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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 34 August 13, 2016 [Independence Day Special 2016]

Segregation in Democracy

Monday 15 August 2016, by Kuldip Nayar

Yet another Dalit family was hacked to death because it was suspected to have eaten beef. The laboratory tests of the “beef” showed that it was some other cattle. Some time ago, the Kerala House in Delhi was attacked by gau rakshaks because beef was served there. But the most shameful aspect is that there was no repentance among the upper castes and even the leaders of the RSS, who are supposed to work for social upliftment, did not utter a word of either condemnation or sorrow.

All religions indulge in social, economic or political discrimination but it is not a part of the religion itself as it is among the Hindus. And for centuries, it is going on without much challenge. There are still certain parts of India where the Dalits cannot use the road or well which are frequented by the upper castes. The worst part is that the funeral ground, which the upper castes use, is exclusive for them.

Islam, which teaches equality, has also been affected and the burial places of those placed high in life cannot be used by ordinary Muslims. In fact, a different kind of caste system prevails in Islam. For example, Sayyds are considered the Brahmins of the community and they practise the same kind of discrimination as the Hindus do when it comes to marriage or death. They refuse to consign the bodies at the common burial ground.

In fact, an ordinary Muslim suffers from both sides—one because he is poor and, two, because he is considered not at par with the well-placed Muslims. Here, the economic factor has come into play. And then it has got mixed with preferences and prejudices, making the poor Muslims’ plight still more pitiful. True, the Indian Constitution does not allow discrimination on the basis of religion. But it is practised all over and even the police force has come to be contaminated and it connives at the violation of the upper castes without a demur.

The practice has become more glaring and persistent since the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime. That the upper-caste people have been appointed to key positions in universities and other institutions at the behest of the government make some of the best brains rot. The RSS makes it sure that the people appointed are from the “right” background to ensure that the Hindutva philosophy is taken as the guideline.

Not long ago, the Pune Film Institute went on strike for months together when its head was replaced by a television artiste who had the blessings of the RSS. The government did not change its decision even in the midst of widespread discontentment. Ultimately, the students had to give in because their career was at peril.

The time has come for introspection. The upper castes have not accepted the presence of Dalits or even members of other backward classes in their midst. The numerous agitations in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh or, for that matter, in other parts of the country have not jolted the conscience of the upper castes. These are the results of the government pursuing with reservations despite the 10-year time-limit set by the Constituent Assembly way back in 1950.

I recall that during the debates of the Constituent Assembly Dr B.R. Ambedkar, a revered Dalit leader, declared that they did not want any reservation. He was persuaded by the assurance that the period will not be more than 10 years. Now the situation is such that as soon as the period is over, Parliament unanimously extends it to another 10 years. No political party, including the Communists, has stood up to resist and say enough was enough. Now that elections in Uttar Pradesh, the largest State in the country, are scheduled to take place in 2017, Dalit leader Mayawati is being wooed by all political parties. She has said that her party would go it alone and there is every possibility that she might return with a majority. Her advantage is that the Dalit voter obediently follows her instruction. She is the only one who can get the Dalit votes transferred to some other community. Even though the Congress has traditionally fought for social justice, Mahatma Gandhi was the only leader who believed in giving equal status to the Dalits. True, they did not like the title “Harijan” (son of God) given by him because they thought it was too patronising.

Dr Rajendra Prasad, after finishing his task as the President of the Constituent Assembly, was appointed as the Food Minister. He went to Gandhiji to seek his advice on his accommodation. The Mahatma, who was living then in a bhangi (sweeper) colony, told him to live in the cottage next to the one he was residing in. Dr Rajendra Prasad was so horrified over the idea that he went to the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and complained on Gandhiji’s suggestion.

No legislation is going to help, as has been India’s experience. Ultimately, it depends on the upper castes to change their attitude. They believe in democracy but not in equality which is an integral part of the system. People in the world feel hard to believe that the country, which has sent rocket to the Mars, something which the advanced countries envy, practises discrimination against human beings.

Their horror is glaring when they see that a democratic country, where people queue before the ballot box to choose their leader, cannot get over the prejudice which they have inherited from the time even before the British who divided the society caste-wise and religion-wise to make their rule easy.

Whatever Parliament does to eliminate this malady will not help until the upper castes realise that what they are doing is against the democratic polity which they cherish. The sooner this realisation takes place, the better would it be for the country and its polity.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com