Atrocities against Dalits high in Punjab
Indian Express, 21st August 2000


LUDHIANA, AUG 20: "Punjab has no untouchability, probably because of Sikhism, but I am ashamed to say that in committing atrocities on Dalits, we do not lag behind," said Harinder Singh Khalsa, the 1974 batch Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer turned politician, who is now a member of the Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribe Commission. ENS caught up with the powerful and vocal member of the commission, during his recent visit to the city, where he has a house in Barewal locality, and where the former diplomat's family now stays.

Khalsa gained prominence soon after he resigned from his much coveted post of Charge d' Affaires, as first secretary at Oslo after Operation Blue star, and asked for political asylum. For his act, he was dubbed as a `terrorist' by the then government and a number of cases were slapped against him. Subsequently, all the cases were dropped as they were stated to be politically motivated and Khalsa became an MP on SAD ticket, during the previous Lok Sabha.

Opting out of active politics for this term, Khalsa found himself in the SC/ST Commission, which, like other commissions, is considered to be meant for cooling heels before trying for political rejuvenation. But, not for Khalsa. The confidence of many police officials, including some very senior officers, is known to wither away when they stand before him facing his ire.

The man has strong views on certain subjects including reservation, and he does not believe in mincing his words. "Press is our (Commissions') main source of information, particularly about atrocities committed on Dalits. That is because sometimes, administration and even state governments also try to suppress the information and distort the facts, which is very unfortunate," he says and adds, "I'd rather view the existence of the commission as an aberration because given the 52 years of our existence as a free nation, had we been normal, law abiding people having faith in the Constitution alongwith the commitment to uphold and implement the provisions of the Constitution, there would have been no need for a commission, a commission meant to investigate the atrocities and to implement the benefits meant for the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes."

Probe him further on the debate of reservation at the cost of quality and the `deserving' losing out on opportunities because of reservation, and pat comes the stinging reply, "What is the quality of Indian administration today, (with or without the reservation)?" and then he reasons, "Reservation today is not being done at the cost of quality, it is provided to only those sections, who would otherwise remain downtrodden, given the centuries of mindset of others and backlog of ignorance among them". For thousands of years, they have been denied participation in social life, it will take some time for them to come up to the level of `equality ' and till such time, reservation should be given to them, he adds.

However, countering the propaganda against reservation, he says that nowhere has the reservation reached its optimum level. "Punjab should get 29 per cent reservation, while the government professes to provide 25 per cent reservation at present, the truth is that not even that percentage is being provided to the needy".It is a sad state of affairs that we still encounter a mindset, a psyche, which provides raison d'etre for the commission, he says.

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