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Wednesday 13 February 2013

Untouchability is still widely practiced in Uttar-Pradesh

Untouchability is still widely practiced in Uttar-Pradesh
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
The Humanise India journey culminates in Lucknow today after 15 days of difficult yet fruitful visit to over 20 districts of Uttar-Pradesh. It gave us glimpse of the situation that existed at various places. The most gruesome factor is that Untouchability is still practiced and not just among the so-called upper caste and lower castes but also among various marginalized communities too.  While the numerically stronger communities among OBCs and Dalits are vocal politically, the condition of those who do not possess numbers is pathetic to say the least. In the din of the politics of identity, these communities are left to fetch themselves.

The politically conscious Dalits will never accept Untouchability and Caste discrimination yet the social structure in the village has not changed so far. The condition of communities such as Bansfors, Doms, Balmikis, Kanjars, Nats, Mushahars, Khatik or turahas, Nonias, pattharkattas, and Kols is inexplicably miserable as they face isolation and untouchability both. It is these communities who face the brunt of being marginalized and politically least represented. Among the represented communities, it is Chamars who are politically conscious at most of the places but away from the developmental ladders. Among the so-called shudra communities, it is Nais (barbars), Gonds, Mallahs, Nishads, Rajbhars, Vishwakarmas, Bind the situation is really terrible. In the absence of land reforms most of these communities live in absolute landlessness and hunger. The political representation is minimal among them except for the Chamars and Pasis but the social structure remain powerful as usual with dominant upper caste communities still play their role.  The dominance of Brahmins were unambiguously visible in Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Allahabad and Chitrakoot districts while the Thakurs still have their control in Varanasi, Fatehpur and Pratapgarh districts. The Kurmis too play their dominance in Bundelkhand region. It results in the marginalization of the most marginalized communities in the villages.

It is also well known that Muslims too suffer with the same inadequacies of caste as the non-Muslims. The Hellas is an untouchable community among the Muslims which is engaged in manual scavenging work. In many places they suffer because the municipalities do not give them job and they do not fall under the reserve category of Scheduled Castes.  Their number is very low hence they do not come under the agenda of any political party. Communities like Kasgar ( Ghadladdas), barbars, Julahas are living in miseries without world knowing much about them. A majority of the Islamic Tanjims in UP have not grown beyond Madrasas and mosques.

The continuous engagement of people in the manual scavenging is a shame to Uttar-Pradesh. It shows the negligence shown by various state governments towards elimination of manual scavenging. While the Nagar Palika jobs have been offered to other communities thus reducing the economic stability of the Swchchakar communities, no effort has been made to honorably rehabilitate them and provide them alternative for a better life. The terrible reality of Kumbha is reminder how the caste forces have never ever used the issue of caste and untouchability in their public platform. The big talks of 'spiritualism' and 'sarv dharm samabhav' are absolutely bogus as behind these glittering is the dark reality of exploitation of people on the basis of their caste. Religion is politics is visible everywhere including Kumbha.

The struggles for land and forest rights are foiled by the powerful caste lobbies. It is difficult for social activists to raise the issue of implementation of Land ceiling Act in places like Pratapgarh, Varanasi, Azamgarh and Maharajganj. The dominance of Brahmins and Thakurs in these regions is perfect and absolute. Political representation of Dalits and backwards may be there but socially the oppressive and rigid caste forces have not allowed land to be redistributed among the Dalits. Unfortunately, the political forces in Uttar-Pradesh too have given little priority to the issue of land reform and worked more on the mobilization through caste identities. It is a phenomenon which has outgrown now and while people and experts in Delhi may harp on this, on longer term, UP will come back to issues after 2020. Ofcourse, people will force their agendas but alternative leadership among various communities will emerge questioning the current corrupted lot who use the community ladder to grow and ignore them after they win the elections. Politics in the state is based on adjustment of votes here and there and hence the most marginalized is completely forgotten by those. Winning the election is the most important agenda and if you get votes without working much on the ground then nothing is greater than that. But that has given rise to frustration among people.

Religious card is used to oppress the Dalit OBCs further and marginalize them by using the threat from Muslims. At Alllahabad Kumbh, the invitation to Dalai Lama and then using the threat of Muslims to India in the name of Bangladeshis by the forces like Vishwa Hindu Parishad has to be understood well. The grand Hindutva forces have the Shudras as their 'gate keepers' and their energy is being pushed against the Muslims and Dalits in villages.  By Inviting Dalai Lama, Singhal gave a signal for their big political agenda that Buddha was the 10th incarnation of Vishnu. It is disgusting to see Dalai Lama saying Rama and Buddha came from the same dynasty of Ishwaku. VHP is working overtime to bring Dalits into Hindutva agenda and hence Buddhism is now being projected as part of Hinduism and countries including Japan, Thailand as our 'own'.

The academics do not want to discuss caste and untouchability. Some say, it will not go. At a place, a Brahmin driver told us a horrible thing when we saw students in the college touching the feet of the principle.  'Sir, the principle is a brahmin and that is why students respect him. Not all teachers can gain that much respect. We cannot touch the feet of a 'harijan' teacher', he said. It reflects the mindset prevailing in the state. The socially powerful forces have used the political compulsion for their benefits hence the upper caste Hindus might be out politically but have wonderfully used the contradictions of Dalit and shudras for their own benefits. Their cause becomes easier because the shudra political leadership have aligned with these power elite. Dalits too have felt comfortable in aligning with the Brahmins because of BSP's political strategy resulting in people becoming pigmies in the game of political one upmanship among different political groups.

In Uttar-Pradesh as educational institutions are dominated by the caste elites to influence politics and people at the local level. Ofcourse, Brahmins and Thakurs dominate the schools but now the Kurmis, Yadavs, Kushwahas and Chamars too, have followed the trend. The MPLDF and MLALDF come easier to fund the constructions of building in the name of schools. Most of these schools work as a facilitator for enabling people pass their exams with 'good' division. The health care system is in shamble as at most places doctors do not come of course ' Samajwadi ambulance', a new centralized ambulance service by the government at no cost,  is becoming popular now.

In the coming days, we will share some other stories during this journey to Humanise India. We initiated a process and today in Lucknow we wish to reiterate that our fight against Untouchability, Caste Discrimination and Communalism would continue so that we have an enlightened India as envisaged by our constitutional forefathers.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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