Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Minorities and dissenters under intimidation and deep stress in South Asia

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

‘If you are black or you are brown or you are gay or you are lesbian or you are Trans or you are Introvert , Anyone that is treating you unkindly , It's only because they are afraid or they have been taught to be afraid of how important you are. Because being different means you make a difference. so f*** em, Facebook Post of Mashal Khan on March 6th.
‘What you wish to ignite in others,
...must first burn within yourself’
Aurelkus Augustinus, a quote from Mashal Khan’s post on Facebook.

Hide History and Hate Hindus . This is what we are taught in Schools,  a tweet by Mashal Khan

It was April 13th when a group of students at the Abdul Wali Khan University of Mardan, in Pakistan had come to the department of journalism, looking for two students Mashal Khan and Abdullah for committing blasphemy against Islam. The teacher Prof Ziaullah tried to protect his students but failed in front of the surging crowd which was baying for the blood of the two. Despite police and administration, Mashal was allowed to die in the savagery that was unleashed by the religious thugs masquerading as students. Rather than taking action against the criminal goons, the university administration ordered in very dubious way, investigation into the blasphemy charges against Mashal, literally after his death. It shows how the university administration remain shameless and spineless to the religious goons who lynched Mashal Khan in full public view without bothering of what will happen to them. We know at the end unless there is a pressure the things would not move much as they won’t find enough witness to the event. According to Prof Ziaullah, ‘Mashal was a humanist; he was into socialism and Sufism. He would often discuss Sufism with me,” remarked the teacher. “I never saw Mashal without a book in his hand.” He was well-versed in different languages and striking a conversation with him always proved to be fruitful. Ziaullah also said Mashal was his student, friend and son.
"Mashal was a ‘diya’ [lamp]. If all the lamps are put out then the nation will continue to live in darkness,” he said. “Mashal’s killing was politically motivated.
I was stunned to watch the very hearty conversation at Geo news channel of Pakistan with Prof Ziaullah, who stood by his student and despite all the threat and pressure on his life decided to resign from the university against the shocking and disturbing behavior of his own colleagues and administration. A video has now come out where the students celebrated killing of Mashal Khan and shouted religious slogans.
What was Mashal Khan’s fault ? He did not defame Islam nor did he spoke against Quran. His only fault was that he spoke against hatred which was being perpetuated in the name of Islam. He spoke for women for the courage they were facing the issues in Pakistan. He was talking of humanism where human lives were more important than religious texts. It is as simple as we ask what was the fault of Akhlaq or Pehlu Khan who were killed without any reason on the basis of rumours spread by those who seems to think the sole custodian of religion as well as our nation.
There are protests in Pakistan and many people have spoken against it. Having faced it for over 35 years, it is time for them to stand and speak up this religious terrorism against its own people. We saw some politicians speaking against it but unfortunately leaders at the highest level remain quiet like ours. This reflects that we follow each others very well and are not keen to learn from our failures.
Pakistan’s notorious Blasphemy Law clause 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code clause was amended on July 10th, 1986 under Zia-ul- Haq regime. The new 295-C – Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet included life imprisonment or death penalty for all those who insult Prophet :
Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
Asian Human Rights Commission ( AHRC)  Report on Blasphemy law in 2013 says :
The known blasphemy cases in Pakistan show that from 1953 to July 2012, there were 434 offenders of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and among them were, 258 Muslims (Sunni/Shia), 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis, and 4 Hindus.
The report mentions that since 1990, 52 people have been extra-judicially murdered, for being implicated in blasphemy charges. Among these were 25 Muslims, 15 Christians, five Ahmadis, one Buddhist and one Hindu.
According to Dawn, around 1274 persons have been charged under blasphemy laws in Pakistan since 1986. The problem is not that the people who are dissenters or minorities are being charged under the blasphemy law but this law is an easy excuse for the thugs in the name of Islam in Pakistan to intimidate, humiliate and exploit the minorities like Ahmedias, Christians, Shias and Hindus in the name of insulting Islam. One of the common thing that we hear about is the rumour about ‘insulting’ Prophet or Quran or Allah’ and then you will find numerous propagators who spread hatred on street and TV channels. The political parties in Pakistan speak for ‘misuse’ of blasphemy law but none of them have come out openly for a complete abolition of this barbaric law which should not be allowed in any democratic society.
Many of the secular democratic friends from Pakistan were always proud that India has that democratic space where dissent was allowed. But the trends here are no great than Pakistan. In fact, it look, Hindus and Muslims, India and Pakistan, seems to be quick learner from each other faults and mistakes and they use each others faults and mistakes to instigate the crazy and illiterate rustic masses. The opium of religion is being deeply injected by the growing army of the Babas and Maulvis in our regions threatening the very edifice of democracy. We may be a democracy but it is being controlled by the religious rights who wish to convert it into a theocracy.
In the past three years, we have been hearing the Cow Protection laws and a new breed of Gaubhakts ready to lynch individuals in the name of cow smuggling and cow killing. Now the cow team has been extended to buffaloes too.
Now Gujarat has amended the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act of 1954 extending maximum punishment for cow slaughter from 7 years to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs five lakh on the convicted person.  According to India-Spend, India’s data journalism initiative, more than 99% of Indian population is now covered under the Cow Protection laws where state after state are competing with each other to make them much severe and harsher. It is a cognizable offence and in more than half of Indian state which have banned cow slaughter, it is non-bailable offence.
After the BJP lead NDA came to power in India in May 2014, the Cow campaign has gained a new height. Now the cow campaigners are not just interested in complaining to the government or seeking stringent laws but they have themselves become the vigilante and had no shame or fear of law in lynching and killing innocent. While the laws existed in India it is the current dispensation where the cowbhakts behaving very much similar to the Islamic zealots seeking Sharia laws in Pakistan during the Zia-ul-Haq regime and taking law unto their hands.
The brutal killing of Pehlu Khan, a 55 years old, dairy man hailing from Nuh, in Mewat district of Haryana, near Behror, on the Jaipur-Alwar highway by a mob of street goons claiming to Gaurakshaks, on April 1st, is an extension of what we witnessed at  village Bisara, near Dadari on September 28th, 2015 when a mob of Hindus entered into house and lynched him in full public glare for the ‘sin’ of killing a calf. The entire village turned against him and his family who had been living there for years. But that relationship was now over as village sharply divided itself on communal lines, a thing very suitable for the political leaders to exploit the emotions during the elections.
How are these things same in relations to Pakistan’s blasphemy law is that here too like Mashal Khan’s case, police filed cases against the victims and the accused roaming around. None want to speak against the dangerous cow protection act despite the fact that India is losing business internationally and a large number of people inside India who eat beef. The things are not related to beef alone as attempt has been made and impose the Vaishnavite-Jain traditions of vegetarianism on Indians where a huge number of people are meat eaters.
A recent video of a foreign national who had come to Goa for her holidays is going viral on youtube when she was nearly lynched by the goons in the name of Gowsevaks. Her fault was that she just tried to put a cow away from her who was wandering on the beach where most of the tourists actually come for their holidays. The goons assaulted her shamelessly and none in the crowd ever bothered to defend her.
Actually, India is fast following the majoritarianism of Pakistan which has been exploited by the religious rights at the cost of minorities. As Pakistan’s blasphemy law target minorities so is Indian Cow Protection Laws targeting minorities and beef eaters. Over the period of time, Pakistan has been turned into a failed state as the state power is unable to control those loudspeakers who want to silent dissenters as well as minorities in the name of Islam but we in India are learning from them. The loudmouth cow goons are doing the same and have the open protection of the state. The way the Indian dispensation is defending them through spreading rumors and wrong information about those who disagree. Whatever are the laws, let us honor them as these things will have to be fought politically but then it is too important to emphasize as whether we will allow the goons to take over the state and decide everything on the street. Right and wrong of cow protection laws are issue of another article but the fear is that how come we allow the goons to take law unto their hand without any sense of fear of it, in a state which has a constitution and a law implementing machinery.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law was used by Zia-ul-Haq to legitimize his undemocratic takeover of Pakistan and had a huge support from the religious thugs who got a chance to enjoy the power without any accountability. India today is heading for the same way through ‘democratic theocracy’ where the unaccountable religious rights are taking law unto their hands, suggesting various other ways to suppress, intimidate and isolate the minorities. Each day, we hear one or two persons giving new ideas to Muslims to isolation through various means, through social exclusion and eliminating their business under the garb of legalities. From Slaughter Houses to triple Talaq to Love Jehad and now loudspeakers at Ajan are smart moves to keep the Muslims in perpetual business of defending their lives and justify their positions. Even when the state has not given them anything in terms of socio economic cultural development, it want to snatch whatever they have achieved through own hard work.
Cow Protection Movement in India has quite similarities of that of Zia’s regime though unlike him they were duly elected democratically. Indian governments even though led by non BJP parties brought law under pressure from the cow brigade which has full support from the Sangh Parivar which knew well that the issue of cow is more to embarrass government that time but today it is a tool to humiliate and intimidate Muslims in particular. Unfortunately for most part of their movement, India was led by Congress and other governments. About 50 years ago when a huge protest against the government of the day was organized in Delhi, police had to fire at the unruly protesters killing several of them. The congress though claimed to be secular party was led by the Brahmin leadership whose ‘credentials’ for the ‘nation’ were never questioned. In fact, from time to time, RSS supported Congress and the last one was Rajiv Gandhi but today the Sangh is enjoying power it never had and hence its various offshoots are now behaving as if there is no tomorrow.  The power at center have given them extraordinary strength to intimidate the opponents in various means from physical to threatening through legal action and most importantly trolling on social media against the opponents. The mediocre ‘karyakartas’ whose only quality was speak loud and threaten the opponents have become leaders or mainstream therefore it is becoming difficult for the politicians to completely dissociate from them as they know during the elections it is the same workers who will bring votes through their polarization.
While there is no similarity between the deaths of Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Mashal Khan but if we think beyond boxes then we realize that they have similarities. All of them are victim of religious hatred. All of them have supposedly ‘hurt’ the ‘sentiments’ of majority communities. In fact in all the three cases there is another common factor that rumor worked well? The cow slaughter issue and beef has become a kind of blasphemy law in India with Muslims becoming its major target along with Dalits many of who do the skinning work of the dead animals. Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan are considered dissenters in India because of their community identity in a very similar way as Ahmedis, Shias, Hindus, Dalits or Christians are considered in Pakistan. They are easy to target under the garb of ‘hurting’ the ‘religious’ sentiments. In all these cases, police has worked with the majoritarian tendencies and filed case against the victims. This is the new low of South Asia that victims are further victimized and humiliated by the ruling elite which remain conspicuous. We have not heard our political leadership coming out so openly in unambiguous terms against such brutal public murders which the world has now seen through their TV screens or on youtube.
South Asia has the least tolerance for the dissenting voices. Bloggers are being killed in Bangladesh by the Islamic zealots and the government remain mute. Pakistan saw the brutal murders but the deaths continue there because the fundamentalists don’t want the dissent of choices, food eating habits and so on. In Myanmar, the ruling Buddhist elite do not want the Rohingyas to be there. Sri Lanka’s Buddhist and Tamils have not yet reconciled fully. Nepal’s Madhesis and rest of the country and their Janjatis are still not completely called off their hostilities. India, which was a model for all the South Asian countries, very unfortunately, is following the path of some of its neighbors. The issue of protection of minorities is the job of each of these nations but it would be good if South Asians actually start talking to each-other in terms of protecting their minorities and marginalised through legalized mechanism. If SAARC can take a lead and government agrees then it will be able to bring various civil society organisations together working on minority rights. Whether these agencies and governments agree for a common minimum programmes on minorities or not, it is essential to understand that conditions of minorities in each society gives way to rumors and prejudices elsewhere. Moreover, South Asia will never develop as long as it has religious thugs dictating the political discourse and democracy hijacked by loudmouth hatemongers who make villain of dissenters and minorities in their respective countries. Strong constitutional mechanism need to be worked out so that such barbaric cases of violence do not get repeated again. Unfortunately, for such mechanism to happen, we need to matured leadership and statesmanship at the highest level. India being the biggest democracy of the region can take lead but it is only possible if we show the way and take control of our own fringe which is fast becoming the mainstream.
In the last years we have seen killings of secular rationalist intellectuals and activists like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and Dr Kalburgi by the allegedly Hindu fanatic organisations and yet nothing moved. This year, we have seen a brutal murder of A Farooq, a young man in Coimbatore whose rationalist humanist writings and postings were not acceptable to many of his Muslim friends and he was brutally stabbed to death in March.
Violence on the basis of religion will never take us anywhere. I still remember Ajure Abbas, who is in his 90s and had to migrate to Pakistan in 1947 with his parents. His eyes remain moist when he speak to me and want to listen to Pul Bangas or Mori Gate where he spent his childhood. Partition was never good for us he says but both the Hindus and Muslims were killing each-others. Millions killed yet we learn nothing. He still shivers from those days. My friends in Bangladesh have seen the destruction that the Pakistan army unleashed on the Bangla people. It was a nation that revolted against Urdu and Wahabi nationalism of Pakistan but what happened there. The same kind of religious nationalists have started taking law unto their hand and killing people as we have witnessed in our parts. Today, Bangladesh is struggling to protect its secular identity as dissenters have been killed by the Islamic fundamentalists and yet no will from the government to deal with such a situation.
Governments in South Asia are fast buckling under the majoritarian religious gangs which are intimidating the minorities or feeling apprehensive of minority culture and value system. Such a huge gap between majority-minority will only damage the social fabric of these societies and bring uncertainty in the region. It is easy for democracy to turn into theocracy or for the military to take over. Our political systems are not completely fool proof and hence it is time for all of us to ponder over these issues seriously and strengthen our secular democracy which alone is the guarantee for protection of minorities. For secular democracies, we must stop judging people through their food habits, language, culture and religious values. No laws should be made to placate the religious rights in our societies who might use them to intimidate minorities and marginalized. It is time we understand the repercussion of such laws and encouragement by the state to all the religious goons claiming to represent the voice of majorities in their respective countries. The only way to judge its citizen is following the principle of rule of law and constitution which must include all the international laws and treaties that protect rights of minorities and marginalized so that they are not bulldozed by an intimidating majorities which in South Asia is only counted in terms of religious identities. It is time we learn to live with diversity and dissent as it will only enhance the beauty of this region and ensure a healthier democracy in these countries.

“Gandhi and Ambedkar were both liberation theologists” : Anand Patwardhan

For over 40 years Anand Patwardhan’s documentary films have stood for freedom of expression. He faced censorship on numerous occasions, took the government to court, and won each time. Anand is not just a filmmaker but an activist in the cause of Indian democracy, clearly under threat today. In this candid conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat, Anand discusses his views on the challenges before us, and most importantly, how he perceives both Gandhi and Ambedkar as liberation theologists whose ideas are in danger of being revised by their enemies.

VB: As a freedom lover secularist what is the difference between today’s media and that which existed during the official Emergency in 1975.

AP: The Emergency of 1975 was visible to all. The world condemned it and in India some brave newspapers like the Indian Express protested with blank editorials. Within a fairly short time a strong resistance movement grew. Today’s Emergency is largely invisible to the masses because Indian media houses have been corporatized and these corporates, both Indian and foreign, are direct beneficiaries of an economic system that has been surreptitiously imposed on the country not just by the present regime but by forces that were already moving in the same direction but at a slower pace. We have sold our sovereignty to USA and the global corporates and people have been told that this is for our own good. The invisible Emergency of today depends on what Chomsky called “manufactured consent”.

VB: Today we face the biggest challenge to Indian democracy since independence when our civil liberties are under the attack, when freedom of expression is under threat and when media is constructing the 'news'. Is 'free media' now the biggest threat to democracy?

AP: The media is free in the sense that it now has the freedom to tell lies about both, the domestic economy and about national security - lies that parrot an American-Israeli-Saudi axis which created, nurtured and unleashed Al Qaeda and ISIS on the one hand and pretended to “fight terror” on the other.

VB: You have documented major events not only of communal violence but also of violence against Dalits in Maharashtra. After the death of Rohit Vemula, in HCU, JNU and other campuses, students of all ideological frames – from the Left, to Ambedkarites and other Bahujan groups, joined in a common struggle against the ABVP and its attempt to vitiate the climate in the universities. Today that unity appears to be crumbling and we are again at the cross roads. Why ?

AP: The fault lies as much with the Left (of all shades) which is still unclear about how to destroy the caste system within, as with Dalit groups that fall prey to red-baiting and exclusivist identity politics. On one side are traditional Marxists who were brought up to think that caste is part of a superstructure that will automatically wither away when the economic base becomes socialist. On the other side are those who think that the caste of your birth alone forever determines how you think and how you act. Not only is such thinking contrary to the teachings of Dr. Ambedkar, it mirrors the mindset of the worst Manuvadis who believe that caste determines everything.

Luckily reality is proving both positions wrong. I believe that the Left and Dalits are natural allies so it is a matter of time before a genuine, long-lasting unity is forged. People like Comrade Govind Pansare, Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani have shown us that this unity is possible. At HCU and JNU and across Indian campuses we saw the amazing potential of unity.  Into this mix I would add progressive Gandhians - people like Narendra Dabholkar and Medha Patkar. Together these forces represent the politics of Reason that this country so desperately needs.

VB: Your film Jai Bhim Comrade was an extraordinary work which brought us back the memories of the struggle for justice of the people of Ramabai Nagar in Mumbai. You screened the film in various places. What were the reactions?

AP: The film as you know took 14 years to make. In the winter of 2011 we screened it in the open air in Dalit bastis across urban Maharashtra. We bought a powerful video projector, made a huge foldable cloth screen, and in each basti erected bamboo scaffolding to mount it on. As the screen was being erected, we played progressive film songs and Dalit movement songs to alert and attract the audience. Often the crowd would swell to well over a 1000 people. As we could not afford so many chairs, people sat on the ground or stood at the back and on the sides for the three hour duration of the film. At the end of the screening we tried to organize a discussion but often instead of a back and forth question and answer session, people just grabbed the mike and poured their hearts out about what the film had meant to them. It was an overwhelming experience for me. Later I began to understand the reasons for this amazing response. Although in the bastis, little of the hardship shown in the film was unknown to people, the fact that the film presented its protagonists not as victims but as resisters, was a morale booster. The genre of music heard in the film was in danger of either dying out or getting commercialized, so the film, so full of these songs captured over decades, served as a valuable archive. Lastly the politics of the film was appreciated, as it did not pull punches. It called to task not only sections of the Left for not recognizing the primacy of caste, but also Dalit leaders who were being lured by Manuvadi Hindutva to betray the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar.

Much later I began to show the film in colleges and schools and other middle class and elite circles. Here the response was enthusiastic but very different from that in the bastis. Even though people generally appreciated the film, almost invariably someone would ask about the evils of “reservations”. It was as if the audience had been blind and deaf to what they had just seen. After 3000 years where manual scavenging has been reserved for one caste alone and education has been forbidden, was it not time to reserve education seats for the dispossessed? In the end after long discussions, we agreed that reservations could be done away with only when the children of the rich and the children of the poor start going to the same schools - from the primary to the college level. Such prolonged inter-caste, inter-class contact could also open the door for inter-caste marriages. Many generations of such mixed marriages could finally end the caste system. This sounds idealistic but in my view this is the only way to finally end caste - when bloodlines become so mixed that no one can clearly say what caste they come from.

VB: Do you think that as secular activists we have not been able to communicate to common people in the language they understand or have failed to use the great secular legacy of India which was radical and rational as well?

AP: In general this is true but in particular some people are genuinely trying to address this. Of course the task is huge and we are up against a fascist force in the Brahminist RSS that has created a hydra-headed, cadre based organization that indoctrinates people in the name of cultural and religious pride, as well as today, of fake nationalism. In the early days they attracted mainly Brahmins. Today they are drawing in all castes and tribes that can be mobilized against their stated three enemies - Muslims, Christians and Communists. Religious culture and right wing politics is a potent combination and we rationalists have so far failed to match the organizational genius that runs this fascist machine.

VB: This government has been in hyper-active mode to keep people busy but if we analyse their actions we find clear attempts to divide people and polarize the debate. It started with their favorite topics like 'Gaay', Ganga, Rastrawaad, beef, Jana Gana Mana and then to Kashmir. Things went horribly wrong in Kashmir and the last part was a surgical strike but that too was questioned. Then came demonetization which hurt the poorest of the poor but was dressed up to look like an attack on “black money” and the rich. Each act is commonly linked, in my opinion, to privatizing our national resources and creating business for crony capital.

AP: Yes there is a clear strategy. Nothing in the Hindutva Parivar happens ad hoc or without central planning. At the same time perhaps Modi and Amit Shah have surprised even their own cadre by their willingness to be brutal and dishonest. Demonetization is an example. Even the direct beneficiaries, like the crony capitalists who emptied the banks and refused to pay back their loans must have been surprised at how the poor were squeezed to fill the bank coffers up again and then sold the idea that this was a strike on the unscrupulous rich. Even when all the “black money” came back into the banks and became white money, no question was raised while thousands of jobs were lost across the nation. It may be the undoing of Modi in the long run but in the short term he is still fooling most of the people most of the time.

VB: Communalism or I would call it Brahminism has joined hands with capitalism here but the resistance too is stronger. Unfortunately, political parties are unable to join hands with their egos and brinkmanship for votes. Will people's pressure bring them together?

AP: At the moment there is no visible peoples’ pressure. There is visible suffering but the anger is not yet visible. Let us see if it manifests later.

VB: Do you feel that the Indian way of secularism i.e. equal respect to all religions, or what we call Sarva Dharma Samabhava is damaging the cause of social change as it allows religious dogmatics to hijack the leadership of different communities? There is a virtual competition between the religious right taking place in the polity thereby denying common persons of all communities the means to counter them. How do we respond to it?

AP: All over the world rationalists have found that religion that has existed for centuries is hard to stamp out and some form of co-existence is the norm in most secular countries. After the Soviet Revolution, St. Petersburgh became Leningrad but in 1991 it became St. Petersburgh again.

In India, both Gandhi and Ambedkar recognized that this country was so steeped in the idiom of religion that atheism or pure rationality would not be easily accepted by the masses. I consider Gandhi and Ambedkar, each in their own right, to be liberation theologists. Of course, Gandhi unlike Ambedkar, did not choose his own religion, he inherited it. But to whatever he inherited, he applied post-Enlightenment ethical values that were essentially modern. When he began to do manual scavenging and began to advocate this (even force it) on to his followers, he actually destroyed the very basis of the Pollution/Purity dichotomy that is at the heart of the caste system. Theoretically he for a long time infamously clung to the concept of Varnashram Dharma, but in actual deed he destroyed it the day he took up manual scavenging, a job that had been hitherto reserved for the so-called ‘untouchables’. As time went on Gandhi became ever more radical. He clearly learned from Dr. Ambedkar as well as from his own intuitive understanding of the world he was witnessing. For instance, towards the latter stages of his life, Gandhi refused to attend any marriage that was not an inter-caste marriage. By the end of his life he had fashioned out of his inherited Hinduism, something entirely new. Only the idiom remained, and not the original hierarchical Sanatan dharma. Whether his reluctance to discard the idiom was a practical decision that stemmed from a desire to remain in touch with the vast Indian masses in a language they could easily follow, or from his own inner belief system, is something that can be debated, but is of no great interest to me. What is unmistakable is that Gandhi’s ethical code bears little resemblance to the hierarchical and vengeful structure of traditional Hinduism.

Dr. Ambedkar in some ways was more fortunate than Gandhi in that he clearly saw how oppressive the religion of his birth was, being as he was, a direct victim of it. So he discarded it and searched for the best alternative to it. After examining many religions he finally chose the religion that was closest to Reason. Buddhism is the one world religion that does not posit an external, all-knowing God. However it has a very strong ethical core that Dr. Ambedkar highlighted. At the same time he discarded irrational and unproveable Buddhist tenets like Reincarnation that many traditional Buddhists ardently follow. This is why I see both Ambedkar and Gandhi as liberation theologists. In the same way that Left wing priests like Ernesto Cardenal in Latin America, a minister in Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government, re-interpreted Jesus Christ as a revolutionary who fought and died for justice to the poor and powerless, Gandhi and Ambedkar gave new ethical meaning to the religions they adopted and adapted.

Make no mistake that I am equating the two. Their differences are obvious. One came from a privileged caste, the other from the most oppressed. One was educated in a limited sense and steeped in traditional religion in his formative years while the other came from a caste denied the right to education and rose to become the best-read and easily the greatest intellectual of modern India.

I am not at all blind to the things about Gandhi that are paradoxical and irrational like his life-long demonization of sexuality.  Gandhi’s insistence on chastity puts him in the same irrational, patriarchal boat as the priests and monks and nuns of many world religions. To examine this aspect in depth would take a whole chapter. And yet this same sex-denying man, by introducing the Charkha as a weapon of non-violent resistance, brought thousands of women into the mainstream of the Indian freedom movement.   

I realize that I have let my stream of consciousness diverge from your original question. To get back to the issue about whether Sarva Dharma Samabhava can take the place of constitutionally guaranteed secular democratic rights, I think it cannot.  We need Dr. Ambedkar’s Constitution much more than we need holy books. And yet as many in our country are still hooked to holy books and unholy pretenders, we need liberation theologists who can help people to culturally discard the worst features of their inherited religious culture and replace these with ethical, just and non-exclusivist interpretations.

Waiting for everyone to become atheist or rationalist may take centuries. Ethics is the answer. Small wonder that Ambedkar and Gandhi, each in their own way, arrived at individual definitions of Ahimsa.

VB: In post-Mandal India communities are seeking their space in the polity. In the earlier phase of secularism the Indian elite always kept the marginalised communities like Dalits, OBCs, Muslims outside the gates of their decision making bodies and public platforms but things are changing now. Very unfortunately more than the seculars it is the communalists who are jumping into identity politics and social engineering. Meanwhile communist parties still retain their upper caste leadership. Will we be able to face the challenge in such a way?

AP: Actually identity politics is a double-edged weapon. As long as oppression of identifiable groups exists, it is perfectly legitimate for oppressed groups to unite according to their identity. “Black is beautiful’ was a necessary movement for Afro-Americans in the USA, just as pride in Dalit or Buddhist identity is necessary in India. The trouble begins when this turns into an exclusivist or separatist movement. Malcolm X went through a Black Muslim phase when he described all white people as “devils”. But in the latter stages of his life he completely rejected this theory for a much more inclusive critique of injustice and inequality. That is when the American deep State killed him. Similarly while a broad section of Dalits are inclusive and fully understand the distinction Dr. Ambedkar made between the ideology of Brahminism and individuals who happen to be born into one or the other “upper” castes, there is a tiny section of separatist Dalits today who see birth as the sole determining factor. The fact that Western post-modern academia encourages such identity politics in preference to class analysis has given this form of separatist politics international acceptance. Meanwhile in India Manuvadi forces feel obvious glee when Dalits attack the Left or Gandhi, as both have long been the enemies of Hindutva.

VB: Hindutva people are expert in appropriating icons who are secular. They used Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Vivekananda, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sri Narayan Guru etc for their purposes. Is this because an overdose of Gandhi and Nehru's role in our freedom struggle minimized all other icons that a kind of resentment began against Nehru and Gandhi?

AP: Frankly I am not a fan of Subhash Chandra Bose. I cannot swallow his alliance with Hitler and Hirohito. Freedom could not be wrested at such a cost. Vivekanand is also very troubling because he advocated a kind of machismo that I think is deeply problematic. Also what is little known about him is that he was deeply casteist. In fact he seems perfectly suited as a BJP icon. The resentment against Gandhi lies at the heart of the project of Hindutva which is why they killed him first and then attempted to appropriate his glasses and broomstick later. Nehru is hated because his development paradigm goes against the grain of privatization. Ambedkar they do not dare criticize openly these days so the only option is to use his image, minus any content.

VB: Your uncle Achyut Patwardhan was an icon of the socialist movement in India. We heard a lot about his relationship with Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Was there any influence of him on your socio-political thoughts?

AP: Achyutkaka and Aruna Asaf Ali, according to British records, were amongst the most wanted underground leaders of 1942. He ran the underground radio and was a master of disguise amongst other things but in later years he ensured that history erased him. You hardly hear or read about him anywhere because soon after Independence he became disillusioned with mainstream politics. He did educational and social work but he would never discuss the past, even with me. He felt it had all been mostly an illusion. His elder brother, Purshottam (Raokaka to me) was also a freedom fighter and spent over 10 years in British jails. In the 1930’s while he was making an anti-communal speech, Madanlal Pahwa tried to assassinate him but was caught. Raokaka who was a Gandhian socialist, refused to file charges and Pahwa was let off. Later this same Pahwa threw a bomb at Gandhi and was part of the conspiracy that finally killed him.

To answer your next question, it is true that in the decade of the 1930’s Dr. Ambedkar spent several months living, writing and studying at our family farm home in Ahmednagar, but this again is a chapter of history that has been irretrievably lost. Raokaka like Achyut left active politics after Independence and both, by their own choice, were written out of history. I have heard that Dr. Ambedkar and Achyutkaka were friends and met when Achyutkaka was underground, but I have no documents about this. What I do know is that my family opposed the caste system and many married outside their own caste, including my parents.

VB: You have always tried to bring together not only left and Ambedkarites but also what you call 'Progressive Gandhians'. Why are you using this term ? You have been critical of people who as you say 'blow out of proportion' the differences between Gandhi and Ambedkar. Many of the Ambedkarites feel it quite disturbing?

AP: I must speak the truth as I see it. I have always felt that the affinities between Gandhi and Ambedkar are greater than their differences. They were both egalitarian humanists at heart. It may not win me any popularity contest today but I think those who are ready to set prejudice aside and undertake a proper historical study will come around to this point of view. Take the act of “Satyagraha”, a term coined by Gandhi. Ambedkar used this very term and form of struggle to launch his Mahad Satyagraha to claim drinking water rights. There are many other examples of common ideas and action. I was pleasantly shocked to read what Dr. Ambedkar had to say in 1932 immediately after concluding the now infamous Poona Pact (where the idea of separate electorates for Dalits was abandoned in favour of reserved seats for Dalits). Popular theory is that Ambedkar was blackmailed by Gandhi’s fast-unto-death into accepting a bitter compromise. But Ambedkar’s statement in 1932 after signing the pact was totally different in tone. He had high praise for Gandhi and stated that the “Mahatma” (yes, contrary to popular belief, Ambedkar referred to Gandhi as “Mahatma” at this point in time) offered a much better deal for Dalits in terms of reserved seats than Ambedkar himself had asked or hoped for. There is no denying however that Ambedkar did get disgusted with the Congress in later years. How much of the blame for the failures of Congress are attributable to Gandhi is a matter of discussion and debate. We know that Gandhi’s writ did not work in preventing Partition or the bloodshed that preceded and followed it and that Gandhi did not attend the Independence Day flag hoisting at the Red Fort in Delhi. He was busy fighting the communal inferno in the countryside.

Gandhi had a lot of obscurantist ideas to start with but as time went on he was honest enough to keep evolving. In the end I see him as a great humanist who died for his belief in non-violence and religious universality. He was also an inventive anti-Imperialist (though in his earlier days he had supported the British Empire) and an organic naturalist that today’s madly consumerist, globally warmed world desperately needs. Are most of today’s Gandhians like that?  Of course not. That is why I used the term ‘progressive Gandhians’. It describes dedicated non-violent fighters like Medha Patkar, Narendra Dabholkar, the whole Baba Amte family, Asghar Ali Engineer, Sandeep Pande, S.P Udaykumar, Teesta Setalvad, Aruna Roy, Admiral Ramdas, and so many others. It certainly does not include government-fed Gandhians and those Gandhians who jump onto the Hindutva bandwagon as soon as it gathers steam. 

Throughout his life Dr. Ambedkar fought for reason and justice without resorting to violence. Today his followers, like the Ambedkar Students Association and Dr. Prakash Ambedkar are leading the resistance against religious and caste hatred. Against all odds Radhika and Raja Vemula (Rohith Vemula’s mother and brother) are continuing the fight for justice. With the rising spectre of intolerant authoritarianism, the time has come for all humanists, rationalists and fighters for social and economic justice to unite against the usurpers of our democracy and our history.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Caste system remain the biggest threat to Democracy

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Despite a great threat to their own existence inside the JNU campuses which is being 'cleaned' to maintain brahmanical hegemony ( it was always there but in a better 'coordinated' and sophisticated way) the young Ambedkarites of Birsa Ambedkar Student Association ( BAPSA) today protested against the killing of a young Dalit boy in Telangana a few days back. The brutal killing of Madhukar whose only fault was to have fallen in love with a girl belonging to Kapu community of Chiranjivi fame. Those who saw the chopped personal parts of Madhukar were shocked. Obviously these incidents will shock to any one in a civilised society but definitely these are not aberrations. We are habitual of these things and the high density of intensiveness on our part even in the protest. Now, why should protest on this issue be organised by an Ambedkarite or Dalit group ? Why is this just a Dalit issue ?
It is important to think over these issues. I wish other like minded student organisations should have joined BAPSA's call or could have coordinated with them. Today's India need all young forces to join hand who want to eliminate caste and therefore, Manuwad, as Baba Saheb Ambedkar had wished. It is only possible if all the thinking people join hand, express their solidarity whereever possible, organise yourself on a common minimum programme. One by one institutions are being targetted, our freedom is under assault.
The killing of the person who loved a girl who happened from a so called high caste community is a racist criminal offense but then it wont affect the societies which live and enjoy in commune or what I would say along with its caste identities. The anti Romeo Squad in Uttar Pradesh is beginning to work where politicians of all variety want us to confine us to our own communities and that too they would like us to be like an obedient slave of the rotten customs where parents like feudal lords would decide your choices and you have to just follow. It is not that those who followed the dictates of their parents and married according to their choices did not face any problem. If that were not the case, we would not have heard of dowry deaths, burning of bride, killing of young girls by their husbands and parents in laws but then we have never seen any social movements by any of these caste Hindus and their champion organisation. Problem is how will you oppose dowry when you consider woman as a burden who has to be send to other persons house and has to be gifted by father.. Parayadhan to Kanyadans are being glamorised and justified through high decibel TV programmes.
Love can demolish all the forces of hatred which exists in our bellies and is very much visible in our social attitude and brutalities towards those who challenge this system. Love is a challenge. Love is a challenge to caste system of manuwadi vernavyastha. It is the challenge to supremacy of caste.
Many years ago, an untouchable boy from India, who was a brilliant artist but was a non entity in open space where Delhi's Palika market did not exist once upon a time. A beautiful woman from Sweden had just come to Delhi for an India tour. Charlotte fell in love with Pradumna at first sight and then started one of the finest love stories of our age. They romanced. They went to Jaipur and other places before getting married in Odisha. Charlotte loved India and hence Pradumna gave her new Indian name called Charulata. Pradumna did not go along as he wanted to go earning through his own money. Ofcourse, it was very difficult for him to earn that much of money through making portraits of people who used to visit him but he decided to honor his love and one day he decided to go to Sweden using his bicycle and thus began a historic journey. It took nearly six month for him to travel from Delhi to Stockholm where he finally got united with her. Pradumna really never knew who his lover was, i mean, the family background, as she belonged to an aristocratic family which owned nearly 5000 acre of land, a huge lake of not less than 10 kilometer. I had the privilege to enjoy his hospitality in his beautiful place near Gutenberg.
I narrated this story because the way Indians are not ashamed of even killing to a person who love and want to make their own choices related to marriage. Why the hell are we in awe with castes. Is it because it has privileges and is like red bacon cars of our uncontrolled politicians?
Democracy can play a level playing field but our political system will never allow this. Invented by power elite, this electoral system will not allow the poor and marginalised to have a fair in power structure. So, we will only have those in the drawing rooms of ruling structure those who can learn to ignore the interest of their own communities. All those who are feudal and believe in the feudal caste based social structure will represent us in the name of democracy. If we were really a democracy we would allow our children to have right to choice, right to freedom of expression, right to enjoy life as per our ideals but then it is not acceptable. Why ?
The why shows that we as a society are afraid of democracy and that is why we continue to kill our youngsters. We will continue to kill them for the sake of our 'Ijjat'. There is no honor in killing. It is a crime and criminals must be dwelt with legally and brought to justice. Politics has become the biggest tool to justify everything right from killing individuals, hitting them, insulting and humiliating them, all, in the name of culture and nation but at the end it is trying to protect the feeble wall of the castes. The caste hierarchies will crumble one day and that is why the casteist forces are showing sign of desperation. They cant debate. They cant discuss and reason with you and that is why they bring non issues and when they fail they hit at you, intimidate you and want the state to follow their dictates.
Yesterday, African Mission envoys called India a racist country and threaten to go to UN Human Right Council for growing racial violence against Africans students living here. It was unusual show of strength and power. As I say here that we Indian stand with our African brothers and sisters, our own north eastern brothers and sisters who face tyranny of the hidden apartheid exists here. Yes, India is not a racist country. It cant be. The fact is that over 90% of our people suffer from the worst form of discrimination called as caste system and untouchability. This can not be an internal matter but a human rights issue and we must fight it together with all those who are victims of similar kind of discrimination based on caste, color, race, region, gender and disability.
One of the best way to eliminate caste discrimination and untouchability was to implement the Constitution of India in letter and spirit and convert the constitutional morality as the socio-cultural morality of India. Unfortunately, those who swear by constitution have not really respected it that way and hence we are witnessing the brahmanical moralities being imposed on Indian nation resulting in growing cases unrest, chaos and anarchy. If India is not to become a Hindu Pakistan or we do not have a Talibanised Hindu priestly class then, the only way is implementing constitutionalism along with all the international covenants that we have signed. That is the only way to keep us united and progressive.
KCR government in Telangana has completely failed in protecting the Dalit interest. The chief minister is more bothered about Tirupathi and pleasing different religious gurus to keep his throne safe but that would keep people restive. A brutal murder is being converted into a suicide just for the sake of keeping the Kapus happy is the most dangerous thing but that is why most of the political parties doing. Shockingly, we are not witnessing any protest by political parties against such goondaism and murder because they are afraid of losing votes. The problem is that for the sake of votes you may win elections but whole edifice of our constitution and idea of a secular progressive inclusive India is getting defeated each day. The threat to real democracy comes when our young lives are lost for the sake of maintaining the purity of caste system in the name of culture and customs. India's caste bomb is dangerous and it can only be defused and saved by following the path of liberal secular constitutional democracy.