Crisis of democracy and the Caste System in India

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India is a land of diversity with great and long History populated by many different peoples, from many different origins, and who have many different religious, political and philosophical views. Many abuses are committed against peoples due to their caste or their religion and nature is more and more systematically ransack for privates interests.

The mains problems facing the country came from two things: the implementation of a “culture of impunity based on mind of caste with silence ” – which is a sharing believe that few can act without be accountable for their actions – at the social, economic and political level, and the meet of this cognitive problem with a context of market democracy and economic globalisation.

Keywords: #social dominance orientation, legitimizing ideologies, right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance theory, Caste system, Impunity, Culture of silence, #2030NOW

India is the world’s largest liberal democracy. After its independence from the British colonial rule in 1947 India adopted the path of social and economic development and modernisation. The growth process led to increased levels of literacy, education, wealth, and social mobilization. Decades after the economic reforms in 1990 India achieved the economic status which is often portrayed as among the success stories of the developing world. This national progress was not without its pitfalls. Almost after more than 60 years of independence, a large section of Indian population still complain for not availing the benefits of development. The most marginalised sections of Indian society mainly the Dalit, tribal, minority communities especially the Muslims and lower castes also known as Untouchables still live in stark poverty and without any civil and political rights.

India may be known as one of the world’s oldest living civilisations with a vibrant culture and diversity of its people and languages. Paradoxically, this enormous Indian diversity also hides a darker side in the shadows of its culture known as the caste system. Embedded in Indian feudal culture based on mind of caste for the past many centuries, the Hindu caste system is considered as one of the world’s longest surviving forms of social stratification. It divides society into social classes or castes and this graded inequality has the sanction of classical Indian religious scriptures.

In India the caste hierarchy dictates the lives of its citizens even today. The tribals, Muslims and the lower caste or untouchable communities face discrimination and oppression due to their social status. As a result they have been further marginalised in the society and denied their basic rights.

Harinath Musahar a survivors of police torture from Musahar (Mouse-eater) of Varanasi in India says in his testimony, “Day and night, family’s worries used to bother me. I used to think, if my wife visits me in the lock up then she would be upset seeing my condition. On the eighth day I was sent to the jail. Then I stayed there for two and half months, where I was treated. When I was in jail, I became desperate enough to see my wife and children. It always crossed over my mind, what fate had befallen on me and I am suffering for whose sins, is it not that I am facing it for being born as a ‘Musahar’.[i]”      

Musahar[ii] means “mouse-eaters”. They are considered “Untouchable” – people tainted by their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human. Musahar are relegated to the lowest jobs and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighbourhood is a life-threatening offence. The main business for them, even today, is to kill rats.

Mushar.boy

Despite the fact that untouchability was officially banned when India adopted its constitution in 1950, discrimination against lower castes and Musahar has remained so pervasive.  In order to prevent discrimination based on caste and religion, the government passed legislation in 1989 known as The Prevention of Atrocities Act. The act specifically made it illegal to parade people naked through the streets, force them to eat faeces, take away their land, foul their water, interfere with their right to vote, and burn down their homes. Many of the youngest in the community do not found entry in the schools since the upper castes do not want their children to study along with the Musahar children. Since then, the violence has escalated largely as a result of the emergence of a grassroots human rights movement among Musahar to demand their rights and resist the dictates of untouchability.

The severest human rights violations in India, as the widespread use of custodial torture, are closely linked to caste-based discrimination. In the context of crime investigation, suspects are tortured to enforce confessions. Due to the absence of an independent agency to investigate cases, complaints are often not properly proofed and perpetrators are nor prosecuted and punished. The discrimination of women and gender based violence which includes domestic violence, dowry linked violence, acid attacks, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex-selective abortion is one of the most relevant human rights issues in India.

My human right focuses on advocating for the basic rights of marginalized groups in India society. I have been working for the rights of bonded and child labourers and other marginalized people in Varanasi and eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, India.

In 1996, I and my wife Shruti founded the PVCHR, a community-based organization, to break the closed, feudal hierarchies of conservative slums and villages by building up local institutions and supporting them with a high profile and active human rights network.

My Organization PVCHR (www.pvchr.asia) has become the symbol of nonviolent resistance among the Musahar communities fighting for dignity. Due to our commitment on behalf of the marginalized, we have periodically suffered death threats. But we are continuously fighting for future of our children, because we remember teaching of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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The main problems facing the country came from two things: the implementation of a “culture of impunity” – which is a sharing believe that few can act without be accountable for their actions – at the social, economic and political level, and the meet of this cognitive problem with a context of market democracy and economic globalisation. This explanation will try to explain how the combination of those two factors – cognitive and contextual – allow the rise of a neo-fascism state – an authoritarian state which want to make one country with one nation – and the implementation of an aggressive neo-liberal capitalism – which perpetuate social and economic injustice.  By this way, we will see how the neo-fascist Hindutva project is use to perpetuate caste domination and allow the Indian leaders to realize profit by selling the country to national and international companies, and we will understand how this economic deregulation marginalized lower castes and therefore, strengthening social division on castes.

After that, we propose a way to change this situation by calling for the creation of a “neo-Dalit” movement[iii] – combining shudras and ati-shudras[iv] from all regions which is going to formulate popular movement against ‘culture of impunity’ through mobilization of opinion leaders from all communities.

India’s many problems are interconnected. In order to understand and solve them, they must not be divided. What is needed is a comprehensive multi-layer and multi-dimensional approach that takes into account economic, cultural, political and social factors. PVCHR and its partners are actively attempting to fill this opportunity space by courting constructive dialogue with other of all stripes and ideological leanings. Focusing on the diversity of caste experience, rather than counter-intuitive to movement goals of creating Dalit self-esteem, represents a primary step toward creating lasting structural change in the process of creating Dalit self-esteem.

A multidisciplinary approach to a better understanding of the actors and factors:

India has one of the highest GDP rates of the world. As a “developing economy” in a global world-wide economy, the country tries more and more to insert themselves on the international market for goods and capital. This amazing economic growth is beautifully accompanied by the establishment of democracy, and seems made India as a paradise under construction. But this lovely frontage is hiding many inappropriate practices such as poverty, brutality and nature destruction. Let’s begin this round trip of those practices by a little bit of economic policy.

We can describe Indian economic policy as a conversion to the neo-liberalism religion with a brutal “shut up” ritualization. On one hand, politicians use India as a reservoir of raw materials. They allows big corporation to exploit nature, and destroyed a fragile ecosystem who’s allow rural peoples to live since the down of live, and they sell all the national key infrastructure – such as water, electricity, health, telecommunication, transport, education, natural resources – to privates companies in order to make money through corrupt practices. This privatization process of state and land is also strongly encouraged by neo-liberalist global institutions – as the World Bank, the international monetary funds, etc.

In the other hand, such practices of piracy again People – who is dispossesses of the wealth of his country by political and economic leaders – are allows by authoritarian and violent measures that government takes again peoples who trying to mutiny again this spoliation. Police is using torture, army is sending against citizens who is supposed to defender and hazardous legislation which makes both of them safe from any penalty for the violation of human rights are enacted – as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act[v] and Armed Forces Special Power Act[vi], which are as much used against terrorists than against peoples who attempt to peacefully criticize these policies. During that time, other legal texts are enacted to protect and attract multinational companies in order to provide to them fiscal and legal advantages on a very broad definition of what we call the “free market”– as the Nuclear Civil Liability Bill which limits liabilities of Transnational companies (TNC) for nuclear industrial disaster!

By this way, Indian leaders try to create a good “investment climate” for big corporation, allow them to play their dangerous economic game with all the rights and no duties, and with a few and controlled popular contestation. So India is a beautiful dream for TNC and a daily nightmare for rural and urban workers. Furthermore, we should understand that this situation is dangerous, not only because this seems to foreshadow the establishment of an authoritarian regime which allow brutal political repression with impunity, but also because this political impunity is put in place  alongside with the implementation of an economic policy of corporate impunity.

But this political and economical culture of impunity cannot only be fully understand by the opening of Indian market to the international one or by the corruptive practices that plague public and private institutions. Behind those external factors, there is a cognitive reason which is also very important to understand such behaviours among actors: caste system & mind of caste.

Group-based social hierarchy is a universal feature of modern human societies. Though the degree of inequality varies across societies (Sala-i-Martin, 2002), resources in each are generally distributed on the basis of group status such that power and positive social value (e.g., well-paying jobs, access to good healthcare) tend to be disproportionately allocated to members of dominant groups (Jackman, 1994; Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006;Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Maintenance of group-based hierarchy is not simply achieved through physical force and intimidation, but also through the use of relatively stable ideological beliefs that make inequality seem morally just and fair (e.g., Jackman, 1994; Jost & Banaji, 1994; Sidanius, 1993; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999).[vii]

Indian society has lived for hundreds of years on a strict and rigid social hierarchy based on the Brahmanism stream within Hinduism. The caste system – which so many peoples see wrongly as concomitant to Hinduism – is a social organisation of society which allows upper caste to do whatever they want – including psychological and physical tortures – to lower castes and women, who are considered as inferior. Those last ones have just to accept this supremacy theoretically founded by gods but actually righting by human to implement an unequal political regime. This believe created a cognitive complex of inferiority and superiority – respectively for the lower and the upper castes – which allowed the implementation of a national culture of caste and social impunity, itself perpetuate by a culture of silence created by fear, pain and lack of self-esteem of the lower castes.

But the story doesn’t stop here, because all those “cultures of impunity” which allow a minority group to govern and exploit the majority of the peoples can be partly questioned by civil society organisations and protest movement who want to reverse this cognitive and social pyramid or, at least, flatten it. For those reasons, power holders use many means to divide lowers castes majority and divert them from the key issues that face India – through communitarianism hatred – and ensure their freedom of act as leaders – by enact draconian laws to so-called protect peoples from communitarianism terrorism act that they contribute to create themselves.

So, political impunity and economical impunity are two side of the same social impunity coin. Social activists and lower castes who want defend right of dalit & tribal and critics the system are beating by the police and the army without any respect for their humanity, while neo-liberalism allows upper castes and big corporation to make profit with all impunity, because peoples fighting each other for religion issues or because they do not dare to attack the Brahmanism power.

In this division process of the poorest majority, those who try to keep their power use classical methods in order to conserve their social position. They know that hate call for hate. This is a universal law. And when government leaders begin to feed communal hatred between their own citizens and practice authoritarian political repression, we can qualified it as a “neo-fascist” state because he implement a national culture of hatred against difference, and love – or at least blind respect – for  authority.

There is deeper questions and analysis. Just that some political leaders have an interest to create divisions on society in order to conserve their power? Or maybe just that the true aim of the Hindutva project is to divide peoples in order to allow traditional power holder – upper castes – to keep ruling the country and keep easily running their business with economic leaders?  Or just that those who promote genocide and mass-killing can do it with impunity and that there are actually reward for this?!?

Actually, This example of Gujarat Genocide[viii] and recent result of 16th parliamentary election in India highlight well that neo-fascism and authoritarian Hindutva project which feed communal hatred and divide the poorest majority of the society are also promoted by economic leaders in order to hide the implementation of an economic policy of impunity, which is supposed to make India as an attractive country for foreign investments and enrich both political and economic leaders.

So, we can say that all those political repression, police torture, bureaucratic corruption, economic exploitation of human and nature, and rigid hierarchy of social domination are allow as much by the implantation of those social, political and economic cognitive cultures of impunity than by external factor such “the dangerous cross-currents of neo-liberal capitalism and communal neo-fascism”[ix].

The creation of a popular protest movement through the reformulation of a political identity:

We have seen that all those problems which look apparently different are actually linked together. We will see now that this multiplicity of causes can be overcome together by creating a unity process. A People’s one.

What is the best way to fight again a neo-fascist politics of castes and communities division? Answer is unity. Which kind of unity can we create to fight against caste system – which is the origin of social division and cultures of impunity – and neo-liberalism – that increase the gap between have and have-not and deprives many people of the benefit of natural resources?

First, a union of lower’s castes. I mean a union of lower caste from all religions, because misery doesn’t matters of theologies. A union between shudras and ati-shudras, or between dalits and ati-dalits, and a union with Muslim lower castes and other marginalized peoples. A movement of the poor and the abused people for breaking the economic exploitation and the silence culture of caste torture is another unity. A movement is against Brahmanism and caste system, but not again Hinduism and upper-caste people. A movement is against neo-liberalism capitalism, not against democratic capitalism based on rule of law, peoples’ welfare and pluralism.

Unity of all broken peoples by existing system and progressive people  is the best way to fight against this culture of impunity with norm of exclusion  and because we don’t think that change will come from peoples who benefit of this system. So, structural change can only come from the bottom of the social pyramid. I propose to call this movement: “neo-Dalit”, because this is the Dalit community who has suffering most of all for this entire situation and because this name is already synonym of political struggle created by Baba Saheb Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar[x].

Of course, create a sense of belonging to an imagined political inter-caste community may seem impossible, as in the caste structure of society is old and perfectly integrated into the everyday life and that this change of identity require a sacrifice from both of those castes and communities. The Shudras must learn to deny their right of lord (feudal) on ati-Shudras if they want to break free of their upper castes masters. On the other hand, the extended reformulation of the term “Dalit” also requires an ati-Sundra sacrifice, as these take away the monopoly of the first identity that they recognizes as legitimate, from the first name that they accept to name themselves and which is synonym of their own political fight. The first name that their use with a little bit of pride.

This integration problem is even greater when we try to include in this movement the “old” – but actually still – lower caste who converted to Islam or Christianity.

Because of all those difficulties, we have to well understand and emphasis the sameness among those different social groups. First, we should make them understand that they are both castes slaved and aliened by the upper castes through caste system. There are a majority who is rule by a minority in a country who is theoretically become a democracy more than sixty year ago. Second, we should show them that main economic resources and power are hold by the upper castes, and that there is no sense to fight between each other’s or give a positive answer to communitarianism hatred because such behaviors will not implement neo-Dalit lives conditions.

The classical example of mind of caste and its implication that the landless Dalit is fighting with a poor Shudra belong owner of small land because the Dalit cow damages the Shudra field for food in Belwa village of Varanasi. During that time, the rich upper caste – landlord of a hug superficies where are often exploited Shudras and ati-Shudras – has not to deal with this kind of problems, because the caste mentality allow him to beat lower casts in all impunity, because lower castes have internalized this brutal domination that they now regard as normal and because the upper castes have police in their pocket. In this kind of situation, we should explain to the Dalit and the Shudra that this conflict situation is the result of their marginalize situation that they share together due to the caste mind. We should show to them that they sharing a common problem which require a unity response.

By this way, a united movement of protest of this poorest majority will have enough power to fight – in a non-violent way – again the rich minority who have seen from too much time as “un-attackable”, against religious leaders who feed hatred between communities or divided lower castes, and against others corrupt officials who believe that they can racked and abuse of poor peoples with impunity because they don’t have money to enforce their right in a corrupt political regime.

Because the “divide for better ruler” politics is become an institution in the country: what better answer than a unification process of lower castes from all religions and further unity with progressive people born in Upper caste, who are against caste system can we give to create a unified social movement again Brahmanical caste system, communitarianism based on neo-fascism and neo-liberal capitalism.

A union of lower castes against the castes alienation, a union of religions against communitarianism, a union of the poor against neo-liberalism are three fights lead by one community, the neo-Dalits.

But what is about the means of our fight? How such social movement of unity can emerge? On which kind of struggle should it lead? These questions are important and needs to be asked.

The creation of a neo-Dalit political party doesn’t seem to be the right choice. Political party who want defend the poor are not going to raise enough money to play the election games and leaders who will be involving in the institutional game have good chance to be socialize to the corruptive rules of those institutions. The risk is that see them takes some distance with the people that they are supposed to defender or, worst, playing the democratic game only for their own profit – as Ms.Mayawati Kumari (BSP Dalit leader) who made hidden alliance with RSS[xi] (Dalit – Brahmin social engineering, not attacks against caste system) because she expected to run for prime minister election. Another way seems to be preferable. Many dalit political leaders joined BJP and its alliance in recent parliamentary election which is backed by RSS.

It is better to promote a reconciliation movement among different castes and religious communities in the grass-roots level in order to create contact among those who was speared for a long by communitarianism and Brahmanism. Connection and meeting are the best way to fight again dangerous prejudices that lead to community’s hatred and reverse the process of division between lower castes. But it is clear that this unification will not appear “like that” and that we need, first of all, to create a hug and strong network among all the civil society organizations who fight separately for the Shudras, ati-Shudras, Muslim, Christian, worker class, farmer, etc. Because the best way is to achieve this union and create a neo-Dalit social movement of protest begin by coordinated actions lead by a shared interpretation of our common problems.

For this reason, this present call is destined to all Suhdras and ati-Shudras, to all organisations who fighting for the respect of human right, to all progressive peoples – whatever her/his caste, religion, sex or social class – who want to reverse this process of state-privatization, abuses of natural resources and division of society through hatred spiral feed by communitarianism, feudalism and patriarchal-ism implement by the Brahmanical caste system and its Hindutva project.

But one question remains: what is the best way to bring together different social groups? I think that this process should begin by a closer link between opinion leaders and others representative of those groups. This idea has nothing new. Few times after India independence, Gandhi-ji has already show use that it is possible to put a term to communalism fight by a non-violent way. I talk about what peoples called “the miracle of Calcutta”. Gandhi-ji was able to engage a disarm process of all gang of the city, but was not satisfy by this victory. He demanded more. He asks to the leaders of Muslim and Hindu communities to give promise that they will keep peace between them. And, ho “Miracle”, Calcutta and his areas had never seen more any sectarian riots.

This history shows us how it is possible to create peace between communities and how opinion leaders have a great role to play in such process. For that reason, the creation of a neo-Dalit movement can’t only begin with an approximation of the elites. We should organise much more meeting with all those communities representatives in order to make them work together and learn to know betters each other’s. By this way, they will probably learn that they protect different communities which deal with different problems but which sufferings from the same culture of impunity and neo-liberal alienation.

On the grass-roots level, we should broke the silence wall and enhance self-esteem of the lower castes in order to give them back their dignity and make them actors of their own change. Moreover, we should work to bring the communities together by creating some “sharing public space” for Shudras and Dalit, and for Hindu and Muslim. This last point is important, because most of the socialization processes seem to happen on the streets – where every communities and castes are together but remain speared in different district or sidewalk – and place of worship – where ati-Sudras remain only tolerated by the others castes.

So, to resume our proposition, we want to emphasis three ways that the neo-Dalit movement should take in order to improve their political, economic and social situation. First, we can fight again political repression impunity by legal process. Many Human rights organisations are already fighting in this way in order to transform the Brahmanical “rule of lord” by making them respect the “rule of law”. Second, the social impunity should be defeat by changing cognitive weakness which made some peoples victim of their inferiority complex and other peoples tormentor due to their superiority complex. We need to created commons forums for neo-Dalit in order to break the wall of silence which leads to the acceptation of this situation and to launch a speech process which will teach them that they are equal and they are sharing commons interest.” PVCHR are developing nearly two hundred model village based on concept of Neo-Dalit movement.

Neo Dalit movement is a sign of hope, honour and human dignity for most marginalized people facing discrimination based on race, caste, religion and gender. Nelson Mandela legacy is path for PVCHRs’ Neo dalit movement to bring unity of different communities against Caste system, feudalism, Communal-fascism and Neo- Liberalism in India through reconciliation for justice and human dignity against culture of impunity based on silence, which is going to contribute in posterity and pluralistic democracy in world.

Rabindranath Tagore[xii], a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and recipient of Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 rightly described a value for India in his follows poem in Gitanjali[xiii]:

Where the mind is without fear

and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been

broken up into fragments

by narrow domestic walls; …

Where the clear stream of reason

has not lost its way into the

dreary desert sand of dead habit; …

Into that heaven of freedom,

my Father, let my country awake.

My above paper titled ‘Crisis of democracy and the Caste System in India’ presented in International symposium on ‘Globalisation and the Crisis of Democracy’ at Gwangju Biennale.

http://www.gwangjubiennale.org/information/NOTICE/?no=1&mode=view&IDX=8432

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140911050208-63249508-asia-s-most-prestigious-contemporary-art-festival-begins-in-south-korea?trk=mp-edit-rr-posts

[i] http://neodalits.blogspot.in/2014/07/is-this-price-for-being-musahar.html

[ii] http://www.andyvc.com/the-dark-site-of-india/

[iii] http://www.pvchr.net/2011/07/call-for-neo-dalit-movement-to.html

[iv] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/571589/Shudra

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India

[v] http://www.nia.gov.in/acts/TheUnlawfulActivities_(Prevention)_AmendmentAct,1967(37of1967).pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unlawful_Activities_(Prevention)_Act

[vi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armed_Forces_(Special_Powers)_Act,_1958

[vii] Ideological Support for the Indian Caste System: Social Dominance Orientation, Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Karma Sarah Cotterill*a, James Sidaniusa, Arjun Bhardwajb, Vivek Kumarc Journal of Social and Political Psychology,jspp.psychopen.eu | 2195-3325

[viii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Gujarat_riots

http://twocircles.net/2014apr30/nine_myths_about_gujarat_genocide_2002.html

[ix] http://www.scribd.com/doc/59718252/Life-Cycle-Chart

[x] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._R._Ambedkar

[xi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashtriya_Swayamsevak_Sangh

[xii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabindranath_Tagore

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1913/tagore-bio.html

[xiii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gitanjali


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