'The Manu Smriti mafia still haunts us': A speech by a Pakistani Dalit Rights Leader

 

Surendar Valasai

Probably the first comprehensive political statement for Dalit rights in Pakistan framed in the vocabulary of Dalitism was given in 2007 by Surendar Valasai, who is now the Media Cell Incharge, Bilawal House of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Although Dalit activists have been agitating and struggling in Pakistan since last 30 years, their articulation of Dalit issues remained confused and limited to social activism. Surendar Valasai was the one, along with Dr. Khatumal Jeewan (another PPP leader) who brought Dalitism on the macro political scene. Dalit leadership of PPP is the typical example of how the Dalit case can be projected within a political party; a party which has become the symbol of waderaism, landlordism and the upper caste hegemony. When any issue related to minority rights, human rights or Hindus is raised, these Dalit leaders try their best to argue essentially for Dalit rights despite all political compromises in a political milieu which is nothing but a political system based on caste democracy.

surendar valasai bilawal bhutto

Surendar Valasai, who is also founder-President of Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan, delivered a speech on July 1, 2007 in a workshop at the Central Secretariat, Pakistan People's Party, Karachi, in which he elaborated upon Dalit issues. I share here the text of that speech.

~

At the very outset, I am really grateful to my leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto for taking cognizance of the plight of the Dalits of Pakistan and mobilizing her party to give the issue a serious thinking. Being the largest political party, the PPP is morally bound to take care of the problems of the so-called untouchables or Dalits, called Scheduled Castes in Pakistan. It is a good omen for the Scheduled Castes of Pakistan that the country's most popular leader has taken notice of their sufferings, continuing since millennia.

The issue of caste-based discrimination, untouchability and human inequality, which we have gathered here to discuss has become now an international issue. From the Sahara deserts to Europe, Asia, America, and Australia, the "Hidden Apartheid" of the South Asia against Dalits is being heard with much dismay. United Nations, European Parliament, British Parliament, House of Representatives and the Parliaments of Scandinavian countries have been abuzz with the shameful treatment of 270 million Dalits of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

The cunning Brahmin mind, which introduced the theory that all men are not equal at birth, is getting the kicks all over the enlightened world that follows human equality. Perhaps, now the world understands that the issue of Dalits is the worst ever continuous human rights violation in the history of humankind. The Law of Manu governs the Brahmin minds whether they are in green or saffron colours.

The UN body has finally awakened to the gravity of the most neglected, yet the world's worst issue of human rights violation in the shape of untouchability and discrimination on the basis of one's birth in a caste.

Caste-based discrimination affects one's human dignity and casts a shadow on one's personality. It strangulates confidence and creates an inferiority complex in our generations. The Constitution of Pakistan provides us with equal rights and protects us from being discriminated on the basis of caste etc. But there is no particular law to curb Caste-based discrimination or any form of untouchability.

Caste-based discrimination must not be accepted as a 'norm' and adjusted in one's personality. It is a curse to fight against to restore human equality that is adorned in almost all religions books. The Manu Smriti mafia still haunts us but since its ideology is not indigenous to Pakistan hence it is easy to fight as compared to our Indian Dalit brethren.

The Issue and its Roots

Understanding the issue of Caste-based discrimination and Untouchability in the context of present day Pakistan needs a brief review of the past. The roots of Caste-based discrimination and untouchablity lay in the past history of this region. The ancient scriptures amicably make it known that Caste-based discrimination and untouchability had been the sanctioned practices during the Hindu rulers of South Asia. Manu Smriti even made some specific edicts to institutionalize the two curses. Here is its sample reading:
 

..A low-caste man who tries to place himself on the same seat with a man of high caste shall be branded on his hip and be banished, or [the king] shall cause his buttock to be gashed. (Any form of punishment for this 'crime')...
...A man of low caste, who, through covetousness, lives by the occupations of a higher one, the king shall deprive of his property and banish...
...No collection of wealth must be made a Shudra, even though he be able [to do it], for a Shudra who has acquired wealth gives pain to Brahmins... 
....A Brahmin may confidently seize the goods of [his] Shudra [slave], for, as that [slave] can have no property, his master may take his possessions [_]...

 The words 'Brahmin' and 'King' are synonymous to rulers or those wielding influence of certain areas. The above-mentioned practices continued in one or the other form and manifested during Mughal period and then during the Colonial era because they needed the support of influential, wealthy and the warrior castes to sustain their rule. Perhaps caste-based discrimination or human inequality can arguably be considered as few of the key factors that led to the struggle for an independent Pakistan for Muslims and subsequent partition of sub-continent. It was during the Pakistan movement that on August 15, 1944, Founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah stated at a Press conference, "I can tell my friends of the Scheduled Castes that at no time have I overlooked their interests and position and I may claim that in the past I have done all I could to help them, and I shall always stand for their protection and safeguard in any future scheme of constitution for I think that the wrongs and injustices inflicted on them for centuries should not be allowed to continue under any civilized form of government."

Though Caste-based discrimination and untouchability went with India in its original form after partition, the same lingered on in an adulterated form in certain parts of Pakistan after August 14, 1947. The new nation could not frame its Constitution at an early stage where some measures could have been taken to address this issue. A Constitution was written in 1956 which made some specific provisions for the development of Scheduled Castes. However, this Constitution was abrogated a few years later.

On November 12, 1957, the Ministry of Law issued a Presidential ordinance to declare certain non-Muslim castes to be the Scheduled Castes for the purpose of Constitution. Some 40 castes were added to this Schedule. The Ordinance was called the Scheduled Castes (Declaration) Ordinance, 1957. One understands that the idea of this Ordinance and phrase 'purpose of Constitution' were ingrained in the words of Quaid-e-Azam. In this background, a six-percent job quota was reserved for the persons of Scheduled Castes in the Government of Pakistan departments, though it was less than 1 per cent if estimated on national level percentage. However, the sordid fact remains that this quota was never implemented in letter and spirit till its life ended in 1998 in regrettable circumstances. This quota needs to be restored and introduced in provinces too as per the vision of Quaid-e-Azam. One is sure these curses could have been completely alien to our society had the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah not just died a year after the birth of Pakistan.

Before touching on the social, political and economic measures to deal with the issue, I would like to inform this workshop that research on Caste-Based Discrimination is being conducted in Pakistan by PILER in cooperation with International Dalit Solidarity Network and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. This research would prove that whatever I had been voicing since last 17 years is very much right.

Social, Political & Economic Measures

The Scheduled Castes or Dalits form between 70 to 80 per cent of the total population registered under the Constitutional nomenclature of "Hindus & Scheduled Castes", yet their representation in political or elected forums is negligible. Look at the Provincial Assembly of Sindh for example: Out of nine reserved seats for the minority, eight belong to so-called Upper Caste Hindus who form between 20 to 30 per cent of total Hindu & Scheduled Castes population.

Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world, where separate utensils are kept for different Dalit castes even at one of its Chief Minister's House. From a barber shop to a rural hotel, untouchability and caste discrimination is visible in it's naked form.

The Scheduled Castes people (barring few entries in country's middle-class) continue to be dumped in the slough of poverty. Stark poverty is another root cause of all the evils that continue to engulf them. Their castes are synonymous to poverty and oppression. From untouchables during undivided India to Scheduled Castes in present day Pakistan, much distance is yet to be covered to make this journey for them a memorable and historic event. Honest and patriotic eyes and ears of the country cannot deny that caste discrimination, in any form or manifestation, is practiced against the Scheduled Castes like Meghwal, Kolhi, Bheel, Bagdis, Bhangis. Caste-based discrimination and untouchability are there but in different forms and manifestations and need to be eliminated.

Thus, I would like to place following recommendations before this workshop and request you all to adopt these recommendations unanimously.

  1. Caste Discrimination and Untouchability of any form and manifestation must be declared a punishable act under the law. Unless and until a law is not enacted which specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, untouchability and human inequality in any sphere of life, the required change could not come much quickly. Under such a law, the victim or any witness may be eligible to file a complaint about the incident where Caste-based discrimination or untouchability has been practiced.
  2. Fighting against poverty among the Scheduled Castes, perhaps, is the key sector to work on to eliminate the social implications of caste-based discrimination. One is sure that the number of people living below the poverty-line from different Scheduled Castes in Pakistan could be anywhere between 70 to 80 per cent.
  3. Separate seats may be reserved in the Parliament for Scheduled Castes as per their population ratio to ensure their voice is heard at the national level.
  4. A National Commission on Scheduled Castes may be constituted to hear the complaints of caste and racial discrimination and take necessary and required action.
  5. The Government of Pakistan should ensure justifiable representation of Scheduled Castes in national institutions and departments like PIAC, Banks, DFIs, Pakistan Steel, etc. and jobs in both Federal and Provincial governments.
  6. The Government of Pakistan should allot land to landless Scheduled Castes peasants on a priority basis and get vacated their ancestral lands fraudulently occupied by caste people in Tharparker district or where ever they have.
  7. The Government of Pakistan should create a separate fund for helping the destitute, orphans, widows and poor individuals of Scheduled Castes under the Pakistan Baitul Mal as per their population ratio.
  8. The Government of Pakistan should protect the Scheduled Castes from being threatened, exploited, victimized, and dislodged from their ancestral abodes by the caste people on any pretext, which is directly or indirectly connected to caste prejudice, by providing them easy access to legal remedies.
  9. The Government of Pakistan should introduce "Human Equality" in the primary and secondary text-books.
  10. The Government of Pakistan should give the proprietary rights of the plots they are dwelling on since more than one generation.
  11. The Government of Pakistan should introduce caste column in the National Census of the population for the Constitutional identification of "Hindus & Scheduled Castes" for knowing their accurate population.
  12. All the political parties should give due representation to the Scheduled Castes in their organizational structure and nominations to the Senate, National Assembly, Provincial Assemblies and the District Governments during elections.
  13. All the political parties should accord due consideration to the issue of caste discrimination and untouchability and make efforts to remove where-ever these are practiced.

Thank you very much for listening.

Jeay Bhutto!

The speech has been introduced and transcribed by Sufi Ghulam Hussain

  ~~~

Surendar Valasai is Founder-President, Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Sufi Ghulam Hussain is a doctoral scholar at Bielefeld University, Germany. He is doing research on caste politics and Dalit assertions in Pakistan. He can be reached at:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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