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Anna Hazare and Casteism

7 Sep

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=20487

Translated by:  Siva-Houston

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Is Anna Hazare Casteist?

In our Google group discussions one of the members raised the accusations some Leftists make about Anna Hazare – that there was a ban on eating meat for Dalits in Anna Hazare’s Ralegan Siddhi village organization and Dalits who continued to eat meat were tied up and flogged. And secondly, there was no democracy, and not even Panchayat elections were allowed. He is therefore a Brahminical fundamentalist and a dictator. These accusations were made by a Leftist writer who wrote as if he had visited the place. Here is my reply…

The comments the critic made about Anna Hazare were lifted from Ramachandra Guha’s essay on Anna Hazare http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110827/jsp/opinion/story_14423092.jsp. A It is a completely broken and slanderous image that resulted from reading that essay alone, without being able to visualize the total picture. 

In his essay Guha quotes from an upcoming book on Anna Hazare by Mukul Sharma.

“The strengths and limitations of Anna Hazare are identified in Green and Saffron, a book by Mukul Sharma that shall appear later this year. Sharma is an admired environmental journalist, who did extensive fieldwork in Ralegan Siddhi. He was greatly impressed by much of what he saw. Careful management of water had improved crop yields, increased incomes, and reduced indebtedness. On the other hand, he found the approach of Anna Hazare “deeply brahminical”. Liquor, tobacco, even cable TV were forbidden. Dalit families were compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. Those who violated these rules — or orders — were tied to a post and flogged.”

The smears by the Leftists were lifted from this paragraph. There is really no evidence to support it and therefore the critic lies about visiting the place. This is a very dangerous trick used in the area of general discussion. The critic had not said anything about Anna Hazare before Guha’s essay came out. If he had read Mukul Sharma’s essay http://kafila.org/2011/04/12/the-making-of-anna-hazare/, he could have found out a little bit of the truth. Mukul Sharma is an American researcher with a capitalist outlook. We can see how he will perceive Anna’s efforts in creating a self sufficient Gandhian organization. Nevertheless, what Mukul Sharma wrote is not the picture painted by the Leftists.

He writes how Anna Hazara eradicated untouchability and brought about caste equality in a very casteist and backward village.

“In Ralegan, there are a few Mahars, Chamars, Matangs, Nhavi, Bharhadi and Sutars. Since the beginning of his work, Anna has been particularly emphasizing the removal of approachability and discrimination on caste basis meted out to people, who are popularly referred to as Harijans here. The concept of ‘village as a joint family’, or all inhabitants of the village as ‘almighty God’, has prompted the villagers to pay attention to the problems of Harijans. The integration of Dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan. One is to assume that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that their usefulness justifies their existence in the present. The other component is hegemonic, designed to get Dalits into a brahaminical fold. It is not only manifested in the way food or dress habits are propagated; it is prevalent in several other forms.”

That was the battle that Anna Hazare waged single-handedly against the mistreatment of lower castes in this village. He abolished untouchability and got equal rights for Dalits in village councils and helped them gain economic independence. Shouldn’t our Leftists accomplish this in villages around Madurai before accusing Anna Hazare? With Dalits cast aside and living separated by the village / cheri divide  in front of our eyes, ignored for fifty years by those talking politics, what rights have they to talk about Anna?

The upper castes used the eating of beef by Dalits as an excuse to shun them. Anna Hazare’s tactic to stop that was to make the Dalits resolve by themselves not to eat beef. Everyone among them had to abide by that caste restriction. It is slander to say that Anna punished them.

In reality, eating meat is not common in North India. A majority in Maharashtrian villages follow a vegetarian diet made up of chappati, yogurt, onion, sabji, dal and some rice. Dalits very rarely eat the meat of dead cattle, and even more rarely fish from ponds.

Even today, North Indian villages have different castes living separately (Isn’t it the same in villages here?) and there is no possibility of dialogue between the groups. The self-governing village organization that Anna Hazare tried to create was a single economic zone. Everyone had to live together in the same structure dependent on each other. The upper caste majority had hatred for the Dalits who lived in the bottom most economic strata.

Mukul Sharma himself writes that Anna Hazare used two approaches to integrate the Dalits. One was by pointing out the necessary services they perform and that the village cannot function without them. The second was by eliminating their consumption of beef. This caste restriction has been distorted as a ban imposed on eating meat.

Even when Mukul Sharma takes a critical tone against Anna Hazare, he writes that Anna’s doctrine was one of  ‘Village as God’. Anna found a way to bring Dalits into that organization as people with equal rights by giving Brahminical qualities to them.

Anna did not do that to suppress the Dalits. It was a clever technique he invented to bring about equality and economic independence. It is fraudulent to call him casteist for this.

Some would say that Anna was wrong in making the Dalits take a vow that they won’t eat beef. That is of course a strong and valid argument (It is similar to Subramanya Bharathi wanting Dalits to wear the Hindu sacred thread). It could have been necessary in the 1970’s. (That was not the situation in 1986 when I was there. In my personal experience fish from ponds were readily available for eating). I won’t accept what he did as well, but Anna Hazare had created equality and economic advancement for the Dalits in the village councils. That’s the reason he became their irrefutable leader, even to the extent of calling him their savior.

What Anna Hazare wanted to create was not an idealistic democratic community, but a practical village society. He could only undertake what can be achieved immediately. He is not someone who talks about lofty democratic ideals and does nothing. He tried to change Ralegaon Siddhi straightaway, from a village of illicit arrack into a self sufficient agricultural village.

To slander the achievement of Dalits getting equal rights in village councils, how honest is it to slander Anna by questioning his methods? From a society consumed by untouchability, in a society that would not even touch a statute of Ambedkar? One can acknowledge his goals and reject the methods he employed, but even his goals are being belittled here. Will they accept it if this was done to their leaders?

Anna Hazare made sure that political parties did not enter the village and there is a reason for that. That village was known for making ilicit arrack and he did not want that to make a come back along with the politics. There are severl model villages in Tamilnadu that do not allow politics even now. Anna Hazare did not create despotism, but rather, he brought back the old Panchayat system.

The Panchayat structures he created were fully democratic.  Along with the election of the leader,  all decisions were voted on. It is also the only Maharashtrian village organization with voting rights for Dalits.

Are Anna’s methods precedents? Could they be carried over to the national level? I too doubt it along with Ramachandra Guha.  I am even more doubtful about Gandhian Gram Swarajya (Village self-governance). Anna believes in it and tries to achieve that. I would consider such a society as best which possesses modern education, modern global communication and modern technology. I consider village society as a closed chapter.

Hence, I too will criticize Anna Hazare’s dream of gram swarajya (village self governance), but calling him a casteist and a dictator reveals a petty mind that scorns idealistic dreams.

Just the fact that they cannot criticize Anna Hazare without slander is proof as to what kind of person he is.

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Congress and Anna Hazare

28 Aug

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translated by:  Sathya Srinivasan

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=20057

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What do you think about the manner in which Congress deals with Anna Hazare? Aren’t they acting democratically? Do you not appreciate that?

Saminathan

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Dear Saminathan,

Today’s news that I just saw a while ago. The Congress government has brought together religious minorities to oppose Anna Hazare’s struggle.

http://expressbuzz.com/nation/foxed-upa-government-tries-to-play-minority-card/306758.html

All of these are people who had earlier spoken in support of Anna. They are making a U-turn quite abruptly. Rather, they are made to. They allege Anna Hazare’s struggle is one of the upper castes. Congress is promoting a few Dalit leaders who they say will fight against Anna Hazare.

Where do matters of religion and caste arise in Anna Hazare’s struggle? If Lokpal becomes a reality is it not for everyone?

This is not democracy. This is a divisive act. The British government did exactly the same thing. We are experiencing its effects till today.

Gandhian movements have always been massive people’s movements that encompassed all people. The British government countered it in many ways.

Firstly, with the help of the intellectuals who were on its side it constantly spread a fervent propaganda that Gandhi’s movement “spreads anarchy“ and is “practically useless”.

Secondly, it continuously bought over individuals from within the Congress party. It made them malign Gandhi – like in the case of Surendranath Banerjee.

Finally, when it realised all these methods did not work, it branded Gandhi as a representative of the upper castes. With the ‘democratic view’ that ‘everyone needs representation’ it discovered leaders from Muslims and Sikhs and they were promoted against Gandhi. They unearthed leaders from Dalits and backward castes.

Several among them were brought into politics by the British during the first Non-Cooperation movement. Only when the British gave them a place in the round-table conference were they introduced to the people from their own religions and castes. Even today the blood spilled as a result of this divisive politics has not dried.

Congress has always done this. When there was a democratic war for the Punjab problem, they created Bhindranwale. When there was a students’ uprising in Assam, they encouraged terrorism against the Assamese in Manipur.

Congress never understood what democracy is after Indira.

J.

Anna Hazare – Can Corruption Be Eradicated From The Top?

27 Aug

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translated by: Skanda Narayanan

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=19924

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Dear J,

It looks like you have so far not addressed  an important point raised in many earlier questions. That question is, how can we remove corruption by starting at the top, when corruption is very much part of all ordinary citizens? Shouldn’t we first fight corruption at the lower level, and then move on to the top? If so, what is the point of Lokpal? Unless each one of us turn against corruption, how will we eradicate it?

Saminathan, Chennai

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Dear Saminathan,

We can easily find answers if the question is put as “How to tackle this situation”, rather than questioning Anna’s movement.

Yes, we have corruption at the lower levels. What should be done about it? How do we find it out? How do we punish it? Who will punish it? Someone above that level, right? Subsequent monitoring can happen incrementally, one level on top of the other and so on. So, for corruption at a given level, only levels above can monitor and punish. If the top is completely corrupt, monitoring will become negligible, and corruption will increase. Isn’t that the truth today?

Historically, it has only been about 50 years since our society has moved from a monarchy towards democracy. Many countries that we consider corruption free, have been very much into democracy since about 200 years or so. In a typical monarchy, the king is beyond all reasonable doubt. Everything he does is right. Also, people who are close to the king possess all powers.

In a monarchy, it was ok to pay something to the king to get things done. There was no concept of equality or equal chance to everyone. If one person had all the ability and the other has the support of the king, or the king’s relative, or his courtesan, who do you think will get a chance?  We all know the answer. That was accepted as right, in a monarchy.

We are used to such behavior. We continued with the same mind set througout the British Raj. Everything the Britisher did was right. Their mercy was the route to success. We moved into democracy with the same mind set. The same mind set makes us a society that accepts corruption.

Ok, even with such a mind set, for the first 20 years of independence we had a totally corruption free rule. How was that possible? That was because we had ideological and corruption free rulers at the top. People continued to be the same, and how were they kept out of corruption? During British rule, a Tehsildar could buy 10 houses in 10 years of service. For the first 20 years after independence, nothing of that sort happened. Why? Because incorrupt rulers were monitoring from the top. Control from the top trickled down to the bottom most level.

Forget history, let us consider contemporary times. The same people under Lalu’s regime continue to be the citizens of Bihar even now. How did the boundless corruption of Lalu’s time come down now? It is because of Nitish Kumar at the top who trys not be corrupt. It is as simple as that.

Corruption can be eradicated only from the top. Those countries where corruption was brought under control, it was controlled from the top. Take the USA, or Europe. First, a few people who are against corruption form a people’s movement. This movement changes the mind set of general public. The rules are elected out of this mind set. The rulers in turn control corruption from the top.

You can see this change happening in India as well. Previous generation politicians such as A.R. Antulay, Karpoori Thakur, Karunanidhi, Gundu Rao, Nandini Satpathy have faded into oblivion. People have started supporting leaders who are considered much more corruption free such as Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi, Oommen chandy and so on. The likes of Yeddyurappa are being driven out.  Soon, this trend will become stronger. People’s movements such as the one lead by Anna Hazare will contribute to this changing mind set. Provided this is not defeated by the mistrusting elitist thinkers of our society.

I do not believe that there will be a golden age where corruption from daily life will be completely eradicated. That would be an ignorant belief of a krutha yuga, where all forms of human weaknesses, likes and dislikes are destroyed. Even in the western countries, strict electronic surveillance and punishment are the means through which day to day corruption is kept under check. The danger of losing one’s entire life if found corrupt, acts as a detriment in these countries.

Even at the top, there cannot be a completely incorrupt administration. If capitalism is corruption prone, communism is prone to boundless corruption. Power and corruption go together all the time. However, if public welfare schemes and fundamental nation building activities are prone to corruption, they would restrict our country’s growth. It will increase inequality. The immediate need today is to control corruption at this level.

The agitations such as Anna’s movement will contribute towards this control of corruption. All positive changes happen through such continuous agitations. History is a standing evidence to this.

– J