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Friday, February 18, 2011

Dalits against Dalits: Is Mayawati Listening?



By Arindam Roy on February 17, 2011

Allahabad: For most of us, ‘Dalit’ means a nebulous homogenous mass of the downtrodden, disposed people, living in the margins of society. The harsh reality is otherwise. Dalits are a heterogeneous group. The differences between them are sharp and distinct. Dalits are arranged in hierarchy. Inequality, exclusion, contestations and other social tensions are not only present, it’s rampant. Beneath the calm surface of Dalit class consciousness is submerged violence. Deep within it is red hot – bubbling and boiling like the core of the earth.

These tensions burst forth, now and then. Those who enjoy power amongst the Dalits have created a ‘public sphere’ for themselves, while the ones that contest it have given rise to a ‘counter public sphere’. The tensions and frictions between these two might be seen, if you care to peel off the surface paint.

Uttar Pradesh ruled by a Dalit ki beti (daughter of Dalit), Mayawati, has become a laboratory of the tensions amongst Dalits. Two incidents on Sunday, Feb 13, 2011, are worth close examination:

First, when the chief minister, Mayawati, was in Allahabad, a Dalit rape victim, Munni (name changed) fell at her feet seeking justice. Munni had been raped twice. In 2004, Anil Singh with two others allegedly took her against her will. In 2010, she was reportedly raped by Nandlal, husband of a lady village pradhan. In the latter case, the rape victim named two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leaders, Deep Chand Gautam, district BSP president, and Prem Chandra, stating that they were pressurizing her to withdraw her case against Nandlal. She had to face police apathy too.

Second, at Nawabganj, Bareilly, Munendra Gangwar, 30, the son of BSP MLC Kesar Singh Gangwar, allegedly shot at the Dalit farmer Kalicharan Jatav. The farmer had dared to refuse to sell 15 bighas of agricultural land at a throwaway price to the BSP tough. Jatav was dragged inside a SUV. When he tried to escape, he was shot at. Presuming him dead, the BSP leader’s son and henchmen left, throwing him out of the SUV. The Dalit farmer was gravely injured. “The MLC and his toughs were forcing me to sell the land. I also said my life was in danger. But the police didn’t help,” he said. The police have registered a case against Munendra and his two accomplices, but are allegedly trying to protect the BSP MLC.

Meanwhile, in December last year, a BSP MLA from Banda, Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi, allegedly raped a 17- year Dalit girl.

The latest report of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) says that UP led the country in the number of crimes against Dalits in 2009. Of a total of 3,35,94 crimes against Dalits in 2009, 7522 took place in UP, followed by Rajasthan ( 4985), Andhra Pradesh ( 4504), Bihar ( 3836), Madhya Pradesh ( 3040) and Maharashtra (1096). UP also has the most reported instances of violation of the Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Out of 11,143 cases in the country, 2554 cases (22.9 per cent) were reported from UP.

The chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes PL Punia, erstwhile principal secretary to Mayawati, described UP as the ‘worst offender’ for crimes against Dalits.

He accused Mayawati of shielding two ministers suspected to be involved in the murder of Rajender Singh, a junior engineer in the state Irrigation department. He was allegedly killed in August 2010, in Aligarh. “…the chief minister appears to have forgotten that she had come to power riding on the back of the Dalit community,” he agonized.

Punia added that on an average the Commission receives about fifty complaints by Dalits in UP in which the police have not even registered preliminary reports. He will soon make public, a list of officials from UP who had neglected, slackened on, or not taken cognizance of crimes committed against Dalits in the state. The Commission’s first step was to write to President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, drawing their attention to the rapidly rising graph of atrocities against Dalits, he said.

Social reality of Dalits

Numbering 160 million, Dalits represent 16 per cent of India’s population of more than one billion. Officially, caste discrimination is banned in India and special quotas exist for Dalits in Parliament, state legislatures, village councils, government jobs and educational institutions.

The word Dalit conjures up the image of a community that is discriminated against. Their only sin being that they are of low birth. The social discrimination against the Dalits is similar to racial and other discriminations practiced in other parts of the world.

There are several communities amongst the Dalits – it’s more like circles within circles. While few Dalit communities are relatively better off, most are not even in the margins of the margin. Those who are better off often practice ‘exclusion’ – the evil that they fought and snatched power from the upper castes. They are not prepared to share their piece of cake with the less fortunate.

Chamars (shoe-making, leather tanning and agricultural labour being their profession) form the major chunk. They are relatively better educated and the Dalit intelligentsia belongs to this community. The Chamars also claim that they have their own Veda, known as Chamrved. Pasi and Dhobi communities are the next two major groups amongst the Dalits in UP. The list of dispossessed Dalits is long, but some like Dusadh, Basor, Dhanuk, Kori, Dhrikar, Kharwar, Kanjar, Nat, Bhuiyar, Chera, Jatsar, Rangrej[1], etc are nowhere near the door of state-led democracy.

The BSP-led state has given a sense of identity and pride that has come about with political empowerment to select Dalit communities, economic empowerment is a far cry. It’s worth mentioning that in this social milieu Mayawati rules.

Ever since she has come to power on her own, from May 2007, she has faced flak, not only from the so-called upper caste parties like Congress and the BJP, but also from the Dalit communities.

Last year, in Allahabad, some Dalit leaders blamed Dalit leaders accused Mayawati of favouring only a particular backward community to which she belongs.

Udit Raj of the Justice Party went on record, stating, “We have gathered Dalits here and are creating awareness among them to fight for their rights. For example the issue of reservation in private sector, or the Dalits who are being exploited in Uttar Pradesh, or about the issue of jobs that are disappearing, or the issue of land acquisition, we are discussing all such issues here.”

Nihare Rakesh, a former state deputy, went on to add, “The benefit of reservation is being availed by Mayawati’s community. Those who do not belong to her community are exploited with cruelty. The crime is on full flow. In every 18th minute a boycotted Dalit woman is raped, they are being killed in the whole state. I demand that the central government should immediately take action against Mayawati’s rule.”

Mayawati, however, brushes these criticisms as ‘politically motivated’. She has time and again said that her political opponents are out to ‘malign and tarnish her image’. But, with a Dalit’s daughter in power comes great expectations. How she fulfills the aspirations of so many people, particularly the marginalized, needs to be seen. Let’s not to forget that UP is hardly a state. Its population is enough to make it the sixth largest country of the world, in its own rights.

A political observer (unwilling to be named), rightly pointed out that hidden behind the dazzle of gold, diamond and wealth, is a crown of thorns that Mayawati should adorn, everyday, with utmost humility and true prayers!

[1] Prasad, M. (2007). Uttaranchal Sahit Uttar Pradesh ki Dalit Jatiyon ka Dastavez, Delhi: Samyak Prakashan, pp 44-45

Link: http://editstreet.com/2011/02/dalits-against-dalits-is-mayawati-listening/

Binayak Sen: Stifling the Voice of Conscience?


By Arindam Roy on February 14, 2011


New Delhi: What Dr Binayak Sen is going through is shameful and this opinion cuts across both political and the social divide. There have been protests from different sections not only in India but in over a dozen countries. Denial of bail to him has only triggered fresh protests. Questions have been raised as to whether the voice of protest is being stifled.

Over the weekend, there were large scale protests all over India - rallies in major cities and meetings in smaller cities and towns, as the entire intelligentsia were shocked at the treatment meted out to him where he was denied bail.

Editorials and reports were dashed in newspapers; TV channels beamed reports and discussions. Online campaign gathered momentum. Tweet, Facebook and other social sites were abuzz. Most right-minded people, in India and abroad, were dismayed and shocked. A journalist friend from abroad asked this scribe if this was what the largest democracy of the world had to offer!

Other than 40 Nobel Laureates from about a dozen countries, who campaigned in Sen’s favour, civil rights activists raised their decibel.

While Sen’s rights might be denied, those who dare to speak in his favour are allegedly not being spared either.

In Mumbai, Daniel Mazgaonkar, a septuagenarian Gandhian, along with college professors and students, were jostled and dragged away to Azad Maidan police station. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer and human rights activist, was brutally assaulted by the police and dragged to Colaba police station, along with student bystanders who protested against such high-handedness. She was merely standing at Kala Ghoda silently with a poster proclaiming peace and justice!

In Kolkata, Magsaysay award winner, Mahasweta Devi, appealed for demonstration in front of Raipur Central jail, where the ‘barefoot doctor’ has been lodged on charges of sedition.

In New Delhi, activists of several civil rights groups and left wing organisations staged a rally to demand the release of human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen, on Saturday (Feb 12). Writer and social activist Arundhati Roy said the case should not be viewed in isolation, but with a focus covering thousands of other innocents languishing in prisons.

“The fact is that, it is not about one man. It is about hundreds of nameless people who are also in jail. It is not about misuse of law; it is about the very proper use of a very bad law. So, the problem is that we have to talk about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which is actually, barely constitutional,” Roy said.

Sen was convicted of sedition charges under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act for his alleged links with Maoist ultras on December 24, 2010. He has also been critical of government-backed tribal militia named ‘Salwa Judum’ to battle the Maoists. Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata based businessman Piyush Guha were also convicted under the same law.

So is state led-democracy which is messy, be termed as democracy under the garb of authoritarianism?

The core group of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent a letter to the NHRC chairperson, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan. It said: “First, we express deep concern at the manner of recent conviction of Dr. Binayak Sen by the Raipur sessions court, and rejection of bail by the Bilaspur High Court. Dr. Sen has been declared guilty of treason and sedition by the Raipur court, apparently accused on the flimsiest of evidence, and is facing the bleak prospect of a life behind bars.

It seems that the trial court has simply relied on the police version for the conviction, since the evidences produced by the prosecution do not appear sufficient for conviction, that too with an award of life sentence. In fact there was no material on record to prove that Dr. Sen had committed any offence that comes under the purview of sedition, and not a single document seized qualifies to be linked with sedition charges.”

Charges against Sen

On May 14, 2007, Dr Sen, was arrested under the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The allegations claimed that he had acted as a courier for a Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal lodged in the Raipur Jail and then absconded. The five charges against him were: (a) treason, (b) criminal conspiracy, (c) sedition, anti-national activities and making war against the nation, (d) knowingly using the proceeds of terrorism and (e) links with the
Maoists.


Link:http://editstreet.com/2011/02/binayak-sen-stifling-the-voice-of-conscience/