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Volume XLIV, No.50

Ominous Portents

Editorial

Tuesday 24 April 2007

The national scenario has definitely turned grim over the last few days.
The Justice Rajindar Sachar Committee, set up to evaluate the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in the country, has come out with its report—it was submitted to the PM some days ago and tabled in Parliament on November 30, 2006. It brings out the stark reality of Indian Muslims—who are more in number than those inhabiting either Pakistan or Bangladesh and population-wise next only to the Muslims in Indonesia—and without mincing words points out that the community exhibits “defecits and deprivation” in practically all areas of development; in the Committee’s own words, ”by and large, Muslims rank somewhat above the SCs/STs but below Hindu OBCs, Other Minorities and Hindu General (mostly upper castes) in almost all indicators considered”. It underscores that the “situation is particularly grave in ... West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam”—States which have Muslims in large numbers. But it is not just the “development deficit” that is worrisome: coupled with that is the growing perception among the Muslim populace that they are discriminated against and excluded.

The report is doubtless excellent as the facts it reveals are startling in many ways. And the Committee does not shy away from calling a spade a spade—its considered opinion is that the problems faced by the Muslims can be tackled and removed with the guarantee of equity and equality of opportunity to them only when the “importance of Muslims as an intrinsic part of the diverse Indian social mosaic is squarely recognised”. For this purpose it recommends, inter alia, the creation of an Equal Opportunity Commission (on the lines of the UK Reconciliation Act of 1976) to look into the grievances and religious minorities as well as the setting up of an autonomous authority to assess, monitor and suggest timely policy options geared to attending the Muslims’ complaints based on their “perceptions of being aggrieved”. What it suggests is a tall order and doubtless daunting given the enormity of the task at hand as seen from the actual state of affairs vis-a-vis the plight of the largest minority community in the country as projected by the Sachar report itself. Needless to say this has direct bearing on national integration which has considerably weakened due to several factors prominent among which is the unfortunate but pernicious communalisation of the polity over the years that secular forces of all hues have not sought to combat in right earnest as an urgent national task with the objective weeding out the malaise.

The sudden Dalit upsurge in Maharashtra leading to widespread violence is a clear sign of the fact that those in the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder will not take things lying down for long. Some have been intrigued by the scale and magnitude of Dalit resentment-cum-revulsion. It needs to be understood that while the Dalits were expressing their anger at the desecration of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s statue in Kanpur their sense of outrage was caused not by that particular incident alone. The Dalits had suffered a lot since the killing of four members of a Dalit (Bodmange) family in the State’s Bhandara district (on September 29). As Anandraj Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr Ambedkar, cogently explained before the media,
Following the killing of the Bodmange family in Bhandara district, a young Dalit was allegedly chopped to pieces in Beed district by a Dandavate family over a land dispute. This was followed by the burning of 20 huts of Dalits in Tulzapur, in Pandharpur district near Pune, during the recent municipal council elections. In none of the cases have the persons who committed the killings and the atrocities been punished. In the Bodmange case the sarpanch and a BJP leader are still roaming free. The five Dandavate brothers are free and so are the people who burnt the 20 huts of the Dalits in Tulzapur.

Moreover, the State Government had not cared to implement its assurance of a CBI probe into the killing of the Bodmange family. It was the cumulative effect of all these atrocities on them that led to the latest Dalit upsurge. This is a warning to the powers that be that the Dalits’ patience is fast wearing out and if timely steps are not taken to ameliorate their condition the country would have to face civil war conditions. Already the Maoist proliferation among tribals in the country’s most backward areas has sent the same message which the authorities cannot possibly ignore if they have any sense of responsibility to the nation.

We are currently observing two major anniversaries: the World AIDS Day on December 1 and the twenty-second anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy (that occurred on the night of December 2/3, 1984 and took a toll of 8000 lives). The AIDS situation has, from latest figures in the UNAIDS report, turned alarming for India which has outstripped South Africa in absolute numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS: this country has the world’s largest HIV infected population (approximately 5.7 milion—of those 5.2 million are adults within the 15-49 age-group). Efforts are being made to spread AIDS awareness through diverse means no doubt, but the task is becoming increasingly formidable with every passing day.

As for the Bhopal tragedy, nay massacre by the US multinational, even after 22 years the victims continue to suffer from grossly inadequate compensation while the successive governments at the Centre have done precious little to bring the real culprits of this horrendous act to book.

What do all these developments portend? Only the totally desensitised among our ‘globalised’ elite would fail to hear the footfalls of impending cataclysm despite our ‘spectacular growth’ in terms of the ever-rising GDP. Should we then not, even at this late stage, be prepared to bestir ourselves?

December 1 S.C.

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