A CARTOON OF A DEMOCRACY

A nation which can’t introspect is bound to self-destruct

Amit Sengupta Delhi 

As this edition goes to the press, this is a civilisational story so classically Indian, and so epically symbolic of the exalted levels of democratic conduct and social tolerance in this “largest democracy” of organised, entrenched, legitimised mass disparity and injustice. As the heat wave and the scorching sunshine make all living contradictions transparent, hundreds of landless Dalits in Bhagana village in Hissar, are yet again homeless, thirsty, walled-in, exiled in their own imagined homeland. Two of their ponds, one for humans and the other for their cattle, have been dried up by the upper castes by cutting off water supply. This is like a death sentence, first glorified in the Manusmriti, when the shudras were told that their tongues would be cut off, or hot oil poured in their ears, if they even uttered a half-syllable from the Vedas, or dared to listen to this Brahminicaltext. Their modest homes have been walled-in, isolating and disconnecting them, their children’s playground has been ravaged, they have been banned from the community land, and they have been threatened with dire consequences if they protest. They are still protesting, their villages empty, the police brazenly one-sided, prejudiced and anti-Dalit. “There is no road to Depal village, and no justice in Bhagana,” is the old saying in this nasty, short and brutish archetype of our great Hindu caste society. 

In the Malwa region of Punjab, among other scattered pockets across India, this reality show is a non-stop action replay. The upper castes, in nexus with the administration, deny mazhabi Dalit Sikhs access to gurudwaras, community land, drinking water, daily wage work, official employment schemes, even the right to defecate. Most Dalits, ghettoised, don’t have toilets. This is ritualistic, especially if they demand minimum wages, or an end to debt-trap bonded labour, or basic constitutional rights. Remember the case of Bant Singh, legendary folk singer and radical activist, of Mansa? 

Bant Singh protested against the harassment of his daughter by upper caste youth, sought the right to take his pigs to the community ground, chose to boycott the gurudwara which would not allow him to enter and pray, tried his independent project of small scale entrepreneurship, and, most crucially, organised poor Dalit Sikhs across the villages to demand their political and social rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In February 2006, he was waylaid by the landlord’s men, his limbs smashed, left on the field to die. By the time he was rescued and taken to the hospital in Mansa, gangrene had set in: both his legs and hands had to be amputated. And yet, Bant Singh said, “They can’t stop our fight for our rights. I still have my tongue. I can still sing.”

The wounds of the Bathani Tola massacre are eternally simmering: 21 people, mostly women and children, poorest Dalits, were murdered as a public spectacle at BathaniTola in Sahar block of Bhojpur district in Bihar by the RanvirSena, a private upper caste militia, on July 11, 1996. The Bhojpur district court at Ara convicted and sentenced three people to death and 20 others to life imprisonment for the carnage in May 2010.

On April 18 this year, the Patna High Court acquitted 23 convicts of the massacre on the ground that the prosecution had failed to prove their culpability beyond doubt. Also, the RanvirSena chief, Brahmeshwar Singh, despite several cases of mass murder, is a free man. So whatever happened to BJP ally Nitish Kumar’s “secular” slogan: Nyaykesaathvikas — justice with development (sounds similar to Modispeak, doesn’t it?)? 

This is the relentless breaking news syndrome across the Indian landscape, perhaps for centuries: Infinite tolerance by the establishment of mass injustice, suffering and tragedy of the wretched of the earth. (And we have not even mentioned the continued tolerance of manual scavenging, where “untouchables” still carry and clean up human excreta with their hands!) 

The truth is that tolerance for injustice is rooted in our DNA, but the hypocrisy of our chattering classes would never accept this. So, why this sudden intolerance against an old cartoon on Babasaheb, which the great man himself didn’t find offending?  Why this “India in Denial” — when his own people have been rendered speechless, voiceless, homeless, thirsty, bonded, ghettoised, humiliated, exploited, condemned, caricatured, brutalised, stripped, raped, massacred, shackled in mental and physical slavery — despite the Indian Constitution?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2012

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