Monday, December 04, 2006

The Mask of India Shining

IN SEPTEMBER, Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter Priyanka in the village of Kherlanji (Vidarbha, Maharashtra) were stripped and brutally gang-raped as a public spectacle, and were eventually killed along with her two sons – all as ‘punishment’ for fighting against attempts to snatch away the family’s land.

In November, Kodikulam in Madurai (Tamilnadu), witnessed another public spectacle. This time, upper caste ‘elders’ gathered in the village square to participate in an ‘auction’ – for the possession of ‘rights’ over the panchayat President, Balamani, a dalit woman and agrarian labourer.

Even as Kherlanji, Kodikulam and Bant Singh’s struggle reveal the deep disconnect between the rhetoric and reality of Indian democracy, the Supreme Court, as part of its series of anti-people judgements, has echoed the corporate-sponsored myth of reservations being a ‘breach in the egalitarian structure of society’. In this verdict, the Supreme Court has, most disturbingly, recommended extending the ‘creamy layer’ criterion to the SCs and STs. Even in the case of OBCs, the concept of creamy layer is yet to be adequately defined and established. But at least it is possible to discern some ‘creamy layer’ among the OBCs, since sections of the OBCs have significantly consolidated their socio-economic status in the wake of agrarian reforms and green revolution. But the SCs and STs have overwhelmingly been bypassed by the entire process of agrarian reforms and green revolution – and Kherlanji has illustrated how even the most nominal signs of social mobility and education in dalits are brutally crushed. To talk of a ‘creamy layer’ among SCs and STs is a dangerous attempt by the apex court to subvert the constitutional provision of SC/ST reservation.

Today, a struggle of remarkable militancy is being waged in the streets of Vidarbha. Amazingly, Nagpur’s police chief has put the protestors themselves in the dock, alleging that while they were ‘apparently angry over the delay in investigation’, he himself ‘smelt a deeper conspiracy against the police’! Kherlanji and Kodikulam managed to burst through the polite mask of India Shining, as did Bant Singh’s struggles.

From: Liberation, November 2005 (