Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Republic of Dominants

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

A student from Arunachal Pradesh was lynched to death in the heart of South Delhi after an altercation with a shop owner who ‘joked’ at the hair style of the boy Nido, son of an MLA and student in a college here. The boy lost his life as he got beaten up by the shop owner and his friends who extracted rupees ten thousand too from the boy for ‘breaking’ their glass in the shop. There is outrage all over the country. Political parties have condemned the incident and as usual blamed Delhi police for its inept handling of the situation.

This is not the first incident of racial violence against the people from North East and Delhi is not the only state where such incidents are happening and despite all the media coverage and importance being given to the incident, this would not be the last of its kind as prejudices in our minds against those who do not look like us and have same kind of ‘characteristics’ are rampant. Frankly speaking, it is not just a law and order issue, it reflect the deep-rooted prejudices in our mind and need a long term solution.

There are two responses to the issue. One from the political angle which considers that this incident may create unrest in North east and alienate the people further particularly states like Arunachal Pradesh which are always claimed as ‘disputed’ territory by China. The others feel that it give leverage to Christian missionaries in their effort to ‘convert’ people as many of them have been blaming the church for their persistent engagement in proselytization process in these states. Many want a very patronizing attitude like they are our ‘poor’ cousins, living in forest, isolated regions and hence need to be ‘helped’ in the name of ‘national integration’.

For a ‘profit maker’ in Delhi these issues are not of importance as he sees them as helpless people who need residence in Delhi and hence force them to his terms and conditions. The middlemen extract money from them and the women from the north east are considered ‘available’ all the time due to their life style. It is not that these issues are not known to people in the North East. Many of them actually feel that these young boys and girls have to be a little careful as their security is of paramount concern for the families and their near dear ones. The question is how these issues are addressed by authorities.

If you ask people as what is the problem with the North Eastern boys and girls living in our metros and pet come the answer they must be ‘integrated’ in our mainstream. It needs to be answered as what is the ‘mainstream’ which we want to convert the friends from the north east. The police authorities in Delhi have offered some ‘guidelines’  in the form of a booklet for the students and visitors from North East as ‘security’ tips . The booklet advises girls from the region to avoid wearing any “revealing dress” and has suggestions about cooking “smelly” food without creating a “ruckus” in the neighborhood.

It is interesting that the booklet has been written by a senior police official of Delhi police hailing from North East. It has been widely condemned that the police is trying to ‘integrate’ people at the cost of their culture and life style. The students, visitors and activists have condemned these guidelines and questioned their motivation. However, it is important to understand that these guidelines reflect our mindset and not merely policing and administration.

The other day, we heard Delhi’s law minister speaking about the Ugandan girls in Khirki village during their illegal raid that ‘these’ are not people like ‘us’. They are engaged in ‘prostitution’ and drug peddling said the minister. It is evident that the ‘cultural’ dissent is being seen in those who we feel ‘inferior’ to us. The fact is that despite our jargons and loud talks, Indians rarely mixed up with the people of African origins and we would definitely love to be in the company of ‘superior’ American and Europeans. Have we imagined as what would have been the repercussions of a ‘raid’ if the people were not from Uganda and Nigeria but from America or Europe?

What is visible here is a deep rooted prejudice against those who have a different culture than us where women too enjoy equal status and can go out without a male escort, where girls and boys are like friend, where violence against women is least and women are in fact  leader in their own and visible in the social culture lives. These are our northeastern states where we can find a much egalitarian and gendered society exists unlike most metros and rest of the country where feudal values are rampant.

Actually, India is a republic of dominant where democracy provides stamp of approval to majoritarian thinking pattern and their deeds and this makes India highly dangerous. Shockingly it is a society which is not ready to accept even minor changes that threaten the status quo and violent anti Mandal protests in 1990 are example of how we look towards affirmative action for the most marginalized communities. The real meaning of democracy means an equitable and liberal society where people live in mutual respect and have sound understanding of rights of each other. It also means ensuring participation of all the segments in power and feel of security and safety in the minds of the most marginalized one. Unfortunately, for Indian democracy of the dominant has become a tool of the power elite to coopt the minorities into their cultural practices and that is why a Shahrukh Khan, Salman, Saif or Aamir are popular when they adopt the ‘dominant’ cultural values and represent their values not in practice but more in symbol to give a justification to the idea of ‘’secularism’.

The friends of North-East are good as long as they take the jokes and jibes on them ‘sheepishly’ and do not respond to all those nasty remarks which they often face. The girls of north east are considered as ‘cheap’ and ‘available’ just because they do not cover themselves from head to toe and move around in confidence.  How can a man who has seen his mother, grand-mother, sister, wife in purdah all the time accept other women without that? It comes in their mind that these women are easily available and they can do whatever they wish to including commenting and even staring at them awkwardly.  The violence starts when the move is rejected by the person and hence you can hear the comments like Chinky and so on.

It is not that the slur is reserved for the North Eastern people only. If you see contempt of people looking different then who better than people of Uttarakhand and Himachal know it when they are referred contemptuously as ‘Pahadi’.  I was shocked to hear from a receptionist in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh last year, asking me to show my passport to him. He never believed me when I said, I came from Delhi. My own experiences are much better in Nepal, Thailand and even far away countries like Bolivia and Guatemala where people felt, I am one among them and not really from India. 

However, it is not as simple as misunderstanding of people and their identities. It is much bigger. Most of the people who hail from hills are actually much more liberated in their outlook and culture. Even when there may not be a matrilineal system, I would say, it is on people to record that men-women relationships in these regions are much liberal and far better than to say the people living in plain regions. One of the reasons for that is the distinctive life style, smaller land holdings and peaceful nature of the hill people. 
Last few years we have seen the protests in Delhi on so many issues mostly related to people of ‘Delhi’. They were most in the nature of Delhi’s regional aspirations though they impacted ‘India’. Delhi witness protest and dharanas from the people who are not from Delhi. They shot from ‘Delhi’but neither media nor ‘people’ of  Delhi have time for them. It look that the ‘poorest’ and most marginalized people of India live in ‘Delhi’, betrayed by all and now there was a Rambo going to ‘liberate’ them. Such protests were great but inherently biased and highly nationalistic. They shouted slogan against the federal government, called parliamentarians thieves, mocked at them and other legislatures and discredited all the institutions of democracy that we have built so far so laboriously. The protestors did not follow any rule. Most of them had anti Dalit-anti Muslim biases and their India confined to their own issues. All other Indians who do not agree with their view point needed to be demolished or conquered.  They gave example of ‘direct’ democracy. The language was abusing, vulgar and yet police did nothing. The slogan was like ‘dilli police’ was with them insidiously. No action was taken against them. It was an unruly mob mocking at every institution of democracy but do we have the same facility for the people in Chhattishgarh and Jharkhand. Can the tribal of Odisha and other central Indian state have the same luxury to protest against the police brutality in their states? Can the Muslims of Gujarat, Mujaffarnagar and other parts of India who have been falsely implicated in various cases of terror, do an indefinite Dharana at Jantar Mantar or Ramlila ground? Will the police with them be so friendly if they plan to do so?

It means it is a democracy of dominant where the opinion of the dominant matter the most and we all care for that. The minority opinion does not matter for them. The entire Indian government apparatus is shaken up when an Anna Hazare or Arvind Kejriwal sits on Dharna but non bothers when a woman from Manipur from Sharmila has been on hunger strike for the past 10 years against AFSPA but without any serious effort by the state to address the issues she raised. The armed forces are fighting war in Kashmir, in North East, in Central India and at many places fighting against our own people. At most of the places the demands of the people are political in nature, for more autonomy and yet the reaction of the state is violent and brutal.

The democracy of dominant reflects clearly in the non-action of the state in major cases of violence against minorities or marginalized. Whether it is the violence against Sikhs in 1984 or violence against Muslims in 1993 or Maliana, Meerut, Bhagalpur or Gujarat, the victims have rarely got justice. Contrary to this, such violence and polarization has always helped the dominant politically. Gujarat 2002 ensured that Modi remain powerful in Gujarat.  Shiv Sena and MNS have been engaged in goondaism in Maharastra and became more powerful after the Babari demolition in 1992 and yet nothing happened to them. Rajiv’s Congress got huge mandate on the killings of Sikh and I called it a communal mandate based on hatred against Sikh community. Nothing happened to anyone. The violence against Dalits and marginalized are on the rise and Haryana is a case example but since those who are perpetrating it are Jats, the powerful community of Haryana state hence nothing happened. Mujaffarnagar is the same case example that violence happened and people were glorified and yet no action has been taken and everybody knew why? The High Court of Patna finds no proof of involvement of Ranvir Sena in the Lakshmanpur Bathe case and each of the accused is released honorably. Is it not the irony that even after 60 years of our independence we are still finding such prejudices at every level in our ‘structure’?

The crime against minorities and marginalized have a tendency of being seen as ‘dissent’ and ‘threat’ to dominant culture and in the dominant political and social discourse it needs to be justified when crushed by vigilant mob of the dominant. The mob mindset of the dominant actually takes control of the ‘law’ in the name of societal and cultural issues. That is why we have Khap Panchayats where anybody disagreeing to a certain view point is seen as a challenge to society and hence must be eliminated. It became more so in case of people whose caste and colors are considered to be inferior. The ‘inferior’ have to be coopted in the popular belief system yet they cannot claim equal rights. Hence, a good Muslim would be those who respect ‘cow’ and the holy text books of Hindus but the same prescription is not meant for a Hindu. A good northeastern person is the one who can speak in Hindi, appreciate our ‘great culture’, become vegetarian and strictly follow the ‘rules’ dictated by the ‘dominant’. When you take a flight for Ahmedabad, you won’t get non vegetarian food as we have to respect the sentiments of ‘dominant’, in this case Gujaratis. I mean, the weak, the minorities, marginalized have to respect the sentiments of the ‘powerful’ and yet not claim equality.
Hence, Nido’s death does only reflect one thing clearly. It is that the violence perpetuated by the shopkeepers was inherently racial in nature. It is a dominant discourse that these people are not ‘like’ us. The normal description of the ‘people with difference’ is that they are meat eaters, drink, dance and engage in sex as if all this is a crime according to Indian penal code and all these ‘dominant’ do not have access to this. The raid by Somnath Bharati, the law minister of Delhi in the houses of Ugandan nationals living in Delhi is a case point. How the Minister was telling that ‘these’ people are not like us and engaged in a ‘prostitution’ racket. If Somnath Bharati has guts to close all this than he must visit GB Road and cleanse there first, rehabilitate the women there who are definitely not living there out of their choice but seer compulsion. Can he do it? Can Indian really call a spade a spade? Then Bharati has to condemn the Devdasi system which is prostitution sanctified by the ‘Gods’ and Hindu way of life. But then nothing happened to that. Devdasi is still a system and we have not been able to eliminate it fully as the forces behind promotion of it are dominant one.

Indian democracy will move towards anarchy as the dominant want it. Why Kejriwal, Arnab Goswami and Narendra Modi are liked by the urban middle classes? It is simple because they shout loud, they abuse and they mock at others who do not seem to be like them. It fetches better results. The dominants are now afraid of the domination of the hitherto marginalized sections of society. As the democratic space opens up for more marginalized and their leader take control of the system, the dominant will regroup under different banners. They will use politics, religion and morality to remain in power and undo the agenda of social justice. With media and corporate power in hand, the dominant make a full-fledged assault on the system through various means. It will make false and lofty promises to people and discredit the current system. It does not have a credible alternative yet people suffering from the institutional inefficiency rush to them in search of alternative and feel betrayed. The other way is through lies and deceits being spread by popular media in the hope that repeating lies and deceit will make them truth.

It is an attempt to codify the society and create anarchy so that forces of social justice and marginalized are further marginalized. It will create new issues so that the state does not have time to address the real issues. How is any government going to address the issues of North East, Kerala, Telangana, Kashmir, Dalits, Muslims, terrorism if India’s main problem remains Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare. Since they represented dominant view point all kind of forces supported them and government was favorable to them but at the end of the day, a country like India will need to provide space for all. Democracy cannot become truly republican unless each marginalized section of society including minorities do not have fair space, representation in power structure, political parties and in the government. Those who are trying to side track these wider issues under their one point programme are actually engaged in the politics of dominant which is afraid of the growth of the marginalized sections of society and a demand for more diversity and more representation from diverse sections of our people. Democracy must demolish this politics of Khap Panchayat or Ramleela Maidan which is nothing but political discourses of dominant to destroy the real and genuine voices of the most marginalized communities. A successful democracy will only pave the way for them and bring their issues to the main political agenda.

Each political leader of today who matters in India represents one particular community in the state which is dominant whether numerically or in muscle power. And we have seen the results as they will justify everything in the name of ‘democracy’. The violence against the most marginalized continued with ostensible state support. State actually here becomes the voices dominant castes. It is important now to democratize our social system otherwise the whole edifice of democracy will be demolished by such ideas which are actually anti-democratic in nature.

Nido became victim of politics of dominance and so were thousands of Sikhs and Muslims who were butchered in Delhi and Gujarat. Same dominant kept quiet when Gandhi was killed in 1948 and Rajiv was killed in 1991 but the dominant became violent when Indira Gandhi was killed in 1984. Political scientists and analyst must focus on this political discourse and attempt should be made to expose this politics of the dominant so that democracy become vibrant enjoyed by all. Violence against minorities and marginalized is actually not the outcome of politics of this political party or that but the politics and control of the dominant communities who control all the parties as well as governance system too.