Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Monday, May 16, 2005

'Upper castes', too, have rights

By Chandan Mitra
Monday, 16 May , 2005, 10:00

A few days after the IDBI episode, the controversial CAPART chief L V Saptharishi alleged he was privy to some casteist remarks being made by two Election Commissioners.

Fortunately for the ECs, the alleged comment was about Yadavs and there is no law under which people can be arrested for saying things about them!

I am not remotely suggesting that the absence of such a piece of legislation makes non-SC communities fair game. My argument is precisely the opposite.

All casteist or communal remarks are reprehensible. None should ever make them. Existing prejudices and stereotypes, as outlined in the examples I cited from my childhood and youth, need to be systematically exorcised from people's mindsets.

But, equally, it is patently unfair to give a dog a bad name and hang it. Unless somebody has made an offensive caste or community-directed remark in public, in full hearing of several persons, no cognizance should be taken of such charges.

As a staunch defender of Dalit rights and a promoter of their advancement, I acknowledge that they need special protection as well as laws aimed at ensuring their equality in society. Practitioners of untouchability, for instance, deserve the most stringent punishment.

But other castes and communities have their rights too. Did anybody drag the BSP to court for raising the slogan "Tilak, taraju aur talwar/ Maaro inko joote char"?

When members of the upper castes, if any, were categorically asked to leave the venue of BSP meetings, was it not an affront to their rights?

Some years ago, newspapers widely quoted the then (undivided) Janata Dal in Bihar coining the term "Bhu-Ra-Ba-L" - shorthand for Bhumihar, Rajput, Brahmin and Lala (Bania).

The underprivileged castes were urged to combine against Bhurabal and remove their control over the levers of power.

Although strenuously denied later by Lalu Prasad, the term gained wide currency and undoubtedly helped him garner support on caste lines. If the ECs' alleged remarks, as claimed by Saptharishi, were casteist, what was Bhurabal?

Casteism cannot be defended in any form, but to eliminate it, double standards too need to be removed. If a derogatory remark against a Dalit or Yadav is wrong, it cannot be right against other castes either.

Unfortunately, the compulsions of vote bank politics have made not just political parties but even the media and judiciary look the other way.

The all-pervasive influence of political correctness makes the intelligentsia shirk from calling a spade a spade. This is not the way to combat casteism and related discrimination.

The issue has to be faced squarely and a consensus must be reached for the promotion of social awareness across castes.

Arguably, the downtrodden need more protection because they are usually at the receiving end of such distasteful prejudices. But that cannot give them the right to indulge in upper caste-bashing or use draconian laws to humiliate others.

Also, it has become the norm for some politicians to accuse people and even institutions of caste bias if things don't go their way. So, the EC becomes casteist if it orders a repoll in Chhapra and the CBI the repository of upper caste bias if Mayawati is quizzed in a case of assets disproportionate to known sources of income.

I fail to understand the insecurity some of our politicians suffer from when they make such outlandish charges. But then such wild allegations evidently pay electoral dividends.

It is believed that the Election Commission was charged with casteism with two aims in mind. First, it would put the Commission on the defensive and Yadav's cohorts would be treated with kid gloves when elections happen in Bihar, probably in less than a year.

Second, the allegation would raise the hackles of the Yadav community which would return to his fold en masse, reversing the process of vote fracturing seen last February. If such cynicism prevails, what's the point of moralising about eliminating the scourge of casteism?

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