Monthly Archives: February 2016

The End of Impunity: Gujarat 2002

The End of Impunity: Gujarat 2002

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: February 28, 2016

Photo Credit: Binita DesaiThe struggle of man (or woman) against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting:— Milan Kundera

It was not simply the number of lives lost,though the number — perhaps 2500— is not insignificant. It was the cold-blooded manner in which they were taken. It was not simply that 19 of Gujarat’s 25 districts burned while Neros watched,fiddled and smirked but the sinister similarity in the way they were set alight. Militias were armed with deadly training,weapons,technology and equipment; with a lethal brew of deadly intent,inspired by constructed tales of hate,using the February 28,2002 edition of a leading Gujarati daily that urged revenge; all combined with a deadly white chemical powder that seared to burn and destroy already killed bodies. And,of course,truckloads of gas cylinders,in short supply for cooking,were used instead to blast mosques and homes. Mobile phones and motorcycles made communications easy and movement swift.

Part of the plan was to humiliate,destroy and then kill. Another was to economically cripple. But at heart the desire was to construct a reality whereby a whole ten per cent of the population lives (and a few even prosper) as carefully whipped into shape,second-class citizens. Most incidents that racked the state,except the famed Best Bakery incident,took place in the glare of the day,not the stealth of the night. Critical to the plan to mutilate and humiliate was to subject women and girls to the worst kind of sexual violence. Tehelka’s “Operation Kalank” records victorious testimonies of rapists and murderers who claim to have received personal approbations from the man at the helm. Over 1,200 highway hotels were destroyed,more than 23,000 homes gutted,350 large businesses seriously damaged (and are still unable to recover) and 12,000 street businesses demolished.

Genocide is about economic crippling as much as death and humiliation. The Concerned Citizens Tribunal — Crimes Against Humanity 2002 called the happenings in Gujarat a genocide,because of the systematic singling out of a group through widely distributed hate writing and demonisation,the economic destruction,the sexual violence and also because over 270 masjids and dargahs were razed to the ground. The bandh calls on February 28 and March 1 by rabid outfits and supported by the party in power enabled mobs free access to the streets while successfully warding off the ordinary citizen.

Eight years on,it is this level and extent of complicity that is under high-level scrutiny. The involvement of high functionaries of the state in Gujarat did not begin,and has not stopped,with the violence. It has extended to destruction of evidence that continues until today,the faulty registration of criminal complaints,the deliberate exclusion of powerful accused and,worst of all,the utter and complete subversion of the criminal justice system by appointment of public prosecutors who were not wedded to fair play,justice and the Constitution — but were and are lapdogs of the ruling party and its raid affiliates. The proceedings in the Best Bakery case in the Supreme Court and the judgment of April 12,2004 strips our legal system,especially lawyers,of the dignity of their office.

The hasty granting of bail to those involved in the post-Godhra carnage remains a scandal. While over seven dozen of those accused of the Godhra train arson have been in jail,without bail for eight years — and today face trial within the precincts of the Sabarmati jail — powerful men,patronised by the state’s political hierarchy who are accused of multiple rapes and murders roam free in “vibrant Gujarat” even as the trials have resumed. The few that are in jail — ten of the 64 accused in the Gulberg society carnage,eight of the 64 accused in Naroda Patia massacre,two of the 89 in the Naroda Gaam killing,eight of the 73 in the Sardroura massacres (all the 84 accused of the massacre at Deepda Darwaza roam free on bail) are those with no political godfathers. A vast majority have lived in freedom even after committing unspeakable crimes. All this and more is being investigated under the orders of our apex court on a petition filed by Zakia Ahsan Jafri and the Citizens for Justice and Peace. For the first time in our history criminal conspiracy and mass murder are the charges,the chief minister and 61 others the accused. Will the wealth of evidence be matched by the rigour of investigation? Will the will to prosecute surmount political considerations? Will the Indian system throw a spotlight on what surely must be its darkest hour? As we stood,remembered and prayed in painful memorial,with lit candles at the Gulbarg Society this Sunday we did so in both faith and hope.

Following 14 years since the Gujarat Genocidal Carnage, our intensive legal work puts the figure of lives lost post the Godhra arson at close to 2000.

This article was first published in March 2010: Indian Express.

Muslim Personal Law Debate

By Sheeba Aslam Fehmi

See the audacity of the association of this Muslim clergy called ‘Jamiat Ulema E Hind’, who challenges the Supreme Court of India on its right to purview a mere legal feature of Indian administrative system that is ‘Muslim Personal Law’ in India. How dare they challenge the Supreme Court of India and hence the sovereignty of the nation state for their ongoing criminal oppression on Muslim Women of India?

Do not they know that the Muslim Personal law was first created by the British then inherited by the Indian State at the advent of independence, amended and added by Indian Parliament in as recently as 1986. Hence, nothing divine about it. Its a man made law and would be interpreted by the Supreme court and others courts of India only or who else will interpret and implement an Indian law if not the Indian Courts? This law can be changed or abolished by Indian government, even Parliament is not required, just a simple government order can abolish it. No personal laws are protected by the Constitution of India. Its a legal administrative device to govern the personal matters of religious communities in India.

And its stunning to see that in the twenty-first century nation-state, where do these ‘Muslim Tribal Lords’, unwilling to be governed by the laws and Legal courts, get the courage to ask for justice, equality, freedom and affirmative action for themselves while denying the same to Muslim women at home by continuing the institutionalised oppression and violence in the form of “Triple-Tala” or verbal-instant divorce, right to enjoy polygamy, practically denying women ownership rights to ancestral property, usurping all the endowment funds and properties reserved for the upkeep of the orphans and the destitute women of the community?

Also, it is really stunning to see that while ‘tribal lords’ come on air to speak against equality and rights of Indian Muslim women, using their tactless-ness and ruthlessness as a strategy, their sophisticated, educated, articulate brethren are enjoying the tussle from oblivion. The politically smarter brethren giving the impression that they don’t like to deal with ‘these tribals’, and they being educated and modern are not part of the continuing injustices, whereas actually, extending the leash to continue the tribal injustices upon women, they ensure their own authority in their households.

It is disheartening to see thousands of Indian Muslim male writers, revolutionaries, professors, scholars, doctors, engineers, lawyers, judges, teachers, activists, artists, politicians, bureaucrats-technocrats, professionals, businessmen and youth are maintaining a deafening silence and never come out in solidarity with fights of Muslim women for fundamental securities in their married life. It is from this momentous silence of ‘smart brethren’, emerges the sanctity to continue the atrocities in the name of divine law. Whereas there is nothing divine in it, rather it is devilish to secretly enjoy the slavery of your better half through misinterpretations of the (very) text that Muslim women are successfully using for emancipation and empowerment worldwide. Mind you, we the Muslim women of India, are NOT asking for Uniform Civil Code or Common Civil Code, we are demanding the codification of Muslim Personal Law in India in the matters of Marriage, Divorce, Polygamy, Maintenance, Child Custody etc.

The more you analyse the centuries old status quo of Muslim women’s pathetic condition inside household, the more you realise that it is not only due to the Mullah only that this wretchedness of women continues, also because of the silent affirmation of the ruling and intellectual male elite of the community that gives charities, endowments etc. on which Mullah survives, but never bargains for the reforms which they publicly espouse to end injustices within family. They have shown the indifference to give the impression as if they are not party to it or are outsiders in this debate to reform Indian Muslim Personal Laws, on the contrary they are the biggest beneficiary of the patriarchal stubbornness of the obscurantist clergy.

In these circumstances, I am compelled to make an appeal to the larger world that Muslim men don’t deserve any dignity, freedom and justice unless and until they learn to accord the same to Muslim Women. Each time they try to make claim on the fundamental rights to justice, equality, freedom and affirmative action due to religious persecution, please ask back if they are the Allah’s chosen ones or they consider these values as universal?

Play On Ambedkar: ‘Censor body sought unreasonable cuts to suppress Dalit voice’

The makers of Marathi play Jai Bhim Jai Bharat have claimed that Rangbhumi Prayog Parinirikshan Mandal, the censor board for Marathi plays, has demanded 10 “unreasonable” cuts that “suppress the Dalit voice”.

On Wednesday, the play’s writer Janardan Jadhav, producer Ratan Bansode and activist-narrator Subodh More alleged that the board, headed by Marathi actor Arun Nalawade, has asked them to remove phrases such as “Boddhmay Bharat”, mention of Ramabai Colony, Khairlanji and a poem by Marathi Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal, among others.

The play, a depiction of an imagined conversation between Dr BR Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and a Dalit activist, is a critical view of the contemporary Dalit movement and “addresses the current communal situation in the country”, say the makers who are planning to stage it on February 7 in Kalyan.

They also claim the board wants to defer the play’s staging. “We wanted to stage it on January 26. We submitted it to the board on November 23, but received a reply on January 11 with 19 cuts. We wrote to them on January 13, demanding an explanation for the cuts suggested, but didn’t receive a reply. We met Arun Nalawade on January 20. He referred us to Ashok Samel, who cleared the script and he promised to send us a revised letter,” said More.

He added that when the letter arrived on January 27, it gave them a temporary certificate to stage the play once. However, the board retained most cuts suggested earlier, though their number was reduced to 10. A copy of the letter is with The Indian Express.

While Nalawade remained unavailable for comment, Samel, a Marathi playwright, said changes in the script have been suggested to “ensure no communal tension is caused.”

“There are references which can infuriate viewers. The mention of Ramabai Colony, for instance, upsets me. They have used the term ‘Mahar’, which is casteist when the correct term to be used is ‘Dalit’,” said Samel, adding that he asked the makers to remove “Boddhmay Bharat” because the phrase “doesn’t mean anything”.

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/play-on-ambedkar-censor-body-sought-unreasonable-cuts-to-suppress-dalit-voice/

Caste is the cruellest exclusion

By Gail Omvedt

Caste is a form of social exclusion that is firmly entrenched because it is justified by religious scriptures. Brahmanic theory gave religious sanction to an unequal society. This article traces both the history of caste and the history of opposition to it
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Caste is a form of social exclusion unique to the South Asian subcontinent. It is most prevalent in India, but exists also in Nepal and in modified forms in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Castes or [I]jatis[/I] are identified in a hierarchy; at the top are usually brahmins, members of various merchant or [I]bania[/I] castes, and members of regionally-identified ‘dominant castes’ who are farmers and control much of the land. (These include the Maratha-Kunbis in Maharashtra, Patels in Gujarat, Lingayats and Vokkaliga in Karnataka, and many others. Other castes close to these in the hierarchy are the shepherds and cowherds, such as the Yadavas, Dhangars, etc.) Lower down are those performing artisanal skills within the jajmani system, and lowest of all are the ex-untouchables, now called dalits, who are considered ritually impure but also perform most of the agricultural labour and much of the casual labour in India. Then there are the various ‘nomadic tribes’ and ‘scheduled tribes’, or adivasis as they prefer to call themselves, who are outside the village but still linked to it by numerous ties of exchange and ritual relationships.

These jatis are classified, normally according to the four-varna system, as brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra — though dalits and adivasis are outside this system.

Caste within Muslim society has its own classification; those who are considered [I]ashraf [/I](named Sheikh, etc, are supposedly derived from immigrants from Iran or the Turkish territories), and those considered [I]altaf[/I], the ‘backward’ or even dalit Muslims, who also often have occupational linkages.

Castes are identified with typical occupations, though usually these are not performed by the majority today. Nevertheless, the names of many castes derive from these — potter ([I]kumbhar[/I], in the Marathi term), carpenter ([I]sutar[/I]), blacksmith ([I]lohar[/I]), goldsmith ([I]sonar[/I]), etc. Within all of them are important sub-castes (and clan-like groups among the various brahmin castes). Marriages, by normal rules, are only supposed to take place within the caste and sub-caste; thus what is called [I]roti-beti vyvahar[/I], exchange of bread and daughters, is a defining feature of caste.

Caste is a system of social exclusion because the caste a person is born into is supposed to determine his or her occupation and status in life. Further, as a system of social exclusion it is — unlike most others, like racism for example — justified by the religious scriptures which have been considered dominant in Indian society: the [I]Vedas[/I], the [I]Dharmashastras[/I], the [I]Bhagavad Gita[/I] and the [I]Puranas[/I]. This religious justification continues today and has a power that holds sway over millions of people.
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[B]Religious sanction[/B]

Several stories from the ancient Sanskrit symbolise caste exclusion: those of Shambuk, Ekalavya and Sita. In the cases of both Ekalavya and Shambuk, youth of great accomplishment from dalit and adivasi backgrounds were denied their due because of the hierarchy of caste: only a brahmin (or twice-born) could practise austerity; only a kshatriya could be a great archer. The youth were victims of social exclusion due to caste.

Sita was also a victim of India’s caste-defined patriarchy. Cast away by her husband as a result of suspicion after her great ordeal, she had no independent access to property — as innumerable Indian women do not today. She was subject to the cruel norms of the day and to the whims of her husband.

Though the Vedic texts describe a stratified society, it was not yet a caste society. The first text to actually mention the four [I]varnas[/I] is the [I]Purush Sukta[/I] of the Rig Veda, which is considered relatively late (around the 10th century). This famous text describes the brahmin as being born from the mouth of the primordial man, the kshatriya from his shoulders, the vaishya from his thighs, and the shudra from his legs/feet. The inequality of this — the feet normally being considered lower (falling at a person’s feet is still widely practised in India as a way of declaring one’s humility before someone greater) — is clear.

So is the famous passage from the [I]Chandogya Upanishad[/I] — part of a group of texts ordinarily considered high philosophy. This declares that birth into a particular caste results from actions in a previous life, the theory of [I]karma[/I]. Notably it states that:

“[I]…those who are of pleasant conduct here, the prospect \[in rebirth] is indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a brahmin, or the womb of a kshatriya or the womb of a vaishya. But those who are of stinking conduct here, the prospect \[in rebirth] is indeed that they will enter a stinking womb, either the womb of a dog \[who is despised even today] or the womb of a swine, or the womb of a candela[/I]” (5.10.7; translation by Michael Witzel).

Strikingly, here the untouchable or [I]chandala[/I] is equated with a dog or a pig. This, among other things makes the racism in caste clear, that it is the denial of humanity to those of castes considered ‘low’.

But it is the [I]Dharmashastras [/I]and later texts which offer the fullest elaboration of caste. The [I]Manusmriti[/I] is quite clear on this, outlining the duties of the four varnas in great detail, and noting that a shudra cannot be relieved from service since it is his “essence” to serve. Indeed it was the notion of divided human essence — split into four major groups — that underlay much of caste.

Manu, like all ancient law-givers, considers [I]varna samkara[/I] or intercaste marriage or unions, to be the greatest sin. But he and other [I]Dharmashastra[/I] authors also use this as an explanation for the origin of the existing multitude of [I]jatis [/I]considered low which did not fit in the orthodox varna system. They are considered products of such illegitimate unions between human beings of different varnas. Thus Manu and others have complex descriptions of various named groups or jatis, which are all classified as products of unions between members of different varnas.

[I]”Among all the classes, only \[children] who are born ‘with the grain,’ \[or] in wives who are equal \[in class] and have their maidenheads intact \[at marriage] should be considered members of the caste. They say that sons begotten by twice-born men on wives of the very next \[lower] class are similar \[to their fathers] but despised for the flaw in their mothers” [/I](Laws of Manu[I],[/I] 234-5).

Then various ‘castes’ or jatis which are said to be products of mixed union are named, and Manu goes on to say:

[I]”All of those castes who are excluded from the world of those who were born from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet… are traditionally regarded as aliens, whether they speak barbarian languages or Aryan languages. Those who are traditionally regarded as outcastes \[born] of the twice-born and as born of degradation should make their living by their innate activities, which are reviled by the twice-born”[/I] (Laws of Manu[I],[/I] 241).

It is not simply the notorious [I]Manusmriti[/I] which gives a justification for caste. So does the most exalted text of what Romila Thapar called “syndicated Hinduism,” that is, the [I]Bhagavad Gita[/I]. In the final section, of course, there is the famous passage in which Krishna defines the duties of the four varnas (and, in fact, the whole [I]Gita[/I] is in the context of an admonition to Arjuna to fight and thus do his duty, or follow his dharma as a kshatriya), and says that it is better to do one’s own duty badly than to do another’s duty well. This is the meaning of the notion of [I]swadharma,[/I] which even Gandhi praised so much. And, in the first section, where Krishna explains the reason for his taking form as an avatar to save the world, he states that it is due in the end to [I]varnasamkara:[/I]

[I]Upon destruction of the family, perish
The immemorial holy laws of the family;
When the laws have perished, the whole family
Lawlessness overwhelms also.
Because of the prevalence of lawlessness, Krishna,
The women of the family are corrupted;
When the women are corrupted, O Vrsni-clansman,
Mixture of castes ensues.
Mixture \[of castes] leads to naught but hell.[/I]

([I]Bhagavad Gita[/I], part I, verses 40-42, translation by Frank Edgerton. Many modern translations of the [I]Gita[/I] avoid this passage and translate [I]varnasamkara[/I] by some other term)

In other words, the greatest sin was intercaste marriage; and one of the duties of a good king following this doctrine of brahmanism was to enforce the ban on [I]varnasamkara. [/I]In historic times, the most famous example of this was that of the Veerasaivas in the 12th century: because their founder and leader Basava had arranged a marriage between a dalit boy and a brahmin girl, the parents of both were brutally executed by being dragged behind elephants, and in the resulting uproar the Veerasaivas were driven from the kingdom of Kalyana.

Today, of course, caste is prevalent in other religious communities as well; but this is true in the Indian context. Neither Buddhism nor Christianity nor Islam have anything similar to caste in other societies.

[B]History[/B]

Neither the Indus civilisation nor Vedic society knew caste as such, though they had other forms of social stratification. The caste system is not, then, as normally believed, 5,000 years old. It can be said to have originated during the long period of the first millennium BCE. This was a period in which the Aryans were moving and settling in the Gangetic plain. The Indus cities had long ago disappeared, but with the growth of agriculture, the discovery of iron and new productivity came what historians often call the ‘second urbanisation’: a growth in trade and commerce and the rise of cities and kingdoms. It was a turbulent period, one in which a new class society was coming into existence amidst conflicting ideas about what shape this society should have.

The two major streams of these conflicting ideas were the [I]brahmanic[/I][B][I] [/I][/B]and the [I]shramanic[/I]. The brahmins derived from the earlier priests of the Vedic society (though many originated also from indigenous inhabitants), and influential sections of them were beginning to propagate a theory in which the Vedas were the original, unwritten, eternal sacred literature, the brahmins their authorised interpreters, and a [I]varnashrama system[/I] (the four major varnas and the prescribed four stages of life, or [I]ashramas[/I]) was the ideal social form in which Vedic sacrifices could be performed and the proper rituals maintained by the elites of society who were preserved from impurity by having ‘impure’ occupations performed by groups lower in the hierarchy. This theory was beginning to be put forward in clear terms by around the middle of the first millennium BCE.

Brahmanic theory gave religious sanction to a society of inequality. It has to be noted that we use the term ‘Brahmanism’ for this, and not ‘Hinduism’. ‘Hinduism’ as a term for a religion only begins to be seen in very late Sanskrit texts after the Muslim period, and became generalised with the colonial era when it was identified as the religion of the ‘people of India’ and a number of disparate elements (including the sanctity of the Vedas, the various bhakti movements, and popular stories such as the [I]Ramayana[/I] and [I]Mahabharata[/I]) were brought together as the main components of this constructed religion. In the earlier period, the term ‘Hindu’ was unknown in India; it originated first as the mispronunciation of ‘Sind’ by people in the Iranian plateau, who pronounced ‘S’ as ‘H’, thus turning ‘asura’ into ‘ahura’ and ‘Sind’ into ‘Hind’. For a long period the area beyond the Indus (Sind) was known as ‘al-Hind’ to the Muslim world.

The shramana trend contested brahmanic inequality. The word ‘shramana’ means ‘to strive’, and these trends consisted of those who renounced worldly life in striving for religious and social meaning. The shramanas included many groups: Buddhists, Jains, other important sects of the time such as the Ajivikas, and the materialists known as Lokayatas or after their reputed founder, Carvak. These had many points of difference on spiritual and social issues, but they agreed on the important points of denying the authority and antiquity of the Vedas, denying the pre-eminence of brahmins, and rejecting varnashrama as a model of society. In other words, they were relatively egalitarian and the social model they were propagating for the newly emerging class society was an open one, in contrast to the closed system of the brahmins.

It is also significant that the shramanic groups, especially the Buddhists and Jains, were associated with the relatively open commercial and urban world, while Brahmanism developed a more rural base. This is reflected in their literatures.

Buddhist literature (which is normally more socially realistic than the Sanskritic) gives a clear picture of this contestation. In the [I]Vasettha Sutta[/I] of the [I]Sutta Nipata[/I] it is described how a young brahmin, Vasettha, comes to Buddha. He says: “My friend Bharadwaj and I have been having a dispute: what makes a brahmin. He asserts that it is birth (jati): a pure birth through seven generations produces a brahmin. I say it is action ([I]kamma[/I]).” The Buddha then answers him by arguing that while there are jatis among plants and animals, human beings, from the hairs of their head to the nails of their feet, have no essential biological differences. Rather, it is action that makes a person: one who makes war is a soldier; one who farms is a farmer; one who does commerce is a trader, and so on. The debate depicts several features. First, there were differences also among brahmins about the emerging theory of ‘Brahmanism’. Second, there was a racial-biological element in the interpretation of caste even from the beginning, which the Buddha refutes (showing that he knew what the Hindu Council theorists do not know even today: there is no race among humans). And third, what was essential at the social level was not so much the varnas as the various occupations which were to become (in varnashrama dharma) described as caste duties.

The debates went on, and so did the contestations. It is important to realise that the caste system was never imposed all at once on Indian society: it took centuries — a full millennium — before caste became the hegemonic feature of society. This happened before the Muslim invasions, and came around the 5th-6th centuries with the defeat of Buddhism. But the beginnings were laid in the middle of the first millennium BCE, when the caste system was promulgated as a theory, a model of how to organise society, being propagated vigorously by the brahmins. They used their interpretations of earlier scriptures such as the [I]Vedas[/I] (particularly the [I]Purush Sukta[/I]), and then produced many ‘manuals’ of the social order, or [I]Dhramashastras[/I]. Texts such as the [I]Manusmriti [/I]are thus more prescriptive than descriptive. It is important to stress that the most severe interpretations of caste rigidity, such as the [I]Manusmriti[/I], came long before Islam even came into existence. The Hindutva theory that it was Muslim invasions that caused the rigidity of caste is historically impossible.

[B]Resistance to caste[/B]

The history of resistance to caste exclusion includes the early [I]shramanic [/I]religions; it includes much of the way in which Islam and Christianity functioned in India. There were also many indigenous religious movements that rejected caste, including the Nath Siddhas and others. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Bhakti movement, that is the movement which spread throughout much of India from the 12th century onwards. (Earlier Tamil Bhakti, which had the stamp of opposition to Buddhism, is perhaps an exception to this, but radicalism was very evident in some of the Saivite Siddhar groups). The Veerasaiva movement in Karnataka, the Varkaris in Maharashtra (Namdev, Jnandev, Tukaram, Cokhamela), the movement of Kabir and Ravidas in northern India are among the most famous of these. Sikhism itself as a separate religion grew out of a Bhakti movement. Of these famous sants, none identified themselves as ‘Hindus’; some, including Nanak and others (as well as some Sufis such as Bulle Shah) insisted that they were “neither Hindu nor Muslim (Turk)”. Their opposition to caste was famous and was expressed very strongly by Kabir:

[I]Worship, libations, six sacred rites,
this dharma’s full of ritual blights.
Four ages teaching Gayatri, I ask you, who won liberty?
You wash your body if you touch another,
tell me who could be lower than you?
Proud of your merit, puffed up with your rights,
no good comes out of such great pride.
How could he whose very name
is pride-destroyer endure the same?
Drop the limits of caste and clan,
seek for freedom’s space,
destroy the shoot, destroy the seed,
seek the unembodied place. (Ramaini 35)
[/I](Translation based on Hess and Singh in Kabir 1986)

In a famous [I]doha[/I] from the popular tradition, Kabir sings:

[I]Baman se gadaha bhalla, aan jaat se kutta,
mulla se murag bhalla, raat jaagaave suta
[/I]([I]A donkey’s better than a brahmin, a dog beats other castes, a cock is better than a mullah to tell us night is past [/I]\[my translation])

Tuka (Tukaram), the famous Maharashtrian sant of the early-17th century, was brutal in his condemnation of brahmins for the practice of caste. In one song he contrasts the brahmin with the famous Ravidas:

[I]He’s a devotionless brahman, let his face burn.
From what concubine was he born?
Blessed is the mother of the Vaishnava Chambhar;
both lineage and caste are pure.
It is not simply what I say —
this is the decision given anciently.
Tuka says, let this greatness burn up in fire,
I don’t want to even see these evil ones. [/I](#1319)

In the end, however, the Bhakti movement failed to create a casteless society; it was absorbed and co-opted by a resurgent brahmanism that distorted the lives and teachings of the sant. This process was nearly complete by the 18th century, though it continues today. For example, there has been a widely popular movement in Maharashtra against the control of brahmin priests at the Pandharpur temple, centre of the Bhakti movement; but although the state finally took control in early-2008, it prescribed two things that went against the spirit of Bhakti: one, that only ‘Hindus’ (no Muslims) could be members of the controlling committee; and two, that the [I]Purush Sukta[/I] must be part of the rituals observed!

It was during the colonial period that the strongest radical movement against caste exclusion took place, pioneered by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra, Pandit Iyothee Thass in Tamil Nadu, and carried forward by E V Ramsami ‘Periyar’, Dr Ambedkar and a host of leaders and multitude of activists throughout India. These could, with the help of early British scholarship, give a historical and social interpretation of caste — something the Bhakti radicals could not do. The non-brahmin movements in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the movement of ‘backward castes’ in north India, and finally the dalit movement throughout India posed a challenge both to the dominant brahmanic leadership of Congress and to the British who, in the end, were upholding the dominant social order in India. It is this movement that is carried on today.

[B]Caste in Independent India[/B]

The complex dialectic between a Gandhian and Nehruvite Congress, still much under the domination of brahmanic thinking but fighting for independence, and a movement of the less educated, less resourceful subalterns led finally by Ambedkar, Periyar and others, has left a mixed legacy to Independent India. Formally and legally, the country denies caste and considers untouchability a crime. But socially and ideologically, it persists in many ways. Thus we see a mixture today: the rise of a Mayawati symbolising dalit aspirations in a politically powerful way; the political power of ‘other backward castes’ symbolised by Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav; the existence of reservations and with it the slow but inevitable emergence of an intelligentsia from among dalits themselves; the fact that even with globalisation, dalits and other subalterns are making their way — overseas, into new professions, away from agriculture. And, on the other hand, the continuance of practices of exclusion that include much less access to land, food and water for the lower castes and dalits; the lack of a really solid business base (in the share of ‘capital’) for the dalit middle class — contrasted, for example, with African Americans in the US; and, above all, the continuation of individual and group atrocities. Chhunduru in Andhra Pradesh, Jajjar in Haryana, Khairlanji in supposedly progressive Maharashtra are only a few examples. The famous dalit woman writer Bama relates that in a seminar on literature in France, when she brought up the issue of Jajjar, a brahmin writer present replied by saying: “But they had killed a cow!”

Caste exclusion, in other words, still exists, and it still has religious sanction.

[I](Gail Omvedt is a scholar, sociologist and human rights activist who has been involved in d[/I][LINK=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalit][I]alit[/I][/LINK][I] and anti-[/I][LINK=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste][I]caste[/I][/LINK][I] movements. She is the author of several books including [/I]Dalits and the Democratic Revolution[I] and [/I]Dalit Visions: The Anticaste Movement and Indian Cultural Identity[I]. She is currently a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla )[/I]

[B]References[/B]

[I]The Bijak of Kabir,[/I] translated by Linda Hess and Shukhdev Singh. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986

The [I]Bhagavad Gita[/I], translated and interpreted by Franklin Edgerton, Harper Torchbooks, 1944

The[I] Bhagavad Gita[/I], [LINK=http://www.bhagavad-gita.us/categories/Chapter-One-of-the-Bhagavad-Gita/?Page=2][U]http://www.bhagavad-gita.us/categories/Chapter-One-of-the-Bhagavad-Gita/?Page=2[/U][/LINK]

[I]Kautilya, The Arthashastra[/I], Edited, rearranged, translated and introduced by L R Rangarajan, Penguin Books, 1992

[I]Manusmriti: The Laws of Manu,[/I] with an introduction and notes, translated by Wendy Doniger with Brian K Smith, Penguin Books, 1991

Courtesy: InfoChange News & Features, October 2008[/B]

How Politics Has Poisoned Islam (NYT)

Mustafa Akyol FEB. 3, 2016

ISTANBUL — We Muslims like to believe that ours is “a religion of peace,” but today Islam looks more like a religion of conflict and bloodshed. From the civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to internal tensions in Lebanon and Bahrain, to the dangerous rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Middle East is plagued by intra-Muslim strife that seems to go back to the ancient Sunni-Shiite rivalry.

Religion is not actually at the heart of these conflicts — invariably, politics is to blame. But the misuse of Islam and its history makes these political conflicts much worse as parties, governments and militias claim that they are fighting not over power or territory but on behalf of God. And when enemies are viewed as heretics rather than just opponents, peace becomes much harder to achieve.

This conflation of religion and politics poisons Islam itself, too, by overshadowing all the religion’s theological and moral teachings. The Quran’s emphasis on humility and compassion is sidelined by the arrogance and aggressiveness of conflicting groups.

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A suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque in Sana, Yemen, late last year. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
This is not a new problem in Islam. During the seventh-century leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, whose authority was accepted by all believers, Muslims were a united community. But soon after the prophet’s death, a tension arose that escalated to bloodshed. The issue was not how to interpret the Quran or how to understand the prophet’s lessons. It was about political power: Who — as the caliph, or successor to the prophet — had the right to rule?

This political question even pit the prophet’s widow Aisha against his son-in-law Ali. Their followers killed one another by the thousands in the infamous Battle of the Camel in 656. The next year, they fought the even bloodier Battle of Siffin, where followers of Ali and Muawiyah, the governor of Damascus, crossed swords, deepening the divisions that became the Sunni-Shiite split that persists today.

In other words, unlike the early Christians, who were divided into sects primarily through theological disputes about the nature of Christ, early Muslims were divided into sects over political disputes about who should rule them.

It is time to undo this conflation of religion and politics. Instead of seeing this politicization of religion as natural — or even, as some Muslims do, something to be proud of — we should see it as a problem that requires a solution.

This solution should start with a paradigm shift about the very concept of the “caliphate.” It’s not just that the savage Islamic State has hijacked this concept for its own brutal purposes. The problem goes deeper: Traditional Muslim thought regarded the caliphate as an inherent part of Islam, unintentionally politicizing the faith for centuries. But it was not mandated by either the Quran or the prophet, but instead was a product of the historical, political experience of the Muslim community.

Moreover, once Muslim thought viewed the caliphate as an integral part of the religion, political leaders and Islamic scholars built an authoritarian political tradition around it. As long as the caliph was virtuous and law-abiding, Islamic thinkers obliged Muslims to obey him. This tradition did not consider, however, that virtue was relative, power itself had a corrupting influence and even legitimate rulers could have legitimate opponents.

In the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire, then the seat of the caliphate, took a major step forward in the Muslim political tradition by importing Western liberal norms and institutions. The sultan’s powers were limited, an elected Parliament was established and political parties were allowed. This promising effort, which would make the caliph the head of a British-style democratic monarchy, was only half-successful. It ended when republican Turkey abolished the very institution of the caliphate after World War I.

The birth of the modern-day Islamist movement was a reaction to this post-caliphate vacuum. The overly politicized Islamists not only kept the traditional view that religion and state are inseparable, they even recast religion as state. “True religion is no more than the system which God had decreed to govern the affairs of human life,” Sayyid Qutb, a prominent Islamist ideologue, wrote in the 1960s. And since God would never actually come down to govern human affairs, Islamists would do it in his name.

Not all Islamic thinkers took this line. The 20th-century scholar Said Nursi saw politics not as a sacred realm, but rather a devilish zone of strife. “I seek refuge in God from Satan and politics,” he wrote. His followers built an Islamic civil society movement in Turkey, asking only religious freedom from the state. Contemporary Muslim academics such as Abdelwahab El-Affendi and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im have articulated powerful Islamic arguments for embracing a liberal secularism that respects religion. They rightly point out that Muslims need secularism to be able to practice their religion as they see fit. I would add that Muslims also need secularism to save religion from serving as handmaiden to unholy wars of domination.

None of this means that Islam, with core values of justice, should be totally blind to politics. Religion can play a constructive role in political life, as when it inspires people to speak truth to power. But when Islam merges with power, or becomes a rallying cry in power struggles, its values begin to fade