Dialogue October- December, 2007, Volume 9 No. 2
Nandigram and Taslima Episodes
The two episodes – Nandigram and the expulsion of Taslima Nasreen from Kolkata, both in the CPI (M) run West Bengal – have exposed our weaknesses as never before. Nandigram brought to light the lack of policy formulation at the national level on such vital economic issues, as land acquisition for industrialization and other purposes. The ideal situation was to be a decision based on the consensus among Indian political parties. The lack exposes the Congress, BJP, the left and all other parties to popular audit, which they are not going to face due to obvious reasons. Apart from this glaring weakness of our political system, the two episodes have exposed the hypocrisy of our political parties, intellectual and the political/academic/social activists.
For nine months, Nandigram was virtually a war zone. Trinamul Congress cadres and the activists of Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), with least regard for democratic norms and procedures, indulged in violent acts of intimidation, arson and beating. Of course, the game was initiated by violence-prone highly-armed CPI (M) cadres. The former prevented CPI (M) sympathizers from coming to their homes. Moreover, the Trinamul Congress did not consider it wrong to align with the communal, extremist (Naxalite) and criminal elements. The CPI (M) cadres recaptured Nandigram by adopting the same technique about which Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister, said that the protesters were “paid back in their own coin”. While saying so he forgot that he heads an elected government which is supposed to work within law and it was his government’s duty to protect the citizens, irrespective of their being the followers of the left front or the Trinamul Congress or none. The violence by the cadre of the ruling combination was certainly more culpable. The conduct of the police in being silent spectators compounds the sins of the ruling party. The mass graves, with the skeletons of the persons killed – including women and children — at Nandigram exposes the weaknesses of the politics and administration of the state.
Highly selective attitude of the left – parties, organizations and individuals – towards violence, citizen’s suffering and discrimination is a well-known phenomena. Leftist intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali advised against criticizing the CPI (M)’s doings in Nandigram as, according to them, it amounted to playing into the US’ ‘imperialist’ hands. The statements of party affiliated academics – Irfan Habib, Prabhat and Utsa Patnaik, and others – on Nandigram practically condoned the violence and seem to regret that it has provided an opportunity to the BJP and others to attack the Left Front government, rather than condemn.
Kolkata had a peace rally a month ago by the intellectuals of West Bengal protesting against the violence in Nandigram. It was followed by another peace rally by the CPI (M) affiliated intellectuals. Even NBA leader joined the chorus of protest. The question is: why there was no timely protest by the intellectuals of Kolkata when CPI (M) supporters of Nandigram were prevented from coming to their homes for so long? How to justify their insensitivity towards the sufferings of the latter?
In the aftermath of these developments, a protest rally was organized by All India Minority Forum (AIMF) to focus on the Nandigram issue. The focus, however, shifted from politico-economic issue of resettlement at Nandigram to that of the extension of visa to Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. There were slogans demanding her ouster and non-extension of the visa. The agitators started road blockade, attacked passing vehicles and even police personnel. The motive behind yoking of the two unrelated issues and the shift of focus was obviously communal. They wanted to provoke the security forces and create a violent situation in larger area. The West Bengal government called in the army and the situation was brought under control. What was more shameful and hypocritical on the part of the state government was the unceremonious shift of Ms. Nasreen to Jaipur without even informing the Rajasthan govt. She charged that the Kolkata police pressurised her to leave that city. CPI (M) leader and Left Front chairman Biman Bose’s unscrupulous statement was equally shocking. He said that the Bangladeshi writer must leave Kolkata if her stay disturbed the peace. He, however, retracted his statement next day. It shockingly revealed that vote-bank politics has sunk to its nadir and secular pretensions of the Left Front was in shreds.
Ms. Nasreen is basically a humanist writer. She constantly writes against the human rights violation against the Hindu minority – most of whom not yet forced to leave that country are Dalit Namshudras — and women of her country. Obviously, it is not liked by Muslim fundamentalists of Bangladesh. The fact, which has come to light in the last four months in this country, is more revealing and shocking that Muslim fundamentalists’ thinking in Bangladesh and in India is identical and the extremists on both sides of the border have joined hands against her. Taslima Nasreen was attacked in Hyderabad by some Muslim fundamentalists in August this year; she was again targeted in Kolkata the other day; and when she reached Jaipur, a Muslim organization threatened her and she was shifted to Delhi. As reported she is virtually under house arrest.
Ms.Nasreen is not an average writer, as his critics allege. She is a brave lady with tremendous moral courage. Though hounded by the religious fanatics of her country, she continued to speak for the oppressed sections of her people. She was forced to seek shelter in Scandinavian countries and then stayed in Kolkata for few years up to the other day. And now there is pressure from Islamist groups to turn her out of the country. We are happy that Pranab Mukherjee, our External Affairs Minister, has assured her asylum, advised her restraint. In the meantime, Ms Nasreen has withdrawn the two pages of her book, Dwikhandito, basing on which the West Bengal government banned the book earlier. Incidentally, Calcutta High Court did not find anything objectionable in the book. The question is: whose verdict should run in this country? Court’s or that of the fundamentalist pressure groups, which frequently indulge in violence and rioting to force the malleable governments to bend rather than taking action against them? Besides, the question remains: If Ms. Nasreen got, visa and extensions for the last four years after writing her alleged passages what has changed now for the government to surrender?
The pressure tactics of the Islamist outfits worked when they forced the governments, on both sides of the borders, to ban Lajja, which only truthfully depicted the sad state of minority affair in Bangladesh Dwikhandito was banned as it described the sad plight of the womenfolk. These undesirable steps of banning the books emboldened the bigots to indulge in rioting. The latest act of the drama has already been enacted. The governments, rather than taking action against the professional offence mongers, have submitted to them. The competitive politics of vote-bank has emboldened them so much that one declares publicly to pay Rs 5 five lakh as the price of her head and goes unpunished.
After withdrawal of the passages from her book, Maulana Mahmood Madani, general ecretary of Jamait Ulema-e-Hind has excused her, but not the other outfits.
State leader of the Jamait and convener of the Milli Ittehad Parishad – a forum of 12 outfits – Siddiqullah Choudhury said: “Madani Saheb was probably not fully aware of the blasphemous contents of Taslima’s Bengali books. … We should not judge her today’s words but wait to she what see does”. One of his colleagues advised the state not to take the “extra burden of hosting her again”, as it is already “burdened” with Nandigram. Obviously, what happened in Central Kolkata the other day was not the last act of the drama.
The Taslima Nasreen episode has put a big question mark before the country as a secular democracy. We are face-to-face with our hypocrisy today. The ruling elite continued to suffer from myopia, and allowed the change in demographic texture and growth of fundamentalism/terrorist modules for short-term political gain. The price is eventually to be paid. The silence of our intellectuals/academicians, especially the so- called liberals –except for few exceptions like Mahashweta Devi — in this case is puzzling. Some of them have the temerity of comparing Taslima Nasreen with M.F. Hussain. What should be worrying us is that this episode has equated us with Bangladesh, which is a declared Islamic state, and sent a message that if you put a religious gloss on your violent activities, the state shall succumb and start rationaling its cowardice. The bottom line in this case is that it is not Taslima Nasreen who is on trial, it is the Indian State which has failed its people and its Constitution. It also needs mention that these developments have revealed the real colour of Indian intellectuals; it has, once more, confirmed that they are mere politicized mercenaries and activists.
Tackling Terror and Insurgency
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing the chief ministers on internal security on December 20, 2007, referred to the Dantewara jailbreak and described Naxalism as a “virus” and the “single biggest” security challenge to the Indian State. He said that “every possible step must be taken to free our citizens from the shadow of terror”, and reiterated the “need to cripple the hold of Naxalite forces with all the means at our command”. He asked the chief ministers to cut the flow of funds to Naxals who extort money from contractors and tendu patta operations in the hinterland. The message was clear: “Crush Naxals”, “Can’t rest in peace before virus is eliminated”. He warned that Naxalite violence could intensify; he also underlined the need of precise and actionable intelligence as the key to fighting them. The Prime Minister wanted the states to raise special force to crush Naxalism and assured all help to them. He wanted the vacant posts of the police force in the states to be filled up.
None will disagree that the menace of Naxalism cannot be eliminated without what the Prime Minister wants. Not only that these steps are essential even to curb the ethnic insurgency in the North-East and the resurgence of terrorism promoted by Islamist networks spread throughout the country. Here it needs mention, and it is unfortunate, that such announcements, made at the heated moments, are often forgotten after the lapse of time. Let us hope such things will not happen this time and the states will faithfully implement what the Prime Minister advised. However, as a word of caution, it may be said that only the steps mentioned above will not lead us to success in this war against terrorism. The war shall have to be fought and won on several fronts.
The terrorists – whether ultra-left, ethnic or Islamist jehadis – have many support lines. Many cases have come to light that they help and, in turn, are helped by the politicians/political parties, even bureaucrats and others. A large number of foreign agencies directly or indirectly provide support to the terrorist and insurgent outfits. They receive help from our neighbouring countries; have networking with the terrorist outfits of this country and that of the foreign ones. This includes intra- and inter-national human rights organizations. All the support lines should be severed and the propaganda in their support be properly answered if we want to succeed in the fight against terrorism.
The strongest support, which the terrorist and secessionist of this country receive, is from a section of our intellectuals and mediamen. The latter help the former by justifying their wrong deeds in one way or the other, churn out myths, distort their deeds and create confusion in the minds of the common man about terrorist outfits. By such actions, they establish the credibility of the terror groups in public mind; a general impression is created that the insurgents fight for the just cause and for the good of the society. Often the Naxalite terror is justified on the plea that there is injustice in the society and their fight is against the same; that they fight for the poor and the deprived. They ignore the simple fact that the proclaimed Naxalite struggle is for capturing power and power alone; that the victims of the Naxalite terror, except for few exceptions, are only the poorest of the poor; that their guns are pointed mostly towards the victims of injustice and not towards the perpetrators of injustice. Development works in the Naxal- infested areas badly suffers because they exact levy on the development funds and protect the most corrupt officers. Naxalites have rehabilitated the criminals most. The situation in the areas infested by ethnic and jehadi outfits are in no way better. Unfortunately, the intellectual front is the weakest one for the Central and the State governments in the fight against the terror.
It is also the crisis of delivery system and governance which should draw our immediate attention. The State machineries must be sensitized to ensure that it delivers. Fiscal mismanagement, corruption and leakage of resources should be controlled. It is sad that these maladies persist even in the States which are severely affected by Naxalite menace. Take the case of Jharkhand. According to a survey conducted by Prabhat Khabar, a popular daily published from Ranchi and elsewhere, Rs 1596 crore was eaten up by the officials and terrorist outfits in a year out of the money allotted for different development schemes. District-wise commission rates were Hazaribagh (50%), Dumka (50%), Ramgarh (50%), Giridih (45%), Simdega (45%), Gumla (40%), Gadhwa (40), Pakur (36%), Jamtara (35%) and Koderma (28%). Scheme-wise commission rates were Rural Development (51%), Irrigation Schemes (56%), Road Construction (54%), NAREGA (35%), Public Distribution System (50%), District Level Schemes 45%), MESO Schemes (39%), Construction work in Education Department (56%) and Indira Awas Yojana (26%). This is not only the index of corruption in an acutely terrorist- infested state, but also the index of corruption, mal-administration, fiscal-mismanagement, insensitivity and lack of political will. The outcome on the terror fight front may be well-imagined.
Myopic decisions at the top due to selfish political reasons are also coming in the way of solving the problems. The government’s political squeamishness over Islamist terror, for example, has led to rely on Technical intelligence (Techint) only rather than on Techint and Humint (Human Intelligence) both. We are still going soft on the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh in spite of the aliens’ increasing involvement in day to day terrorist acts and networking between the terrorists of all kinds. In the light of the recent developments, it is necessary to have a foolproof national policy on terrorism. .There should be free flow of information on terrorism and no to self-imposed censure.
Caste and the Social Justice
Lyall, a British colonial functionary in India, propounded a myth that “India is a confused entity of castes, tribes, religions, sects, languages, dialects, etc., and the only uniting factor is the British Empire”. For him, India was an imaginary state administratively created by the British and the Indian society, for him, was an unrelated, even conflicting diversity. Keeping the empire’s interest in mind, the colonial masters summoned the resources – both material and intellectual – to conduct all kinds of surveys, including ethnographic and linguistic, caste surveys; planned monographs on castes and tribes, aimed at focusing on Indian divide. No attempt was made to develop macro perception of Indian society based on the micro studies with a view to discover the grand unity and cultural continuum. The Aryan aggression theory, the racist interpretation of the society, culture and history, and all such myths and hypotheses were the part of the same game. The aim was to divide with the colonial interest in mind.
Abbe J.A. Dubois advised war against the intellectual Hinduism and denigration of the Brahmins, without which, according to him, it was not possible to convert Indians to Christianity. The caste system and the Brahmins were considered to be the greatest obstacles in the way of proselytization to the new faith. The Christian missionaries also joined with greater zeal in denigrating caste and the Brahmins and in the researches highlighting Indian social divide. St. Xavier thought that the Brahmins, being highly revered class, stood between Christianity and the heathens and, therefore, they should be destroyed. A strategy was proposed that Hinduism should be used against Hinduism. Things became more complicated, when the Communists joined the game.
While demonizing the Brahmins and denigrating the caste, two myths were created: (i) the Brahmins debarred other castes from getting education, and (ii) the caste system was highly exploitative and oppressive. Fortunately for us, many earlier foreign writers were comparatively more honest. Their writings of late 18th and early 19th century disprove the myths. English educated Indian scholars often ignore such valuable documents, as they have developed a perverted outlook towards the institution of caste due to colonized mindset. They have developed the habit of viewing their own society through borrowed vision.
Poverty and illiteracy were the gifts of British colonialism to this vast country. In spite of burning of the libraries and destruction of educational institutions during the Sultanate and Moghal periods, the education and literacy was more in India when the British came. Similarly, poverty increased during the British rule. The British, during the early period of their rule, conducted surveys in the presidencies of Madras and Bombay to ascertain the state of indigenous education. The Madras Report by Sir Thomas Munro, the Governor, was very extensive. The same was the case of Survey of Indigenous Education in the Province of Bombay and the unofficial report of W. Adam, A Report on the State of Education in Bengal (1835, 1836, 1838). Punjab came under British rule only in 1849. G.W. Leitner, the Principal of Government College, Lahore, and sometime the Director of Public Instruction, Punjab, prepared a report, which was published as History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab since Annexation and in 1882. Dharampal, basing on these surveys and the data collected in British and Indian archives, wrote The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century.
These surveys/reports and the books disprove many myths prevailing in India about our education. These studies reveal that education was widespread and practically every village had one or more school; the education was for all; teachers were from all the communities including Dalits. The data counters the popular myth spread by the colonial administrators and Christian missionaries that education in India was monopolized by the Brahmins. For example, in Madras Presidency, less than 25% students attending traditional elementary and advanced institutions of learning were Brahmins (the percentage was still less in today’s Tamil Nadu); 48.8% were Shudras and 15.7% were still lower castes, including untouchables. In Bengal and Bihar, the percentage of Brahmin students was less than 25% and that of the teachers only 11%. The claim of the missionaries about their role in the education of the low castes was exposed by Adam. Thirteen missionary schools of Burdwan had only one Chandal, three Dom and not even one Mochi students, whereas, the traditional schools had sixty, fifty-eight and sixteen students respectively of these communities.
By plugging the traditional source of income from the revenue of the land allotted for the purpose and pauperization of the local chieftains who supported such schools, the British, systematically, destroyed the traditional indigenous system of education. The country further relapsed into illiteracy and ignorance.
India was still the richest country of the world when the British arrived on Indian scene by the end of 17th century. They systematically destroyed our crafts and village industries, the prosperous artisans became poor landless labourers. They increased land revenue four-times or more, breaking the backbone of agriculture, introduced barbaric begari system as an extra tool of plunder. They were responsible for introducing exploitative Jamindari system. They introduced highly expensive system of administration and in this endeavour they made local rulers their partners. The Maharaja of Jaipur was getting Rs.1000 till 1818 for his expenses. As soon as the British took the princely state under their protection, the expenditure became Rs.1000 per day. The other expenses of the state were curtailed. The topmost officer of Tipu Sultan, the governor of Chitradurg, was getting only a hundred rupees a month; whereas a labourer at that time was getting Rs.4 a month. The English District Collector and the member of the Governor’s Council started getting Rs.1500 and Rs 6000 to Rs 8000 respectively. The wages of the labourers and craftsmen became one-third or at best half in Karnatak in 1850 in comparison to that in 1760. Thus the British were responsible for making this country extremely poor.
The various data, reports and District Gazetteers reveal that the lowest castes in the society were well-placed and well paid in the villages and in the village administration. A report showing consumption pattern of the people graded in three groups and 23 items consumed by them including rice, ghee, oil, clothes, even betel-nut, could not find any appreciable difference in their consumption pattern except in quality of rice and clothes, number of betel-nut consumed by the families of the three grades and a few minor details. In Agra, even the poorest man did not eat khichri without ghee. The early European observers were astonished to find no appreciable difference between the lifestyles of the rich and well-placed and that of the poor ones in this country. The British plundered this country; pauperized it to the extreme; made the people illiterate; and shamelessly blamed the oppressed for the same.
Only a thousand years ago, Al-Beruni came. He mentions about the existence of only four castes in the Indian society and all of them were taking food at one place. Thus fission of four castes (in reality varnas) into thousands of castes and sub-castes and untouchability is certainly a post-Turk phenomenon. The negative developments included change from economic to matrimonial parameter, shrinking of the sphere of endogamy; conversion of guilds into endogamous castes. Caste, in the present form and as perceived by the Western scholars and the missionaries, is a negative development; casteism promoted and strengthened by the colonial Census establishment and post-independence Indian politicians is the worst. Al-Beruni mentions about the plunder, destruction and loss of Hindu sciences due to Mahmud’s aggressions. The sciences retired far away from the areas of aggression, the society relapsed into ignorance. Our wisdom is preserved only by our neighbours in many cases. For example, out of 4,000 Sanskrit books translated in Tibetan, only 200 are traceable today in this country.
The material and mental poverty brought sufferings and social evils, such as deprivation and untouchability. The civil society and the state should join hands to eliminate the last traces of the same. The success may be delayed if the creamy layers of the deprived sections of our society become insensitive and develop vested interests in acting as pressure groups, pocketing the benefits for their families and relatives only, and thereby perpetuating the evil. The individuals, families and groups, who are benefited by availing the benefits of positive discrimination, must leave the field for less fortunate ones. The violent competition to claim primitivity must end and end soon
— B.B. Kumar
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