Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Abolish Blasphemy law & Protect Dalits in Pakistan

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Christian minorities in Pakistan are receiving end as anti-blasphemy law is easily used against them but a close scrutiny of it reveals that basically it is the Sweepers or Bhangi community who are being targeted in Pakistan for their faith. They face regular caste discrimination and untouchability and yet there is no mechanism to protect their interest. Pakistan must enact laws to protect its Dalits.

The notorious blasphemy law in Pakistan has hit again at the ‘Christian’ minority when a Christian man was charged with blasphemy by a Muslim mob which tried to find him went to Badami Bagh colony of Christians and burnt over 125 houses when could not find the man. It was alleged that there was an altercation between two friends on drinks who happened to be a Muslim and a Christian ultimately resulted in ransacking and dismantling of the property of the tiny Christian minority in Pakistan.

Because of the international repercussion the Pakistan government and the state government of Punjab acted fast, arrested over 130 people and distributed immediate relief to the people yet the fear of the people will not disappear with these dole out as Pakistan need to change its law on Blasphemy which is being used by fanatic Muslims against minorities particularly the Christians and Hindus. Most of the properties belonging to these communities are under the grab by the land mafia in Pakistan who are using such laws for their own benefits. In fact the Lahore incident is also being blamed on the land mafias who wanted to the Christian community to be out from the Badami Bagh area so that they can use the area for commercial purposes.

According to news reports that a mob of over 3000 people by Shafiq Ahmed, looked for the accused Savan, alias Bubby but due to their inability to find him the mob attacked his house, and also burnt the houses of 150 Christian families.  Many residents, including women and children, hastily fled to save themselves. The police registered an FIR under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (death sentence) against Savan and ensuring that he would be given into their custody to decide his fate. They also took Chaman Masih into custody.

World-over there is a growing concern over the misuse of anti-blasphemy law which has put minorities under deep stress and forced them to convert to Islam. Muslim fanatics have used it to grab land of the poor particularly of the Dalits in Pakistan.

Even the UN Human Rights Council is persistently worried about anti blasphemy laws in various countries which result in capital punishment to the accused. In most of the cases these laws are misused. In a report submitted to the Human Rights Council, Heiner Bielefeld said that Countries should repeal all laws punishing blasphemy and people who leave a faith, the United Nations’ top expert on freedom of religion said on Wednesday, thrusting himself into a debate between many in the Muslim world and the West. Legislation outlawing apostasy - the act of changing religious affiliation - and insults against religious figures could be used to violate the rights of minorities, said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council. He further said,’   “States should repeal any criminal law provisions that penalise apostasy, blasphemy and proselytism, as they may prevent persons belonging to religious or belief minorities from fully enjoying their freedom of religion or belief,” he said in the report. Rights campaigners say the blasphemy law in Pakistan is widely used against religious minorities including Christians.’

In Pakistan and many other Islamic countries a non- Muslim can easily be charged with ‘hurting’ the religious sentiments of Muslims or using abusing language against Prophet Mohammad and Pakistan constitution provide death penalty for such charges. People are arrested on frivolous grounds as a bare FIR would result in arrest of the persons and sending him to the gallows.

It has to be understood that in Pakistan a majority of Christians are actually Dalits in general and predominantly the communities of Sweepers which is contemptuously called as ‘Bhangi’. And the Masihs who were attacked were basically sweepers who face untouchability and caste discrimination. They do not get jobs other than sweeping and people do not come near to them. They are completely outcastes and are considered as ‘charsis’ and ‘Bhangedis’ which gives the impression that all the people from the sweeper community are drunkard and chain smokers.

In fact ‘bhangi’ as contemptuous term is the most famous political contempt in Pakistan. Several years back a regional politician called Rehman Malik a ‘bhangi’ of Benzir Bhutto.  A protest of traders yesterday at the Karachi Press Club actually termed the chief minister as ‘Bhangi’. India had similar usage of phrase but if any one use such terminology to denigrate a community in public, he or she would face criminal charges but shockingly in Pakistan it is frequently used in daily rhetoric by politicians, activists and even creative people in their songs and soap operas.

Discrimination against the community is rampant and unattended as the interview with Asif Ghani Masih suggests which he gave to a Pakistani newspaper. Asif Ghani Masih starts his day by sweeping the dusty corridors of the Sindh Secretariat. As the day progresses, he scrubs dirty toilets and empties dustbins, tasks that are part of his day job as a sanitation worker.
In the evening, however, the 27-year-old becomes a neatly dressed student, who attends classes for a Bachelor’s degree; the tasks of the day shelved away as he scribbles notes. At school, he had often dreamt of being an engineer.

I was hoping that my education would be enough to land me a decent desk job,” says Masih, as he sits in his modest house in Old Golimar. “But when the list came out I was shocked to see myself appointed as a sanitary worker in the finance department.” His eyes fill with tears as he remembers the day. “It hurts to be called a bhangi [sanitation worker],” he adds.

At the Sindh law department, a Hindu employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing his dismissal from service, said he had completed a college degree but is suffering due to his different beliefs.

“This is what the poor and minorities get for educating themselves,” he said. “We are suffering because of our faith.” He does not plan to spend money on educating his child, as he believes that won’t help him get a decent job in the end. The sanitary worker had got the job on minority quota after he asked for help from his community’s political representatives.

“It is sad that uneducated Muslims are appointed as clerks and cannot even write their names, but we are cleaning trash.”

The linkage between blasphemy law and the Bhangi community must be understood clearly and so far none has looked into it. Actually, the violence against ‘Christian’ in Pakistan is actually violence against the Sweeper community who are completely isolated by the mainstream Pakistan society and their issues rarely raised to lime light. Hence whenever the Bhangis have come up in education and asserting themselves, such frivolous charges are raised against them for ‘defaming’ the ‘Prophet’ or desecrating Quran. The dirty fact is that Pakistani society is as criminal, racist and caste-ist as their counter parts in India and other parts of South Asia. There is no security protection for them. Their number is miniscule as total minorities in Pakistan remain less than 5% and yet Pakistani society is ‘afraid’ of them. The Bhangis are considered as dirty, drunkard, untouchable by the Pakistani elite and no constitution protection provided to them. In fact, it is quite shocking that most of the time violence against them is misleading headline meant as violence against Christian. In South Asia caste matters the most and Pakistan is no stranger to this. In fact, the way Pakistani middle classes, writers, singers use term Bhangi to denigrate others puts us to shame. Several years back a Pakistani band produced a super hit sufi song ‘ Hum Charsi Bhangi hai’ which was appreciated very much but it clearly send out a message that Bhangis despite being ‘charsi’ are the best friends and good at heart. While the messenger wanted to communicate a good message yet it stereotyped a community and strangely enough there was no protest in Pakistan against it. For me it is strange that whenever I listen to this song again and again I do find the usage of Bhangi as contemptuous and full of flaws.

It is time Pakistan government must abolish the draconian blasphemy laws as Pakistan Muslim don’t need protection of their identity. Actually, Pakistan needs to pass laws to protect the rights of Dalits and pass the laws. Denigrating God and ‘holy book’ is offensive and can send you gallows while humiliating and insulting  people based on their birth and caste identity can go scot free. Islamic societies in South Asia are rigid, feudal and caste-ist and they need to change their outlook about others. Practice of Untouchability and caste discrimination must be made blasphemous and not the denigration of so-called God that does not exist. It is time to put pressure on each of these countries where caste and untouchability exist to pass laws for the protection of human rights of the Dalits and completely prohibit inhuman practice of untouchability, manual scavenging and caste discrimination. 

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Understanding Muslim anger in Uttar-Pradesh

Zia’s martyrdom a rallying point for Muslim youths

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Muslims in Uttar-Pradesh are rightly feeling betrayed by the state government. They continue to protest in different parts of the state as the government of the state is trying to subvert the process of law and getting rid of the entire issue under the pretext that the inquiry has been given to CBI. There are serious issues in this case but before that it is important to understand why the Muslims of the state are restive and agitating and whether their demand has some communal undertones as media is charging.

Zia ul Haq was an honest officer who died for the cause for which he took oath of office. It is strange that he was allowed to be killed by the mob in the village as his coward colleagues had ran away from the village leaving him to be lynched. There is a need to inquire into it whether these policemen posted in the thana had any relation/friendship with the power gangs of Kunda? The UP police officials have suspended by the five policemen who went along with Zia but the question is why not dismissal? Why not prosecute them for failing in their duty?

Definitely the murder at the first sight does look a crime but it has communal undertones. It was well planned and politicians are expert in creating new situations for their own benefits. The fact is that most of these protests are painful symbols of Muslims disgust with the administration. Day in and out, they face the brunt of administration in the name of fight against terror. They are being targeted and youths have been arrested by the police. None of them get a house to live beyond the Muslim locations and most of their cases of human rights are being raised by a few individuals and organisations, who face boycott and condemnation all over. Samajwadi Party government in Uttar-Pradesh had come to power on the promises of empowering the Muslims too. The youths had seen the games of Congress and BJP and hence they felt that Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party would go beyond symbols but the state saw over 15 communal riots and systematic attempt to isolate Muslims. Azamgarh has become the point of reference for the so-called terrorism and its linkages with Muslims. Efforts have not been made by political parties to ensure that this tag of terrorism is not linked to Muslims but they exploited it. Media was used to create the crisis of identity among Muslims so that they remain defensive.

It is not that Muslim youths are making it communal but the fact is that Zia’s colleagues ran and there is a close link with communal flare up in a village in Kunda about a month back. There is also a reality that  a Muslim district magistrate was send to Pratapgarh but was transferred. There is also a reality that Raja Bhaiya and his family has been close associate of RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal. There is also a reality that so far BJP and sangh parivar have not talked about the arrest of Raja Bhaiya. There is a reality that Mulayam Singh Yadav made Raja Bhaiya a minister knowing fully well his track record and various cases against him. There is a reality that Raja Bhaiya is not even a member of Samajwadi Party at the moment. And there is a bigger reality that Raja Bhaiya is now being praised by the upper caste Sangh parivar lobby and has a huge fan following now. Also news is coming that many members of state assembly met Raja Bhaiya after he was charge-sheeted and this unity goes beyond party lines. BJP which has been active in asking for the head of Mukhtar Ansari and Shahabuddin elsewhere keep quiet on the issue of Raja Bhaiya.

Some years back when Raja Bhaiya was released from Jail, his followers were more than happy and he was given a rousing welcome in Kunda. ‘jail ke taale toot gaye, Raja Bhaiya chhoot gaye’, was the slogan. And the huge crowd would jostle to come close to him, have a look at him and virtually prostrate in front of him. The oppression is high and unquestionable as the state machinery has failed. That is why it is important whether the policemen trapped him to go to village or they ran away fearing the crowd. This issue must be investigated. The issue is communal because they knew it well that killing of a Muslim officer will polarize the electorate and not influence the equations locally. Moreover, it is sure that police people would go to attend the ‘darbar’ which Zia ul Haq has always ignored. So, how come a Muslim and that too from a backward community ignore the darbar of Raja Bhaiya and that is the bone of contention.

Uttar-Pradesh’s PAC is known for being Muslim basher during the communal disturbances. There are reports of how PAC has been used to systematically target Muslims and control them. Samajwadi Party has failed to fulfill any of its promise which Muslim youths were expecting from it. In the administration and police services the numbers of Muslims are nominal. In fact, an officer of CO rank would be very few in Uttar-Pradesh. It is always felt that Muslim population in Uttar-Pradesh must have representation according to its ratio in the governance, administration and police. But that has rarely been an issue for political parties who were ‘appeasing’ a few mullahs to get the votes. Why the political issues of Muslims are allowed to be handled by the religious leadership and not by the political leadership? So far Mulayam Singh has promoted feudal like Azam Khans and Maulanas like Ahmed Bukhari in the name of Muslim representation and it is time political parties must stop in such juggleries. Muslim youths are look for great jobs, social security and not isolation from rest of the society. They do not want leaders in their name but leaders from the ground who work for the rights of the community. It is tragedy that political parties are still playing games. So the pain of Muslim youths is that one there are very few numbers of their officers and secondly those who are honest too are finding it difficult to work in this corrupt castiest atmosphere. So the fight is not just for Zia ul Haq but for an honest officer who happened to be a Muslims and might have become victims of the communal agenda of these communal mafias who used the identity for their own political purposes.

More shameful are the things when the media and paid media being used by political parties to defame them. It is disgusting to see how media is reporting as if the wife of slain officer bargaining with the government. There is no doubt that our families are artificial and once the male head is gone, there is a war between the family of the boy and the girl. The government tried to hide their inefficiency by donating cash and offering jobs. Now, given the nature of political parties these days, they try to calm down the protest by actually ‘winning’ over the individual who is affected and hence these offers of job to family members of Zia ul Haq but then the same government and its officials are playing politics by leaking such thing to media and making it as if the family of the girl is just bargaining. Can any one really understand the pains of a girl whose husband is killed brutally with in some years of their marriage? No government and cash can return her the loss of her near dear one. It is shameful how embedded media is expert in such stories which really convert an honest officer’s family to cheap money minded.

The political parties can undermine the protest by such tactics but if the government fail to take action against the culprits and ensure free and fair investigation Muslims will always feel betrayed. Their disgust and disappointment with system might grow if their representation remains below minimum and their youths are hounded by the police and investigating agencies. The Muslim unrest in India’s largest state is a wakeup call for political parties to treat them equally and address to their real issues. If they continue to treat Muslims as vote bank and use religious leaders to ‘control’ and ‘appease’ the community, there will a big backlash as various communities of Muslims are now raising their voice against discrimination and want their share in power. Those who killed Zia ul Haq physically might have wanted to eliminate him but in his death Zia will become a rallying point for Muslim youths who will raise their voice against injustice and for their fair share in India’s development and power structure which nobody would be able to ignore.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Power and Politics in Pratapgarh

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The shocking incident of murder of a young Police officer in Pratapgarh district of Uttar-Pradesh reminds us the power of mafias and extra constitutional authorities in their region. It aggravate if they get support of the state power and often result in bloody caste wars as well as open defiance of the law.

A young police officer of Uttar-Pradesh police was killed by the political mafias of Uttar Pradesh at the infamous village Kunda in district Pratapgarh. DSP Zia-ul-Haq went to a village with his police team on receiving an emergency call in the night when two groups loyal to different political parties were in war with each other and killed the village Panchayat head.  When the police officer went to the village along with his team, he faced stiff resistance as if he has entered in the war zones. The cowered and opportunist policemen ran away from the spot after Zia was caught was the criminal mob which humiliated him and later killed him. On a normal day, it looks a story where a policeman goes to the village and people kill him ‘anger’ and in this country everything is justified in the name of ‘people’. All our acts of morality, killing, and moral policing are done in the name of ‘people’s sentiments’.

It is not shocking for police to behave like that and reach the venue three hours later when the brave officer was murdered by the thugs in the villages who were ready to shed blood purely on unquestioned caste loyalties.  There are more glaring facts which make politician like Raja Bhaiya in win-win situation as political parties vie to capture their attention as they know their ‘political power’. Unfortunately, every caste has its own Raja Bhaiya and they survive on the caste identities which culminate in their ‘political’ ‘empowerments’ and frequent killings of the opponents.

Kunda therefore was an unquestioned domain of Raja Bhaiya and his family and that is why when Mayawati government took action against him it send a strong signal to people of the state though Kunda remained loyal to Raja Bhaiya and the reason for it is that the common man knows well that the government in Lucknow and Delhi will come and go but the domain of the local goons will always be there and hence it is they who they have to face on daily basis and hence keeping silence remain the biggest strategy for survival without getting disturbed. When the mafias become power and our decision makers, it is bound to happen as they are high on demand everywhere.

The fact that Zia ul Haq was feeling tremendous pressure of not going to the ‘darbar’ of the minister well known for his ‘loyalists’ and their muscle power.  His wife described the threat unambiguously and called for Raja Bhaiya’s arrest. For any new officer, Pratapgarh and particularly Kunda is the toughest posting to handle. Those of us who know well the political landscape of Pratapgarh can vouch how the district is a different zone once you enter there. There is a parallel administration in Kunda and the Raj darbar helds Kangaru courts providing instance justice to people. No one can oppose the decision of the ‘high command’. The police and the administration of the Indian government do not work there as the ‘loyalist’ of the ‘raj parivar’ will not allow you to function. Nobody can raise a voice for their rights. Land redistribution actually never happened in this region and caste hierarchies prevail in the region with dalits face the biggest victimization if they raise their head against any injustice.

How will the writ of Indian constitution run in Kunda which is still living in feudal age where you cannot speak for your right and each violation has a heavy penalty including ‘death penalty’? Can such parallel courts be allowed to function in a democracy and that too by a minister who takes oath in the name of the constitution? We speak against Khap Panchayts, Sharia Courts and all those parallel structures which are prevailing in this country against absolute violation of our constitution. They are potential bomb to derail social justice and rule of law.

The Minister has resigned. The chief minister visited the home of slain officer and distributed two cheques of Rs twenty five lakh each and assured that ‘law of the land would take its course’, typical way of handling the case with insensitivity. You compensate people with cash so that they do not blame the state apparatus for failure of protecting the officer. Also, it intends to calm down the person for not making any ‘politically incorrect’ statements which could be detrimental for the government. As the tempers run high and matter is getting politicized, the government is handing the inquiry to CBI and they know it well that anything happen to the King will have dire repercussion. They are power people and play power games and in these times of coalition politics each ‘elected’ leader is priceless and in the case of Raja Bhaiya who won as an independent candidate, was made a Minister by Akhilesh Yadav despite Samajwadi Party getting absolute majority on its own. The two important Ministries that he was looking after were Prison and Food etc.

Raja Bhaiya has ‘condemned’ the incident and termed it the most traumatic moments of Kunda. Such an incident had not happened in the past he said and added that the slain officer was ‘very respected’ and ‘honest’ and that he is ready for a CBI inquiry. Raja Bhaiya resigned after his close associates were put in FIR along with him but it will be tough and very difficult for the police and investigating agencies to find the truth and get a conviction in the case. The reason is the nature of killings and investigation done by the police. Moreover, as long as power politics is behind this, nothing will happen. Politicians know it well that these issues would be raised for some days and after that it would be the same story as usual.

Political parties know well that different zones of Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar have become fiefdom of individual mafias masquerading as politicians and hence they don’t action. Raja Bhaiya may be close to Sangh Parivar and family but his utility stands for all the political parties. In the anti-Dalit schemes of things he fits in Mulayam’s agenda very well. And though the killing of police officer cannot be termed as communal violence, it definitely has an angle. It is very difficult for Muslim officers to work in the bureaucracy and police with independent mind. They have to suffer and succumb to various pulls and pressures. That is why most of the officers ensure that they have to be extra vigilant about their own behavior and practices during the work as they become not only the role model of the community but any charge of them can be put as a norm of the community.

Uttar-Pradesh is the most important state for 2014 and therefore every actor here is making and vitiating the atmosphere. The clan villages identities are being revived and sub castes are also now being packed up. New promises are being made for inclusion and exclusion in various categories of SC-ST and OBCs. Promises are being made to Muslims too and one does not know how many ‘developmental’ financial promises would be made by parties by the year end. There would be communal disturbances and we have already noticed so many of them in the past one year. As long as Indian villages remain the holy cows, we will always have space for more such feudal lords who will undermine our democratic space. Raja Bhaiyas are not product of democratic system but of feudal village which Gandhi admired so much where ‘caste’ ‘identity’ is the most important factor of your life. It is important to note as why Pratapgarh remain the ‘den’ of powerful caste and feudal forces despite a strong political movement against the same.

In the meantime, we demand strong action against the guilty and complete demolition of these extra constitutional authorities and parallel governments prevailing among us. The central government must bring out legislation outlawing such practices and putting all those people to trial who run such system. All those who run such parallel government must be brought to book and barred from contesting elections in future. Let the Uttar-Pradesh government act on it and punish the guilty only then its intents would be found. It would be in fitness of things that CBI be given time frame to finish the case and constitute a special court outside Uttar-Pradesh so that justice is not influenced in this case.

Unforgettable Chavez

Viva Chavez

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The death of Hugo Chavez is a great blow to movement against imperial world order unleashed by powerful and greedy corporates. As Venezuelan president, Chavez instilled sense of self respect and dignity in the masses of Latin America. After Fidel Castro, he was the most influential leader of Latin America who inspired people world over.

The powerful president of Venezuela Mr Hugo Chavez passed away last night battling a two year long cancer. The man who rose to the highest office of his country passing through various phases and difficult childhood actually had huge fan following world over despite deep rooted racial prejudices against him in the American and European countries. It must be understood why Chavez has attracted extreme reactions world over. As the world moan over his death, we can analyze the entire perspective with the tribute that have started pouring in as the news broke in by the vice president of Venezuela on the state TV. The Latin American countries went into moaning on the death of hero who stood against the tyranny of powerful countries and taught them to stand up keeping their head high. Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and many other countries have stood together, formed coalition and tried to provide an alternative to the current economic social policies being pursued by the greedy transnational corporations who are the modern invaders with the help of powerful nations.  Evo Morales, Bolivian President said they felt "destroyed" by the news of the passing of his Chavez. "It hurts, but we must stand united in this process of liberation, not only of Venezuela but of the whole region..." Morales said. "Chavez is now more alive than ever", he added further.
The most important factor of Hugo Chavez is that he strengthened the legacy of Fidel Castro, the living legend from Cuba who challenged the might of United States of America and taught his country to live with preserving their resources. Chavez was a great admirer of Fidel Castro and tried to implement his vision by forming alliance with neighboring countries against a common threat. Today, all there is a breeze of freshness and change blowing in the entire Latin America where the US interventions were order of the day. Nobody can deny the fact that prior to Chavez, Venezuela was a non-entity at the international map but now people have got an identity and respect world over. That way, Chavez filled a sense of dignity and self-respect among his people and converted the entire system of governance more and more people centric much the chagrin of the western commentators who always found his rule as tyrannical violating human rights of the people. Yes, in his efforts to promote social justice and state socialism, Chavez might have angered many others who dominated the horizon of his country but then masses adored him for his actions.
A new wave of change is blowing in the entire Latin American world which feels betrayed by the successive American policies towards it. Several years back when I travelled to some remote part of Bolivia, I tested that feeling of anti- Americanism in the masses for they were enjoying. The urbanized cities are Americanised but the rural population, the ethnic communities who were just crushed before were founding their new sense of dignity and empowerment. It was not for nothing that Che Guevara, the much revered figure in the entire Latin American world was not given due space and respect by the American sponsored governments in Bolivia. There was not a single monument for a man who devoted his life to Bolivian people and was executed by the American sponsored forces as for them he was a criminal but for millions world over, Che is the ultimate icon of revolution. Today, the ethnic identities are asserting in these countries and that resulted in victory of president Moralis in Bolivia, who too is following the same path as shown by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and giving his ethnic communities a new sense of dignity and self-respect.
The western reactions on Chavez’s death are based on their future calculations, depending whether Venezuela would be able to hold together as one nation as it was till today. Former American President Jimmy Carter said, ‘Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chávez's commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen.  President Chávez will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments and for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment. During his 14-year tenure, Chávez joined other leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean to create new forms of integration. Venezuelan poverty rates were cut in half, and millions received identification documents for the first time allowing them to participate more effectively in their country's economic and political life.’
But Carter also mentioned the ‘divisions’ created by Chavez’s policies and said, ‘ At the same time, we recognize the divisions created in the drive towards change in Venezuela and the need for national healing. We hope that as Venezuelans mourn the passing of President Chávez and recall his positive legacies — especially the gains made for the poor and vulnerable — the political leaders will move the country forward by building a new consensus that ensures equal opportunities for all Venezuelans to participate in every aspect of national life.’
Problem here is that in the process of national reconstruction and social justice those who ruled and absorbed the national resources would always feel left out or sidelined. The modern Human Rights principles and ‘democratic’ laws actually save those in the name of human rights who have violated it to the most. We must not forget that Human Rights Principles have been used and misused by the western democracies according to their conveniences. Though there is little doubt that in the name of providing social justice, most of the governments in the third world countries actually violated the human rights of their opponents, arrested political leaders and executed writers, activists and journalists who they felt were the opponent to government’s policies or were exposing them. These oppressive systems actually led to the fall of many communist regimes in the 1990s in various parts of the world. It never meant that people did not like socialist secular values but the fact that people wanted to get rid of tyrannical regimes where one individual was supreme and all others were orphaned if that individual passed away. Human Right Watch documented the violation of human rights in Venezuela and stood to its ground even today when Hugo Chavez passed away. It says that ‘Hugo Chávez’s presidency (1999-2013) was characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees.
It added:
By his second full term in office, the concentration of power and erosion of human rights protections had given the government free rein to intimidate, censor, and prosecute Venezuelans who criticized the president or thwarted his political agenda.’
In recent years, the president and his followers used these powers in a wide range of prominent cases, whose damaging impact was felt by entire sectors of Venezuelan society.’ President Chavez was very angry and expelled the director of Human Rights Watch José Miguel Vivanco,
after he issued a report criticizing the country's human rights record in 2008. This charge was rebuked by the intellectuals and academics of Venezuela vehemently.
The fact is that despite his short comings and violation of human rights here and there, Hugo Chavez was truly a world leader who tried to organize the poor nations against the growing tendencies of powerful nations to use their natural resources in the form of neo liberalism. Learning from Cuba, he reformed the health and education sector in his country. His boldness and unambiguity was never liked by the Western World as he could stand up and challenge George Bush in the UN general assembly by saying he was the biggest ‘devil’. Many of the western commentators may term these as harsh and undiplomatic words but then the American administration too has been using undignified terminology against their opponents. Even when he was highly critical of US policies particularly of its corporates, Chavez was exporting 90% its crude oil to United States only and praised President Obama suggesting he were a US citizen, he would have voted for Obama,
It has to be understood that when any political leaders work for people, he get enormously popular and that result in his ‘larger than life’ image. The fact is that all the third world countries are still living in ‘developing’ democracy where the institutions of democracy are still at very nascent stage and often used by the powerful elite for their own benefits. The leaders of the countries who emerge from the mass movement become tyrannical and bigger than the movement which result in uncertainty later on. Today, most of the countries have not developed democratic principles and are turning into self-serving despots. It is therefore important for the leaders of mass movement to prepare their generation and instill among their people the sense of democracy and decision making process should be made more transparent and discussed threadbare. Hugo Chavez redefined the governance in his country as he would invite people, academics, journalists to his decision making process and would speak on TV shows without a prepared script for hours and hours. We have heard how Fidel Castro is a vociferous reader who scan more than 100 newspapers a day even today and how he speak on any given subject with great authority, more than any world leader or an academic too. This tradition of knowledge in leadership is what makes a Castro or a Chavez legend.

In the absence of democratic structure or it percolating further at the grassroots, political leaders become bigger than the institutions must to the detriment of the process itself. Hugo Chavez was a revolutionary but still a human being. At the fag end of his life, his ideological boldness as a Marxist became questionable when he started following Christianity, met Pope and said, ‘ Today, the revolution is more alive than ever. I feel it, I live it, I touch it ... If Christ is with us, who can be against us? ‘If the people are with us, who can be against us?’ These are contradictions of our life and many people suffer from them and Chavez was no different to that. In political life, a political leader has to use contradictions of our life for his own purposes. It is sure that even when he invoked Christ’s name, he never used Christ for his political purposes.

Hugo Chavez is no more but he reminds us that even when you belong to a small country yet an inspiring leader can convert the country into greatness. It needs lot of intellectual, mental and moral strength to stand up against mighty forces and make people belief in their power. Chavez made people believe in themselves. For a country like India, Chavez is provide a great inspiration as how to make our people believe in state socialism as well as how can a country like India hold its head high against the neo colonialism being imported to us through powerful countries. As the biggest nation of South Asia, India can initiate the process of uniting the countries and make common cause with them. It will need a visionary and strong leadership to do so. Will India have such statesman and visionary who can stand up and challenge the hegemony of these greedy corporations and their mentors sitting in Europe and America?

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Understanding 'Dalit Priest Project' of Narendra Modi in Gujarat

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The Dalit priest theory of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is an aim to deflect the attention from the real issues of the Balmiki community which is isolated and face severe untouchability. Modi has rarely spoken against caste discrimination and the historical injustice done to Dalits hence it is nothing but plain hypocrisy to grab positive headlines.

Much has been written about shining Gujarat in the media and now it is time to unleash social ‘revolution’ hence the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ is on his mission to ‘train’ the dalits for performing ‘rituals’ like marriage, birth ceremony or in temples. His government has kept an amount of Rs 22.50 lakh for this purpose so that people particularly from the Valmiki community could be provided ‘knowledge’ of ‘Sanskrit’ so that they can do it independently. These students would be trained in performing rituals at two universities including Somnath Sanskrit Vidyapeeth. In the period of millions, a tiny sum kept for ‘social revolution’ shows the real intents of those behind it and how serious they are in their efforts. Is this effort aimed at bringing equality in the society or is it aimed to further co-opt the Balmikis or manual scavengers into the broader Hindu fold?

The step taken by Narendra Modi and his government are being projected by his ‘chums’ as ‘revolutionary’ and reformists. Some say, he is an OBC and hence it is a great effort to bring all the Dalits and OBCs into the Hindu fold with great respect and dignity. Addressing a meeting of Valmikis Narendra Modi actually termed them as the ‘priests’ of ‘our cities’. You keep our cities clean and hence you are no less than priests. Sound good words and Modi who is being touted as ‘future’ ‘prime minister’ of India is now on a ‘social reform’ mission. He did it with aadivasis with organizing ‘Sabari mela’ and now with this ‘Dalit priest’ theory he is again trying to coopt them into the Hindu fold and subside their anger against the government for its abject failure for addressing the issue of the Dalits particularly manual scavengers in Gujarat.

Since 1992, Gujarat government has declared that manual scavenging is absolutely abolished in the state. Ofcourse, caste system and untouchability are closely link and none can claim that Gujarat does not have a caste system or untouchability does not exist in Gujrat whether it is owned by Modi or Gandhi. In the din of Hindu Muslim affair, Gujarat successfully hid the dirtiest realities existing in its cities and towns. It was quietly forgotten that Gujarat’s caste society is still powerful and has successfully stalled the march for change among the Dalits and OBCs as whenever there are assertion for their rights and dignity among them, the caste Hindus even use all tactics including economic blockade of those people. The fact is that Modi’s Gujrat is only for the upper caste Hindus who have deep contempt for the Dalits, aadivasis and backward communities, apart from Muslims.

Questions may be posed to Modi and his government on the status of manual scavenging in Gujarat which he and his predecessors have denied having any presence. The fact is that there are numerous reports, videos, photographs that the dirty practice can be seen in Ahmedabad itself. It is shameful that people are still cleaning human excreta by hand and that in a state which claims to be a model state and whose chief minister is looking himself as the future prime minister of India. No problem in his thinking to be the prime minister of India but why does he want us to believe that Gujarat is a different state then rest of us. Yes, it is different because the forces of social change are not active and aggressive in Gujarat and have tamely succumbed to religious-capitalist upper caste groups in the state.

According to census 2011, Gujarat has over 2,500 households where manual scavenging is practiced. The number amuses me as it reflect a fact that Gujarat government does not have money to develop flushed toilets in these 2500 houses if that is the only case. The reality is more frightening actually. The same census survey reveals that out of 1.2 crore households in Gujarat, over 64 lakh do not have drainage facility. Actually, 52 lakh homes have no toilets at all and therefore they must either be defecating in open or using the public toilets. It is found that over 49 lakh people actually defecate in open in Gujarat which shows the standard of shining Gujarat.  There are only 2 lakh public toilets in that state which is planning to give Indian ‘alternative’.

These data are easily countered by social activists and research institutions which have done their own surveys even when we can easily say that too have leakages and unsubstantiated figure like national average yet according to Tata Institute of Social Sciences study there are over 12,506 manual scavengers in Gujarat. According to a report published in the Indian Express, it says,’ study says a total of 2,456 households with 12,506 individuals in Gujarat are involved in manual scavenging. Of this, 4,333 (2,755 males, 1,578 females) persons are directly involved in the practice, the rest being children, women, old, unemployed and others. Region wise, Saurashtra leads with 928 households, followed by central Gujarat (569), north Gujarat (529), and south Gujarat (430). Over 50 per cent are involved in removing open defecation, mostly with bare hands’. The fact is that this study was conducted only in municipal corporation areas of over ten thousand population and therefore has left a huge number of smaller towns, villages which are outside the ambit of municipalities and where caste discrimination and untouchability are equally prevalent along with manual scavenging.
While we must appreciate the study, the fact is that Gujarat is a deeply hierarchical society and caste prejudices prevail in that society. The Dalits face more marginalization and even not allowed in the temple. Though, people like us believe that temple entry movements are not really to help the Dalits but to keep them subjugated under the brahmanical system and somehow stamp the ugly reality of caste prejudices.

Gujarat claim to have no dearth of money and Gujarat is shining economically then why such a huge number of Gujaratis are still defecating in open. Is not it a shame but the hidden reality behind this open defecation is the economic status of those who defecate in open. Yes, it is the state with very high number of children suffering from malnutrition and the chief minister mentioned that the girl eat less to look slim. The question is why has Gujarat government failed to eradicate manual scavenging in the state and where is the issue of caste discrimination and untouchability in the Hindutva scheme of things. If it is a model state of Hindutva then how do Balmikis and other dalits live in Gujarat? During a study on Indira Awas Yojna, several years back, I found, how the Balmikis were never really given houses along with other communities. In fact, to save the communities from mixing up, Modi and his protégé actually developed a Balmiki Awas Yojna and houses under this scheme were absolutely isolated and at the last point of a village. Can a Balmiki be allowed to enter in the house of a Patel or any Brahmin in Gujarat? Does Gujarat not have honor killings in the name of castes? Are all the temples open for Dalits?

The question is why does Modi want the Balmikis or Dalits to study Sanskrit? How many of Gujarati Brahmins are studying Sanskrit. Why not open a school for them. Modi want to the Balmikis to perform in the temples. A good idea would be to hand over the temples and their managements of temples such as Somnath, Ambaji and Akshar Dham to the Balmikis so that they have enough income to run their families and favor others. Dalits and any other community today need modern education, access to good universities and availability of jobs in the government as well as private sectors. It would be a great achievement if Modi’s enterprenual Gujarat can stop the caste discrimination within the campuses of Universities and colleges, in companies and factories?

These are desperate attempt to hide the real issues of untouchability and caste system. The caste forces will work over time to hide these realities and hence chose soft target. They know it well that even if Balmikis or Dalits become priests, it is not going to open ‘inter caste’ marriages for them or marriages ceremonies in general for them. Most of them will be confined to their own community and the other way round help the Brahmins who refuses to go there to perform these rituals. As far as temples are concern, there are hundreds of temples where nobody comes and the priests suffer as the powerful temples will always be in the hands of caste Hindus. Basically, Narendra Modi is trying to halt the march of dignity of Dalits through these cunning methods so that people do not question the historical injustice done to them. If he is concerned about Balmikis, has he ever spoken about the untouchability and caste discrimination that is the order of day in Gujarat?

The temple entry movement and putting people back to religious rituals are nothing but deeply flawed and cunning move by the power elite to hide the ugly reality which they have played and their inability to condemn the gross violation of human rights of Dalits through such practices. A few days back, another ‘revolutionary’ took the Balmiki women to Kumbha for a bathing in the Ganges. It was claimed that after bathing in the Ganga, they have challenged the status quo. The same champions did not bother to see the gross violation of basic dignity and human rights of over seven thousands Safai karmcharis during Kumbha fair. The issue of untouchability and caste discrimination cannot be solved by these juggleries and treacherous ways without questioning the authority of varnashram dharma and its divisive philosophy which is anti-human and anti-human rights.

Those who want to install the caste-ist vaidik values on us cannot really have love and respect for human rights and that way Gujarat government’s Dalit priest project is nothing but anti Dalit and full of hypocrisy as it want to keep them in the Hindu fold without demolishing the caste hierarchies and caste system. Is it possible to have an equality based human society without the demolition of caste system? Does Modi want to demolish caste system or he want to keep it further to perpetuate his agenda on everyone. Will he ever apologize to Balmikis and other dalits for years of discrimination and untouchability which has divine sanction as he claim to represent the saffron brigade and the ideology of Hindutva?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Theocracy Via Democracy

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Consolidation of ‘majority’ community after careful vilification of minorities at different places have resulted in massive mandates both at the Centre in 1985 as well as in Gujarat post 2002. Such trends are dangerous but continuously being used by political parties for their own purposes. India cannot afford to repeat them as it would only be at the cost of peace and stability of the country.
A fatal incident on this day exactly 11 years back in a nondescript town of Godhra in Gujarat changed the face of the state and misused by the ruling elite of the state for its political purposes. On February 27th, 2002, S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt by the miscreants killing 59 innocent travellers in the train. It was a heinous crime which jolted everyone who listened and saw the eye witnessed account. After that what happened in Gujarat is a blot to the democratic governance anywhere in the world. It was said that that the Godhra’s carnage was instigated by the Muslims and hence the people had a right to ‘teach’ them a good lesson. For days the state of Gujarat forgot its ‘rajdharma’ and allowed the anti-social communal elements solidly supported by the state and its administration to butcher and kill Muslims all over the state.
The state machinery abdicated its responsibility to act as a protector for all the people living in the state irrespective of their religion. Instead, its leader had a field day, vilifying Muslims and instigating the goons and thugs of the Hindutva variety. In the next fortnight we saw the worst kind of slaughtering of innocent people in Gujarat with active participation of the state authorities in connivance with the political thugs who were out rightly spreading hatred for their political gains.
Over three thousand Muslims were killed in the so-called ‘communal riots’ which were nothing but organized pogroms by the state. Gujarat state was systematically isolating Muslims and the power elite there communalized the entire operation. The relief camps tell the story of the fear in the minds of Muslims. The goons were given political protection and some of them became Ministers too but since they were so called upper caste Hindus hence nothing matter.  Contrary to this, Muslims were targeted by the police and arrested for reacting.

There is no doubt that the incident of Godhra was carnage of innocent people yet it is the duty of the state to investigate the incident impartially and protect the people. You cannot allow the Muslims of Ahemedbad, Baroda, Bharuch and elsewhere to be killed by the religious thugs in the name of ‘retaliation’ for the Godhra carnage. It is sad that the Indian state has allowed itself to be hijacked and communalized by such majoritarian tendencies where any crime committed by a criminal belonging to minority community is painted as the ‘activity’ and ‘thought’ of the community and hence to ‘rectify’ the champions of ‘Hindu nationalism’ must take to street and teach them a lesson.  Gujarat incident of a communalized state is not the only one in the history of India but it continues with our selective targeting and leakages of the information through media to vitiate the atmosphere. Prior to Gujarat we saw the state managed pogrom of Sikhs in Delhi in the aftermath of her assassination by those who happened to be Sikhs. The goons this time belong to the Congress Party but in their faith and belief they were not different than the thugs of Gujarat who killed Muslims in the Post Godhra carnage. For years, every Sikh in Delhi had to bear the brunt of being a ‘terrorist’ and traitor who felt happy when ‘Indira Gandhi was assassinated’.

For years the majoritarian tendencies find ways to violently oppose the assertion of the minorities and marginalized and tag them. The duty of a secular state is to handle these issues with great sensitivity and utmost impartiality. But in these cases and later on many other occasions, Indian state actually turned out to be a Hindu state which has to ‘honor’ the sensitivity of the ‘upper castes’ but react violently to the reactions and assertions of minorities and marginalized. One can compare these things with violence against Muslims in the aftermath of Ayodhya demolition in 1992. There have been communal disturbances in different parts of the country including Mumbai but the perpetrators of these riots only got legitimacy through manipulating our electoral system.  The so called majority people got power and prestige and legitimized their anger in the name of ‘national’ ‘sentiments’ or people’s consciousness but our jails were filled with Muslim youths in the name of terrorism.

It is shocking what our home minister admitted in parliament the other day replying to question raised by some of the members of parliaments such as Basudeb Acharia of Communist Party of India ( Marxist) who was backed by RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, SP suprimo Mulayam Singh Yadav and others. Minister of State for Home Affairs (MoS) RPN Singh evaded his direct question. He said, "Terrorism has no colour or religion and if any case of prolonged incarceration of any individual belonging to any community without any charge sheet against him is brought to light, the government will take appropriate action to ensure justice."

The minister said that Section 211 of IPC gave a person the right to seek compensation in case he had been falsely implicated in a case. He said under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act if a charge sheet is not filed within 180 days against an arrested person, he is entitled to bail."

In reply, MoS RPN Singh said, "The National Investigation Agency (NIA), set up after the Mumbai terror attack, has investigated 52 cases and arrested 334 people since 2009. Out of the 334, over 200 youths are Muslims. We don't have details on member of other religions who have been arrested by the NIA on terror charges."

 "NIA has filed chargesheet in 29 cases while 23 are under investigation," the minister said.

It is interesting to note how the government and the authorities work according to prevailing prejudices in our system against Muslims. How is it that the Minister has data about the Muslim arrested youths but not about others. At the one end, the government continues to inform us that its agencies are doing their best and on the other side the political authority of the government is being clearly violated by the communalists inside the intelligence agencies.

How will the government explain to us the number of arrests made by them in the aftermath of killings of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Babari demolition and post Godhra riots. The government acted fast on individual cases where the Muslim and Sikh individuals were the ‘direct’ perpetrators of the crime but remained mute when they were the victims of a hate crime instigated by political interest groups resulting in mass killings of Muslims and Sikhs.

It is not just the government and its intelligence set up but carefully planned strategy of the Hindu nationalists to keep the issue of ‘terrorism’ as an offensive so that anybody who talks of justice to people is termed as ‘traitor’.  The issue of Afzal Guru is similar and the disgraceful way in which his case was handled at least his last moment resulted in Kashmir feeling alienated. Major political parties including PDP and National Conference actually have demanded the government to return Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru’s body to their families. Parties like BJP and Congress are opposed to it making it clear that he was ‘anti national’ and his dead body would only raise passions. But the hypocracy of both these parties is exposed when the government does not act with same will in the other cases of death penalty such as the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. The Punjab assembly passed resolution against the hanging of the person who happened to be a Sikh. In fact, many times, SGPC has often glorified the killers of Indira Gandhi. Similarly, Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi are together in their opposition of death penalty against the killers of Rajiv Gandhi as well as the gang members of Veerappan, the notorious sandalwood smuggler. All of a sudden our sympathies have risen and none oppose commutation of death penalties into life imprisonment. It becomes an election issue only when the crime is committed by a ‘Muslim’ and that is why the Congress government agreed to everything that the Hindutva outfits were demanding. The only problem at the moment is that there are not many of their fellows waiting for gallows as that process will take time. Problem is that political parties are not against death penalty but only wake up when they have to make a political capital out of it. Therefore, it is time for India to completely abolish capital punishment so that these politicization of crime stops immediately.

Some time back a senior army officer told me that Maoists are our own people and hence the army cannot wage a war against them. I was amazed because the same idea does not come when the army battle in Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland or Kashmir. Why are the people in these regions not our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, why no sympathy is generated for them and the answer lies in the complete communal mindset prevailing in our system where Muslims, or people from north east are not our own and looked down in suspicion. Such a stereotyping of communities is dangerous for the well-being of our society and national integration. India needs to grow up and speak up against communal agenda of political parties as well as our power elite which strengthen stereotyping of communities for their own political benefit. Such unlawful arrests as well as vilification of Muslims in particular will only alienate them further and help those who want the gap between different communities grow so that their agendas for a divisive India succeed. We must stand and counted against such dangerous stereotyping which is against our national interest. Any political victory after marginalizing the minorities will not strengthen democracy but will only benefit those who wish to install Hindu theocracy in India under the garb of democracy.