Discrimination, Differences And Dissent In Our Part Of The World
By Vidya Bhushan
07 February, 2007
The issue of racial discrimination
has been in the news for quite some time. Some Indian pretended that
they have been discriminated against in Britain while rarely speaking
that India does not have its own house in order. Despite 60 years of
independence India has not been able to transform itself into a modern
state, in terms of freedom, dissent and life of the common men. Though
it may be a great satisfaction for some of us that India surrounded
by autocratic military dictators still managed to strive the political
democracy but instead of basking on the glory of 'successful democracy',
we need to introspect our persistent failures of social life. If democracy
has not reached the last man as envisaged by Gandhi or if social life
does not convert into a social democracy as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar,
Indians all over the world need to investigate that without empowering
common man, India can neither claim a powerful nation nor an intellectual
giant which many of the commentators do not stop claiming all the time.
Pakistan has the same problem though it is not a democratic state yet
its ruler claims a secular army and a working democracy on various occasions.
Question is democracy is thwarted by the identity politics and undemocratic
caste Panchayats. They are a threat but these caste panchayats are now
being modernized in the name of new identity assertion among every one
from the non-resident Indians to urban Indians under various shades
and names. This assertion reinforces and justifies the age-old traditions
in the name of culture. It jump on the bogey of victimization as soon
as an elite of its own class face discrimination as in the case of Shilpa
Shetty but remain conspicuously silent on the issue of its own contradictions
and discriminations. Hence the Indians, Pakistanis and the other South
Asians would rarely speak on their own track record of discrimination
against ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in their own country.
Oppression of women is always justified in the name of culture and vigorously
A few days ago, I was reading
the horrible tale of Mukhtar Mai who faced tyranny of the caste Panchayat
called as Jirga in the North West Frontier Province, in Pakistan, which
ordered her rape for a crime allegedly committed by her minor brother.
Mukhtar Mai has become a legend in her own life times. Fighting against
the feudal lords of the notorious North West Frontier Province, Mukhtari
Mai showed how the village women in the Indian subcontinent have the
courage to challenge the system. That, this system degrades and humiliates
the victim is a well- established fact. And based on this principal,
the rural women suffer in utter humiliation and indignity. Mukhtar Mai
is not alone in such cases. Things are same in India, though a bit sophisticated
here. It is important that a woman like Phoolan Devi would not have
born if she had not shown the courage to fight against the humiliation.
Rather than surrendering to the whims of the local powerful caste groups,
these women stood up. Some chose the constitutional path while other
decided to avenge it according to their own way. While Bhanwari Bai
had to face the humiliation even inside the court where the judge in
the Jaipur court released the accused establishing that an upper caste
person would rarely rape a woman.
In her wonderful memoirs
' In the name of honor', Mukhtar Mai, now symbolizing as an assertive
woman protesting against the man made rules, says,' police are directly
controlled by the upper castes. Policemen act as the fierce guardians
of traditions, allied with the tribal authorities. Whatever decision
a jirga (caste Panchayat) makes will be accepted and backed up by the
police. It is impossible to charge an influential family with a crime
if the police consider the matter a village affair, especially if the
victim is a woman'.
What Mukhtar Mai is saying
reflect the farce in our system. As propagandists of family virtues,
we, the South Asian have been at the height of hypocrisy blaming the
west for every fault of their own. I am sure one would agree that these
feudal values, the Manus law are not the invention of the wild west
which our commentators often describe. The recent issue of race relation
in Britain where a B grade Bombay film heroine earned huge amount of
money, the South Asian communities are being presented as if everything
has been imposed upon them and are being victimized. Ofcourse, the same
South Asian would not like to be reminded about the growing number of
honored killing in UK among the South Asian Communities. Shocking it
may sound, but the fact is, that South Asians have more racial contours
than their British counterparts. A study in UK showed how the Indians
still are confined to their caste identities and how to get marry, every
Indian boy come to India to look for an 'ideal' ' cultured' and 'fare'
color girl. Will we tell the world that we are more colours conscious
than the British or European? That our boys are deeply intoxicated in
the idea of varna and colour and that dogs can enter our temples and
urinate over the gods but when the Dalits want to enter there the Gods
become angry and their followers on earth goes on rampage.
Human life is not equal in
this part of the world. Honored killing are not happening in Britton
and Pakistan only but are very much part of our traditions. After all,
all our marriages are not meant for the bride and the groom but for
the parents of the both. Reputation is the biggest thing in these marriages.
A boy from the Valmiki family
is still facing threat to his life for felling love with a girl from
a Jaat family. Jaats are the peasant community and their men dominate
the Delhi police hence when I visited along with other friends to the
Assistant police commissioner some three years back, to provide security
to this young boy, the officer said '. You see organizations like your
should come forward and train the policemen, after all they too are
human being and family. How do you expect them to change over night.'
I told the officer: Do you want to justify police negligence in the
name of tradition.' No, he said, but see how the society is changing.
The girls move out in the evening without any escorts. How can police
resolve every crisis that the society faces? I was aghast at this answer
by the police officer that proudly claimed a JNU background. The officer
certainly was not interested in telling that the police had failed to
protect the victim and that such things should be stopped. I still remember
how a younger sister of a girl who was slaughtered by her family and
entire village community along with her husband, was happy and said
that those who goes against social norms would meet the same fate.
Yes, the South Asian would
not like to speak about the horrible culture of moral policing that
they have developed without any change. The paradox of this is that
they all enjoy best of multiculturalism in Europe and America but are
highly paranoid of granting minority rights or space to dissent. For
instance, Gujaratis world-over, have enjoyed the hospitality of multiculturalism.
United States, United Kingdom and South Africa were their hunting ground.
They build up huge empire. And see what is happening their native Gujarat?
Most of the Non Resident Gujarati's are financing the Babas, and the
right wing elements. Narendra Modi might call Gujarat a vibrant state
but it remains totally out of bound for the non-Gujaratis particularly
Muslims and Chrisitians. During a trip to Gujarat last year, I put this
question to a friendly Gujarati as why do they not want to keep Muslims
in Gujarat. And the cryptic answer that this businessman was that the
outsiders are creating problems in Gujarat. Gujarati's are peace-loving
people but it is the Biharis and others who created havoc in the aftermath
of Godhara. It is tragic that India's new vibrant culture is very much
in tone with what is happening in Gujarat. There is no freedom in the
air. The darkness in the noon is visible in Gujarat. The only thing
is that you need to go and see beyond what is visible. The dangerous
aspect of this newly immerging India is the growing middle class of
upper caste Hindus which clearly want to look exclusive. Hence Dalits,
Adivasis and others who are at odd with the current economic social
set up feel suffocated and completely isolated. The government at the
center is interested to placate this elite class and has launched another
India shining campaign without including the poor people.
South Asian therefore needs
to speak more vigorously against their own value system. That very few
people stood up with both Mukthar Mai and Bhanwari Bai is reflection
of our mindset. While Shilpa Shetty has detracted from her statement
regarding racial discrimination, it is painful how the British upper
caste Hindus and other upper South Asian elite made this a racial issue.
Did they ever protest against the merciless treatment meted out to disabled
in the Bombay films? How many of South Asian stood up and say that the
depiction of the blacks in the Hindi films is most racial in nature.
They are laughed. Our fascination for the fair color is well known.
A dark skinned woman in India will hardly find a partner of her choice.
Women's skin her biggest ability or disability. Another disability in
India is the physical disability, which is visible. One will rarely
find a physically disable woman getting married to a 'normal' man because
such things are not ever thought off. She will find a man in a 'disabled'
person only. The girls born 'Mangalik' would be very difficult to get
marry. And see, how our superstar icon Mr Amitabh Bachchan is behaving?
One needs to see his discomfiture with a Manglik daughter in law. He
goes from one temple to other temple to perform Yjnas and Pujas so that
the evil spirit get off from the world queen Aishwarya Rai. More shocking
is the fact as alleged in the media that the poor woman was asked to
marry the tree to rectify the misfortunate. What these signals. Rather
than becoming enlightened and accepting the person as she is or he is,
Indian's or South Asians still think in terms of his birth sign, physical
appearance, cast and clans. Can we launch a movement against it or not.
How long should we blame that the onslaught of the global powers have
destroyed our culture and values.
It is not that people do
not oppose it. Yes, those who oppose it live on the margin thoroughly
isolated and dejected. But the grave danger comes from those forces
who feel great in glorifying these customs. A well-known Gandhian activist
has been promoting the idea of the caste panchayats. He would say, how
great these Panchayats were in resolving the village problems. But going
by the nature of these Panchayats, I a sure every saner person in the
world would say demolish and destroy these caste Panchayats. Not only
they have been anti people but also almost all of their decisions are
against the basic tenets of civilization. Whether it is Jirga which
gave decision to rape Mukhtar Mai or some disgruntled Panchayats in
western Uttar-Pradesh which asked Imrana, a Muslim woman who was raped
by her father in law, to marry him, these caste Panchayats are a blot
to civilization and individual freedom and liberty. They promote fanaticism,
parochial values and patriarchy. It is important that any glorification
of these Panchayats need to be questioned. These Panchayats have authorized
the goons to kill lovers, rape women, and exterminate families, which
do not follow their dictates. In this hour of identity politics in India,
these caste Panchayats are mushrooming very fast. Identity itself is
patriarchical in terms and therefore there is very little that a woman
can get out of it. That Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan came from a backward
Gujar community does not means that this does not happen in that community.
Only question is that she was a woman and her community was at the receiving
end. The Gujjars in India are no better. Fully coated in the brahmanical
stigmas, they do not allow their women to venture out.
Indians need to fight against
such atrocious social behavior and practices. Unfortunately, rather
than taking a strong action against the same, we are always put on the
flimsy ground the issue of racial discrimination. One must question
the upper caste Hindus as how many of them mix up with the Scheduled
Castes in United States and UK. Not many years ago when I traveled to
Bolivia to participate in a conference, a Kenyan friend questioned Gandhi
and his intentions in Africa. ' You people have always claimed that
Gandhi fought for our rights but where was the fight? None of the Indians
ever want to share the issues with the blacks in Uganda and other part
of the world. The situation is not much different in UK and USA where
Indians do not want to be clubbed with Pakistanis." Shilpa Shetty
felt very bad when an in house lady called her Paki. This superiority
complex has been injected in our heart and minds from the very beginning
and the sooner we understand that the world has changed and going to
be more civilized, would be better for us.
As I finish this, the news
comes that the parents of the missing Children of Nithari say that the
role of Noida Police was very fine in the act. They appreciated the
state government and particularly the ruling political party of the
state which lodged them in the five star hotels, gave them land and
promised every member of the family a government job. I think nothing
comes more shocking then this. This culture of considering people, as
purchasable commodity is very much in existence in our part of the world.
A majority of the missing children were Dalits and the upper castes
in nearby localities said that it was not their problem.
British people gave a resounding
verdict in favour a failed Indian star but will the South Asian communities
be as mature enough to respect dissent, differences with in their own
communities. One hope they would do so for the betterment of their own
communities and their own country. I would like to finish with a Bangladeshi
cab driver in London who was working with a new agency and took me to
London Metro station when he said how happy his children were in London
and that they do not wish to go back to Dhaka simply when they see violence
in the name of culture and tradition. The simple driver had two houses
in London and appreciated the multiculturalism in UK. There are other
stories as well. While all written above does not mean to exonerate
the western power for what they did through their imperialist agendas
but then every one of us has this in our blood, it is only who is smarter
enough then others. We all have at some point of time exploited the
lesser powerful and marginalized communities. Now, in the 21 st century,
such discrimination and justifications in the name of identity, region,
religion and language must be discarded and rejected.
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