Saturday, October 20, 2007


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Could Partition been averted?
COULD PARTITION HAVE BEEN AVERTED?* (Sunday Vijay Times, June 12, 2005)P.N.BENJAMINThe threat that the Muslims had been uttering for years, their warnings that a cataclysm would overtake India if they were denied their state, took on a terrifying reality. Suddenly India was confronted by the awful vision that had sickened Gandhi and sent him into the jungles of Noakhali: Civil war. To Jinnah, that prospect now became the tool with which to pry India apart. In August 1946 itself Jinnah, flinging the gauntlet down to Congress and to the British, had vowed: “We shall have India divided or we shall have India destroyed.”At dawn on August 16, 1946, in Calcutta, Muslim mobs howling in a quasi-religious fervour came bursting from their slums, waving clubs, iron bars, shovels, any instrument capable of smashing a human skull. They came to answer the call issued by Muslim League, proclaiming August 16 “Direct Action Day”, to prove to Britain and the Congress Party that India’s Muslims were prepared “to get Pakistan for themselves by ‘Direct Action’ if necessary.” They savagely beat to a pulp any Hindu in their path and left the bodies in the city’s open gutters. Soon tall pillars of black smoke stretched up from a score of spots in the city, Hindu bazars in full blaze.Later, the Hindu mobs came storming out of their neighbourhood, looking for defenceless Muslims to slaughter. Never, in all its violent history, had Calcutta known twenty-four hours as savage, as packed with human viciousness. Like water-soaked logs, scores of bloated cadavers bobbed down the Hoogly river toward the sea. Other corpses, savagely mutilated, littered the city’s streets. Everywhere, the weak and the helpless suffered most. At one intersection, a line of Muslim coolies lay beaten to death where a Hindu mob had found them, between the pole of their rickshaws. By the time the slaughter was over, Calcutta belonged to the vultures. In filthy grey packs they scudded across the sky, tumbling down to gorge themselves on the bodies of the city’s six thousand dead. The Great Calcutta’s Killings, as they became known, changed the course of India’s history. They triggered bloodshed in Noakhali, where Gandhi was, in Bihar, and on the other side of the subcontinent, in Bombay.Mullahs roamed the Punjab and the Frontier Province with boxes of human skulls said to be those of Muslims killed in Bihar. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs who had lived for centuries on the Northwest Frontier abandoned their homes and fled towards the protection of the predominantly Sikh and Hindu communities in the east. They travelled on foot, in bullock carts, crammed into lorries, clinging to the sides and roofs of trains. Along the way – at fords, at crossroads, at railroad stations – they collided with panicky swarms of Muslims fleeing to the safety in the west. The riots had become a routine.The summer of 1947 was not like other Indian summers. Even the weather had a different feel in India that year. It was hotter than usual, and drier and dustier. And the summer was longer. No one could remember when the monsoon had been so late. For weeks, the sparse clouds cast only shadows. There was no rain. People began to say that God was punishing them for their sins.Some of them had a good reason to feel that they had sinned. The summer before, communal riots, precipitated by reports of the proposed division of the country into a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan, had broken out in Calcutta, and within a few months the death toll had mounted to several thousands. Muslims said the Hindus had planned and started the killing. According to the Hindus, the Muslims were to blame. The fact is that both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped. By the summer of 1947, when the creation of the new state of Pakistan was formally announced, ten million people – Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – were in flight. By the time the monsoon broke, almost a million of them were dead. And all of northern India was in arms, in terror, or in hiding. The only remaining oases of peace were a scatter of little villages lost in the remote reaches of the frontier.Could the Partition have been avoided? This question has troubled many in the sub-continent since 1947. What led to the Partition? Was it necessary to concede demand for Pakistan? Was so much bloodshed avoidable? How did British administration and Indian communal politicians manipulate people towards such a hideous end? These questions have troubled many, in the sub-continent, since 1947. Based on extensive research on official documents and other material many have come to the conclusion – it was unnecessary.The Congress Party leadership, especially, Nehru and Patel, are held to be culpable along with Jinnah, Mountbatten and many British civil and military officials. By August 1947 Jinnaha and the Muslim League could not have settled or anything less than Pakistan. Once the communal carnage had been let loose, their ability to compromise evaporated The actions of some departing British and civil and military officials favouring Pakistan because of personal loyalties or because of realpolitik visions of British and Western interests have been well documented and can also possibly be regarded as a conspiracy hatched against India.In retrospect it has been said: “If Nehru had followed the lead of Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Azad a united India would have resulted. The latter favoured the British Cabinet Mission’s proposal based on a confederation. (Baren Ray: “Partition of India and other related matters”). He suggests that Nehru was overtly influenced by the Hindu business community who feared their economic dominance would be diluted. However, it is not easy to dismiss the fears of Balkanisation of India under the Cabinet Mission plan, which had been articulated even by an outsider like Ambedkar.Nehru and many of his contemporaries in India did believe that the Partition was temporary. But the series of Indo-Pak conflicts, the decision of Bangladesh to retain separate identity and the present level of sectarian passion prevalent in the sub-continent indicate that this was unduly optimistic.Partition is moving into history. We need to study it even more carefully and objectively than was done in the past. It is, therefore, time for us to move away from our old mindset and accept the new realities. That is exactly what Mr. Advani has tried to do in his speeches in Pakistan. But so long as sectarianism and narrow provincialism are allowed to poison the minds of the people, so long as there are ambitious men and women with corruption inside them, seeking power and position, so long will people continue to be deluded and misled, as the Muslim masses were deluded and misled by the Muslim League leaders, and so long will discord and disruption continue to threaten peace and security of millions in the subcontinent.P.N.BENJAMINbenjaminpn@hotmail.comB-1, Lan Castle,186 Wheeler Road Extn.,Bangalore 560 084* Sunday Vijay Times, 12 June 2005
posted by BIRD at 8:40 PM 4 comments
Friday, May 20, 2005

WHY ARE WE STILL IN DARK AGES?(Vijay Times, 18 May 2005)P.N.BENJAMINIndian law sets 18 as the minimum age for a woman to marry and 21 for a man. When Indian Parliament adopted the Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1978, legislators hoped that the statute would curb child marriages and the social ills they perpetuate. Concern focused on an arc of populous northern states where child marriages are most deeply rooted: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.Child marriage is illegal but many rural children are still forcibly married on Akha Teej, an auspicious Hindu day traditionally used in some rural areas as a date for child marriages. Girls, some as young as six months old, are married to older boys every year during this controversial annual festival held usually in late April or early May. The authorities and various social activists have been trying to stop them for years, but they have been largely unsuccessful. Women's groups and social activists have gone to villages to urge people not to marry off their young daughters. But the efforts appear to have been largely in vain. Now there are attempts to encourage families to delay the date when the married daughters leave home to join their husbands, when the marriages are actually consummated. Recently, in Madhya Pradesh, a social worker Shakuntala Verma had her one hand severed and the other badly wounded in an attack when she was trying to stop child marriages in Bhangarh village.While Shakuntala lay critically wounded in hospital, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Babulal Gaur responded to the attack by throwing up his hands to high heavens and said: “The law to prevent child marriage is so ancient. But even after so many years of the law coming into being, child marriages continue to take place. We cannot stop it forcefully. What is required is awareness.” Why should we criticise him for his supposedly thoughtless and heartless comments? Haven’t we heard such reactions before? Gaur is not the first politician to do so nor would he be the last. Here’s a little history. In 1994 the National Commission for Women urged the Congress government at the Centre, headed by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, to consolidate the separate marriage laws that exist for each of the major religious communities -- Hindu, Muslim and Christian -- and to include a provision requiring that all marriages be legally registered. That, the Commission reasoned, could be used to bar any under-age marriages. But the government rejected the proposal, as did its successor, the United Front government headed by Prime Minister Deve Gowda, in 1996. "It has been the consistent policy of the government not to interfere in the personal laws of the distinct communities unless the initiative comes from the communities themselves," the government said in a statement then. "The government is of the view that it is only through social and economic upliftment of these sections of the community that the practice can be eradicated." Sociologists trace the origin of child marriages to Muslim invasions that began more than a thousand years ago. The havoc unleashed during Muslim rule led to panic in Hindu society. Through enticement or, more usually, by wielding the sword Muslims started mass conversions of Hindus. Partly in reaction to this desperate situation Hindus started degenerate practices such as child marriage and sati. Legend has it that the invaders raped unmarried Hindu girls or carried them off as booty, prompting Hindu communities to marry off their daughters almost from birth to protect them. Today, the stories have an echo in the local view that any girl reaching puberty without getting married will fall prey to sexual depredations.Tradition has been reinforced by necessity. Securing early marriages for daughters can mean the difference between subsistence and hunger. In many cases documented by sociologists, girls as young as six or seven have been taken away by their husbands' families to begin working as servants or field hands. After all, with the addition of a girl to the household, the in-laws get a laborer, someone who will feed the cattle and clear the house, a servant who comes free of cost.Child marriages contribute to virtually every social problem that keeps India behind in women's rights. The problems include soaring birth rates, grinding poverty and malnutrition, high illiteracy and infant mortality, and low life expectancy, especially among rural women. In Rajasthan, a survey of more than 5,000 women conducted by the government showed that 56 percent had married before they were 15. Of those, 3 percent married before they were 5 and another 14 percent before they were 10. Barely 18 percent were literate, and only 3 percent used any form of birth control other than sterilization. Large families and poor health for children and mothers were among the results. The survey showed that of every 1,000 births, 73 children died in infancy, and 103 were under the age of 5 when they died. Sixty-three percent of children under 4 were found to be severely undernourished. Average life expectancy for women was 58. In every case, the figures were among the worst for any Indian state. Social workers report that many husbands ‘get tired’ of their marriages after the third, fourth or fifth child, when their wives are still teen-agers. Alcoholism contributes to domestic violence, with sometimes fatal beatings. In some cases, husbands sell their wives, and even their unmarried daughters, as sexual partners to other men. In scores of cases every year, village women strike back by killing their husbands, only to face long terms in prison. A few pertinent questions could be asked at this stage. Who are the guilty ones in perpetuating social evils like child marriages? Who has been ruling this country – at the Centre and in States – for the last 58 years? It is the Congress party, which swore to protect the interests of the poor and the oppressed, children, women and men alike. It should be remembered that every single one of the leading protagonists and social reformers in the long-running political drama of musical chairs has been a Congress, or a Communist or a Socialist politician – except for a few years during the BJP-led governments. However, it must be borne in mind that the BJP governments in MP and Rajasthan also seem to have done precious little to cure the villagers of their superstitious beliefs and
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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

and should confront Bible-thumping preachers on their own terms, for the scriptural emphasis on justice and compassion gives the Left plenty of ammunition. After all, the Bible depicts Jesus as healing lepers, not slashing Medicaid. By arrangement with the New York Times
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Thursday, May 12, 2005

CONVERT TO GOD OR CHRISTIANITY?P.N. Benjamin* “If the churches were engaged in conversion spree, the whole of India would have been Christianised,” claimed one Richard Howell of Evangelical Fellowship of India, writing in a Bangalore daily some time ago. I reacted swiftly and sharply in the same paper three days later, wondering whether the guy wasn’t living in the proverbial fool’s paradise. Wasn’t he touchingly naive and provocative? And I prayed: “Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he is talking.”No one can deny that genuine conversions do take place through the influence of one individual on another. In the mid-1970s, a lovely Canadian girl came to Bangalore on a Government of India scholarship to learn Bharata Natyam. (She was staying with the late Dr. Fredrick Mulyil and Mrs. Gladys Mulyil. Dr Mulyil was a Professor at the United Theological College and Mrs. Mulyil, Professor of English Language and Literature at the Central College, Bangalore. I was their neighbour.) Like most of her generation in the West, she was an agnostic. She was U.S. Krishna Rao’s star pupil and made her debut in six months. One day she met Mother Teresa. She fell under her spell. She abandoned dance and donned the robes of a nun. “You are a born artist. How dare you become a nun?”—Krishna Rao raged in vain. She went to Calcutta and later to Mexico where she was working in a slum when I last heard about her. Not even the RSS or the VHP could quarrel with such a conversion. But when a well-organised body financed by foreign money begins to shift a whole herd of people from one caste to another one begins to suspect their motives.Some forty years ago, a brilliant Danish Professor, Dr Kaaj Baggo, in the United Theological College, Bangalore, made history when he said: “Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists should never give up their religion for the Christian Church.” On the other hand the Church should humble itself and find ways of identifying with other groups, taking Christ with them Christ, he said, was not the chairman of the Christian party. If God is the Lord of the universe he will work through every culture and religion. We must give up the crusading spirit of the colonial era and stop singing weird hymns like “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war”. This will lead to Hindu Christianity or Buddhist Christianity.It may involve the disappearance of the Indian Christian community, but he reminded us “a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls to the ground and dies”. Needless to say, the Indian Christians were furious. He left the College, the Church and the mission and took refuge with the Danish Foreign Service! He later returned to India as his country’s Ambassador and died in harness in 1988.About a hundred and fifty years ago England was sending out a very important Anglican Church dignitary as Metropolitan of Calcutta. The Brahmin priests got wind of it. They were perturbed. This foreign religion might become a threat to their own traditions. They must investigate. So, they sent one of their men to assess the situation. He wandered around the city till he came to the Bishop’s residence. It was a vast sprawling opulent mansion. As he stood at the gate, the great man walked down the steps, dressed in his magnificent robes. He stepped into the waiting carriage drawn by two horses with a postillion sitting at the rear. The Brahmin returned to his friends. “Have no fears,” he said. “This is not a religion we need to fear.” The priests were relieved for the pomp and splendour of organised Christianity holds no appeal for any genuine seeker after truth.The most precious freedom that Indian Christians enjoy is to hold Jesus Christ as their saviour, as the Son of God, as the “only true divinity”. It is their absolute right to cherish that belief—and if any Hindu outfit or government tries to impeach upon that liberty, then definitely Indian Christians should fight tooth and nail for their religious privileges. They would be justified to speak about Hindu fundamentalism, saffron brigade or Hindutva. But the moment Christianity tries to impose this belief of only one true God—Jesus Christ—on the world, then it is itself impeaching upon the freedom of others. For this belief of the “onlyness of our God” as the real one and all others are false is at the root of many misunderstandings, wars and terrorism.If “all religions are ultimately for the welfare and salvation of humankind”, then conversion is absurd. The Church leaders have miserably failed to take care of the 16 million Dalits converted to Christianity. Besides, indiscriminate conversion has ruined the spirit of Christianity into savagery. Christianity is a path of life paved with suffering and service. Christ said: “If anyone wants to follow me, let him take up the cross and follow me.” The Indian Christian leaders want the government to carry the Cross of Dalit Christians!Christians form just about 2.5 per cent of the Indian population. “Very often they have to depend not so much on their rights as on the goodwill and generosity of the powerful majority Hindu community. Christians in India are dependent in a double sense, on the goodwill of the Hindus and on the Churches in the West whose fellowship sustains them and whose affluence often supports them. Judging from numbers there is hardly any equality in relationship. But Christians in India can play a creative and critical role in the life of our nation. What matters most is the quality of their life as Christians and the courage of their faith.” (Dr Stanley Samartha, Courage for Dialogue). While Christ’s call to conversion is a turning towards God stands what it need not imply is conversion to Christianity.Christianity in today’s India with a renascent Hinduism faces an unprecedented crisis. If it is alive to the situation and sensitive to the signs of time, it has to rethink itself, reorient itself, and rediscover its basic substance and interpret that in terms acceptable to the Indian mind and genius.P.N.BENJAMINbenjaminpn@hotmail.comVijay Times, May 12, 2005
posted by BIRD at 2:27 AM 1 comments

NORTH EAST COMPLEXITIES IN PERSPECTIVE*(Vijay Times, 4 May 2005)By P.N.BENJAMINIn an interview to the BBC World, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of NagalandSCN, Thuingaleng Muviah has said: “ It’s not possible for the Nagas to come within the Indian Union or within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Nagaland was never a part of India. Sovereignty of the Naga people belongs to the Naga people alone.” He demanded the integration of all Naga areas outside the present boundaries of Nagaland with the Greater Nagaland within a reasonable time frame. “We do not want our people to live under the Assamese, Manipuris or others. Our areas were forcibly occupied. We want them back to protect and pursue our own culture, our own way of living and our traditions. How can Nagas be ruled by ‘foreigners’?”He added that the slogan “Nagaland for Christ” did not mean that he intended to set up a theocratic state. "Because more than 95 per cent of the population is Christian naturally they have to profess that way.... Nagalim or Greater Nagaland has to be secular. If it is not secular then we will be betraying ourselves.” Thus, the eight-year-long negotiations - 41 rounds of dialogue, to be precise, - between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muviah)- the biggest outfit fighting for Naga independence - have hit a major roadblock. The Naga separatists claim that Nagas had never been part of British or post-British India. This might be true. But you cannot hark back to what used to be more than 100 years ago. The Hydaari Agreement of June 27, 1947, which the Nagas accepted, said they would be free to choose for themselves the precise pattern of administration within the Constitution of India. They went back on the undertaking when Constituent Assembly Committee incorporated the conditions of the agreement in the Sixth Schedule for safeguarding the Naga demands. There might be resentments. What should people of India make of the Nagas participating in the assembly and parliament elections and nearly 60 per cent of them turning out to vote? The government in Kohima is that of the Nagas and come through the process of polls.Alteration in the boundaries of any state is a dangerous proposition. No political party or leader has the courage to raise the issue, much less convince a state to part with its territory. If a state were to be touched without its consent, there would be civil strife everywhere. Some boundary disputes, dating back to 1955, are still working against ethnic groups because no state wants to give up its claim on the territory that was once its own. In short, it is important for the Naga secessionists to realise that it is not possible for the Government of India to expand Nagaland at the expense of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal.Yes, many if not most, Nagas would prefer to be independent and sovereign rather than part of India. Should we permit Nagaland to break away, the latent nationalisms in other parts of Indian states could flare up. As Yugoslavia has shown, it does not take much for a supposedly “united” federation to disintegrate into a squabbling congeries of peoples.The reasons for the continued insurgency in Nagaland and elsewhere in the NE are not far to seek. One of them is, of course, lack of development. Then, the insurgent outfits thrive because at one level, existing international borders are porous; at another, liberally buffetted by their friends and benefactors, residing abroad, and politicians playing a double-game at home, the insurgents have had everything going for them. Add to that the combination of terror and sympathy both among the common masses, and we have fairly clear picture of the North East.The insurgents have been recipients of foreign funds and arms in massive quantities. The Indian State can be said to have utterly failed to check the huge largesse. Half-hearted attempts in the shape of legislation cannot obviously work as a useful check, because the funds and arms have now become part of a hard-to-break-established chain. It shows the inability of successive Indian governments to grapple with the problem with a sense of urgency and commitment.In all fairness it must be said that the role of Christian missionaries in the secessionist activities in North East India has not been above reproach. In 1970, in the Rajya Sabha, the late Mr. Joachim Alva had reminded the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi: “foreign money was poured into India’s borders and the Nagaland problem was damaged by the flow of funds from Churches abroad.” In the guise of uplifting the backward classes, the fundamentalist Protestant missionaries have been engaged in a massive proselytisation drive for several decades now. Their main targets have been the gullible tribals in the hill regions and other backward classes in the plains of Brahmaputra valley. Although the proselytising activities themselves should be a cause for concern, a more disconcerting aspect of the missionary activity has been their tendency to influence the politics of the North-East region. Delivering the Zakir Hussein Memorial Lecture on “Secularism &Minorities”, on 30 November 1979 in Bangalore, the late Prof. V.V.John, the noted educationist had said: “Christians have also an obligation to take note of the circumstances that a section of the Christians of tribal origin in the North-Eastern region adopted secessionist attitude. And some diehards still persist in their original stance. The non-Christian sees in this phenomenon a failure on the part of Christians to keep politics out of religion, as they in their secular moments counsel others to do.”The missionaries have been active in the North-East because of the failure on the part of the Centre as well as the state governments to address themselves to the basic problems facing the people. If the idea is to make the Indian State and its measures popular in one of the most neglected parts of the country, step-motherly attitudes should give way to really genuine ones. It is also true that the state governments, central and para military forces have often been guilty of mistaking repression for a remedy to endemic terrorism. Certainly one form of terror cannot be countered by resorting to another; after all, as is well known, the socio-political roots of insurgency need to be understood and eradicated if any lasting peace is to be provided to a region which has seldom had any respite from the cult of the
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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

RAPE, AN INCURABLE SOCIAL DISEASE?*(*Vijay Times, Bangalore, 27 April 2005)By P.N.BENJAMINRape is the one crime no woman is safe from. All over India, the incidence of this dastardly and damaging crime is steadily creeping up the police graphs. Virtually everyday one hears the ugly word: rape on minors, on children, old women, widows and so on. Every meek and powerless woman is a potential victim of rape. She is a faceless entity in the surge of humanity. Whether she is beautiful, ordinary or ugly, it doesn’t matter. How old is she? Under 10? Over 50? In her twenties? Who cares? What is her profession? Her socio-economic background? Her marital status? Immaterial.Another ghastly aspect of the crime is the growing incidence of rape by policemen. In a chilling incident last week, a sixteen-year old school girl walking on Marine Drive in Bombay along with her friends was taken inside the police outpost by a motorcycle-borne policeman and raped her. The cases are legion, each one more horrifying than the other. Many of them get published in the media. But there are innumerable other atrocities, less extensively written about, which are sad reminders of the increasing venality of a nation. All this is happening in a country, which has always prided itself of having a long tradition of respecting women!Why does this thoroughly degrading crime take place? Ours is a nation where offenders get more smug by the day in the belief that no one can convict them anyway. The core, perhaps, is essentially callous attitude exhibited by many towards rape itself and a general contempt for the second sex, whether overt as in the case of a sex-offender or more subtle like the vast majority of males who steadfastly refuse to accept women as equals. Women are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, in the streets - a phenomenon which, despite its increasing crudeness, still goes by the innocuous appellation of ‘eve-teasing’ - and any other place offenders can get access to. The widely-held notion that every rapist is a candidate for the psychiatrist’s couch is a myth that needs to be shattered. The average sex offender is as normal as the man next door is. And, rape for him is merely a calculated, cold-blooded instrument of oppression or revenge, whether on individual women, a caste or class. The mass rape of womenfolk of the rural poor to crush an uprising and the regular brutalisation by policemen of helpless victims will bear out the statement.Numerous studies show that there is a definite relationship between common acceptance of myths justifying violence against women and actual anti-social behaviour against them. The commonly heard myths are: “When a woman says no, she means yes’, ‘She was provocatively dressed for it’, ‘She’s fair game’ etc. The audacious assumption in these attitudes is that women are not individuals, but property on whom it is perfectly admissible to unleash assault if they get ‘out of hand’. Thus, the cold statistics remain that babies of a few months and little girls under ten are regular rape victims; old women get raped. The majority of young victims of rape are not provocatively dressed or inviting sirens as some would have us believe, but they are the meek and the male-fearing ones who are raped simply because they were around.Crime is endemic to the human condition, but a crime specifically directed at women – rape - is the most despicable. It is unfortunately the one crime that is punished the least. Despite amendments in the rape law the official figures of reported rapes are on the increase and the rate of convictions low. With the rape graph spiralling and little interest on the part of law enforcement agencies to pay special attention to the crime, what can be done to contain this extreme form of violence against women?Despite all the hype and hyperbole, the protective laws and action plans, the seminars and speeches, walkathon and ‘women in black’ demonstrations and processions organised by foreign-funded NGOs, the basic patriarchal structures and attitudes have undergone very little change. The majority of women are still second class citizens, their worth measured purely in economic terms; how much work they can do inside and outside the home, how many male children they can bear, how much dowry they will bring.Long ago, the then Chief Justice of India, Mr. Chandrachud had said: “No amount of manipulation of the law by piecemeal amendments can help protect women’s honour, dignity and rights. The reason for rape and other such crimes is more due to moral values of the society than any other apparent reasons.” This writer remembers that Justice V.D.Tulzapurkar had even suggested years ago introduction of public flogging as a punishment for rapists. Traumatised and often destroyed by the act itself, a woman has to further bear the strictures of a society that blames her in some way for a crime of which she is the victim, not the perpetrator. With the rape graph spiralling and little interest on the part of law enforcement agencies to pay special attention to the crime, people like this writer helplessly throw up their hands into high heavens and wonder what can be done to contain this extreme form of violence against women.Be that as it may, there is hardly any hope unless we respect our women and give them proper place in our hearts, minds and society. That she deserves this is beyond any doubt. Rape is a sordid crime, which is more than sectarian concern than a personal one. It should be attacked from all angles – legal, social and psychological. Morality too should not be forgotten.
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Sunday, April 17, 2005

HOOCH TRAGEDIES: A SOCIETAL PERSPECTIVEBy P.N.BENJAMINTWENTY-four people, men and women, have “officially” died an agonising death last week in Nelamangala, near Bangalore, after consuming illicit liquor or hooch, laced liberally with the deadly chemical, methyl alcohol. Not a voice has been raised against the vendors of death. Not a single minute has been spared for condolences. And this does not seem to be a matter over which our politicians, intellectuals and secularists lose their sleep. But then, why should there be even a whimper over this trivial matter? Haven’t we absorbed greater shocks than this, as far as hooch tragedies are concerned?Nelamangala is not the first, nor will be the last and the worst liquor calamity. In one of the worst tragedies, 323 innocent people perished in Bangalore, in 1981. That was the official figure and all of us who wrote about it then knew that the number was an understatement. Liquor tragedies involving smaller numbers, some reported and some not, are constantly occurring in towns and villages all over the country.A feature common to all these tragedies is that the victims are invariably from the poorer sections of society. Vijay Times rightly pointed out in its report that most of the victims of the Nelamangala tragedy were from Scheduled Castes and were breadwinners of their families. What drives them to drink is their pathetic living and working conditions. Such people chronically ill and weak are poorly placed to resist the poisonous drink. It is a combination of an urgent need to drink – to escape from physical and spiritual discomforts, hard labour and the lack of physical stamina to bear the consequences of such indulgences that drive the victims to certain death.Poverty is the worst crime of all, said Bernard Shaw. It is the poor, the slum-dwellers, workers in cities and mines, fishermen and farm workers who go in for cheaper drink after a hard day’s work or to celebrate a marriage or festival. Exhortations to the poor to give up drinking appear pathetic and particularly sanctimonious when they come from those who are more fortunately placed. The poor have reason enough to know better than their moral exhorters that drinking does no good. The evidence is there all around them. It is there every moment of their lives. And yet, if a poor man takes to drink and persists in the habit even when he knows that every drink carried with it the possibility of blindness, paralysis and death, it is not because he is morally insensitive or degenerate; it is that the conditions of his life and work make it impossible for him to see the day through without the spurious feeling of well-being induced by drinking. But, the task of making the poor not to feel the need to drink to escape from living horrors of their existence is far more difficult than taking executive decisions to deprive people of liquor.Following last week’s tragedy, the Karnataka Government has “swung” into action - ordering a judicial inquiry, announcing compensation to the kith and kin of the victims and thundering declarations made that “stern action” against the offenders would be taken. Some bootleggers are arrested and a few police and excise officials are suspended or transferred, but no one knows the end result. It is obvious that methyl alcohol poisoning is the result of the free hand given to liquor contractors and private traders. The government machinery as well as vested interests are clearly responsible for the trail of horror. Those who have started out as small fry in the liquor business are now billionaires. Some of them have become MLAs and ministers. They are the kingmakers in several states, wielding control of underworld gangsters.As a result of high political connections of the liquor vendors, there is a near absence of will on the part of the authorities to deal “sternly “ with them and their henchmen/women in the excise and police departments. Honest police officials will be pulled up for being over-zealous. It is an open secret that the local police are fully aware of the places of manufacture, bottling and selling points, but they choose to ignore them because they are the “gold mines”. The big sharks are seldom caught; they have an elaborate system of arranging for the bail, defence and family welfare of their agents who may be caught and jailed! No wonder, the government’s vigilance squads and qualified analysts also have failed to end the activities of the vendors of death who distill, bottle and market the killer brew.All the past judicial inquiries into the liquor poisoning cases have evaporated into thin air with the passage of time. Does any remember the Bangalore tragedy of 1981 and the report of the Commission that inquired into it? Do you know that the Hooch Queen of the 1981-notoriety is today a highly “respected” and sought after politician?In the eyes of the law everything is neat and clear: he or she who has been instrumental in the death of many innocent lives must face the consequences. But the reality is more eloquent than law, and the reality tells us that those who have been guilty of mass murders are given all the facilities and privileges of free citizens. Anticipatory bails have been given galore to the suspected distillers and distributors of the killer brew. Many of them have been forgiven and let off in the past. There is no law by which they can be hauled up – not even to make a thorough inquiry. The inequity of it all cries out to high heaven, showing up the mockery to which we have permitted our democracy to be debased. “O, Justice, thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason.”P.N.BENJAMINe-mail: benjaminpn@hotmail.com18 April 2005
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THE TRAGEDY OF AMBEDKAR’S LEGACY*By P.N.BENJAMINLONG ago, Tolstoy acidly observed: “The abolition of slavery has gone on for a long time. Rome abolished slavery. America abolished and we did, but only the words were abolished, not the thing.”We in India, have performed a similar feat of verbalism vis a vis the Dalit victims. The colonial masters called this social proletariat, many millions in number, ‘depressed classes’ and Gandhiji called them ‘Harijans’, a Sanskritic, sophistic substitute to upgrade at least in name this untouchables and subhumanised category. Their status substantially remained the same and ‘Harijans’ became a blend of the pejorative and the sanctimonious, without the higher castes integrating, with egalitarian passion, these down-trodden species into a casteless Hindu fold.Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, himself a mahar (untouchable caste), fought this malignant degradation with tooth and nail and tried his best to set his brethren free as equal members of the Indian society. He battled and wrote into the Constitution purposeful provisions annihilative of caste victimisation and promotion of their socio-economic status. The Constitution, however, uses the colourless terminology, “Scheduled Castes”, which hardly expresses the terrible lot and traumatic humiliation. Were they mere words, or calculated to catalyse a transformation, which would establish a dynamic human solidarity so necessary for a progressive nation on the march? If they were really a summons to action, how far have we succeeded? And if we have failed, what is the diagnosis for this pathological failure? What is the prognosis for a vibrant Dalit egalite?The agenda of action for the future, so that Indians may redeem their constitutional tryst, has been uppermost in the minds of informed thinkers and socialsensitives. “ Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life, which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many…Dalit identity, crushed for centuries, now re-asserts its right to be treated as human. No more subaltern submission but a chapter of challenge, battle and goal-oriented democratic march! The marginalised shall no longer surrender but there are two ways of achieving the end. One peaceful, agitational and by converting the majority to their obligation to the lowly minorities: the other is the desperate and violent methodology whereby terrorist operations may be the only means of securing justice.Obviously, in a democracy the peaceful means can win if only there is an inclination to listen and act on the part of those who command public opinion. It requires dissemination of information, presentation of views and appeal to the finer sensibilities of the people as a whole. Leaders with sensitivity of the soul can guide, by their thoughts and writings, the course of history written with the ink of justice.Untouchability is an offence and atrocities on the Dalits are grave offences. But the law in the books has no locomotion unless the bugle of battle demands justice through social movements and judicial action. India can have social stability and claim human justice only if the Dalit sector is guaranteed social and economic status consistent with an egalitarian ethos.The enormous pain, privations and frustrations suffered by the dalit population in our country must make every sensitive citizen to hang his head in shame. The tragedy is that not only have we not eradicated untouchability during the last fifty five years despite the good intentions of the founding fathers of independent India, but also have created newer and subtler forms of untouchability. India is as far away from being a civilised casteless society as ever.Ambedkar rightly believed political democracy without social and economic democracy is a double deception . Almost all Indian political parties have showered only lip sympathy to the plight of the Dalits in order to get their votes, but with no intention of doing anything to ameliorate their conditions. Leaders of Dalits must campaign to liquidate the lowliest castes among them and consolidate themselves into one united Scheduled Caste. Why tolerate sub-castes among “Harijans” themselves? The upper layers among the Harijans and Girijans swallow the few jobs and admissions to professional courses. The ‘pariahs’ among the pariahs are permanent pariahs. This shall not be! Radical socialist-humanist militancy is needed among the dalit themselves.. The tragedy is that Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy, which ought to operate outside Hindu religion, has also not succeeded in breaking the status quo. Dr. Ambedkar felt that organization, education and agitation would enable the Dalits to reverse caste prejudices. As it has turned out, Dalit political groups are totally disorganized. Education has only led to the emergence of a Dalit elite class, which has slowly distanced itself from agitational Dalit politics. Dalit movements have either been absorbed within mainstream parties or else have degenerated into negative militancy. The deification of Dr. Ambedkar by building statues in every village appears to have taken precedence over any fight for equal rights. What shall we do to ‘change this sorry scheme of things entire and remould it nearer to our Heart’s desire?’P.N.BENJAMINe-mail:*Vijay Times, edit-page main article on Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. 14 April 2005
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Saturday, April 09, 2005

BLIND TO THE CRIME OF CHILD-LABOUR* (Vijay Times, Edit-page article, April, 6, 2005)BY P.N.BENJAMINTUCKED away at an insignificant corner of an inside page of Vijay Times of March 30 there was a heartrending story- in just three sentences. A nine-year-old girl, Nasima Begum, a domestic help in Balasore, Orissa, was subjected to inhuman torture by her employer to extract a confession from her that she had stolen a gold ornament. She sustained multiple burns when her employer stripped her and pressed hot iron on her body. And, the accused has fled the Balasore after the incident! We are not shocked because it is not an isolated brutality that has taken us by shock and surprise. We have been hearing of such brutalities with such monotonous regularity that we shrug our shoulders and ask: "What’s new?" The latest outrage is simply one more step, perhaps a leap forward, in our steady drive towards a state of conscienceless bliss where Satan is on the throne and all’s right with the world. There are hundreds of child-workers like Nasima in our neighbourhood. We have eyes to see, but we don’t see the suffering of the domestic child-workers living and working right amongst us and around us. We have also ears to hear but do not hear their heartrending cries. It is to us, the impotent and passive spectators of the outrage, as it were, that the famous German playwright Bertlot Brecht addressed the following words: “Outside, men scream and you hear them not: outside flames burn and you see them not. Grandfather, when the Day of Judgment arrives, how will you stand”Several studies have highlighted various types of exploitation of domestic child labour, which include physical and sexual abuse. This writer is reminded of the poignant story of the fifteen-year-old Uma, who was rescued by a voluntary organization in Bangalore two or three years ago. It was a story, too deep for tears, proving once again that we are up against a brutal and conscienceless society. Uma was branded with an iron rod on her back, hands and thighs, for allegedly not working properly. Her employer pinched her arms when she complained of being tired and denied food when she woke up late. If she screamed out loud, her ‘Madam’ would stuff her mouth with cloth so that no one could hear Uma screaming! Child labour is an assault on the children’s legitimate rights to education and freedom to grow in an atmosphere of love and care. It is a pity, though, that the Indian law frowns upon child labour yet Indian life freely practises it. Our founding fathers, dreaming of a brave new Bharat and its tryst with destiny, laid down the great testament of the Constitution where the value vision for future generations was projected. Deep concern for the material and moral welfare of the Juvenilia of India is underscored and social injustice is anathematized. Universal primary education is assured. Freedom from labour during the tender age is mandated. Figures do not bring out the magnitude of suffering that has arrived for these millions of already impoverished children. Thousands of children work for almost 15 hours everyday in the most hazardous atmosphere because they have to pay off the loans borrowed by their parents from the employers. They suffer from many physical ailments and thus, these children are unable to mature to their full potential as adults. Commercial sexual exploitation is all pervasive and pernicious. Hunger and destitution have gripped them as never before. Disease and death stalk them. Most of them are undernourished and unhappy as they were in Dickens’ days. However, much more alarming is the callous emotional vacuum that exists in our minds. It does not seem to have touched the nation. For us all, the serried columns of these unfortunate victims of hunger and privation, without homes and hope, bring no tears, not to speak of stirring conscience, if at all we still have an ounce of that precious commodity left within us. The truth is that the iron has entered into our soul. Just as the twilight zone to which most of us escape, forgetting we’ve left these children behind. The curse of the Pied Piper of Hamlin endures! How many of us have taken even a small step in our own way to free children from servitude and enable them to grow and develop in an environment, which we expect for our own children? On the contrary, haven’t many of us employed children below the age of 15 as domestic help? Quite often, the employers of domestic child labour justify it by saying that they provide food, shelter and clothing to those children who would otherwise beg on the streets. A whole spectrum of the sorrows of child-labourers remains to be exposed, a whole saga of their blood, toil, sweat and tears remains to be lived down. The challenge of the child workers points to “the petty done; the undone vast”. If the Supreme Court judgement of 1996 banning child labour in hazardous industries and regulating the employment of children in other fields, like domestic labour, has been implemented in letter and spirit, it would have done much to end the brutal exploitation of millions of children in the country. “And, how long, O Lord, how long,” will the child of the 21st century have to wait to find himself/herself in that heaven of freedom of which Rabindranath Tagore has spoken in Gitanjali? P.N.BENJAMINE-mail:
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