Monday, February 24, 2014

Devil is in the Detail

BJP’S prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressing a meeting in Kerala has said, “I continue to be a victim of untouchability.”

But one wonders if Modi knows what it means and feels to be an untouchable? Let us hear from the horse's mouth itself. Speaking about scavenging which has condemned lakhs of dalits to a life of indignity since ages, he says that this job of shit collection or cleaning of gutters is a ‘Spiritual Experience’ for them. In his book ‘Karmayog’ which is a collection of his speeches to high-profile IAS officials, he discusses the age-old caste-based vocation of the dalits as an 'experience in spirituality'. “I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation…At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries.” So that's 'enlightened spiritual activity'! Wonder why the proponent of such wonderful ideas does not walk the talk!

In another occasion, addressing a meeting of safai karmacharis, he likened the safai karmacharis’ job of cleaning up others’ dirt to that of a temple priest. He told them: “A priest cleans a temple every day before prayers, you also clean the city like a temple. You and the temple priest work alike”. This is hitting two birds at a single shot. One, safai karmacharis are excluded from the 'real temples' and two, their jobs are reserved only for them, as traditionally the jobs of the priests are reserved for brahmins. Title them 'priests of the cities' and confine them to the worst possible social oppression – clever by half, or is it more?

To understand the politics behind Modi's statements/utterances/writings and the good sangh pracharak that he is, let us once again recap what Dr B.R. Ambedkar said: “The system of untouchability has been a goldmine for the Hindus. This system affords 60 millions of untouchables to do the dirty work of scavenging and sweeping to the 240 million Hindus who are debarred by their religion to do such dirty work. But the work must be done for the Hindus and who else than the untouchables?” Behind all that Modi says thus is the undeniable mark of the RSS.

Let us now tear a little bit into the Gujarat model of development and see things in their reality, as they exist.

In a village called Galsana in Ahmedabad district, which is around 100 kms from the city, dalits are not allowed entry into any of the five temples in the village. The younger generation of dalits protested this ban which resulted in their social boycott.

In the gruesome killings of dalits at Thangarh (September 2012) the state government did not come to the rescue of dalits despite the complaints lodged by dalits about the imminent attack.

In a survey conducted in 2011, where 200 dalit children and 65 non-dalit children were interviewed in 12 villages in Gujarat, it was revealed that more than 90 percent of dalit children have faced discrimination while procuring medication at government hospitals and clinics. More than 80 percent of dalit children have faced discrimination while trying to avail something as basic as pathological tests.

Dalits in at least 77 villages in Gujarat have been forced to migrate due to social boycotts, according to chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Justice KG Balakrishnan.  According to him, nearly 100 complaints were also received by the NHRC on alleged police atrocities, particularly the police refusing to register their complaints, or showing total inaction in pursuing the cases after registering the complaints.

Conviction of those who have been booked under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, is just about 3.5 per cent in Gujarat.

Local barbers in Saurashtra refuse to give a haircut or shave, saying that they will not get any upper caste customers, forcing some of the dalits to travel all the way to Junagadh.

And now time for some facts about manual scavenging: According to the 2011 census data there are more than 2000 households who are forced into manual scavenging in Gujarat. Another survey conducted by Tata Institute of Social Sciences and reported by the Indian Express mentions that more than 12,000 manual scavengers exist in Gujarat. And Saurashtra, which has the greatest concentration of dalits in Gujarat, leads the pack with more than 900 families indulging in manual scavenging.

Now let us turn our attention to the TV advertisements about Modi and his Gujarat. It is projected as a state where women do not go walking miles to fetch water and water indeed is supplied to every household. Tall claims but for the fact that in the villages of Jasdan taluka in drought-hit Saurashtra, even today dalit women are not allowed to draw water from the main sump. Jaya Makwana shares her experience: “We have to listen to casteist remarks and are even threatened if we get close to the sump”. Fact 1, there is no direct tap connection to her house. Fact 2, to avoid being abused she walks 3 km under the scorching sun to fetch water. Thorough as he is with history, so he might be with geography too: Jasdan tehsil is not in Gujarat! But the sad tale of woes does not end here.

Unable to bear both injustice and thirst, women from these villages had approached the deputy collector. The result, in the 'best administered' state, led by 'able administrator' is not tapped water but threats for their guts. After all, it is not for nothing Gujarat is called the laboratory of Hindutva experiment. If dalits are not abused in the laboratory, where else they be?

Shrewd politician that he is, Modi tried playing the card of pitting two sections of the downtrodden against each other –dalits against the religious minorities. Hitting out at the Ranganath Misra Commission report for religious and linguistic minorities, Modi said the commission was an attempt to rob the dalits of their rights envisaged in the constitution. Statesman, isn't he?

Dare the dalits escape from the clutches of Hindutva social order, the Gujarat government has recently ordered an inquiry into the mass conversion of dalits to Buddhism at Dungarpur village in Junagadh district. A case of witch-hunting!

Let us come back to Kerala once again and try to decipher the real Modi. In the same address to the people of Kerala, he asked them to fight superstition and give maximum education to their children. Modi said these were the two main things required for development. Lest you be under the mistaken impression of the 'scientific' Modi, he clarifies his position in a meeting in Manipur, where he said that vastu shastra instructs us that if the northeast of your house is good then you will prosper. So, Manipur should be developed. Ignore the dichotomy in what he says, and you could see how cleverly he has elevated vastu shastra to the status of science!

The lesson is, Modi is complex but as the popular saying goes, 'the devil lies in the details'. Tear into the details, you can easily decipher him: he is none other than a rabid, communal, anti-dalit, anti-minority sanghi. Simply, a threat to the country and our future.

G Mamatha People's Democracy

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