Monday, March 23, 2015

Miscarriage of Justice in Hashimpura

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

One of the most famous lines on the official All India Radio news bulletins during communal disturbances used to be ‘ Sthiti  tanavpurn lekin Niyantran me hain ( the situation is tense but under control) and police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in the ‘sensitive’ areas.  It was well known to us as what is ‘samvdansheel kshetra’ or sensitive areas. Most of these ‘sensitive areas’ were the Muslim localities in the walled cities, almost ghettoized in the aftermath of each ‘riots’ much to the comfort of the fanatics on both the sides who wanted to see such polarization to happen. The ‘sensitive areas’ terminology reflected the mindset of administration, police and the media in the independent India where Muslims are treated as ‘problem-makers’ and ‘obstacles’. During the ‘communal disturbances,’ the police ‘round off’ these ‘problem-makers’ and ‘obstacles’ as routine exercise to bring ‘peace’. Once when I questioned these things during a visit in the early 1990s, to Meerut on a fact finding mission, a very senior Professor in the Meerut University blamed me  promote ‘Pakistanis’ in India and warned me from staying away from mini ‘Pakistan’ which was the walled city of Meerut. His argument was that Muslims are criminals and that is why they are largest in the Indian jails. I liked him because this professor did not have hypocrisy and he spoke from his ‘heart’ which is a reality of the middle classes upper caste Hindus in India at least at the moment.

The release of 16 accused policemen of the Provincial Arms Constabulary
( PAC) in the Hashimpura violence case by a Delhi Court has brought back the issue of Communal Violence Bill that was being drafted in the UPA regime but because of the lack of a will, could not be passed. Hashimpura is not the first and the last case of judicial failure even when several years back Supreme Court itself had expressed pain and anguish in delays of the trial and Allahabad High Court’s judge Justice termed the act of PAC as ‘criminals in uniforms’.

Reports after reports suggested how PAC goons arrested innocent Muslims and later picked young boys to be killed later on with their bodies floated in the Canal near Muradnagar. Haven’t we seen pictures of gun trotting policemen in the Muslim localities herding together men, young boys and children and threatening to push the trigger if they protest? Riots after riots such scenes are often repeated and the police go unpunished. They have protections and the atmosphere in all the towns and cities where Muslims presence is nearly 30% is polarized.

When the state has abdicated its responsibility in such a way that justice is not just denied but miscarried than it is time to think seriously as what ails the system. Before we come to analyse the entire incident, let us not forget that People’s Union for Civil Liberties had brought out a detailed report on the Hashimpura massacre in 1987 in which it had put serious doubts on the administration.  The PUCL team which went on fact finding mission to Hashimpura and other areas included Justice Rajinder Sachar, Mr Inder Kumar Gujral, Prof A.M.Khusrau, Prof Dilip Swamy and others hence it is important for us to understand what they said on this as the court of law has found no evidence though following report is filed not only by eminent persons but one of them was a former chief justice of Delhi High Court.

‘One of the most shameful chapters of human callousness was enacted in Hashimpura area. It would appear by then that sufficient contingents of police and PAC had been inducted into Meerut. It was not clear but it seems that some decision was taken to really spread terror in Hashimpura area. Pursuant to this on May 22 Hashimpura was surrounded by the PAC. The PAC then forced all residents out of their houses to the main Road. Then a house to house search was conducted. The residents complained that several houses were looted by the PAC.

All residents of Hashimpura were lined up on the main road segregated, and one person in Burkha identified 42 young men, who were asked to board a police lorry. Another group of 324 were arrested and taken by other police vehicles.

What the police did in Hashimpura is something which can never be lived down and the shame of this will continue to haunt any civilised Government. We talked to old persons whose sons and grand-sons were taken away by the police. We met young women whose husbands were taken away and later on they were either missing or their dead bodies were found. The way the residents of Hashimpura were treated was shameful. We were told that hundreds of people were taken out from the locality and asked to sit on the road. One army person asked people over 50 years and less than 10-12 years to get on one side and all the others were dumped into waiting trucks. We were told by one Ahmed, who had got away on the excuse that he had his MA examination that morning, and that 3 of his colleagues, namely, Kamaludin S/o Jamaludin, Sarajudin S/o Sabarudin, Nasim S/o Nasim Ahmed, had been taken away on the trucks. These three had not come back thereafter and the father Jamaludin corroborated this version.

Out of 42 only 6 persons are traceable, others have just disappeared. There is no record of these persons with the police. Abdu Bhai the grand father of Zulfikar told that Arif and Karimuddin were also with his grandson. They were arrested together and taken in a truck to Muradnagar and when the truck reached a canal Zulfikar saw Karimuddin being shot by the PAC and thrown in the canal. More than 20 bodies have in fact been found floating in the Ganga Canal.’

(Excerpts of the PUCL report on Hashimpura published in PUCL Bulletin)

The Delhi Court where the case had come for hearing actually released all the ‘accused’ in the absence of ‘eye witnesses’ and their identifications by the ‘victims’. The problem is how are the victims of mass violence, mass rapes and social ostracisation going to identify people in the court where the agencies supposed to protect people have been charged with conniving and protecting the miscreants. This is not the first case of its kind where the callousness of the courts have released the accused but it also reflect the political scenario of the country and how the judicial system is being influenced. You do not need to be a law ‘expert’ to understand the whole issue and how it has been handled. If a scrutiny of judgments on mass killings or communal riots is done, judiciary in India would disappointment you. I have not heard a single case where communal or caste violence culprits have been sentenced or their political future is at peril. Nelli in Assam in 1983, Bhagalpur in Bihar, Meerut, in 1987 in Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai in 1992-1993, Gujarat in 2002, Delhi in 1984, Mujaffarnagar in 2013 have never reached to any conclusion. Yes, those instigated violence and polarized the voters got to power. In the ‘First Past The Post’ system, the biggest danger is of inciting hatred towards minorities for political gains and parties and leaders succeeded in it. That is why there is much bigger danger of such experiments. In 1984 the polarization helped Congress Party to win an election with massive mandate while after 2002, Narendra Modi continued with his winning spree in Gujarat. Once political parties understand that such polarization help they would continue with this. The state level experiences of extremist stand helped political parties to gain power everywhere including BJP in UP, Shiv Sena in Gujarat too. In fact, the success of the experiments forced the Hindutva ‘programmers’ to go for it on a bigger level before the general elections last year and Mujaffarnagar was actually part of that ‘programme’.

Many things emerges out of these criminal acquittals and that happen because of political environment of the country and none can say that judiciary is not influenced from it particularly at the lower level. Have we not seen acquittal of all the accused in the Gujarat violence in 2002 particularly those who were in ‘responsible’ positions. Right from Best Bakery to Hashimpura, it is the people who are seeking justice are being penalized. The case of Teesta Setalwad is exactly the same that those who fight for the right of the people and take on the state will face prosecutions. During emergency, we could trust a few in the media but today it is becoming difficult as media has become bigger propaganda machinery of the political elites of the country.

It is not for nothing that this year we have seen release of all the accused in Shankarbigaha massacre of Dalits. Later, in Lakshmanpurbathe, Bathani Tola,and Tsundur accused too got honorably relieved by various courts. Practically, no case of communal violence or mass murders of Dalits, Muslims or Christians have reached to any logical conclusion. Most of the time the courts have ‘blamed’ it on to the investigating agencies for failure of providing the ‘eye witnesses’. It is another matter that the same courts have released honorably the other accused CBI had chargesheeted in some of these cases.

It is not for nothing that hatemongers are roaming free and taking law in their hands. The threat of law is actually being applied on those who can’t really afford to have an efficient lawyer. India is fast moving towards a class consciousness hence even the human rights defenders who have a ‘background’ would be able to save themselves but not everyone is a Teesta or a Green Peace activist who can afford to hire best legal brains and organisations to defend them. Most of the cases where state is needed to be proactive actually end up in miscarriage of cases because of the official antipathy towards the people of particular castes or religion. Definitely, the bureaucratic and administrative prejudices against Muslims in Indian system are currently at the peak level and need serious relook by the government and judiciary.

The demand that Muslims and other marginalized segments of society must have fair representations at all level in our bureaucracy, military and police essentially comes in the backdrop of such happenings and need serious look. These demands are opposed by the Hindutva and other rightwing groups under the pretext that demanding reservation for Muslims is a communal demand and will divide the nation. One does not know why a citizen of this country could be deprived of a genuine demand which will have far reaching impacts on the working of the police and administration.

As long as we do not have a mechanism to fix accountability of the officials engaged in the districts or cities during the ‘so-called’ communal ‘riots’ things will not move on. A senior officer once wrote that any communal disturbance can easily be controlled by the administration in first 12 hours and if violence continue even after that it must be assumed that ‘authorities’ and ‘politicians’ are hand in glove with the rioters. How can ‘pogroms’ be called as ‘riots’ where police and administration has to be impartial?

You do not need to imagine too much of what happens during these ‘riots’ as pictures speaks for them. The horrific pictures of Hashimpura which have been published by Indian Express yesterday show how the people have been asked by the gun trotting policemen holding their hands up in the sky in the form of surrender. Haven’t we seen how a poor grim faced Muslim tailor in Ahmedabad was seeking protection with folded hand from the authorities ? The tales are endless and people have been left to fetch themselves. In fact, those few who try to fight for them also end up in becoming victim. Daily stories of pains, sorrows and betrayal lead us to further depression.

It is these things which make people vary of even the human rights defenders. What is in their hand? After all, we can only express our solidarity and share their concern and be part of the struggle. Result is not in our hand but then these assurances or uncertainties do not bother the people who are victims as they want results so that they can lead normal life. Such a feeling is detrimental to the struggle of human rights and justice and used very well by those who violate them. In the past few years we have seen the differences is being made between the victim of Delhi’s violence in 1984 and Gujarat 2002 ignoring the fact that in both the cases Indian state failed to protect its citizens.

Rajiv Gandhi government at centre and Vir Bahadur Singh at the state actually took a lesson from 1984 when they tried to use state machinery towards majority communalism. The PAC has become notorious in Uttar Pradesh and no government has so far dared to either disband it or change its color. Hashimpura’s case is clear how administration when communalized feel Muslims as ‘troublemakers’ and need to be ‘taught’ a lesson. And the administration and police do not become communalized suddenly but through a process. Over these years, Congress Party did not really try honestly to inculcate a secular spirit in the country and internally promoted this soft Hindutva approach in the party. 1984 was the worst period for Congress. It was the defeat of what Nehru had thought of Congress, a secular socialist party inclusive for all. The attempt to ‘teach’ minorities a lesson and a feeling as if they are trouble makers ultimately helped gain ground for the Sangh Parivar. That was the period of opening of lock of Babari Masjid by a man called Arun Nehru.

Congress of 2004 and 2012 therefore was much different than 1984 when it was arrogant in Brahmanical wisdom appeasing the caste Hindus and targeting minorities for political gains. The phenomena continue to grow albeit the beneficiary of the phenomena today is not Congress but the Hindutva party.

The UPA government last time made loud noises in bringing Communal Violence Bill but did not have the courage to bring it like it did to other bills. A broad and inclusive communal violence bill is needed which include the caste related violence too. The government must decide on it otherwise the alienation of minorities will prove too dangerous as sooner in the absence of justice as well as leadership there is a danger of growth of fringe elements. Muslims are facing it valiantly even when most of the political parties have used their vulnerabilities both in the name of secularism and Hindutva. As a citizen of India, they deserve all rights as anybody else have and need justice and protection. It is shame that a community which has given so much to India’s culture and heritage today feeling dejected, isolated and left out. These are no good sign for ‘achchedin’ as all Indian citizens irrespective of their caste, class, religion and region deserve state protection and ‘achchedin’.

Hashimpura reminds that the state of India has neglected Dalits and minorities in absolute terms. While we can understand that court’s procedures are delayed. We do understand that there is a problem in identifying the witnesses but one thing is clear and unambiguous which is that 42 citizens of this country were killed on 22nd May 1987 in the police custody. There is no denial of fact that Muslims of Maliana and Hashimpura were at the receiving end. Many lost their parents, their father, husbands and sons. I have only one question. How many of the political leaders visited them ? What was the compensation package ? Why has it not been done ? Why doesn’t the government take the responsibility to honorably rebuild their lives ? Who stops them but then political class use vulnerabilities to be charged as ‘appeasing’ the Muslims. Is denial of justice an appeasement of Muslims ?  When we know who have done it then where is the problem ?

But the governments which live on police, use them as a tool for their own purposes, will never have the courage to act against them. That is the reality of Hashimpura and elsewhere. In no communal caste conflict have we reached any conclusion because their deaths and killings have become the biggest issue to polarise the atmosphere. This country can fear justice to polarization. It does not bother that two communities are being dragged in politics and that one is not getting justice. It is most unfortunately that after 1989, Uttar Pradesh did not see any Congress governments but that of socialists, Bahujans, Hindutva and every other shade but none of them bothered to visit these people, meet them and share their agony and pains. We can blame Congress for all its sins but what about those who claims to be ‘bigger’ ‘seculars’ than Congress party ?

It is therefore essential that Muslim use all the legal tools and also question political parties on these counts. They cannot take them for granted. It is time, Indian state show sign of accountability to Muslims and not push them to wall to go and approach international courts of justice. We hope Supreme Court will be keeping an eye on it and we need special courts under monitoring of Supreme Court to have day to day hearing on these issues. Unless justice is provided to people of Hashimpura and many others like them, such acquittals will remain dark chapters of Indian judiciary.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Doms in Varanasi seek justice through honorable rehabilitation

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Hundreds of pilgrims seek to see the sunrise on the bank of Ganges in Varanasi and the boatmen go on live commentary of these ghats narrating the mythological details and the most poignant moment come when you see the Manikarnikaghat, Dashashwamegha Ghat and Harishchandraghat reminding you the stories of Raja Harishchandra’s loyalty to his ‘profession’. In an indirect reference, these are the same ‘preaching’ which ask you to do thy duty while ‘result’ is not thy concern. Secondly, Raja Harishchandra is ‘applauded’ because he remained defiant in ‘asking’ for ‘money’ amidst a great human tragedy in which a helpless woman does not have the money to ‘pay’ the charges for funeral which the Doms performs. It means that we should not show any human spirit and value to any one when situation warrants and just be ‘committed’ to our ‘profession’. I think that is the most dangerous aspect of a philosophy which justified discrimination based on caste and gender.

The references to Domraj often come in these mythologies and they continue to do the task of burning dead bodies at the Ghats and cleaning human excreta in the city. Most of the land meant for them is already occupied and big ghats have erupted on the bank. Nothing has changed for them. In fact, they reflect the criminal civilization which kept them subjugated for thousands of years and the independence that we got in 1947 has no meaning for them as the community remains untouchables among untouchables absolutely ostracized and thoroughly disenfranchised in the holy city.
Officials in Varanasi claim that manual scavenging is absolutely abolished in the city and that there is not a single manual scavenger to be rehabilitated. It is strange and ironical. One would ask a simple question as where have the ‘manual scavengers’ gone? Is there any honorable rehabilitation done to them? Has untouchability finished from the ‘holy city’ and where does the ‘holy shit’ go if the city has become totally sanitized. These are some of the questions which need answer and introspection on part of the city which proudly claims to be the oldest city and a civilized one. Sorry, this is a city of Kabir, Ravidas and Buddha who revolted against brahmanical rituals and untouchability. So, attempt to show greatness of ‘brahmanical rituals’ in Varanasi need questioning.
It was on March 10th that we had a gathering of Women Engaged in Manual Scavenging in Uttar Pradesh in Varanasi with the National Commission for Women. The local journalists had started coming in as one member of the Commission was visiting here. Some reporters had started coming before time and as usual show their ‘hurriedness’ to the organizers. Others started chatting with the women who had come from different parts of the state. One must realize that Women engaged in manual scavenging hail from Balmikis, Rawats, Helas, Bansfors, Halalkhors and Doms in Uttar Pradesh as well as Bihar. All these communities are the most marginalized and face the brunt of untouchability from within the Dalit communities too. Interestingly, so many of the civil society organisations, human rights groups sitting in Varanasi but none bothered about this issue. I was told by every one that manual scavenging is not prevalent in Varanasi. My only question to them is whether entire Varanasi is covered under the sewage system. If not then where does the entire filth go?

The fact is Varanasi has all forms of manual scavenging and we will come to the ‘original’ form of manual scavenging by hand later but first demythise the fact that there does not exist any manual scavenging. Most of the municipal areas now have flushed toilets with septic tanks which need to be ‘cleaned’ in a month, six months or a year. Now, who clean them? And how do they clean them? Is there mechanical cleaning?  No none is available. These ‘flushed’ toilets are cleaned by hand manually and the human excreta is unloaded through buckets by these communities. There is bargain for the money and the behavior of the people is not just being rude but also humiliating. It seems they all think it is the job of these communities alone.

It was interesting to see journalist speaking to these women and then turned to me in an attempt to dress me down. ‘What are the organisations doing for them? You have called a meeting for ‘manual scavenging’ and ‘these’ people are asking for ‘houses’. ‘They earn a lot. They ask for Rs 500/- for cleaning one toilet. Can you imagine how big is it when people engaged in MNREGA do not get that much, he said. Do you have any figures of these people and then made a statement that these people just get everything and are not keen to do any other work.’
I was listening to him patiently but my temper was running out of control. ‘ If I am coming from Delhi to tell you and the people in Varanasi that this heinous practice is still prevailing in this city then whose fault is it ? You people claim that there is no ‘carrying night-soil overhead’ and hence no ‘manual scavenging’ but the new act of 2013 define Sewage work, gutter, cleaning of septic tanks, work on railway platform apart from cleaning toilets is ‘manual scavenging’ and on that viewpoint itself the municipal authorities in Varanasi and elsewhere are on the wrong side and must be made accountable and answerable.

Varanasi is being cleaned these days yet you can see filth and garbage everywhere. The roads are dusty and over-crowded with chaos and anarchy on the roads. Everywhere, it is those who have served the city for centuries they are facing the trouble. Their locations are under the threat of eviction. Doms and Hellas have no place to go. In the ‘holy’ city their only duty is to keep the city ‘clean’ but not to ask anything for them.

Basanti Devi is from Manduwadih and along with 70 Dom families they are living on the one side of the railway track. An oral notice has been given to them to evict the land. ‘We have been living here for over 40-50 years without any facilities. We have served people but we have no place to go? Where will our children go’, she says. Others like Mehangi says that the community is in deep trouble as alcoholism is killing the community youths and hence they are unable to speak of their rights.

“I am 20 years old but we have been staying here since my grand- parents’ period. I have no children. I do clean toilets, wash it, pick up the latrine, clean septic tanks etc. I have to get into the septic tank and supply the ‘maal’ i.e. garbage of human excreta upward to throw it away. It’s a kind of daily wage work which we do regularly though not really able to get it daily. We do all kind of work related to sanitation. If the latrine is choked then we have to do it manually by pushing through hands’, says Sanjay.

The work is tough, filthy, dangerous and not a single persons job. It takes 12 hours to clean a septic tank and threat perception is very high. The total number of people engaged could be as low as 5. When I asked them about how a reporter of a leading daily was mocking at them claiming that there charges were very high, Sanjay responded,’ Sir, it is full day work and if there are five persons engaged in it and sometime more than that, then how much one earn in a day. Most of the time, we get between Rs 50-100 and they claim it is too much. It is more humiliation. People don’t even want to pay money for the work we do’, he emphasized.
Initially, I thought that the work may be just of cleaning the septic tanks and of males alone but to my utter surprise and shock, Varanasi’s Doms children and female wards too are engaged in the work. Sehjanti and other women go to nearby areas to clean the latrines and get Rs 50/- for their work for a month from one family. They too are engaged in cleaning of septic tanks and big pits which fills in regular intervals in a month period to a year’s period but work is coming daily.

Look like we are talking in the 16th century when laws of Manu were prevalent and there was no constitution. Can you imagine people not getting access to water and being threatened with Rs 2000 fine for getting access to water? The people who clean the city, pick our garbage, cremate our dead ones are treated as untouchables and do not have a space to live. Can we imagine people not having access to water for a fortnight? Can we imagine people not able to take bath for a month? It is easier for us to claim that Doms or Mushahars or Bansfors are ‘dirty’ but have we asked a simple question as why do they remain unclean? They clean your city, burn your dead ones but have no right to life. No right to live in dignity. Moreover, we do not feel offended to see their condition. We assume that if it is their ‘fundamental’ duty to do this work. Isn’t it utterly disgraceful? When I asked Sanjay, a local youth as why they continue to do this work? ‘What do we do’? ‘Our parents did it, our grandparents did it. My mother did it. We never went to any school’, he reply. ‘We too want to see our children becoming officer but how do we do it? Unless government help it is difficult. At this moment, the untouchability and caste system is so powerful that none will give them any other ‘job’, Says Sanjay.

‘Who will give us job other than this? If we don’t do this than what is the source of our survival? Even this money does not come with respect. There are so many questions with contempt. For small money people think they are doing a great favor to us’ he says.
Doms face untouchability at all level. Their children are not allowed to enter in the school. The other caste children keep a distance from them. Vikki inform me that he went to school for a few days and then when they came to know about his father, work and caste he was sent back. ‘ you don’t need to study, he was told. A child who is not even 10 years of age, Vikky looks older than his age. He now help his family in the ‘work’. He clean the latrine and also goes into cleaning the septic tank. It is so painful to see the children being taken for the ‘work’.

It is our combine failure. Whether it is Varanasi or Mumbai, Delhi or Hyderabad, Chennai or Banglore, Tirpuati or Madurai or Hawarh, manual scavenging is a shame, a blot on Indian nation. Unless, we are determined to abolish it from the root, it would not go away. It need strong and unambiguous national resolve as well as honorable rehabilitation of the communities engaged in manual scavenging, will ensure its complete elimination.
It is not that the Doms don’t want to come out of this filth but as a society we need to do make them feel that they are part of our society. We need a comprehensive package for them so that they are honorably rehabilitated and their children go to school.
Varanasi Municipal Corporation has denied that manual scavenging does not exists there and that they do not need to rehabilitate it. According to the 2014 Act, the government was supposed to identify people engaged in manual scavenging and honorably rehabilitate them. Through this note, I am asking a few things and hope authorities will respond to it and act on it.
1.     If manual scavenging is absolutely abolished in Varanasi then where are the people who were engaged in it ? How many of them have been rehabilitated by the government. Is there any record of related to their honorable rehabilitation?
2.     Can the government inform us the exact number of Hellas, Rawats, Bansfors, Doms, Halalkhors are living in Varanasi. They are living in slums, in the outskirts and what is the status of their citizenship? Do they have right to vote and identity cards etc.
3.     If Varanasi is Manual scavenging free then I want to ask how many areas are covered under the sewage system. If the entire city is not covered under the sewage system then what happens to the other areas outside the sewage areas. Can we get some data regarding the same?  Who clean the sewage lines in Varanasi? Does the municipality has any record of people being killed during cleaning process. If yes, how many and what was the compensation. Does the Corporation know that Sewage workers too come under the manual scavenging act after the definition was broadened?

4.     There is a fact that most of Varanasi is not covered under Sewage system and hence people have made septic tanks and pit latrines which are cleaned by the people from these communities we have mentioned above. According to the Elimination of Manual Scavenging Act 2013, cleaning the septic tanks or pits etc too falls under the category of manual scavenging. Hence, we would like to know the exact number of persons engaged in this work and what action the municipal corporation plan to take in this regard? What will be your rehabilitation policy for these communities?

5.     Doms are on the verge of eviction from Madudih and Sunderpur areas. There is a threat. They have not got any alternative place to live. None of them have identity cards and other facilities which government should have provided to them. We demand immediate action in this regard.

6.     There is manual scavenging prevalent in Varanasi even according to old pattern of carrying nightsoil in buckets and baskets. When will government identity the exact number of people and rehabilitate them. Will it take action against people who are compelling people into it.
7.     What is number of people employed by Varanasi Municiple Corporation ? How many of them hail from the manual scavenging communities? Are there any Hellas, Halalkhors and Doms in any of the Corporation’s public work ? If not then why? Which communities are ‘technically’ recruited for ‘sanitation work’ in the corporation?

These questions came in my mind when I glanced through government information that no manual scavenging exists in Varanasi. Social activists, organisations as well as media had no clue about it which is more than shameful. I was determined about it that it exists as the abovementioned questions were there in my mind. Being an old city, Varanasi could not have changed over night to become Scavenging free. Hence, I had send a team to investigate the matter and visit these busties who reported to me about septic tanks cleaning. None was clear about the manual scavenging act which includes all these practices into the definition of manual scavenging.  That apart, all these people I mentioned spoke to me and as well as in the Conference called by the National Commission for Women on March 10th in Varanasi. Later, I visited the Manduadih basti and have recorded the statements of the people. Right now, we hope that Uttar Pradesh government will take immediate action on it and not through denying the very existence of it but by the honorable rehabilitation of the people and fix accountability of the officials who have no clue about it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Kanshiram declassed Ambedkarite politics

Today, we remember Kanshiramji, the founder of Bahujan Samaj Party and a person who was responsible for seachange in the political perspective of the Dalits all over the country. At the time when Bahujan movement was on the periphery and the issues it raised never went beyond identity and that too of those who were articulative and politically powerful particularly hailing from urban areas and working in the organised government sector. Bahujan or Ambedkar for them remain their own identity issue and therefore the issues of the most marginalised could never reach them as most of the time they were busy presenting themsleves and acquiring the space. So, Dalit Bahujan identity became tool for acquiring space in power structure of political parties by the powerful individuals. Community identity was used to promote individual's political interests.
It is not that Ambedkarite movement did not exists before Kanshiram. It was there and the work done by intellectuals like Bhagwan Das, L.R.Balley, V.T.Rajshekar, K.Jamnadas, and many other remained with Buddhists and Ambedkarite segments of the politically enlightened classes. While Baba Saheb Ambedkar fought for the water rights and his historic struggle for the land rights of Dalits in the villages was ignored by Ambedkarites. The problem of the broader Ambedkarite movement was that it changed one generation of people who passionately followed Baba Saheb Ambedkar and his Navayana. Their life changed but they could not go beyond their own communities and regions. The most marginalised remain outside the realm of these thoughts. Hence in Maharastra, Ambedkar became symbol of Mahar pride while in Uttar Pradesh it were Jatavs and Chamars who took Ambedkar to the nook and corners of the state.
However, Kanshiram's advent in the politics changed a lot of things. First, I admired his 'Ekla chalo' politics. People were not important but the movement was. He was the first person, I would say, who a common person, actually felt one among them. He was like them. Amedkarites had made people feel as if Baba Saheb Ambedkar was always wearing 'three pieces' all the time and I have seen many Ambedkarite who would address public meeting in the rural hinterland in that way. Kanshiram changed that. First time, rural communities felt that this man is truly representing them. He was humorous many time and would speak bluntly about the issues. He was not goody goody as politics happened. He wanted activists to come up and take up the issues. Dalit politics was not 'reserve' for 'retired' civil servants. It was meant for those who work harder with the people. Many of his 'advisers' had thought of getting 'plum positions' and 'rajya sabha' seats when the party would come to power but Kanshiram felt the other way rounds. The experiment that he did in UP those days was to fill a sense of ownership of the party among the most marginalised communities. He extended the out reach of Bahujan Samaj Party beyond Chamars and Jatavs. The party created some of the most outstanding leaders from these castes who never got any representation anywhere, not even in the Panchayats. Communities like Nishads, Gadariyas, Rajbhars, Pasis, Kumhars, Chauhans etc were among those who got benefit and many leaders emerged from these segments and most of them came from the grassroots, who were carrying the flag of Ambedkarism in their respective areas.
Alas, today, these things are not there. The slogan has changed. People are feeling helpless.There is a gap. Kanshiram never lived like a Maharaja as that was not his trait. He could not have shed his common man's identity when any grassroots worker could approach him. All that is changed. There is a crisis. The importance of Kanshiram is not just with BSP for whom he is USP but for all those in Dalit Bahujan movement. While the ideology of this movement is essentially of Dr Ambedkar, Kanshiram's pragmatic approach could serve as ideal path.
It would be better we reach the most marginalised Dalits and Bahujans. It is important to make them feel that we care for them. It is important to take Ambedkar to those who are 'others' and not convert him to a caste hero and never succumb to the temptation of getting 'acknowledged' by others. And remember we can not take Ambedkar to them just by preaching but raising their issues and participating in struggles. A Bahujan movement without launching a struggle of basic issues of the common people will not succeed as a majority of our population lives in villages who have been deprived the basic amenities of life. They suffer in humiliation and caste violence continue to hurt Dalit interest.
In Uttar Pradesh situation is difficult and many people feel that Dalit OBCs can never unite due to the individual egos of their leaders but the facts are different. Dalit and OBCs have common interests and for that we need to combine most marginalised OBCs and poor among the power elite to ally with the Dalits. It is a reality that at the moment the violence against Dalits is coming from all powerful agrarian communities and we have to realise it that unless there is a complete land reform, it would not be possible to bring egalitarianism in the society. Declass the OBC movement too and bring the poor among them to the Dalit movement and so with Psmanda Muslims. Mere caste identities will never bring these different segments of society and hence a fight against feudal agrarian system is essential for undoing the historic wrong.
Kansiram created a movement and did not go anywhere else to get 'acknowledgment'. It is time, we follow his understanding to build up the movement. Important is that people's movement need young voices and women's representation. It is equally important to bring diverse sections of people as Kanshiramji did initially by picking up committed people into the movement. We can not feel orphaned if our leaders dont work. We have to make them feel that they are being monitored and we must chart our own path. It is important we understand that people have been left to fetch themselves and in the Parliamentary democracy the politics is just manipulations of identities which has always worked against Dalit interests. It is time we understand it. The challenges before us are much bigger when the religious rightwing ares dominating the political discourse, it is time to build up alliances with all the like minded people particularly those who are in the people's struggle. The brahmanical threat to Dalit Bahujan movement is the biggest challenge today and it could be met with stiff resistance of ideological perceptions of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar and pragmatic ways of strengthening people's movement through participation and listening to them like Kanshiramji started in the early phase of BAMSCEF and DS-4.
Understand Kanshiram's mantra that key to power come from the poor and they are vast and we need to change our perceptions and strengthen their struggle and leadership. We can not ask people to sacrifice their lives for 'leaders'. Those time have gone. Give space as you want elsewhere and provide a healing touch to people where community leaders have not yet reached. Please dont teach them, just reach them and listen to them. if you dont reach them, the brahmanical elite is ready to barge in and provide that space and that would be the saddest day that a well built movement which has a dimension to provide hope and aspiration to millions of people all over the country

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Bhagana's daughters too are India's Daughters

Is ‘India’s daughter’ a victim of corporate media war ?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

A few days ago our finance minister and the legal brain of the current government Mr Arun Jaitley spoke in a conference and said that ‘you can not ban anything in the current age of information’. ‘How can any government ban any thing when the flow of information is so far and vast he said’. It is not more than a month when the government was seen hiding itself in the war cries of nationalism and arrogance of ‘we will see’ and ‘India’s reputation is being targeted’. It look childish when our lawmakers speak such a language in Parliament where a number of politicians are sitting who have publically supported khap Panchayats as well as killings and rapes too for political purposes. A video online on the Indiatimes website reported that some of the supporters of a rabble rousing BJP MP’s supporter openly asking to rape even the ‘dead women from Muslim community’ and it shamefully does not outrage us. When Hindutva lunatics are roaming free and seeking revenge, the ‘conscious keeper’ of this country, in the ‘Times Now’ does not feel comfortable to carry a campaign against it. Our ‘conscience’ does not wake up when Maya Kodnanai and all the accused from Gujarat have been released by the ‘courts’ and when Teesta Setalwad face charges because she fought against the communal violence and the political which was party to it.

It is strange that ‘Times of India’ which has always stood for ‘freedom of expression’ and has not shied away from publishing naked and titillating photographs of ‘famous’ people including film stars to the extent of even violating their privacies, is campaigning this time, through a megalomaniac called Arnab Gosami who think that except ‘him’ none think for India and none has a right to claim propriety on Indian nationalism except him. Women activists have given a call to boycott him but I would say all the politicians and activists should boycott Arnab and his ‘Times Now’. It is a channel of the corporate, for the corporate and by the ‘Corporate’, which massages the Indian egos through tainted ugly nationalism.  Sadly, when we want public opinion be developed against the mindset, which the rapists are having, Times of India has come for the rescue of such a mindset. I always say that India has enough laws but it does not has the capacity to introspect. It is simply living in denial mode and Arnab Goswami and Times of India are exploiting that mindset in India.

The entire issue of anti woman mindset that starts from the birth of a girl has been hijacked in the jingoism of ‘nationalism’ by these media thugs and the lobby of the government which is forcing the media to create an impression as if ‘rapist’ has got a ‘platform’ to project his view point. The fact is that all court proceedings are already completed and the convicts have already been sentenced to deaths, which will need Supreme Court’s scrutiny. So, it is really not the case of trying to influence the courts, which ‘Times Now’ and many others do everyday without fail. The entire ‘News hour’ is nothing but a public ‘lynching’ of the ‘opponents’ done by a rabble rousers who is enjoying the support of hyper ‘upper-caste middle classes’. The way some of them carried ‘news’ of ‘government’s ‘notice’ send to BBC as if it is a very great act of the party with ‘transparency’.  At the end of the day Arnab had egg on his face when BBC rescheduled the broadcast of the film four days earlier and the film, thank to Arnab Goswami and his foolishly negative campaign became a big hit on the youtube. The question is why the ‘Times of India’ allowed its channel to carry this utterly disgraceful propaganda which ultimately hurt the ‘freedom of expression’ and creativity.  I wish we had a Ramnath Goenka today who lead ‘Indian Express’ from the front and did not succumb to the dirty tricks of the government during emergency when the rest of the media in India was ‘crawling’, the ‘Indian Express’ kept the voice of the people high. Today, it pains to see the pathetic condition of the media lampooning itself and championing the cause of censorship on behalf of the government. During emergency the entire media was one even when we saw many fought openly while others surrendered yet they did not carry sinister campaign against each other. Today, media PR forgot its ethical duty and unfortunately supported such censorships, which are unwarranted in this age.

It is equally painful that the ‘Times of India’ and ‘Times now’ was picking up small issues like ‘revealing’ the name of the victim. We must understand that original name of Nirbhaya  is revealed by her parents and there is nothing unusual of that. It is not for the first that a film is being made on rape victim. In 1994, Shekhar Kapoor made film ‘ The Bandit Queen’ on the life of ‘Phoolan Devi’ and though there were charges of ‘commercialism’, the film was accepted by the people. The issue of not revealing the name of the rape victim comes through a ‘mindset’, which considers sexual violence as ‘end of life’ for woman. It is important to reemphasize the fact that a woman does not become ‘jinda laash’ as Sushma Swaraj, now our honorable external affairs minister, claimed in Parliament in 2012. A woman neither loses her identity nor dignity just because she has been violated or raped. It is important that society changes its attitude and it wont be possible without taking the issue head on.

To make the issue as an issue of ‘Indian’ verses ‘foreign’ is simply farcical. In reality ‘Times Now’ can at most be compared to ‘Fox News’ in United States where ‘loudspeakers’ sensationalise the issues on daily basis. The fact is that BBC has a longterm relationship with India and has been acknowledged as more credible source of information in far rural India than the government owned Doordarshan and Aakashwani during the emergency days. We all got the tuned to BBC London to get the factual information on ‘operation Blue Star’ or the death of Indira Gandhi through BBC when the government radio had blanked out the entire news. The news channels in India are not doing a great service to their credibility through such disinformation campaign.

One must ask the question as how many Indian News channels allow the individual filmmakers this liberty.  Let them reveal as how much money are they ready to put in for such stories, which need time and investigation. Most of them have ‘slaughterhouses’ in their TV studios, which is the easiest and safest way to carry their prejudiced agenda and disinformation campaign on important people’s issues. So, as far as credibility and quality is concerned, BBC remains far ahead of any Indian news channel.

So, for me, it is important we defend this right of the filmmaker to make a film. No filmmaker or writer will surrender her or his right to write a story to the jailer or authorities. We take permission to follow security procedures and once they are followed, it is not the concern of the authorities as what did the accuse say or what is the script of my film or story. It will be a dangerous sign if such thing ever happens than it would be impossible to expose the corruption and break many stories that have so far come out in public domain. The judicial process is over and the fact is that the case against the accused will be more stringent with this. So, to say that attempt has been made to ‘influence’ the case is highly contested and untrue.

Much noise is being made on the statement of the accused Mukesh Singh in the film. I can bet that it is making mountain out of a mole. For me, that only show what ails our society. Mukesh Singh remain unrepentant and is actually speaking what his ‘lawyers’ have told him. The biggest interviews of the film are outside the Tihar Jail where no ‘security’ is violated. They are the lawyers of the accused who have taken oath to the constitution of India and to defend it. Yes, all the accused are already sentenced and we know Supreme Court too will upheld their sentences as there is so much public outrage on the issue but what do you do with the mindset of those who are ‘suppose’ to ‘defend’ the constitution. So the most unfortunate, unethical and outrageous statement that has come out in this documentary is not really from the precincts of Tihar Jail but outside it and by the lawyers of the two accused. Indian judiciary and Bar has to think as what can it do with such people and whether they deserve to be in the profession or not.

There is no big deal about the film except the fact that it is not preachy in nature and try to address the issue through social prism unlike most of our ‘activists’ who give us ‘laws’ to resolve a crisis which we all are facing. That the film does not have many ‘experts’ is better side and left many of them ‘bitter’ but then you cannot expect a documentary to cover and resolve all the issues that women face in India. It fall short on many account but it is not giving the accused a ‘platform’ to propagate their views. It has succeeded in bringing the issue back to the forefront but it fails on many counts and the biggest irony is that the filmmaker was in India for two years to make the documentary and did not have time to visit rape victims of Bhagana’s Dalit families who have been sitting on Dharna. It failed to capture the imagination of Dalit victims of upper caste violence where rape is a tool to assert your caste supremacy and hundreds of such cases have been reported. The film make a case that India’s youth are ‘asserting’ against rape violence but it is a crude joke that the same caste mind does not come forward and speak the same language when the victim is a Dalit. If Indians have woken up against rape culture, we would have seen much more politicized protests all over the country but the fact is that those rape protests though might have been spontaneous outburst but there is a fact that Hindutva element infiltrated into these movements and gave it a shape as if this culture of rape and impunity was started with the government of the day. None spoke of social violence and hidden apartheid existing in this country and the filmmaker needed no permission from Tihar to visit Jantar Mantar and speak to these victims of Jat caste violence. It would have done much better help to international community and expose the hypocrisy of the upper caste Indians as why India does not respond to the cases of rape violence Dalits in the villages and Muslim victims during the so called communal disturbance. Why our heart does not beat or why we do not come to the street listening to painful and traumatic conditions of rape victims of Mujaffarnagar violence 2013 or those faced similar trauma in Gujarat 2002. Clear enough, a ‘rape’ stirs our ‘conscious’ when the victim is from among ‘us’ and accused the not like ‘us’.

Blood relations and caste identities are most important in India so someone may be criminal for ‘others’ but become my ‘hero’ if the caste matches. Your brother cannot do anything. My husband is the best one. My father is the best one in the world are the often-repeated excuses when the criminals are saved. The statement of the wife of accuse Mukesh Singh reflect the ‘dilemma’ of an Indian woman who is framed in the perception of ‘my husband is my God’. ‘ What will I do, if my husband is no more’, she says. And then pure generalization as what happened to ‘others’ and that this is not the ‘only’ case and why her husband is being targeted. Sadly, this is the problem as I mentioned with this ‘cultural’ society where all the ‘wrongs’ are ‘done’ by ‘others’. This is acute because this woman without any fault of her will now face ostracisation and isolation of an absolutely Hippocratic society where the punishment is much severe.  So, Mukesh Singh will get whatever punishment for his act but his wife is getting much harsher punishment and we do not know how people will behave with her and the children ?   A society based on prejudices will not treat them kindly for sure.  That is why this issue is much larger and just does not revolve around poor as being described. We have seen the wives of senior officers and Ministers whose husband were caught and sentenced for ‘murder’ and rape standing with their husbands and accusing the women. This culture of male impunity in society needs a big assault from the right thinking people.

At the end a lot have been spoken about this film and how it failed on many things. Our leaders were ‘saddened’ that Tihar Jail was ‘breached’ and it provided the convict a platform to justify his ‘act’. Lawyers have written that they ‘oppose’ ban but it ‘violate’ Indian law and administration. Arnab Goswami is already angry with it and many other thing.  After watching it, I can say, if the producer director had not used the Tihar footage and instead of added to Sushma Swaraj’s not only ‘Jindalash’ speech in Parliament but also her famous of ‘tonsuring’ her head and living like a ‘widow’ if Sonia was made Prime Minister of India once UPA came to power in 2004, the film would have exposed the mindset and the political class that we have. India have all the great laws in existence but it does not have a will power to fight against this patriarchical brahmanical structure which is the root of violence against women. We live on constant denial and are blaming the people from outside to defame us. Don’t we know that after the Nirbhaya incident countries world over issued particular guidelines for their female citizens regarding safety measures and precautions to be taken in India. Why didn’t we get offended when media was shouting and exposing each thing in 2012. The fact is we are now in 2014 and a different government at the centre whose leaders used all the protest movement and projected as if those problems are created by that particular government. Arvind Kejriwal too used the opportunity to further his political agenda and in the din of righteousness we ignored the bigger issue. It is not that we did not expose the duplicity of the political class when they were shedding crocodile tears while the people from Bhagana, sitting on the protest against the rape committed by upper caste youths, were waiting and waiting but the same political class irrespective of parties did not bother to raise their issues and visit them. BBC’s film failed to expose India’s caste impunity, which rapes women at their whims and fancies to assert its supremacy in India’s villages. It is sad that our activists and human rights ‘champion’ did not have time to narrate things when they critique the film, instead the farce of nationalism and technicalities of the matter are being raised and that shows the hollowness of the protests and the human rights movement itself which keep quiet on the violence against Dalit women and make it just a plain gender issue. India will never answer that. BBC documentary failed us in that but nevertheless it is a milestone as it still exposes Indian society and its hypocrisy in dealing with the issue.