Thursday, February 28, 2013

Intelligence Failure

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Our intelligence apparatus has become highly politicized and used by the ruling parties for their own benefits but today the power hungry bureaucrats and big corporation fed media are creating the security scare in the country to further impose the ‘intelligence’ network our us much to the danger of even intruding in our private domain which would be detrimental for democracy in the country.

It is not surprising that whenever a bomb  blasts or something happen the daily barking channels start giving us names of people engaged in such blasts as if this information was known to them in advance. We have ‘reporters’ who bring these ‘break news’ to submit it to people and then discussion revolve around the ‘expose’, which actually is nothing but the intelligence game plan. For the journalists who rarely venture out of their newsrooms, such ‘leaks’ give them an aura of ‘investigative’ journalists.

Indian media has become notorious in ‘faking news’ and is closely working with the intelligence people. This close relation between media and intelligence is a matter of grave concern and in fact threat to our freedom of expression and people’s right to have their privacy. It may be possible that many of media reporting and funding emerge from the unaccountable source of these agencies. This dangerous trend has grave implications for India as media has shifted its responsibility from being the ‘fourth estate’ to the Public Relation body of various governments and its intelligence agencies.

It is also a fact that more we crib about the ‘security’ and intelligence ‘failure’, the bigger the opportunity for big business houses and their investments in these sector. After the arms industry, it look that ‘spying’ apparatus are becoming the biggest show of the market. Now the governments are forced to spend huge amount of money and human resource on the so-called security apparatus in the name of ‘public good’ and public ‘safety. The cost of spy cams, CCTV, scanners will be unbearable to put in each place. Right from railway stations, to bus terminuses, chaurahas, schools, shops, colleges, the demand for CCTV is growing and it will become one of the biggest industries in the coming days. The problem is that security scare does not convert into high jobs for jobless youth as government is not keen on jobs in these times of austerity. It will procure more weapons, more security apparatus to help the big industries gain ground in India. It is the way how the international organizations work. They ensure that their product is demanded as that would result in high cost as well as bigger quantity. Given the size of our metropolitan cities, these spy products are going to alter our budgetary provisions. At a time when the country need to focus on health care, poverty reduction and its educational system, these security scare will take away our budget. This is the price of terrorism and war mongering but that is what our right wing fundamentalists always want so that the voices of assertion and share in power structures are always pushed to further marginalization and their brand of nationalism is placed top on the agenda of the nation.

The intelligence network gets legitimacy through media and creates a situation when people are compelled to speak in support of ‘strengthening’ it. Now, the government is talking of National Counter Terrorism Centre ( NCTC) which is being opposed by the states as it would violate the principles of federalism. And this is a Chidambaram idea of making the political leadership virtually redundant and hand over the running of the state in the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats. With power to arrest anyone anywhere in India, such agencies will create more security scare and will remain unaccountable in arresting individuals and will super impose their structures on the state. There is nothing wrong in making a center which does the data analysis and provide inputs to the state but why should policing be allowed to be given to the NCTC without any accountability to states in the name of fight against terrorism.

In 1975 the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi was actually more depended on bureaucracy and her ‘intelligence’.  Prime Minister’s son was actually the boss of Congress Party and had developed larger than life image. He converted the Congress party into a completely spineless class who would be happy to crawl when asked to bend. The result was the total dependency of the government on the ‘intelligence’ and not on their political leaders who were facing flaks for the policies of the government. The ‘intelligent’ people were reporting to the prime minister that the country was very happy with the ‘disciplinary’ measures and hence it would be good if the country goes for the polls. Mrs Gandhi had no other source of information as most of the newspapers were writing what her chums wanted them to write and the intelligence was only looking for ‘political opponents’. The government ordered for polls and the outcome was that Congress party was completely routed in the elections paving the way for the first non-congress government at the Centre.

After the 1977 debacle, there were hundreds of failures. The problem is not that there are no ‘intelligence’ among us but the fact is that governance structure need an over hauling. Today’s intelligence is not about harassing people and reporting to your bosses about our activities but more about doing it yourself and trying to read in between. How is a person who is supposed to pick up his gun and fire, one day become an intelligence operative?  What does an intelligence person ask about a programe being organized anywhere. ‘Who are the sponsors or leaders of the programme ? What is the matter? The fact is they are not doing any analysis but only spying for the government to hound the opponents. And they do not really know what the ideological positions of persons are and how democracy respect difference of opinion.

Each one of us has a story to tell about our encounters with these ‘intelligent’ brains. Our system need to change and intelligence operations are not meant to make political capital out of something. In this multi polar world, all those who joins our agencies first need to understand the secular character of state and the rights of minorities, marginalized to voice their protest. If our agencies go out in public with an idea of ‘we verses them’, I am sure, they cannot really help anyone except helping the right wing forces and their favorites in the media who are ready for those sound-bites  which gladden the heart of right wing fundamentalists. They should more focus on their work and stop these ‘leakages’ as most of their work would not be able to sustain in any court of law but their sustained campaign against minorities and marginalized will only create social unrest in the country.
I have many such encounters when the intelligence people came along with local journalists and introduced each one of them as journalists. And ridiculously they ask questions about ‘what book you read’, ‘who is your favorite author’, who do you like ‘Gandhi or Mao’ and such nonsensical questions. Can any intelligence operative really get answer from these stupid questions? Is it important for us to like what our governments want to like? Do our intelligence people know that there are millions of people who may neither like Gandhi nor Mao. Is it necessary for anyone to hate Gandhi to love Mao? And what is so dangerous about reading Mao when everything is available on the web world. And most importantly, Mao was not anyone but leader of a revolutionary movement in world’s biggest country. It is disturbing to see that media become party in spreading the ‘intelligence version’ as ‘break news’. This trend is a great threat to political freedom of the country. The more the thin line between media and intelligence disappear, the bigger would be the threat for the independence of media and free thinking traditions of the country which are the heart of any democratic dissent and deliberations. The diversity of ideas strengthen democracy and attempt to paint them anti national and against ‘rule of law’ shows the antipathy of the power elite towards world of ideas and freedom.

For a country like India, it is more important that we do not become a party to instigate false alarms and baseless information which spread rumors and chaos in our society. For that our intelligence agencies must understand the enormity of the situation and diversity of our society. Just creating media frenzy they would only help in strengthening the TRPs of the news channels but not to the cause of justice in society. It is time, our policing is strengthened and communities are taken into confidence and security scare is not created all around in the name of ‘national security’. The day our marginalized and minorities consider them part of system and their participation is ensured in our power structure, the meaning of ‘intelligence’ will change. An intelligence service cannot be just to harass and defame the minorities and the marginalized who are fighting for their genuine democratic rights democratically. May be our political class is much more intelligent than our intelligence organizations and give them good lesson about India’s multi-cultural societies and great pluralistic heritage so that they do not hound the Muslims and the marginalized in the name of ‘national security’.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Shanbagh moment for Bangladesh

Jai ho Bangla

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The biggest untruth of partition of India was the division in the name of religion. The fact is that it was impossible for two people who have lived side by side for centuries to be divided by the thin line of religion as interdependency on our work and culture was the most important aspect of Hindu-Muslim relations in India. Even, the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was a staunch secularist and who Sarojini Naidu once described as Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, always felt that the issue of Pakistan was not religious but political.

Unfortunately, the idea that religion unites was supported and sponsored to suit the interest of many fanatic groups in India as well as Pakistan. The idea that all Hindus of the world think alike and behave alike is similar to when the Muslim fanatics feel. Today, if the brutal killings of Hazaras in Pakistan are any indication then we must realize religion has always been used to place the supremacy of some forces. Pakistan failed as a society in responding to fanatic Islamic fundamentalists and allowed its Shias, Ahmedis and other minorities to be targeted in the name of Islam. It inflicted enormous damage and today it is a country at the cross road.

The situation is also bad in the neighboring Bangladesh where people have now risen spontaneously against the fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami party which has openly sided with the Pakistani army that raped and killed thousands of Bangladeshis during the war. The problem with many sympathizers is they produce reams of literature to say that this is propaganda by India and therefore ignoring and disrespecting the huge mass movement lead by the founding fathers as well as the people of East Bengal which began immediately after Pakistan became an independent country.

It is a proud moment for many who have participated in the historical movement for the liberation of their country. The history is not very old but it is a proud moment for many that it is not religion but ethnicity that matters the most. Language and ethnicity unites people more than religion. If religion was the only uniting factor than all the Muslim countries should have been one and all the Christian countries should have one value of life. We know well that the Sab Saharan African people also practice Christianity and the people in Canada too have faith in Christianity but there is no similarity between the two. In fact, dissimilarities are more. An African Muslim would be close to an African Christian than a Muslim from Pakistan. A Punjabi Muslim is close to a Punjabi Hindu than a Muslim from Bengal or Tamilnadu and Kerala. The cultural ethos of a Bengali Muslim would match more to a Bengali Hindu than to a Muslim from Uttar-Pradesh and a Malayali Muslim and a Malayali Christian would speak the same language. But off late these differences are being increased under one agenda to keep the religious rights busy and relevant. The religious rights have funds to organize them under one identity in the name of ‘religion’ and develop ‘separatist’ tendencies among them. There is nothing wrong in emphasizing the religious identity but that is not the end of the world and for your daily bread and butters, these identities should work with other identities too and vice versa.

The founding fathers of Pakistan actually tried to ignore these huge issues of diverse ethnicities and the result is utter chaos prevailing in that country. There are those ‘historians’ who feel India dismembered Pakistan to teach it a lesson and remain powerful in the subcontinent do underestimate and absolutely ignore their own follies. The historical struggle of Bangla people against the oppression of Pakistani elite cannot be kept aside by saying that India created Bangladesh. Indira Gandhi might have taken a decision that suited India but at the end of the day, rise of Bangladesh on the international map was the victory of people against sectarianism and importance of language as uniting factor.

Pakistani leadership failed to understand the importance of mother tongue and imposed Urdu on unwilling Dhaka. They felt that Islam is the only binding identity and Urdu is the language of Muslims. It was a farcical idea as Urdu has been a wonderful language which reflected the great syncretic cultural heritage of India. It had revolutionary poets, writers and gave voice to millions of people who did not understand ‘revolution’, music and culture. It was basically a language of ‘adab’ but Jinnah’s master folly converted Urdu into a ‘sectarian’ language. It was a sad irony that ethnic issues were sought to be undermined and a beautiful language became the hate figure in the other part of nation. Frankly, it is not the language which should be hated but the political class who used language as a tool to impose their political agendas on those who are different. India faced the same crisis with Hindi as ‘national’ language. Even when Hindi is largest spoken language in India does not give it a licence to be imposed on those who do not know it and hence government has done reasonably well in that direction though Tamilnadu always had problem with this tendency of imposing Hindi through central government notifications and All India Radio and Doordarshan.

There had been violent protests against imposition of Hindi in Tamilnadu in 1950s. The same ‘language’ nationalism actually uprooted the ‘religious’ nationalism of Pakistan in Dhaka. The people’s perceptions and rejection of Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s announcement that ‘Urdu shall be the language of Pakistan’, were loud and clear. It was on Feb 21, 1952, students at Dhaka University took to the street in protest against the then government's denial of Bangla as the national language and imposition of Urdu as the sole official language of Pakistan. Eleven people were killed mostly the students from Dhaka University in the indiscriminate police firing when they tried to move out of their campus, breaching Section 144, demanding recognition of Bengali as a state language of the then Pakistan.

The Pakistan government was ultimately compelled to incorporate an article in the Constitution on Feb 29 in 1956 that declared "the state language of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali". But it was too late to assuage the feelings of isolation and dejection of the Bangla people who were regularly discriminated by the Punjabi dominated Pakistan elite. The result was that the resentment against the Pakistan leadership and its various ways to coopt the language movement grew louder day by day and culminated in the formation of a separate nation of Bangladesh in 1971

After the state came into being, Bangladesh became victim of the same forces who opposed its liberation movement. There were forces like Jamat-e-Islami which openly and rabidly spoke for Islamisation of Bangladesh against the popular sentiments for a secular Bangladesh. Attempt were made to convert Bangaldesh into another Islamic country. The enemy property act is still applicable in Bangladesh with Muslim fanatics using it a tool to grab the property of non-Muslims particularly Bangla Hindus. The divisions were sharp. Human Rights organisations have reported how the Jamat and other organisations were fanning anti Hindu sentiments in that country and trying to impose the fanatical Talibani kind of Islam on a society which never accepted it. The irony is all the three countries with shared history : India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have ‘enemy property Act’ and the communal fascist people have grabbed land of the minorities in these countries is an open reminder of how our societies are deeply in the grip of religious right wings.

Political uncertainty ensured that blatantly communal and fundamentalists outfit like Jamat get leverage to power structure. It is shameful that when Bangladesh government was trying to bring war criminals of 1971 liberation struggle to justice, the Jamat could dare to challenge them and call for Bandh. The role of the Jamat in Bangladesh liberation struggle is that of backstabbers and exploiting their own people. The rise of Bangladesh as a secular republic would be the defeat of very forces who wish to see Bangladesh strictly on the basis of Islam and Sharia. In the past twenty years it has been growing and the history of that country was distorted. Political opportunistic parties even tried to take away the contribution of the father of that country Shekh Mujeebur Rehman.

But enough is enough and it look that the youths of Bangladesh have decided to force its political parties to accept that their country cannot allow fascist communal organizations like Jamat-e-Islami who denigrate the historic struggle of Bangla people for their country. For the unity of a country, ethnic and linguistic identities are important. It is not for unseen reasons that a writer like Tasleema Nasreen is living in exile in India and Islamic zealots are so apprehensive of her writing as if she will replace Islam with something else.

The massive crowds that have started swelling at Shanbagh since February 5th are spontaneous and a reflection of what is building up in Dhaka. If the Bangla people want to pay real tribute to their liberation struggle then it is time to throw their communal organisations into the dustbins of history. A secular multi ethnic Bangladesh could be the best bet for all the communities and people to live together. It is not that those who participated in liberation struggle or opposed the imposition of Urdu are not Muslims but they ignited the flame of common struggle and shared cultural values which Indian subcontinent always have. I wish we have a similar Tahrir day in India against our own fascist organisations who feel Muslims cannot be secular and Hindus cannot be terrorists. A secular Bangladesh can actually demystify the myth based on religion and identities and emphasize the importance of common language as a uniting factor in a society.

Bangladesh is standing at the stage where it can give world new ideas particularly on the importance of mother tongue and how it can ignite the minds of all. It is a shining example of how a language unites people and does not discriminate. The flame of current mass protests in Dhaka should not be allowed to die to throw away the communal fascist forces from that country. It would be the second liberation of that country. No society can grow on hatred and therefore Bangla people should also understand that they cannot make capital punishment for those who disagree with them in the street. The huge leaderless protests have lot of symbolism but they do send us message of what people want and it would be good if political parties listen to them and act on those values. One sincerely hope that the politicians in Dhaka will not let their people down who want a secular Bangladesh for all who fought jointly in the war for liberation of their country.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Right of a child in the battle field

Crime and Punishment

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The sustained campaign against Sri Lanka for so-called war crime may not be politically motivated but definitely an attempt to break it down further when it is limping back to normalcy. The army officers who killed the 12 year old innocent boy on point blank range are responsible for gruesome murder and must be punished but that reconciliation is possible if both parties soften their stand and not engage in humiliating each other.

There is a feeling of outrage over the latest revelation of Channel 4 story on Sri Lankan army’s brutalities in the anti LTTE operations in North of the country, a territory which was the stronghold of LTTE. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka was a fighting one of the biggest battle for its survival against a fascist organization which rarely cared for human being and butchered them like animals. There is no denial in facts that LTTE used child soldiers and Sri Lankan army complimented it when they ran out of soldiers in their army to combat the LTTE pressure. The government used all resources to eliminate the most ferocious man called V.Prabhakaran, stories of whose ‘bravery’ is part of folklores in Tamilnadu while making him a perfect villain and hateful figures for rest of Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran was eliminated but now disturbing evidences are coming to the fore that his 12 years old son was brutally murdered on point blank range by the Srilankan armed forces. Though the Lankan army has out rightly rejected these charges yet it is difficult to find that there were no brutalities in the operation and therefore it will be good if the Sri Lankan government apologize to its Tamil population for the excesses happened during the anti LTTE operations and start a ‘reconciliation’ commission so that the country is united and Tamils live there with dignity and self-respect as citizens of that country.

There are definitely some gruesome facts which we need to understand broadly. No army in the world is saint and whenever there are army operations even when each country pretend and say that they follow the ‘Geneva convention’, the fact remain that they violate the principles of war. In fact, has any war been fought on ‘principles’ so far where the army follows all the rules and people are not butchered? That is why my contention is that human rights cases must be followed up and raised by people without boundaries and those who champion the cause of it without having any prejudices. Those who believe in one particular kind of nationalism and want to counter the other one through political motives are highly unfit to raise the issue. There is no denial that when we see the rights violation, we have to raise the issue and bring the guilty to the book but for that can an entire country and an entire society be blamed? Why should power elite of the world use human rights as a tool to infringe the sovereignty of ‘minor’ countries? Will US or UK or Switzerland ever think of censoring Israel for its blatant violations of all kind of human rights of the Palestinian people for the past 40 years. You cannot even think of an economic embargo against that country which terrorizes others while atrocious sanctions against Cuba and Iraq were imposed once violating all norms of civility.

In each society the majoritarian tendencies rules and we are no exceptions. We blame Pakistanis for not being able to take action against Jamat ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad who sit there and speak of a grand Jehad against non-Muslims but have we in India been able to take any action against the Hindutva lunatics using the same language. What would an ordinary Kashmiri think about Indian army and its operations in the Kashmir valley? What does an ordinary woman in Manipur feel of Assam Rifles? In Tamilnadu itself, why do the Dravidian Parties keep silence when the Dalit Sarpanch is not allowed to hoist a flag or when a Dalit boy is brutally murdered when he try to marry a girl he loves, who does not belong to her castes? Have we seen that brutalities by state and societies reduced so far? Have we forgotten the brutalities inflicted by LTTE against the Tamils who did not agree to their positions?

The British Prime Minister is here in India and today he visits Jalianwala Bagh which became symbol of British oppression in India killing innocent people who protested against them. He talks about our shared legacy and historical ties but the fact is history of British India would be read by two different people in different ways and cannot be the same. A majority of Indians would definitely feel that the British government must apologize for atrocities it inflicted on Indians who were fighting for their freedom. And Britain had more than 60 such ‘jewels’ in its crown in the 20th century where it ruled but it has till date not offered any apology to anyone. No UN body has asked it to do so. Why? Interestingly, no one in their dreams could ever think of seeking economic boycott or stopping political linkages with a country that have a lot to explain. Definitely, many like me, feel, British contribution to India is enormous but definitely there have been loads of errors too and historical wrongs cannot be undone through creating new wrongs but through reconciliation and social justice. Our own record against Untouchability and caste discrimination is absolutely tainted and call for an international censorship against the government which has rules but no application. But internationalism does not help all the time as it can only help those who want to remain separate as all the treaties will have to be implemented by the state agencies or in the bigger case, through a mediating country. Sri lanka is a small country and hence each one of us feel we have got a right to intervene there and squeeze it. In Tamilnadu political parties feel it is their domain and rather than focusing on their issues, the parties are deliberately raising the Tamil issue in Srilanka and want to gain through people’s sentiments. It is unfortunate as at the end of the day the issue will have to be resolved in Srilanka only.

One does not know the motives of the people who wish to bring the issue of censoring Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council in its forthcoming session in Geneva. The timings of these reports are clearly linked and hence show the motivation emerging from London. The question is whether the Human Rights Council is the best to judge about the human rights violation in countries and whether Sri Lanakan government should be censored on a resolution moved by the United States or may be by United Kingdom. For a moment, let us keep aside the issue of Sri Lanka and see the track record of the Council. What has it done to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq where millions of children are now suffering in hunger, malnutrition and have caught up with different diseases due to chemical warfare launched by the United States and its allies? Even when human rights organisations have boldly spoken against the international aggression, the UN Human Rights bodies just played second fiddle to these aggressions. Similarly, Bangladesh is witnessing some of the biggest protest against the atrocities committed on its people by the Razakars and the agents of the Pakistan army in 1971. Both the countries have strained relationship as Bangladesh always wanted Pakistan to apologize for the mass atrocities unleashed by Pakistan army.

If the Tamils in India feel that there is no future of Tamils in Sri Lanka and it need separation then perhaps there could not be any answer to that at least at the government level. No government would be able to support such motions as each country in South Asia has a tainted record, must worst then Sri Lankan government. The only thing that Srilankan atrocities on Tamils have proved that when the state become highly religious and use religion then even a religion like Buddhism become a tool for spreading state propaganda and not a mean for spreading love and peace. Therefore, Sri Lanka can remain peaceful if it has fair representation for Tamils, Dalits, Muslims and Christians living there and ensure that constitutionally the state remain a secular state. It is also important for the Sri Lankan government to conduct an impartial inquiry and punish those responsible for this ghastly act of killing an innocent child at the point blank range. Such heinous crimes should not go unpunished and let the government send a message of reconciliation that it believes in it and would go miles to bring the Tamils to the mainstream of that country. International pressures are great but if they become norms of the day in the hands of powerful countries who have violated human rights of all for years, then it would be difficult to find the truth and societies in our countries will never be able to reconcile much the benefit of those who wish to fish in troubled water.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Status of Nat's in our society

No to begging yes to dignity
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Hasina, 35 is mother of 4 daughters and 2 sons is leading a rally of over 500 people from her community at the district headquarter of Kushinagar for their rights. A charming woman she was the first one in recent time during our Humanise India yatra who could tell me correctly ‘How many children do you have’. Normally, families never count their girl child and hence it was a very pleasant surprise when she told me first about her daughters and then about her sons. I was quite surprised seeing her in traditional ‘sindoor’ over her head and asked who is her Husband? ‘Jamalu, she said. Do you know the names of your children and she started Pinky, Manoj, Madhuri, Arjun, Arti, Varsha and so on. Spectacular for me as at many places I found people failed to count how many children they have and more because names never matters for Nats.

Hasina is the leader of Nat community in Kushinagar. As our Yatra reached Kushinagar, more than 500 members of Nat community assembled at the district headquarter of Padrauna to demand for their basic rights including land to them as well as BPL cards and other. Nat community is one of the most marginalized communities in India. They fall under the category of ‘scheduled castes’ but the villages they live in have never accepted them. They are an absolutely landless community. Most of the people do not have access to natural resources. Nats were nomads and hence always moved here and there to ‘entertain’ people and that resulted in their having different identities.

Fulmati 35 lost her husband some years back. She has two daughters and sons each. They are Sadiq, Rehman, Vikrama and Gulli. She says that they have to get to live their life. They even try to rear goats and chickens but because of unavailability of land they cannot do so. They live in temporary shelters and have to send their children for begging otherwise it would be difficult for them to adjust to their meals. In the village, they are isolated and cannot be touched.

Problem with Nat community is that they have adopted traditions of all the religions particularly Hinduism and Islam. They never believed in particular names so a Mohammad can have children like Ram and Seema while Ram can have daughter such as Parveen and Sulatana. As far as the living style is concern, they follow both the traditions. Women sports sindoors and follow the traditions of Hindus but on any festivities they keep fasting on Navratra but also keep Rozas during Ramzans. It is not that ‘begging’ is the only ‘profession’. The boys do work at brick kiln, catching snakes, selling dry woods etc but since they have been nomads, none of the villages ever accepted them as them as citizen of the village. Due to lack of their numbers, villagers too treat them in contempt so they do not get NREGA work, nor land and houses are allotted to them.

Village Ravindra Nagar has about 65 families from NAT community. In all their strength is over 450. The village has Muslims and Yadav as dominant members and NAT are not touchable. They are looked down upon as they have no resources. In the village list they do not match as they are neither considered Hindus nor Muslims. Due to openness, their women do not cover themselves with Purdah and hence considered as ‘cheap’. Daily when they go to beg they have to face lot of comments for being ‘beautiful’. In a region where women are supposed to cover from head to toe, Nat women go and do work of tattooing and hence become ‘visible’ to public and that make them and their young girls vulnerable to all those ‘poachers’ who do not consider them human beings. That is why the villagers keep a safe distance from them as they live nomadic life. The villagers get Indira Awas for poor people but not a single person from the NAT community has ever got this. They are bypassed and not even considered for the same.

Ravindranagar is about 35 kilometer from the district headquarter of Padrauna. The community is living in makeshift tents. Some of them have land papers but no access to it. They do not get any BPL card. The children do not go to school. It is a community which bears the brunt of isolation with in the Dalit movement too. Since they are nomads and once upon a time declared a notified tribe during the British regime when any theft and murder would take the police to these communities without any fault of them. Education in the community is almost nowhere. Children cannot go to school as their parents send them for begging which is risky.
‘Sir, we are Mangta’, says Hasina and many others. How we can get ‘respect’ when they look down upon us, she adds. Hasina, with the help of other friends have formed a community organization for the NATs and now she has been elected as Vice President of ‘ Uttar-Prades Land Alliance’ in its recent convention in Lucknow. How she feels now, I ask. ‘It is a great feeling. I don’t deserve to be here. I am not educated. How can I speak in front of so many people? Having come from the community it is difficult to make our feeling public but I can assure you that I will organise people and fight for our right.’ Don’t say you are Manta as this country itself is ‘Mangta’. Brahmins do survive on alms so were the Bikkhus and none called them Mangta. This country seeks international support and never called mangta, so for the self-respect of your movement, it is important leave this ‘Mangta’ term aside, I tell them. It is time for a self- respect movement in the community.

It is tragic that young children are put for ‘begging’ and hence it is hoped that women like Hasina will place more emphasis on education of young children. The group was in Lucknow to participate for the first time in a state level conference and the impact were visible. A participant got a call from her husband,’ where have you gone? You are becoming a politician now.’ And the woman replied.’ I am a woman and proud of it. I have equal right and will fight for it.’

Meena says that due to illiteracy and superstition we only live in ‘deras’ in the orchards. We never thought of ourselves and begged for our living. Today, people do not give us anything. It is more dangerous as they play with the ‘self-respect’ of young girls. There is a problem for us to send the older people for begging. No village considers us its citizen hence it is difficult for us to survive. Government must do something for us.

There are more problems particularly in death. They are not allowed to either cremate or burry their dead. Hindus and Muslims are united in denying them their legitimate rights. Despite the known fact that you won’t find a community which follows the tradition of both Hindus and Muslims, it is shocking that they are not even allowed to perform their last rites according to tradition. It become more difficult for them because they are not consider village person.

One of the major quality works that community does is ‘Godna’ or what we called tattooing. It is a very old form of art in the tradition and they have kept it alive but they do not get more than Rs 150 in any day during the festivities and marriage season. That is the only occasion when they can touch people otherwise not. Nat community is very warms hearted and colorful. They live on their own conditions and religion was not really an important issue for them. They may be named as ‘Mangta’ i.e. beggar, but the fact is that they have transcended the boundary lines of religion. It also shows that religious boundaries are so narrow that people are ready to kill each other just in the name of identity. Nat samaj can give lesson of secularism to all those who claim secular values came to India from outside. It is not for the reason that Habib’s father was Babu Ram while his son is Newton. Can we find any other sect or community in the world where a community has taken good values from all religions and names never mattered for them? Marriages are done both the ways. Some of them are tilted to Islam while others towards Hinduism but there have been no animosity but only warmth. Perhaps, in this caste-ist world where ‘identities’ matter so much that Nats are unable to be accepted because of their ‘secular’ values. They may not know the meaning of ‘secularism’, but they have given all of us values of life. It is shameful that those who can be lessons for others do not find time and space in our books of sociology and history. Nats are symbol of secular plural values even when they are termed as beggars. It is time, so-called civil society listen to them and take their message of love and affection. Government would do well to take care of their pains and agonies and give them a dignified life. Nats have woken up now as their battle for dignity and self-respect has just begun. Let us all make it a success.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Understanding Aadivasi movement for Self Rule

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The world’s largest democracy is suffering from various ailments in this representative system which is more suitable to ‘democratic’ ‘symbolism’ then providing solutions to issues of survival, identity and culture of the indigenous communities in India. That way, Indian democracy is largely inadequate and manipulative which has been coopted by various corporate interest groups who are fixing agenda for it through complete control over information technology and medium of communications.

The result of a corporate influenced democracy is the vast mass unrest which India is currently witnessing. While the media is enthusiastically reporting the anti-corruption movements yet it has little time to report the historical demands of the tribal and Dalits for their rights all over the country. The battle for the tribal culture and rights over resources in Chhattishgarh is not alone as Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka shamelessly looted tribal resources and handed over those regions to greedy miners and big corporates who sucked the natural resources, damaged the environment for their profit making ventures.

Though Indian parliament reserve seats for tribal representation, the fact is that this representation is more symbolic in nature and less representation of the community leadership. There are numerous tribal and Primitive Tribe Groups who remained unrepresented in Indian parliament. Is it not a paradox that a state like Chhattishgarh which was created on the issue of tribal identity does not have a tribal chief minister? The region of Bastar which is the hotbed of Maoist insurgency at the moment has not seen a tribal leader at the moment. When democracy is manipulative and adjustment of a few votes here and there, the real representation of the communities will never happen. Unless there is a real representation of our representatives in Parliament and assemblies, the issue of tribal would never get addressed properly.

Boxas, Kol, and Tharu are two very important tribal communities in Uttarakhand, Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar. They reside in the forest zones of foothills of Tarai and in Bundelkhand region. It does not look unprecedented that these communities virtually have no representation since independence neither in the assemblies nor in the Parliament. There might be some aberrations but yet the reality is hard. Indian democracy does not seem to have any concern on these issues and the result is that tribal have paid heavy price for this political brinkmanship of Indian political class. Kol resides in the Bundelkhand region which is partly in Madhya Pradesh and partly in Uttar-Pradesh. For them, there homeland is Bundelkhand as they don’t care the new boundaries created by our state. Historical town of Chitrakoot is divided between Uttar-Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and it is shameful how the politics have denied the tribal their due right. Kol are declared as scheduled tribe in Madhya Pradesh but scheduled caste in Uttar-Pradesh hence in Uttar-Pradesh the Kols cannot have the same right to the forest produce according to Forest Right Act as in Madhya Pradesh.
Similarly the condition of Boxas and Tharus is dismal in the Tarai region of Uttar-Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Their land has been illegally occupied by the migrant Sikhs who have misused the ignorance and naivity of the tribe communities for their own purposes. Today, right from Pilibhit to Rudrapur, Khatima and Nainital has become a new territory of the Sikh land lords who are selling their land in Punjab and buying huge plots of land here. There is another reality and dirty show. In the entire Tarai region, the sale-purchase of tribal land is prohibited under Indian law. Sale of land from tribal to non-tribal is now allowed yet it is happening fraudulently with active connivance of the authorities. Today, Tharus and Boxas have become bonded in their own lands. In the entire belt of Uttar-Pradesh, Uttarakhand as well as Bihar, there is just one Tharu MLA in Uttarakhand. This non representation of the tribal population results in their alienation in public life and policy making.

In the last 50 years over 90 lakh people have been displaced due to various projects in India and a huge majority of them belong to the tribal. The forest lands were out of reach for the government for years as they never ever thought of venturing into those regions. Hence there was no development in the region. It is not an irony that the state did nothing to the areas and people who should have been its first priority according to the directive principles of the constitution. Tragically, there are no hospitals where the people could go and get treatment. People are still dying of those diseases which have effective treatments such as Malaria, typhoid and brain fever. Ofcourse, in the absence of proper health care, cases of HIV AIDS have also been reported among many of the primitive tribe groups in Andhra Pradesh. The neglect of the state caused to education resulted in unemployment and more beliefs in supernatural powers. Today, the tribal zones have forest and water but no other facility. They live in dark as electricity is out of bound of them. In the name of development, new road networks are being developed in these locations where our planners never ever visited. The neglect resulted in these zones under the new regimes of the Maoists who redistributed some of the land and developed them as ‘independent’ Zone. It is not that the government is helpless in taking action against them but it is the government which has created them and both justify their positions.

If the Indian state is slaughtered one culture and community, it is the tribals as they are paying the price of our neglect to their welfare. Post 1990s when the big corporate started coming to India in search of their ventures.
Tribal population in India is 8.2% of the total population which is 8,43,26,240 according to 2011 census. A majority of them are landless who live in difficult terrains and yet happier than others. The sex ratio among them was 978 as per 2001 census which was much above average to ‘normal’ Indian’s 933 despite abysmally low literacy rate of 47%. The tribal love their habitats which are now prized possession for the industries and for protecting that they have become victim of state highhandedness. According to an ILO report 85.39 lakh tribal have been displaced between 1947 and 2001 in various development projects in India. It is about 55.16% of all the displaced population of India. More than 64.32% of them are yet to be rehabilitated. Chhattishgarh government went much ahead when it created Salwajudam, an unaccountable brutal army of young Aadivasis to counter the Maoist insurgency in Bastar and other districts resulting in displacement of nearly four lakh people in over 644 villages. Over 40,000 people were living in relief camps and the situation was grim reminder of how state has thrown the people from their own land and converted them into strangers.
Article 244 of the Indian Constitution provide administrative control of the tribal in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram which falls under the Vth schedule of the Constitution in the hands of tribal community. This was extended in Panchayats also terming it as PESA (Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Areas Act) but it is deeply disgusting and shameful that Panahcyats have rarely been asked before launching a project in these regions. PESA came into force in 1996 which provided key provision of International laws into it particularly related to governance of natural resources in their region and protection of their culture. Over the years, the PESA has become a bone of contention for the Central and the state government as in their greed to handover the naturally rich resources to trans-national corporations, we have bypassed the tribal autonomy and Panchayat institutions. In fact in 1994, the Supreme Court gave the historic ‘Samata’ judgment delivered by Justice K.Ramaswamy who maintained that the government has no authority to bypass the Panchayat if they want to handover these places to big mining companies in India and abroad.
Today, the tribal question has jolted the people who have conscience. It needs a thoughtful and sensible understanding as why there is unrest in the entire tribal belt of Central India. Let us first have a look at the government records. According to Ministry of Rural Development,’
3.75 lakh cases of tribal land alienation were registered covering 8.55 lakhs acres of land.
Out of the above, 1.62 lakh cases ( 43.2%) were disposed of in favor of tribal covering a total of 4.47 ( 55. 28%) lakh hectare of land.
1.55 lakh cases covering an area of 3.63 lakh acres were rejected by the courts on various grounds
57,521 cases involving .44 lakh acres of land are pending in various courts of the country.
(Report quoted in ‘ India and the Rights of Indigneous people published by ILO).

There are huge mining in these regions. Forests are out of bound for tribal now. The areas where they developed their culture and nurture India’s huge forest are now under the government control. There was no attempt to bring them into national mainstream. Health, road network, schools, PDS , communications were out of bound for them. For years, tribal suffered in the abject and shameless neglect by the Indian state and hence different forces entered there to ‘liberate’ them. In the absence of credible leadership, tribal looked for messiah in different varieties of ‘political’ thoughts right from ’Marxism’ to Maoism. The Christian missionaries also went to them but perhaps failed to reassure them of their future. The Hindu fundamentalists went there and only ensure that tribal become ‘Hanuman’ who can only ensure faith against all the odds and no questioning to the racist philosophy which isolated them. The fact is that tribal do not come to them because of their ‘ideological’ affinity to these people. They come because it has become the issue of their survival. When the Hindutva fanatics rarely bothered about their cultural issues and never ever questioned the corporate take over the tribal habitat then why should they go to them? The Missionaries were pious enough to help them in education as well as provide them health facilities yet there was no answer to the growing annihilation of tribal home land and their culture. Hence, when so called Maoists or armed struggle ventured into these forest zones, it gave them a new strength to fight back with keeping their head high to fight for their land and forests. They kept these forests intact and beautiful for generations and now government want to hand it over to companies for commercial greed without even talking to the community. The Maoist captured that vacuum left by democratic space. In the din of identity politics, nobody really cared for tribal questions. This is shameful that those who talk about dalit bahujan identities rarely thought beyond their own question and understood the tribal question.
Tribal questions cannot be spoken without understanding the issue of land, forest and water. For many of the Dalit Bahujan ideologues these are ‘bogus’ theories to keep us ‘subjugated’. It is a dangerous connotation. The tribal community had a historic track record of fighting for their autonomy and we cannot ignore the historic and heroic struggle of Birsa Munda against the British colonialism. In the constituent Assembly, we had a historical representation from the tribal community of Jharkhand, Captain Jai Pal Singh who was also the captain of India’s world cup winning Hockey team as well as Olympian with Gold medal. They all realized the tribal questions and its autonomy and that is why the constitution made specific provisions for maintaining them but our political class always tried to serve the bramanical interests and hence tribal were duped.

The Movement for self-respect and saving their Resources
It is not that the tribal are just working under the leadership of non- tribal. The movement is strong and resistance is growing. In Jharkhand Dayamani Barla, indefatigable Aadivasi woman who has fought intensively for the rights of the tribal on their resources is behind the bar. She was arrested on a fake case filed by the state government several years ago when she organized the NREGS workers. In the Nagri village of Jharkhand, just about 25 kilometers from Ranchi, tribal residents are protesting against the government attempt to acquire over 200 acres of farmland for setting up a law university and a campus of the Indian Institute of Management.

Dayamani Barla has been in the jail since October 18, 2012 for a case dating back to 2006, where she was accused of leading a protest that caused a roadblock. Two days later, the land rights activist got bail in the case, but was immediately re-arrested and put back in jail in two other old cases where she is accused of disrupting law and order during a protest. It is tragic that the Jharkhand High Court too has rejected her bail petition. People have been protesting against her arrest which is absolutely unlawful and show how highhanded the governments have become when the question of tribal land is concern. Civil society organisations as well as tribal organisatons have been protesting against her arrest.

Jharkhand’s state movement itself was the movement for tribal home land which was led by Shibu Soren who later became chief minister of the state. In fact, despite his weaknesses and media making him a villain on various issues, Soren, remains the tallest tribal leader of the community who organized his people against the regular onslaught of outsiders.

It was not for easy reasons that the Bihar was ready to handover Jharkhand as a separate state but stiff tribal protest under the leadership of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which was the sole tribal voice for the tribal home land.
In Odisha, the movements to save Niyamgiri hills have now reached internationally. The Vedanta after sucking the blood in Chhattishgarh entered into a deal with Odisha government in 1997 for Boxite mining in these hills endangering the bio diversity as wel as the Kondhs tribals. People resisted and despite oppressive government machinery, they continue to fight against forcible land acquisition. Over 25 villages belonging to tribal with a population of 15,000 face complete destruction of their lives and they are resisting against the same. The anti Posco movement to save the tribal land is well known and building up. These movements may not be visible all over the country on our TV screens and newspapers but they exists everywhere. Tribal may not have credible face from their own community but there are many like Dayamani Barla working for their community at different places locally. Here is a report shown on CNN-IBN on September 7th, 2010 about the growing resistance by the tribal against Vedanta in Niamgiri.
“Rahul Gandhi may have heard the voice of the tribals fighting to save their forest in Orissa. But how do the Kondh tribal feel about Vedanta?

Lakhpada is a village here, where Dongria tribe lives. This is the tribe that has been leading the anti-Vedanta movement in Niyamgiri. Development is bleak here with the nearest hospital 20km away. Hence, when people fall ill, their only hope for survival is prayers to their God 'Niyamraja'.
Kanu Majhi of Dongria tribe said, "Many of us are suffering for last two months. We use 'cheri muli' (herbs) for cure but do not go to doctor." Health workers say that most of these villages are suffering from malaria and scurvy.

It is the same village where the villagers are often falsely branded as Maoists by the district police for raising their voices against Vedanta.
Lado Sikaka Majhi, Dongria tribe leader said, "Vedanta is going to harm our Niyamgiri hill which is the place of our Niyamraja God. Our God has got angry and that is why our prayers and herbs, which used to have magical cure earlier is not working anymore."
The tribals here live off the forest and don’t want development at the cost of their forest.
Bugda Sikaka of Dongria tribe said, "Vednata has come here for its own interest, not for us. We are happy that the government has denied permission to Vednata for mining Niyamgiri."
However, in the village of Phuldumur that has a school and a centre for vocational training, built by Vedanta, some seem in favour of the project
Kalti Majhi of Dongria tribe said, “We earn around three to four thousand per month by selling these stiched kendu leaves. We want Vedanta to remain here."
But that’s the crux of the mining debate - the number of people economically displaced by the mining project, is far greater than those who will enjoy the benefits.
Mukesh Kumar, COO, Vednata Aluminium Ltd. said, “Give us the opportunity for only two years and we will do all the necessary developments for each and every Dongria under the Langigarh Project development Foundation that we have already set up."
But given the large scale opposition by the Dongriya Kondhs against Vedanta - winning their hearts and minds maybe the biggest challenge
Orissa's chief minister Naveen Patnaik has been advocating that Orissa's backward districts like Kalahandi, which is quite infamous for starvation needs development. But the big question is development at what cost?’

Ref :

In Chhattishgarh, the tribal are resisting the mining being imposed on them. In the border areas with Andhra Pradesh the tribal are protesting against Polevaram Dam which will uproot over 3 lakh tribal from Odisha, Chhattishgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

The problem is that the tribal movement though growing in India is still fighting against forcible land acquisition and to save their culture. It is resisting land, forest and water in Chhattishgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Jharkhand irrespestive of who is leading them. The reason for that is isolation of tribal from the beginning and their distinct cultural conditions which isolated them from rest of the country.
It has also to be noted that tribal movement in India for their life style and autonomy from the very beginning as the tribal would never allow their culture to be assimilated in the broader non-tribal culture. They may be simple yet would always resist any attempt to ruin their culture which is ‘protection of forests, wild life and bio diversity. That way the unambiguous rejection of the forces of mining and ‘development’ by the tribal all over the country means that they are wary of the danger to their cultural value system and destruction of natural wealth in their region which they are not ready to do away with. They have lived with nature for centuries and have never termed those ‘resources’ in terms of material wealth and hence this resistance is a ‘war of civilisation’.

There is a learning of lesson for the tribal today. They can learn a lot from Dalit movement and its success particularly in political spectrum. It may have weaknesses and we agree when the movement grows there are bound to have some weaknesses yet in terms of political representation and social movements, dalit succeeded in a much better way. The region is in their growth of leadership emerging from the communities and emancipation in Ambedkarism. While there is no denial that tribal should fight for their forest and water yet also important is to embrace modern values and democratic institutions. It is important that a credible tribal leadership is allowed to emerge from within those communities. What has happened that everybody else is ready to work for tribal as long as they are being made as leaders? Many of the people say that tribal could not have survived if Maoists were not there as there is a heavy onslaught by the government. Unfortunately, this fact again ignore the historicity of tribal struggle in various parts of the country much before independence and even today without the Maoists being its leader. Yes, when the Maoist came, the issue of tribal question became important and that all the tribal who joined in their bandwagon may not know exactly what Maoism is and what Mao stood for as most of them are there to protect their land and resources. This has happened because the democratic forces failed there and did not even bother about their physical condition. It is surprising that despite so much of violence and displacement, we do not hear anything from Member of Parliament from Chhatishgarh and Jharkhand.

There is another danger which seems to be being played both by the government and the Maoists. By treating every tribal who is asking for his right as Maoist the government has conceded that the entire tribal zone has turned Maoist and idea that suits to the Maoists also who were feeling isolated for long and confined to a few zones of Chhattishgarh and Odisha. There are reports of rebellion in Jharkhand and Odisha against the upper caste imposed leadership from Andhra Pradesh. For government, this gives an excuse to enter the tribal zones with arms to vacate their land to handover to the powerful corporations who are eyeing these places. If the tribal were not projected as Maoists, the government of India would have been liable to answer to international community for the annihilation of tribal culture and people in the past sixty years but with branding all the tribal as Maoist they have escaped that and continue with their assault on tribal people without any shame. A credible tribal leadership must emerge from the communities and start open dialogue with the government as this is a historic moment to rise up and come out of the shadows of various ‘isms’ so that only issue to discuss and deal with remain the tribal identity and its protection.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Death of Conscience in India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Kashmir is restive at the moment and for the past three days there is information blockade in the valley as people are not able to watch TV channels of their choice, nor can they access internet. In the absence of free flow of information the only thing which get strengthened and spread is rumour and very unfortunately the government which claims to bring ‘openness’ to our lives, is doing such things which endanger national security. So far three lives have been lost in the protests against hanging and the valley is completely directionless. You cannot control the people through your army and military might as political issues will have to be resolved by political dialogues and Indian state has shown no such will power to do so. It continue to treat Kashmir issue as a law and order problem based on the whims and fancies of the Hindutva gangs who shout out daily about Kashmir our ‘pride’ and play the politics of Kashmir in their respective election campaigns.

The attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 was an act of terror which wanted to create chaos and anarchy in this country and therefore all those who mastermind the entire ‘project’ deserved severest of the penalty. Those who physically participated were gunned down by the security forces. Afzal Guru also went through the process and finally the Supreme Court too could not find direct evidence against him but based on circumstantial evidence felt that it was ‘rarest’ of the rare cases and hence he must get death penalty. The problem does not end here. Number of people has written about Guru and his engagement but my point is not whether he is innocent or not. An attack on Indian parliament deserved to be condemned without any ambiguity. But there is an undelaying fact the Afzal Guru was neither the leader nor the important functionary of the movement which is trying to destablise India and wanted to create anarchy. He was a mole, a small worker who might have been used as a courier for some purposes or other. The real masterminds roam around, issue threats and our government neither has power to capture them, nor will to control them hence Guru’s hanging will not halt their nefarious designs but isolate Kashmiris more than anyone else. The issue is actually of the ethics of the entire process though I do not believe that there cannot be a mistake in Supreme Court judgment but over the years the poor and marginalized people are easily becoming simple tool to use spread the communalized and fascistic nationalism and the ruling party is fast responding to these issues in a competitive mode so that it does not have to face charges of being ‘anti national’.

The problem in India is the growth and strength of upper caste Hindu nationalism which is being named as ‘collective consciousness’ of the country. It is they who are fixing up agenda of the country and pushing the others to more marginalization. Media remain the cunning fox in the entire game and serving the interest of their corporate God fathers and religious grand- fathers. There is no doubt that the country need to look inward in its whole approach towards terrorism, crime and communal issues. The fact is communalism is nothing but terrorism but since communalism’s main beneficiaries are political people with great ambition hence it is not taken that seriously as the issue of terrorism. In the past 50 years millions of lives have been affected with the dangerous virus of communalism but trace a record and we will find nothing has been done to punish those who instigate such violence. The end result is that it gives rise to communal feeling, dejection, and isolation which are detrimental for the health of the nation.

In India the problem does not lie with right and wrong but purely politicization of everything which pay good dividend to the rightwing forces. In the attempt to look more patriotic the current regime is taking hasty decisions which will divert attention from the real issues. There is no doubt that Afzal Guru’s execution case would have become a major political issue but then the ruling party is not capable of providing any logical answers and hence it repeatedly followed what the Hindutva gangs have been saying and trying to satisfy them so that the issue does not haunt them in the general election. The major problem that the Congress Party finds is basically because the bases of both these parties are upper-caste Hindus. By executing Kasab and Afzal fast, it send a message that it is serious about ‘terror’ threats and by keeping silence and secretive it want to assuage Muslim feelings that it is not ‘celebrating’ the execution. But such overly political game plan never work and the Muslims too have realized these dangerous games but what to do as Congress have always enjoyed the vacuum created by its leaders. Today, the party does not have the courage to take on the right wing lunatics and hence the party, in its bid to attract all and to create ‘win-win’ situation end up in appeasing the fundamentalists of all religions. The direct result of this competitive communalism is the common Muslim who is fighting his battle for survival in India. These are attempts to push the Muslims on defensive so that they do not raise their issues of ‘participation’ in political powers and economic backwardness which haunt them even today. For years, Muslims had to pay the price for ‘partition’ of India as their leaders were submissive and opportunistic too. When the things started coming to normalcy, the issues of Shahbano and then Babari Masjid kept them in perpetual confrontation with the state machinery. The government, the political parties rarely understood that and played competitive communalization. Muslim became the victims of symbolic appeasement which the Indian state and its political parties always believed in. Hence, support for Imam Bukhari and his deals became ‘appeasement’ for Muslims and hence a Damocles sword was always hanging over their head when the Sangh Parivar continued to raise the issue of Muslim appeasement. The congress promised to rebuild Babari Masjid but does not even talk about that. As a rule of law before the Ayodhya case settles, it is time to maintain status quo ante 1992 but is that possible without constructing the mosque.

According to Hindutva brigade, Indian governments is ‘soft’ in dealing with ‘anti national’ elements and hence it should have shown some offense in dealing with the issue of Muslims in India. The Congress government dutifully obliged to their Hindutva counterparts. First Kasab and now Afzal Guru became the issue of political debate. After government hanged Kasab, it was clear that the Sangh targeted for Afzal Guru and the government quickly complimented with such a secretive operation. Let us see how both the parties respond to Hindu terrorism and how many of them would be send to gallows. Is it not a fact that both the Tamilnadu Assembly and Punjab Assemblies have passed resolution against the death sentences to the killer of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh? Both the government feels that hanging will create tension in their state but the fact is that they want to tap the popular sentiments of the people. How come the popular sentiments of Kashmiris are not taken seriously here?
The government wakes up when the middle classes comes in the Delhi streets but can easily target those who it is no comfortable when they come to protest in the streets of Kashmir valley. As I write, reports are coming in that the Army did not allow a pregnant woman to be taken to hospital and finally she succumbed to the pressure. Is this the way how we operate our system? Kashmir was coming to normalcy and needed a soothing balm but the competitive politics of Hindutva has damaged the cause of the nation. In the war cries, we need statesmen who could speak with courage of conviction.
The matter here is not that Afzal was right or wrong but the procedures that followed are shocking. How can the state be so secretive that it does not even inform the family of the accused? It is said that the last wish of the accused is always fulfilled but Afzal’s wife and children were not allowed to speak to them and meet him. Where was the need to bury him in secrecy when his family whereabouts are known, then it is the duty of the government to inform the family well in advance and allow them to perform his last rites?

The rarest of the rare cases in India are increasing and the ‘collective upper caste conscience’ of India will not demand execution of those terrorists who planted bomb at Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta Express. This selective collective crying is meant to change the agenda of the nation and deviate from the original issues of the people of India. It is shameful that a man who is responsible for killing of 3000 persons and who still haunt the Muslims of Gujarat is still being projected as the future ‘prime minister of the country. We do not hear demand for executing those who masterminded different riots and that is why there is a growing alienation of the people in Kashmir. The difference of opinion is so high that a majority of Kashmir parties feel that the execution was completely unwanted ad uncalled for; the nationalist parties in Delhi are united in their common upfront against the act of ‘terror’. Modi and Thackarey got rid of tight grip of law as the ‘collective conscience’ of their people voted in their favor so they got legitimacy to rule. Why the same argument is not applied in Kashmir and elsewhere. Now, Kashmir is completely paralyzed for the past four days on the hanging of Guru and we do not say that the ‘collective conscience ‘of Kashmir does not consider Afzal Guru, a terrorist but a victim. But it is our verses them syndrome in India. When the caste Hindus protest that reflect the collective conscience of the country but when Muslim protest that is communalism and separatism. It is this kind of mindset that we have to fight more and with much vigor now which threaten to destroy the basic human values of our constitution which provide us right to life and right to choose our political thought as well as freedom of expression.
Afzal Guru is hanged and with this the valley is burning. It is time that the government must think of abolishing the death penalty. Crime does not end with execution. Neither will terrorism be over with the hanging of Afzal. Terrorism is an ideology and must be countered by ideological minds. It is time; we look the entire Kashmir issue from the perspective of Kasmirirs and not make Kashmir a symbol of India’s ‘secular’ consciousness. Let Kashmir be freed from this bondage of Islamic Kashmir or secular Kashmir. Let it enjoy the freedom like any other state. It is beyond doubt that Kashmiris today feel that they are being put on ‘test’ under ‘Indian nationalism’ which has very little to do with the issues in Kashmir.

This case also questions our judicial process. We always used to say that judges are very technical. I know in many places the cases are dismissed on hyper technical ground without ever giving the opportunity to the parties. Only power elite and the powerful forces in the government can be correct in terms of ‘papers’ and ‘technicality’ and that is why a common man can never really expect judgments in his favor as even that come, the authorities will trap him in the ‘technicalities’. The Tihar followed the ‘procedure’ by ‘informing’ the family of Afzal Guru through speed post which has now reached Kashmir and one can see the language of the communication which is so dry and insensitive that it would be difficult to imagine whether attempts are made to really assuage the feelings of the people. The government notifications are in the form of warning. Afzal Guru was a criminal declared by the court and without even doubting whether the trial was fair or not, he deserved a better treatment in death. If the Lashkar and Jaish are uncivilized and brutal in killing people, the state’s operations cannot be a replica of them but better ones so that people have faith in them. His family and child had right to know and meet him before death. It is shameful that our state apparatus is so afraid of doing so that it has to carry out an execution in such a way. One can understand that the government might have wanted to make the case low profile but the way the government and authorities are going all around with big bang it is assumed that we will witness more such execution by the year end so that by next year’s election Congress remain the ‘champion’ of Hindu nationalism and not the Hindutva ‘brigade’.

Untouchability is still widely practised in Uttar-Pradesh

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The Humanise India journey culminates in Lucknow today after 15 days of difficult yet fruitful visit to over 20 districts of Uttar-Pradesh. It gave us glimpse of the situation that existed at various places. The most gruesome factor is that Untouchability is still practiced and not just among the so-called upper caste and lower castes but also among various marginalized communities too. While the numerically stronger communities among OBCs and Dalits are vocal politically, the condition of those who do not possess numbers is pathetic to say the least. In the din of the politics of identity, these communities are left to fetch themselves.

The politically conscious Dalits will never accept Untouchability and Caste discrimination yet the social structure in the village has not changed so far. The condition of communities such as Bansfors, Doms, Balmikis, Kanjars, Nats, Mushahars, Khatik or turahas, Nonias, pattharkattas, and Kols is inexplicably miserable as they face isolation and untouchability both. It is these communities who face the brunt of being marginalized and politically least represented. Among the represented communities, it is Chamars who are politically conscious at most of the places but away from the developmental ladders. Among the so-called shudra communities, it is Nais (barbars), Gonds, Mallahs, Nishads, Rajbhars, Vishwakarmas, Bind the situation is really terrible. In the absence of land reforms most of these communities live in absolute landlessness and hunger. The political representation is minimal among them except for the Chamars and Pasis but the social structure remain powerful as usual with dominant upper caste communities still play their role. The dominance of Brahmins were unambiguously visible in Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Allahabad and Chitrakoot districts while the Thakurs still have their control in Varanasi, Fatehpur and Pratapgarh districts. The Kurmis too play their dominance in Bundelkhand region. It results in the marginalization of the most marginalized communities in the villages.

It is also well known that Muslims too suffer with the same inadequacies of caste as the non-Muslims. The Hellas is an untouchable community among the Muslims which is engaged in manual scavenging work. In many places they suffer because the municipalities do not give them job and they do not fall under the reserve category of Scheduled Castes. Their number is very low hence they do not come under the agenda of any political party. Communities like Kasgar ( Ghadladdas), barbars, Julahas are living in miseries without world knowing much about them. A majority of the Islamic Tanjims in UP have not grown beyond Madrasas and mosques.

The continuous engagement of people in the manual scavenging is a shame to Uttar-Pradesh. It shows the negligence shown by various state governments towards elimination of manual scavenging. While the Nagar Palika jobs have been offered to other communities thus reducing the economic stability of the Swchchakar communities, no effort has been made to honorably rehabilitate them and provide them alternative for a better life. The terrible reality of Kumbha is reminder how the caste forces have never ever used the issue of caste and untouchability in their public platform. The big talks of ‘spiritualism’ and ‘sarv dharm samabhav’ are absolutely bogus as behind these glittering is the dark reality of exploitation of people on the basis of their caste. Religion is politics is visible everywhere including Kumbha.

The struggles for land and forest rights are foiled by the powerful caste lobbies. It is difficult for social activists to raise the issue of implementation of Land ceiling Act in places like Pratapgarh, Varanasi, Azamgarh and Maharajganj. The dominance of Brahmins and Thakurs in these regions is perfect and absolute. Political representation of Dalits and backwards may be there but socially the oppressive and rigid caste forces have not allowed land to be redistributed among the Dalits. Unfortunately, the political forces in Uttar-Pradesh too have given little priority to the issue of land reform and worked more on the mobilization through caste identities. It is a phenomenon which has outgrown now and while people and experts in Delhi may harp on this, on longer term, UP will come back to issues after 2020. Ofcourse, people will force their agendas but alternative leadership among various communities will emerge questioning the current corrupted lot who use the community ladder to grow and ignore them after they win the elections. Politics in the state is based on adjustment of votes here and there and hence the most marginalized is completely forgotten by those. Winning the election is the most important agenda and if you get votes without working much on the ground then nothing is greater than that. But that has given rise to frustration among people.

Religious card is used to oppress the Dalit OBCs further and marginalize them by using the threat from Muslims. At Alllahabad Kumbh, the invitation to Dalai Lama and then using the threat of Muslims to India in the name of Bangladeshis by the forces like Vishwa Hindu Parishad has to be understood well. The grand Hindutva forces have the Shudras as their ‘gate keepers’ and their energy is being pushed against the Muslims and Dalits in villages. By Inviting Dalai Lama, Singhal gave a signal for their big political agenda that Buddha was the 10th incarnation of Vishnu. It is disgusting to see Dalai Lama saying Rama and Buddha came from the same dynasty of Ishwaku. VHP is working overtime to bring Dalits into Hindutva agenda and hence Buddhism is now being projected as part of Hinduism and countries including Japan, Thailand as our ‘own’.

The academics do not want to discuss caste and untouchability. Some say, it will not go. At a place, a Brahmin driver told us a horrible thing when we saw students in the college touching the feet of the principle. ‘Sir, the principle is a brahmin and that is why students respect him. Not all teachers can gain that much respect. We cannot touch the feet of a ‘harijan’ teacher’, he said. It reflects the mindset prevailing in the state. The socially powerful forces have used the political compulsion for their benefits hence the upper caste Hindus might be out politically but have wonderfully used the contradictions of Dalit and shudras for their own benefits. Their cause becomes easier because the shudra political leadership have aligned with these power elite. Dalits too have felt comfortable in aligning with the Brahmins because of BSP’s political strategy resulting in people becoming pigmies in the game of political one upmanship among different political groups.

In Uttar-Pradesh as educational institutions are dominated by the caste elites to influence politics and people at the local level. Ofcourse, Brahmins and Thakurs dominate the schools but now the Kurmis, Yadavs, Kushwahas and Chamars too, have followed the trend. The MPLDF and MLALDF come easier to fund the constructions of building in the name of schools. Most of these schools work as a facilitator for enabling people pass their exams with ‘good’ division. The health care system is in shamble as at most places doctors do not come of course ‘ Samajwadi ambulance’, a new centralized ambulance service by the government at no cost, is becoming popular now.

In the coming days, we will share some other stories during this journey to Humanise India. We initiated a process and today in Lucknow we wish to reiterate that our fight against Untouchability, Caste Discrimination and Communalism would continue so that we have an enlightened India as envisaged by our constitutional forefathers.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Caste discrimination in Kumbha Fair

Unseen reality of Kumbha: Part II
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

It was early morning and our beautiful residence at the heart of Kumbha was engulfed in absolute fog yet most of us could finis our routine work in the morning because the facilities at the place. There were beautiful cottages which attracted every one and it was an experience for life time. Enough water was flowing and no dearth of taps, toilets in one ‘Pandal’. The stay of Humanise Yatra in the Kumbha was made possible through a friend as it was a Pandal owned by a nationalized Bank. Some social action groups had placed their banner in the Pandal.

The fog was slowing disappearing as the sun was about to peep and those who make the Kumbha clean and live able were on the street. I saw two women, a child and a man with their brooms in our ‘campuses. They came close to our vehicle parked inside and saw something written against Untouchability and caste discrimination. I could realize this and went to him. ‘I am Manoj and hail from Kaushambi. I am working here with all my family members, my wife, brother, sister etc. for the past three months. There are over 7000 daily wage Safai Karmcharis in the Kumbha. They have got no rights to leave, medical and any other compensation which is reserved for the other employees. The working hours are much more than that for an ordinary employee. They get Rs 156 per day for this work. We had a strike several days back but our demands are not met by the administration’, he said.
Suman, sister of Manoj is an absolute illiterate and has come along with him. ‘Why have you come to clean here? Didn’t you get any other job? Manoj and Suman are children of a landless parents who suffered deep because the origin of their birth. Even the MNREGA work is not available to us, he says as it has never come to us for stated 120 days in a year. Kumbha fair has offered them opportunity to earn some money and hence they came here. The painful thing is that Manoj’s bhabhi is also working as a sanitation worker along with her small child. The duty starts at early morning 4 am and end up 11 mornings for the first shift.

In the second shift too they are supposed to work after 2 pm till 5 pm.
Suddenly Manoj and his family members come and want to shake hand with us. Each of the Humanize India Team members shakes hand with them. It is surprising for me as why has this happened but then we further probe Manoj about the condition of Safai Karmcharis and Doms. Slowly, he opens up and starts narrating the plight. ‘Sir, we face daily humiliation here. People keep aside from us and do not want to get touched to us when we visit their cottages to clean’, he says. And when he is out with us and raising slogan, he says, ‘Sir, you see, I came to touch you and shake hand with each one of you because Tiwariji wanted me to do so. He wanted to know whether we are fake activists or real’. I say, do you know that a majority of youngsters that you are witnessing here belong to your community. He is shocked beyond belief that his community girls are playing lead role. Too petty, for us to respond to such small questions which are realities in India and has shook it. When he was going out, Tiwari again said something to him perhaps fearing that we are trying to ‘instigate them’. But the caste forces are always there to thwart the movements which are a challenge to their dominance and power.

We decide to move towards the Balmiki camp near Sector 10 to see the situation there. The tents are smaller and no water facility. There is no toilet as they have to go out. Perhaps, it was felt that these people do not need toilets and can very much go in general toilets. The conditions of the families are disturbing to say the least. It can bring tear to your eyes. Most of the people are coming from different regions of the state. There is no electricity in the camp as if these people do not deserve it. How is it that just in front of the camp, we see again beautiful cottages meant for others but not here? Is the caste system working in Kumbha. Yes, it is a fact that most of the Safai Karmcharis hail from Balmiki, Dom and other most marginalized Dalit communities.

We speak to the families and see their living conditions. They are horrible and inhuman to say the least and are an understatement. It is chilly winter and the nights are chiller on the Ganges. There are children and old people. In small huts, we find, 10 people living. No toilets and without electricity, it is clear that India discriminate and officially practice untouchability. It is shameful that on the one side, our government, its media are talking high about the Kumbha and our spiritual culture and at the same time, at the same Kumbha, we have the horrible conditions of the Dalits who are denied basic human rights of living with dignity and honor.

Our horrors have not ended with one visit. Just moving inside the tents, we find left over food being dried up in the sun. They are left over Chapatis, rice etc. For one moment, I feel as if this is meant for the animals but then realize that there are no animals here. All these people living in the camps come from different districts of Uttar-Pradesh. Many of them are old and are doing this work in utter misery. Others complained that they are not getting their dues on time and hence it is possible that this is kept to eat after grinding the dried product. I do not probe further as India stand exposed and its constitution for the powerful people. Many people might have heard the stories about the hunger issue but here we were seeing the hunger amidst plenty. We are told that the Pandals are serving food to their ‘followers’ yet it is clear that the Balmikis and Doms cannot even have that. The camps for Balmikis and Doms are at the end without out any basic amenities. The doms take care of the ghats at the Ganga and are untouchables even today. The Balmikis have to keep the Kumbha clean without seeking relief for their issues.
As we moved to another Balmiki Basti in the Kumbha, I encounter a woman from Meerut and again she narrates the same issue of how administration has not done enough for their living condition. People here are from Sonbhdra, Deoria, Kaushambi, Banda, Bijnaur etc. Here the condition inside the camp is worse than the previous one. There is no tap water and inside the camps we see filth around. They are too close to catch fire and women are cooking in open with children roaming around aimlessly. The filth has shown how India wants its untouchables to live.

In the Kumbha there are banner about India, about Hinduism and how it is endangered. There are congregation and Samagams of Saints and ‘scholars’. There is campaign for ‘saving the girl child’. There is campaign to save ‘Ganga’ but there is no movement not even a mention of untouchability and caste discrimination even when it is being practiced daily and we have seen the situation how there is no dearth of money for religious dogmas. There are immediate medical attention for the ‘devotees’ but no hospital, no health insurance for those who make our cities clean and are taking care of Kumbha and its cleanliness daily. The talks of ‘sarve bhavantu sukhinah’ are farcical as it does not really include the untouchables.

Millions of people are bathing in the Ganges and washing their ‘sins’. Right from politicians to ‘spiritual leaders’, film stars, business tycoons, all have bathed and washed their dirty linen in Ganges. It is a dying river as it cannot tolerate the dirt of our mind and body. India’s sin will never wash with such hypocrisies when its own people suffer in humiliation. India remains a racist social order where caste discrimination and untouchability persist at every nook and corner of our society including its religious congregations. Kumbha fair is nothing but strengthening the age old caste system and hegemony of those in power. It is tragic that the political parties themselves have not taken the issue seriously. We are discussing everything under the son except untouchability. The country is still waiting stringent laws against untouchability and manual scavenging as the Parliament has not yet given it a serious thought. Practicing Untouchability must be made crime against Humanity and punishment must be high for the same. The people need to change their mindset and attitude only then we would be able to call Indian a country of civilized people.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The great collaboration of religion and capital at the Kumbha : Part I

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Kumbha is India’s investment in spiritualism, say a number of experts but a beautiful nexus between capital market and religious forces is unambiguously displayed everywhere during the festivities. Banks have put up their stalls and big companies are marketing their product handsomely. The biggest irony is that religious forces have their field day and one can realize how many Babas and Sadhus exist in India today. In the Ghats, the business is usual but most of the devotees prefer to go to Sangam where they will get ‘nirwana’.

Much has been glorified about the Kumbha fair and its spiritual and scientific side. Many scientists are saying that the Ganga water has power to energize people and bathing together help strengthen the vital resistance of the body. The arrangements are definitely better though many people feel that this time the Kumbha is not that attractive as it used to be but the fact is that the administration has made enough arrangements to make things easier for pilgrims. A glimpse at various stalls started by the Dharm-gurus shows that ‘customers’ are not coming to the stalls in that large number as they would have expected.

The irony is that the Babas are not really interested in Indian followers. Attempt is made to attract the foreign visitors. A white skinned person is much in demand at these ashrams and stalls. If you are travelling along with a foreign friend then rest assure that you are not wanted by any of these Babas. Europeans, Americans are in high demand and the Babas look for them. It is shameful to say the least. The technological advancements have helped the religious gangs a lot and with capital in their hands, they have used it for their own purposes. At these stalls we see the laser/PowerPoint presentation by various religious groups. You can see heaven and hell through these presentations and how to better our lives through spiritual discourse. There is a big hoarding of a particular Swamy talking about ‘saving the daughters’. The organizations like VHP harp only on the issues of ‘ Hindus are not united and endangered’. They have opposed the usage of Ramlala on the cloths and termed it an insult. Another slogan which has been highlighted by VHP is the issue of ‘infiltrators’ and illegal immigrants in India which according to them would reduce Hindus to minority. Kumbha is related to Lord Shiva but the huge stalls at the Kumbha have only Rama as their God and it reflect the real changing times in India where Rama becomes the symbol of the political Hinduism that has even bitten the Dalai Lama who is in the controversy at the Kumbha. It is not really surprising to see him in the company of Ashok Singhal who invited him for a VHP programme in Kumbha. The Sadhus and Sants are divided as many have opposed Dalai Lama’s visit on known ground that Buddhism and Hinduism do not go together while those closed to Ashok Singhal felt that Buddhism is part of Hinduism. It is sad that Dalai Lama has allowed himself being used by the narrow communal organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishads who spread hatred and communalism openly even during these times. Buddhism in India has not been revived by Dalai Lama but by Dr Ambedkar and it need to be evaluated that way. Those who want to make Buddhism, a duplicate copy of varnashram dharma, should understand that Buddha revolted against the caste system. The opposition to Dalai Lama by the several Sadhus is based purely on the conflicting nature of Hinduism with Buddhism. Ashok Singhal is a political person and knows that a good will of Buddhist world over would help them gain legitimacy of their agenda. Everywhere, VHP hoardings are communalizing things, talking of ‘infiltration’ and now they are challenging that the photos of Ramlala on the cloths is an insult to Rama.

There are huge pandals of every guru which shows how much money they possess. Most of them are talking nothing but all greatness of their spiritual values. Through various exhibitions they are also showing us what heaven is and what hell is. Local people visit the stalls every day but it looks that Kumbha is lacking people this time.

On the bank of Ganga, the priests are performing their Artis. They have the field day as it is the biggest congregation of Hindus world over and a huge number of people come to them and ask for their guidance and hence their importance has suddenly gone up. Normally, people are going to their relative camps but most of them looked emptied. Perhaps, people thronged to those camps just for the sake of staying there.

Though the administration has done enough to control the crowed and all the nights we have loud speakers roaring with Hanuman Chalisha and Ram Charit Manas. The most surprising thing for me is the presence of ‘Sant Ravidas Mandal’ in the Kumbha fair. ‘ Why are you here’, I ask Sadho Singh Maharaj, who is along with his wife has come from village Deoria and add Ravidas Maharaj had always said that ‘ man changa to Katauti me ganga’, i.e. if your heart is clean, there is Ganga there. You do not get purified with a dip in Ganga. Sadho Singh Maharaj says that the Kumbha is a brahmanical fair and it is dominated by these forces and actively supported by the capitalists. It has been difficult journey for him to have Pandal. What I like about him that he does not have faith in Kumbha but he is here to register his presence. Ravidasji Maharaj was the greatest human being and world has acknowledged him. Baba Saheb gave us constitution, he says and these priests want to reverse that order and impose Manusmriti on us he says. But he is aware of the fact that he had strong adversaries around so he keeps quiet.

Kumbha is nothing but religion and market and both are helping each other. Small vendors are being charged heavily by mela administration. For small roadside tea shop, a local informed that he is paying about Rs 3,200 rupees. His sale has reduced. ‘Sir, it does not look a Kumbha fair. We have not received much crowd here. At the tea shop, I offer tea to a devotee from Bihar who informs me that he is here at the camp of Mastane Baba. If counting starts, we will find how and why this country has so many Babas surviving on the government and capital patronage. A friend from Italy says, it is the best combination of alliance between religion and power and that is more dangerous for the country.

It is tragic that politics of domination is being played at Kumbha. The corporate greed has always helped the religious rights to fix their agenda. The corporates for their own benefits can go to any extent and if you see an advertisement of ‘sale of Ayurvedik oil’, a woman is clinging to the ‘shiva lingam’ is simply offensive to say the least. The crowds at the markets are swelling and lapping up every free product.

In the heart of Kumbha, the Humanise India journey raised some uncomfortable questions. Yes, the Ganga will be polluted with more people washing their sins and dirty linens there. Shockingly, we are reading daily doses in the newspapers about the ‘collective bathing’ and the scientific impact on the human minds. It look that the Indian scientists are first serving their brahmanical interest and then science. How can the scientists that Ganga water is ‘healthier’ when it is getting filthier and dirtier day by day and no concerted efforts have been made to cleanse it? How can so many thousands people bathing together help grow the health of the people.

Kumbha has been profiled highly by the Indian ruling brahmanical elite as biggest congregation. It is nothing but congregation of religious politics and reviving the status quoist values in India at the expense of state exchequer. In front of the big Pandals, I see with painful eyes, a young girl making bed for her parents under the open sky. The night and mornings have seen dense fog here but the contractors of religion have no time as their spiritualism is aimed at attracting more ‘western’ audiences. It is shameful and shows the hypocrisy of the entire show. As the might show goes on showing India’s ‘great’ ‘spiritual’ heritage, there are highly uncomfortable questions in Kumbha which will come to you tomorrow in the second part of the report.