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By Dr Mohanlal Panda, Advisor, People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)*
Majority of 1.21 billion plus population in India have been drawn immensely, through different mediums to politics, music/film, and cricket. Among the three, politics takes a centrestage and captures mind space affecting our day-to-day lives. Politics plays a significant role in the lives of the people, ultimately deciding cost of living, price of drugs, daily wages, sensex, and stock market. Though being a signatory to Millennium Development Goals (MDG), crucial for addressing poverty and exclusion, India has yet to achieve it, which reflects the intention and direction of Indian politics. There is growing realisation among the majority of the population that state is using democratic institutions to legitimise its undemocratic decision- making process, reason being its failure to communicate with its citizens.
The onslaught of neo-liberal economic policies, which pampers corporates and pauperise the masses or policies that destroy jobs and livelihood and displace people at gunpoint, has generated two new trends in Indian politics. First, it has generated three types of parallel democratic confrontations. These are, (1) Mind game between the broken people and forces implementing neo liberal policies,(2) Religious fanatics are confronted by the liberal elements within their religion, and (3) section of upper caste joining dalits to dismantle upper caste hegemony. Second, in the wake of wide spread and increasingly documented cases of human rights violation, interest in reconciliation, as apolitical, juridical, and psychological construct is growing(Torture, Page. 72, Vol.21, No.2, 2011). While the former has immensely influenced the political trends in several parts of the country, the later has contributed in strengthening rule of law.
These trends in politics have not only affected the political parties, bureaucracy but also civil society groups and media. Intra organisational decision making process is under stress due to waves of democratisation of information demanding more transparency. All are in the line of fire due to lack of accountability and deficit of legitimacy for representing certain view. Pressure is building up on civil society groups to stand up to be counted for representing a democratic structure and implementing good practices like social audit in the organisations. The country is heading towards a politics that encourages participation to change and demonstrated will for initiating new age state craft.
Impact of 'live' telecast or broadcast has unnerved the dictators. In the one hand, it has greatly restricted the space and impact of manipulating politics through perception based information, on the other hand it provided more space for the growing agitation, people's uprising, and dissent for protection of human rights. The arrival of information technology has strengthened the debate in favour of direct democracy. It has helped in questioning the representative character of politics and institutions. It exposed the design of the minority to keep the majority out of the process of participatory democracy in order to perpetuate their culture of impunity. Empowerment of majority is an evil dream for this section be they in politics, government or in civil society. The media has played an important role in breaking the silence of the majority marginalized population who have started questioning the right of this few self appointed leaders pretending to represent the majority and dare to negotiate for their future. These victims of the social system for centuries wish to ask their own question, and now demanding direct accountability from the state. Their politics has started establishing a culture where justice is not for the privileged few.
The effectiveness of human rights institutions depends on its communication with the victims, people and organizations who work for victims. The recent campaign by a section of the civil society groups to down grade the premier human rights institutions like NHRC has surprised many people in this country. One respects and accepts that this section in their wisdom concluded that NHRC has not delivered as per its mandate and up to their expectation. At the same time, some other sections which has benefited from the interventions of that institution believe that reform, not downgrading or shaming a national institution is good for victims of this country. These sections, representing the majority of the disenfranchised people certainly believe that NHRC, a quasi judicial body has taken suo-motto action on several occasions to provide relief to the victims who live in oblivion and for whom no one organizes press conferences. These majority sections cannot afford the expenses of cases that moves in an unlimited time frame in the court, thus prefer NHRC and other HRIs for relief. Agree, HRIs have its own limitations but they have their strength too. How many HRIs in the world, like NHRC, have opened their window to talk to their officers in the middle of the night to save the life of human rights defenders? This decision of NHRC should be welcomed and efforts should be made to push for more such decision through constructive criticism and public advocacy initiatives.
Limited effectiveness of NHRC and other HRIs, partly, remains in their mandate. What can NHRC do when the victims in its desperation to get relief, rightly so, appeals both to NHRC and the court. On several occasions, NGOs lose their cases in the lower court and then make appeal to the NHRC for relief showing the victim/s as human rights defenders. How can NHRC influence the already established investigating process, which the court also follows, for lakhs of cases it handles every year and at the same time not being accused of delaying in providing relief ? While some of the answers lie in an effective State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), the fact remains that the institutions and its functioning are designed to keep the majority out of the net of beneficiaries. A pro people reform will harm the interest of the opportunists.
SHRC is undoubtedly a great idea to address human rights issues at the state level. But its functioning is harmed by two important problems, one, in majority of the states it is preoccupied with the unwritten responsibilities of shielding the present political dispensation, two, limited budget and lack of infrastructure affect its functioning. Looking from the point of financial viability, it is difficult to imagine SHRCs for small states. The state of District Human rights Courts are no different. Critics compare these courts with District Consumer Court where the lawyer, accused and the court connive to minimize penalty of the accused leaving the victims in lurch. A way out for some of these problems could be found in establishment of Regional Human Rights Commissions (RHCS) where appointments are done from an all India pool giving it a national profile. These RHCSs should be accountable to NHRC. Courts can also help in strengthening the HRIs by asking the victims whether any of the HRIs were approached for the same case and what is the status. While this will put immense pressure on the HRIs to remain on toes, the state will also realize its obligation in strengthening the HRIs.
Absence of victim centric politics in India has let down the HRIs, stalled legal and police reforms and increased threat of Human Rights Defenders across the country. The causes of marginalization of victims have never been in the political agenda of any party. No parliamentarian has showed concern to find out why for example, the report of The National Commission for Minorities were not tabled and discussed in the Parliament is a proof of policy makers concerns for the victims. How long can the poor and vulnerable sit on the fence between life and death and admonish their fate for living in the margins of the society. No amount of investment on their empowerment will recover the cost of sense of their vulnerability, suffering, and helplessness. It is time to PARTICIPATE to CHANGE.
*PVCHR is a Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India, based Human Rights Organisation
Monday, July 11, 2011
Call for a neo-Dalit movement to overthrow feudalism, neo-fascism and neo-liberalism through a popular action
A multidisciplinary approach to a better understanding of the actors and factors
The creation of a popular protest movement through the reformulation of a political identity
We have seen that all those problems which look apparently different are actually linked together. We will see now that this multiplicity of causes can be overcome together by creating a unitary process. A People's one.
What is the best way to fight again a neo-fascist politics of casts and communities division? Unity. Which kind of unity can we create to fight against caste system – which is the origin of social division and cultures of impunity – and neo-liberalism – that increase the gap between have and have-not and deprives many people of the benefit of natural resources? A union of lower's castes. I mean a union of lower caste from all religions, because misery doesn't matters of theologies. A union between shudras and ati-shudras, or between dalits and ati-dalits, and a union with Muslim lower casts and other marginalized peoples. A movement of the poor and the abused people for breaking the economic exploitation and the silence culture of caste torture. A movement against Brahmanism and caste system, but not again Hinduism and upper-caste. A movement against neo-liberalism capitalism, not against capitalism himself.
I want to propose this unity today because I think that this is the best way to fight against this culture of impunity and because I don't think that change will come from peoples who benefit of this system. So, structural change can only come from the bottom of the social pyramid. I propose to call this movement: "neo-Dalit", because this is the Dalit community who has suffering most of all for this entire situation and because this name is already synonym of political struggle. And what a better way to solve an identity problem that reformulates this identity.
Of course, create a sense of belonging to an imagined political inter-caste community may seem impossible, as in the caste structure of society is old and perfectly integrated into the everyday life and that this change of identity require a sacrifice from both of those castes and communities. The Shudras must learn to deny their right of lord (feudal) on ati-Shudras if they want to break free of their upper castes masters. On the other hand, the extended reformulation of the term "Dalit" also requires an ati-Sundra sacrifice, as these take away the monopoly of the first identity that they recognizes as legitimate, from the first name that they accept to name themselves and which is synonym of their own political fight. The first name that their use with a little bit of pride.
This integration problem is even greater when we try to included in this movement the "old" - but actually still - lower caste who converted to Islam or the oppress Christian and tribal populations.
Because of all those difficulties, we have to well understand and emphasis the sameness among those different social groups. First, we should make them understand that they are both castes slaved and aliened by the upper casts. There are a majority who is rule by a minority in a country who is theoretically become a democracy more than sixty year ago. Second, we should show them that main economic resources and power are hold by the upper castes, and that there is no sense to fight between each other's or give a positive answer to communitarianism hatred because such behaviors will not implement neo-Dalit lives conditions.
I talk about the classical example of the landless Dalit who is fighting with a poor Shudra owner because the Dalit cow damages the Shudra field for food. During that time, the rich upper caste – landlord of a hug superficies where are often exploited Shudras and ati-Shudras – has not to deal with this kind of problems, because the caste mentality allow him to beat lower casts in all impunity, because lower castes have internalized this brutal domination that they now regard as normal and because the upper castes have police in their pocket. In this kind of situation, we should explain to the Dalit and the Shudra that this conflict situation is the result of their marginalize situation that they share together due to the caste mind. We should show to them that they sharing a common problem which require a unity response.
By this way, a united movement of protest of this poorest majority will have enough power to fight – in a non-violent way – again the rich minority who have seen from too much time as "un-attackable", against religious leaders who feed hatred between communities or divided lower castes, and against others corrupt officials who believe that they can racked and abuse of poor peoples with impunity because they don't have money to enforce their right in a corrupt political regime.
Because the "divide for better ruler" politics is become an institution in the country: what better answer than a unification process of lower castes from all religions can we give to create a unified social movement again Brahmanism caste system, communitarianism neo-fascism and capitalism neo-liberal.
A union of lower castes against the upper castes alienation, a union of religions against communitarianism, a union of the poor against neo-liberalism. Three fights lead by one community, the neo-Dalits. `
But what about the means of our fight? How such social movement of unity can emerge? On which kind of struggle should it lead? These questions are important and needs to be asked.
The creation of a neo-Dalit political party doesn't seem to be the right choice. Political party who want defend the poor are not going to raise enough money to play the election games and leaders who will be involving in the institutional game have good chance to be socialize to the corruptive rules of those institutions. The risk is that see them takes some distance with the people that they are supposed to defender or, worst, playing the democratic game only for their own profit – as Mayawati Kumari (BSP Dalit leader) who made hidden alliance with RSS (Dalit – Brahmin social engineering, not attacks against caste system) because she expect to run for prime minister election. Another way seems to be preferable.
I think that it is better to promote a reconciliation movement between lowers casts and religious communities in the grass-roots level in order to create contact between those who was speared for a long by communitarianism and Brahmanism. Connection and meeting are the best way to fight again dangerous prejudices that lead to community's hatred and reverse the process of division between lower castes. But it is clear that this unification will not appear "like that" and that we need, first of all, to create a hug and strong network among all the civil society organizations who fight separately for the Shudras, ati-Shudras, Muslim, Christian, worker class, farmer, etc… Because the best way to achieve this union and create a neo-Dalit social movement of protest begin by coordinated actions lead by a shared interpretation of our common problems.
For this reason, this present call is destined to all Suhdras and ati-Shudras, to all organisations who fighting for the respect of human right, to all progressive peoples – whatever her/his caste, religion, sex or social class – who want to reverse this process of state-privatization, abuses of natural resources and division of society through hatred spiral feed by communitarianism, feudalism and patriarchalism implement by the Brahmanism caste system and his Hindutva project.
But one question remains: what is the best way to bring together different social groups? I think that this process should begin by a closer link between opinion leaders and others representative of those groups. This idea has nothing new. Few times after India independence, Gandhi-ji has already show use that it is possible to put a term to communalism fight by a non-violent way. I talk about what peoples called "the miracle of Calcutta". Gandhi-ji was able to engage a disarm process of all gang of the city, but was not satisfy by this victory. He demanded more. He asks to the leaders of Muslim and Hindu communities to give promise that they will keep peace between them. And, ho "Miracle", Calcutta and his areas had never more knowing any communitarianism riots.
This history shows us how it is possible to create peace between communities and how opinion leaders have a great role to play in such process. For that reason, the creation of a neo-Dalit movement can't only begin with an approximation of the elites. We should organise much more meeting with all those communities representatives in order to make them work together and learn to know betters each other's. By this way, they will probably learn that they protect different communities which deal with different problems but which sufferings from the same culture of impunity and neo-liberal alienation.
On the grass-roots level, we should broke the silence wall and enhance self-esteem of the lower castes in order to give them back their dignity and make them actors of their own change. Moreover, we should work to bring the communities together by creating some "sharing public space" for Shudras and Dalit, and for Hindu and Muslim. This last point is important, because most of the socialization processes seem to happen on the streets – where every communities and castes are together but remain speared in different district or sidewalk – and place of worship – where ati-Sudras remain only tolerated by the others castes.
So, to resume my proposition, I want to emphasis three ways that the neo-Dalit movement should take in order to improve their political, economic and social situation. First, we can fight again political repression impunity by legal process. Many Human rights organisations are already fighting in this way in order to transform the Brahmanism "rule of lord" by making them respect the "rule of law". Second, the social impunity should be defeat by changing cognitive weakness which made some peoples victim of their inferiority complex and other peoples tormentor due to their superiority complex. We need to created commons forums for neo-Dalit in order to break the wall of silence which leads to the acceptation of this situation and to launch a speech process which will teaches them that they are equal and they are sharing commons interest. And what a better place than in a social protest which want to defeat economic impunity to do it. This thirds way implies to organize mass demonstrations and syndicate that transcends the division of caste and religion I order to have enough political power to influence the national economic policy.
Finally, and as a conclusion, I would like to say that this article was righting by a foreigner who try to understand better India. For this reason, these analyze and the solution that I propose here can probably be improved by Indian actors who know better than me what their country need. So, I hope that this writing will stimulate the debates among progressive people and –this is my aim – contribute to improve the lives of the neo-Dalits peoples.
[i] ROY, Arundhati, "How deep shall we dig?" in ROY, Arundhati, "Listening to grass-hoppers. Field notes on democracy", Penguin Books, New-Delhi, 2009, P.33.