Say no to communal budgeting, say yes to Indian Ocean Community

published on January 21, 2008

By Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Oppose communal budgeting

Ambedkar’s response to Mahatma Gandhi’s request for a message for the first issue of Gandhi’s journal, Harijan was incisive and emphatic: “The outcaste is a by-product of the caste system. There will be outcastes as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system. Nothing can help to save Hindus and ensure their survival in the coming struggle except the purging of the Hindu faith of this odious and vicious dogma.” (Ref: Harijan, dated February 11, 1933). When Ambedkar proposed the Hindu Code Bill (also called Bhim Smruti) during the Constituent Assembly debates in February 1949, he wanted priests to be drawn from their own castes to establish equality and self-respect. While Ambedkar wrote about the ‘annihilation of caste’, he was indeed seeking the status of equality and not based on any social hierarchical system with inherent deprivations, discriminations and oppressions.

How to amend the Bhim Smruti and annihilate not only caste but also communal identities?

Affirmative action

The affirmative action initiated in 1935 Government of India Act and continued in the Constitution of independent India was to enshrine special provisions for upliftment of castes and tribes ‘scheduled’ in lists appended to the Constitution under Article 341 of the Constitution; beneficiaries were clearly defined to be Hindu Scheduled Castes and four Scheduled Castes among the Sikhs (kabirpanthis, ramdasias, sikligars and mazhbis) only, recognising that caste was a Hindu institution. Islam and Christianity were egalitarian, casteless institutions, a feature of ‘equality’ trumpeted by proselytisers to promote conversions to these religions.

Scheduled Tribe status is, however, independent of the status of ‘religion’ of an ST member. That caste is a unique Hindu category is also confirmed by the Ministry of Home Affairs order of July 23, 1959 of the Nehru Government: “Government of India have recently occasion to consider the question whether a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste, who has renounced Hinduism by converting himself to another religion, will revert to his original Scheduled Caste if he becomes a Hindu again. After careful consideration the Government of India advised that such reconvert, who originally belonged to a Scheduled Caste, should be deemed to have reverted to his original caste and would be eligible for the privileges and assistance provided for the members of the Scheduled Castes.”

An underlying principle of these reservations for SCs/STs was that they were meant for a specific purpose of ameliorating their social and economic disabilities and were also meant to be temporary, self-liquidating measures.

Later the schedule was virtually expanded by incorporating provisions for upliftment of ‘Other Backward Communities’. Non-Hindu OBCs enjoy the benefit of reservations within the 27 per cent limit set by the Mandal Commission. Supreme Court in 1992 judgment had struck down the additional 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward among the forward communities.

If a member of SC or ST becomes a privileged part of ‘creamy layer’ benefiting from the fruits of ‘reservations’, should the benefits continue to accrue to such a creamy layer? Supreme Court clarified that reservations cannot extend to such a creamy layer.

While the 1935 Act governed the undivided India, the Constitution governed only partitioned India, a partition founded on communalism. As a part of this historical process, Constituent Assembly’s Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights. Minorities, and Tribal and Excluded Areas headed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel deliberated on the issue of ‘minority’ safeguards and concluded: “…the committee are satisfied that the minorities themselves feel that in their own interests, no less than in the interests of the country as a whole, the statutory reservation of seats for religious minorities should be abolished.” Many among the muslims have been a part of the Muslim ruling class and have enjoyed wealth and social privileges. It is illogical to assume all Indian muslims and Christians were backward without accepting that all Hindus were also backward in the same sense.

In framing the Constitution, religious minorities—as distinct from the SC/ST categories—were excluded from the purview of all political safeguards. This was a clear and emphatic departure from the colonial policy of political safeguards for minority muslims which ultimately led to the partitioning of India. The colonial policy was premised on the assumption that India was only a conglomeration of communities. Muslim League had articulated not a universal adult franchise but an exclusive communal franchise; this demand was couched by the Cabinet Mission Plan of May 16, 1946 as provisions for “protection of minorities”. Minority was sought to be defined on ‘religious’ terms but not on the basis of demographic share or on the basis of perceived ‘disadvantaged’ group status. The issue of national unity was posited against distinct communal identities and the claims for reservations based on ‘minority’ status were rejected in the Constitution.

Nation as a cultural identity

The key issue is this. What are the building blocks of the nation? Atomised individual or linguistic communities, caste communities, religious communities?

The answer to this key issue can only be found in the formation and evolution of Hindu civilisation which is the core of the Indian nation. Jaati is an extended family formation and formed the bedrock of the society for several millennia. The conversions into Islam or Christianity were only later aberrations of the historical periods.

If an Indian Muslim or and Indian Christian recognise that their ancestors were Hindu and inhabitants of the land of Bharatam, the later-day attempts at defining narrow identities will disappear. It is well-known that even among the Indian muslims there are jaati’s. Among Muslims there are numerous sects such as moplah, labbe, nadaf…These are not castes but sects; syed, sheikh, pathan, khan and mallik, bohras, khojas, mughals, are upper jaati muslims. Juxtaposed to ashrafs as the nobility of Arab descent, were ajlafs, for e.g.: jolahas, dhunias, kunjras, hajjams, darzis, rangrez. According to 1901 Census, there were 133 Muslim castes, most of which comprise the ajlaf, including ‘ arzal’, populated by the lowest castes, such as the churihara, dhobi, ansari, kunjra, halalkhor, lalbegi, abdal and bediya. “Arzal” means “degraded” and include jaatis of quom, bhanar, hijra, kasbi, lalbegi, maugta, mehtar.

Claims of compensatory justice and of preferential treatment for Scheduled Castes or claims for recognition of land reserves of Scheduled Tribes may be seen in the perspective of historical injustices or discriminatory socio-economic practices. The formation of Pakistan (and later declaration of East Pakistan as Bangladesh) were, on the contrary, based on territoriality. In this historical perspective, what the Constituent Assembly decided upon were justiciable cultural and linguistic rights of religious and other cultural minorities as a means to protect their distinct identities.

This led to an ambivalence, since 1935, which has plagued the politics of independent India for over 70 years.

The raison d’etre of constituting an Indian national unity in essence was given the short-shrift by perpetuating distinct cultural or religious identities, rather than strengthen recognition of the partitioned Hindustan as a Hindu nation in which the Indian muslims have chosen to stay back in Hindustan (instead of migrating to Pakistan or Bangladesh).

Such a recognition should have meant the strengthening of the identity perception of Indian muslims as descendants of Hindu ancestors.

Merchants of communalism

The year is 2002. Location is Lahore, Pakistan. The gruesome report of July 8, 2002 by Brian Bennett for Time, titled ‘A violation of justice’ reads: “Shaking behind her black chador, or veil, 18-year-old Makhutar Mai stood before a jury made up of men who hated her. Mai is a dairy farmer’s daughter, a Tatla Gujjar, and the council members before her were all from a higher, landed caste group, the Mastoi Baloch. Mai’s brother had dared to romance a girl from the higher caste, and in the dusty mid-day sun of rural Pakistani Punjab, a rowdy crowd gathered to demand eye-for-an-eye-style justice. The six seated elders finally delivered their judgment. To restore the caste’s honour, they announced, Mai should be repeatedly raped. For the next hour, in a small barn nearby, three men penetrated Mai while a fourth stood watching.” A comparable phenomenon, is the attempt made in 2006, in Pakistan to make a law counter to the Hudood ordinance making rape a punishable offense. The law opposed by the Islamist parties in Pakistan, who insist that amending the laws to make them more civilised towards women is against the mandate of Islamic religious law. This is symptomatic of the nature of social inquity in the so-called egalitarian Islam.

If Islam is the problem, Hindu is the solution. Indian muslims have to come back to the path of dharma, recognising that their ancestors were Hindu, that humanism and global ethic called dharma are larger than any pantha and that Hindustan is their cultural nation under dharma.

As in Indonesia, Indian muslims have to cherish and celebrate their identity as cultural members of Hindustan, remembering the common memories of the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata which have taught all Bharatiya the ideals of living under dharma.

It is a long haul to reach that stage of Hindu cultural, national identity—annihilating caste and communal sub-identities.

Abandon communal budgeting

But making separate budgets or plan provisions for Indian muslims is certainly not the way to get there. Such a move will only strengthen communal, vote-bank politics and delay the day when Pakistan, Bangladesh and Hindustan can together become one rashtram, undoing the evil partition of this punyabhumi.

The proposed move by the UPA government should be opposed by every patriotic Hindu and by every citizen of India.

We should strive to reach a day when the temporary provisions for affirmative action by special reservations and ‘minority’ privileges will get annihilated and become truly self-liquidating measures.

One way to get there is to change the system of reservations into a system based on economic status (and NOT on the basis of any inclusion in SC/ST list or in any ‘minority’ appellation).

Create an Indian Ocean Community

We can further posit a vision of an Indian Ocean Community (IOC) covering over 60 states along the Indian Ocean Rim as an economic powerhouse, counter balancing the European Community. This Hindumahaasaagar parivar is achievable, given the Hinduised states of Southeast Asia which cherish their cultural heritage received through Bali yatra and Bauddha dhamma—esha dhammo sanantano. This IOC can take the people of the Indian ocean maritime civilisation into a truly global identity for abhyudayam with a 6 trillion dollar economy.

After all, a few years ago, over a million Indonesian proudly proclaimed that they were Hindu. A Garuda-Wisnu Kenchana tower is coming up in Bali which will rival the Eiffel tower. Tantra Vinayaka adorns the Bandung Institute of Technology and also the 20,000 rupaiah currency note of Indonesia which celebrates Gitopadesam in a grand cultural panel in front of her Central Bank building. Thailand Bangkok airport is called Suvarnaphum and samudramanthanam sculptural panel beckons every visitor into that country.

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