Friday, July 26, 2013

Death of Ethics

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

There has been no news from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art regarding the deaths of three sanitation workers who died in the campus on July 14th while cleaning the sewage line near to AC plant. The families of deceased have not heard anything from the company which has Rajesh as supervisor. The National Human Rights Commission and other government bodies need to act on it as one of the prime witnesses of the issue is Chhotu, 30 who was part of the team and survived. In an interaction, Chhotu and his mother provided horrific details of the incidents and how they have been treated at the hospital.

It was early morning at 7.30 am on that day when Chhotu along with his friends Rajesh and others started from Trilokpuri for the ‘work’. He was not told the nature of the work. He was informed that he would have to clean water tank, he said. At 8.30 am they reached Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art and the watchman at the gate took them to the AC plant side to carry out the work.

Chhotu was perhaps the youngest and hence was worked more than his elderly colleagues.  There was no big deal in cleaning the five pits as they did not have gas but just ‘water’. They had cleared five pits. Bahadur, the watchman of the Centre  helped them. They had pump also but that was not used fully. Bahadur left after the five ‘holes’ were cleared. It was five in the evening. A couple who too was working had gone out to have tea.

Chhottu felt that it was time to finish the last one too and go. As he entered the sixth pit, there was gas inside it. He could not face it and fell unconscious. His friends from the above were watching. So, they pulled him up but the person who tried to save him actually died.  He was Satish. Each one of them was trying to save but actually died. Satish, Ashok and Rajesh died trying to save each other facing the terrible gas. There was no staff of IGNCA. The couple who had gone out for tea had returned. There was commotion as they called police at 100 number. It came fast and took all the victims to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital where Satish, Ashok and Rajesh were declared dead while Chhotu was admitted. He was responding to the treatment.

The death of medical ethics

Chhotu’s parents at Trilokpuri were informed late in the night and both of them rushed to hospital. His wife was pregnant and got worried. His mother was in a very disturbed condition. At the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, they found them unwelcomed. The doctors were not interested in them. The mother rushed here and there but finally found the boy in the ward. He was unrecognizable as the body was completely oil and absolute black. None in the staff could think of cleaning him or washing his dirt. In the early morning when Chhotu came to senses, he saw his mother and asked her about his children. ‘They are all fine’, said the mother. He then inquired about Rajesh and others and his mother said that they too were fine. His mother was worried about his condition and hence felt that it was good not to inform him. Suddenly, he got up and went outside the ward. He was feeling unease and uncomfortable. It was very unfortunate and shocking that when he, returned to his bed after 10 minutes, the doctor and the nurse did not allow him. They were asked to leave. The doctors did not even give them the papers of their treatment and what he needs. His mother begged but the doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital did not bother to address.

Both mother sun due remained at the hospital only. Now, Chhotu had realized that his three other colleagues were dead as the families of them were already in the hospital. He was in deep shock but fortunately he could tolerate all this. Despite in terrible mental and physical condition, he helped the families of the deceased and was there with them till they had got the bodies of the three victims.

If we see the pattern of treatment meted out to all these victims including Chhotu, then one thing is clear that the doctors in India suffer from prejudices and perhaps not ready to touch those who clean the human excreta and other garbage in our cities as well as go deep into these sewage lines, the modern day night-soil. All of them were acknowledged as ‘unknown’ and their concerns were not addressed. Their families got the dead bodies at 12 pm next day. One can understand the amount of seriousness that the doctors showed. They were not given any report and when they asked for Post Mortem Report, they were asked to come after 40 days. Why are the doctors denying the patient the post mortem report?  Shockingly, the cause of death is not mentioned in the certificate issued so far.

Some More Fact

After speaking to Chhotu, who is the witness to the event following facts emerged and must be inquired.
The entire work was being supervised by Rajesh who is no more. He took them and promised Rs 300/- each for cleaning. They were promised that there was no sewage pipe but water pits at the Centre.
The other fact is coming to the notice is that Rajesh was employed at the IGNCA by a private company who has so far not approached the family after death. It needs to be seen as why IGNCA has not spoken on the issue. Who is responsible for the deaths of these people? Why has the police not filed an FIR and if yes, why the copies of FIR not provided to the family. It needs to be seen whether the FIR contain any case of negligence against civic authorities or IGNCA. What are the rehabilitation measures done so far? After the privatization process, contractors have given it to subcontractors and hence no social security for those who enter. Most of the time, it is the younger member or older one, who are not employed or are wage labour enter into the pit just for earning a few rupees. Despite High Court’s order in the past, why were these people not informed about the last pit which was not really of ‘water’ but contained ‘oil’ which was really dangerous and contained gas. Chhotu informed us that till the five pits were covered, the watchman Bahadur was with them but when they opened the last pit, very suspiciously Bahadur left that time. The question is whether Bahadur had known what contained in that pit and if yes then why did he not inform them. They were clearly told that unless they clear each of these pits, no payment would be made to them.

Defied death

Chhot defied death. He is a daily wage worker. He parents are sweepers at different places. His mother works in a local hospital and is too concerned about him as he is the only son. Fortunately, they have their own house unlike other colleagues who died. Chhotu’s mother clearly does not want him to do this work.  ‘I would have died if anything had happened to him’. She is more than happy. Just next day after Chhotu came back from this danger zone, his wife delivered a baby girl and now his mother says,’ the daughter has brought her father back, so she is a special child. He is now father of four children and one shudder to think the event which happened in his life.  His daughter was born one day after this horrific incident had happened. So for mother, this daughter has brought her father back. 
Chhotu’s story is of deprivation, denial and rejection. It is a social violence brutally legalized by the state apparatus which has failed to provide protection to Dalits all over the country. The state which claims to work on the secular principles of its constitution has not been able to construct a secular bureaucracy which treats all of its citizens without any preconceived notions.

There are serious questions from this incident and I am sure it is not the last despite our wishes because neither the people nor the civic authorities have any civic sense here. They go scot free because the power elite have not taken these issues seriously. There are provisions for protection and punishment for violating yet shamelessly nothing moves. Can the NDMC, MCD, Delhi government or Ministry of Social Justice keep quiet on the issue since the entire sanitation work is now ‘privatised’. The problem is that things remain the same. The death occurs in the heart of Delhi and at the premium institution of India. It has shown the callousness of our police which did not show any concern of the people. We don’t even know what they are doing as far as this case was concern. The story of RML doctors is well known who did not even bother to give full treatment to Chhotu. He is still going to the doctor at the Lal Bahadur hospital in East Delhi. He is still not well and faint but the authorities have no botheration. One does not know whether they have any shame now even so many days of the death of three ‘murders’ which has been committed to keep our city safe. Where are the masks, gloves and machines meant for this work? We hear so much of mechanization process and yet we send people from a particular community to die in these gas chambers without proper protection measures or medical insurance.  Manual scavenging is prohibited legally and on papers and in the heart of our capital city, the community which has been compelled to do this work is dying daily without any dignified response to their issues including rehabilitation.

A challenge to human values and constitution

The deaths in sewage system and subsequent treatment given to those who died and those who continue to suffer doing this inhuman work need to be properly investigated. The role of each agency must be clearly mentioned. Doctors and other medical staff, Delhi Jal Board, New Delhi Municipal Corporation or Municipal Corporation of Delhi, private contractors should not be allowed to go unquestioned. Let there be heavy penalties on them. Let them answer for the deaths of all these people and maltreatment to them. Will the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Scheduled Caste wake up? They take up suo-motto actions which are published in newspapers but what happens to things which are not taken up by the media seriously? It is wakeup call and time for a decisive battle against all form of  manual scavenging has come which will not disappear just with mechanization process but will need a complete overhauling of our social value system as well as strict implementation of anti-discriminatory laws including SC-ST prevention of atrocities act. In the meantime, we wish the authorities to answer to the families of the victims as what is their planning for them. Who is responsible for these deaths and what is being done to the families of these people who languish in humiliation and uncertainty of life. Each death in the sewage line or toilets is an upfront to our constitution as it is the very negation of society based on equity, liberty and fraternity as envisaged by Baba Saheb Dr Ambedkar.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Issue of Medical Ethics in India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

It was an invitation that I could not ignore as the subject was close to my heart and being organized by a premier medical institution in the capital of India. The issue was ‘medical ethics’ and the main speaker was a humanist philosopher from Utrecht University in Netherlands. As it was being organized for the students, who were future doctors emerging out from this premier institution, my friend suggested that there could be two other speakers who should express their opinion in the beginning for the benefits of the students. One was a former alumnus of the institution; a well-known doctor now settled in US but is contemplating to start working with communities in India and second was myself who was supposed to give some factual analysis of what happens here in India.

The other speaker finished in 5 minute time allotted to him and the host invited me to speak of my experiences so that our main speaker also has an idea. I started through bullet points and wanted to inform that I do not generalize but all these things have happened and we face it, though there are exceptions.

‘Friends, a few days back three sanitation workers died cleaning the sewage line in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art. The police took their bodies to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital and all the three were declared brought dead but their details were mentioned as unknown, unidentified etc. and their families got information next morning. There is no cooperation with families of the poor.

In Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, most of the Primary Health Centers do not have proper facilities and sweepers and non-medical staff do even perform minor surgeries. You might have seen latest report of death of a child in Balia on the NDTV. I want to tell you why this happen. It reflects the class-caste bias among our medical fraternity. Since the upper caste-class in the villages or rural India prefer to private hospitals, it is the rural poor who go to these PHCs and hence we don’t want to touch them. It is this prejudices that we carry on further that result in unwanted deaths.

In Delhi, I am amazed to see the small temples outside the ICUs of many prestigious hospitals where people go and break coconut before entering the ICU. Is that ethical? Should we allow such thing inside the hospitals? Does it not violate the spirit of inquiry and scientific temperament?

My own experience at a hospital was that doctors don’t really appreciate when you want to donate organs and body after death.

The emergency wards of most of hospitals are horrible. I have gone through personal experiences when in a place like AIIMS, we had to wait since morning and finally the patient could only be admitted in the evening at 9 pm.

The doctors and nurses speak with their patient in most rustic way and forget that patient too deserve respect from the doctors and their staff. In the big hospitals, doctors do not inform the patients or their wards about the ailment and most shocking are the event when due to lack of money hospitals refused to give away the dead body.

Gynecologists normally discourage women for family planning if they have daughters.

Today, many of the psychiatrists in Delhi are promoting the ‘Gayatri Mantra’ to get rid of tension. What will they advise to Muslims, Christians or atheists to get rid of depression?

And finally, dear friends, the biggest ethics is to treat each patient without discriminating on the basis of their identity. You must have heard Praveen Togadia. Some people say, he was a doctor…’ (I am not allowed to complete my statement by a teacher who gets up and snatch microphone from my hand)

Suddenly, there is unease in the heart of some one. The participants are listening but the man at the end row gets up shouting,’ why have we been invited to ‘waste’ our time here? It is an ‘academic’ seminar and we cannot allow ‘anyone’ to speak here’. I am taken aback but keep my calm. The students and audience are stunned. The man comes and snatches the microphone from my hand. He does not allow me to speak. He just asks me to go. I don’t know how to react as every institution has a hierarchy. I give in and silently go and sit on my seat. I don’t retaliate as I feel the people who have invited me should have done or may have their problems. The ‘professor’ now takes charge.  He starts condemning me and countering everything that I spoke. He justifies statues of gods and goddesses inside the hospitals suggested there was nothing wrong with Gayatri Mantra to give ‘strength’ to patient. Everybody is just shocked. Anyway, I decide not to walk out as I was not a designated speaker but only requested to speak. I want to listen to the guest from Netherlands and hence decide to not to make a fuss of it but as I don’t know the internal politics inside the institution which is very natural in all these big institutions.

Our friend from Netherlands speaks and explain beautiful what medical ethics is and the issue he focuses on is that  we have to go beyond just being ‘doctor’ in technical sense. We have to respect scientific temperament and have humanist values. He spoke about prejudices of different kinds in our societies everywhere and how and why the doctors should keep away from it. We cannot be seen supporting alternative medical methods. We have to support all that which come through scientific inventions after years of hard work. Of-course, he raises the issues of prejudices against untouchables and disabled people. In many countries, there is a clear war against homo sexual and therefore he suggest that the doctors cannot go according to the prevailing notions of society but according to what science is and what medical research speak about.

After the lecture is over the students are silent but the organizers tried to have some questions answer session but not everyone is ready after all this. A girl stood up and asked how to deal with homo sexuality issue in India where society still treats it as taboo. And again this philosopher friend speak with same conviction that according to all report, there is nothing wrong about homo sexuality and it is the decision of two individuals to decide how should they live. We cannot criminalize homo sexuality and their country was the first one to allow the gay marriages too.

Feeling much uncomfortable again, this ‘professor’ again gets up to argue against that. ‘I have no problem with homo sexuality but it cannot be termed as normal behavior as there are no studies suggesting that. We live in a society which does not respect it. How can we justify gay marriages?’

The hall is silence and none want to respond to him. The silence has said so many things. The students in these institutions live under tremendous pressure and hence try not to offend their faculties. Secondly, these institutions still have people who are actually a shame to the name of teaching profession. It is also true that all kind of elements have entered into the medical profession who join it to earn money and in that humanity becomes the biggest victim of their deeds. The fact that we still feel sympathetic to the likes of Praveen Togadia and Maya Kodnani, shows that we still carry our caste and religious prejudices along with us and medical ethics don’t work for us. I am happy that most of the teachers that I spoke afterwards agreed with my view point though they disagreed direct ‘naming’ of an individual though I felt they should have stood up and objected but I also know that these institutions are always suffer from inter departmental politics and games are played to disturb the programme and hence I did not fall prey to their politics and kept quiet.
The profession of a doctor is noble one. They were considered as God. Their soft voice worked like balm on the patient. I never generalize the issue but the trend is visible. And when we were discussing things at the college, it means we are friends of society, after all, those who invited me to their institutions have been aware of my writings and my work for long. Even if they have not known my work, what were the things which violated the basic ethics? Did I speak anything which violate the basic decency but what I realize very fast was that once I uttered Togadia, the professor could actually visualize as what was coming next and being a sympathizer or a member of the organization, he could not allow such things to go but these fellows do not know that they can stop me from their institution but not from general public.

It is shameful that academic institutions where the freedom of expression and dissent should be honored are becoming highly intolerant to criticism. Each philosophy and ideology failed here because the caste and religious prejudices. The arrogance of being ‘powerful’ and ‘twice born’ still exist in our society. Medical profession has grown tremendously and money has become the major criteria yet with in this age of market and money, modernity has become the biggest victim. Medical ethics transcends nationality, caste, religious and all kind of boundaries and that is why doctors have been respected world over as their only respect is meant for humanity and trying to save a human life irrespective of his faith and political ideologies which actually look dim in India where our prejudices are superseding them. It is time the institutions start a cleanup operation so that our doctors are not just respected for their knowledge but also for their human values and medical ethics too. Our academic institutions can only do it once they shed their caste prejudices and allow wider diversity in these places of learning so that India as a whole grow and people here particularly those who are poor and not among ‘them’, do not suffer out of these prejudices.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The 'death holes' of India

By Vidya  Bhushan Rawat

The news of three deaths of sanitation workers in sewage line at the prime location of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art (IGNCA) in Delhi on July 14th, has passed off ‘peacefully’ as the country is ‘busy’ in many things and media has no time to raise the issue as these are not ‘political deaths’, to raise pitch on our studios. The government is unable to bring new law so far as the parties have no time to pass it. Our huge growth and infrastructure developmental activities are unable to find machine to clean sewage lines and we need a particular community of Balmikis to enter into it. And poverty, isolation, oppression force the young men of the community to enter into these ‘hellish’ ‘death holes’ or ‘shit bombs’ knowing fully well the dangers involved in it. Authorities continue to get their things done despite deaths of hundreds of workers in past few years in these ‘death holes’ and the responsible civic agencies like Delhi Jal Board, Municipal Corporation of Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Corporations put blame on others. So far not a single official has been booked for this criminal negligence. Question is how long will we allow these incidents go scot free without any one being made accountable for these deaths? Secondly, what are the rehabilitation measures for those who have died in these plants and thirdly when will we see a complete prohibition of people entering into these ‘death-traps’ It is time to ask questions and fix responsibility on people. Sewage work is another name of manual scavenging for which government of India and state governments are claiming that they have ‘eliminated’ from their states. It is the new form of manual scavenging much more dangerous as it completely kills human spirit, degrade them and compel them to do things for purely economic reasons. No one would like to enter into these death traps. The death of three young workers in Delhi and the treatment meted out to them in death itself shows how much dirt exists in our mind. That those who make our cities clean are treated worse than animals in their death too. That their bodies are treated as ‘unknown’ by the police and medical doctors and families are not informed adequately about their deaths. The height of negligence is when IGNCA authorities refuse to accept, tender apology or even speak to the families of these deceased. So far none of the so-called authorities have visited them. Families are left to fetch themselves. It is a story of our criminal neglect, poverty, desperation, isolation, caste indignities, racist society and barbarianism. We must hang our head in shame.

The death in the hole

It was Sunday and Rajesh 35 decided to go to work thinking that he would earn a few bucks more to bring to his family. He took along with him Ashok, Satish  and  Chhotu to Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art (IGNCA) in the Lutyen’s sprawling Delhi for the days ‘cleaning’ operation. Little did they know that this would be perhaps the last ‘working’ day for them? They were supposed to clean 6 sewage pits near the AC plant in the IGNCA and hence they started early morning at 7 am from the home so that he could finish that on time around 5 pm in the evening and get back home to do his additional work of Rickshaw pulling which was essential for him to run his family. It is not well known so far as whether they were hired by the company or whether IGNCA had subcontracted the work to any company. It needs thorough investigations and criminal case of murder must be file d for those responsible for this.

In the semi urban locality of Trilokpuri nearly 50,000 Balmiki families live to earn their livelihood through various kinds of engagements. A majority of them now work with the private contractors after the sanitary work was privatized. The MCD and NDMC jobs became lucrative and out of reach for most of them. Many of them actually work in absence of those who ‘sign’ in the register. The signatories get the salaries but most of these youngsters work for someone and get a meager sum of money for their survival. Some others are destined to work with private contractors as they can’t get any other job. The private contractors squeeze them and pay well below the minimum wages and take a minimum of 8-12 hours’ work a day against all the norms of the government. There is no social security benefit as well as no leaves and holidays for them. They can be called at any moment and even there it is not known how many of them are truly registered as employees. So, most of them actually, despite working regularly with these private contractors are treated as daily wage workers and hence their condition is pathetic.

Rajesh was a supervisor in the private company and was earning Rs five thousand a month. Living along with his wife, a son and a daughter, he was the sole bread-winner of the family. A few months back he had lost his elder daughter who was about eighteen years of age. Just two months ago, he got his second daughter married. The neighbor says that he was a very hard working man, who after coming from work used to ply rickshaw till the night. ‘How much can you really make in Rs 5000/- when you have to shell out nearly three thousands for rent, says an elderly woman in the neighborhood. He was under tremendous pressure as his second daughter got married two months ago and we know he had taken a loan of Rs 100,000/-.  The pressure is so much that the family has not been able to return the money. It is this reason that Rajesh and many like him actually work in the evening and ready to exploit their bodies further.
In the first floor house lives this family. Rajesh’s son is too young to understand. He does not go to school. I asked why,’ mere paas vardi nahi hai’, he said, I don’t have school uniform’. And one can understand the pain in his eyes in saying so. We know how the Balmiki students are humiliated in the schools. They are normally asked to sit at the last and if they come late the teachers beat them and scold them in best known expletives.

The family was therefore aware that he was going for some extra work. There was no information at home till late in the evening at 11 pm two boys came and asked them about the where about of Rajesh and his number. In the night police came to inform them about his death. They died in sewage line but surprisingly and shockingly the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art is shamelessly ignoring the facts about their presence. Rajesh parents are no more. His wife is in a state of deep shock and his son has no mean to go to school. His brothers live elsewhere so for this family now life has become more challenging and traumatic. The family does not even have a ration card leave alone of having a BPL card. One does not know what are these card made of and for whom if the most oppressed of the people have no access to it.

Similar scenes were visible at the house of Ashok who too was living on a rented place. With 4 children, two daughters and two sons, Ashok was paid Rs Five Thousand for his work every month by the company. His father is too old and his younger brother was worried about him particularly his growing daughter who is expected to get married in November. His family is living in a difficult shape as they pay Rs 4000/- as rent and his two sons are too young and don’t know whether they would be able to go school again or not. The families do not know what to do and where to go, who to approach. They become vulnerable to exploitation further.

Bodies treated as ‘Unknown’

According to preliminary information from the hospital three persons, Rajesh, Satish and Ashok were brought dead there by the Parliament Street Thana Police. It is surprising, shocking and disturbing that there is no information filled up in the police form and the initial form provided to the family of diseased looks as if they are ‘unknown’ and found dead lying in the street. Three deaths were recorded everywhere as unknown which means neither the IGNCA nor the contractors have anything to do with this issue at present. If that is true than how can police take up this matter without registering a case of negligence against those responsible for it? Is it just the case of negligence or our lack of humanity and basic dignity provided to Balmikis for doing all the work which none other can do? It raises basic question of how we treat our people who doing the most dangerous work. Did the police make any arrest in this regard? Did they speak to any one on the issue or just want to close the file? Were these people working without any body’s knowledge? How can they enter sewage pit when it is prohibited? Who is responsible to manage and maintain sewage lines? Can the IGNCA get away without any penalty? The three workers were working with private contractors so it needs to be investigated whether they were working on the guidelines of the private contractors. If yes, then what was the role of the authorities to stop such things?

We all know that Delhi and other parts of India shamelessly use the poverty of people to fulfill their ulterior agenda. The manual scavenging in India continue and is on the increase and without any sincere effort to eliminate it. How can the authorities treat the persons who were doing this work as ‘unknown’ and lawaris? Rajesh, Ashok and all others had not only their mobile phones with them but had some cash as well as their company Identity Card. They would not have entered the IGNCA air-conditioned block without the entry at the gate and if it is not entered then why? The pain is that we have seen deaths for years without changing the pattern of our governance system as well as social attitude.

Who is responsible for these deaths?

After showing these deaths as ‘Unknown’ not a single official from either IGNCA or the private contractor where Rajesh and other worked visited their homes. And it is till yesterday evening 6 pm when I was speaking the families had neither the copy of the FIR nor any other details as how their people died.  Leave aside asking about their people, there is something fishy as all the families were not informed properly by any responsible authority about this ‘accident’, which is clearly a murder.  The families are shocked that no one from these ‘responsible’ bothered to ask about them.

The deaths seem to occur at 8.30 in the evening but families were not informed properly about this. In fact, people were sent casually to find out the whereabouts of these people as well as their contact details. It is late in the night when they were informed by the police about the ‘accident’ and asked them to visit Ram Manohar Lohia. Ashok’s brother actually informed that they got information next morning. It is shameful that our authorities do everything to kill the information and hence any investigation further becomes a mere formality.

It is well known that after such pressure a token amount could be given to the next of diseased yet the way everyone has behaved here shows the criminal apathy of governance, civil society and media. Except for DNA, there was not even news on the issue. The news which die next day and none try to find as what happen to families who’s everything is lost.

Impartial Inquiry and comprehensive rehabilitation of the families

Rajesh, Ashok and Satish are no more. None cry for them except their family people. Government of India has not been able to bring a bill in Parliament to eliminate manual scavenging and rehabilitate the manual scavengers. It is shocking negligence by each apparatus of our system that the families of these people suffer in agony and uncertainty. On the one hand we want to stop it through legislation and the other side there is no security for them. Strangely and disgustingly their families do not possess ration cards here as they live on rented houses. The government facilities do not reach them. Fact of the matter is, it is difficult for any Balmiki family to get a house on rent in a ‘normal’ locality. The community which should have been on our agenda to eliminate not just discrimination but caste discrimination to be precise is suffering all humiliation.

While an impartial inquiry is important yet the most important is fixing up of responsibility and rehabilitation of the families who lost their members.  You cannot allow people to die in suffocation and suffering and hence the government must compensate adequately to the families. It is time when bodies like NHRC, NCSC must take suo-moto action against the private contractors, NDMC/MCD /Jal Board officials for gross dereliction of duty and negligence resulting in deaths of three young men. The government on the other hand must come out with comprehensive rehabilitation measures completely banning entry of human being into these ‘death holes’ as well as other forms of manual scavenging. It is gross violation of human rights to live with dignity and show our caste and racial prejudices, a ‘divine reservation’ which has been meant for Balmiki community. It would be better if the government address the issue seriously and show some sign of action at the ground before other deaths take place in these death traps. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How police make Naxals from common men

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

It could have been an encounter if the names were Muslims. They could have been easily made scapegoat like jehadis from Lakshar or Indian Muzahidin which our security agencies are habitual of whenever they arrest anyone whose name sounds a Muslim name but somewhat it did not happen. Reasons may be different but the fact is they became victim of highhandedness of our forces. What was their fault? They went to a village to spread awareness and did not have the ‘permission’ to organize a nukkad natak in the village in East Champaran. I did not know that as I never required that. Perhaps governments want us to apply for permission for doing everything. That will never work in India. In fact, that would be counterproductive.
Last night was a disturbing one for me. Namo Narayan Meena, a student of MSW in Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidya Peeth called me at 7 pm suggesting he has been arrested by CRPF along with 8 other students from BHU and other colleges of Varanasi who had gone to East Champaran in relation to a programme in a village. I asked as why they were arrested. Namo Narayan said that they have a theatre group which comprises mostly students and it is usual for them to go to villages and perform their ‘nukkad’ nataks and speak to the people about the current situation. CRPF people felt them suspect and arrested them. They were beaten up too. Namo Narayan was quite sure that they are in a difficult situation but he was keeping a brave front. ‘ I just wanted to inform you sir, that we are not doing anything wrong, but our friends must know where we are’. I assumed that they will be put in a Thana and released later on. At 9 pm, Namo Narayan called me again saying that the police was taking them some unknown place and that he feared an encounter. Such things will automatically come in the minds of people who are in the villages and fighting for people’s right. I knew the fact that it would be difficult to get in touch with any one at the moment and hence I started trying contacting people in Bihar. It was disappointing not to find any one. One ray of hope was Khalid Ansari, who spoke to Mr Ali Anwar, the JD ( U) MP. I also passed the number to Namo Narayan and asked him to contact me once he is able to speak with Anwar Saheb.
Unfortunately, after 1030 pm, there was no connectivity. I was trying hard but nothing materialized. In the morning again, I first send a message and then called but situation remain the same. I was worried but did not know what to do. At around 730 in the morning, I called up another friend of Namo Narayan, to find out what was happening and whereabouts of these students but Pankaj too had no information. He promised me to find out. Actually, Namo Narayan was tried to speak to Mr Ali Anwar when they reached Motihari but the police officer snatched his phone and that is why we were unable to contact them till the time of their release. This is a big violation of their rights to disallow them to speak to either their lawyer or their leader. CRPF and other Police officer must be asked to respond to this as why they not allow the students to speak to their people. This is nothing but totally dictatorial.

For me it was more of a helpless situation as all these young boys have been very active and I had enjoyed some of my days with them speaking on Ambedkarism to Marxism and other forms of discrimination. They have zeal and determination to do things. I encouraged them to campaign for Humanise India and broaden their horizon. At around 11 am, Pankaj called and informed that all of them were brought to Gaya and that they would be released by the noon. I was still worried about it and hence tried to contact them. At around 4 pm when they were released Namo Narayan said that they have been released as police find nothing in them. They had been taken to Motihari. All these students are returning to Varanasi after this horrible experience where you cannot speak in your own country and you will have to take permission for every small thing to speak and write. Is it democracy? Is it the freedom that we all got from the British Raj.

Police was active in their PR exercise in Motihari that they have arrested Maoist suspect but the problem with our security agencies is their stupidities and absurd ways of functioning. For a foot march in 2008, I was hounded by the same security apparatus for nearly a year and finally the local police officer asked me whether I was a communist or not. I laughed at him but living in rented place means you are at the mercy of your owner who was more than willing to give him Rs five hundred note and verify on my behalf that I was not a ‘communist’ as he perceived.

These are the dirty games. I have many more anecdotes about these idiotic officers who feel too proud of being power of the ‘Government’ and look down upon everything else because we are just powerless. We can’t get things done at our own but at the moment; I have a request to our friends. I know they are eager to go out and do things as they have passion to do things. Please inform your friends and relatives whenever you are planning to go to some interior place. It is important to have a local contact and be in touch. Equally important is to inform immediately to friends about any suspicious activity. These things are essentials as Indian police can murder you and put an AK-47 in your hand any time and make you a terrorist. Hence it is important that just because there is a fear, we cannot leave our work. The only thing is that we have to be alert and work cohesively and in a better planned way. It is time that all the democratic forces who believe in social justice and secularism should join hand and fight democratically against such anti-democratic forces. In the meanwhile, I hope Nitish Kumar will not raise the bogey of Naxalism to fulfill his poll agenda. It is time, we take this political battle against communal fascism and brahmanical capitalism to a logical conclusion and it is only possible if we learn a few lessons with such incidents. We cannot believe in the ‘democratic’ nature of our police and state. Let us be careful in future so that such incidents are not repeated as we don’t want to lose our young who are future of the country and will be our strength.

In the meanwhile I will only say to our police and paramilitary forces that there struggle is important but they should focus on their work and not work in isolation. Unless they work with the people and understand their sentiments, they would only be outsiders and none will help them. At the end of the day, you are only fighting battle against your own people and torturing and humiliating innocent youngsters will only create more enemies and distrust among the masses and the reality is that no battle can be won without their cooperation. So, it is not the guns but the mind and heart that will make them victorious.

We must strongly condemn this incident as it violate our right to speak to our fellow citizens and villagers. More so, because it criminalize the activities of students who wanted to visit villages and make people aware of their rights. This is a warning to all of us and only answer to this is fight jointly against such anti democratic measures of the state

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Ugly Face of Vanniayar politics in Tamilnadu

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The death of E.Ilavarsan in Tamilnadu might be a single column report in our newspapers but it has reflected the mindset prevailing in India and deep rooted caste prejudices against the Dalits in our society. It has also proved that the Dravidian politics has not been able to overcome its own prejudices against Dalits and they large represent the politics of powerful politicized OBCs who at the social level have been at the loggerheads with Dalits. It is not strange therefore that none of the mainstream Dravidian parties have spoken unambiguously on the issue though the political parties particularly representing Dalits, such as Puthia Tamilgam and Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi have sought action against PMK, yet so far no visible action is seen on the ground by the Tamilnadu government. The Madras High Court is now observing this matter as the family of Ilavarsan has asked for a second autopsy as they refuse to believe that it is a case of suicide.
It is deeply regrettable that the party which is responsible for this act and has outrageously spoken against Dalits by supporting the anti-Dalit violence among the Vanniyar community in Dharmapuri district of Tamilnadu is roaming freely and propagating its hate philosophy. In fact, PMK had warned against the love marriages as well as abrogation of Prevention of Atrocities Act. The Vanniyar community members have been instigated by PMK and its leaders who had been organizing various meeting against the marriage of Divya, their community girl with Ilavarsan, a Dalit boy from Dharmapuri. It saw violence by the Vanniyar community against Dalits after the marriage. Afterwards, Divya’s father committed suicide under intense social pressure resulting in more pressure of breaking of marriage. The social pressure was so high that Divya was compelled to break the marriage unilaterally in the High-Court without informing Ilavarasan. She told Madras High Court that she would not like to live with Ilavarasan anymore. It is reported that heartbroken Ilaverasan committed suicide after that.
PMK has been part of government both at Centre and in the state and it is reprehensible that they could be so irresponsible in addressing this issue. Their stand replicates the values of Khap Panchayats in Haryana who have been violating the laws of the land but without any action from the government of Haryana merely because of political reasons.  Contrary to this action has been taken against Dalits who have been speaking against violence.  This shows the connivance of the state with powerful communities. It is true that these issues are socio-cultural in nature and need social response. Unfortunately, politicians have proved to be too petty in such cases and we still feel a big vacuum after Periyar’s death in Tamilnadu who could have spoken against such violence.
Today, some of the parties might condemn the incident but just as a passing reference while many pretend that it is a ‘social issue’. One does not understand what is the meaning of ‘social issue’? Is Indian constitution not applicable on ‘social issues’? If that is true then we have accepted that it is the Manusmriti which rules India and not the constitution of India and all those parties who speak against brahamanical order have in fact strengthened them to strengthen their own political position and anti Brahmanism remained a mere rhetoric for them to control the levers of powers. Unfortunately this tendency and pattern is absolutely contrary to the thoughts and actions of Periyar who not only raised a banner of against the system but also provided alternatives through self-respect marriages but today it look as if these marriages are more political and less social. Therefore, a few such marriages will not change the situation in Tamilnadu.
It death of Divya’s father actually reveal the reality of village life of Tamilnadu where religiousity and caste supremacy remain intact. It means that Periyar’s movement did reach and ignite some of the OBC communities but not all. And more over, these communities revolved around him not in their social process but purely for political empowerment. Dr Ambedkar had always mentioned that in the absence of social equality our political power would be nothing but a big humbug and would help the lowest of the law.  In a society where caste prejudices are highly prevalent and where individual’s choices are secondary to community, the role of politicians and local goons promoted by them cannot be absolved. The fact is that Divya’s father committed suicide because of the very thought of facing possible humiliation of having married his daughter to a lower caste boy as PMK had already been organizing people on those lines.  He could not accept his daughter’s choice and the daughter pursued her own choice and was happily living with Ilavarsan because individual’s choice never matters on ‘social’ issues and give a big ‘agenda’ to political parties to actually ‘celebrate’ without working too much for people. And this is one of the reasons where parents face social pressure, mostly the local politicians, relatives who make politics of everything and use it for their benefits. Definitely, her father committed suicide to force his daughter to break the marriage which she refused. This means that Divya did not agree to family blackmail of not marrying to Ilavarasan as he was her love. But after his suicide, the pressure came on the daughter. Once you live with your family where your marriage or action is considered as the reason of father’s death then one can understand what decision would a girl or a boy take. They are emotionally blackmailed and if that too fails then they are ‘managed’, whether through calling off the marriage or getting ‘rid’ of the ‘obstacles.  There is no other option for them except than surrendering to ‘community’ wishes. And therefore Divya’s affidavit in the highcourt cannot be taken on face value as it is six months pressure on her which resulted in her statement. The pressure of isolation, losing everything and most importantly pressure of losing her own life, a sense of guilt for being ‘responsible’ for her father’s death. How could a girl alone face such pressure from a brutal and barbaric society? After having lost her father, it was possible she might have felt the intense pressure on her mother and she would not like to lose her mother.  And this resulted in another death. Whether the death is suicidal or a murder, it needs to be thoroughly investigated but the cause of Ilavarsan’s death for sure is the caste system and the political parties using this for their own purposes. You will have to deep into the reasons of death and you will find the dirty games of political parties and that is why it is important for the government to bring out a law against honored killing which had been shaming humanity.
It is time for government of India to bring out caste violence act exactly on the ground of communal violence bill so that parties who thrive on caste hatred cannot do so. It is shameful that the Party like PMK have been part of power in Delhi as well as in Tamilnadu and the way the party leaders have behaved shows clearly that they violated the constitution of India and spread hatred. In fact, PMK leaders must book for the death of Ilavarsan and election commission must warn them of future action if they don’t mend their ways. As Madras High Court is hearing this petition, they must order free and fair investigation into the matter so that politicians who use caste hatred as a tool to mobilize their communities could be taken to task.
Ilavarsan’s death and our conspicuous silence also reflect the hypocrisy of our society, its activists who will raise all the issues and come out with candle light marches.  Why has this issue not outraged us and pricked our conscious?  India shame continue unabated as a boy is killed for loving a girl from Dalit community and the state of India is unable to protect them and those responsible for his death are ‘well connected’ leaders who have had held senior positions in the government and are wandering free and threatening people. Is India a society which hate love and which still live in their own myopic social order which violate all principles of equality and social justice? We are signatory to various international covenants and yet we allow such incidents to happen and don’t even raise a slogan shows how our world is much narrow and pathetically racist.
The painful thing is that all this is happening in the state of Periyar who was much ahead of his time, who promoted women’s rights and talked against caste system. Unfortunately, Periyar’s followers hailing from powerful backward communities became much worse than Brahmins and looked down upon all the Dalits. That is one reason why despite Dravidian government in Tamilnadu, violence against Dalits is very high in the state. It makes a mockery of our constitution that at many places Dalit Sarpanches cannot hoist the national flags on Independence Day or republic day. The incidents in Tamilnadu have bigger message for us all that mere negative agenda will not work and without ensuring participation of wider section of people in governance and political structure we cannot ensure social justice. It means that mere anti Brahmanism will not make any one as pro Dalit or pro social justice. The idea of social justice is to create a level playing field for all and not simply to destroy hegemony of a community and create another one, a more brutal one, which happened in Tamilnadu. The creation of monopolies is the very idea of brahmanical structure and need to be dismantled at all level and only then we will have an equitable society.
Right and wrongs in India have become victim of caste identities. We keep quiet and speak only when it suits us. That is the most disgusting part of the new generations of Indians who have kept quiet on the issue which is of greatest importance in India as it exposes our political parties as well as social system. It is easier to speak against ‘state’ violence and oppression in India but very difficult to speak against social oppression and varnashram dharma. That is why we will finds activists, lawyers, journalists speaking on ‘state’ ‘oppression’ but remain out of bound on these issues as they exposes the very nature. Issue of love and caste are ‘private’ and hence our ‘activists’ don’t speak on them and political parties just use it if that suits their interest. While we can have complained against PMK, what is shocking that none of the parties speak on the issue openly for the fear of losing Vanniyar votes?
Vanniyars will never gain anything if they have parties like PMK which is not a community party but a family enterprise like any other party in India. Parties like DMK and others which swear in the name of Periyar and social justice must not ally with PMK and the ruling government must file cases against them. The state of India must effectively and strictly implement its laws and all those who marry as per their choice must be encouraged and protected. India cannot afford to lose its young who dare to take step against an oppressive system and despite threats to life still move ahead and love.

Ilavarsan was killed by Indian caste order and the point is that such killings have not raised any outrage is another reminder that despite all the self-proclaimed progress India remain notoriously a caste society with deeply injected prejudices. Tragedy is that we have seen lot of candle light marches for everyone but so far have not seen any one coming forward to raise a candle light for the martyrdom of Ilavarasan. Yes, Ilavarasan is a martyr for the cause of love who was killed by our notorious caste minds and Indian state could not protect him. Let us light a candle for his courage and love despite known hatred of Vanniyars against him and his community. The fact is that the Vanniyars have been duped by the parties in ‘false’ ‘community pride’ which make them above the Dalits. Why should the Dalit feel that they are below them? The very thought of such graded inequality as Baba Saheb had put, the battle of Dalit Bahujan much more difficult. Unfortunately, we are not ready to address these issues where we will be required to work with people. A constructive work is difficult as it will need energy, commitment and also lots of moderation skills to bring communities together and making them part of the process. All human beings are equal declared the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and our constitution provided equal opportunities to all but how shamelessly we are following the same path of considering people less equal. It is more disturbing that after so many years of ‘political empowerment’ if the Dravidian politics remain victim of caste identities and controlling and maintaining status quo then you cannot blame ‘others’ for the deeds of these parties. Caste identities will only divide Dalit Bahujan and the only way is a complete cultural change which Baba Saheb Ambedkar felt was important for India otherwise ‘strengthening’ caste identities will only help those who have maintained status quo and developed these contradictions of our life.