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For starters, I don’t intend to be prophetic in my evaluation of the recently concluded Gujjar Community-Rajasthan Government wrangle. However, I cannot help but observe, quite candidly, that the whole situation serves as a dark episode in the history of civil liberty movements in this country. The reasons for such analysis are not too far to seek.
For a moment, let us relive the influence of caste in shaping the political, cultural and even geographical history of India; caste as an index continues to affect our public policy, be it through coalition governments or affirmative action, and hence is a critical determinant of the upward/downward mobility that the Indian citizen attains in life. Central and State Governments, have throughout the course of post-Independent India, engaged in active programmes that seek to mitigate the wrongs of historical discrimination meted out to various castes. One may indeed argue that the whole gamut of events has only recently, acquired a political twang. Caste-based violence still continues to be a haunting reality in rural India, with incidents of isolated and systematic torture frequently surfacing in the news.
Taking such grim reality as the backdrop to this article, it is important that we understand the repercussions of granting ‘special, backward community’ or ‘ST’ status to Gujjars. Not because the additive 5% would increase the ever-burgeoning basket of reservations in the quota system, but because the 5% so granted was the direct and immediate consequence of untoward and violent rebellion against the State. Of course, the million-dollar question is always going to be whether the Govt. was right in granting such privileged status to the community? Nonetheless, the finer aspect of the issue still remains: Was the Govt. right in acquiescing to the violent methods of the Gujjars in granting reservation? The next logical question would then be: Is not the Govt. setting a bad precedent, effectively indicating that ends can be achieved through such caste-based violence? The answer, unfortunately, is a loud and thumping Yes.
(To be continued.)
Ghazala Khan from the Pakistani Spectator interviewed me yesterday on blogging and the blog itself. The interview transcript is now published by the Pakistani Spectator here.
I must say I was startled by some of the questions myself.
My good friend Rahul Narayanan wrote on his Gtalk tagline;
We do not protect our civil liberties by sacrificing them
I asked him whether he wrote this in a particular context and he asked me to google ‘David Davis’. I found out that David Davis is a former British MP who resigned after the new legislation to extend the detention of suspects without charge from 28 to 42 days was passed by a narrow vote.
In a little reading that I’ve done on the issue, I’ve started liking David Davis. If there is no political motive behind this, then I gotta say that this man has some character.
Ally Fogg from the Guardian has written an interesting piece on this issue. Readers may read it here.
On one of the days I wrote a letter to Subhadra in a possible explanation as to why I would want to do such things as Im doing in Dantewada. In as much as Subhadra should be getting a copy of the letter, I managed to make a copy and have produced it below.
Every time I do something different as I’m doing now in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, people start wondering as to what a weirdo I am. I see this to be the right moment to explain to friends and acquaintances alike as to why I love doing stuff like this. Sridevi and I were talking the other day as to how would we’d manage to tell everyone what we’ve seen, how bad the conditions are out here and all that; now it doesn’t seem to be of any use because people just don’t understand and just don’t give a damn.
There are times when I cannot sit within the four walls of the college campus and remain in total oblivion to certain events that may never be correctly recorded by history. I have felt that this world I live in is so fake that I want to distance myself away from it at the slightest opportunity. That’s a reason why there has always been Darfur, Palestine or Chhattisgarh on my mind. Henceforth , when I’m in Hyderabad or Mumbai and I see people reading the newspapers and discussing an Arushi Talwar or Jessica Lal, my mind would wander to a Hemla Pandey who was killed pregnant while in her hut or the many more whose stories of death I heard from the relatives of those killed. I see people thronging the malls and supposed intellectuals talking about due process and rights when I’m reminded of those who wanted to live and educate their children and didn’t get a chance to do so.
Truly NALSAR has taught me what I don’t want to be in the early part of my life. I don’t want to sit in cramped up corporate offices reading documents but want to work on the law. Part of it should also involve looking that the application of the law at the ground level which doesn’t seem to be happening in Dantewada or Gujarat or Punjab where I’ve been. I remember when I was to go to Darfur you asked me why I would want to go to Darfur and I replied that danger fascinates me. I must confess that I lied. Neither is the reason that I want it to help for a Rhodes or something; I don’t think I’m that ambitious. Its just that I like doing work like this. Its where I can think freely and do some minuscule part to help when thousands are dying. I don’t want to be a hero or anything but am just appalled at the way my friends and acquaintances perceive an issue so grave as this to be trivial.
T.S. Elliot wrote that between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act falls the shadow. There are times when this shadow may mark the beginning of a new life. I now do not want to share the misery of these people because I cannot afford to spend sleepless nights having nightmares about horrid stories and deaths. I do not want to get into human rights as a profession. If this is to be a new life, I do not want to live it. After all this, I’d still prefer an Alan Shore wearing a saville row suit and arguing in Court.
However still, when people die in numbers that are not yet correctly known and their women are raped and houses burnt, it doesn’t help being indifferent. I meet people I don’t know and they tell me the story of their misery as if I’m a member of their family. Death seems to be normal in what has become a numbers game. I recall reading Elie Wiesel who wrote that indifference then, in certain circumstances such as this, is not only a sin, it is punishment. I certainly would not want to be amongst those sitting in a chair all day, sipping coffee and talking about these deaths as if they’ve done it and seen it all. Id’ rather go and see the situation for myself and see if I can help a little. This is a time when I’m at the cross roads of life with two different paths and I don’t know which to choose from really. This is when I would require you to be there for me and be supportive of whatever decision I might make. Not that it would affect you or anything for I shall be a fool to expect something on that front. Just that it’d be good to have you around.
I remember once quoting Emerson who reckoned a friend to be a masterpiece of nature. One whose very magnificence one is proud of. Needless to say, I still reckon you to be that masterpiece. Things are not so dangerous here as I thought so when I get back to Bombay, even though I might laugh it out, I would not want you to doubt the truth in what I’ve written.
Both the teams left towards Konta camp at around eight in the monrning. Now the road to Konta is one where the maximum camps are located in the area. In fact, a few months ago in Errabol camp a mass killing of 25 people including women and children had occurred at point blank range.
At Injram camp, the two teams split ways and I was on my way to Andhra Pradesh to meet some of the 13,000 odd Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled the Salwa Judum. Out of horror and shock I dont want to recount most of the stories I documented but Sanchita documented one of this young woman who was literally beaten and sexually abused with her hair being pulled and I can’t even imagine what not (Sanchita can give a better picture of it).
I documented the testimonies of people from Naindar village; a village that had been burnt and built twice and to my knowledge most of the men had been killed and daughters reported missing. In one instance, the forces from Chattisgarh crossed the state border to Andhra Pradesh to hunt down and kill three people allegedly suspected to be naxalites.
On our way back we were stopped by 14-15 year old children carrying .303′s and AK-56s. When you ask them their age they tell you that they’re 30 years old and that they’re appointed by the police at Special Police Officers (SPOs). That is when you smile at their plight and at the same time wonder what has happened to the political and legal structure and its working mechanism in this country. Nobody gives a damn about the constitution or numerous SC judgments of Bhagwati or so out here and they just want to live. The worst is, we fail to provide them even that sense of security.
We returned at night while it was raining heavily to find that around 60-70 victims and families had come over to the ashram to depose before the National Human Rights Commission the next day. One the fun part, I joined Sridevi and Sanchita to get wet in the rain and got myself involved in a mud fight. Certain subtle child like pleasures of me I would say.