Greetings President Ram Nath Kovind.
Greetings from an Alien, who is also as much a citizen of India as you are.
I call you President Kovind, for though you are now the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, supported by an increasing number of allies and non-allies, you will soon be President-Elect with a token challenge from a fragmented Opposition united only in its absence of power, rather than in coherence alliance of ideology, or even a vision for India. And by the time you get this letter in your unofficial Dak, you would have taken oath in a ceremony partly out of mythology and the rest out of a colonial tradition of imported democracy.
Perhaps I will also write an open letter to Ms. Meira Kumar, put up by the “united” opposition to give a token challenge and hereby fulfil a democratic ritual. Her father, Babu Jagjivan Ram, the tallest Dalit leader after Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, never did make Prime Minister, or President. He was non-Congress at a very critical juncture that helped unseat Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi after the Emergency. It was, then, possible to oppose a Dalit, especially of the dominant sub caste, if he tried to fly too high. If Babuji was too early, Meira, his daughter, is too late. One of those things, one could say . Ms. Meira Kumar deserves our respect, more than our sympathy.
You will, of course, understand more than anyone else in India, these issues of caste, sub caste, and caste engineering. If it were not perhaps for the international focus on the plight and persecution of Dalits in India following all those gang rapes, last year, the suicide of scholar Sarath Vemula in Hyderabad, and the beef lynching and the attacks by self-styled upper caste men on the former untouchables in Uttar radish and other parts of the country, the ruling party and your Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh may never had thought of you.
But some credit also need to be given to them to have been able to collect all the sub castes which had felt themselves left out with the seventy-year focus on just the Jatavs and Mahars, the castes of Babu Jagjivan Ram, Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram, and of four time Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ms. Mayawati. The Ram Vilas Paswans, Udit Raj and others on the fringes were therefore an easy and expected catch, as had once been the smaller OBC groups, including the Ghanchis, to which the honorable Prime Minister is said to belong. Only he knows for sure, of course.
Not that there is no glitch. Your own caste, the Koris, often called Kolis in some variant spelling or pronunciation, were once being denied the scheduled caste certificate by one till the group’s youth and politicians rebelled, forcing state governments to declare that the precious certificate would not be denied. But it is quite true that the sword of Damocles does hang on the small groups which have the protection of the Constitution as scheduled castes. Eternal vigil is the price for keeping that certificate in the file. I will come to this again, later, asking why you think this protection and facility should be denied to some other groups. Among them are Christians and Muslims who suffer all that you have suffered historically, but can never dream to fly free and high as you have.
There is no Dalit Prime Minister in sight in the next four elections, but you have done the second-best thing, become President of the Democratic Secular Socialist Republic of India. You are just the second Dalit to sit in a chair where you can decide if a man is to live, or to die at the hands of a government executioner. And once or perhaps more times, you will decide who will be the prime ruler, the chief executive of this vast cooperative society of a billion and a quarter people.
There is so much to write to you, share with you, inform you, admire in you, and caution you about, that one may forget to ask you a few questions. Many fellow Indians share with you your personal story of being born in a thatched hut, and living a life of snakes and ladders in the painful but unhaltable climb to the top of your chosen vocation. You have vanquished all the snakes. No one can deny you that satisfaction, even if it does not really make you forget that you had to hear all those chants about how some men are at birth superior to others.
So, the questions first, before one gets into the explanatory text. This is not a Demi-Official, or D.O. Letter. Just some questions which, as our honorable Prime Minister does so often, I had first asked on social media, Facebook.
Presumably you renounce the Manu Smriti, at least in its relevant chapters that spell doom and pain for what it calls the untouchables, and in as loud and clear a voice as you will in taking oath of office by swearing allegiance to the Constitution, and promising to preserve and protect it, a duty no other elected office has. They just swear by it. You are the custodian and its protector. In referring to the Law-giver Manu, I of course by no means even hint on the freedom of faith of the President of India. I uphold your right, as you will uphold mine in time. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic, was an active believer of every single tenet of his religion. Giani Zail Singh did Kar Seva. Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the man you will succeed, is annually photographed worshipping in his home temple clad in his sacred thread and classic Bengali dhoti. If ever there were a Christian President, I'd possibly run into her or him at Mass or a fasting prayer.
But I'd like to know your changed views on:
1. Lynching of Dalits by self-styled Upper Castes and / or by cow vigilantes, otherwise called Gau Rakshaks.
2. Dalits' Freedom of Faith. Do they have the choice of any other than the one defined for them by the government?
3. Continuing untouchability, even among some in the judiciary and your legal profession. As a senior lawyer, you may have heard of the shameful incident once when a new judge had his chambers cleansed by bucketful of Ganga water because his predecessor was a Dalit, whom Mahatma Gandhi had called Harijan, and whom the law books once defined as an Untouchable.
4. Do you believe in death penalty as much as Mr. Mukherjee does. Superficially, do you believe beef eaters should be hanged, as demanded by some people who hold political office, and not just by maverick Sadhvis and Babas.
5. Do you think Muslims and Christians, whom you more than once called, orally and in writing, worshippers of alien religions, be allowed to continue to enjoy full citizenship including freedom to practice, preach and propagate their faith.
6. Do you believe in annihilation of caste which Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar so passionately demanded? How do you think it can be made into reality?
And, 7, which I ask more in passing than with any seriousness, how would you guide us in this nation in Developing a Scientific Temper.
As I salute you on assuming your new office as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces – you know you are the Chief, and not those anchor and retired generals in TV newsrooms -- let me briefly explain why I had the temerity to ask you these questions.
I had, much as every other person interested in Indian politics, read the 26 March 2010 IANS news report headlined in the most dramatic manner as “ Islam, Christianity alien, so cannot get quota: BJP”.
The text was equally dramatic.
“Islam and Christianity are alien" to India and, therefore, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) feels people from the minority groups, even if their socio-economic condition is low, should not be given the privilege of quota in jobs, legislative bodies and education, a party official said today.
“At a press conference in New Delhi, BJP's newly-appointed spokesperson Ramnath Kovind called for scrapping of the Ranganath Misra commission report that recommends 15 per cent quota in government jobs for socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities in India. The National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed by Justice Ranganath Misra, former Chief Justice of India, has in its report also recommended inclusion of Muslim and Christian converts as Scheduled Castes and given a quota to that category.
"No, that is not possible," said Kovind. "Including Muslims and Christians in the Scheduled Castes category will be unconstitutional."
“Asked how Sikh Dalits were enjoying the quota privilege in the same category, Kovind said: "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation." He said that "it is very well known" that convert Dalit Christians and Muslims get better education in convent schools.
"The educational level of Scheduled Caste children remains much lower than that of converted Dalits. The children of converts will grab major share of reservation in government jobs. They would become eligible to contest elections on seats reserved for Scheduled Castes. This would encourage conversion and fatally destroy the fabric of Indian society," he said.
"The Misra commission report should be scrapped because (its recommendations) will jeopardise the interests of Scheduled Castes," he said.”
The matter has been taken up before the Supreme Court of India where it has been hanging for more than a decade. It is now transferred to a constitutional bench, which is still to be set up. The government is yet to tell its mind to the court, though senior ministers of the NDA have made clear, as you had then, that no one who is not of the “indict Faith’ will get the benefits.
Ranganath Misra’s report is crucial evidence before the court, and the religious minorities have set much hope on it. The report, which was tabled in Parliament on December 18, 2009, has defined religious and linguistic minorities as backward classes and recommended 15 percent reservation for all minorities in jobs, education and welfare schemes.
As the IANS report told the world, of India's then 1.2 billion population, Muslims form the largest minority at close to 14 per cent, followed by Christians at 2.3 per cent, Sikhs at 1.9 per cent, Buddhists at 0.8 per cent, Jains at 0.4 per cent and others including Parsis at 0.6 per cent. "Within the recommended 15 per cent earmarked seats in institutions shall be 10 per cent for the Muslims and the remaining 5 per cent for the other minorities," the report had said.
If ever anyone had any doubts on your toeing the party line, and the Sangh line, you set it at rest in your written statement: “The report of the Commission is not unanimous. The Commission, inter alia, made recommendations to give 15 percent reservation to minorities under Backward Class quota in education, government employment and social welfare schemes. Out of this 15 percent reservation, 10 percent reservation has been recommended to Muslim Community and remaining 5 percent to other minority communities. The Commission has further recommended to include convert Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the list of Scheduled Castes.”
You knew the so-called objection was not by a member of the commission, but by the IAS woman secretary whose bigotry had been a byword for a long time in the commission. Perhaps that is why she had been put in that office. The UPA often functioned mysteriously in such matters.
You said with unambiguous precision and clarity. “At present convert Christians and Muslims are getting reservation in government jobs under Backward Class categories. The question is when they are already getting reservation in backward class category why do they want reservation in Scheduled Castes category. The answer is clear. Their special interest is not in getting reservation in government jobs, they want Scheduled Caste category reservation for contesting elections from village Panchayats to the Lok Sabha. As they know, they cannot be eligible to contest elections on reserved seats under backward class reservation. If the government accepts Ranganath Misra Commission recommendations, the convert Christians and Muslims would become eligible to contest on seats reserved for Scheduled Castes. Thus, the people of Scheduled Castes would have to share their reservation in government jobs and political fields with convert Christians and Muslims.”
If your contempt at that time for Christian and Muslim Dalits was not enunciated sharply enough, the next few paragraphs would deliver the coup de grace, the master stroke, so to say.
You told the Media, “You are aware that educational level of Scheduled Castes children remains much lower than that of convert Dalit Christians and Muslims. So, the children of converts would grab major share of reservation in government jobs. The convert Dalit Christians and Muslims would become eligible to contest election on seats reserved for Scheduled Castes. So, the Scheduled Castes would suffer from all angles in all fields. Moreover, it would further encourage conversion and fatally destroy the fabric of Indian Society.” Your note was circulated to media offices by your office secretary, Sham Raju, which, I believe, is his name.
Why do you fear conversions, Sir? The Buddha converted many, and Ambedkar followed his Mentor’s choice, taking with him 400,000 Dalits in history’s single largest peaceful mass conversion. I don’t mention the Manipur conversion to Hinduism, because it was the King’s decision, not the people’s (decision).
There are two things a human being can change -- one’s religion and nationality. As many times as she or he may wish to do so. Many Non-resident Indians have done so. These NRIs now finance and lead the troops of Hindutva.
I hope you will, in your new office, restore sanity and cool this Garm Hawa, the evil wind which is now searing and scorching our motherland.
I wish you luck
I remain, your’s sincerely
The follower of a religion you once thought was alien(Published on 26th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 26)