Islamic Voice
Jamadi Ul Akhir 1422
September 2001
Volume 15-09 No:177

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OPINION


Caste and India
US Sinophobia: China as the 'New Threat'

Caste and India

Indian government can condemn racism of all hues but fights shy of equating home-grown casteism with race.

Hasan Mansur

It is a sad reflection on the state of the Muslim intelligensia that seems to be wholly indifferent to the debate raging over the whole country on the theme of caste oppression that is sought to be discussed as part of the agenda at the UN sponsored “World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”,(WCAR) in Durban, South Africa beginning at the end of August 2001. Seemingly,caste has little to do with Islam, but it has very much to do with Muslims; this is a harsh truth that has not come home to the community. The Indian Government is seeking refuge in the term “racism”, claiming it has little to do with caste. Eloquent when South Africa was in the dock over the issue of Apartheid, this government is shying away from discussing caste which the rest of the world is yet to realise has wide ramifications in Indian society.

The scheduled castes or the Dalits are still treated as untouchables particularly in rural India; till recently they were not even to be “seen” or “heard” in some parts of the land. The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented how on each day of the year a certain number of dalits are either killed or maimed, their women raped, their homes burnt and their meagre properties destroyed. Apartheid at its worst could not rival caste oppression here. Earlier, India had agreed rather unwittingly to discuss discrimination that arose from “work and descent-based discrimination” but realized rather late that Dalits could featutre under this. In the annual report tabled in the Parliment in the third week of August 2001 on the working of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the number of cases registered all over the country stood at 28,284; only one fifth of the cases had been disposed of by the courts while the conviction rate was 1.14 %.

It does not behove a government whose HRD secretary was all gaga over description of pure Aryan ancestry of blue-eyed and fair complexioned Kashmiri pandits.

Of course, it goes unstated that there are thousands of cases that go unreported yet the Indian state wants a curtain to be drawn over this deplorable condition. As under Apartheid if race were to be based on colour, the upper castes here are guilty too.The Rig Veda as the founding document on the Hindu social order furnishes references to an initial division of society into the arya-varna and the dasa-varna, the latter described as short-statured and dark-complexioned. Further of the two terms most frequently used to define caste (Varna and Jathi), Varna which is used to categorise the four groups (Brahmana, Kshatriya,Vaishya and Shudra) derives from the root meaning “colour”. The four colours associated with these groups are white, red, yellow and black respectively. It can be clearly seen how notions of pure and the polluted and commensuratedly sacred and profane were apportioned to the castes.Coming to the present, it has come to notice how the honourable secretary to the Human Resources Devlopment Ministry broke into song and dance over the features of the Kashmiri Pandits as a group, describing their exculsivity as “befits the representative of a race composed entirely of Brahmins”, their “fair” complexion and “light-blue or green eyes” as evidence of being “pure Aryan and have retained the purity of their blood”. On this count alone caste as race could feature on the UN agenda. It is not accidental that Zionism as racism is likely to be on the agenda too, though the USA has threatened to boycott the conference if this happens. Palestinians make a distinction between Judiasm as faith and Zionism as political, territorial and exclusivist, hence racist.

This is a view endorsed by all enlightened people, be they Christian, Muslim or otherwise. Islam undoubtedly has been the most liberating of all faiths that proclaim equality of all humans, be they male or female. This is amply demonstrated in the annual Hajj that brings peoples of all nationalities, colour and region from all over the world; discrimination has no place in it. It behoves that all those who profess Islam must reject forthwith all forms of discrimination including race or caste.”Xenophobia” is a part of the agenda in Durban and this mindset is amply demonstrated here which shuns Muslims and Christians as aliens, giving rise to genocidal killings. The mindset that is rooted in the conviction that inequality is just in a caste-structured society, the theology that sanctions killing in the belief that the body though killed, leaves the soul immortal, hence it is no crime at all, the woman as unequal, the male celebrated as macho-man or masculinity could be described as saffronised racism which is the most mortal danger to Indian democracy. The battle is not only in Durban, but has to be fought on the home turf right here and now. This is a crucial battle for survival to be waged by all those discriminated against, the backward classes, Dalits, tribals and the minorities in alliance with all those who have faith in the democratic ethos. None should shirk this challenge, least of all those who profess Islam which is totally opposed to discrimination of all shades.

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US Sinophobia

China as the 'New Threat'

Chandra Muzaffar

The US remains determined to maintain its hegemony over Asia despite end of the cold war. The collision between a US EP-3E Aries II spy-plane and a Chinese military jet on April 1 this year is a stark reminder to everyone - especially the people of Asia - of the continuing role of the US in global politics. In spite of the end of the cold war, the US is determined to maintain and enhance its military dominance. Spy operations which were integral to the US’ cold war politics of dominance and control ostensibly sought to curb the rise of the Soviet union and to check the spread of communism. Of course, the Soviet Union also organized its own spy mission but the US was by far the more powerful global player backed as it was by an extensive network of naval bases, land troops and sophisticated aerial surveillance systems to help perpetuate its dominance. The collision, seen in the context of the US’ new missile defence system and its readiness to sell high tech arms to Taiwan, indicates that the US continues to view China as a potential threat to US’ military power in Asia. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that the Bush Administration will use China as a ‘whipping boy’ to strengthen its military presence in Asia.

For the last four decades, China has been the major excuse for maintaining a hundred thousand US troops in Asia. It is the exaggerated fear of a Chinese threat that the US often uses to justify its security ties with Japan. The US exploits sinophobia to maintain bases in, and perpetuate special military relationship with, certain countries in Southeast Asia and Australia. Fortunately, more and more Asians are beginning to realize that the threat of ‘yellow hordes pouring down the Asian archipelago into Australasia” is one of great myths in international relations sustained by American propaganda. Ordinary Japanese citizens today, for instance, are much more critical of the US military dominance of their country than they were a generation ago. The reaction of the Nagasaki Prefecture and other Japanese local governments to the arrival of a US nuclear powered submarine in Sasebo port on April 2 without prior notification is a reflection of increasing Japanese antipathy towards the US role in managing their security.

Japanese are sick of American military presence in their country and are now less subservient to the American power.

Continuing protest against the US military base in Okinawa and the atrocious behaviour of some American soldiers would indicate that the Japanese are becoming less subservient to American power. The collision saga and, to a much lesser degree, the submarine incident, compel us to draw certain conclusions about US-Asia relations at this particular juncture of history. One, the US, it is obvious, is hell-bent on maintaining its security grip upon Asia for its own interests. The economic vigour of East Asia-in spite of the 1997 financial crisis-is one of the principal factors that motivates the US ‘to watch over’ Asia. Two, the Bush Administration will not only seek to tighten its grip but will also be more belligerent and more bellicose than many previous regimes. Its refusal to offer a sincere apology to the Chinese in the collision saga is a proof of the arrogance and haughtiness one can expect from the Bush Administration in the coming years.

Three, the peoples and governments of Asia should realize, in the light of the collision saga and the submarine incident that the security of Asia is our own responsibility. We should work in earnest to create a collective Asian security system which is free of any form of foreign involvement or dominance and is, at the same time, not dependent upon huge military arsenals or powerful armies. Let us evolve a new concept of security which protects the well being of the weakest of the weak in our midst.

The author is the president of the Just World Trust, Malaysia. He can be reached on e-mail muza@po.jaring.my

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