BJP playing politics through POTO: BSP
Lucknow, Nov 9 (UNI)

The BSP today said the Centre should have taken the opposition parties in 'good faith' before introducing ordinances like the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance(POTO).

"The BJP is trying to do politics through such controversial ordinance even when there are plenty of existing laws to deal with terrorism," BSP Vice-President Mayawati said.

She alleged that the only aim of the BJP was to create communal tension and demoralise the Muslim community through this new law. The former UP Chief Minister was also critical of the state government's decision to implement the POTO within next ten days and was confident that the BJP government would "misuse" the ordinance during the assembly polls in the state.

"The motive of such ordinance is formulated by the BJP keeping in mind the UP elections along with Punjab and Uttaranchal, as both the UP and the central governments have failed to address the people's problem", she said. She also questioned the centre for not disclosing to the opposition parties about POTO when they met twice during the all-party meet on terrorism convened by the Prime Minister after the September 11 attacks on the US.

Jogi harps on tribal identity
New Delhi, Nov 10 (UNI)

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi has expressed confidence that the smear campaign let loose by the Bharatiya Janata Party to disprove his claim of belonging to a tribal community, will not get any support from the people of the state.

''There is no need for me to counter the BJP campaign. My people know me, trust me and have showered their affection on me,'' Mr Jogi said in an exclusive interview with UNI here after the completion of one-year in the office.

Mr Jogi, whose claim of being a tribal has been dismissed by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, said the tribals had very recently elected him to the Assembly by the highest margin ever secured by any Congressman in Chhattisgarh against the BJP. ''They respect the judiciary which has already not once but twice passed clear verdicts on the matter,'' he added.

''People, especially the tribals, have been electing me. Their mandate has always been in my favour,'' he said.

Terming the SC-ST Commi-ssion's order setting aside his claim of being a tribal as ''unconstitutional and illegal'', Mr Jogi ruled out any threat to his one-year-old government in the wake of the Commission's order.

The plight of the Pardhis
Despite the repeal of the Criminal Tribe Act in 1949, members of the 'denotified' tribes in Maharashtra continue to face harassment at the hands of the police and leaders of the upper castes.

in Kalamb

WHEN Banabai Banshi Pawar set herself on fire in a crowded courtroom at Kalamb in Maharashtra's Usmanabad district on August 28, it poignantly highlighted her frustration with a lifetime of harassment.

Having doused herself with kerosene, she pleaded with the Judge to release her two sons, who she said had been arrested on false charges. She threatened to kill herself unless they were released. A policeman standing next to her sneered at a woman he considered to be from one of the 'criminal' tribes. "You are all liars. That's not kerosene. It's water," he said. That was enough to ignite her anger. She set herself on fire and died.

Banabai is from the Pardhi community, one of the 150 'denotified' tribes which were branded 'criminal' under British law after they rebelled against the Raj. Even though independent India repealed the Criminal Tribe Act in 1949, officially removing the criminal label, they still face discrimination. In Maharashtra, at least six known attacks against members of the denotified tribes have occurred in the past three months.

Banabai's suicide only sparked a witch-hunt against her community. The next day, merchants in the town burned down more than 100 houses of people who belong to the Pardhi community.

Soon after Banabai's suicide, a group of Pardhi women, already agitated over the arrest of nine men from their basti, confronted a local police inspector. Infuriated, some police officers met powerful local leaders and traders at the police station that evening and asked them to help the police maintain 'law and order'. The traders decided to call a bandh the next day.

During the bandh, a huge mob armed with swords, sticks and containers of kerosene entered the particular Pardhi basti and torched everything in sight. Local leaders, including some notorious political figures, led the mob. More than 100 houses were set on fire and huts, a truck, motorcycles, and other belongings reduced to ashes. "All that we were left with were the clothes we were wearing. Everything else was destroyed - vessels, grains, bedding, clothes," says Sakarbai Pawar, whose hut was burned. Her family of 12 now takes shelter under two tin sheets. "The mob came here, called us thieves, and asked us how we had built our houses. They threatened that they would not let us stay here. We ran away," says Natabai Pawar.

In Kalamb, members of the Pardhi community have been called thieves, bootleggers and moneylenders. While a handful of people from the community do run an illicit liquor and moneylending joint, most others are agricultural and construction workers. Two persons, whose brick-built houses were burned, work respectively as a bus conductor and a peon in the local government office. "Not all of us are brewing liquor here. We work as labourers in fields or at construction sites. If we really were thieves, would we be living like this, searching for the next meal?" asks Tai Phulchand Kale, standing next to what remains of her hut.

The first to propagate the stereotype concerning Pardhis and profit from it are the police. "The town's residents were harassed by these criminals. They gave vent to their frustration," says the local inspector, sympathetically. However, the Pardhis say it was the police who incited the traders against them the night before the attack.

Moreover, they add that the nine men arrested on the night of August 27 were not caught while on their way to a dacoity, as claimed by the police, but were dragged out of their homes and taken to the police station. There they were asked to pay Rs.7,000 each for their release. The Maharashtra Police's Protection of Civil Liberties Cell is investigating charges of false arrests against the Kalamb police. Senior police officers admit that the investigation seems to suggest that the arrests were unjustified.

The real reason for the torching of Pardhi homes seem to have more to do with commerce. The Pardhis occupy a piece of land near the market which is today prime property, worth lakhs of rupees. Local politicians and traders are eager to evict them. In fact, the Kalamb Traders' Association has even asked the government to 'rehabilitate' the 'criminals' outside the town. "They have encroached on government land. Once they are rehabilitated outside the town, the law and order situation will improve," says Lakshmichand Bhalai, a committee member of the association.

Special Inspector-General of Police S.S. Suradkar explains: "People use the criminal label against them to serve their own vested interests. However, most Pardhis are not involved in illegal businesses. Some cultivate land, others have jobs or businesses."

Yet the label sticks. The powerful sections benefit from perpetuating the stereotype. "It's convenient to brand us criminals. Whenever a low-caste community begins to prosper, the upper castes cannot stomach it. They will do anything to repress them. The big, politically powerful criminals like to use us as scapegoats," says writer and Pardhi activist Lakshman Gaikwad, who himself has risen from a small Pardhi basti in Latur to become a Sahitya Akademi award winner.

ON September 19, 22 houses and shops in the Banjara basti were set on fire by powerful residents of Achler village in Latur district. They were angry that a Banjara zilla parishad member, Shankar Pawar, had been elected president of the local school board. Banjaras constitute another community that was denotified. Although traditionally a nomadic community, the Banjaras in Achler have been living in the village for decades.

Ramnabai Chavan and her family have been living in the village's community centre, or sleeping under the shade of trees, ever since their house was torched. "Nothing remains of our house, not even a blanket to cover my children," she says. "The upper castes cannot swallow the fact that a small man has gone forward. They want to retain power. We ordinary people have to bear the brunt of their politics," she adds.

Moreover, the members of the upper castes have now boycotted the Banjara community. "When people are working in their own fields, they accuse them of stealing. They don't give us work in their farms, don't let us enter the market or use the water tank, and have even asked the neighbouring village not to buy our farm produce such as milk. How are we supposed to survive?" asks Ramnabai.

Ranu Lakshman Ade and her son were attacked while they were working in the field. Her arm was broken while her son was beaten until he lost consciousness. "Luckily the police came and stopped them. They sent him to the hospital," she says.

Shankar Pawar, the man at the centre of the controversy, explains: "It's all political. They are lashing out at our community to scare me before the zilla parishad elections." He points out that a few days before the attack, a group called the Shiv Sanghatana had held a meeting to mobilise the Shaivite community in the village. "During the attack, they even entered the school and hit one of the teachers. His hand was broken. For 40 years a man from their caste was president. They don't like the fact that now a person from a lower caste was elected by the board," Shankar Pawar says.

Their struggle for both political and economic opportunities may be bitter. But the fact that the denotified tribal people are fighting for, and sometimes getting, their piece of the pie is itself a sign of change. It is becoming more difficult for the powerful upper castes to keep them marginalised. Even labels have a shelf life.

SCs in Kashmir feel neglected

By Our Correspondent

Jammu,NOVEMBER 7: The Schedule Castes'(SC) political clout is increasing all over the country and it is evident from the fact that members of the communities are holding high political and government posts. But in Jammu and Kashmir the communities feel that their role has become negligible over the years.

Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Kuldip Sarangal, president of the All State Schedule Castes and Backward Classes Association, said, ``We have lost faith in all political parties and we will soon adopt a collective line of action. We won't like any party to take us for granted''.

In the Jammu region Schedule Castes constitute the single large group among Hindus - 31 per cent.Not one of them holds the post of a Cabinet minister or head of any political party.

Mr. Sarnagal recalls the National Conference regime from 1975 to 1977 when Scheduled Caste men headed two district units of the party. ``We had good representation in the provincial committee and offices. Now SCs hold no such positions'', he said. The Pradesh Congress Committee was also at one time headed by a Scheduled Caste member. Even in the BJP unit, no SC leader occupies any senior position.

It may be recalled that the SCs were the principal beneficiaries of Sheikh Abdullah's widely acclaimed land reforms in the early fifties under which, SC tillers became the owners of the land. Therefore the community had natural affinity for the party.

The seniormost SC leader in the ruling National Conference, Mr. Maheshwar Dadi, says, ``We supported Sheikh Abdullah in his times of adversity. There was a time when whosoever supported Sheikh Abdullah was branded a traitor. My colleagues, risking their lives, came to build a base for the party in the region when the present leadership was nowhere around. The party has done great injustice to the Scheduled Castes.'' He was candid in saying that the ruling party in the coming elections would pay a heavy price if they neglected its traditional vote bank.

Convert the landed

V. Krishna Ananth

``The social order prescribed by the `Purusha Sukta' has never been questioned by anyone except Buddha. Even Buddha was not able to shake it, for the simple reason that both after the fall of Buddhism and even during the period of Buddhism there were enough law givers, who made it their business not only to defend the ideal of the `Purusha Sukta' but to propagate it and to elaborate it...'' (Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Who were the Sudras?, 1946).

WHEN Mr. Ram Raj (rechristened Udit Raj now), an Indian Revenue Service officer, led members of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations to embrace Buddhism on November 4, 2001, he was only following a prescription handed out by Babasaheb Ambedkar a couple of months before his demise, in December 1956, to embrace Buddhism. Since then, scores of Dalits have been declaring themselves Buddhists in their own way.

Ambedkar's was indeed a demonstrative action against the Brahmanical Hindu social order, of which the concept of `Purusha Sukta' served as the basis.

This, according to Ambedkar, was unique for the wrong reasons. `Purusha Sukta' made the Hindu social order unique because ``it preaches a class composed society as its ideal''. And the idea of en masse conversion of Dalits to Buddhism was a revolt against the Hindu social order and its priests.

One of those who grew up in the radical political milieu of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University in the 1980s, Mr. Raj certainly could not have not known that Ambedkar's prescription was merely symbolic.

And the developments since then - especially the coming of age of an exclusivism as the most pronounced form of Dalit assertion - in the Indian political discourse could not have been missed out by the angry young man that Mr. Raj was when he left the University campus to join the IRS.

The Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangarsh Samiti (DS4 as it was known then), founded by Mr. Kanshi Ram in 1984 and representing mostly Dalit Union and State Government employees, had transformed itself into the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and shocked political observers when it polled more than 10 per cent of the votes in the 1989 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Mr. Kanshi Ram did not show any enthusiasm for organising conversions. He also refrained from raising the issue of land ownership (despite being aware that a majority of the landless farm workers were Dalits).

Instead, he went about declaring that the Bahujan Samaj was in no way going to make a fetish of the ideological moorings of the mainstream political platforms; and he displayed this by striking alliances with parties across the spectrum. This, he has maintained, is the means to empower the Dalits.

With the benefit of hindsight, one can conclude that the BSP could consolidate into a political force to reckon with only because Mr. Kanshi Ram refused to challenge the oppressive land- holding pattern in the Gangetic basin.

After all, one has seen the violence unleashed against the CPI(ML-Liberation) which internalised the question of land rights into the Dalit question in neighbouring Bihar.

The point here is that the agenda of Dalit assertion has now matured, thanks to the BSP's emergence, in such a fashion that the symbolism that marked Ambedkar's prescription (though en masse conversions may have been relevant in his time) is no longer of any significance. What is needed is a platform that challenges the land-owning patterns in the rural areas.

This is easier said than done. Experience has shown that the status quoistswill refuse to give in without a fight. But then Mr. Raj's objective of serving the Dalits' cause will be realised in a meaningful fashion only if he wages the battle with a strategy determined by the objective reality. To orchestrate en masse conversions at this stage will only constitute a ritual and nothing more

'Charges aimed at maligning Christian bodies'

By Our Staff Reporter

KOTTAYAM, NOV. 10. Mr. K.P. Yohanan, evangelist and founder- chairman of Gospel for Asia and the Believers' Church, has taken exception to the fact that his name was unnecessarily being dragged into the controversy over mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism.

Speaking to mediapersons here today, Mr. Yohannan alleged that these allegations were baseless, against facts and aimed at discrediting the aforesaid enterprises founded by him. All financial dealings related to these enterprises were transparent and have been taken up in compliance with Government stipulations, he said.

According to him, the allegations were being raised in certain quarters on the basis of the conference of the All-India Christian Council held in Hyderabad in September. Nearly 2,000 delegates, including members of the Gospel for Asia, were present and issues related to human rights concerns of Dalits, which were taken up at the Human Rights Conference in Durban (South Africa), were discussed at the Hyderabad conference. Leaders who had participated in the Durban conference were invited to Hyderabad. Unlike what Mr. P. Parameswaran (Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram) said, it was not a forum to discuss religious conversion, Mr. Yohannan said. However, it was made clear that the Council would welcome if the Dalits decided to accept any religion in accordance with their conscience, he added.

Details of the discussions can be had from the website of the All India Christian Council, he said. According to him, the two enterprises, Gospel for Asia and Believers Church had been functioning in the field for the past two decades, and have over 10,000 activists, 5,750 local churches and nearly five lakh members.

Without naming him, Mr. Yohannan took a dig at Mr. John Joseph, member of the Minority Commission, and said the present Commission had not reacted to some of the ground realities as presented by official sources. Even according to the Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, 419 incidents of atrocities have been committed against Christians besides 39 murders of Christian activists. In addition, there have been molestation of nuns, disappearance of Christian activists, destruction and desecration of Christian places of worship. Hindutva leaders like Mr. Giriraj Kishore, Mr. Sudarshan and leaders of the Bajrang Dal had asked Christians, who have a history of nearly 2,000 years in India, to quit the country. The Human Rights Commission and Attorney General of India had reacted strongly to these statements.

However, the Minorities Commission has so far not reacted to such issues, Mr. Yohannan said. He made it clear that while he did not believe in conversion, he and his followers will be with the Dalits to ensure their constitutional rights.

He welcomed the dialogue among various religions. He also welcomed the dialogue with the universal representatives of the Hindu community in India. However, those who engaged in mass murder, molestation, desecration of churches, etc., claim that they represent Hinduism. It is not proper to engage in dialogues with them, he said. ``f those who molested, called the molested for discussions, I can only say it is ridiculous,'' Mr. Yohannan said.

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Published on: November 12, 2001
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