Volume 15-05 No:173
India’s widely acclaimed status as the largest democracy in the world fills our heart with a sense of pride. But the nature and extent of distortion of this institution in the process of its application makes us equally concerned. The distortion is conspicuous when it has to interact with the traditional social organisation of the decisive bulk of our population, characterised by the system of caste. In other words caste may be observed as a powerful factor that distorts democracy.
Caste, an age old institution of the Hindus in India, defies precise definition. Among its basic features, however, is a system of hierarchy determined by birth characterising groups in the society, their status ranging from the sacred and dominant, to profane and subservient. This gradation of groups, based on ascription is deeply ingrained in religious beliefs and this hierarchical order has practically remained operative for millennia, getting deeply entrenched in the thoughts and social habits of the people, to the extent that it has remained the only known mode of interaction in the society.
While caste is fundamentally opposed to equality, democracy is based on the principle of equality or progressive equalisation of all in the society. The spectrum of caste does not but view people as either high or low. It provides scale of measurement in terms of social distance and laying rules for the mode of contact and interaction. The sacred and exalted are at the top while ‘untouchables’ and ‘unseeables’ at the bottom. In terms of behaviour the superiors are to be submitted to and the inferiors are to be subjected to subordination.
Caste status is ascriptive and unchangeable in an individual’s life-time. Change can, however, be aspired through the prescribed method of karma only on ‘rebirth’, provided the socio-religious norms are faithfully observed. This belief is designed to serve as an instrument to impel the individual to voluntary submission to the norms of behaviour prescribed by the system with only a promise for achievement in an unknown future.
Historically, however, the system has allowed limited upward social mobility over a period of centuries and perhaps millennia through what has been termed as sanskritization or progressive imbibation of the norms and practices of the superior groups by the inferior ones.
Admittedly caste has not remained absolutely static. Certain aspects of the system have responded to change in the wake of industrialisation, urbanisation and development of mass transport and communication. But the core aspect of the caste i.e., class structure and socio-political dominance resists change.
The introduction of a participatory democracy demanded sharing of political power and national resources on more equitable basis, while the traditional social-cum-class structure based on institutionalised inequality provides a mental frame that resists attempts to undo inequality in any substantial measure.
In the early phase the democracy meant the involvement of a creamy layer of the caste in statecraft. The vast bulk consisting of the deprived strata of the caste society was only herded to the direction which suited the political interest of the dominant upper caste. But as consciousness seeped in among the ‘lower’ strata of society, the age-old exalted position of the traditionally dominant castes began to be threatened. Leadership of most political parties, including the radical ones, it may be pointed out, has remained in the hands of the upper caste. It is only in recent years that a few aspirant for political leadership have emerged from the lower castes to form their own parties.
The growing consciousness among the deprived castes on one hand and unfulfilled aspirations on the other led to the ever increasing frequency of caste conflicts. Caste senas began emerging in parts of the country. There was an upsurge of movements led by Naxalites and People’s War Group. On some other levels agitation for job-reservation became widespread.
The perception of mounting challenge from the deprived castes brought the twice-born up on their heals. While much publicised cosmetic changes were brought about, there was a determined effort to resist relaxation of control over the society, including the decisive political power.
The apprehension of a redefinition of socio-political order, under the mounting pressure of the deprived castes, impelled the vested interests to adopt a number of measures to maintain its dominance. The internal conflict of the caste society was sought to be transferred beyond the boundaries of the caste system, mainly Muslims and later Christians, for the purpose of involving the deprived castes in conflict with them.
In not a very distant past we had been a witness to a determined effort to involve the deprived castes and some times tribal communities in looting and plundering Muslims. Also emotional issues of mosque and temple were raised and there was organized vandalism against the Christian Church with the same objective.
Along with these diversionary ploys, which were destined to be transient, the upper caste political leaders and activists in different political parties began shifting their loyalties to regiment themselves into a party covertly standing for the cause of the upper castes which has several fascist and militant wings. All these taken together are known to constitute a ‘parivar’ but they speak in different voices including some that reject secular democracy and even rule of law when it does not fulfil their aspirations and rely on force of arm.
Incidentally a deeper analysis of the two kinds of conflict generated by the interaction of caste and democracy namely the caste and communal, would indicate that while solution of the communal problem shall mainly involve a psychological approach, the resolution of caste conflict will be dependent upon structural changes in the caste society. Communal tensions may perhaps be avoided by dispelling false and exaggerated notions and prejudices. The problem of inter-caste relationship, on the other hand, can be solved only by bringing about a drastic change in the power structure holding out the prospect of change in the socio-economic status of the downtrodden millions. It will involve the abdication of the position of dominance by the upper castes. With the unfolding of democracy caste conflicts are likely to be more serious in coming years than the present overt communal conflicts, because the privileged class is not supposed to yield easily.
The two sets of conflict, the inter-caste and inter-community, are however, intimately inter-connected, the former is the result of the inherent contradiction between caste and democracy and the latter is the result of efforts to transfer conflict beyond the boundaries of the caste. This adds to the seriousness of communal conflict and their disastrous impact on the helpless minority.
Recent political developments in the country provide clear evidence of a struggle between caste and democracy. In this struggle, if democratic egalitarianism fails in its attempt to discipline the privileged group of the caste system, seeking to maintain control over the caste society, the latter is all set for subverting, distorting and destroying democracy. It is this danger that the country is faced with today. In firmly holding their privileges the twice born may be seen as not only protecting their class interests but also upholding the religio-cultural belief which has played a role in shaping their mind through the ages.
It is noteworthy that instead of launching a movement against their social and economic degradation, the underprivileged castes are fighting for their democratic rights with weapons picked up from the armoury of caste, though this choice is not entirely theirs. Voices are frequently raised against what is known as ‘castism’ but seldom against the caste system, the persistence of which ensures the emergence of its oppressive features. This goes to show that democratic institutions in our country are merely formal and superficial while the traditional institution of the caste is more basic, real and fundamental and is all set for distorting democracy making the civil society non-existent in our country. This deserves serious thinking by the reflective sections of the society.
(* The author is ex-Research Professor, the Asiatic Society, Kolkata.)
Though there has been a resurgence of violence in Kanpur, reminiscent of the classical pattern, yet it has been different in essentially being a clash between the notorious highly communalised Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and Muslims agitated over reports of the burning of copies of the Holy Quran in Delhi. The difference lies in the Vajpayee dispensation taking care to see that the communal flare-up does not assume the form of a hot war between communities where the state of course abets the violence against the minorities; on the other hand, it has all the contours of the cold war, violence of low intensity that keeps the pot boiling but taking care at the same time that it does not overflow. This strategy uses all the tactics that are time-worn through disinformation, rumours and slander that show the minority communities in a light that make them highly suspect in the eyes of the upper castes and the gullible middle classes.
The shooting that took place in the Red Fort area some months ago was ascribed to a Pakistani agent who was shot dead later. Though the media reported that the deceased was from Uttar Pradesh whose parents had come down to claim the body and the people around reacted angrily to this ghastly incident, a veil was drawn over it. Then there was the Milton lunch box found in the North Block which was again alleged to be the handiwork of a Pakistani agent. The latest incident of three men, allegedly Pakistanis shot dead in Lucknow with Pakistan inscribed on their satchel looked stage-managed. The truth is there is a campaign in low key, rendering the whole Muslim community suspect, innuendoes that every incident of bomb blasts and weapons found are traced to some Muslim or other, branded right away as member of the ISI.
The notorious failure of intelligence services during the Kargil war and its repetition in the latest clashes with Bangladesh forces and all those incidents allegedly involving the ubiquitous ISI, and pertaining to the last, neither the police nor the intelligence has been able to present incontrovertible evidence of Indian Muslims playing fifth column in the country; Yet they are suspected to be so.
The whole game or conspiracy of the Vajpayee government led by the rabid Home Ministry is to reduce the minorities, Muslims and Christians in particular to non-persona, almost to the status to which the Dalits have been reduced. Now in the eyes of the Manuvadis, the upper castes, Muslims, Christians and Dalits are in the list of suspects and are most vulnerable because the rule of law itself is eroded. There is no transparency whatsoever in the functioning of the police and the security forces and all their actions are concealed in a shroud of secrecy.
What is most alarming is that even the most secular forces have not woken up to the slow undoing of constitutional safeguards where the Dalits, minorities and other marginalised communities are concerned. The Original Sin of communalism lies with the Congress and its role even now is highly suspect.
These vulnerable communities must wake up to the danger of the slow poison of communal prejudice of low intensity that is steadily destablilising the body politic. To think that the minorities alone will be the target could turn out to be self-deception because the Sangh Parivar and its allies are aiming at the poor and the marginalized. Those who have been made the target must make common cause, seek allies among the poor and afflicted and combat these forces of medieval evil. They must strive to bring about a situation, to quote Seema Mustafa who wrote in a recent article, wherein, “Government pass the test when the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden and the minorities go to sleep at night with a feeling of hope and not terror, to get up the next morning with the sun still shining.”
Demolition of Babri Mosque was one time criminal act but proclaimed attempts to build Ram mandir on the site in Ayodhya is a chain of criminal acts. Demolition of the mosque has no doubt damaged the image of India’s secular outlook. But it is not right to condemn the whole country because the act was engineered and extended by a microscopic section of the mentally derailed group of people. It is well accepted that the vast majority of the Hindus are peace-loving people, cherishing harmony in their social interactions. They have good relationship with Muslims and have unquestionable respect for Muslim shrines. They have condemned demolition of Babri mosque.
But some of the top political leaders under the banner of BJP have openly extended support to the fanatic individuals and group of individuals for destroying the mosque and they also celebrated the demolition. But when they are hauled up before the Liberhan Commission, they are not straight. They lack courage of conviction and offer evasive evidences. They are like tigers outside the courts and cats inside the courts. It is something like a cat drinking milk, while closing the eyes thinking that nobody notices it. Among such politicians are Kalyan Singh, L. K. Advani and Uma Bharati. Each one has special characteristics. Kalyan Singh who was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh at the time of demolition is a Backward Class leader. He has exploded the myth that Backward Classes go along with the minorities as both are specially and economically exploited and neglected. But Kalyan Singh has become immortal by getting his name inscribed among the wreckers of the sacred structure. When summoned by the Commission, he did his best to avoid on some pretext. He wanted the hearing to be transferred to Delhi. But the court did not allow this. He finally appeared before the Commission and gave his testimony. He tried to avoid the responsibility for demolition. It is simply amusing. He is now out of power. He has paid penalty for his immoral and illegal act.
Next come Mr. L. K.Advani and Uma Bharati. Mr. Advani is a senior member of the BJP and is a victim of communal riots in Sindh province of Pakistan. He is the author of Rathyatra whose only object was to arouse the feelings of Hindus so that political mileage can be drawn. He definitely made capital gain and captured political power in U.P. But the people of U.P have learnt a lot by now. Mr. Advani who showed them twinkling stars in the sky has now let them down very badly because the stars are covered by dark clouds. He had to appear before the Commission and give his evidence. But after successfully avoiding his appearance before the Commission on some pretext or the other, he finally landed in the court. His two days evidence before the Commission has earned him a dubious name. He has become a master of contradictions. On the first day, his presentation was unbelievable. He emphatically admitted demolition and held the Karsevaks as totally responsible and blamed them for the wrong done. He used such superlative words as “I am ashamed. I am pained. This should not have been done”.
But his testimony on the second day is shocking. He said that there was no mosque since 1950, as Muslim did not offer any namaz there. What exists is only a mandir. There is no question of reconstruction of a mandir. What has to be done is only renovation. The question is if there was only a mandir, why then the structure was demolished? How does he reconcile himself with his deposition on the first day? What he said on the first day was just whitewashed on the second day. Can we expect the Home minister to offer this conflicting deposition? We respect him. He is an elderly person. He is well educated, sober and cultured. It means he is obviously under pressure from some erratic and fanatic elements.
The beauty is that the moment he made a vertically transformed deposition on the second day, some groups of anti-Babri mosque who had taken considerable time to prepare a structure of Ram mandir to be taken to Ayodhya for installation on March 12, 2002 started blowing the pipe of Mr. Advani. They simply said that all they were doing all these months was only a preparation for renovation of the mandir on the contested site in Ayodhya. This is really a serious issue. These people cannot play with the serious issue of demolition of mosque by changing their tune whimsically. They should realize that the matter is before the commission and also the Supreme Court. It could become contempt of the court. Are there not saner Hindus who could educate these perverted Hindus who are spoiling the great traditions of Hinduism? . The great culture, traditions and values upheld and propagated by Hindu sages, should not be allowed to be demolished. There are venerated swamijis even now who stand for justice, peace, understanding and harmony. Mr. L. K. Advani should meet them often and pray for purification of mind and soul. It is difficult to say that he is communal as an individual. His sister-in-law’s daughter married a Muslim. Mr. Advani was present at the wedding and blessed the couple. When someone asked him to justify his contradictory behaviour, he simply said, “I do not hate Muslims. I respect Islam. The boy and the girl liked each other and got married. Why should I oppose?” Thus is the behaviour of Mr. Advani, the individual.
The other person who needs to be mentioned here is Uma Bharati, a one time “Sanyasini” (a person who has given up worldly pleasure, desires and detached from materialism). She changes her robes quite often to suit the socially conditioned weather. She gives up her primary membership of the party, ministerial berth and becomes a sanyasini. But overnight she changes her robe and drinks the poison of communalism. She testified before the Commission that there was full justification for the demolition of the Masjid as it was the handiwork of the plunderers and wicked people. It is reported that she really became highly excited and extremely happy when the masjid was demolished. But she pleads her innocence before the Commission. This is where the saffron clad sanyasini outwits the rest. Her tribe of sanyasini is an insult to Hinduism, which produced eternal sanyasins, or Rushies like Valmiki, Vishwamitra. It is time that she retires to the forest before she is put behind the bars by the courts.
New Delhi: Two important witnesses have appeared before the Liberhan Commission inquiring into the Babri Masjid demolition case. One of them is the man who was the Prime Minister of the country in December 1992. The other is the person who is presently the Union Home Minister, and was the key person in the 1989-90 campaign for the construction of Ram mandir at the site where Babri masjid stood till it was pulled down by a frenzied mob of BJP and VHP snappers.
But unfortunately, P.V. Narasimha Rao and L.K.Advani have only uttered untruths or half-truths. Neither of the two has owned responsibility for what has been regarded as the most shameful thing to happen. While Rao blamed the BJP government in UP, led by Kalyan Singh, for the sin, Advani held the then Congress government responsible for the situation which led to the demolition of Babri Masjid.
Rao is guilty of inaction. Advani is charged with action in the extreme. As prime minister, Rao had the Constitution which gave much powers to the Centre whenever a state was found failing to discharge its obligation. He had the home ministry on his side, whose secretary Madhav Godbole had prepared a contingency plan in November 1992 to save the Masjid. He also knew that the Supreme Court had given a ruling to maintain the status quo, and that as prime minister, he could not abdicate his power when the court’s order was getting blatantly violated. But ironically, the then prime minister neither acted, nor allowed others, including the para military forces of the Centre, to act. He chose to watch on TV the Babri Masjid demolition. His conscience remained unmoved. Eight years later, he has no remorse. He has left the Liberhan Commission no wiser after his deposition.
Advani’s witness is a case in itself. He told the Commission that he regarded the demolition as unfortunate. But he would not say that it was shameful. In a way, he sought to justify the impatient act of Karsevaks in using chisel and hammer on the tomb of the Masjid when he said that the Karsevaks felt desperate that political leadership could not fulfil the dream of Ram mandir at that site. He expressed his faith in finding a solution through negotiations. But then, who sabotaged the negotiations held between VHP and Babri Masjid leaders when Chandra Shekar was the prime minister? And can you turn away your eyes from the fact that almost the entire prefabricated structure of Ram Mandir is nearly ready in Ayodhya, only needed to be placed at the site. It is a fait accompli, and there is little left for settlement through negotiations.
What is more surprising is that a man of Advani’s stature does not have the courage to own up the entire course of events. He is the one who is being projected as another Sardar Patel. Who does not know that he had led the Rathyatra to mobilize Hindutva forces to build Ram mandir in place of Babri Masjid? Does he need to be reminded that he as BJP president had said that a historical wrong done by Babar had to be corrected? Can he say that the Karsevaks had assembled there in December 1992 only to offer peaceful satyagraha? Then why not own it when it comes to accountability? In fact, the timing and content of Advani’s evidence are designed to deflect people’s attention from Tehelka expose, and to regain the support of Hindutva elements when UP assembly elections are not far away.