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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 15, April 4, 2015

Where is the Ghar to Return when it is Unjustly Occupied?

Sunday 5 April 2015, by Ambrose Pinto

The SCs/STs are recognised as indigenous people of the country. They constitute more than 25 per cent of the country’s population. However, at the United Nations, the Government of India had consistently denied existence or applicability of the concept of “indigenous peoples” to these groups though the country had voted in their favour at the General Assembly on September 13, 2007. India is also a signatory to the International Labour Organisation Convention concerning the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries. India has ratified UN conventions including the Forced Labour Convention, Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, Equal Remuneration Convention and Discrimination (Employment Occupation) Convention. Nonetheless the concept of indigenous peoples has often been questioned in India.

The Supreme Court, in its judgment on January 5, 2011, had unequivocally asserted that the Scheduled Tribes are indigenous peoples and the Apex Court had gone to describe the history of their oppression from the days of Mahabharata. “As groups they are one of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities in India characterised by high level of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, disease, and landlessness,” said the Court.

The SCs are no less oppressed. The distinctive social institution of caste has wrought havoc in the lives of the Dalits. They have been treated worse than animals and forced to live on the outskirts of the villages, under filthy conditions, at the beck and call of the upper castes. Ordained to do menial jobs and prohibited to share the natural resources like water with the upper castes, their very sight and touch have been considered as impure and taboo. They have been ostracised. Their subhuman life has been accepted by them as well as the others as part of the existing order of things. In spite of being original inhabitants of the country, most of them are homeless and if at all they have a home they have been treated as persons who do not belong to the Indian society. Those who were in the “ghar” have been made foreigners in their own home and others have occupied their home.

Will the present Government of India and the groups affiliated to it vacate the illegal homes they have occupied and return the homes to the original owners if they believe in “ghar wapsi’? That would be the real return to their original homes, “ghar wapsi”. If they are unable to do so, will they at least provide them homes of their own so that they live dignified and meaningful lives? As long as people do not have a home and their house is under occupation how would they return to it?

Immigrants Cannot claim a Home

Who are the people who have occupied their land? India is broadly a country of immigrants. Probably about 70 per cent people living in India today are descendants of immigrants. People migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas to live in comfort. India was an agricultural society and the immigrants discovered a paradise here since the country was fertile with irrigation facilities. For thousands of years people kept pouring into India because they found a comfortable life here in a country which was gifted by nature. As the great Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri wrote: “In the land of Hind, the Caravans of the peoples of the world kept coming in and India kept getting formed.”

The only way to explain India’s diversity is to accept that India is largely a country of immigrants. There are a large number of religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, cultures etc. in our country, which is due to the fact that India is a country of immigrants. Some people are tall, some others are short, some are dark, some are fair complexioned, with all kinds of shades in between. There are differences in dress, food habits and various other matters. The various immigrants/invaders who came into India brought with them their different cultures, languages, religions, etc. which accounts for the tremendous diversity in India.

Once the industrialisation process began people once again went to the West in search of employment and comforts. The large number of Indians in the USA and Europe migrated to foreign lands for more comfortable life. They have found life there, many of them even moving beyond the achievements of the people who had settled there for years. According to the Pew research study of 2012, “Seventy per cent of Indian Americans aged 25 and older had college degrees in 2010, by far the highest rate among the overall US population. More recent (2013) data from the American Community Survey provides more detail: 40.6 per cent of Indian Americans 25 and older have graduate or professional degrees, and 32.3 per cent have bachelor’s degrees; an additional 10.4 per cent have some college education. The large segments of Indian Americans have entered the country under the H1-B visa programme, which allows highly skilled foreign workers in designated “specialty occupations” to work in the U.S. In 2011, for example, 72,438 Indians received H1-B visas, 56 per cent of all such visas granted that year.

Indian Americans generally are well-off.

Median annual household income for Indian Americans in 2010 was $ 88,000, much higher than for all Asian Americans ($ 66,000) and all US households ($ 49,800)—perhaps not surprising, given their high education levels. Only nine per cent of adult Indian Americans live in poverty, compared with 12 per cent of Asian Americans overall and 13 per cent of the U.S. population. In 2010, 28 per cent of Indian American worked in science and engineering fields; according to the 2013 American Community Survey, more than two-thirds (69.3 per cent) of Indian Americans 16 and older were in management, business, science and arts occupations”.1

What is clear is that those migrated into another country due to their competence and hard-work gradually takeover key jobs and occupy positions of power. They become citizens and yet they are not the original people of the land.

Ghar Wapsi

People have migrated everywhere. They have found homes after their migration, not their original home but an occupied one. More important in the whole “ghar wapsi” programme is whether the affiliates of the Sangh Parivar accept that since most of them are immigrants who came and settled here; they are outsiders and the house they occupy is not theirs. If they do accept this premise which can be easily substantiated by facts, does the programme of ghar wapsi hold good to them as well, the occupiers of the original land of the indigenous people? Because of their hard labour and work they may have become prosperous and in the process socio-economically subordinated the original people of the country. Will they return to their homes where they came from?

A faith that originated outside the country, responsible for oppression of people through caste categories cannot make claims for ghar wapsi of the indigenous people. It is the immigrants who should return to the original homes instead of asking the indigenous people to return to their homes. They are outside their homes because they have been ousted. Asking subaltern communities to return to their home by the occupiers is to add insult to injury. Coming home is not accepting a faith but providing economic resources for livelihoods.

In the present “ghar wapsi” programmes, there is a new kind of colonisation to subjugate the indigenous people and push them out from the little they have. While on the one hand, efforts are being made to deprive them even of their forest, hill and panchami lands where they are living, and the forest produce on which they survive in spite of being original people of the country, on the other hand, they are asked to subordinate themselves to the hierarchical ways of life of the caste masters. These kinds of subjugation in the name of caste, economics and religion need to be resisted as these would lead to further exploitation of the indigenous people.

What the indigenous people of the country need is not ghar wapsi, as propagated by the Sangh Parivar affiliates, but to build an Indian society where all enjoy equality of dignity and opportunity along with genuine fraternity. The ghar is theirs and we have occupied it. We cannot leave and go from it and the indigenous people are not asking the occupiers to leave and go. What is required from all those who have occupied this land as immigrants and settled here is real inclusion of the original people of the land than their exclusion and pauparisation. That is the paradigm shift the present times invites the citizens, instead of wasting time with useless gimmicks for politics.


* http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/09/30/5-facts-about-indian-americans/

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal of St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore.

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