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By Arun Kumar
Hearing the news of the passing away of Mr. Bhagwan Das Ji, a wave of shock spread through out the Ambedkarite movement in the UK. He had a special relationship with the UK people. I feel privileged to see and meet Mr. Bhagwan Das. I had read most of his books especially his ‘Thus Spoke Ambedkar’ series. I was greatly impressed and influenced by his writings. I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Bhagwan Das in 1983 for the first time when he visited UK on the invitation of Dr. Ambedkar Mission society, Bedford. This Society had a long association with Mr. Das. Some of the NRIs in Bedford set up an organisation called Bheem Association in 1969. Due changing circumstances and to connect with the mainstream Ambedkarite movement, Mr. Bhagwan Das suggested to change the name. Hence Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford came into existence.
Mr. Bhagwan Das was one of the few Ambedkarite scholars involved in highlighting the plight of Dalits at international level. He was one of the founder members of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP). He attended many sessions of the (WCRP) held in Kenya, Japan, Malaysia, USA and many other countries. Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford was a part of most of his ventures in one way or the other. He gave testimony in the 36th Session of the United Nations Commission on Prevention of Discrimination of Minorities held at Geneva in August 1983 on behalf of Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford and many other organisations from India and abroad. Before going to Geneva, he stayed with us about one week. At that time he was staying with late Mr. Chanan Chahal. I used to spend every evening with him.
While preparing his testimony, Mr. Das said that it would be nice if a few copies of his testimony are made for distribution to the delegates. It would leave a long lasting impact. At that time there was no facility of modern computers and photocopying. We bought an old type cyclostyle copier. Mr. Dass typed his speech on stencils and we made copies. We all finished this work about 2 O’clock in the morning. Over hundred copies were made which Mr. Das took with him to Geneva
After this testimony, the Indian Muslim, Sikh and Hindu delegates turned against him and conspired to omit his name from the next session of WCRP to be held in Nairobi, Kenya. Mr. Das asked us to write to the Secretary General of WCRP and explained the situation. A letter was written to the Secretary General, Dr. Homer A. Jack and request was made for inclusion of Mr. Das in the delegation list as he was the only voice of the voiceless people in India. Dr. Jack was a genuine person. He thanked the Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford for letting him know the conspiracy and assured us that Mr. Das would attend the conference. Das Sahib was invited as an ‘expert on the Asian Affairs’. All Indian delegates kept a distance from him. Indian High Commissioner in Nairobi invited all Indian delegates for dinner but boycotted Mr. Das. Bhagwan Dass ji told me later on that boycott incident went in his favour as delegates from other countries came to know the truth and Mr. Das became a regular invitee to the future conferences. Since then we were in regular contact with each other.
In 1988, Federation of Ambedkarite & Buddhist Organisations UK had a preliminary meeting to celebrate Ambedkar Birth Centenary in the UK. Mr. Bhagwan Das was also present in this meeting. The meeting was held under his Chairmanship. On his initiative, an organisation ‘International Ambedkar Institute, UK’ was set up to take Ambedkar thought in the premier institutes in the UK and do some research work. Renowned actor and film maker, late Kenneth Griffiths was elected as a Chairman who later on made a documentary film on Baba Sahib Ambedkar. During this visit, Das Sahib came to Bedford where he was interviewed by the BBC Radio, Bedfordshire and Chiltern Radio. I requested the BBC presenter for a copy of his interview. He was kind enough to send me the original recording of his interview.
During the Ambedkar Birth Centenary years, Mr. Das visited UK several times. Most of the time, he stayed with Mr. M.S. Bahal and Mr. C. Gautam as all Centenary Celebration activities were in and around London area. They took him around. He took part in many conferences and seminars. He addressed the gathering at the inaugural function of Ambedkar Birth Centenary at the commonwealth Hall, the Royal Commonwealth Society on 14th April 1990. Again he gave a talk at the Great Hall of Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn on 21st February 1991. As I was a part of the Centenary Celebration Committee, UK, I often met him in every function. During his visits, he always spared some time for us and came to Bedford.
As a President of Dalit Solidarity Programme (DSP), he was invited to give talk in Edinburgh University in Scotland. He gave a presentation by showing a short film narrating the history and present conditions of Dalits. Because of a long distance from Bedford and the paucity of time, he was unable to come to Bedford. Instead late Mr. Chanan Chahal, Mr. Dhanpat Rattu, Mr. Satpal Paul and I went to see him.
Once discussing about globalisation and privatisation, he clarified that our people are more adversely affected than others. He gave an example that our people were employed as sweepers in the municipalities. With this new mantra of privatisation the sweepers were being made redundant. Before this privatisation, they had permanent employment with all benefits of a government employee such as job security, health benefits, holidays, pensions etc. Their children had a scope for education. But now the contractor is a ‘sharma’, ‘verma’ or ‘gupta’ who employ the same people on daily wages with no security of work, no pension, and no health benefit. In this situation, children help their parents to earn their livelihood and drop out from schools. Similarly the people who were engaged in the leather work had also lost out. All benefits are taken by contractors but the work was still done by scheduled castes and tribes. . As contractors are from higher castes good jobs go to higher castes and our people end up with old menial jobs.
Last time I saw him about three four years ago at his Munirka residence at Delhi. Dr. Gurcharn Singh from Delhi was with me. We spent about two hours with him. He enquired about all friends and the movement in the UK. He was as enthusiastic as he used to be about 20-30 years ago. But I could see his failing health.
his demise, we have lost our guide and mentor. I will always treasure
his memories in my heart. He will always be missed but never forgotten.
I am attaching his testimony given in the UN in 1983. His vies and facts
are as relevant today as they were 27 years ago.
given by Bhagwan Das, Chairman,
the 36th Session of Commission on Human rights Sub-Commission on Prevention
of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, held at Geneva in
I take this opportunity to mention here that WCRP in its first conference held at Kyoto, Japan in 1970 discussed the problem of discrimination including the practice of untouchability. In its third conference held at Princeton (USA) the problem of the Untouchables in India and Burakumin of Japan was discussed and mentioned in the declaration. In the Asian Conference of Religion and Peace (II) held at New Delhi the problem of Untouchability and discrimination against the Buddhist converts was taken up and recommendations made in the declaration issued at the end of conference. Human rights Commission of ACRP decided to set up an office at New Delhi and an office is now functioning at New Delhi with the help of the Japanese Committee of WCRP under the title Asian Centre for Human Rights.
Untouchability is a phenomenon peculiar to Hinduism and it is an integral part of their religion. It took birth in India and it’s from India that this abominable practice spread to other religions and countries. No religion in India is free from this contamination; not even those who loudly preach from house tops the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man.
society is divided vertically and horizontally on the basis of caste.
Christianity and Islam have allowed caste to exist in their society. Lower
caste Christians especially in Southern states of India are meted out
discriminatory treatment in the matter of burial in the cemeteries, appointment
of parishnors, priests etc., and matrimony. Upper caste Christians seldom
marry a girl from the lower caste Christians. Islamic society is also
modelled on the pattern of Hindu society. It is divide into three or four
groups namely ‘Ashraf’ upper caste, Moghuls, Turks Afghans
etc., ‘Ajalaf’ converts from upper castes of Hindus and at
the lowest rung of ladders sit the lowly ‘Arzal’, butchers,
tanners, shoemakers, sweepers. scavengers etc.
Nepal is predominantly Hindu state and 89% people either return their religion as Hinduism or are registered as Hindus in the census. Barely 7% of the Nepalese are Buddhists. Proselytization is prohibited. Hindu society is divided into as many as 59 castes and several artisan and other castes such as Paura (sweepers and scavengers), Damais (smiths), Sarakis (leather workers) goldsmiths in hilly regions are treated as Untouchables. Even though there is free education, very few among those castes can take the benefit owing to the practice of untouchability. In the Nepalese Panjyat (Panchyat) not more than one or two members of this community can get elected owing to the deep rooted prejudices against these people whose only fault is that perform useful duties. Their exact number is not known because unlike India Nepal census reports don not register caste. Owing to the fear of dominating upper castes Hindus, even Buddhists avoid contact with the Untouchables in Nepal. These communities suffer from numerous disabilities arising from untouchability. So far as I have been able to ascertain they have not been able to organise themselves for struggling against discrimination. Those who can in contact with these people were mulcted by the authorities and only paying the fine and performing some ceremonies they could be readmitted in the society.
Pakistan with 97% of its population owning Islam as their religion is divided into numerous castes, tribes etc., Hindus constitute about 2% of the population and are listed as caste Hindus (296,837) and Scheduled Castes (603,369). Scheduled Castes is the statutory title given under the government of India Act 1935 to the Untouchables. Most of them earn their livelihood as sweepers, scavengers, cobblers, weavers, etc.. Muslims also treat them as Untouchables like Hindus throughout the World. Pakistan also has a Christian population numbering about 908,000. Christians are divided into three groups, Europeans and Anglo-Pakistanis, Eurasians like Goanese, converts from upper castes of Hindus and Muslims and people belonging to upper stratum of society. At the bottom sit the most despised sweepers and scavengers who are known as ‘Christian Punjabis Sweepers’ (CPS). They are the descendents of the members of Chuhra community, traditional sweepers, who embraced Christianity to escape the tyranny of Hinduism and the stigma of untouchability but the partitioning of the country compelled them to revert to the traditional occupation of sweeping and scavenging. Although they are economically better than the rural workers so far as the wages are concerned but they are compelled to live in segregated localities and are treated as untouchables. Like their counterparts in India, CPS are the most despised people in Pakistan. They suffer from numerous disabilities arising from untouchability.
Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist (population 8,537,000, 67.3%) with Hindu constituting the second largest religious group (2,239,000) divided into clean and unclean castes. Among the Sinhalese, Goyigama is the highest caste and those engaged in occupations like butchers, drum-beaters. Toddy tappers, sweeping, etc. are considered ‘hina jati hina sippi’ people. Discrimination in the matter of marriage is practised among the Sinhalese. Siame Nikaya, a Buddhist sect does not admit the members of the lower castes as Bhikkhus but the other two Nikayas admit men belonging to the lower castes if they desire to join the order. But among the Tamilians, caste system is rigidly followed and untouchability practised in the Jaffana area which is predominantly Hindu (Tamalian). Society is divided into two major groups, namely clean castes and unclean castes. Among the unclean castes are included Palla (potter), Seneer (weaver), Parriyar, Kadaiyan (lime burner), Chikkalyan (leather worker and sweeper), Vunnan (washer man) and Thurumba etc. Upper castes (Vellala, Brahmin, Chetty etc.) treat them as Untouchables. Present conflict has temporarily obliterated the differences but after the trouble has subsided caste feelings revive.
Bangla Desh is predominantly Muslim (80%) with 4,926,448 (20%0 Hindus divided into two groups namely caste Hindus (Brahmin, Kayasthas, Baidyas etc.) and Namoshudras, Kaibartas, Hadis, Moschis, etc.). Many of the Muslims are converts from among the Untouchables and Buddhists. Yet discriminatory treatment is meted out to the untouchables in Bangla Desh. Our informants have stated that the Hindus of upper castes are treated as equals but the lower castes are discriminated in the matter of housing, employment etc.
All these countries were part of greater India until 1947 and were influenced by Hindu religion in the matter of rituals and customs.
Untouchability has not been defined by the sociologist or the legislators. At the time of discussion on ‘Untouchability Offences Act’ in Parliament when a question was raised about definition, the law minister said, ‘There is no need to define untouchability. Everybody knows it’. He was trying to avoid definition but he was telling the truth that everybody knows whom to avoid, whom to persecute. Untouchability is deeply embedded in the minds of Hindus and regulates their behaviour with other people. Stratification of society and restrictions on inter-marriage between different classes or groups are not unknown in other societies or cultures but to use the words of Dr. G.S. Ghurye, a renowned sociologist, “Hindu system is unique only in this that it alone classified some groups as untouchable and unapproachable.” Other religious groups only copied them. Since Hindus treated the scavengers, sweepers, cobblers, basket makers, weavers etc. as untouchables, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs also treated them as lowly, despised, degraded people. Since untouchability had religious sanction behind it, all efforts made by social reformers failed. Hindus avoided the discussion and foreigners did not want to take up the cause of the untouchables for fear of antagonising the Hindus. They were also taken in by the propaganda carried out by the followers of Gandhiji. Dr. Ambedkar had rightly observed, “The old orthodox Hindu doesn’t think that there is anything wrong in the observance of untouchability. To him it is normal, natural thing. As such it neither calls for expiation nor explanation. The new modern Hindu realises the wrong but he is ashamed to discuss it in public for fear of letting the foreigner know that Hindu civilisation can be guilty of such a vicious and infamous system or social code as evidenced by untouchability.”
Mass conversion of Untouchables to Christianity and Islam and growing importance of number in the politics of India coupled with criticism of Hindu society by Western writers, sociologists, travellers etc., led Hindus to introduce certain changes in their social system. While they wanted to remove untouchability, they did not want Hinduism and caste system to suffer in any way because Hinduism is sustained by caste system. If caste system goes, Hinduism cannot survive for long. On the other hand Hindus have developed a vested interest in Untouchability and caste system. More than 75% population of India is illiterate and people sincerely believe that caste is god-made and there is no hope or scope for change. Any laws made by man are interference in the God’s work. Hindu law makers had made elaborate laws and rules to keep Untouchables in degraded condition perpetually. Economic measures were adopted to perpetuate degradation, segregation and poverty. Laws were framed and strictly enforced to keep them divided, dispirited, poor, ignorant, illiterate and physically weak. They were not allowed to acquire wealth; higher interest was charged on loans; good, wholesome, nutritious food proscribed so that they may not grow strong. Right to bear arms was denied so they may never revolt. Low wages and excessive work was prescribed so they may have no leisure. Identity marks and symbols were prescribed so that even by mistake pure Hindus may not eat ot drink with them. This system was rigidly followed by the Hindus for centuries. Even Muslims did not disturb it. British especially after the sepoy mutiny of 1857 for fear of antagonising the Hindus tried to maintain those laws and enforce them through courts of law.
Progressive Western educated Hindus however felt uneasy and promised to bring about changes after attaining independence. Accordingly provisions were incorporated in the constitution abolishing untouchability and certain ameliorative provisions such as reservation in legislature, services of Union Government and states, educational institutions etc. Untouchables were subjected to some inhuman laws like forced labour in rural area. A provision to abolish slavery of this kind was made in the constitution but the law was enacted in 1976. Millions of Rupees were provided for the economic upliftment of the Untouchables in the Five Year Plans.
In spite of these laws the Untouchables suffer from numerous disabilities especially in smaller towns and villages of India. Untouchables don not have well in thousands of villages and upper caste people do not allow them to dig wells. Untouchables have to beg for water from a distance lest their shadow should pollute the upper caste Hindus. Sometime the water pipes are laid and stopped a few yards short of the Untouchable locality. The present writer struggled for seven years to get a public hydrant installed in a village of Himachal Pradesh while every Minister or even the Chief Minister announced that water had been provided.
If the Untouchables demand higher wages in villages, the caste Hindus pour filth or kerosene in the wells so as to starve them of water. Untouchability is widely practised. A mild and harmless law which was neither educative nor awarded deterrent punishment was enacted in 1955 under the title ‘Untouchable Offences Act, 1955’. This proved to be ineffective. This law was amended and passed as Protection of Civil Liberties Act 1976 containing a provision of minimum punishment. Owing to illiteracy of Untouchables majority of whom live in the rural areas, very few cases are reported and a very small number reaches the courts of law. Untouchability in worst form is practised in the Hindi region but the largest number of cases is registered in the state where the Scheduled castes people are awakened and better organised.
Of all the countries where untouchability is practised India has the best of laws and the most generous provisions in her constitution. British had introduced quota system with a view to giving share in administration to all religious groups and other minorities. Untouchables were however denied a share on the plea that there were no educated men available. Through the efforts of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar undisputed leader of the Untouchables ‘reservation in services’ was introduced in respect of the Untouchables also in 1943 during the vicerolty of Lord Linlithgow. Later o provision was made in respect of the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes but reservation in favour of other minorities was abolished. During the early years there was little resistance because very few qualified people were available to fill up the reserved seats. Resistance was offered by non-implementation of government orders, or by declaring that suitable candidate was not available or if available ‘not found suitable’ and also through courts of law by filing writ petition. Since 1974 organise resistance is being offered by the upper caste employees who have enjoying monopoly of all government jobs. Private sector does not employ the Scheduled Caste people, excepting in the lowly, low paid and degrading situations. Table below gives some idea of the success in the part of the opponents of the reservation:
Reservation given in
1 = 4.95% Class 11 = 8.54%
Discriminatory treatment is being meted out to the Scheduled Caste people in the matter of recognition of their unions on the plea that it is the policy of the government that ‘communal’ organisations of employees will not be recognised. On the other hand organisations of the Hindu employees who are opposed to the reservation have the support and blessing of administration as well as the political parties, especially of those who have their base among the middle classes of Hindus.
Scheduled Castes (statutory title of the Untouchables) is an artificially created minority under the constitution. Names of castes can be deleted or added by the president. Pressure is mounting now through press to delete the names of more awakened and better organised castes. Majority of the Untouchables (about 76%) live in 568,000 villages of India. In some places they are allotted land by the government. Dr. Ambedkar demanded nationalisation of land with collectivisation of allotment on cooperative basis. The government favoured the creation of small holdings and peasant proprietors. Fragmentation of land is non-productive but the untouchable farmers who never owned land because of the laws prohibiting possession of land in some states desire to own land. The landholding dominating upper castes do everything possible in their means to obstruct distribution of land. Even if land is allotted, the upper caste landlords do not allow the Untouchables to take the fruit of their labour. If Untouchables demand higher wages or even the minimum wages prescribed by the Government, the upper caste landlords indulge in murders, torture, arson. Rape etc. to terrorise the poor ignorant untouchables. Thousands of men are employed as bonded labourers and kept away from the cities, police etc. Hundreds of women are forced into superstition by exploiting their ignorance, poverty and superstitious beliefs and sold into the brothels of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur and Delhi.
Untouchables are becoming increasingly convinced that the Hindus hate them not because they perform unpleasant duties but because their religion teaches them to hate certain castes. Many embraced Christianity and Islam. Dr. Ambedkar who saw no hope of Hinduism reforming itself exhorted his people to renounce Hinduism and embrace Buddhism which he had revived in 1956. Millions of people responded to his call and embraced Buddhism. Government of India immediately issued order that if an Untouchable renounce Hinduism and embrace any religion other than Sikhism he will become disentitled to concessions and grants allowed to the Scheduled Castes. When a few hundred Untouchables in Madras embraced Islam because the Hindus harassed and humiliated them and did not allow them even to wear shoes or loin cloth which went below the knee cap, Hindu militant organisations turned riotous and burnt the huts of Untouchables and molested their women. Even Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi forgetting that she was the head of a secular government showed concern and delivered speeches discouraging the conversion of Untouchables. Some states have enacted laws making conversion difficult. Those renouncing Hinduism have to obtain a certificate from the Magistrate that the person desiring conversion to Islam or Christianity is doing it voluntarily. Police is dominated by the upper landholding castes of Hindus and is generally hostile towards the Untouchables. Indian Penal code contains certain provisions under which police have power to arrest and detain a person if he has no ostentatious means of livelihood. This in a country where majority of the people have no employment, house or shelter of any kind. Police abuses its powers especially against the Untouchables and many people are killed or incapacitated through torture in police custody.
Hinduism have closed the doors of armed forces to the Untouchables for ever. Untouchables were admitted to the armed forces of Islam after embracing Islam which many did. During early decades of their rule, British recruited Untouchables in their armies but after sometime they began to close the doors especially in central India and Bengal under pressure from the high castes of Hindus. They introduced the pernicious theory of ‘martial races and non-martial races’. Later on they disbanded the Untouchable armies and raise class regiments recruiting men belonging to upper castes. Indian government has not completely abolished the class regiments and has officially removed the ban on recruitment. But Government have not taken any measure to change the mode of recruitment. Recruiting officers, mostly belonging to peasant castes owing to to deep rooted prejudices based on caste and their medical; officers invariably ask a man’s caste and reject him on medical grounds. Untouchables have little share in army (0.44% in officers cadre and 10.62% in other ranks), 7.63% in other ranks of navy and 0.156% in officers cadre and 2.568% in other ranks.
Untouchables have the equal right to vote and contest elections. 79 seats are reserved in the House of the People (Lok Sabha) out of the total number of 542. Out of a total strength of 3997 members in the state legislatures and Union Territories 540 belong to the Scheduled Castes. On paper the number appears to be very impressive but owing to the election system of the country it is the majority community which elects the representatives of the candidates. In the rural areas the Untouchables can not exercise their right to vote freely and independently. Very often police protection has to be provided. After the election heavy price has to be paid tb the Untouchables if the members of higher castes owning land feel that they did not get the support of the support of the Untouchables.
Violation in Villages
Scheduled castes in the rural areas demand land, better wages, right to wear dress according to their liking, assert the rights granted under the constitution. Hindus on the hand want to maintain status quo in all fields. Tensions arise and often result in confrontation. Landlords have raised armies of trained men released from army and police to terrorise the Untouchables landless labourers. Police protects the strong against the poor. Government through its machinery and religious policies strengthens casteism and superstition because it helps the ruling classes. Leaders of struggle are picked up and either involved in false criminal cases or murdered by the police in encounters. Men, women and children have been massacred and burnt alive whenever they put up resistance against oppression. Men have been killed for offering Ganges water in a shrine. A man was killed in Aligarh (UP) for affixing the word Chauhan to his name. Women’s toes were crushed for wearing rings. Man was killed for twirling moustaches. In Meenakshipuram where mass conversion to Islam took place, men were not allowed to sit beside the upper caste men in the state buses, nor allowed to walk through the streets; women were punished for wearing sandals. In Kafalta 11 persons were done to death for crime of riding a horse in marriage procession and for using palanquin. The incidents of violence in the villages have been showing an upward trend for the last five years:
Year No. of incidents of atrocities
Recent figures are not available but the Home Minister Mr. N.R. Laskar during the last session stated that the number was showing an increase but during the Monsoon session of last week, he said that number of incidents has fallen considerably. Figures furnished by the Government do not represent the fact. These represent only a tip of the iceberg because many of the cases remain unreported. Untouchables feel very insecure owing to the growing resentment against the declared policies and programmes of the government which are very rarely accompanied by implementation. Bureaucracy is being blamed for non-implementation but is the government which lacks the political will to take action against those who flout the government authority.
This weakness is evident from the fact that even a simple and harmless demand by the Scheduled caste legislators in the Parliament to have a portrait installed in the Central Hall of Parliament where Dr. Ambedkar played a very important and historical role both as a member of the Executive Councillor in the Viceroys Executive Council (1942-46) and as first Law Minister and Chairman of the Constitution Drafting committee (1947-51). Government have been resisting this demand on some pretext or the other. Similarly in recognition of the great services rendered by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the field of education a unanimous decision was taken in the Maharashtra Assembly to change the name of Marathawada University to Ambedkar University. This university came into existence chiefly owing to the establishment of three colleges by Dr. Ambedkar in the most backward region of Marathawada of Maharashtra. Orthodox Hindus in the region felt offended and instigated the illiterate and ignorant villagers that now ‘Ambedkar’ an Untouchable will enter your houses in the form of degrees and diploma certificates and you will have to repeat his name. As a result many houses of Buddhist converts were looted. Women molested, old men insulted, buildings demolished or set on fire and some people killed. Hundreds of men were forced to leave their villages and seek shelter in the towns, railway platforms, footpaths etc. Government could not implement its decision and the oppressor won the field. Untouchables and Buddhists continue the agitation with unshaken determination.
In spite of the that Indian Constitution has the most liberal provision, Government have failed to implement its own declared programmes and policies for the removal of untouchability and upliftment of the deprived and disadvantaged section of society. Prejudices can not be removed merely through legislation. Religious policy of the government is discriminatory and is based in favour of Hinduism and Sikhism and prejudicial to the religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Government in accord with the wishes of the orthodox Hindus has used coercive measures to check the conversion of Untouchables to Buddhism lest they should unite and organise themselves for struggle. Present policy of the government appears to be based on the tenets of Hinduism. Methods may have changed but the aim of the Hindu law makers and religious leaders have not changed. Anything which the untouchables consider good for then is vehemently resisted and opposed. Whatever goes to make them week, dispirited, disunited and dependent is encouraged.
A commission should be set up to investigate and submit a report on the
practice of Untouchability in the countries wherever it is practised.
Last year on 7th August, one of the prominent exponents of Ambedkarite movement, Mr. Chanan Chahal left us for ever. In his memory a function was organised to pay him tributes on 5th September 2010 at Brickllin Community Centre, Wolverhampton. Six members of Sangha plus large numbers of close his friends, associates and his family members from North Wales, Scotland, Bedford, Birmingham, London and other cities were present in this memorial gathering.
Programme started with lighting the candle by Mrs. Nirmal Chahal, wife of late Chanan Chahal and by giving five precepts by most Ven. Phramaha Samboon Siddhiyano
Speaking on the contribution of Chanan Chahal to the Ambedkar movement in particular and to the society as a whole, Mr. Arun Kumar stated that he started his social work from Bedford. First he established Sri Guru Ravidass Sabha, Bedford and later on Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford. He was one of the founding members of the Federation of Ambedkarite & Buddhist Organisations, UK and Punjab Buddhist Society, UK. He played a major part in establishing Takshilla Maha Buddha Vihara, Ludhiana. Late Mr. Chanan Chahal worked all his life for the cause of unprivileged people and travelled all over the World to spread Ambedkarite and Buddhist thought. He attended many seminars, conferences and other functions to highlight the problem of downtrodden people of India. He will always be remembered. Giving introduction about the film ' A Cherished memories of Chanan Chahal,’ he said that that was a small tribute to a great man. His contribution is a larger than life which can not be depicted in a short film. He requested everybody to provide visual and written material on Chanan so that a proper film is made. This film was made by Arun Kumar and Mr. Pirthi Kaeley from Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford. Mr. Kaeley worked very hard and made such a great film in short period of time. By doing this, in actual fact he has preserved the history of Ambedkar movement in the UK. Everybody appreciated this film.
A message from his Mr. Harmesh Jassal from Punjab was read in which he mentioned that Chanan was a self made man who dedicated whole of his to the Ambedkar mission.
Describing his experiences and association with Chanan, Mr. C. Gautam said that Chanan Chahal as a President of Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations, UK took Baba Sahib’s mission to great height which must be maintained. His last work ‘Evil of Caste’ will be helpful to the researchers. Nobody will be able to take his place. A great vacuum has been created which can never be fulfilled. Remembering Chanan, one of his close friends, Mr. Chaman Chahal termed him a true and dependable friend who always stood by whatever he committed to do. He told that most of the time they travelled together. On this occasion, he sang a very emotional song.
Mr. Jassal, Mr. Harbans Virdee, Mr. Balwant Saroya, Mr. Manohar Birdi, Mr. Rattan Lal Sampla and many others also paid warm tributes to late Chanan Chahal.
Thanking everybody for attending the function, Mr. Ram Pal Rahi, President Punjab Buddhist Society, UK stated that Chanan has left a legacy to work hard for the mission. Everybody must rededicate to work wholeheartedly like Chanan. That will be the biggest tribute to him. He also said that to keep his memory alive two books, ‘Pritam Kav’ by late Pritam Ramdaspuri and ‘Soch NU Sijda’ by Sohan Sehjal are dedicated to our late friend Chanan.
closed with the Dhamma Talk by Ven. Chander Bodhi and Blessings by Most
Ven. Sangha. Mr C. Gautam and Mr. Arun Kumar conducted the programme very
world has long turned a blind eye to the planet's most monumental abuse
of individual human rights perpetrated in India by its caste system. Murders,
rapes and arson are frequently committed there with no fear of punishment
because the crimes are only against Dalits, or "Untouchables".
Even in egalitarian New Zealand, the discriminatory practices of ancient India are flourishing and there are people here whose lives are blighted daily by the Dalit/Untouchable label. "The Indian community is my community, I am part of it, I live in it - and I see it," says Mandrika Rupa, film-maker turned political and social commentator.
latest work, Hidden Apartheid: A Report on Caste Discrimination, is a
70-minute documentary, five years in the making and featuring research
done in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand as well
as her native India.
marriages which are epitomised by caste identity are still the norm,"
she says. "Just look at the advertisements for marriage partners."
"Or an Indian woman working in a bank might be promoted to supervisor, on merit, only to find other workers who consider themselves of superior cast refusing to operate under her," she says.
Recently on a film set in New Zealand, an Indian actress brought her own "girl servant" and was physically abusing her. The New Zealand crew witnessing this were traumatised and did not know how to intervene. The film documents ongoing caste conflicts throughout the West and highlights the struggle of those fighting it. Although caste-based discrimination is being challenged in Britain through legislation, there are no such moves in New Zealand, Australia or the United States.
The documentary also examines in lucid detail how caste originated in Indian society, how it became entrenched in social practices and how its practice has spread to all large Indian communities in the West, while remaining invisible to those outside those communities.
It highlights how the Manu Smriti, the legal text of ancient India written by Brahmin scholars thousands of years ago, is still viewed as God's own word, and quoted to justify Brahmin superiority and ownership. It discusses the impact of karma, a concept used to explain a poor situation in life as the result of misdeeds in a previous existence. "According to Manu all women are 'Untouchables'," says Rupa. "So the traditional laws of India control women as well as poor people and these vicious social codes are having a resurgence today, under the name of culture, even though they are often illegal."
After its London debut, Hidden Apartheid, directed and produced by Rupa with New Zealand company Attar Films, will be shown on the international film festival circuit and at a private showing in New York, before being released for commercial distribution.
are no immediate plans for its screening in New Zealand but more information
and a trailer can be found at www.hiddenapartheid-themovie.com.
Forwarded by Arun Kumar from UK
Posted on July 18, 2010
(Arun Kumar, Bedford , UK )
Guru Ravidass was one of the most celebrated saints of his time. In various states, he was known by different names such as Raidas, Ruhidas, Ruidas, Rohidas, Rohitas, and Ramdas etc. His following was not restricted to a particular place or caste but kings and queens; princes and princesses of various states were also his disciples. It reflects that he had his following all over India from the diverse sections of society. As he was revered by one and all in all over India, it is but natural that he must have written more than forty one hymns contained in the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. There is a lot of material scattered here and there in various books which needs to be compiled in one book and made available to the younger generation for their studies. Unfortunately in India a person is not judged from his/her deeds but from his/her birth. Had Guru Ravidass been born in a so called high caste, he would have been worshipped in every Hindu house hold and was equated with the status of their other gods. As he came from an Untouchable family, nobody bothered to record the events in his life and preserve his writings. Now it has become very difficult to find authenticated literature on his life. Whatever the literature is found, it has been camouflaged by Brahmanism full of miracles which one finds difficult to believe.
Commenting upon the miracles attributed to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, in his book ‘Param Manukh’, Gurbaksh Singh Preetlarhi, writes that Guru Nanak is respected and adored today not because of his miracles but because of his teachings to remove miseries of mankind by working against the social evils. Same is true to Sri Guru Ravidass Ji.
Guru Ravidass was born in late 14 th century and died in the late 15 th century. The exact dates of birth and death are not agreed by all historians. In a matter of fact these dates are insignificant to ascertain the importance of his philosophy and actual work he done for the whole of humanity. The dates are only important to know the economic, political and social system of the period in which he had gone through and influenced his life.
During this period a great conflict between Hindus and Muslims were going on. With the invasion of Muslims and indifferent attitude of Hindus, the influence of Buddhism declined drastically. Buddha’s teachings of equality, liberty and toleration disappeared. Hindu society was badly divided into castes. From time immemorial, Hindus were already divided into four castes- priestly caste (Brahmins), warrior class (kshatryas), traders (Vaishya) and servants (Shudras). Theory of Varna dharma Shastra propounded by the Vedas and later on sanctioned by other Hindu scriptures took a firm foothold in the society. But by the medieval period, the fifth caste of Untouchables had already been established. These were the people considered inherently so low and inferior that their mere shadow was polluting caste Hindus. So they were not allowed to walk or sit along caste Hindus. They were not permitted to enter into a temple and prey to God. As the education was provided in the religious places, the doors for religious and any other educational activity were virtually shut for them. Profitable professions were prohibited and they were entrusted with only menial work from where they were not able to earn any profit to improve their lives. Cleaning latrines and work associated with leather were considered dirty and polluting and such professions were assigned to them. Because of this type of hatred by the caste Hindus, the Untouchables were forced to live outside the villages doing menial work and depending upon these exploiting castes.
There is a saying if you want to kill a community, kill their self respect and it will vanish. That was what exactly happened to the lower castes. Whole of the society was riddled with idle worship and false ceremonies and rituals which were further degrading and enslaving the downtrodden and worsening their economic well being. If somebody dared to cross over to the task which was not prescribed to their caste was punished severely. Even in Ramayana, a Dalit Shambuk was beheaded by Rama himself for defying the code of caste as he started worshiping God. Similarly in Mahabharata the right hand thumb of Eklavya was cut as he was indulging in archery which was the profession of warrior caste.
These were the conditions when Guru Ravidass was born. He not only witnessed the social system very closely but was also a victim of this cruel system as well. He was greatly influenced by such environment. He was touched by inhuman conditions of his people. His conscious did not allow him to flow with tide. Right from his childhood, he started to feel a craving for equality and began to rebel against the prevailing social system. He wanted to do something and didn’t want to be a silent spectator. He endeavored to bring consciousness amongst his people and encourage them to fight for equality. He also wanted to change the mind set of caste Hindus so that they start treating the unprivileged people as par with others.
Brahmins were the custodians of Hindu religion and regulating the society. To demolish the hold of Brahmins, Guru Ravidass started challenging them by imitating their life styles. First thing he did was to dress like Brahmins and began worshiping God. He stated that God is not somebody’s property. He started condemning idle worship instead he worshiped his tools of work. He dressed like them not because he believed in their philosophy but to show that an untouchable has the same right of worship and dress as others. Outraged by the violation of caste duties, Hindus complained against him to the king. The king summoned him to the court and asked for his explanation about his views on idle worship. He stated that his piece of stone where he mended shoes for his family’s livelihood was more useful than their stone idles. Service of mankind irrespective of their caste is more important than indulging in rituals and ceremonies. When asked about his defiance to wear dress and sacred thread, he made a small cut to his shoulder. Pointing at the flow of blood, he advocated that if his blood was not different from others, then how come he was different. Clothes, dresses, rituals and ceremonies were all man made not by God. If God didn’t create an untouchable different from others, why he was treated differently? He told the king that he always wore the sacred thread of truthfulness, honesty, equality, liberty, fraternity and equal justice. The false philosophy of Brahmanism got exposed. Convinced by his argument, the king let him free and himself started following his path of truthfulness. Clearly Guru Ravidass advocated freedom to profess any religion, freedom of speech and freedom of choice to wear clothing of one’s choice. Freedom is everybody’s birth right and he/she should not be stopped to enjoy it.
Encouraged by the outcome of the court case, Guru Ravidass began spreading the message of love and peace more vigorously and people were following him everywhere he went. Following his popularity, Hindu priests wanted to discredit him by giving him bribe. They offered him a philosopher’s stone (Paras which turns everything to gold when touched) telling him that they didn’t want to see him a poor person. But Guru Ravidass declined their offer. Even then they left that stone with him. After sometimes they came to see if Guru Ravidass had taken that stone or not. But to their astonishment, Guru Ravidass was still mending shoes and living in that hut. Enquiring about his poverty and cause of not taking the philosopher’s stone, Guru Ravidass explained that he believed in the dignity of labour. Instead of depending upon others, he advocated self reliance by self help. No work was good or bad. It was the people who made them so. He preferred to earn his livelihood by fair and honest means rather than indulging in nefarious activities as the Brahmins were doing. Similarly when Dr. Ambedkar was offered millions of Rupees by various religious leaders and asked him to convert to their religions, he flatly refused to accept their offer and told them, “Our struggle is not for wealth or for power. Our struggle is for freedom. Our’s is a struggle for the reclamation of Human personality’.
Guru Ravidass reminded people that they should know that nobody loves a slave. He termed slavery as a sin. He tried to awaken them and make them realize about the cause of their sufferings. They were suffering not because of their past deeds but because they were forced to lead a life of slaves. Guru Ravidass knew that self realization always leads to change. That was the only way to remove the stigma of Untouchability which was another name of slavery.
Self realization comes through education. Guru Ravidass firmly believed that without education one’s faculty of rational thinking is lost. To make right decisions education is must. He advised his followers to gain education if they want to progress in their lives. That is why Dr. Ambedkar declared that education is the only key to success and progress.
Guru Ravidass was not only fighting for the rights of his people but also developed a philosophy of a welfare state. Marx propounded such theory of socialism only in the late19th century and most of the underdeveloped countries tried to establish socialism. Even the capitalist countries did not escape from this philosophy and started working towards creating welfare states by providing people with health care facilities and adequately housing the homeless. Guru Ravidass wanted to establish such society in the medieval period. In one of his hymns, he talks about Begumpura meaning a state where all people live happily without sufferings. Everybody has a house to live in and food to eat. They are not burdened with heavy taxes. In that very state, there is nobody high and low, rich and poor and everybody lives in peace and harmony with equal rights. It shows that Guru Ravidass was a philosopher with a vision to reform the society based on the socialistic pattern.
In actual fact, Guru Ravidass’ whole life is a manifestation of struggle to gain the basic human rights of equality, liberty and fraternity and equal justice. He lived and suffered at the hands of high castes to set up a fare society and also died for the suppressed people so that they were able to live with dignity. Now we will have to see whether the dream of Guru Ravidass is fulfilled. In spite of many centuries have passed by, the Dalits are facing the same fate. Though many laws and regulations have been enacted to remove the caste discriminations, the conditions of Dalits have remained same. A recent study conducted by Dr. Sukhdeo Thorat, Chairman, University Grants Commission, government of India, on the status of Dalits especially on the prevalence of Untouchability practices in the rural India, covering 565 villages in 11 States, found that
Public health workers refused to visit Dalit homes in 33% of villages, Dalits were prevented from entering police stations in 27.6% of villages, Dalit children had to sit separately while eating in 37.8% of government schools, Dalits did not get mail delivered to their homes in 23.5% of villages, Dalits were denied access to water sources in 48.4% of villages because of Segregation and untouchability practices. Police statistics averaged over the past 5 years show that 13 Dalits are murdered, 5 Dalits' homes or possessions are burnt and 6 Dalits are kidnapped or abducted every week, 3 Dalit women are raped every day, 11 Dalits are beaten every day A crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. 70% of the Rural Dalits are Land less Dalits are in majority in migrating for want of Job Displacement affects Dalits mostly than other caste groups. (Bheem Patrika Dated March 2007)
Today there are millions of Guru Ravidass’ followers who are engaged in propagating his teachings and philosophy. They are competing with each other to build big temples and other monuments on his name but hardly give any thought for the empowerment of these people. In spite of big bank balances, they do not consider appropriate to spare some amount on the campaign against the atrocities committed on these unfortunate people. These religious places could have been used as a platform to raise the voice again injustice. To put Guru Ravidass Ji on a pedestal and worship could be a beneficial for mental satisfaction but no way to improve the conditions of the downtrodden people. Longer this situation goes on harder it is becoming to succeed and have our self respect, dignity and restored.
Posted onwww.ambedkartimes.com ( February 20, 2008 )
PRIVATISATION AND DALIT
For the last 50 years, Indian economy has swung like a pendulum back and forth between liberalization and socialism due to numerous politico-economic and social pressures. Under enormous pressure of debts, deficits, IMF and globalization, India has embraced market economy. Hence in the last decade multinationals corporations have invested in India and thereby Indiahas gradually come under global influence. The means of production, corporate governance, labour and corporate practices are changing as more organizations are delivering to their stakeholders a good healthy dividend.
With the collapse of communism, the western countries projected globalization as an alternative to centralized bureaucratic control and state dominated economies. Globalisation is supposedly to bring greater prosperity, peace, ecological balance and reduction in poverty. Instead of gaining public trust and democratic accountability, globalization has led to widening the gap between rich and poor. The minorities like Dalits have become more marginalized. Globalisation has enriched the upper castes that have taken advantage due to relevant skills and access to education whilst Dalits have become impoverished. Globalisation has led to disillusionment and discontentment. SC/STs have found their livelihood destroyed. Whilst corporate sector has created jobs in India
According to the Economic Survey 1999-2000, employment in public sector by industry is 1941 crores (19410 millions), which means that by a rough estimate, there are more than 40 lakhs (4 millions) SC/ST employees. In the government and public sector, especially banks, SC/ST employees are actually less than the prescribed 15% reservation. The percentage of SCs in group A and B services stands at 10.15 and 12.57 percent respectively. In public sector banks in the officers’ cadre, the representation of SCs was 11.11% (2). Freed from their obligation to fulfil mandated quotas, privatised Public Sector Undertakings and banks are bound to register fall in the relative strength of Dalits. And even if their jobs are as secure or insecure as any other employee in a privatise firm is, the company can selectively lay of SC/ST staff without fear of violating any reservation policy. Again the promotion prospects of these employees will be diminished. Privatisation will lead to erosion and ultimately the end of reservation in the public sector. There is no clause for reservation being added into the disinvestment deals struck between the government and the private sector. Not to insert such clause into these deals is to subvert caste-based reservation and keep the Dalits away from jobs and also transfer the national assets in the hands of high castes.
It doesn’t matter how much we oppose globalisation and privatisation, it is going to stay in future and we will have to live with it. We have to change our strategy and adapt ourselves accordingly. We must find ways and means to absorb our Dalit brothers and sisters into these MNCs (multinational Corporations). Business is facing challenging time worldwide. It is no longer enough to simply employ people make profit and pay taxes. Companies are now expected to act responsibly, be accountable and benefit society as a whole. Corporate social responsibility may sound new to the underdeveloped countries but it is an old concept in Western World. The business has responsibility to itself, to its customers, workers, shareholders and community as whole.
The growth of the global economy has seen benefits across the World but also increasing public concern about business activities and decline in trust. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in September 2002, there was as much focus on business as on poverty and the environment. As WSSD recognised, partnership between business, government and civil society, there is a need to tackle inequalities and deprivation across the country. The business must be encouraged to tackle social exclusion and racism based on descent and build stronger society (3).
The multinational Companies (MNCs) have also started realising that how a company’s response to local needs results into a tremendous impact on its business and public perception of the company. Due to rapid expansion of consumerism, consumer is also becoming increasingly aware and is constantly evaluating company’s products and performance through human rights context. The companies are beginning to listen to the people for their local needs to maintain their reputation. Realising their corporate responsibility and integrity, the multinationals have started promoting diversity through education, training and minority advancement programmes.
In the UK, food supply provides some good example of corporate social responsibility. The Fair Trade group aims to give better deal to Third World producers. More than 300 retail products, ranging from coffee to fresh fruits, carry the fair trade mark in the UK. Leading super markets such as the Coop and Tesco, either stock Fairtrade brands or ensure their own brands are sourced from Fairtrade producers. Equal opportunity policy is enforced very strictly (4). To win the confidence of black and ethnic minorities, British police have started recruiting their staff from these groups and from the last few years a number of police officers are seen on the streets. Similarly BBC and other broadcasting companies started recruiting newsreaders, presenters and actors from black and ethnic minorities. Any company, which doesn’t employ people from blacks and ethnic minorities, is considered as a racist and no company whether big or small wants this sort of stigma attached to it.
In USA, American Society of Newspaper Editors took a decision in 1978 to raise the minorities’ representations from a pathetic 3.95% to the same level as their share in the population. The papers started special programmes such as scholarships, ethnic and racial censuses, training schemes and job fairs to recruit historically disadvantage minority groups. Today two thirds of all newspapers with circulation 100,000 plus draw 15-20% of their journalists from racial linguistics minorities like blacks and Hispanics. Thus, 16.2% of the New York Times, 19.5% of Washington Post, 18.7% of Los Angeles Times and 17.1% of Wall Street Journal’s staff belong to such minorities (5). Similarly Ford Motor Company largely focuses on recruiting the best of minorities, training and teaching them the best of techniques through exhaustive dealer education programmes in order to ensure the best of minorities have the capability to compete nationally as well globally. The company also grants scholarships to the students to get involved with the company. In 1999, Ford Motor Company prides itself for purchasing record $3.3 billions in goods and services from business that are run by the minorities. IBM has 15% of its staff drawn from the minorities. Over third of the faculty of Harvard Medical School belongs to such group. Microsoft and McDonald’s have made diversity an essential part of their business identity (6).
By contrast, Dalits and Adivasis (23% 0f the population) have abysmally low representation: just 7.1% in factories, 3.1% in construction, 4.1% in trade, 3% in transport and 3.4% in domestic industry(7). It is clear that the Indian business doesn’t give any importance to corporate responsibility and lack the spirit of diversity. Here Dalit is presumed useless, unworthy, incompetent, unintelligent, unmeritorious and unsuitable, until proven otherwise. That is why he doesn’t find any place in the business, educational institutions and media. In his article, ‘In Search of a Dalit Journalist’, Mr. B.N. Unigal states that there is not a single Dalit journalist in the English language press from the population of well over 250 million Dalits (8). Mr. Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer is right when he says “In the US you have black billionaires, industrialists, black film stars, black professors. In India, university professorships are closed to us. We don’t have one millionaire. There is neither one Dalit newspaper editor nor a newscaster.”(9). The caste intelligentsia, which controls media and public institutions, doesn’t find it necessary to examine the reasons for not given due representations to these people. Perhaps they think that the law of ‘Karma’ governs them. They are in privileged positions because of their past deeds (Karmas). So they cannot do anything to change the lives of Dalits as they are suffering because of their past deeds as well.
Dalit educated elite is beginning to feel the heat of privatisation. They know that with this new phenomenon, the Dalits will have no place in the market economy. To find a new strategy to overcome this situation, in January 2002, a Dalit conference was held in Bhopal. Over 300 Dalit intellectuals unanimously accepted the Bhopal Declaration containing 21 points identifying the area of intervention for uplifment of Scheduled Castes/Tribes and their participation in the public and private sector. On 26th January 2002, in his Republic Day address to the nation, the then President of India, Mr. K.R. Narayanan endorsed this declaration, which generated a serious debate throughout the country. The concept of diversity came into forefront for the first time. The main theme of the Bhopal Declaration is that there must be an equal participation of all sections of the society in the activities of all key institutions be it governance, education, institutions and trade. Every government and private organisation must implement Supplier Diversity from socially disadvantaged businesses and Dealership Diversity in all goods and services. The reservation must be compulsory in the private and corporate sector in the same proportion as in the public sector and in the government institutions and develop the capacities and skills of Dalits to help them cope up with the demands of these different sectors.
To further these objectives, another International Dalit Conference took place in Vancouver, Canada on 16-18 May 2003. Endorsing the Bhopal Declaration, the Conference asked for rightful and proportionate share of Dalits in India’s national institutions, wealth and capital. The community should have equitable access to means of production and economic empowerment.
Though the Congress Party accepted the Bhopal Declaration and the reservations to Dalits in the private sector was given prominence in the minimum common programme of United Progressive Alliance (UPA), but so far they haven’t done anything to fulfil their promise. It appears that the Congress Party has deliberately diverted people’s attention from Bhopal and Vancouver Declarations. They are talking of labour market reservations and employment in certain sector of the private economy. There is no discussion over capital market, land market and government contracts to the Dalits. They have taken up just a one issue for reservations but what about contract/suppliers/dealership diversity? What about giving surplus land to landless labourers? What about diversity into educational institutions?
Even reservation in the private sector hasn’t received a positive response from businesses. The UPA government’s common minimum programme talks about evolving a consensus on the issue. The Prime Minister had meeting with industrialists on 4th December 2004 in which this issue was raised. All of them were opposed to this idea and only agreed to contribute toward education. Recently Rahul Bajaj threatened to shift business out of Maharashtra if the state government did not rescind its orders on reservations in the private sector (Times of India, 8/9/04). Confederation of Indian Industry chief Mr. Anand Mahindra welcomes a dialogue but says that reservation without merit may have distorting effects on the industry. In another word, he is parroting again about the age-old excuse of merit. Everybody knows that in private sector, jobs are hardly advertised. The people are recruited on the basis of birth not worth, family lineage, contacts, recommendations, loyalty and political influence. The Indian industry is run and controlled by the upper caste feudals who have no compassion for the poor.
The issue of providing reservation to the Dalits in the private sector seems to have taken a backseat. During Maharashtra elections, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh raised the issue. This matter was widely responded and discussed. The Government formed a Group of Ministers on the subject under the chairmanship of Sharad Pawar with Ramvilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad Yadav its members. Now the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh constituted a committee of ministers on Dalit affairs to supervise programmes being run by various ministries and departments for welfare of Dalits. The committee would consolidate the funding and implementation of schemes to improve effectiveness and identify areas needing attention. The committee has been set up because despite a large amounts being allocated to a number of programmes, the outcome has not been fruitful (10).
Now the government has itself admitted that the welfare programmes have not been very affective and successful. If the Prime Minister is really sincere, instead of this ministerial committee, he should form a Diversity Cell in the Prime Minister’s office and start implementing diversity programme immediately. All the contracts to various companies should go through the Prime Minister making sure that Dalits get their fare share in contracts. Rather than spending money on welfare schemes, involve them in businesses so that they are able to look after themselves. The Government should also set up a separate ministry for Diversification independent from the Ministry of Welfare and Empowerment. The Digvijay Singh government in Madhya Pardesh initiated a scheme to award one third of all purchases/contracts to the Dalits. The central government should also start such programmes at least in central government departments. All the governmental and private sector enterprises must provide data to the ministry to make sure that Dalits are given an equal opportunity in the hiring process. It also means that governmental and private business contracts should be cleared through the Ministry of Diversification to make sure that Dalits have shares equal to others (11). It is said that charity begins from home. The government should show the way to the private businesses. Rather than giving them reservation, give them power to run their own businesses. It will benefit not only a few educated people also semi literate people as well resulting more employment amongst the weaker section of society. This new ministry must set targets to achieve diversity agenda. This includes employment of Dalits in government and private sector and all educational institutions.
The ministry should also bear responsibility of training and teaching Dalits the best of techniques
Through exhaustive dealer/supplier-educational programmes in order to ensure that Dalits have the capability to compete nationally and globally. Dalit students should also be encouraged and financed to get involved in the business. All the private businesses, which are refusing to implement diversity programme, should be liable to be barred from government concessions such as subsidies, grants, loans and other income tax benefits. The companies, which implement this programme, should be benefited with tax rebates and other incentives.
To implement the diversity programme, it is essential that we have some data of the Dalit professionals, suppliers, dealers etc., otherwise these companies can easily say that they are unable to find the suitable persons. To eradicate this problem, there must be some sort of Dalit Recruitment Agency with branches in every state, which will collect the data of Dalit professionals i.e. scientists, computer engineers, lawyers, doctors, suppliers, dealers etc. The recruiting public/ private company or government departments would write to the Dalit Agency for providing the potential job seeker, supplier or dealer with relevant business and qualifications. If we have data, the agency can write to eligible persons. The person who gets job or contract for supply or dealership through the Dalit agency will have to pay a small amount to agency so that its running costs are met. Initially it will be difficult to collect data but when the agency start working, the potential job seekers or contractors will be registering their names themselves with the Dalit Agency. That way the companies can’t make excuse that they can’t find suitable persons for the jobs and also we will be able to have network of Dalit professionals and businessmen. This Agency can be run easily with no profit and no loss basis. The government can also take an initiative to open such agency under the Ministry of Diversification. But it must be ensured that this agency be run and operated by Dalit officials only. This agency must publish its annual report to show how many people registered with the company and how many people got jobs through this agency. Dalit Beopar mandal is a positive sign to implement this programme. We don’t need talks and dialogues with any business tycoons but we need action. Now let us see how far the government goes to empower Dalits.
(1) P. Vishnumurti, Janamitra, 4/01/04
Note: This article on Privatisation & Dalits was written by Mr. Arun Kumar a year ago.
POSTED ON JUNE 11, 2007
EMPOWERMENT OF DALITS
Dr. Ambedkar is by far the greatest figure ever born to the Dalit community. He has become a household name in every nook and corner of India. His influence and prestige continue to grow everyday. Today he is recognised as a great figure of modern India. The statues of Dr. Ambedkar are erected just about everywhere, thousands of walls are decorated with his portraits and his writings are quoted in most of the speeches delivered by prominent politicians and scholars. All political parties include him among figures of national importance.
Dr. Ambedkar is being transformed into a saintly figure. On his birthdays, politicians and his followers garland his statues and portraits. The politician use beautiful words in praise of Dr. Ambedkar to please his followers and to keep their vote bank intact. They announce various schemes which are never implemented and most of the time they gather dust in the office files. To celebrate his birthday is becoming an annual ritual. But he himself was an ‘idle breaker’ not ‘idle worshiper’. He was also against hero worship. Commenting upon hero worship, he said, “Bhakti in religion may be road to salvation of the soul. But in politics, it is sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship” (1). Let us not put Dr. Ambedkar on a pedestal and start worshiping him.
Dr. Ambedkar’s life should provide an example as well as an inspiration to all those who constitute the have-nots and downtrodden in the World and tell them that no bar based on caste, colour, race or religion can come in the way of an individual who is determined to go up. He believed in action and used every opportunity, every talent and every minute that was available to him to accomplish his ideals. His life was a relentless struggle against injustice and oppression. His birthday is a reminder to us about his sacrifice to improve the conditions of neglected and suppressed people of India. He is as much relevant today as he was in his own life time.
His each and every word will keep on imparting guidance not only to Dalits but to all Indians. While presenting the draft constitution in the Constituent Assembly on 25th November, 1949, Dr. Ambedkar warned the nation, “On January 26, 1950, we will have equality in politics and inequality in social and economic life. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest moment, or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy…” (2).
Even after more than half century of Independence, we haven’t learnt any lesson. Socially Indians are still divided into low and high. Loyalty to caste has increased. Dalits are discriminated on the basis of their caste. The situation is worsening day by day. According to a report by the Human Rights Watch some 160 million people live in a precarious existence shunned by much of society because of their ranks as untouchables. Dalits are discriminated, against, denied access to land, forced to work in deploring conditions and routinely abused and even killed. Dalit women are frequently victim of sexual abuse and paraded naked in the streets for petty crimes. Between 1994 and 1996, 98349 cases were registered with police nationwide as crimes and atrocities against Dalits. A further 1660 were for murder, 2814 for rape and 13671 for grievous hurt (3). The National Crime Records Bureau of India in its report says that 23742were committed against Dalits in the year 2000. Of these 6617 were atrocities and 666 were denial of civil rights. There were 3,298 cases of attack, 1034 cases of rape, 486 of murder, 260 of arson, 242 of kidnapping and abduction and 93 of robbery. Every day the incidents of atrocities can be found in various newspapers. But what the Indian are doing about it. Just flick the newspapers, feel sorry for the unfortunates and forget.
It is often boasted that the government of India and state governments have started numerous schemes to uplift the conditions of Dalits. But in actual fact the state as well as central government don’t take any interest to implement these plans. For example, the union government provided Rs.50lacs to help the victims of caste oppression but Punjab government didn’t spent a penny out of this fund. Again an amount of Rs.54crores and 34lacs was sanctioned in the budget for year 2003-4, out which only Rs.35crores and 6lacs were spent. Similarly the communist government in West Bengal spent only 40% of the amount given by the central government (4). During 1980, the schemes started for the welfare Dalits have either been finished or the budget provision for these plans has been reduced to the extent that they are not benefiting to anybody. Provision of Rs.16crores to provide hostels to the students of Scheduled Tribes by the Government of India has ceased during the budget of 2004-5. A provision of Rs.40crores was made during year 2003-4 for the welfare and rehabilitation of manual scavengers, but during the year 2004-5, the amount was reduced to Rs.20crores (5)
So far economic conditions are concerned; reservation in the government jobs has not been fulfilled as proportional to their population. With the privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation, the government jobs are disappearing. A rough estimation shows that for every 10 Dalits retiring from Government, only two are getting in. At this rate 80 per cent of the Dalits will have been thrown out of the Government jobs by 2033 (6). As there is no reservation in the private sector, there is no scope of Dalits getting jobs in the private sector. There are 250 millions Dalits in India which make nearly one fourth of all population. But their share in the market economy is negligible. Dalits in Punjab constitute a higher proportion of the population (28.3%) than the India average; they cultivate only 0.4% of all landholdings, occupying 0.72% of the total cultivated area in the state (7).They have 7.1% share in factories, 3.1% in construction, 4.1% in trade, 3% in transport and 3.4% in domestic industry (8).That is why majority of Dalits still live below poverty line. The current trend is that poor is becoming poorer and rich richer. Dalits will be further marginalised.
Because of the disparity between rich and poor, people especially Dalits are getting frustrated and alienated from the rest of the society. They have stopped believing the politicians and democratic system. That is why violent movements such as Dalit Panthers of India, Naxlite movement in Andhra Parades, Maoist movement in Bihar and Jharkhand are cropping up. If the gap between rich and poor is not bridged, there is a danger of caste warfare. The Indians must heed Dr. Ambedkar’s warning and do something to bring about equality in social and economic life of the people. Otherwise India will surely be heading towards disaster.
After Bhopal and Vancouver Dalit Conferences, the issue of reservation in the private sector has become a national agenda. By starting debate on reservations in private sector, Congress government has deliberately diverted the people’s attention from the recommendations of both Bhopal and Vancouver Declarations. Recently the working group set up by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh has given its verdict that reservation in the private sector without constitutional amendment is not possible. This issue has been sidelined. There are 121 Dalit MPs. If all reserved MPs and MLAs cooperate with each other, the government of India will be forced to bring this amendment in the Parliament. But they have become deaf and dumb to please their masters. They are concerned only about their own positions.
We should not be contended with mere reservation in private sector but we must also push for the implementation of supplier and dealership diversity in all goods and services for socially disadvantaged businesses. We must not stop until our goal of share in land, trade, industry and market is achieved. To bring social and economic equality in the society, empowerment of Dalits is essential. If we are able to achieve even a little in this direction, it will be a real tribute to Dr. Ambedkar.
1. Thus Spoke Ambedkar Vol. II, Bhagwan Das.
POSTED ON JUNE 9TH, 2007
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