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A Cry In The Wilderness

A Cry In The Wilderness

Will the Emotion-charged Pleadings of People be a Cry in the Wilderness?

It is said that Nero played the harp while Rome burnt. That was what the BJP leadership was doing, celebrating the enthronement of J.P. Nadda as the President of the Party. Not a word about CAA.  Meantime the nation is on fire. End to end of India what is visible is a “tsunami of the revolutionary spirit.” Sankarshan Thakur referred to 2019 as the “year of the scalding of India’s soul.” Former Vice President Ansari spoke of the need to attend to the “anger and wrath of students.” Meantime Modiji remains unperturbed. His yogic composure keeps him serene. He merely complains that media is partial, that it is not reporting events that gather lakhs in support of the CAA. We need not be surprised. We are in the Post-Truth era.

When Marie Antoinette heard that the peasants of France were up in arms because they had no bread to eat, she is reported to have exclaimed, “Let them eat cakes then!” Elected leaders of the Ruling Party are showing the same lack of sensitivity and perception that ancient kings and emperors manifested in the past. It is truly hard to understand. Garima Garg Saikia exclaims in absolute desperation, “It seems the government has gone mad. This government is so blind that it overlooks public anger.” There is no exaggeration in her words, Amit Shah merely mocks the agitators.

“Neo-Truth”: False Promises, Trumped Up Charges

The Government has its own version of events. Deb Mukharji, former ambassador, calls the recent official reports “neo-truth.” He alleges, for example, that, despite denials, the “state machinery” in UP acted with grave prejudice against the Muslims during the recent protests. Police violence was selective. Hospitals were afraid to admit wounded protesters for fear of displeasing the Government. Filing “false cases” has become normal. It is interesting to note that the first thing that Himanta Soren, the new Jharkhand Chief Minister, did on assuming office, was to drop 10,000 cooked up “sedition charges” against innocent tribals who had protested against tampering with land laws.  

Chidambaram says, the phrasing of the CAA alone is not the real issue. What we are worried about is the “sinister purpose” behind the CAA and NPR. Constitutional values are under theat. Thus, protest against the CAA is opposition to the Hindutva interpretation of Indian identity; the way the BJP marginalize the weaker communities and peripheral regions; the arbitrary manner they run a democratic government; the imposition of BIMARUG self-understanding of India on the whole nation.

A Deeper Reading into The Philosophy of Segregation, Exclusion, Subjugation

People ask: who can trust a Deceptive Dispensation?  Of late, it has promised ‘exclusive’ residential schools for Dalit children. Will these facilities go only to Party-supporters? Will they be used to “re-educate” tribal and Dalit children into Hindutva ideology? More than anything else, will they be used to perpetuate segregation and subjugation, as was done against the African Americans in the US. No BJP scheme for the downtrodden can be fully trusted. The RSS-sponsored Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams for the welfare of tribal youth, for example, have turned out to be tools for what M.N. Srinivas calls ‘sanskritization,’ which amounts to the Hinduisation of non-Hindu ethnic groups. Nothing is done to promote tribal languages or cultures, or create pride in their identity. Chandradekhar Azad said that the condition of Dalits has worsened during the Modi regime.

Rohith Vemula, a Ph. D. student in Osmania University, hanged himself in January 2016. He had been thrown out of the hostel with four others and prevented from access to the library for joining a beef festival (Beef, Brahmins & Broken Men, Kancha Ilaiah, Navayana Publishing Co, New Delhi, 2019, Pg.13). In Hindutva evaluation, beef-eating makes one anti-national. For the ‘productive castes’ in India, as Ilaiah calls the Dalits, it is much needed food. He considers it most unfair that those who never put their hand to the plough like Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Jains should condemn the food habits of the ‘labouring castes.’  Workers have their own “food rights” (Ilaiah 18).

Ilaiah asks the Upper Castes to weigh their Pride Rights (over-sensitivities) against the Food Rights (dietary needs) of the lower castes. He considers it a great tragedy that a secular state like India “strikes at the very heart of the health and livelihood of the poorest Indians” and criminalizes them. This is ‘untouchability’ in the worst form with the help of the courts, he says. Life itself is threatened (Ibid 24). He pleads for the “secularisation” of food habits (Ilaiah 56).

“My Birth is My Fatal Accident,” Rohith Vemula

Vemula left a suicide note behind, “My birth is my fatal accident” (Ilaiah 14). There was a savage struggle in his heart to get over the fact that he was born a Dalit. There is a constant psychological strain on persons from the humbler background in India. Even those who emerge from obscurity through sheer grit and will power feel marginalized, excluded, unwanted, ‘untouchable’ in subtle and elusive ways. Everywhere in the world, food brings people together; in India, food divides people: vegetarians, non-vegetarians. One scorns the other (Ilaiah 54).

Ilaiah laments, those who have never exerted themselves in behalf of cows decide about their sacredness and impose bans (Ilaiah 23), and those who have laboured in their behalf are beaten up by the top dogs and cow-vigilantes, and killed. They are called “cow smugglers” if they are found transporting cows for sale or grazing.  In 8 years 123 cow-related killings have been reported, mostly under the Modi-regime (Ilaiah 30). While crores are being spent on cow-care by BJP-ruled states, cows die of starvation in big numbers under their very care; and abandoned cows ravage the crops (Ilaiah 48). Meantime mothers starve, children die, and millions of Muslims and Dalits are deprived of their basic livelihood.  

Cow-fad merely a Tool for Browbeating the Muslims and Dalits

Those who claim that their traditions are derived from the Vedas ignore the fact that Vedic Aryans relished tender beef. Brahmins ate beef and offered cows as sacrifice (Ilaiah 32). D.N. Jha established these things in his book ‘the Myth of the Holy Cow’ (2001), though he was compelled to withdraw it in haste (Ilaiah 77). Buddha himself consumed meat (Ilaiah 47).

Ambedkar argues that it was around the 4th century that Brahminism appropriated the Buddhist concept of Ahimsa which was found popular among the masses. In order to take a step ahead of the Buddhists, Brahmins forbade cow-slaughter and encouraged vegetarianism (Ilaiah 23). In recent times, Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha and Gita Press created a hysteria around the cow mostly to “browbeat the Muslims” (Ilaiah 28) and Dalits.

What India Needs is not the Brahminization of Society, but its Dalitization: Love for work (Ilaiah)

Kancha Ilaiah considers it embarrassing that even secular intellectuals are squeamish when the question of cow or beef arises. Left parties too grow timid (Ilaiah 38). Congress-ruled MP is as crazy about cow-shelters as Yogi’s henchmen. Even Maywati, as a Chief Minister, was cautious about the cow-issue lest her political base narrows. Ilaiah would like to see a section of Indian society taking up the beef-issue as a challenge… as “Realpolitik” (Ilaiah 55).

His argument is that caste is not abolished by all becoming Brahmins, but through all Indians taking pride in  work, becoming productive like the Dalits, and accommodating to the food habits of workers. There should be as much pride in producing a good pair of shoes, a pot, or a tool as in reciting a Vedic verse. Work is our glory. In this sense, what India needs today is not Brahminisation of society, but its Dalitization, love for work (Ilaiah 40).

Desperate Efforts to Hide One’s Dalit Identity

The opposite is happening. Yashica Dutt, today a New York-based journalist, explains at length how she and her mother took enormous pain to hide their Dalit identity in her young days. Her mother wanted her by all means to study with upper caste children. She was made to dress like them and to maintain an ‘upper-caste aura’ (Coming Out as Dalit, by Yashica Dutt, Aleph Book Co, New Delhi, Pg. 26). She sought to be the ‘brightest’ to be equal (Dutt 36). She never spoke about Dalit issues lest it revealed her identity (Dutt 27).

Later in the US, she noticed how African Americans try to dress, speak and gesticulate like white Americans. Similarly here, many upwardly mobile Dalits change names, move to cities, adopt “rigid Brahminical traditions” like vegetarianism and excessive religiosity to be accepted among the higher castes (Dutt 7). Her mum learnt the Hindu rituals and traditions with enormous pain (Dutt 50).

Looking back, Yashica remembered the emotional and mental pain she suffered to hide her caste (Dutt xvi) .  “Insecurities and issues with self-worth” weighed heavy upon her, it brought often “deep sadness” and “dark depression” (Dutt 62). Her mother took extra trouble to ‘whiten’ her appearance (Dutt 30). She desperately leaned upon her assumed high caste identity “when the carcass of my Dalitness became too heavy” (Dutt xiv).  It was like leading a “double life” all the time. Many are forced into “living this lie” to enter closed spaces, and avoid discrimination, humiliation, and oppression. Dalit suicides or deaths make no impression on higher caste society (Dutt xi).

Dutt’s mother discovered early enough that good schooling was the only ticket to Upper Caste-ness (Dutt 34). “Being able to talk in perfect English with no trace of a regional accent remains the mark of wealth, pedigree, class and even intelligence in modern India” (Dutt 21). English wins “instant respect.” But once a person’s Dalit identity is discovered, there is mild annoyance and jealousy, and yet, “grudging respect” (Dutt 22). Even if a Dalit moves to a position of power through grit and performance, “social acceptance” still eludes him. Subordinates ignore protocol, and promotion is delayed, denied (Dutt 2). If he/she chooses to open a shop or develop a factory, customers are reluctant to come (Dutt 88).

Yashica felt that she was fortunate enough to make her way out of this caste-ridden land to the US. There, at one stage, she made up her mind that she should be proud of her identity and re-affirm it with additional strength, to the shock of her mother! She decided to help others to do the same as Ambedkar did.

“Never Was a Man Treated as a Mind. As a Glorious Thing Made up of Stardust” Rohith Vemula

The above quoted suicide-note of Rohith Vemula touched Yashica Dutt intensely (Dutt xiv). Today, she is determined to make her contribution to changing the social order that weighs heavy on millions of fellow-citizens who are scorned, excluded, and marginalized. She feels that her community that constitutes 25% of India is bound to make a difference (Dutt 88). Voices are being raised from end to end of India calling attention to injustice: Kancha Ilaiah, Chandrashekhar Azad, Jignesh Mevani and others. Tribals are not silent. Muslims speak up. All minorities are astir. Social activists are vocal. All call for a change.

The CAA-issue, therefore, is not about persecution in three neighbouring countries; it is about ‘persecution’ in India itself that awaits the citizen in the implementation of CAA. It is about who belongs to this country, and to whom it belongs. Only to the High Caste Kings? Or, only to the BIMARUG Barons? The anxiety is about the re-birth of Manu, re-establishment of inequality, the revival of Karma theories in political and administrative forms, of which the humbler communities will be forced to bear the consequences. This summarises the BJP ideology.

Indian Economy Manifests “Negative Surprises” due to “Social Unrest”

There have been distressing consequences to ignoring the voices of the “productive” communities.  The economy has slid down within few months as never before.  IMF has hastily lowered the growth rate to 4.8%. Gita Gopinath says, actual growth may have been even lower, 4.5%. Not only, “negative surprises” from India, she says, have affected global growth. India’s decline in fact has turned a drag on the global economy. 

Surprisingly, IMF attributes the reason for economic decline to “social unrest.” Such remarks are usually avoided as they might appear like interference in internal matters. But the objective reality in India has become evident to the entire world. Mutual exclusion, polarisation and tension are yielding their natural fruits. Domestic demand has fallen, rural demand in particular. Cow-related ‘productive’ enterprises like exchange of animals or leatherworks, that used to give a little pocket money to rural population have collapsed. With the ghettoisation of communities, inter-community exchange of goods has become extremely difficult even among the peasantry. Situation is moving in the direction of Muslims being able to sell only to Muslims, Dalits to Dalits, Banias to Banias, and possibly Gujaratis to Gujaratis. Business transactions get sharply reduced.

Meanwhile ‘non-productive’ melas and yathras have multiplied at government expense. Cattle and godmen are sponsored from public funds. Ministries of cow-protection drain the coffers. Consequently, tax revenues fell last year by Rs 1.65 trillion. This year it may fall lower by Rs 3 trillion. With it comes high inflation, low GDP growth rate. Of late, with the increase of protests, internet shutdowns, and prohibitory orders, the dynamism of the economy has been further reduced. What worries us in addition is the Oxfam revelation that inequality is growing in India, with 1% of the population owning 42.4% of the national wealth. Accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few accentuates rural poverty, and leads to the weakening of ‘purchasing power.’ While the Government is picking the pocket of the peasantry on one side, business magnates empty it on the other.

A Cry in the Wilderness: Make Your Choice Today

Looking to the future, fiscal responses alone will not suffice. Quality of relationships is going to be vital: bondedness, belongingness, respect. Respect for the worker, respect for the ‘Productive’ Person, as Ilaiah would say. Respect for the productive community, their culture, their food habits, their working styles, their longing for recognition; fairness to the weaker sections, to people from peripheral states.

Evolve a healthy strategy for the re-distribution of wealth, as Thomas Piketty suggests, that will ensure ‘purchasing power’ for the average man and strengthen domestic demand, and also encourage small scale initiatives. Remember: more than 70% of the Indian economy is in the non-formal sector. Foster intercommunity relationships, making them safe, satisfying, equal, fruitful, productive. Respect work. Cultivate work ethic.

Such suggestions may sound like a cry in the wilderness, or like anti-CAA protests before Amit Shah! Yes, there are reasons why even vehement protests leave the Home Minister unshaken. It is not only that the Ruling Party commands a brute majority in the Parliament, it is also that their ideology has weight with the members of dominant castes of all parties, and that it exercises an undefined charm on the collective psyche of the majority community. They all vibrate with the same general themes: Puranas, myths, Ayodhya, cows, Kailas, Kashmir, CAA. So much so that differences between parties have sunk, changing of parties has become normal, the elite of all parties are closer to each than they are willing to admit…even as they malign each other.

The problem is that the desire for domination has a dazing quality…and when opponents come together, the anxieties of the weaker communities get clean forgotten. Uddhav Thackeray, allied to the Congress, remains ideologically close to the BJP and Ayodhya;  Congress CM, Kamal Nath  of MP, is dead set on first-rate cow-shelters. Power alone counts, Principles don’t. Cynics say, our society is divided into three categories: ‘Principled People,’ ‘Purchased People,’ and ‘Purchasable People.’  Where do you wish to belong? Make your choice today.

(Published on 03rd February 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 06)