Happy Constitution Day. Yet, India is where some are forced to eat cow dung
- Govt is trying to appropriate BR Ambedkar on one hand, and belittle Nehru on the other
- It is trying to cover up Hindutva icons like Savarkar and Golwalkar who wanted the
- ‘Manusmriti’ to stand in for the Constitution of the country
- Ambedkar warned us about political equality, social inequality
- Home ministry data shows communal violence is rising
- About half the country’s wealth is with the top 1%
More in the story
- Will ritualistic celebrations further any conversation on the Constitution?
- Are we bridging the gaps in our society, or are they getting wider?
- Has the lot of Dalits changed for the better?
“The medium is the message”
‘The spectacle is not just a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images’
– Guy Debord, (Society of the Spectacle, 1967)
Mujadpur, a village in Haryana’s Hisar district, has often been in the news for what government lexicon calls ‘dalit atrocities‘, involving murders and ‘suicides’.
Recently, it was hit by another such incident, albeit of a less fatal nature: Members of the Jat community thrashed a dalit man called Ramdhari and his family members and stuffed cow dung in his mouth. Reportedly, Ramdhari installed a statue of BR Ambedkar in his house and that provoked the upper caste Jats.
The irony of this cannot be emphasised enough. After all, Amebedkar is meant to be a Dalit icon.
One does not know whether in an area dominated by the Jats, Ramdhari’s perpetrators have been arrested under provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989) or not.
Or has the incident been explained away in the light of some vague personal animosity, which is what happened when two children in Sunped were recently killed by throwing of inflammable material in their house by dominant castes.
As the nation begins another series of grand celebrations, this time to celebrate the contributions of BR Ambedkar, the plight of a dalit family for merely installing his statue stares at us in our eyes. It is symptomatic of the gap between the principles and values on which the Constitution is based and the situation on the ground.
As the chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution, Ambedkar “piloted the draft” in the Constituent Assembly. But in his more than three-decade-long political career, he also put forward a “variety of political and social ideas that fertilised Indian thinking” (as the late President KR Narayanan said).
And, looking back, he could foresee the unfolding situation and underlined the challenges to convert political democracy into a social democracy. His prophetic words still ring true:
“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?”
The Constitution came into force on 26 January, 1950, but it was adopted on 26 November, 1949.
And this 26 November, being celebrated as Constitution Day, has an added flavour to it as it is going to be part of the year-long nationwide celebration to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar.
The government has notified that Parliament will be illuminated on the occasion; a special two-day session will be held to discuss Ambedkar’s seminal contribution.
All major ministries have been roped in, officials have been asked to read out the Preamble of the Constitution, colleges will hold mock Parliaments, schools will organise quiz contests and essay competitions to apprise students of the importance of the Constitution.
We don’t know whether the series of activities – planned much on the lines of spectacles like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Jan Dhan, Make in India, #Give it Up, Good Governance Day, World Yoga Day, Digital India Week, which help create an illusion of a government constantly engaged with its people – would be able to really generate any concrete conversation about the Constitution and its implementation.
In an era of 24-hour cycles of breaking news and 10-second attention spans, this seems impossible.
Critics see this move to celebrate ‘Constitution Day’ – discounting the earlier practice of celebrating 26 January, the day on which it came into force, as part of the government’s efforts to not only win over Dalits and appropriate Ambedkar but also to deny Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, his due.
Ambekdar had been a long-time critic of Nehru’s policies. But history bears witness to the fact that he accepted the advice of Mahatma Gandhi.
‘In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality’ – Ambedkar
Not only did he persuade Ambedkar to be the chairman of the Drafting Committee, the towering leader of the anti-colonial struggle consistently remained on Ambedkar’s side during the process of preparation of its draft as conservative elements within Congress and outside consistently opposed many modern, progressive provisions he wanted to incorporate.
The critics also see the government’s activities as an attempt to cover up the role of the leaders of the Hindutva Supremacists like Vinayak Savarkar and MS Golwalkar.
Not only dis such leaders oppose the making of a new Constitution, they even proposed that ‘Manusmriti’ – the edict of Hindus – be adopted as the nascent nation’s constitution.
One should note that their compromising role during the independence struggle is also increasingly coming under scanner.
The more things change…
It is difficult to say whether a lit-up Parliament would throw light on the stark fact that despite around 65 years of the promulgation of the Constitution and its solemn declaration about abolition of discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, sex, ethnicity etc, it continues in very many ways.
For the first time, we have a Parliament where the ruling dispensation at the Centre does not have a single member from the biggest minority community of the country. In fact, we have the lowest representation of them in the august house.
A stark example of continuing age-old discrimination is that the government’s own admission that manual scavenging still continues.
Despite making two laws – in 1993 and 2013 – the situation on the ground remains qualitatively the same. According to rough estimates, around 8 lakh people are engaged in this ‘profession’ and 95% of them are women.
Govt’s aim: appropriate Ambedkar, deny Nehru, cover-up Savarkar, Golwalkar et al
For that matter, there are more than 8,000 dowry deaths in India – perhaps a women is killed every hour in India for not fulfilling her in-laws’ demands.
Even as the ruling dispensation denies the rising chorus against “intolerance” in the country as politically motivated, communal incidents in India are on the rise. This brings to the fore the fact that religion-based exclusions and violations of rights continue unabated.
According to records with the ministry of home affairs (MHA), there have been 630 communal incidents this year until October, up from 561 in the same period last year.
The biggest democracy in the world seems to tolerates mass crimes or crimes against humanity, against those excluded in various kinds. Perpetrators of such crimes have always gone unpunished.
The targets of such mass crimes are mainly the religious minorities, or people on the lowest rung of the social matrix or the toiling masses.
Would anyone believe that the ‘first’ massacre of 42 Dalits – mainly women and children – in independent India at Kizzhevanamani (Tamil Nadu, 1969) by local upper caste landlords went unpunished with a specious argument on the part of the judiciary that “these are upper caste people and it is impossible to believe that they would have gone walking to the dalit hamlet”.
Or how India is slowly metamorphosing into one of the most iniquitous societies in the world where its 1 per centres – its super-rich – have been getting richer faster, or the top 1% holds close to half the country’s total wealth. The policies adopted by this government, benefitting the rich and detrimental to the poor, are further aggravating the situation.
There could be very many issues which need to be unpacked and looked at critically. Perhaps only then can we move towards an exciting conversation.