Romancing the Caste Violence

 

Dr. N. Sukumar

Mr. Venkaiah Naidu in the Indian Express dated 1st May 2017 (Romancing the Maoists) took umbrage at the human rights activists maintaining silence over the killing of security forces in Chhatisgarh. Violence in any form needs to be condemned. But why is the Honourable Minister so selective in condeming violence? It is equally important to comprehend the multiple forms of violence that assail our society in contemporary times.

development genocide

In the Prime Minister's Mann ki Baat broadcasts, there is a studied silence on the Dadri lynching, Una attack, Rohith's institutional murder and the list is long. Should I believe that for the Honourable Prime Minister, there exist two Indias, one is brahmanical and the other comprises the mlechhas? In the article, the minister refers to the Maoists misguiding the poor villagers. There is an element of mockery in the comment as if the villagers lack agency to decide their fate and are easily swayed by any ideology. The villages are not oases of peace and tranquility but also reflect the contradictions over caste, class and gender. One also needs to decode the nomenclature of a region/space being declared a disturbed area. When Dalits are boycotted in a village, does the state declare it as a distubed area? How does one read the 'velivada' which provided refuge to Rohith and his friends when they were kicked out by Appa Rao, who represents caste hegemony in Hyderabad University? It's not that Bastar, Kashmir or the North East are 'disturbed'. Rather it's the brahmanical mind which is unable to comprehend any discourse on rights. Unfortunately, it's not only the Maoist ideology that fosters violence, the Hindutva canonical texts ranging from the Manusmriti and Gita, to the ideologues- Savarkar, Golwalkar to name a few, believe in ethnic cleansing. Inspired by their ideology, Godse pulled the trigger on Mahatma Gandhi.

Mr Naidu mentioned that the attack shocked the conscience of every right thinking Indian and that the Maoists and terrorists do not want peace and wish to undo the fruits of development. This begs the question- how do you understand 'Peace'? The everyday violence against Dalits, enforcing cultural hegemony on women, attacking students and teachers in the universities in the name of nationalism, stigmatizing people on the basis of their color and culninary choices, all these are presumably very 'peaceful' acts. Who is afraid of equality, of promoting dissent? Your ideology demeans human beings, atleast those who protest your 'Aryan culture'. You are willing to spend crores of public money on huge statues for Shivaji and Sardar Patel, Aadhar cards/ambulances for cows, is this 'sabka saath' and 'sabka vikas'? The state sponsored campaigns on love-jihad, anti-romeo squads, gau-rakshak dals and 'nationalising' such divisive ideologies through vindictive campaigns has only perpetuated violence within the country. Is this not Human Rights violation?

Babasaheb Ambedkar characterized Hindu caste society as a veritable chamber of 'horrors'. The survivors of Kanchikacherla, Karamchedu, Tsunduru, Vempenta, Lakimpet, Laxmanpur-Bathe, Jehanabad, Khairlanji, Mirchpur, Laxmipet, Jhajjar, Dharmapuri... the list continues, are still battling for elusive justice. In the case of Tsunduru, the accused were charged under the POA Act and the Special Court in July 2007 convicted 21 persons to life imprisonment, 35 sentenced to a year's punishment and the rest acquitted. The accused appealed against the verdict to the High Court which set them free citing that the prosecution failed to prove the exact time of death, place of occurrence and the identity of attackers. Presumably, any caste or communal conflagration will be conducted with a prior notice, the identity of both the victims and perpetrators evident and the location also being fixed. Having said this, one needs to take cognizance of the shoddy forensic investigation which is routine in India. In the Khairlanji violence, there was no mention of any sexual brutality though bodies of Surekha and Priyanka Bhotmange were mutilated. The rationality behind both the judgements is extremely unfathomable. Both the Courts sifted through similar evidence and went through same arguments. What changed in the interval of seven years (2007, Special Court) and 2014 (High Court Division Bench)? What rubs salt in the wounds of these victims are the grandiloquent sentiments, "every endeavour must be made by persons and organizations to inculcate human values and mutual respect." It is akin to asking the sheep to lie down with the wolves. When the accused and the victims both inhabit the same social space, how do you broker peace?

The SC Commission Report 2016 lists the total number of crimes against Scheduled Castes across the country. The highest rates are in Uttar Pradesh followed by Rajasthan and Bihar. As far as rate of crime is concerned, the major States are Rajasthan (65.7%), Andhra Pradesh (48.7%), Bihar (47.6%), Madhya Pradesh (36.6%), Chhattisgarh (32.6%) Odisha (31.5%), Telangana (31.2%), Gujarat (27.7%), Kerala (26.8%), which have rate of crime above the national average (23.4%). This is the tip of the iceburg as scores of cases go unreported. Surely, these statistics reflect the hold of varnashrama dharma on our society.

The Naidus of Chinnagorpadu village are yet to sanction a road to my Dalitwada and during the last state assembly election (2014), for two weeks water supply to the Dalit and OBC households was disrupted, pipes were broken and ditches were dug to prevent vehicular movement. The struggle for a motorable road is being waged for four decades. For a populace, abandoned by political institutions, denied space by society and with hunger gnawing at their bodies, they seek solutions to assuage their dignity. It was left to the Naxalites, whom the state labels as 'Red Terror' to revenge Karamchedu and Laxmanpur-Bathe. If Ambedkar were to witness our troubled times, he would have given a clarion call to blow out the structure of political democracy which has been rendered impotent. The space for dialogue is shrinking, hope is dying out and in an impatient atmosphere, the 'untouchable citizens' would have no option but to seek alternatives, however aggressive they may be.

The entire article by the Honourable Minister is reminiscient of the pot calling the kettle black. In order to enhance its pan Indian appeal, the Sangh Parivar is shopping for icons to buttress its claims to national glory. Historical personalities from various regions have been selectively appropriated while sanitising any radical ideas espoused by them. Sankaradev, Rani Gaidinliu, Narayana Guru, Basava and many others are now part of the saffron pantheon. You made your peace with Gandhi, Sardar Patel is venerated by you and now there is a systematic campaign to appropriate Ambedkar. But this is a very tricky enterprise for even a cursory reading of Ambedkar's ideas would reflect his struggles against entrenched caste and religious prejudices. Just to illustrate, almost eight decades ago, Babasaheb mentioned to Gandhi that "I have no Homeland. No Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land". This poignant statement strikes a chord even today as our democratic landscape is littered with putrefied bodies of countless victims whom the state and civil society callously ignored with impunity.

An abridged version of this article was sent to the Indian Express as a rejoinder to Mr. Venkaiah Naidu's article on 1st May 2017. Apparently the mainstream media lacks courage to challenge the ruling ideology. Precisely, this is the reason that www.roundtableindia.co.in plays a vital role to debate and counter hegemonic ideas in today's dark times.

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 N. Sukumar is Professor, Political Science in Delhi University. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Illustration by Unnamati Syama Sundar

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