Monday, March 25, 2002 (Mewat, Haryana):
The centuries-old caste system is still deeply entrenched in some areas of the Mewat district in Haryana. The dawn of the new millennium appears to have bypassed villages in Mewat where people have to make countless trips to the village wells in the summer months to fetch water. But some people have to make more trips that the others.
The ten families of Balmikis - considered as one of the lowest castes in the Hindu caste structure - in Bhadas village have to wait sometimes for hours at the wells and pumps till an upper caste Hindu or a Muslim gives them water.
"The wells are separate. Earlier even the currency notes and money that we used to give were washed by the others," says Chandra Mani, a resident of Bhadas village.
It's a similar story in the surrounding villages as well. Despite being dominated by Muslims, the caste structure which divides the Hindus is firmly in place even among the Muslims - particularly amongst the elders who maintain that wells should be separate.
Although the younger generation takes a more lenient view, no one seems to be willing to change the old order.
"The system exists for generations and no one has felt the need to challenge it yet," says Chandra Mani's neighbour Altaf Hussain.
An NGO has now stepped in to help the Balmikis. It has built a well specifically for them. "The need for a separate well for the Balmikis was felt when they told us that even the Muslims insist that they would give the community water from their hands," says Zaffer Hussein of the Sehgal Foundation.
While digging a separate well will help the Balmikis tide over the water crisis, it will take much more to end the centuries of discrimination still faced by the community today.
K Balasubrahmanyam/New Delhi
An interesting intra-Dalit cameo is being played out in the Congress with scheduled caste leaders from South India pressing for their "due" share of representation in the All-India Congress Committee and the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
The argument that these leaders have posted is that there is poor representation to the "chamar" community in the CWC despite this being the most populous of Dalit castes all over the country. The equivalent of the community, Madigas in south India, are pressing for their share in the Congress decision-making set-up. A group of Congress ministers, MPs and MLAs have given a memorandum to party president Sonia Gandhi. The delegation which met Ms Gandhi on Wednesday comprised, amongst others, of Karnataka ministers M Shivanna and R B Timmapur, MLAs Kariyanna and Anjanamurthy. From Andhra Pradesh, there was Thippeswami, Marappa and Gopal, all MLAs.
At present, Mahavir Prasad, a chamar from Uttar Pradesh and Mukul Wasnik, a mahar from Maharashtra, are the two Dalit leaders in the 20-member CWC. This has ignored the Dalit leadership from the south India. Four more CWC member posts are lying vacant. A Congress delegation of what these Dalits comprising MLAs, MPs, ministers from southern states and other representatives have expressed their anguish to several senior Congress leaders over totally sidelining them in the party posts.
Claiming that they comprise more than 50 per cent of the Dalit population in the country and more that 60 per cent in the southern states, Madiga/Chamar leaders argue that they were not given even one post either in the AICC or CWC.
They point out that several chamar leaders in the Congress - Babu Jagjivan Ram, Mahavir Prasad, Meera Kumar and Sushil Kumar Shinde -- were from north India and the chamar leadership from the south was totally neglected.
Arguing that the Congress cannot regain its lost grip over the Dalits without accommodating chamars in the high offices. "Bharatiya Janata Party and Bahujan Samaj Party and even a regional party like Telugu Desam have recognised the importance of the Chamars and gave due representation to us in their parties whereas the Congress is yet to take initiatives," Chamar leaders said. Though, the Chamars in north India have changed their loyalties to BSP and, BJP due to the emergence of chamar leadership, south Indian Chamars by and large remained with the Congress. Prominent Chamar leaders such as Kanshiram and Mayawati of the BSP, Bangaru Laxman, Suraj Bhan and Sanghapriya Gautam are able to snatch away Dalit vote bank from the Congress, they argued.
Even the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has fielded three Madigas of the six SC reserved Lok Sabha seats and won all of them besides sending another Madiga to Rajya Sabha. TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu was contemplating to nominate a Madiga for the Lok Sabha speaker's post, they said.
Taking a strong objection to the appointment of all Mahars (Mala in south-India) - Mukul Wasnik (in-charge of Karnataka affairs), Mottamma (Karnataka), Chinta Mohan, Panabaka Lakshmi and G Venkataswamy (all from Andhra Pradesh) in various key posts, south-Indian Chamars asked what was wrong with them.
Karuna M John/New Delhi
He does not look like the lone ranger riding into a dusty sunset, but the determination of this college teacher is even more steely. Dhani Ram, a Commerce teacher at Delhi University is an unlikely hero, fighting for his right to an honest job.
Dhani Ram, a Schedule Caste (SC) candidate was unanimously selected by an interview board for the job of lecturer at the Delhi University's College of Vocational Studies (CVS). However, he got the shock of his life when he was terminated from service in October last year. The reason cited by the authorities was that Dhani Ram had failed to clear the NET examination. Dhani Ram says, he now finds himself alone in a corner, facing power centres like the University Grants Commission and the Delhi University, which are yet to address his plight. He has now taken recourse in the law of the land and has filed a complaint with the Delhi Police. "My complaint is under the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevenion of Atrocities Act), 1989," he said.
A resident of Delhi University's Mansarovar Hostel, Dhani Ram in his complaint says that the behaviour of University Grants Commission Chairman Dr Hari Gautam further added insult to injury. "I discovered that my services were terminated at the instance of UGC Chairman Dr Hari Gautam based on an 'anonymous letter," states Dhani Ram.
He added that when he went to the UGC office in January this year to enquire of any follow-up action, he was shouted at by Dr Gautam. "He humiliated and insulted me purely with deep hatred and caste based social discrimination amounting to practice of untouchability," complained Dhani Ram.
His cause has also been taken up by the Parliamentary Committee on the Welfare of the Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes. The committee has asked the college authorities to furnish the minutest details of the case in a letter dated March 22. The UGC has also been questioned on whether they have taken cognisanse of the lapses in the case. According to sources at the Delhi University (DU), the decision to sack Dhani Ram was taken after the college principal received a 'demi-official' (DO) letter from UGC chairman Dr Hari Gautam. In fact, a reminder from the UGC was sent in October.
According to senior teachers in the university, it was not always like this, in the past the UGC has allowed such candidates to remain in service till they qualify the NET. The Delhi University had also implimented SC/ST reservation policy two years ago when the roster system was also put in place. The Varsity authorities had also asked colleges to clear the backlog of Dalit candidates before appointing general category candidates in the reserved position.
By Alice Thorner
The one thing about which we can be practically sure is that caste could not have taken the form of a universal unchanging phenomenon throughout the long haul of Indian history.
AN ARTICLE on caste and colonial rule by my good friend of many years, the distinguished sociologist, Andre Beteille, appeared in The Hindu (March 5). Although I cannot claim professional status in this field, I do have a long experience in trying to understand the significance of caste as one of the determinants of individual and group behaviour in India, past and present. I trust Prof. Beteille will forgive me if I set out the latest tentative conclusions in the course of 60-odd years of reading, discussions and observing with my eyes. I must begin by saying that I disagree approximately 100 per cent with Prof. Beteille's formulations. He has, of course, the advantage and disadvantage of looking at the question from the viewpoint of an Indian.
Turning to his position on the history of caste, I am taken aback by its illogicality. On the one hand he states that there have been significant changes in the past 50 years, in fact throughout the entire colonial period. "Colonial rule," he writes, "loosened the soil in which caste had been rooted for centuries." On what basis does he assume that through the millennia before the advent of the British Raj caste had remained a stable category, that there had been no notable change, no historical development? This is, of course, the classic Orientalist position. Marx expressed it in his scattered references to an "Asiatic Mode of Production". He took from Hegal the notion of "oriental despotism" characterised by an array of emperors, kings and courtiers, all resting on a base of tiny, widely-scattered "village republics". Each of these villages reproduced itself on its own pattern. A hamlet might hive off from the original unit to set itself up like the same model in a new location. At the village level, hierarchy was unknown. Each family tilled its own soil, produced its own food. A small number of artisans provided all non-agricultural requirements. In this never-never land of the "inscrutable East" no development could take place. We may recall that neither Hegel nor Marx had ever set foot in India. They could only garner shreds of information from the accounts of 17th and 18th century European explorers, emissaries, adventurers, traders such as Sir Thomas Roe, sent from the England of James I to the court of Jehangir, Garcin de Tassy, a French botanist, De Nobilis, an Italian priest, and Raffles, founder of Singapore.
In effect, we have no basis for appreciating if and how the caste mass has operated in earlier centuries. We can consult without much profit the accounts of the two pilgrims who visited India in the 4th and 6th centuries, Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang. The Jataka tales bring vividly to life a rich and variegated urban landscape peopled by kings, courtiers, merchants and thieves. Little to learn from them about caste. The stone-carved edicts of Ashoka, contemporaneous with the beginnings in Europe of the Roman empire, give no grounds for deciding whether the newly reformed emperor was preaching to members of a caste-organised society. They do not tell us whether caste was a significant factor in the broad swathe of northern and eastern India which came under Ashoka's rule.
Trying to get answers with regard to caste from the hymns of the Rig Veda is like trying to milk a stone sculpture of Annapurna. Nor does the archaeological evidence collected at Indus Valley sites enlighten us. The one thing about which we can be practically sure is that caste could not have taken the form of a universal unchanging phenomenon throughout "la longue duree" (the long haul) of Indian history.
Inequality may well have been the characteristic throughout the length and breadth of what is today India, from the first settlements in the Gangetic Valley to the colonial period when the British took over from their European predecessors and subdued a multitude of local rulers. The wide range of communities pre-Indus, pre-Buddhist, pre-Jain, discovered by the British among the inhabitants of the territories now gathered into the Republic of India surely underwent vast social upheavals. Else why should four great world religions (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism) have to be created at the same time in this fertile seed-bed of faiths and philosophies. Far from the modern concept of the nation-state marked from its neighbours by agreed or contested frontiers, families and clans in former days moved freely, sometimes seasonally with their cattle along river beds, mountain trails, across flat lands. We keep finding new sites of the Indus civilisation as far east as Uttar Pradesh and as far south as Maharashtra. Ashoka's rule prevailed over parts of what is today Afghanistan as well as coastal Orissa. In all these constantly shifting centres and peripheries where could the limits of an incipient or full-blown caste system have been drawn. Were Prof. Beteille's roots movable from one location to another as successive dynasties shaped and reshaped the map of what came much later to be India?
We must indeed take caste seriously as a phenomenon today more characteristic of South Asia than of any other part of the known world. In recent colonial and post-colonial times, caste has certainly evolved in terms of its forms, its importance, its regional promoting variations, its employment as a means of promoting political ambitions, its relation to labour force recruitment and in its involvement with religious beliefs and customs. For the vast majority of the population in earlier centuries, agriculture was the sole occupation. Artisans and other specialists were few lohars (ironsmiths), carpenters, weavers, dyers, well-diggers, dancers, musicians, priests, fakirs, barbers, midwives and the like. Cities might also have accommodated jewellers, flower, fruit and vegetable sellers, makers of elaborate trappings for royal horses and elephants, practitioners of traditional medicine, masseurs, school-masters and scholars of ancient languages. Possibly, but by no means surely, at certain times and in certain places these purveyors of goods and services may have been designated as members of particular castes. Men and women may have moved back and forth from one occupation to another. From reading the caste histories collected by ethnographers and census-takers over the last 100 years, we learn that memories of caste often include stories of migration. We know that today particular castes are said to be dominant in particular geographic and linguistic zones. Marriage arrangements aimed at preserving the continuity of the caste required that the bride and the groom whatever their respective ages, their previous status as virginal, already married, widowed or divorced, their degree of consanguinity be able to speak to each other in a common language.
The sub-castes we encounter in the Indian Union today cannot be cavalierly equated with the various aspects of inequality typical of earlier centuries, millennia. To assume that India had no social history until colonial status was conferred on it flies in the face of probability. The Indian soil, in Prof. Beteille's conception resembles a neatly-bound hard-frozen tundra which imprisoned the roots of the caste system until the hoe of the British Raj was able to loosen it. Should we not rather assume that the manifold manifestations of caste in the present day have evolved and will continue to evolve in a volcanic landscape characterised by instability and intermitted eruptions?
(The writer is a member of the Centre for Indian and South Asian Studies, Paris.)
Ahmedabad, 3rd April, 2002
The social atmosphere is so vitiated, camouflaged, mystic that it is beyond common people to understand the phenomenon of communalism. It is too simple to deduce that what happens in Gujarat is a dispute between Hinduism and Islam. To some it may be a religious matter but if it is viewed historically and correctly then it will reveal that it is not all that but a game of power. Had it not been so then why have there been continuous onslaughts on dalits for millenia, though they are Hindus. There should not have been kamandal against mandal in 1990 under the leadership of Shri L.K. Advani. Backwards also belong to Hinduism. When Congress was dwindling and Sonia Gandhi was taking command to keep the party intact, then attacks increased on Christians so that she would react and the sangh pariwar would get an opportunity to brand her as a Christian. The ruling party in Gujarat had done very poorly in past and to remain in power it was imperative to create war type situation between Hindus and Muslims so that dalits and backwards would rally behind the party. The following prescriptions can cure this disease.
1. The All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations and Lord Buddha Club are going to form a non political social front at the national level comprising of political, social and cultural organiza tions and persons with a view to carry the message to the grass roots level that it is not the case of Hinduism versus Islam.
2. The Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and like organizations should be immediately banned.
3. Their financial position must be checked up. The sources and expenditure of such organizations should be thoroughly scrutinized by the Income tax department.
4. The Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narender Modi should be immediately removed and such politicians socially boycotted.
5. Maulvies and Ulemas, Hindu priests should be kept out of any negotiations and policy formulations and rational and secular leaders and social activists should be brought in the fore front. Such matters should be exclusively dealt by judiciary and Government.
6. Media should not go always behind sensational news. It has been seen that media gives more importance to fundamentalists than secular and moderate leaders.
7. Dalits in particular and backwards and other secular and progressive people should be taught in such a way that they should desist from communal organisations and activities. Buddhism should be prescribed to them because it does not stand for caste system.
Mr. Udit Raj (Ram Raj), National Chairman, appealed to all citizens and particularly dalits to work hard for bringing about communal harmony in Gujarat and contribute maximum to the victims of the riots in respect of boarding and lodging etc.
New Delhi, 6th April, 2002
In some definite localities like Dani Nimada, Gomatipur, Shahpur and Khanpur in Ahemdabad, illiterate,innocent and unemployed dalits were forcibly used against Muslims. Initially they were persuaded to take on fight with Muslims by enticing them while distributing money, liquor, weapons and other things and when they refused then other tricks like pressure tactics were applied , according to personal observation of Mr. Udit Raj .
The ongoing communal violence in Gujarat is nothing but a game of power. In 1984 and 85 when a radiologist belonging to dalit community was appointed under reservation , there was a communal outbreak and dalits were beaten, humiliated and killed. In 1969 also there was communal violence with a view to brand Indira Gandhi as a pro Muslim at the instigation of Sangh Pariwar while backing Morarji Desai.
What happened in Godhra on 27th February, 2002 deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible manner. And communal outbreak afterwards epitomises the climax of barbarism. By the end of first fortnight of March,2002 it appeared that the situation was getting cooled. Since Gujarat, as a Hindutva laboratory, has to rescue the ruling class from crises, therefore, Hindutva has to be consolidated by escalating communalism. Under this thinking, the second phase of communalism began in Gujarat.
Mr. Udit Raj visited Ahmedabad on 3rd of April,2002 and found it to be terrible, startling, inhuman and stifling. Dalit localities are normally situated between so called high castes and Muslims. Wherever communalism did not take place , the workers and leaders of VHP and Bajrang Dal went into dalits localities and enticed and provoked them to the extent that they were mentally prepared to fight with Muslims. Initially VHP workers accompanied some dalits to Muslim areas and created some inflammatory situation and later on they disappeared leaving alone the dalits so that finally it was a fight between dalits and Muslims. It is also a fact that after the Muslims ,the death toll of dalits is highest. When Muslims were attacking dalit localities, the police watched and did not stop them so that it could become a confrontation between Muslims and dalits. Wherever dalits became victims of violence the newspapers highlighted it with caste identity. Some newspapers even wrote that it were dalits and tribals who could save Hinduism. Thus situation was created in such a way that Muslims thought that dalits were their main enemies and vice versa.
The leaders of the Confederation at Ahmedabad narrated the story that Sangh Pariwar workers distributed liquor, money and weapons among dalits so that they could take on the fight with Muslims. They also told that dalit Karsevaks who went to Ayodhaya were paid money. Most of them were not indoctrinated before they were recruited for this purpose. The Pangh Pariwar could get good response from dalits because they are less educated and unemployed. Mr. Udit Raj warned that the Sangh Pariwar should desist from such anti- national activities . The Confederation is at work amongst dalits in Gujarat to make them understand the reality.
By D Gopi (email@example.com)
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh chief K C Sudarshan has reiterated in Lucknow on April 6 that citizen of India should call themselves as Hindus. He also sought to justify his statement saying that citizens of Russia are called Russians and citizens of France are called French.
Well, Mr. Sudarshan, the citizens of America are called Americans, citizens of Britain are called British. For that matter, citizens of any nation are called by their nationality and not by their religion. In India, every citizen is called an Indian. In asking Indians to be Hindus, the RSS chief projects himself a fundamentalist once again.
We feel proud to be called Indians and not Hindus, Mr. Sudarshan. A life associated with prayers, deities can not be called a way of life. But it is a religion and Mr. Sudarshan is doing harm for Hindus by denouncing Hinduism as not a religion.
Muslims have their own deities and their owner prayers and their own places of worship. Likewise, the Christians, the Janis, the Sikhs and the Dalits. Each of these Indians has their own places of worship; their own ways of praying to Gods and not just like the Hindus. I say this not to dishonour or disrespect the Hindus. But I take this opportunity to expose the pseudo-Hindus like Sudarshans who denounce the Hinduism as a religion and claim it as a way of life.
Mr. Sudarshan should also understand that the entire Hinduism that he is speaking about is a battle between people of different Hindu sections. Every section of Hindus has fought battles to prove the supremacy of their faith and their Gods. The Shivites have fought battles against the Vishnuvites and it was all a mockery of life that Mr. Sudarshan wants to project today.
Besides fighting within, the Hindus have kept a major section of the people of this land the Dalits, out of their religious practices. If Hinduism is a way of life why were the Dalits kept out of that way of life for centuries? Are Dalits not the citizens of this country? Even today, why the Dalits are kept out of the temples and religious practices as untouchables? Mr. Sudarshan should answer these questions. I have only two questions now: Are Dalits not the citizens of this country? If Hinduism is a way of life, why are Dalits kept out of this way of life?
Mr. Sudarshan, Hindus are peace-loving people. Do not poison their minds and provoke them against other people of other faiths. Hinduism is not a way of life. But it is a religion, like any other religion that speaks about Gods and Goddess, the life after death. Mr. Sudarshan, do not get confused and confuse the rest of the world. It only proves your ignorance or your fancy to become international leader.
The citizens of India are Indians, like the citizens of Russia are Russians and the citizens of France are French. But, the citizens of India will never become Hindus. People like Mr. Sudarshan will have no right to claim propriety of Hinduism when they denounce it as a religion.
There is no doubt the upcoming weekend is expected to be full of celebrations and activites. Baisakhi Parade, Punjabi cultural show, and a show of stars from Bollywood are expected to be the highlights some of these activities. At the same time, admirers of Dr. Ambedkar will be celebrating the 111th birthday anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar and pay tributes to him for providing a vision and framework for annihilating caste based barriers in India. These celebrations will commence on April 12 and will continue until April 14th, 2002 at the Shri Guru Ravidass Community Center, 7271 Gilley Avenue, Burnaby, BC. Special guest to attend Dr. Ambedkar birth anniversary celebrations is none other than the Dr. KP Singh, a sociologist from the University of Washington. All are invited to attend Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti celbrations. For further information, please call Bill Basra (president of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha) at 604-623-9799 or 604-834-1444.
For information, re: this press release, please contact: Jai Birdi at 604-250-5143 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.