Indian Democracy: Damned by Discrimination and Exclusion

In September, Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter Priyanka in the village of Kherlanji (Vidarbha, Maharashtra) were stripped and brutally gang-raped as a public spectacle, and were eventually killed along with her two sons – all as ‘punishment’ for fighting against attempts to snatch away the family’s land.
In November, Kodikulam in Madurai (Tamilnadu), witnessed another public spectacle. This time, upper caste ‘elders’ gathered in the village square to participate in an ‘auction’ – for the possession of ‘rights’ over the panchayat President, Balamani, a dalit woman and agrarian labourer.
Even as Kherlanji, Kodikulam and Bant Singh’s struggle reveal the deep disconnect between the rhetoric and reality of Indian democracy, the Supreme Court, as part of its series of anti-people judgements, has echoed the corporate-sponsored myth of reservations being a ‘breach in the egalitarian structure of society’. In this verdict, the Supreme Court has, most disturbingly, recommended extending the ‘creamy layer’ criterion to the SCs and STs. Even in the case of OBCs, the concept of creamy layer is yet to be adequately defined and established. But at least it is possible to discern some ‘creamy layer’ among the OBCs, since sections of the OBCs have significantly consolidated their socio-economic status in the wake of agrarian reforms and green revolution. But the SCs and STs have overwhelmingly been bypassed by the entire process of agrarian reforms and green revolution – and Kherlanji has illustrated how even the most nominal signs of social mobility and education in dalits are brutally crushed. To talk of a ‘creamy layer’ among SCs and STs is a dangerous attempt by the apex court to subvert the constitutional provision of SC/ST reservation.
Today, a struggle of remarkable militancy is being waged in the streets of Vidarbha. Amazingly, Nagpur’s police chief has put the protestors themselves in the dock, alleging that while they were ‘apparently angry over the delay in investigation’, he himself ‘smelt a deeper conspiracy against the police’! Kherlanji and Kodikulam managed to burst through the polite mask of India Shining, as did Bant Singh’s struggles. What of the daily, less dramatic social mechanisms of insidious violence on the oppressed castes? Aren’t systematic discrimination and exclusion as ‘violent’ as caste atrocities and communal riots? The findings of the Sachar Committee pose this question anew in the context of religious minorities. Though its report is yet to be made public, findings of the report leaked to the media reveal the gross under-representation of Muslims in all spheres of educational and employment.
The BJP’s shrill campaign, to which the UPA Government tamely succumbed, prevented the Sachar Committee from conducting its survey in the armed forces – but no doubt the situation there is worse; if prejudice and bias blocks the access of Muslims to other sectors, what they face in things relating to ‘national security’ is naked paranoia masquerading as nationalism. The BJP’s hysteria against the Sachar Committee project stems from the fact that it has effectively nailed the lie of ‘Muslim appeasement’ which is the political fodder of the Sangh Parivar.
Initial reports in the media indicate that the Sachar Report’s findings also indict the political forces which distinguish themselves from others solely by showcasing secularism, protection of Muslims, and social justice. It emerges that West Bengal, which has had a three-decade uninterrupted Left Front government and where almost a quarter of the population is Muslim, has one of the lowest shares of Muslims in Government employment. Similarly dismal is the situation in states like Bihar and UP which have been ruled by a range of formations that swear by ‘social justice’ and Muslim welfare. As is the case with people of colour in the USA, Muslims seem to be overrepresented only in jails – reflecting the deep distrust and discrimination that is the cause of marginalisation in the first place.
Of course, the Sachar Committee’s findings are nothing new. Twenty six years ago, the then PM Indira Gandhi set up a seven-member high-level Committee (headed by Dr. Gopal Singh) to go into the state of the Minorities, Scheduled Castes, Tribes (SC/STs) and other weaker sections. The Gopal Singh Committee’s findings rang the same warning bell that we hear Sachar ringing now – but the Congress Government stopped its ears and shut its eyes.

Setting up Commissions is a way the political establishment has of diffusing dissent and deflecting political heat – facing the home truths revealed in the process is another matter. The fate of the Jeevan Reddy Committee set up in the wake of militant protests against AFSPA, is a recent instance. Another is the case of the Amir Das Commission set up in Bihar to enquire into political linkages of the Ranveer Sena, in the wake of the Bathe massacre of an entire village of dalit agrarian poor. Just as the Commission was on the verge of revealing links of political leaders to the Sena, the Nitish Government hastily wound it up. The militant protests in Maharashtra have forced a CBI enquiry to be ordered into the Kherlanji killings – will it face the same fate as the Amir Das enquiry? Will the Sachar Committee report be consigned to the same dusty shelves as the Gopal Das Committee? Let us be sure that in the social and economic roadmaps scripted by the political establishment and its pet corporates, there is little room for the marginalised and excluded. It is upto people’s struggles to change the script – and the protests against the Kherlanji massacre show us the way ahead.