Friday, June 23

Dalit Phenomenon: Politics of Identity

All round liberation going beyond the humanistic approach does not figure in any of the shades of Dalit identity politics, asserts Dr. Sarabjit Singh as he discusses the formation of Dalit identity and politics associated with it.

Dalit phenomenon is constantly flowing through Indian social system from centuries. This is so complex that one is satisfied by neither a particular reasoning nor can one get enough information from that. The arguments proffered from mythological point of view are not much scientific or acceptable. There are so many contradictions when we see it from historic angle. Secondly in present times there are so many other problems too in' caste identity'. For example the meaning of this phenomenon change with local, religious, cultural, national, lingual and international equations. In Indian context to differentiate Dalit from casteism is not only impossible but very complex and dangerous also.
The available studies and analyses show that change in the classification within the castes and change in social status due to change in position of this classification does not allow a formation of any straight line. In international context, the term Dalit expands from casteism to racialism. Then there is the problem of suitable terminology while defining it, whether to call it 'Dalit' or 'Subaltern'. These problems are enough to make it very complicated. It's paradoxical that without analyzing it from ideological or anthropological point of view, the ruling classes or powerless political sections have distorted the situation further.
Various movements in Indian society and Indian philosophy have advocated humanistic approach towards Dalits but didn't allow for all-round liberation. The Gurmat movement in Punjab and Sufi movement, despite maintaining rebellious stance, preaches the morality of nice behaviour towards this oppressed man. The limitations of this preaching are implied in these movements' basic engagement was to tear apart the moral hypocrisy of the rival religions and form such a value system, in which this man would attain equality. The result can be seen practically in Sikh religion, followers of which consider these people secondary or of second class even today. Thus most movements have tried that the issue of separate identity, status, value system, liberation of the independent identity of life-style of Dalit, from whom every right to self-determination has been snatched, is self-absorbed.
For a Dalit the core issue has been of his politicization. In the tradition of Indian medieval period also the efforts in this regard can not be seen beyond their semantics. That is why we perceive humanism of good-behaviour as parallel system. By doing so we establish the text of Dalit tradition of medieval period as a discourse of Dalit liberation. It's true that it has humanistic sympathy for the Dalit but does not have discourse of liberation because liberation is associated with politicization. A political movement for Dalit or any rich tradition is almost absent from the medieval period.
The identity of Dalit and the politics of identity starts taking shape in the period of British imperialism that creates different ideological scenarios. Ad Dharm movement is the first movement that takes up the issue of dalit identity and liberation in an organized way with certain ideological strategy. Mangu Ram Meghowalia and Gadar movement make the identity of Dalit movement more explicit and political direction clearer. After that Baba Bhim Rao Ambedkar and now politics in the name of Dalit identity call for a detailed study. Here it's possible to discuss all this in brief only.
The periodical Chand (Untouchable-Special Edition-1927) makes it clear that the Dalit individual has become a victim of so many complexes that he has forgotten his own identity and he has accepted the identity given to him by the oppressor class. He has not only accepted this identity as the celebration of slavery but is enjoying it, in fact. These kinds of issues have been taken up by Mahadevi Verma also in her essay 'Position of Women in New Century'. One stage of the politics of Dalit identity is of pre-independence and the other is post-independence. Prior to independence the independence of country was of more importance than politics of identity. This has become more burning and deeper after independence.
It is important to look at some of the reasons behind this. Firstly what were those internal and external situations that gave birth to the politics of Dalit identity. It's important to understand the rationale of this politics to understand this. After independence the rise of national bourgeoisie is not straightforward. This was made possible with a specific project. It is important to understand the five-year plans of Jawaharlal Nehru. What the backward sections get out of the development projects puts them on the way to economic prosperity and they inch towards the bigger issue of awareness and understanding of their rights also. This transforms into political consciousness of this section. Professional employees organizations organized on these lines are important in this regard. One other external reason is that the Communists could never understand these sections as consciously as it should have been . Instead they kept on believing in the pre-determined concept that class differences would eventually disappear. The ruling class could not recognize them as more than a vote-bank ever. This is a grotesque phenomenon of the democratic system of this weak capitalism that they take to using these identities in their fascistic and communal forms, instead of separate identity and self-determination of nationalities. This can not be ignored in the Indian politics of the last decade or so.
In the present times Dalit politics or the politics of dalit identity is getting its all from this corrupt bourgeois value system. There is no project of the all round Dalit liberation in the programs of the political parties associated with it. They lack any clear policy or political programme which can provide a parallel model of social justice for dalits.
In fact in the name of dalits, it is providing security to a section that is fundamentalist, comprising of fascist elements. By making caste politics the politics of identity it is following the way of present bourgeois political parties. Our society indulges in the politics of this political identity. This politics has done in the corridors of power exactly what bourgeois politics does.
mainly there are three layers of the politics of dalit identity in the present times. The political and ideological equation of the inner conflicts, struggles and tensions in these three layers is separate matter.
First layer is organizing the Dalit with political consciousness through the caste factor. It is present in almost whole country with minor differences. This is attracting ordinary Dalit by making an issue of the oppression and exploitation in the name of casteism in the past. This casteist politics is more dangerous and oppressive.
Second layer is of political section with Brahminical mentality whose main motive is to make Dalits serve their purpose by whipping up their desires. This section wants to keep Dalit won over through the assurance of security while keeping him tied to sub-conscious of insecurity. This is an issue of such an ideological knottiness that Dalit stays embroiled in the web of dependence on the other.
Third layer is that which does not use Dalit but links the politics of Dalit to his liberation. This liberation is, in fact, linked to all those deprived sections, which is not single layered. Though, this creates a paradigm by linking the discourse of human liberation with economics, it does not envision liberation of a dalit human, unattached to proletariat. This third side is weak in the present scenario, but in future this can become the basis of authentic identity politics.

(The article appeared in print version of Punjab Panorama)

Thursday, June 8

Dalit Consciousness: A Jatt Perspective

Dalit consciousness can ensure socio-economic development, social justice and democratization, creating new Punjab stunted by Jatt-Sikh dominated politics, asserts Amarjit Grewal
Usually a Jatt would be expected to look at the question of Dalit consciousness from the point of view of welfare of Punjab and not Dalit welfare. It would be interesting to try to find out how would Dalit consciousness affect the whole of Punjab?s economy, politics and culture including that of the Jatt community. How can this Dalit consciousness help in getting Punjab out of the present problem it is in. What is its importance for the Jatt Sikh community committing suicides?
It needs not any reiteration that the Jatt community controls the Punjabi culture and politics. The Punjabi identity and power is seen in terms of Jatt identity and power only. Nothing can happen in Punjab that defies their interests. Although due to the present agricultural crisis in Punjab this community is in an unfortunate and painful condition, but still if anybody asks who is most powerful in Punjab, we would have to acknowledge that these directionless Jatt Sikh families of Punjab that is committing suicide are the ruling class here.
Now this ruling section does not have any solution to the problem of Punjab. That is why they have abdicated the path of thinking and struggle to commit suicides. The question is there any section in Punjab which has its solution? Which is this section?
The Jatt Sikh community of Punjab has not only the scheduled and backwards castes but the upper castes like Brahmins and Khatris too in its servitude. So there are only sections in Punjab now. One is the Jatt Sikh section which has all round dominance here and the second is the non-Jatt Sikh section that has been literally pushed to corner here and that has no role in determining the future of Punjab. Not only the scheduled castes but whole of this non-Jatt section is Dalit for Jatt Sikh section.
By subverting all economic means and political institutions to agricultural development, this ruling class not only give birth to and indifference in the non-Jatt class but also sounded death-knell of other occupations and businesses by not leaving any means for them. The lack of development of modern sector in Punjab was not only because the requisite economic and political means were not mustered. The modern sector of industry and services was not allowed to be developed in Punjab because it would have made a vast part of the rural populace migrate to cities changing the demographic profile of electoral segments in Majha and Malwa. In such a situation the hegemony of Jatt Sikhs community in Punjab is certain to be over. So the hegemony of Jatt Sikh community in Punjab can be maintained only by putting a stop to the process of modernization and urbanization and by not letting the services and industrial sector develop. This ensures that land prices are escalated so much that nobody can think of establishing industry here.
So this Jatt Sikh dominated politics of political parties of Punjab not only marginalizes the non-Jatt communities and deprive them of participation in the creation of the future of Punjab but also thwarts the modernization, industrialization and urbanization because of its politics with agricultural and rural bias. The only one way left to save the deteriorating economy and worsening situation of the farmer is to lessen dependence on land for agriculture. This is possible only if the children of families dependent on agriculture could be provided with alternate employment. Bu as we have seen the Jatt Sikh dominated political parties won?t let this happen.
The modernization, industrialization and urbanization of Punjab will not only ensure increase in income of farmers by reducing the pressure on land, but also provide the youth set idle by agriculture with employment. At the same time by including the marginalized castes in the mainstream of economic and political process, it has the capacity to break the stagnation in the development of Punjab. But all this is not possible as long as these marginalized castes get together to inculcate in themselves a new consciousness for the renewal of Punjab. So the future of Punjab depends solely on the political consciousness of non-Jatt Sikh castes and communities.
For the future of Punjab what is needed is not any ideology or economic policy but political consciousness. This political consciousness means consolidation for modernization and industrialization through awareness of their economic, political and cultural interests of these castes and communities, who have been marginalized so far by the Jatt Sikh politics.
So, Dalit identity and power in Punjab means political consciousness of non-Jatt Sikh castes and communities. By ensuring equal and parallel participation of these castes and communities in the creation of the future of Punjab, this consciousness will not only encourage social justice, but by ensuring the participation of the minorities and through building up of new democratic institutions and the process of decentralization, this will also lend power to the democratization. So the political consciousness and power of the marginalized castes and communities will speed up the socio-economic development, social justice and democratization, thus creating new Punjab.
(The article appears in the Print issue of Punjab Panorama)

Tuesday, June 6

Reservation of the Elite

An equal society can never be realized without fighting for equality of education opportunities, asserts Satnam Chana as he argues that knowledge is gradually being concentrated in few hands taking it away from vast underprivileged sections.

According to the report of a sub committee formed to make recommendations on educational reforms by state government, 29.88 percent of children in the age group of 6 to 11 years don't get into schools at all. This in effect means that one third of new generation of Punjab is illiterate.
According to a report of the Planning Commission the literate section of country engaged in service sector is contributing 52 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But in Punjab only 3.4 percent of the GDP is spent on the educational institutions that produce this sector. This comes to 11 percent of the government budget.
The recommendations committee reveals that during the period 1999 to 2005, the number of students in government schools reduced from 17 lacs to 14 lacs. These 3 lacs children have either gone to private schools or have simply sat home. The children who go to private schools more or less belong to upper- sections. On the whole, in Punjab, 53 percent children leave school before class eight and in the age group of 15-17, 85 percent children get out of schools before class ten. Out of the 15 percent children who pass class ten, further 5 percent children do not go till +2.
Private school children who leave education constitute only 4 percent, the rest of the 96 percent are from government schools only.
Our education system is unique in not only the way it gets children from backward sections out of education in different stages before class ten and doesn't let them enter the portals of the universities, but also the way we have set different standards of education for different sections. We have different syllabi for different sections. For higher classes we have syllabi of higher standards and for backward sections we have backward syllabi. We have different education boards for different classes- CBSE for some and Punjab School Education Board for others. Cheaper syllabus for poor and costlier one for rich. Our education system is predetermined on whom to give what amount of knowledge and whom to not give it at all. There are different schemes and plans to implement this policy.
This is the result of independent India's educational policy, which can be called illiteracy policy, that how to maintain illiteracy. That is why it has emasculated 90 percent of the population as present source of production. These people don't get on to even first step of the knowledge whereas the whole contemporary production system has become knowledge-based.
Total Literacy Campaign is a new joke of the central government on which Rs. 464 crores are being spent in Punjab. Government claims to provide all children born in Punjab certificates of class five till 2007 and class eight till 2010. This part of our national education policy. This gives rise to the question whether by providing them certificates, these children would be able to play better role than illiterates? Would they be able to enter the service sector? Would they go in modern sector or agriculture? Total Literacy Campaign does not have answer to these questions. However this would be beneficial in one way. Just as a person has to show a certificate to prove his qualification, these people would get a documentary evidence to show their lack of qualification or level of illiteracy. They would be able to tell how illiterate they are- up to class eight or class ten.
This is a joke with the definition of education. The purpose of education is determined according to the economy. That type of education is provided for which can be of help in the development of economy and that can provide employment. But there is nothing like that in the Total Literacy Campaign.
On one side are children who are being pushed out of education and on the other side new counters are being opened to issue certificates. While teaches posts are being abolished on one side, campaigns are being mounted to extend literacy. Can anyone make sense of such education policy?
Recently Punjab government abolished posts of 16905 teachers whereas there are no teachers in 2700 schools. There are almost equal number of schools where there is only one teacher. Now the government has decided to do away entirely with its duty to provide education to depressed sections by deciding to give control of 4028 schools to Panchayats. The government itself is shunting out teachers and has asked the Panchayats to appoint teachers. What is seemingly a contradictory policy is very clear on one thing. This objective is to make people bereft of education and concentrate monopoly of education in few hands. While this is a clever move to make hold of ruling classes firmer on monopoly of knowledge, the more dangerous aspect of all this is that all this is being done to entrench casteism further.
We conducted a study done in villages around Jalandhar to ascertain the proportion of the sections that study at government schools as compared to private schools. Consider what were the findings:
At village Lakhanpal elementary school there are 117 children, 112 of these are from scheduled castes.84 out of 110 children studying at Beer village are from scheduled castes. In the middle school of village Tahli, 104 out of 165 studying there are from scheduled castes.
What is noteworthy is that the proportion of scheduled castes population in these villages is around one third of the total population.
One can easily deduct that the government schools are gradually turning into schools for scheduled castes. Even those who leave school belong invariably to what we have come to know as Dalit castes. Whole sections of dalits are being forced out of primary education whereas a battle is being fought to get selected ?Dalits? into ?islands of excellence?.
It seems as if this is the alternative form of that philosophy and economics that proclaims that if a Shudra becomes a scholar he should be inducted into Brahmin caste. The policy of reservation too seems to be a struggle of upper classes to adopt a limited sub-section of scheduled castes which looks like as if a section of scheduled castes is fighting a guerilla war to get into upper sections.
(The article appears in the print edition of Punjab Panorama)