Thursday, August 27, 2015

IS 'Times of India playing BJP's political polarisation game?

Religion based Census – Is ‘The Hindu’ downplaying Muslim Demographics ? 

[Or -- IS 'Times of India overplaying BJP's political polarisation game?']

Front page headlines of two leading newspapers on the religion based census

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Image result for hardik patel,/SMASHES/CLAIMS/OF/%E2%80%98GROWTH%E2%80%99/WITH/%E2%80%98REALITY%E2%80%99/OF/POVERTY










SEEMA MUSTAFA Tuesday, August 25, 2015

NEW DELHI: Twenty two years old, and he has usurped all the images---of nationalism, Sardar Patel, Ram, Guns and Fire---from the Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates in Gujarat. But smashed the deliberated created image of growth and development with the story of poverty, acute discrimination and corruption. 

Hardik Patel has emerged almost overnight as a community leader, attracting lakhs with just one call for “reservations”. He seems to be a simple lad from the village, but clearly has a political acumen that has placed him at the end of a major movement in Gujarat defying its former Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s claims of development and progress. 

Hardik Patel who proved his strength with a five lakh plus crowd in the streets of Surat, has now threatened to bring over 25 lakh Patels to Ahmedabad if the government fails to concede his demand for ‘reservation.’ Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, a Patel herself as the name clearly implies, has no idea of how to deal with the young man and has appointed a committee of Ministers to negotiate with him. Hardik Patel is dismissive, and does not think much of a committee that in his own words, does not include the Law Minister, the Labour Minister or the Home Minister. “How then can they look into the issue of reservation?” he asks. 

Patel is clearly a phenomenon, added to by videos that project him larger than life. ‘Nationalist” songs interspersed with slogans of “har har mahadev” and “jago patidar, jai sardar’ have him carrying a gun, walking down a red carpet with adulatory crowds looking at him, sitting on top of a “SPG” vehicle with a revolver in his hand, with the symbols religious and nationalist now clearly in the process of being taken away from the BJP. 

Who is behind him? The question confounds the political parties and as Hardik Patel himself says, “the Congress says I am with Amit Shah”, the BJP says I am with the Congress” adding that he is only for reservation for the Patel sub castes who have been for long neglected. It is true that the politicians are not certain who is behind him, or if indeed anyone is, with a section of the BJP even accusing its own dissenters of propping him up. 

This has not deterred the Patels from following their ‘new leader’ whose strength clearly lies in his ability to articulate the woes of the poor farmers and rural folk. Interestingly in doing so Hardik Patel is clearly exposing the claims by the state as being the most developed. Prime Minister Modi himself had cast Gujarat as a model of growth. But now Patel says that it is barely that, and the poverty is immense. Asked about this by the media he said, “look at the villages, these tell a different story.” In a very interesting panel discussion with a Hindi news channel Hardik Patel says that the majority of farmers committing suicide are Patels. He says that the farmers children are denied jobs despite securing excellent marks; and have to pay Rs 25 lakhs for a government job. To a follow up question by the interviewer who asked how come there was corruption in Gujarat when the world had been told that it was corruption-free, Hardik Patel said, “there is silent corruption”. 

Hardik Patel has clearly touched on an emotional chord, tying up poverty and aspirations with reservations. From development the image of Gujarat has moved into protest, as the very community that was made synonymous by the BJP leadership with the economic growth of the state is now on the streets claiming the opposite. 

Significantly, Patel has been covered largely by the regional media with the English newspapers and television channels still a little wary of contradicting the role model status of Gujarat openly. So the Hindi and language channels of the multi-media houses report with voiced surprise the Hardik Patel phenomenon to some extent, but the English language channels and newspapers of the same media houses are reluctant to analyse the amazing prowess of this 22 year old who has taken Gujarat by storm. And from within, and not outside the Patel community that PM Modi and CM Patel claim to be the face of development. 

Hardik Patel counters this with, “if five or six per cent of a community become rich it does not mean that the community is rich.” He says that he has support of the Patels abroad as well. He said that these people had left Gujarat because they could not make a livelihood there. “And now they are all supporting reservation” he claims. When an interviewer confronted him with the state government’s claims of the economic progress of farmers in Gujarat and the fact that they had all built big houses Hardik Patel said, “their land has been acquired, so maybe a few built houses, but they have been left without land.” He takes care to repeat that his movement is not against any community, only for getting reservation rights for the Patels of which at least two sub castes he says have been more discriminated against than others. 

Patel whose demand for reservations for his community is gathering ground by the day, paints a dismal picture of Gujarat in every interview he has given, or meeting he has addressed. Farmers suicides, deprivation, poverty, corruption are all integral parts of the story of a state that had been projected for over a decade as a model of growth for India. 

Hardik Patel’s story has just begun. But he is a fearless, quiet mannered, determined young man. The devil, in this case too, however, might be in the details as these emerge, and in the future of the protest as it cascades into a movement.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The last refuge of a scoundrel - By Aakar PatelPublished: August 23, 2015, The Express Tribune with International NYTIMES

The Express Tribune

Published: August 23, 2015

The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House. He is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own
The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House. He is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own
It is not easy being a television analyst in times, such as they are now, when India is at war with Pakistan.
Not a real war of course, because we can no longer have such a thing after the mindless fireworks of Pokhran and Chaghi. I mean this childish sparring over whether or not we should have talks. To me it is difficult to understand why we are stopping people from meeting in this day and age when they can communicate whatever they want to over Skype and telephone and email and the rest. But perhaps, I do not understand the subtleties of international diplomacy. What appears to me to be stupidity and stubbornness might well actually be some stroke of Chanakyan genius.
Anyway, what I was saying was that it is not easy to be an analyst in these times when one is independent-minded. It is not possible for me to take the party line or the national line as seems to come so easily to others in the studio. To me, fact and context are important. I was blindly nationalistic for a long time, but one matures as one reads and encounters the world.
One understands the nature of regional nationalism as being a zero-sum game. Meaning I can only win if you lose and are seen to lose, and any benefit to you necessarily comes at a loss to me.
What is the nature of our nationalism here in India? It is anti-Pakistan and anti-China. It does not allow for nuance or shade. We have to fully subscribe to it or be seen as defiant if not outright hostile. We always have to be anti-Pakistan even if there is damage to us or no benefit to India in such a position (and there is zero benefit to India in not allowing old Sartaj Aziz to meet the blowhards of the Hurriyat).
We belittle India — ‘the world’s largest democracy’ as we do not tire of reminding people — when we lock up our own citizens for fear that they will gossip with the enemy. We show ourselves as not a confident republic by such actions. This must be obvious to the most closed minded analyst. And yet to say this on television is to elicit gasps of astonishment and accusations of being anti-national.
The other thing is being labelled when one holds a particular view in a particular instance. This comes from our conviction that all of us are dyed in some sort of ideology that cannot be escaped through logic and reason. We loosely use terms like ‘left’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘right’ without properly understanding them. I suppose one reason is that we have categories that are based on hate, like Hindutva, which offers nothing positive to Hindus, only anger and bitterness against Muslims and Christians.
People who have this sort of hatred will find it difficult to separate their mindset and their emotion from the issue at hand, whatever it may be. But why must we all line up in agreement behind them? I do not and cannot.
One anchor said during the debate that “we all are agreed in the studio that Pakistan is to blame if the talks collapse”. But I did not agree. It was just assumed that because this was an India versus Pakistan issue, all Indians would or should back the government position.
The assumption is that the lines have been drawn and the two sides have gone to battle. All of us, whether analysts or politicians or citizens or cricketers or housewives, must see the other side as an enemy and must reject everything it says or does even if we gain nothing from it. I am no longer able to subscribe to this stupidity. This makes TV appearances difficult for me.
The clever ones will ask why I continue to do them if I hate them so much or at least find them unpleasant, which I do. The reason is, of course, that I am paid to do this work. And sometimes, not often, it is enjoyable. The other reason is that there are some who may also think in the same way as I do. It may not be a large number, but I would like to believe that there is a group of us who reject the madness and the pettiness.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2015.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Asaduddin Owaisi: Man On A Pan-India Mission - By Sowmya Aji, ET Bureau - The Economic Times

The Economic Times

Asaduddin Owaisi: Man On A Pan-India Mission


After Maharashtra assembly polls success, Asaduddin Owaisi plans to expand his party into a pan-Indian outfit
By Sowmya Aji, ET Bureau | 21 Aug, 2015

BENGALURU: From the walled city of Hyderabad to Muslim-dominated areas across the country, All India Majlise-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi is seeking to expand his party into a pan-Indian outfit. The London-educated 46-year-old lawyer is wooing the minorities unabashedly in his attempt to fill the vacuum of a Muslim-only party in the country.
The party won two of the 25 seats it contested in the Maharashtra assembly polls in 2014. In the recently held municipal elections at Aurangabad in Maharashtra, his party emerged as the runner-up, winning half the seats it contested. Now, it is readying to contest 29 seats in the Bengaluru civic body polls on August 22.

"Expansion plans of any political party are very natural. Every political party would want to expand. In a democracy that is not something very surprising," Owaisi told ET in an exclusive interview.
Although the name of his party translates into All India Council of Union of Muslims, Owaisi said the Muslim-only perception is wrong. "Mine is not a Muslim party. That is completely wrong and a misinformation campaign. I have fielded non-Muslim candidates everywhere, including Dalits and OBCs," he said. Three of the party's mayors in Hyderabad were Hindu.
Owaisi rubbished the Congress' claim that his party was a BJP prop set up to cut into secular votes across the country.

The argument that his party has weakened secularism is pure arrogance on Congress' part, he said. "It is the Muslims who supported them (Congress) earlier. We lost our masjid, we lost our businesses and homes in communal riots... What are they talking about? Only if we fight under their umbrella can we fight the RSS and the BJP?" he said. "What have they done to stop the RSS and the BJP? How did Modi get 280 seats in 2014? They have lost every election since 2014. Where was Asaduddin Owaisi in all those elections?"
Owaisi, who has represented Hyderabad in Lok Sabha since 2004, has however not yet made up his mind on contesting the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar. "We have not taken a decision on Bihar, we will let you know as soon as we decide," he said.
He has taken the party from being just Hyderabad-based (the current Greater Hyderabad mayor is also from his party) to other municipalities in Telangana. His party candidates have even opened an account in Andhra Pradesh recently, by winning in the Adoni municipality of Kurnool district. The party currently has local body representatives in Karnataka's Bidar and Basavakalyan and Maharashtra's Nanded-Waghela and Aurangabad, and Owaisi is now eyeing Bengaluru. The Siddaramaiah government in Karnataka, however, has not allowed him to address any public meetings, conduct a padayatra or campaign for his candidates. 

"In Bengaluru and Uttar Pradesh, I have been stopped. This shows the dictatorial attitude of the Siddaramaiah government. When assembly elections are held under the Election Commission of India, my party will contest in Bengaluru and wherever else in Karnataka we can contest. I challenge Siddaramaiah to stop me then. Only by taking my life, he can stop me," Owaisi said. 

The Karnataka government has told the state high court that Owaisi will inflame communal passions and prevented him from addressing any public meeting since February. "From February to August, there is a communal problem in Bengaluru? Why are you holding elections then?" he asked. 

He slammed the Congress as a party that did not believe in freedom of expression or in democracy. 

"If Digvijaya Singh can hold a roadshow in Bengaluru, Asaduddin Owaisi cannot address a single public meeting? You (Congress) are calling Owaisi a Nizam, not a Tipu Sultan. If you put a tiger in the cage, won't people see him as a tiger?" he asked, alluding to Mysore kingdom's benign ruler Tipu Sultan, who is referred to as Tiger and to the Nizam of Hyderabad, who funded a riotous religious army called Razakars around 1947 that wrecked havoc in Hyderabad-Karnataka and wanted to join Pakistan.

Owaisi pointed to the 35 public meetings that he addressed in Maharashtra during the state assembly elections and the six meetings he held in Aurangabad. "I've addressed a meeting in (communally-sensitive) Kishanganj, Bihar.
There was no problem, nothing happened. Yes, I will provoke you. I will definitely hurt you, expose you. But the day I cross the line of sections 153 (wantonly provoke riots) or 297 (insulting religion) of the IPC, you can stop me. The state is bigger than Asaduddin Owaisi," he said. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Activist Targeting Modi’s Government Becomes Government’s Target - By DAVID BARSTOW - The New York Times

The New York Times

Activist Targeting Modi’s Government Becomes Government’s Target

AUG. 19, 2015

The Indian rights activist Teesta Setalvad, center, with Rupa Mody, left, and Saira Sandhi, who both lost family members during riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people in Gujarat. Ms. Setalvad is campaigning to hold Prime Minister Narendra Modi criminally responsible for the riots. CreditManpreet Romana for The New York Times

MUMBAI — One of India’s best-known human rights activists, Teesta Setalvad, was brewing her morning tea on July 14 when she got a telephone call from her security guard.
“C.B.I. is at the gate, ma’am,” the guard said, referring to the Central Bureau of Investigation, the federal police.
Before long, 16 agents were searching her family’s compound on the shore of the Arabian Sea in Juhu, an upscale suburb of Mumbai. They searched all day, then all night, poring over Ms. Setalvad’s diaries, opening her jewelry boxes, digging through the linen closet. Not even the bedroom drawers of Ms. Setalvad’s daughter escaped scrutiny. The agents finally called it quits at sunrise, leaving with a haul of 3,179 documents.

Few critics have pursued the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, more doggedly than Ms. Setalvad, the driving force behind an unrelenting campaign to hold Mr. Modi criminally responsible for riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people in Gujarat, the state Mr. Modi ran before becoming prime minister.

Multimedia Feature: Timeline of the Riots in Modi’s Gujarat

But on the eve of court proceedings that could leave Mr. Modi facing criminal charges for the riots, it is Ms. Setalvad, who has spent months assembling evidence for the case, who is feeling the heat from Mr. Modi’s government. In the past few months, Ms. Setalvad has been discredited, financially drained and nearly overwhelmed by a merciless campaign of leaks and attacks emanating from entities controlled by Mr. Modi or his political allies.
First came the raid by the Central Bureau of Investigation, nicknamed “the caged parrot” for its history of doing the bidding of its political masters.
Days later, a prosecutor branded Ms. Setalvad a threat to India’s national security, so dangerous that she should be locked up while Mr. Modi’s government investigates whether it was legal for her to accept funding from the Ford Foundation.
Soon after, the state of Gujarat joined the rush to jail Ms. Setalvad, recipient of one of India’s highest honors, the Padma Shri Award. The state filed an affidavit in India’s Supreme Court accusing her and her husband, Javed Anand, of perpetrating a “colossal fraud” — to wit, raising $1.1 million “in the name of riot victims” only to siphon most of it to pay themselves exorbitant salaries and splurge on luxuries. The affidavit, while neglecting to mention that the Ford Foundation and other funders have found no evidence of financial wrongdoing, dwelled at length on the couple’s “conspicuous consumption,” noting, for example, that they had eaten at a Subway, and, in boldface type, describing the purchase of sanitary napkins.
To Ms. Setalvad and a growing chorus of supporters, the prosecutorial flurry is a pretext to humiliate and silence a prominent critic. Mihir S. Sharma, a columnist for The Business Standard, called it a vendetta that “looks like it’s being directed by Francis Ford Coppola.”
In news outlets sympathetic to Mr. Modi, however, the recent legal barrage is portrayed as an overdue comeuppance for an “anti-Hindu hatemonger” who uses foreign money to spread “antinational propaganda.” The public outcry, Mr. Modi’s allies argue, only proves that Ms. Setalvad is once again using her celebrity — in Indian newspaper headlines she is often simply “Teesta” — to shield herself from legitimate inquiries.

“If she has nothing to hide, she has nothing to fear,” said Nalin S. Kohli, a spokesman for Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
For now, thanks to favorable judicial rulings, Ms. Setalvad and her husband remain free. But the damage to their cause has been considerable, she acknowledged during an interview at her home. Their organizations’ bank accounts have been frozen, their passports have been seized, their family savings are dwindling and they cannot afford to pay their lawyers. Worst of all, she said, they are so busy defending themselves — they have turned over 25,000 pages of financial records — that they have been distracted from their pursuit of Mr. Modi.
“It is a very heavy cost,” she said. “But at the moment, I’m still not thinking of backing away. It is too far down the road to back down.”
The Ford Foundation has also paid a steep price for its association with Ms. Setalvad. Since 2004, it has given $540,000 to Ms. Setalvad’s organizations, a small fraction of the $500 million it has spread to hundreds of groups here over the past six decades. According to Ms. Setalvad and the Ford Foundation, the money supported specific projects, like building an online archive of human rights cases. None of the money was used to build legal cases against Mr. Modi and other Gujarat officials, a point Ms. Setalvad and foundation officials say they have repeatedly made to government investigators who suspect Ford money was improperly diverted to fund political activism.
Even so, the foundation suddenly found itself the subject of damaging leaks to Indian news organizations. Starting in March, and continuing into summer, foundation officials learned from news accounts that they were under investigation by the federal Ministry of Home Affairs; that the state of Gujarat was accusing them of “abetting communal disharmony”; that new restrictions were being placed on foundation bank accounts; and that the government would have to approve any new grants.
Previous Indian governments have taken steps to curb the influence of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations perceived as overly adversarial. But the Modi government’s actions were enough to provoke a rare public rebuke from Richard R. Verma, the United States ambassador to India, who said during a speech in New Delhi in May that he was worried about “the potentially chilling effects” of India’s crackdown on the Ford Foundation and other NGOs.
Ms. Setalvad, 53, comes from eight generations of lawyers. Her grandfather, M.C. Setalvad, was India’s first and longest-serving attorney general. Her father, Atul Setalvad, was a renowned lawyer in Mumbai. Ms. Setalvad said it was Watergate and “All the President’s Men” that inspired her to pursue journalism instead. “I still have the book,” she said.
In 1993, as a response to months of bloody Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai, then called Bombay, Ms. Setalvad and her husband started a monthly magazine, Communalism Combat, dedicated to covering the manipulation of religion for political gain. (The magazine’s motto: “Hate Hurts. Harmony Works.”) More and more, their work blended journalism with activism, a transformation accelerated by the Gujarat riots of 2002. Mr. Modi had been chief minister of Gujarat for only a few months when the violence began. On Feb. 27, 2002, just before 8 a.m., a train carrying Hindu pilgrims pulled into Godhra, a town with a large Muslim population. A scuffle broke out, stones were hurled, and then one of the train cars caught fire. The charred remains of 59 people were then put on public display in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, inevitably stoking anti-Muslim fury.
For the next two months, as the Gujarat state police often sat idle, mobs of Hindus descended into savagery, hacking and burning Muslims to death, destroying Muslim homes by the thousands. The National Human Rights Commission, led by a retired chief justice of the Indian Supreme Court, called the state’s response to the riots “a serious failure of intelligence and action.” Mr. Modi’s government, the commission said, did not take basic steps to prevent violence and then failed to respond to specific pleas for protection. Mr. Modi, in an interview with The New York Times in 2002, said his only regret was not doing a better job of handling the news media.
Ms. Setalvad’s family is from Gujarat. The riots, she said, triggered in her a determination to break an age-old pattern in India: religious bloodletting followed by shoddy investigations that studiously avoid the leaders who stoke the rage in the first place. Two months after the riots began, Ms. Setalvad and her husband formed a new organization, Citizens for Peace and Justice, with the aim of shaming the authorities into doing a thorough investigation.
They began tracking down witnesses, demanding records and lining up lawyers for victims. They convened their own tribunal of retired judges to take public testimony and produce a scathing three-volume report. “Modi cynically tried to use the politics of division and violence to gain a fresh mandate from the people,” the report concluded.
The work of Ms. Setalvad’s network is widely credited with helping prosecutors win more than 100 convictions, the most notable resulting in a 28-year sentence for one of Mr. Modi’s former top lieutenants.
But the deeper they dug, the more vitriol and opposition they encountered. They were accused of taking “Arab money” and “brainwashing” riot victims. Death threats were as regular as the monsoon rains. It did not help when Ms. Setalvad promised with great fanfare to build a museum as a memorial to riot victims, only to cancel the project for lack of funds. Her penchant for overheated rhetoric also cost her support.
India’s Supreme Court has come to Ms. Setalvad’s rescue again and again.
When a witness in one of the riot cases accused Ms. Setalvad of kidnapping, the Supreme Court dismissed the witness as a “self-condemned liar.” When Ms. Setalvad was accused of coaching witnesses to make false allegations, Supreme Court justices repeatedly rejected the charge. In 2011, when the Gujarat government accused Ms. Setalvad of illegally arranging to have riot victims exhumed, the Supreme Court dismissed the case, calling it “100 percent spurious.”Indeed, after almost a decade of investigations, neither Ms. Setalvad nor her husband has ever been formally charged with anything. And as Ms. Setalvad is quick to note, she and her husband became the focus of a federal investigation only after Mr. Modi was elected prime minister, giving him control of India’s executive branch, including the Central Bureau of Investigation.
When agents from the bureau raided her home, Ms. Setalvad and her lawyers quickly noticed something odd about the search warrant. Almost every document sought in the warrant had already been turned over to the authorities. Ms. Setalvad offered to spare the agents the trouble of searching by simply producing duplicates, but the agents said no.
It was then that Ms. Setalvad began to wonder if the real purpose of the search was the Jafri case.
During the Gujarat riots, one of the worst massacres took place at the Gulbarg Society, a Muslim housing complex where women and children took refuge in the home of Ehsan Jafri, a former member of India’s Parliament. For hours, as attacks continued, Mr. Jafri repeatedly placed phone calls seeking help and police protection. No help came, and Mr. Jafri and 68 others were murdered.
In the eyes of Mr. Modi’s critics, the Jafri case has always presented the best opportunity to prove his criminal culpability. But an investigative panel appointed by the Supreme Court concluded in 2012 that there was not enough “prosecutable evidence” to charge him.
It is this ruling that Mr. Jafri’s widow, Zakia Jafri, is now trying to overturn on appeal with help from Ms. Setalvad. “If this appeal is upheld, the prime minister of India is liable to be tried on the charge of conspiracy for his handling of the 2002 carnage,” said Manoj Mitta, a senior editor at The Times of India who has written a book about the riots.
The appeal is scheduled to be heard over the coming weeks before Gujarat’s highest court. This, Ms. Setalvad said, may explain the timing of the agents’ raid at her home.
“What I’m not worried about is them finding anything incriminating against us,” she said. “I’m worried they’ll find things we have that incriminate them.”

Max Dugger Bearak and Suhasini Raj contributed reporting.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Forget the Raj. Who’ll say sorry for millennia of abuse of dalits? By Surendra Kumar - The Asian Age, Delhi

Forget the Raj. Who’ll say sorry for millennia of abuse of dalits?

Aug 05, 2015 - Surendra Kumar
A large number of dalits still work as manual scavengers in India despite anti-discrimination laws.  — AFP
A large number of dalits still work as manual scavengers in India despite anti-discrimination laws. — AFP

With his rousing speech at Oxford Union, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has silenced his detractors. Ironically, his own party seeks his silence. Obviously, they don’t take his gift of gab and exceptional oratorical skills seriously. What a pity.

What a huge difference a single speech can make! Shashi Tharoor’s 15-minute stirring intervention at Oxford Union on July 14 was by far the most passionate, incisive and scathing critique in recent times of 200 years of British colonial rule in India. It has touched the right chord, both in India and abroad, cutting across generations. So, Tharoor, who has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons for the last two years, has suddenly become the darling of Indians, especially the Twitterati. Nearly a million Netizens “liked” his speech in less than 48 hours.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly applauded his oratory, as did many MPs from different political parties. With a huge sixer, Shashi has silenced his detractors. Ironically, his own party seeks his silence. Obviously they don’t take his exceptional oratorical skills seriously. What a pity.

He contended that the British should own up the wrong done in India during the colonial period and seek atonement by saying sorry, if not by paying reparation. Well, if the British government were to take his advice to its logical conclusion, it would take them quite a while to say sorry to three fourths of the world where the sun never set at the height of Empire.

If the British should own up to all the wrongs they committed during their 200-year-long rule, say sorry and seek atonement, what about the inhuman indignities, injustices and cruelties inflicted on the so-called low castes by the so-called higher castes of Hindu society for 2,000 years? Shouldn’t they own up to the social, economic, political, physical and psychological deprivation they deliberately and systematically caused to them? In fact, the wrongs committed by them were far graver and sinister. Their wrongs were similar, or a shade lighter than the wrongs of other colonisers, like the Portuguese and the Spanish. The white Americans treated the blacks unjustly and cruelly.

The high castes of Hindu society, on the other hand, treated their own brethren, their own countrymen, so inhumanely and for so long for no fault of theirs. Over the years they created numerous political, social and religious dictums to perpetuate the slavery and subjugation of the low castes forever. To tell a whole section of society that they had no right to property, no right to education, that their sole purpose in life was to serve the higher castes without protest, was to shut the door on any possible redemption.

Even at the peak of their hold in India, did the British colonial rulers of India tell the low castes (shudras) that molten lead would be poured in their ears if they ever tried to listen to anything akin to knowledge, aka Manu Smriti? Did they ever order that when the low caste Indians walked through streets they must use bamboo sticks with tiny bells tied to them so that the higher castes would be forewarned and lest they be polluted by the shadow of the lower caste, as was the strict law during the otherwise enlightened Gupta period?

The low castes were condemned to live on the outskirts of villages and cities; they were not allowed to draw water from common wells nor pray in the temples built by the higher castes. Some Hindu priests even ordained that when a low-caste man got married, the first right to have sex with the bride was that of the priest. Worse still, this exploitative system was made hereditary; generation after generation lives in these humiliating conditions on account of their birth in low-caste families. What kind of debilitating and degrading psychological inferiority complex might have been caused in the low castes by this? How can one forget the ruler of Travancore who imposed a barbaric and sadistic law by which low-caste women had to pay tax to cover their breasts and even to breast-feed their own children?

One shudders with shame at the treatment meted out to Dr B.R. Ambedkar on his return from Columbia University after obtaining a doctorate in law. Contrary to expectation, these injustices and cruelties, regrettably, didn’t cease after India became independent. Low-caste people have been killed at the slightest pretext, like a demand for higher wages by landless labourers in Bihar. Burning of their hutments, rape of their womenfolk and molestation of young girls has been known to occur with frightening frequency in the oppression of the low castes in independent India.

After the much publicised Nirbhaya rape case, the CJI had remarked that hundreds of dalit women were routinely raped daily across India but no demonstration were organised for them. Several dalit girls were raped and hanged from mango trees in UP last year.Affirmative action and various developmental schemes in rural India by successive governments have resulted in some improvement in economic and social conditions of the low castes, but a lot remains to be done. In flagrant violation of the law, untouchability is still alive and kicking in hundreds of villages; there are more than five million (unofficial figure) bonded labourers and child labour is used extensively.

Former home minister P. Chidambaram had once told Parliament that there were more than 13,500 registered cases of physical assault on dalits in India in a single year. As out of four cases hardly one gets registered, the actual number of assaults might be as high as 50,000. There has been a trail of brutal murders of low castes as in Dehuli, Sadupur, Belchi and others places with high-caste perpetrators seldom being punished.

Just a week ago some TV channels had shown some young low caste girls who were made to clean toilets in their schools in Delhi. It wasn’t an isolated case, it happens in many schools. So, who should say sorry for what has been done in India to the low castes in the last 2,000 years? Shouldn’t someone own the wrongs? Shouldn’t it be a 10 times louder “SORRY” than what Mr Tharoor was demanding of the British at Oxford University? Realistically, none will own up nor say sorry for what happened in India for centuries. Shouldn’t Parliament, which represents the whole country, pass a resolution offering an unconditional apology for all the injustices perpetrated on the low castes? That will at least be symbolic atonement.

Surendra Kumar is a former ambassador