India: Now Available: 'Upper Class' Blood

By Ranjit Devraj

Courtesy of the InterPress Third World News Agency


NEW DELHI, Jun. 24 (IPS) - India's notorious social distinctions based on caste and class have spilled into the blood donation sector that even reputable blood banks now advertise blood that is guaranteed not to come from the dregs of society.

A pamphlet distributed by the Rotary Blood Bank run in the national capital by Rotary International describes the pathetic situation of blood banking in India. It is marked by acute shortages, lack of volunteer donors, an unimplemented six-year-old Supreme Court ban on professional donors and, worst of all, unscientific social prejudices against certain classes of donors.

Says the pamphlet: ''We understand that a large number of replacement donors are paid donors. We want to discontinue clandestine sale of blood. It is well known that several semi-nourished people, rickshaw pullers, drug addicts and other people short of money for smack, donate blood.''

The Rotary International facility was inaugurated in March by Lal Krishna Advani, home minister in the right-wing, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government.

The 'better' blood offered by Rotary comes at 18 dollars a unit, which is twice that charged by the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) that runs the capital's biggest blood banking facility and accounts for up to 45,000 units of transfusable blood annually.

Voluntary groups involved with the blood banking sector say that in spite of the high prices and socially discriminatory attitude, the Rotary facility has been accorded the status of a Regional Transfusion Centre (RTC) and granted funds worth more than a million dollars from government sources.

Questioned about the about Rotary's maverick attitude, the Delhi State Blood Transfusion Council has promised action. ''We have told Rotary that they should coordinate with other regional blood centres and also reduce their prices. If they do not conform we can withdraw their RTC status,'' said Dr. Bharat Singh, member secretary of the Council.

But rights organisations think that the RTC status accorded so far to the IRCS Blood Bank and to government facilities, should never have been given to an openly elitist organisation like the Rotary International in the first place.

''The Rotary Blood Bank is setting a precedent for the commercialisation of blood banking in a country where the official policy is that blood should not be traded in,'' said Purushottaman Mulloli, convenor of the Join Action Council (JAC), an umbrella organisation for rights groups that focuses on issues related to public health and HIV/AIDS.

Indeed, it was such a view that was supposed to have guided the Supreme Court into passing an order five years ago banning professional donors from selling their blood.

Buying blood from professional donors goes back to colonial times and was institutionalised during the Second World War when large quantities of transfusable blood was required and few Indians were willing to donate what they considered to be a precious fluid. The Supreme Court ban did not appreciably change things and several voluntary organisations have brought out detailed reports showing that the bulk of blood available for transfusion continues to come from professional donors with the trade going underground and prices shooting skywards.

According to Iqbal Malik, who runs 'Vatavaran' an NGO which had the trade videographed and aired through television channels three years ago, Delhi alone needs an estimated 300,000 units of blood annually and less than half of that is legally collected by various blood banks while the rest is still sourced from professional donors. The Rotary International pamphlet, apart from outlining social prejudices testifies to the fact that dependence on professional donors is widespread.

Such are the prejudices that last year, when large quantities of blood were needed for the survivors of the devastating Jan 26 earthquake in western Gujarat state, the IRCS refused to accept blood from the inmates of the Central Jail.

Jail authorities complained to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of an attitude that was ''highly discriminatory'' towards prisoners as well as ''derogatory and in violation of human rights'' but the NHRC upheld the IRCS decision.

That came as a blow to the prisoners because under existing rules, if they donate blood twice a year they are entitled to a month's remission on their sentences for that year.

But the discriminatory attitude of the NHRC and the IRCS jibed with findings of a study conducted by a leading firm of chartered accountants, A.F. Ferguson, which opined that professional donors were mostly poor people, many of whom were likely to be drug abusers and engaging in unsafe sex.

Said Mulloli: ''What is required to be known is that donated blood is scientifically safe and tested rather than its antecedents and that when the country is facing severe shortages of transfusable blood.'' Ramesh Sharma, an activist for the influential Gandhi Peace Foundation said the real problem was that following the Supreme Court order the government never cared to carry out an awareness campaign to remove prejudices and create a reliable cadre of donors that could be depended on for steady supplies of blood as in other countries. In fact, the National Blood Transfusion Council, the nodal regulatory body set up following the Supreme Court directive has not met in the last two years. ''Even when meetings are held nothing seems to move. Many decisions have been taken but most remain on paper,'' said J.G. Jolly a council member.

A report published by the International Federation of the Red Cross three years ago on the blood banking situation in South Asia noted that several factors in the region ''frustrate the principle of voluntary non-remunerated blood donation.''

The report also noted that recruitment and retention of voluntary blood donors for adequate and safe blood supply presented a tremendous task which called for a massive communication campaign aimed at involving all sections of society in building a reliable transfusion system.

To date no such thing has happened in India where total requirements are now estimated to be around eight million units of blood with actual availability about half that figure. It is not uncommon to read about news reports of patients waiting for weeks to get an operation done or actually having died for lack of transfusable blood.

At the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences, the capital's largest medical facility, doctors look the other way as patients who desperately need blood make deals with "vampires" who arrange the 'replacement blood' which is sourced from a network of professional donors rather than from relatives or friends as approved by existing law.

Voluntary agencies like JAC expect blood shortages to worsen as a result of a new policy announced by the government in April under which blood banks will no longer be allowed to accept replacement blood from even genuine relatives or friends but source supplies purely from voluntary donations.

''This is next to impossible because of existing prejudices regarding blood and the result will be that India, a country of a billion people will have to increasingly depend on imported blood or blood products that can only help multi-nationals in the business,'' said Mulloli.

Official figures available for the year 2000 show India now importing annually 540 million dollars worth of blood products sourced mostly from France and the United States and the trend steadily rising. ''In all this no thought is being given to ordinary people who already cannot afford the prices charged say by the Rotary Blood Bank or those living in rural areas where there are no blood banks and a large number of patients depend on unbanked direct transfusions,'' said Mulloli.

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Maligning BSP for others' opportunism

Vivek Kumar

These must be the happiest moments for the Dalit leadership, as it has become so powerful that it can in reality lend a helping hand to the Sangh parivar and BJP, and thereby to communalism. One fails to understand how politics of erstwhile untouchable castes has assumed such authority and influence and developed an agenda of such far-reaching consequences. Today some Muslim religious leaders and intellectuals are vehemently criticising the BSP for joining hand with the BJP in the wake of the Gujarat holocaust. Further, these very forces first tried to prevail upon Muslim MLAs of the BSP to resign from the party. Of course, when they did not succeed in their endeavour, they asked the Muslim community to socially boycott them.

In this context, before forming any worldview about any particular political party or any community, some fundamental issues need to be addressed. At the outset, is it correct to allege that the BSP, and thereby the Dalits, have given a new life to communal forces? Second, can anybody identify the forces that kept them alive in Indian politics for so long? In fact, the Janata Dal led by Mr VP Singh and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the champions of secularism today, contested elections in 1989 with an understanding with the BJP. Above all, where to keep the 25 parties supporting the BJP to lead the NDA Government?

Third, why this selective criticism? Why are secular forces criticising Muslim MLAs elected on BSP ticket? And why didn't they condemn Farooq Abdullah's National Conference for supporting the "communal forces"? And, more interestingly, are they going to give a call for social boycott of Mr APJ Abdul Kalam because he is being supported by the BJP-led NDA Government? Or will they forget Gujarat? And if so, why aren't the secularists asking Afghanistan and other Muslim countries to break diplomatic ties with India as a communal party is leading its Government?

Another point related to this is that the secularists are asking Dalits to stand by Muslims in this hour of crisis, but will they answer how many times they have asked Muslims to stand by Dalits in their hour of crises? How many times has the Muslim community taken out a protest march against the massacre of Dalits and rape of Dalit women, which is a regular feature of Indian society? Hence, if you are asking for someone's help, some confidence building measures are needed. In fact, these measures should come from the stronger of the two parties involved. It is a fact that even today Muslims are better placed than Dalits in terms of social and economic aspects of life.

Now the moot question. If the secular forces are so committed to secularism, then why didn't they prevent the BSP from falling into the "communal trap"? If the Congress and the Samajwadi Party had supported the BSP, then a "secular" government could have been easily formed. This would have sent dual massage. One, it would have strengthened the "secular" forces in UP. Second, by crowning a Dalit woman as UP Chief Minister, their commitment towards social justice would have got further affirmed.

As far as fears about the BSP-led coalition government in UP is concerned, we can be sure that the BSP leadership is capable enough to keep the secular fabric of society intact, as it has proved in the past. The two BSP governments in 1995 and 1997 had checked Hindutva forces successfully. For example, the BSP forced its coalition partner to restrict a major Hindu nationalist mobilisation in 1995 around Mathura Idgah complex, a mobilisation that was highly likely to lead to violence because it was attracting Hindu and Muslim militants from all over the State to carry out or stop a "parikarma". The BSP forced the BJP to impose severe restrictions on the event by using State machinery.

This is not all, the BSP has played a more constructive role at grassroots in UP by preparing an ideologically trained cadre base that knows that Hindutva is not his cup of tea. The party in its cadre camps has sensitised them about their own agenda. It has established its own cultural symbols which are opposed to Hindutva forces. For example, the BSP reveres Periyar but the Hindutva forces hate him for his garlanding Ram's statue with shoes. Consequently, today "Jai Bheem" is being pitched against "Jai Shri Ram" and the BSP has been successful in weaning a substantial sections of the Dalits away from the BJP.

Indeed, it is because of the BSP that the image of "Homogenised Hindu Whole" has been broken which the Sangh parivar so meticulously tries to establish. Therefore, the secular forces should not worry about minorities till the BSP is in power as it can protect their interests along with the interests of the Dalits.

BSP-BJP coalition need not worry Muslims

Finally the BSP-BJP combine is in power in Uttar Pradesh. It is after around two months long deliberations, pressures and threats of survival of the Vajpayee government that brought together this rag tag coalition of half partners and half foes.

The relations between the BJP and the BSP cannot be described as that of love-hate relationship. It is unadulterated mutual hate. The only thing that has brought them together is the much abused law of enemy’s enemy is friend. Looming fear of Mulayam Singh Yadav has brought them together, Mayawati due to her personal enmity with the Samajwadi Supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and the BJP for his secularist image and the fear that he may destroy political careers of BJP bigwigs like LK Advani, Joshi and Bharati by opening cases against them.

But there is no reason to panic. Though Mulayam Singh Yadav has not been able to form his government in the state despite emerging the largest single party in the state and getting around half more seats than the BSP’s 98 tally, there is still no reason to panic. In fact Muslim leadership is itself responsible (though it cannot be said with certainty as there are not much people heeding its voice) for the large number of Muslim votes Mayawati attracted. Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat and Milli Council - the organizations which are now regretting for appealing Muslims to vote BSP- had got over mesmerized by the BSP’s secular overtures and had made frantic appeals to Muslims to vote for the BSP. Their appeal might have to do with the increasing realization of the Muslims that Mulayam Singh Yadav has not gone beyond lip services for the Muslim community in the state. The ever increasing marginalization of Muslims in his party has intrigued Muslims for long.

There has been widespread speculation and fear among Muslims that ‘Maulana’ Mulayam has destroyed Muslim leadership in his party that used to be in the forefront earlier. Now there is no leader in the party except Mulayam and Amar Singh. Though no one should question their secular credential, this was the main thing that has not been possible for Muslims to swallow. And gone are the days when Muslims used to vote merely on Mulayam’s name. They now look for the local candidate and his secular credentials. The falling stature of Muslim leaders in Samajwadi Party has reduced the grip of party on Muslim voters. Azam Khan and his likes are now lost in the glamorous presence of Amar Singh.

And it will be amazing for many people to know that all the Muslim MLAs in the BSP are not merely Maya men. Quite a few of them have strong religious backgrounds and are active for the welfare of the community. So excommunication fatwas against them are not going to work. And that is also of no use. This correspondent knows if not all but quite a few of these BSP MLAs who have been doing something substantial for the community, from spending money on legal cases on different riots around the state to establishing educational institutions.

While writing a story on Meerut riots this correspondent had an opportunity to meet the person who is paying for all the legal expenses of Meerut riots. These cases are being fought in Allahabad High Court, Supreme Court as well as in local courts. And behold this gentleman never told me about this secret. It was the man who is in the forefront and fighting all the cases who said that he is not bearing the expenses. All expenses are borne by this man. This gentleman is now a BSP MLA.

The other and the most important fact that should be kept in mind is that Mayawati will be in government as long as she is able to implement her agenda. For her, continuance of her government is not important but the implementation of her agenda. If she has come to power it is to implement her Dalit agenda. And it has been seen that whenever Mayawati occupies the chair she is entirely on her own. Her low political credibility has never worried Mayawati and she is not scared of political instability.

Though it may look that Mayawati has grouped with the BJP for a long inning, it should never be believed. Political pundits are not ready to give this coalition more time than from six moths to one year. Unlike BJP, Mayawati is not scared of elections. Instead, frequent elections are welcome.

Though the BJP is projecting that the new live-in relationship is for a long period, it should not be taken on its face value. When Dalits and OBC (BSP-SP) government failed due to the infighting despite having almost similar causes, how can Dalits and Manuwadis live together. This is destined to die a natural death. It was social pressure that ripped apart the BSP-BJP coalition both in 1995 and 1997. Oppressors and oppressed cannot live together for very long. They are bound to start fighting between Dalits and upper caste people. Dalits will try to get plum posts, inspectors in every thana, kotwal in city and commissioner in the commissionorate. It happened last time and it is bound to happen again. And the BJP and its vote bank will not take it kindly. Because the person who will be dislodged from these posts and transferred to insignificant posts will certainly be high caste Hindu, BJP’s vote bank.

And the BJP’s sleeping with its arch enemy will not do any good to the Party. There are fractions in the party who are openly trying to revolt against the central leadership. The upper caste people have already started looking towards the Congress as an alternative. It is on the basis of the BJP rebels in the state that Mulayam Singh has not lost hope of forming the government in the state as yet. BSP has no such fear. Dalits who are with her will never leave her. Muslims may also not leave her altogether. And so she will continue to play hide and seek with the power.

Quite reassuring is the fact that all political pundits are unanimous over one point. And it is more worrisome for the BJP than the BJP-BSP alliance for Muslims. They say the BJP’s alliance with the BSP will be a death knell for it. Mayawati will prove to be a doomsday messenger for the Hindutva brigade.

It should be kept in mind that Mayawati will never allow the BJP leaders to pursue their agenda. They are bound to be checked by her. Meanwhile why don’t ask Muslim ministers who have been given plum posts in the coalition government to do something for the community. Everyone does so. Why Muslim ministers cannot do something for their community. Don’t annoy them with excommunication threat.

And please don’t annoy Mayawati too. Instead assure her that you are with her and that Muslims will vote for her in greater numbers the next time when the state goes to polls. Ask her to destroys the BJP. She is made up of the stuff that can accomplish this job. The only requirement is votes for her.

Ż SU Rahman

KR to Kalam Caste, religion and the Indian presidency

by Sriyavan Anand

“Can you tell me why, in 3000 years of our history, people from all over the world have come and invaded us, captured our land, conquered our minds?
From Alexander onwards. The Greeks, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch, all of them came and looted us, took over what was ours. Yet we have not done this to any other nation. We have not invaded anyone.
We have not conquered anyone. We have not grabbed their land, their culture, their history and tried to enforce our way of life on them”.

APJ Abdul Kalam in an interview to Pritish Nandy, October 1998.

Soon after Abdul Kalam’s nomination, a brahmin reporter of a leading Tamil magazine based in Madras read Kalam’s autobiography, Wings of Fire, and decided to chat with a colleague. “Tell me, are you an extremist Muslim?” she asked. Shocked and cornered, he replied, “I don’t offer namaz even on a Friday”. Emboldened by the response, she went on to suggest, “Why don’t you all be like Kalam”.

When Panchajanya, the Hindu-fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s mouthpiece, of which today’s prime minister is a former editor, predictably claimed APJ Abdul Kalam as their man for the Indian presidency, Saeed Naqvi, a senior Indian journalist, sought to locate Kalam in a different tradition: of Sufis and poets who had claimed the mythic god, Ram, as their own. According to Naqvi, “Kalam, for all his devotion to Rama, still has to catch up with Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana’s verses in Sanskrit to Dasarath’s son”.

What is it that forces Naqvi to seek to relocate Kalam’s coordinates? On a recent Star News debate with RSS ‘intellectual’ Seshadri Chari, and in his article for The Indian Express the next day (21 June 2002), Naqvi turned the debate on its head by attempting to reclaim Kalam from the RSS. His Express essay, ‘Islam’s many children’, had the strap: “A salam to Kalam for demolishing the stereotype”. Naqvi was glad that Kalam – the Gita-quoting, veena-playing, vegetarian, Ram-bhakt, celibate, teetotaler, non-Urdu speaking technocrat Muslim – will help break the three broad stereotypes of the Indian Muslim: as a butcher “who marries several times, multiplies like a rabbit and bathes only on Fridays…”; as an “Urdu-spewing paan-chewing, hubble-bubble smoking decadent nawab, leaning against a brocade sausage cushion, listening to B-grade Urdu poetry with a mujra dancer in attendance”; and the latest: “bearded, wears a skull cap, his pyjamas pulled above the ankles and his outsized shirt almost touching them. He breeds in madrassas where he plots against the state”. (Never mind that in Naqvi’s narrative there is no place for Muslim women; the veil remains.)

Such popular perceptions make Naqvi run into the ‘syncretic’ arms of Kalam. Arguing that there is no such creature as “the real Indian Muslim”, Naqvi says, “The Indian Muslim, like any other Indian, is a creature of his village, district, state”. Of course. But where does Naqvi – as a journalist with a Muslim-sounding name – place himself while performing this thankless task? And why does Naqvi fail to problematise Kalam’s jingoistic nuclear pronouncements? Not once is Pokhran or Kalam’s overenthusiastic role in India’s nuclearisation mentioned. But who is responsible for a situation that produces Kalams, and the Naqvis who invest them with secular innocence?

Almost anticipating Naqvi’s essay, some six months ago, another familiar commentator on ‘Muslim/ communal issues’, Mushirul Hasan, was forced to ask in the columns of the same newspaper: ‘The Indian Muslim and the loyalty test: Did I pass or fail?’ (14 November 2001, reproduced in Himal, December 2001). Naqvi’s essay was an attempt to pass this test. Unwittingly, Hasan, too, was trying to pass it. But unlike Naqvi, Hasan was at his angry and mocking best: “Life goes on with the accusing finger pointed at the Muslims, regardless of whether one is an atheist or a believer, secularist or Islamist, Marxist or Congressman… And our educational institutions – not the Gurukuls and the RSS schools – disseminate ‘mischief’, and produce unpatriotic men and women like Badruddin Tyabji, Azad, Ajmal Khan, Ansari, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Zakir Husain, Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Begum Akhtar, Azim Premji, Abdul Kalam, Shabana Azmi, and the nawab of Pataudi”.

Like the unnamed Muslim journalist-friend from Madras, who like Kalam knows no Urdu, but unlike Kalam cannot quote the Gita, Muslims in India have always been cornered into thinking more about how others (caste Hindus) perceive them. It is very, very difficult being a Muslim, of whatever class-caste-linguistic background, in India: post-partition if you are North Indian, and post-Babri across the nation. (It is after all a nation, where, as former president Zakir Hussain once said: it is easier for a Muslim to become the president than become a clerk.) And, however well Mushirul Hasan is able to intellectualise his predicament – 11 September compounded by the fundamentalist Hindutva and fundamentalist Islamic pressures – he is forced into offering a list of “Muslim achievers”. Though it seems to go against the thrust of his own essay, he ends up reminding his readers: “We too have our icons”. (Why did his list not feature Yaseen Malik or Mirwaiz Umer Farooq? Such names would perhaps render the list ‘anti-national’ and make Hasan fail the ‘secularism’, and also the ‘Indian loyalty’, tests.)

After Kalam’s nomination for the post of president by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance, it was Naqvi’s turn to bear the burden of “secularising Kalam” (and by extension “secularise Islam”). Sadly, though their intentions might be different, there is a lot that binds Naqvi’s and the RSS’s appropriation of Kalam. Both seem happy with a Gita-quoting Ram-bhakt occupying Rashtrapati Bhawan: a president who will be Muslim, yet an un-Muslim Muslim. Seshadri Chari of the RSS said on Star News that not only Muslims, but also Hindus should emulate Kalam’s “bharatiyata”. “Even the Hindus do not quote the Gita”, he said with regret.

Muslim intelligentsia and caste
To understand the rise of Kalam, and the kind of positions that Naqvi or Hasan are forced to assume, it is necessary to ask why the followers of Islam in India – the second largest religious minority in the nation at 12 percent after the dalit-untouchables who constitute 15 percent – have not produced a comprehensive intellectual-philosophical critique of Hinduism and its core texts. In fact, they have only seriously flirted with it. Even the secular-liberal Muslim elite of the pre-partition, pre-independence period, did not produce scholars willing to mount a critique of the vedas, the Gita, dharmasastras or puranas. And when someone like Bhimrao Ambedkar mounted a sustained attack on Hinduism and all that it represented, the Muslim intelligentsia refused to stand by him or even engage with him. This, theoretically, may owe to fears of persecution and reprisals. But one is not talking here of engaging with the RSS or affiliates of the sangh parivar. The 20th century Muslim intelligentsia refused to even appreciate the intellectual challenges posed from dalit-bahujan positions.

I am reminded of a meeting at Urdu Hall on Maqdoom Marg in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. It was 1997, a year after Kancha Ilaiah had written Why I am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy. The book raised a furious debate in academic, intellectual and political circles and went into a quick reprint. The Urdu Hall meeting was a discussion of the book by ‘progressive writers’. A sizable number of Muslims were in attendance. ‘Hindus’, in fact, were in a minority at the meeting. (Hyderabad has a tradition of secular-liberal and left-oriented Muslims – that is, it has more than its share of articulate Saeed Naqvis and a Muslim intelligentsia that is tired of Asghar Ali Engineer’s Quran-centric ‘secularism’.) Most speakers reviewing the book came down heavily on Ilaiah for “attacking everything in Hinduism”. Some senior Muslim speakers felt his attack on Hindu scriptures, especially the vedas and the Gita, was simply unacceptable and even scandalous. Here was a scholar who was looking for some solidarity not from a group of mullahs or brahmins, but ‘secular’ writers and thinkers. All he got was their ire, and refusal to engage with ‘anti-Hindu vitriol’.

Ilaiah’s book was remarkable for what it sought to achieve in post-Babri Masjid, post-Mandal India, and instead of at least being tacitly supportive, forget taking the cue, the Muslim intelligentsia was extremely hostile. ‘Books like these will feed the Hindutva goons’, was the sentiment. It is such ostrich-headedness that has resulted in Muslims being increasingly alienated and monolithised in a post-independence India that had been Hindutva-ising much before the BJP came to power or was even born. And not much seems to have changed. The same Ilaiah recently wrote an article in The Hindu (29 May 2002) ‘Dalit, OBC and Muslim relations’, coming down strongly against the Muslims. Two crucial paragraphs are worth quoting in extenso:

The Muslim intelligentsia must also be held responsible for an indifference to the issues of caste and untouchability… Muslims rulers and scholars did not bother to understand the caste question. A visiting scholar like Alberuni threw a cursory glance at the question but no Indian scholar or poet wrote at length on these issues. Quite surprisingly, they took no social or educational work to the dalit-bahujans. Because of the influence of the brahminic ideology, the Muslim scholars thought that caste system and untouchability were spiritual and that they should not interfere.

Before the Bhakti movement, a few Sufi propagators mingled with the Sudras/Chandalas of that period. But in the modern era, particularly in the post-independence period, no Muslim intellectual worth his name has worked among the dalits, adivasis and OBCs. No Muslim intellectual stood by Ambedkar when he started the liberative struggle of the dalits. Following the Mandal movement no Muslim scholar wrote even one serious book formulating an Islamic understanding of caste and untouchability. How do bridges get built among communities? They get built only when one oppressed community gets the support of another and each relates to the other on a day-to-day basis. For that, a theoretical formulation is very essential.

So far, there has not been one decent response to the article. Many of my ‘progressive’ friends wondered if this – post-Gujarat – was the time for such an essay. That was the response, if any. We have earned an Abdul Kalam with our long silences on issues that matter – we deserve him. It is not as if Muslim scholars and intelligentsia have been unaware of the situation Ilaiah is referring to. Mushirul Hasan in the article cited earlier: “The Muslim intelligentsia – from the days of Shah Waliullah in the eighteenth century to Iqbal in the 1920s and 30s – dialogued with itself and not with others… Today, it is easy to notice the scholarly inertia in Muslim institutions, and the absence of protest, dissent and political activism. Lamentation rather than self-introspection is the dominant refrain. Not much has been done to interpret Islam and analyse Muslim societies”. Even here, Hasan calls only for self-introspection by Muslims, saying nothing about the need to build bridges with oppressed communities such as dalits or Christians.

Perhaps the restricted definition of communalism has something to do with this. The last person to seriously view the dalit question – along with the Muslim question – as ‘communal’ was Ambedkar, who went to great lengths to try and con-vince the British, and the likes of Gandhi, that dalit-untouchables were a community separate from the Hindus, as much as the Muslims were. There were no takers for this view, despite the fact that dalit oppression is rooted in the caste system — the bedrock of Hinduism — and, therefore, is carried out in the name of religion. So, when dalits are under attack, neither Muslim nor caste Hindu intellectuals posit this as a ‘communal/religious’ problem.

In fact, in post-independence India, dalits are the most visible and brutalised victims of a communal violence that is far more crude, sustained and regular than the attacks on Muslims. Around the time of Kalam’s elevation, two dalits in Thinniyam, a village in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchi district, were forced to eat shit. There are at least a dozen such reported instances every year. In Melavalavu, Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, seven years ago an elected dalit panchayat (village council) president was beheaded along with six others. Till date, the caste Hindus of Melavalavu refuse to employ or socialise with dalits of the village. This is the reason why in Tamil Nadu, since the Meenakshipuram conversions of 1981, dalits have increasingly and regularly sought physical, social and spiritual comfort in Islam to escape Hindu violence.

Internal matter
The Indian government calls the caste and untouch-ability issue an “internal matter” of the nation. When Christians were under attack from the same Hindutva dispensation in 1998-99 the international (Christian) community was “concerned” and sought assurances from the BJP-led government. When Muslims are under attack in Gujarat, there is a diplomatic fallout to think about. But when dalits are subjected to attacks on a daily basis, no one bothers. Forget international reactions, since untouchables and untouchability are exclusively Subcontinental problems, it fails to outrage media-managers, the political class, and intellectuals inside the country. Arundhati Roy periodically publicises her rage on a great many issues. But violence against dalits leaves her cold. Gujarat is outrageous, but the silence on anti-dalit pogroms is equally reprehensible.

It may be asked why dalit intellectuals have not reacted to Muslim issues. The short answer to it is that dalits have not been allowed the kind of institutional backing and public space that Muslims, by virtue of being a recognised minority community, have. How many visible dalit intellectuals have emerged compared to Muslim? In the ‘national’ Hindi and English-speaking fora one knows only of Chandrabhan Prasad and Udit Raj. And it is worth noting that India does not have a single accredited dalit journa-list. Tamil Nadu’s thriving dalit intellectuals are relegated to little magazines. Readers of Himal may not know of any at all.

And what is the role and res-ponsibility of Muslims in this active suppression of dalits at the intellectual level? Under Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution of India, religious min-orities have special rights to run educational institutions that cater specifically to a particular community. According to a survey by the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), as of 2000, there are 92 major modern Muslim-run colleges in India (Milli Gazette, 1 January 2000) where 50 percent of the intake can be Muslim. The “ratio of non-Muslim teachers in 44 percent of these colleges exceeds that of the Muslims”. We were not told, however, of the percentage of dalits here. Perhaps because there exist none.

In November 2001, a member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (NCSCST) met the AMU authorities to inquire about the implementation of reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the appointment of teachers and employees and admission of students in the university. AMU Vice-Chancellor, Hamid Ansari, and other authorities told him: “there is no scope for the implementation of this policy in this university” (Milli Gazette, 15 November 2001). In 1995-96, of 1280 faculty in AMU, there was not one dalit. In Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia, of 350 teachers, there was only one adivasi (‘Dalit Diary’, Pioneer, 30 June 2002). The Sri Chandra-sekharendra Saraswati Swami Viswa Mahavidyalaya, a deemed university run by the Kanchi ‘Sankara math’ in Tamil Nadu, and the six Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) funded by the University Grants Commission, follow a similar dalit-free policy un-abashedly. Of some 400-odd faculty members in IIT Madras there are two dalits. In IIT-Bombay, there is none. In the once-left bastion, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, it is the same story. Muslims, and ‘secular’ and non-secular caste Hindus, all seem to think alike about dalits, their ‘merit’ and nurturing dalit intellectuals. According to the NCSCST, hardly two of hundred dalits and adivasis avail of the reservation policy, which guarantees them a 22.5 percent quota in jobs and education. How will such a scenario throw up dalit intellectuals?

The few national voices we hear, like Chandrabhan Prasad, will only be irritated by a category he dubs “Mandi House Muslims” – mostly ashrafi Muslims, that is ‘noble’ Muslims who descend from ‘foreigners’ or are converts from ‘dwija’ (twice-born) Hindus – who are content to dialogue with ‘liberal-secular’ caste-Hindus and keep off ‘merit-less’ dalits. There are very few ajlaf voices – lower class Muslims, literally ‘wretched’ or ‘mean people’ – heard in the media or make it to the mainstream of the Muslim intelligentsia. When there is hardly a dalit voice that can be heard on dalit issues, in what way can ‘dalits intellectuals’ vocalise support for Muslims-in-distress? Millions of dalits have over the centuries embraced Islam, and continue to do so. But some Muslims, such as Kalam, have converted to brahminism: the rare case of a non-Urdu speaking shudra-ajlaf integrating with the brahmanical order.

It is against such a backdrop that the BJP with one hand did in the Muslims of Gujarat and with the other hand held aloft a Kalam, while snubbing KR Narayanan with a ‘no-thanks’. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that the replacement of the dalit scholar-diplomat, KR Narayanan by the pseudo-Muslim, faux scientist, Abdul Kalam, has evoked only a muted public response from the dalits. What is surprising, however, is the ease with which the few caste-sensitive subaltern voices who have access to public fora have reconciled themselves to this retrograde change of guard. Ilaiah’s rejection of the glorification of Kalam as a missile man is at best oblique. In his view the unfortunate obsession with Kalam’s role in India’s missile programme detracts from his contributions in “other areas of science”. He of course does not illuminate for us these other contributions.

Ilaiah is asking for something that is not there. All that Kalam has done is help put together bombs whose kiloton value is suspect and ‘reverse engineer’ rockets without much success. Sadly, dalit intellectuals like Chandrabhan Prasad and OBC intellectuals like Ilaiah have been a little too casual in reconciling to Kalam’s elevation. While Chandrabhan’s anger against “Mandi House Muslims” is understandable, this cannot translate into support for a shudra-Muslim who serves the caste-Hindu cause. Forget Kalam’s views on Gujarat and the prospect of a nuclear war, we would be better off not knowing what this Ram-bhakt has to say about the Babri Masjid demolition or the VHP’s current agenda. Since for Kalam, ‘the nation is above the individual’, it may logically follow that a temple at Ayodhya would have to considered – in the ‘national interest’. In this, Kalam could be abetted by Jayendra Saraswati, the self-imposed ‘Sankaracharya’ of the non-existent fifth Kanchipuram math, whose ardent devotee Kalam is. In a recent interview, Saraswati referred to Kalam as a friend and ‘soul-mate’. Clearly, Kalam will restore a presidential tradition – broken briefly by KR Narayanan – of the head of state prostrating at the feet of fundamentalist Sankaracharyas.

Communitarianism, Nehru and Kalam
The caste-less, creed-less, nationalist Kalam’s proximity to brahmin seers raises interesting questions about the liberal conception of the state and public office in India, particularly in the light of the ‘secular’ and ‘non-secular’ irritation with Rafiq Zakaria’s communitarian objection to his nomination. Zakaria – to whom the media prefixes the tag ‘moderate’ – is a Muslim who decided not to take the ‘loyalty test’. He argues that there is nothing Muslim about Kalam except the name. “[H]e should not be put in the same category as the two former Muslim Presidents, Dr Zakir Husain and Mr Fakruddin Ali Ahmed. Both of them were as great patriots and Indians to the core as Dr Kalam. But they were also Muslims in the real sense of the word; they believed in the tenets of the Quran and faithfully followed the traditions of the Prophet. They worked for the uplift of the Muslims as much as for the progress of India” (Asian Age, 19 June 2002).

From Narayanan to Kalam, a squandered legacy

Zakaria does not regret Kalam’s imminent elevation. Nor is he too bothered about Kalam’s ballistic bombast and his nuclear pro-activism. He only objects to his being called a “Muslim”, for he has “kept himself completely away from Muslims; he refused to mix with them and even when invited to participate in their nationalistic activities, he politely declined”. So Zakaria, one of “Islam’s many children”, has a take on Kalam as much as Naqvi does. “His roots are really in Hinduism and he enjoys all the sacred Hindus scriptures. Hence the credit for his elevation, in communal terms, should go to the Hindus; to give it to the Muslims would be wrong. In fact Dr Kalam himself would be happy if he is not described as a Muslim”. While seeking to problematise Kalam’s intractable ‘Muslim identity’, Zakaria never once invokes the Gujarat massacres, or how Kalam is the ‘dream Muslim’ of the sangh parivar. Zakaria seems absolutely rooted in his commitment to his community and religion (irrespective of the language and regional moorings of the person in question), and, unlike Kalam, refuses to ‘rise above religion’ as the (Indian) ‘nationalist’ media loves to put it. Zakaria’s comments about an unrepentantly unrelentingly un-Islamic Kalam annoyed several Hindu commentators, because Kalam’s conscious distancing himself from the Muslims – in food habits and cultural and spiritual moorings – was directly proportional to his proximity to brahminism.

An open airing of such communitarian (not communal) concerns will obviously worry liberals and democrats of the classical mould. In this conception of liberal democracy the ‘individual’ should not be bound or weighed down by categories of religion, caste and community. But India has never been bound to the principles of liberal democracy in practice. There are only institutions – from parliament to courts – in place. In a Hindu-dominated society that swamps both Christianity and Islam with the vulgarities of the hierarchical caste system, thousands of communities are bound by the specificities of their problems. Individuals who drift away from their communities after tasting success – especially when they come from oppressed, minority groups – are seen as betrayers. Social scientist Gopal Guru has theorised on the dilemma of those dalits who seek the “authentication of modernity on terms set by the twice-born”, the dwija. The modernist dalit who develops a detached view of his or her community invites the wrath of the communitarian dalit and earns the tag “dalit-brahmin”. But the alienated dalit can never become brahmin, thus being doubly alienated (‘Dalits in Pursuit of Modernity’ in India: Another Millennium, Ed. Romila Thapar, 2001). In Kalam’s case, we might be witnessing the emergence of a new category – the Muslim-brahmin, applauded by ‘secularists’, communitarian brahmins and shudras alike.

It was not as if Kalam was born in a place and time where there was no social ferment. Kalam, at 71, would have witnessed Tamil Nadu’s zealous non-brahmin movement (1920s to 1950s) and the subsequent rule of the shudras by the DMK. As a teenager Kalam must have heard (if not read) Periyar EV Ramasamy, the anti-brahmin activist and ideologue. Most Muslims of the state – who pre-Babri considered themselves as much Tamil as Muslims, and did not feel constantly persecuted like their north Indian counterparts – threw their political weight behind the DMK at crucial times. Yet, we see that the best-known Muslim from Tamil Nadu today has emerged as a brahmin, and is praised by the shudra leader Karunanidhi as the ‘ideal candidate’ for presidency. Kalam’s brahminic success is equally the failure of the anti-brahmin movement and the DMK which inherited its political legacy.

Comparing the brahminical Kalam with the communitarian-dalit Narayanan is inevitable. No dalit grudged Narayanan his pursuit of the good life, a Burmese wife, or the evening scotch. The only expectation was that he should not forget his community and the millions who look up to him. Narayanan never forgot (nor was he allowed to forget his origins by the media). Narayanan’s detractors claim that he started talking about ‘dalit issues’ only after becoming president. But former Mizoram governor A Padmanaban’s book, Dalits at the Crossroads: Their Struggle, Past and Present, 1996, which documents Narayanan’s speeches much before he became president suggests the contrary. The media saw Narayanan as a dalit first, president next. It never needed to remind S Radhakrishnan, Shankar Dayal Sharma or R Venkatraman about how rooted each was in his caste and religion. Sharma presided over vedic sammelans and more often was found in Tirupati than in New Delhi; RV was an unabashed brahminist whose main worry was the manoeuvres at the Kanchipuram ‘Sankara math’; Radhakrishnan was much the same but managed to hide behind the mask of a ‘philosopher’. These men were brahmins first, presidents next.

Mayawati as chief minister, reporters from Uttar Pradesh tell us yet again, is making no bones about her preference for dalits in the bureaucracy and the establishment as such (despite her alliance with the BJP). Yet how many reporters have bothered to investigate the number of Kashmiri pandits who benefited during Nehru’s premiership? How much was Nehru able to rise above caste? Here’s an avowed leftist, Ashok Mitra, fondly remembering Parameswar N Haksar on his death: “The Kashmiri Pandits, the entire tribe, are all related to one another in some manner or other. So it was not difficult for Haksar to come to close to Jawaharlal Nehru… This man, rich in talent, an Allahabad Nehruvian to his fingertips, a song of socialism in his heart, of impeccable Kashmiri Brahmin stockage…” (‘The P.N. Haksar story’ 12 December 1998 After running amok in the foreign service during Nehru’s regime, he became Indira Gandhi’s backroom boy. The hold of the Kashmiri brahmin mafia – Kauls, Dhars, Haksars, and Kaos – spread from foreign service (Haksar) to the secret service (Rameshwar Nath Kao, former chief of India’s foreign intelligence bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, who died this year) with governorships, plum foreign postings and secretaryships thrown in for good measure.

The paradoxes of liberal political practice in India are much too obvious to be ignored. The privilege of communitarian loyalty is permitted only to caste Hindus, who despite their overt religiosity and their blatant favours to caste members while in public office, are still called secular. Narayanan and Mayawati on the other hand, while being constantly reminded of their caste, are denied the privilege of empathising with their community. It is not very different for the Muslim either. Farooq Abdullah, who for political reasons must assert a mild form of Kashmiryat and the autonomy of his state, will not be accommodated in the Rashtrapathi Bhawan even as the second man – the vice president. It takes a Kalam who renounces his caste, rejects his religion, embraces the sanathan dharm, denies the social realities of the nation, and cultivates a militant patriotism, to become the head of state. Unflinching loyalty to the majority is the deracinated minority’s price for ceremonial recognition.

Kalam’s elevation represents the collective failure of Indian polity and society. It is another phase of brahminic revivalism in India – brahminism parading with a Muslim name. Personally, I am dreading the next Republic Day, the day when for five years Narayanan used make stirring, thoughtful speeches. We will now have to put up with schoolboy compositions. And we have earned this: a man who is aware of invasions and colonialisms (see epigraph), but is innocent of the colonisation of his own mind.

Ultra Brahmanism of Mandi House Muslims

ChandraBhan Prasad

India's caste society conceded Dalit rights only reluctantly but a consensus evolved over the Dalits' right to reservation. As our scholar friend D Shyambabu told us during the Bhopal Conference, "The consensus on Dalit rights was shattered during the Mandal Commission but it could be restored with the Bhopal initiative." Shyam's optimism was proved right when most newspapers, in their editorials, hailed the Bhopal Declaration. The conference was hosted by a predominantly Dwija government and attended by a number of Dalit- friendly Dwija intellectuals.

While Varna society's attitude towards Dalit rights is fairly well known, what is less debated is another national consensus on the Dalit question: That Dalits are a "merit-less" and incompetent people. This "national consensus" on the Dalit personality and his intellect has hurt Dalits the most. The anti-Dalit perception itself has been projected by the mass media, academia and other public fora. Since no Dalit was part of any such forum, they were unable to defend themselves.

The only social force with a considerable presence in the media and other public fora is that of the Mandi House Muslims, who are technically outside the Hindu caste order. But did they ever come to the Dalits' defence?

When Dalit Diary first appeared, the first weekly column written by a Dalit in the Indian media, in April 1999, people complained to Chandan Mitra, The Pioneer editor, about the column's temperament. He would politely tell them to send in their complaints, if they felt strongly about certain facts, perceptions etc. Letters poured in, but none questioned the author's competence, they only differed with his opinion. The Asian Age, edited by a Mandi House Muslim, published an edit page article condemning Dalit Diary. According to the author, Dalit Diary articles could at best be published as Letters to the Editor. When I mailed a reply to the Age, the editor refused to publish it.

The same Dalit Diary is today also carried by Vaartha, each week, the second largest Telugu daily in Andhra Pradesh, and the column is adopted by a host of Dalit websites operational around the world.

Mandi House Muslims have a considerable presence in all forms of mass media, academia, cultural fora, cinema, music, nightclubs etc and are, culturally, highly integrated with the Dwija intelligentsia. But did they ever confront the Dwijas' abusive perception of the Dalits? They celebrate Laloo Prasad Yadav as a messiah of secularism, but did they ever question his social fascist agenda against the Dalits? Today, they want Mayawati to forego her power sharing, sit in the opposition and join in with their BJP bashing. (Up to 1989, Dalits were expected to join in with Congress bashing.) They accuse the BSP of according legitimacy to the BJP, but forget how the BJP gained strength in 1989, and shamelessly celebrate VP Singh?

When the Mandi House mob smelt the possibility of Brahmans, Dalits and lower caste Muslims joining hands in UP, they launched a sinister campaign, saying the Dalits were killing Muslims in Gujarat. Did they ever name the Patels and Kolies, the two main Shudra castes, as leading the anti-Muslim campaign? By painting the Dalits as "Muslim killers", they wanted the 14 Muslim MLAs in UP to walk out on the BSP. They began saying the Dalits were on the "Hinduisation path" in Gujarat, which was likely to extend to UP as well. But did they ever talk of their own Hinduisation, so rampant, visible and profound? The Dalits can't be Hindus even if they choose to be. To be a Hindu, one has to adopt the Varna caste order, with all its prejudices. Dalits are victims of this prejudice, and can't possibly practise prejudice against themselves.

To understand the Mandi House Muslims' ultra-Brahmanism, there is a need to look at their social behaviour in the countryside. So medieval and ruthless are these Mandi House Muslim landlords in UP's villages, that Dalits there find it extremely difficult to guard the dignity of their women.

The Mandi House Muslims' ultra-Brahmanism is best mirrored by the institutions they run. According to the National Commission for SC/STs (1995-96), of the 1,280 teachers at Aligarh Muslim University, not a single one was a Dalit. In Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamia, of 350 teachers, there was only one ST. The SC/ST panel has for decades fought these institutions, asking them to implement the constitutional provisions of reservation. But they do not. If there were no Hindu teachers, one might have been able to appreciate the fact that these were minority institutions. But they do appoint Hindus. The problem is with the Dalits, as the Dalits "lack merit, are incompetent people and unfit to be teachers".

And the proportion of lower caste Muslim teachers at these two universities? Logical. Newer converts tend to follow the norms of the old order with a lot more rigidity. Mandi House Muslims adopted the caste system much later and therefore, practise more Brahmanism than the Brahmans themselves could think of.

Dalit priests hit caste ceiling in Maya’s UP

No temple jobs for the 100-odd Dalit graduates

Amit Sharma

Lucknow, July 9: The first ever batch of Dalit graduates from Lucknow’s only training school for priests is facing employment blues of the most humiliating kind.

Around 100 of the 1,025 students who graduated from the Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Sansthan this year are dalits. The consciousness of their caste, which wasn’t too evident during their three-month training, is being rubbed into their faces by those whose preserve priesthood has been for centuries.

None of them has got a job in any temple yet. And those who have been performing rituals say they are being obstructed by Brahmins.

Ram Anuj, a dalit priest, says Brahmins forced him to abandon death rites in a village in Jaunpur district. ‘‘I was forced to stop because I am a dalit,’’ he told The Indian Express.

‘‘Though we too perform rituals as per Vedic traditions, we face opposition because of our caste. None of us has been able to get a temple job. Even performing our priest’s job is tough. How are we to earn our livelihood?’’

As Mayawati cuts a swathe across Uttar Pradesh’s caste hierarchy, imposing her own brand of social engineering, these dalit priests are learning that in their job market, it’s still their caste certificate rather than their job qualifications that matters.

Ram Samucha, another dalit priest, was similarly thrown out from Ballia in middle of a ceremony. ‘‘The opposition was not from my client but from local Brahmins who told me to leave. I had no choice because of the unified opposition,’’ he said.

The opposition to dalit priests is gathering several votaries, and vocal ones at that. The head priest of Lucknow’s Durga temple, Hari Narain Dubey, threatened self-immolation if any dalit priest was given a job in any temple.

‘‘We have learnt that under pressure from Chief Minister Mayawati, temple trusts are thinking of employing dalit priests. If this happens, all Brahmin priests will stop working in those temples,’’ he said. The state government hasn’t announced — or even hinted at — any such move yet.

‘‘How can dalits be denied the right to perform religious functions?’’ Mahant Ramchand Paramhans, chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, said from Ayodhya. ‘‘Shabri was a dalit but Lord Ram ate with her. When Ram did not differentiate, how we can even think of doing so?’’

The Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Sansthan, meanwhile, is waiting for funds to start teaching its next batch. ‘‘We started this course on an experimental basis, and the selection of candidates wasn’t based on a quota for dalits. But training for the next batch hasn’t started since we haven’t received a government grant. We will be writing to the UP government and the Centre,’’ sansthan director Sachidanand Pathak told The Indian Express.

SC/ST students complain of not being given admission


NEW DELHI: Many SC/ST students complained they are being denied admission in various colleges despite fulfilling the eligibility criteria.

The university offers 40,000 seats in various regular courses, of which 22.5 per cent are reserved for the SC/ST candidates. This year the university had arranged for a centralised registration of SC/ST candidates, who were supposed to fill in 20 preferences for colleges and courses. ‘‘The first list was on merit based and students were asked to collect slips from the office,’’ said dean Hema Raghavan.

But confusion began when some SC/ST students did not take admission despite having collected the slip. When colleges reported the vacant seats for students from unreserved category, they came back to claim admission. They claimed they missed seats because of confusion over the number of lists. ‘‘Two lists were out up in the university sports complex. I knew of only one,’’ said a student.

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Published on: July 12, 2002
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