in the PDIL Noida. Jyoti’s fault was that he was a bright engineer and could compete with any one outside the government. First, the officer charged him for dereliction of duty, simply because he responded to a caste remark made by the officer. Jyoti’s wife was a government teacher in Kolkata and precedence says that he should have been transferred there. Her medical expenses were rejected. Jyoti studied in the Rama Krishana Mission School in Kolkata so was still influenced by the Brahmanical values that time. He was tall and handsome and had never realized that he belong to ‘reserve’ category. After the harassment, he decided to quit the job and was getting offer in big multi national companies. The Brahmin bosses of Jyoti did not even allow him to resign. They were simply not pushing his application forward. Jyoti was a harassed person. I tried to help him out by investigating the matter through PUCL Delhi and submitting a report to NHRC and SC-ST Commission but nothing materialized. These commission can raise the political issues but when the life of a common person particularly a Dalit is concern, their officials behave according their castes.

Jyoti left Delhi. He decided to leave the job. We lost touch. He felt that these so called autonomous bodies are nothing but sham. The SC commission wanted a compromise because the connections of the higher up. He was frustrated man. But he still remembered me and used to send me greetings every year. One fine morning in 2004, I got a mail from him that He is happy with his children and wish me a happy new year. The most important point he mentioned was that he was going to Umra ( Haj), as he embraced Islam and became Abdur Rehman Vishwas. He was blunt that Indian institutions can not help the Dalits and their dignity whether we feel proud of our political class and political empowerment.

While One might not subscribe to the solution Jyoti offered in form of embracing Islam as it is entirely individual choices similarly as Baba Saheb embraced Buddhism, but Jyoti’s revolt against the system reflect he mindset prevailing over in our great institutions about the entire issue of representation of Dalits in our colleges, institutions and elsewhere. The teachers behave like defender of their caste, taking moral high grounds.

The institutions of higher learning are in control of this brahmanical elite and the religious rights of all variety are targeting Dalit and Adivasi children in to their educational system. Hence you find these Saraswati Shishu Mandirs in the rural areas. What is the attempt ? It is to catch you in the childhood and control the revolutionary spirit of a Dalit mind by pushing you to religion and religious practices. And that was the problem with religiousity as it converts you to nothing. Dalits battle for dignity is much bigger battle than a mere political one. It is the rejection of the murky world of brahmanical values which remain full of hatred, deception and betrayal. The war is multifaceted and can not be fought with corrupt political class which has been co-opted.

After the Mandal recommendation got implemented, a large number of Dalits and OBC students are qualifying there without using the quota but the UPSC is still pushing them in to quota bracket and therefore denying the others a right to enter. It is the fear of this elite that has made them respond like this. Initially they were blaming the Dalit Bahujan that these people lack merit, they can not compete with others but now when the students are topping the exams and entering into their domain through the merit defined by the brahmanical system itself, then they are bracketed into the OBC or Dalit category.

These unfortunately are the realities of Indian institutions. We have to get angry and ask questions. The power people of the Dalit community should unite and think of their own institutions in the similar terms of Christians and Muslims, to develop parallel institutions of excellence as Ambedkar tried in his last days, by sending Dalit scholars abroad and by starting educational institutions and libraries for Dalits in India itself. But then Ambedkar remained thoroughly committed to society and a man intellectually capable to hit the back bone if Brahmanism. Can we expect our friends to rise up the occasion and think on these lines? Debrahmanising the educational institutions is a must and for that Dalit not only should have alternative institutions so that their youngsters do not live in suffocation in these so called higher institutions, which actually are killing them inside, and making them lamb to be easily eaten by the power brokers and bhudevtas.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Understanding legacy of Periyar through a Dalit Bahujan perspective

Review Article

Is deepening contradiction between Dalit-Bahujan brahmanical manipulations of information and ideas

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Periyar was one of the greatest revolutionaries of our times, though he has not been acknowledged because of particular political reasons. Periyar, father of Tamil nationalism today is under attack from not only the Brahmanical forces but ironically this time; the instrument which they have used is through Dalit writings. Before we move to Periyar and his legacy, it is important to analyse the politics of two Indian states which are important to understand the great vision of Periyar and legacy of Dalit-Bahujan movement in India. Yes, Tamilnadu and Uttar-Pradesh, two very important states, one a Dravidian land as claimed by Periyar and the other the holy land of Aryavrat where government once did not bow to protesters demand for not allowing the statue of Periyar to be build. Though it looks ironic that Periyar who was an iconoclast could be turned into a demi God by his so-called followers.

Take the case of Uttar-Pradesh which today is being run by Ms Mayawati, the supremo of Bahujan Samaj Party, which once upon a time put the statue of Periyar in Lucknow despite all protests from the alliance Bharatiya Janata Party. Today, the irony is that Periyar’s name has again become an anathema for those in power in UP since the Brahmins objected to his writings and ‘Sachchi Ramayan’ is prohibited in the state. Those who want Taslima Nasreen to write everything about Islam, are afraid of the writings of a person which are already available in other parts of the country. Similarly in the Dravida land of Tamilnadu, politicians always used his legacy for their political gains. Periyar, who was ruthless as far as Brahmanism was concerned, was mocked by his own legatees who felt no shame in compromising with the Hindutva political groups. And Periyar’s revolutionary ideas were just converted to political rhetoric of monopolizing the state institutions in the name of social justice. The result is that the Adi Dravidas of Tamilnadu who need social justice and inclusion in the ‘national’ life of Tamilnadu feel betrayed and suddenly some of their leaders have got a common cause with Brahmins in degrading Periyar. How can Periyar be faulted for the follies of his so-called followers. How can Ambedkar be blamed if his caste man makes him their own copy write product.

Periyar was a revolutionary who felt that social empowerment and cultural changes should precede any political process. Unfortunately, his movement was thoroughly monopolized by those who had political ambition. In the name of social justice and anti Brahmanism, we saw another hegemony that ruled Tamilnadu. It was brutal without any ideological clarity. While it talked of injustice meted out to it by the upper castes, it still ignores the injustice done to Dalits. Is not it a shame that Tamilnadu’s powerful backward castes still not allow the Dalit Sarpanch to hoist the national flag? Is it not a shame that in many villages in Tamilnadu there is a virtual wall of separation between the upper castes and Dalits?

When Tamilnadu’s anti Brahmanism movement was failing to unite the OBCs and Dalits, similar things was happening in Uttar-Pradesh. Bahujan Samaj Party which claimed the slogan of Jiski Jitni Sankhya bhari, uskee utni bhagidari, suddenly took a Uturn and combined the Dalits and Brahmins together to build up a strong alliance. Not to content with the Brahmins, Mayawati is going ahead with wooing every upper castes including the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Kayasthas. Keeping their view and sentiments in mind, the UP Chief Minister banned a film named ‘Teesari Azadi’, a film which has caused much heart burn among the upper castes for its plain speaking of the Brahmanical notoriety. The media portrayed it as ‘Jaharili CD’ , a poisonous CD. Those who understand the history of the Dalit Bahujan literature will vouch that Teesari Azadi was what Dr Ambedkar, Periyar and Phule cautioned their people from being mislead by the upper castes. They did not preach hatred but they educated all of us to be vigilant against Brahmanical politics of manipulations and subjugations.

And when the political parties known for their opportunism were working hard to destablise the Dalit-Bahujan coming together and virtually succeeded in both Tamilnadu and Uttar-Pradesh due to enough room allowed by the politicians, there were enough numbers of ‘intellectuals’ also who decided to hit the legacy of the Bahujan movement and started a slanderous campaign against Periyar. Without going into whom they are and their ideology, I am perturbed to see that similarities are being written between Dalits and Brahmins and OBCs are made villain. There is no doubt about the fact that the many of the so-called OBCs would not have been in the list but for political reasons. These powerful communities never ever thought of their being OBCs but for political reasons of power and they are as ruthless against Dalits in the villages as any one else. Some time, these farming communities are more anti dalit because of Dalits fight for land rights and the agrarian communities are up in arm against any kind of land reform

Since, Periyar is still revered in Tamilnadu and Dalit Bahujan movement for his fearless ideas and contribution; it is time that those forces who are at work in Uttar-Pradesh, romanticizing and cementing an alliance of two unnatural allies, decided to question not only Periyar but his entire contribution. Some put him worst than Gandhi who did nothing for the Dalits. Do we remember Periyar for ‘doing’ something for some one or do we remember him for dismantling the Brahmanical citadels in the Dravida land. Periyar was basically a social reformists with potential ideas. Ideas can not be killed. You have to produce a better idea, a better vision in case you disagree with some one.

Suddenly, the backward communities became villain in this entire scheme of things and Brahmins and other upper caste became ‘polite’ allies of the Dalits and tragically this justification is not coming from the upper caste but from some of the Dalit and Brahmin writers. And therefore it is important that this suspicion and farce being created need to be cleaned and clarified. Periyar’s ideas might not have the sophistication of Baba Saheb Ambedkar but definitely they were potent enough to shake the Brahmin domination in Tamilnadu. The jolts of those ideas are still felt in Tamilnadu state. To clear the ideas of Periyar and his legacy, two intellectuals S.V.Rajadurai and V.Geetha came out with a collection of book : The Periyar century : Themes in Caste, Gender and Religion’ published by Bharatidasan University, Thiruchirapally, Tamlinadu. These articles are collections of article written by both the writers over a period of time when Tamilnadu was witnessing seer political opportunism by the parties claiming to have Periyar’s legacy. That Jayalalitha overtures to Hindutva were well known to be described here and Karnunanidhi’s shake hand with BJP was shocking.

We are not writing our own ideas and vision. May be because we lack it and therefore our energy is basically confined to replacing the community and person, to maintain our own hegemony and that happened every where, in Tamilnadu, in Uttar-Pradesh, in Maharastra and in Andhra Pradesh. So, the broader vision of a Dalit Bahujan is lost somewhere to the tainted glorification of a few individuals whose empowerment is made synonymous to community empowerment. Its tragic as it reflect our idea of social change is nothing but a replacement. We want to change one from our castes and we know little about ideologies. Hence Ambedkar and Periyar become caste icons and not who benefited every one. It is these multiple identities that threaten the very basis of Dalit movement. For me, it was a movement of a common Dalit identity where we revolt against the priestly vision a few ‘enlightened’ and talk of Bahujan. It gives me freedom to question even Gods. It believes in mutual respect and does not relegate our women to backyard just as any other religion has done. If we want to confine Dalit movement and Dalit identity to any other religion, then I am afraid, it will be just a replacement and we will not be able to face the revolt with in.

It is therefore important to understand what Periyar meant for and how and why his vision gets tainted and who are vilifying him today. In today’s broader context when one hegemony is being replaced by creation of another one, completely at contrast with what the forces of social justice stood for, particularly likes of Ambedkar and Periyar, none could have been more authentic than S.V.Rajadurai and V.Geetha. Though both of them are definitely gone deep into understanding Periyar’s movement and are in awe with him. However, these articles have been updated and reproduced from Economic and Political Weekly, Seminar and Dalit International Newsletter and therefore definitely well balanced and not a propaganda material as being written by the opponents of Periyar.

In her forceful analysis ‘Anti Caste Radicalism in Tamilnadu : Remembered moments for a receding past V.Geetha take us to the history of anti caste movement in Tamilnadu followed by a more detailed analysis by her and S.Rajadurai in ‘Dalit and non Brahmin consciousness in colonial Tamilnadu’, in which they explain in details how Tamilnadu’s much neglected Dalit icon ‘ Iyothee Thass Pandithar founded Chakya Buddhist Sangam and prior to that Dravida Mahajana Sangam in 1881. Hence much before Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, Iyothee Thass has subscribed to Buddhist philosophy for the Dalits and Adi Dravidas of Tamilnadu. Said Iyothee,’ Self government would only be possible when Brahmin cease to run away from the fear of seeing a pariah and when pariahs cease to chase away Brahmins and throw cow dung at them, when the latter enter the pariah quarters in the village and harmony prevails between the two and they come together as brothers and when the Buddha Dhama is realized.’ In fact Rajadurrai and Geetha through their readings argue that Iyothee Thass said that the pariahs were the original Tamils and their religion was Buddhism and it is the Aryans who degraded them and destroyed their religion.

Both the authors are extremely critical of DMK and AIDMK’s overtures to the Hindutva forces and term it as betrayal of Dravidian ideology.

The article ‘ Neo Brahminism : An International Fallacy’ is well timed and has exposed the theoreticians who are targeting the OBCs and cleverly terming Brahmins as ‘friends’ of Dalits. While for me, it would not be prudent to mention those writers who for the past few years have been writing continuously in the ‘mainstream’ media about the ‘anti-dalit’ views of Periyar, a response was needed both in terms of ideology and politics. While nobody condone the politics of the Dravidian parties who do not really have much love for the Dalits yet as far as ideology is concern, both Rajadurai and Geetha have explained through meticulous work that the Brahman cal forces are gunning to the OBCs through the backdoor of dalit ideologues.

In their analysis to various charges leveled against the OBCs, the authors point out , ‘ BC-SC relationships are marked by conflicts and contradictions. The liberation of SCs cannot be imagined within a circle of oppression that locks them into perpetual conflict and confrontation with the BCs. The oppression must be seen as deriving its strength and persistence from its articulation with the ruling and hegemonic ideology of Brahminism and unless the multiple mediations that structure BC arrogance and power are clearly mapped out, the liberation of SCs will proceed along paths that only lead to the Congress and now BJP ‘solution’ for the oppression of the SCs.’

I think this is a serious analysis and one must see it how BJP today is using the OBCs on the one side and also SCs on the other side. In Uttar-Pradesh, though there is no BJP but their philosophy in power which says upper castes and Dalits are brothers. While SC-BC fight is basically because of their common interest in land, the real land owners are enjoying everything. And rightfully explain the authors: No single BC can be said to have monopolized educational and employment opportunities in the state. While some castes such as the Nadars and Gounders have taken to lucrative trade and entrepreneurship, the BCs even if put together, do not come anywhere near controlling capital and financial matters in the state.’

To prove their point further, the author again quote Iyothee Thass that the principal contradiction of all the marginalized communities particularly the Dalits is Brahmanism,’ saying that an ideological struggle against Brahmins and Brahmanism was primary and necessary.’

The relationship between Ambedkar and Periyar is also reflected in their writings. Ambedkar was highly appreciative of Vaicom Satyagrah launched by Periyar for the rights to enter the temple of the Ezhavas in Travancore state. Periyar like Ambedkar was fully convinced that casteism could never be vanquished without the simultaneous destruction of the practices and beliefs of Hinduism.’ I am sure all those in Tamilnadu whether it is the backward castes or Dalits will understand this basic framework of Periyar. If the Brahmin friends of Dalits want to portray Periyar as a villain in this, please do so but can they really deny the importance of elimination of Brahmanical beliefs and practices a precondition for the emancipation of Dalits and marginalized in India. I am sure neither Periyar nor Ambedkar have become outdated in their views. We all respect and feel that their idea of a casteless society means annihilation of castes which clearly means annihilation of Varnashram Dharma. In fact, Periyar was more ruthless against Brahmanism among the two. He wrote, ‘ I have endeavored all along to abolish caste, as far as this country is concerned, this has meant, carry out propaganda for the abolition of god, religion, the shastras and Brahmins. For caste will disappear only when these four disappear. Even if one of these were to remain case will not be abolished in its entirety… because caste has been constructed of these four.. only after man has become a slave, and a fool would caste have thus been imposed on society’.

Apart from his strong views against Brahmanism, Periyar’s writing on women are not only fascinating but revealing. In fact, I would call him far ahead of his time and a human right defender of women. He said that we need to create a social and cultural movement of revolt- against, caste, Brahmanism, religion and rule of men over women. His bold views might be termed feminists by many of current day analysts when he says that ‘motherhood in this sense was very obverse of female selfhood and had to be consciously rejected if women were to grow into reason, autonomy and dignity.’

One can not be remain fully agree how women had continuously been degraded and one of the thing was masculinity which Periyar felt was a concept and practice degraded women, refused their humanity and worse enslaved them.

Periyar was not just a political ideologue; his forte was his linkages with masses. He not only blamed Brahmanical system for all the evils related to caste in our society but also provided alternatives. His self respect marriages was one such progressive idea that helped change the marriage system a lot in Tamilnadu but today, as Geetha point out in her essay that when other movement took over Tamilnadu particularly anti Hindi Movement, the women’s issue was relegated to back seat. That always happened. All the ‘mainstream movement’ actually sideline women’s issue. And rightfully, Geetha conclude that ‘ the marginalization of woman question was complete as the movement gave itself up to the symbolic languages of nationalism, a nationalism that did not even attempt to its female subject.

While due sympathies with both the writers, it is obvious that nationalism for political purposes will always take you to deep hatred towards those subject who do not fill into the majorities ideological pursuits. And therefore even when Periyar opposed ‘Indian Nationalism or Hindu nationalism or Brahmanical Nationalism, he was mistaking it with a backward nationalism under the garb of ‘Dravidian Nationalism’ and the result is that in Tamilnadu the chasm between the backward communities and Dalits is very big. That the political parties were responsible for this marginalization cannot take away the faulty politics of the leaders of Dravidian politics. Periyar would have become an all India Icon like Ambedkar had he not decried every one living in the North as an Aryan. His anti Hindi agitation might organized the powerful OBC communities but it ultimately damaged the linkages of Tamil people with rest of India.

Having said that, Periyar would always remain one of the giants of Tamilnadu and for many of us who followed his social movement and politics he would remain as relevant as ever as brahmanical poison is increasing day by day and we need a clear stand against cultural subjugation it is bringing. Periyar is one ideologue and icon we can look at for our mental liberation. A liberation which is not possible if the OBCs are not able to understand the concept of Bahujan and see that the Dalits are their natural allies. So is the truth with the Dalit leadership that for a stronger India, the idea of Dalit Bahujan alliance has not become redundant.

Many thanks to both S.V.Rajadurrai and V.Geetha for their wonderful work in bringing Periyar’s interesting writing to us, to understand the greatness of the man and his ideas.

Name of the Book: The Periyar Century: Themes in Caste, Gender and Religion,

Writers : S.V.Rajadurrai,

Publishers : Bharatidasan University, Palkalai Perur, Thiruchirapalli

First edition: 2007

Price: 105

Pages: 320