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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 46, New Delhi, October 31, 2020

P S Krishnan, a Scholar Administrator, Humanist and Messiah of the Dalits | L. Mishra

Saturday 31 October 2020


by Dr L. Mishra

In bureaucracy postings are purely matters of political and administrative expediency; a member of All India Service (IAS, IPS and IFS) has very limited option and discretion in the exercise of any choice of the same. Sometimes such coincidence, though un‐planned and un‐intended turns out to be beneficial for the common man‐ the poor, deprived, displaced, dis‐advantaged and marginalised.

So was it in case of Sri P S Krishnan (IAS 1956 RR Andhra Pradesh cadre).

Born in an upper caste brahmin family in Kerala State more by coincidence than by any choice( which he always disowned and never disclosed his identity in terms of his caste) he was born with an obsession for social justice; the obsession possessed him and drove him all his life. The cause and the crusader for social justice in his case became indistinguishable as he grew up and he remained an outstanding champion of the marginalised, oppressed and exploited sections of the society.

Joining the Indian Administrative Service in 1956 and being allotted to Andhra Pradesh cadre only provided an outlet, an opportunity and a challenge to whet his obsession, give it a definite meaning, shape and direction and take it forward.

The quest for understanding dalits‐their exclusion, isolation, discrimination and exploitation with empathy and sensitivity and the ever burning and un‐dying resolve to bring them out of the world of darkness of un‐touchability, deprivation and social exclusion to a new world of dignity, self‐esteem, self‐efficacy, self‐assertion and self‐reliance ‐social, economic and political had begun in mid 50s when he entered the civil service; it remained alive till his last breath (10.11.19).

Even at the age of 85 he wrote a magnificent piece with rare animation, sensitivity and insight captioned "Election Manifesto, 2019‐ an analysis from the point of view of SC, ST socially and educationally backward BCs‐potential post‐poll use"

It encompassed a brilliant road‐map of series of social justice measures required to be undertaken, sincerely and thoroughly implemented in order to achieve the Constitutionally mandated goal of social equality, equity and justice.

Whether it was official camping in SC bastis (colonies or settlements), tribal villages and hamlets of labouring backward classes as a young officer soon after entering the IAS, whether being the architect of a number of Constitutional and legislative amendments, whether it is vesting Constitutional status in the National Commission for SC &ST, whether it is enactment of SC &ST(Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (subsequently amended in 2015), whether it is drafting the Special Component Plan and Special Central Assistance for SCs in 80s, whether it is by way of involvement as a Member of the National Commission for SC&ST in 90s and Member Secretary of the National Commission for Backward Classes for a spell of 7 years (1993‐2000), whether it is by way of being an Adviser to MHRD(now Ministry of Education) or Adviser to the Govt of Andhra Pradesh, whether it is total abolition of manual scavenging, liberation and rehabilitation of a large number of manual scavengers or total abolition of the pernicious bonded labour system, Shri P S Krishnan stood out and shone like a sentinel on the firmament of social justice to promote, protect, preserve and safeguard the in‐alienable rights of millions of members of SC,ST & OBC communities in terms of human dignity, decency, equality and freedom against heavy odds, personal trials, tribulations and vicissitudes. Temporary reverses in life and career notwithstanding, he remained unfazed

Baba Saheb Dr B R Ambedkar had said in 1942‐43 that one out of every 7 Indians was an un‐touchable. Sri P S Krishnan had read it in Times Of India and had asked his father while taking a parikrama (going round) around Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram as to whether being an un‐touchable was socially unjust. His father had replied affirmatively and firmly.

Thus the reaction of the moment which later turned out to be a conviction that un‐touchability is un‐just, un‐fair, de‐meaning, de‐grading and de‐humanising came to him naturally and spontaneously at a very young age( 10 or 11).

The moot question which should strike all of us is this: ’Why should an individual be labelled as un‐touchable?’ All human beings are children of the Mother Earth. They eat the same food, drink the same water, breathe the same air, wear the dress made out of the same apparel even though the shape, size and colour of the fabric may be different..The same RBC and WBC flow through their veins and arteries. Why then do we erect such walls of division and discrimination:"touchable and un‐touchable"? Does it take us anywhere?

Sri P S Krishnan fought relentlesssly against the ubiquitous caste system responsible for un‐touchabilityfrom a very early age. In his determined fight against caste system and un‐touchability he was greatly influenced by Narayan Guru of the Malabar region of Kerala who always used to advocate "One caste, one religion and one God for man" He further used to say" whatever be the religion, what is needed is that man must always be good"

It may be appropriate to quote what Swamy Vivekananda had said about this abhorrent practice which was in vogue in the Malabar region of Kerala and against which Narayan Guru had waged his struggle and I quote:

"Was there ever a sillier thing before me in this world than what I saw in Malabar country? The poor pariah is not allowed to pass through the same street as the high caste man but if he changes his name to a hodge podge English name, it is alright or to a Mohammedan name, it is alright.

What inference would one draw except that these Malabaris are all lunatics; their homes represent so many lunatic asylums and they are to be treated with derision by every race in India until they mend their manners. Shame upon them that such wicked and diabolical customs are allowed. Their own children are allowed to die of starvation but as soon as they take up some other religion they are well‐fed".

The other thing next to caste system which was repugnant to Sri P S Krishnanwas slavery or serfdom. There was a symbiotic relationship between masters of slaves and slaves/serfs as between white ant, frog and snakes. Members of the Dalit community under the abominable system of slavery or serfdom were required to render services to the upper castes without any remuneration as if such service was ordained for them by some unseen and unknown force. Bulk of the Dalits continue to be agricultural labourers in Kerala as in the rest of the country. The Pulay community is the largest Dalit/SC community of Kerala and its members were also victims of argestic slavery system.
Opposition to un‐touchability soon became opposition to caste system and opposition to the caste system became synonymous with slavery or serfdom. The first vestige of this ugly and shameful feature of national life appeared before him when he was Tehasildar in independent charge and Asst. Settlement Officer, Anantpur in the third year of his service in 1959. As Dr Vasanthi Devi, ex‐Vice Chanceller of MS University, Thirunelveli and former Chairperson, Tamil Nadu State Commission for women writes in conversation with Sri P S Krishnan‐a crusader for social justice‐bending governance towards the deprived and I quote: "On my way back from Rektala, 3 Dalit brothers from Chinnakowkuntla, a hamlet of Peddakowkuntla signalled me to stop. All the 3 brothers had the same name ‐Ramaiah with suffixes indicating their seniority. The eldest was called Pedda(elder) Ramaiah, the youngest was called Chinna (younger) and the one between them was called Nadmi (middle) Ramaiah. Nadmi Ramaiah alone in the midst of this economy in naming had the luxury of an alternate name i.e. Katavappa. But this luxury was of doubtful quality because "Katavaa" in Telugu means black hard rock, a characteristic feature of the area. I halted in that hamlet to hear them. They complained to me that they had taken a loan from a rich landowner of the village called Kesani Nersaiah who belonged to the local dominant landowning class. They had to repay the loan by working without wages on his land. They complained that they had worked enough to account for the loan and more, but they were still not being released. I sent for the rich landowning money lender and got his version. On return back to Anantpur, I called a lawyer called Krishna Reddy who was known in the area as a communist. I told him "You call yourself a communist. Look at this case and try to help the victims." I explained to him the case of the Ramaiahs. He issued a notice to the land owning money lender. The notice showed that on the basis of the number of days they had worked without wages, they had not only repaid their loan along with lawful interest but there was a surplus which should be returned to them. The interest was calculated according to AP Agriculturist’s Debt Relief Act.

The Ramaiah brothers then came to complain that on receipt of the lawyer’s notice the land owning money lender was indulging in violence towards them. I thereafter handed over the case to the Inspector of the local police station‐Sri Obaiah who was fortunately a member of the SC community who ensured that the three Ramaiah brothers were not subjected to any more violence."

This was the first case of bonded labour that the administration came across in Andhra Pradesh and perhaps in India, 16 years before the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Ordinance was promulgated by the President of India on 25.10.75.

Fifty four years later at a formal brain‐storming session organised by V. V. Giri National Labour Institute, Sector 24, NOIDA on 13.09.2013, 2 years after publication of my book "Human bondage‐tracing its roots in India" by Sage International, Sri Krishnan who was invited to that function had recollected the Ramaiah episode much to the enlightenment of the audience.

The basic approach adopted by Sri Krishnan was to look at opportunities available to him at each point of time, keeping in view the maximum possibilities open and thereafter try to push matters to the utmost extent possible in fulfilling the goals of social justice, equality and equity
As he looks at it there are 2 ways in which the much‐needed changes can be brought about.

One is the revolutionary path in which the entire socio‐political system is swept away and replaced at one stroke by a new system which is the outcome of revolution. This happened in Cuba, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Vietnam. It has both short term advantages as also long term disadvantages. Historically revolutions are brought about or catalysed or led by a small "Vanguard". The masses have not been fully prepared for it even though wide‐spread discontent and resentment have provided the critical mass required for the success of a revolution and this has helped the "Vanguard" So long as those belonging to this small "Vanguard" retain the spark of their revolutionary fervour and idealism, the system which has ushered in the desired change works. Regretfully, as has been observed from the examples of history, the much‐cherished revolutionary idealism evaporates sooner than expected after the revolutionaries have come to power. Another tendency which has been observed historically is that the most advanced class playing a key role in the revolution is satisfied if its immediate goals are met, loses interest in the further advancement of the long term goals of the revolution and ditches the other classes who are not in the forefront or vanguard and who are usually left behind.

Further, revolution is not an integral part of a menu to be adopted at ones option. There must be an enabling and facilitating social ambience. This ambience does not substantially exist in India at present. Such absence has affected the longevity and effectiveness of revolutionary movements that have existed or emerged in some parts of the country at some point of time though in a fragmented manner like the communist movement of 1944‐48 in Telengana region of then Madras Presidency, the Tebhaga movement i the then Bengal( ) and the agitation in Punnapra‐Vayalar area in Kerala shortly before and after independence though, to be fair to these un‐conventional events and the forces which steered them with crystal‐clear intentions, they achieved some results.

The alternate path is to make use of every opportunity to bring about socio‐ economic‐cultural changes which will make significant difference to the plight of the dalits and other depressed classes but without losing sight of the ultimate goal of social equality through comprehensive measures of social justice which include reservation but go beyond. In the words of Justice Sri P N Bhagwati and I quote:

"Social justice is that justice which is not confined to a fortunate few but takes within its compass large millions of people who are living a life of want and destitution, which penetrates and destroys inequalities of race, sex, power, position or wealth and which brings about equitable distribution of the social, material and political resources of the community. Social justice is the very signature tune of the Constitution."

In this process, the Constitution of India has been of great help. As Sri Krishnan writes and I quote:

"Throughout my life the Constitution has been my shield. Nobody could say that what I was doing was wrong or that I should desist from it when I showed that what I was doing was what the Constitution had provided for and mandated"

Baba Saheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar with his realistic understanding of Indian society created a democratic structure with appropriate instruments to achieve the goals of root‐and‐branch social change, social equality and social justice.

Regrettably these instruments have been there from 1950 onwards but the dalits and other deprived classes were not in a position to use these instruments because of the absence of critical mass of educated, enlightened and altruistic people among them. As education became universal in its spread, the capacity of dalits and other depressed classes to utilise these instruments has gradually grown though it is yet to reach its optimal goal.

As Sri Krishnan writes and I quote:

"In the early stages in every village I visited, I used to communicate to the people information about the principles of equality and justice and how to achieve them. I used to discuss with them the importance of agricultural land and house‐sites and their distribution to all landless and house‐less dalits and other depressed classes. They could understand the importance of this on the basis of their own real life experience. Whenever I completed some programme for them, they would profusely thank me. I would tell them that they need not thank me; for what they got was only what they were entitled to as a matter of their right and I was only doing my duty by making it available to them.".

The same approach and strategy were articulated by Justice Sri P N Bhagwati while addressing a National Seminar on "Un‐organised Rural Labour" and I quote:

"Since we are a democracy governed by the "Rule of Law", whatever change we wish to bring about can only be through the process of law. The legal process must, therefore, be utilised for the purpose of bringing about change in the life conditions of the poor.
There can be no doubt that properly directed law can be a potential resource for the rural poor. Law can be used for a variety of purposes, for example:
 to claim entitlements provided by the terms of the Statute law but denied in practice;
 to expose contradictions between prevailing exploitative or repelling practices and existing principles of law;
 to denounce corrupt, oppressive or law‐less administration;
 to secure redress against the abuse or misuse of power by those charged with enforcing the law, notably the police and other public
 to articulate claims for recognition of new rights and demands;
to embarass and, if necessary, harass those who use law palpably for unjust and oppressive purposes;
 to press demands for substantive and procedural legal reforms.
Baba Saheb Dr B R Ambedkar believed that the caste system was at the root of most of the ills and weaknesses of Indian society. Sri Krishnan tended to agree with him fully. To carry this otherwise potentially explosive topic forward, it may be pertinent to ask:"What is caste?".
Caste is a hereditary social group limited to persons of the same occupation and having distinctive social and cultural moorings.
As originally conceptualised in Srimad Bhagawat Geeta (Canto18 Sloka 41) "caste rested on a scientific principle of division of labour which was not rigid and in‐flexible but inter‐changable according to qualities born of ones own nature".

Even Dr B R Ambedkar did not take exception to social division of labour. According to him every civilised society needs scientific division of labour. What, however, he found most objectionable was the highly compartmentalised division of labour i.e. formation of enclosed units called castes and their further sub‐division and fragmentation into caste, clan, sect, sub‐caste etc.
Such compartmentalised division of labour was most objectionable as such divisions are:
 hierarchically organised and artificially graded;
 they are not based on individual competence or efficiency but on
birth in a particular caste.

This is what has led to caste‐based stratification of a heterogenous society and Baba Saheb was un‐reservedly committed to its eradication.

One of the ways of achieving this goal is to strike at the roots by breaking the caste‐based endogamic restrictions and injunction on marriages. Sri Krishnan did not advocate inter‐caste marriages; instead, he advocated anti‐caste marriages. He expressed a rather radical view that there should be a legislation prohibiting marriages in the same caste. Marriages between persons who are closely related are prohibited by custom under the concept of incest. Biological incest is dis‐countenanced as it is prone to cause genetic defects. Sri Krishnan was of the view that this concept may be extended to cover social incest on the ground that marriages within the same caste are harmful to the evolution of a large democratic society and a healthy nation without barriers.

It is somewhat problematic to make an objective and dispassionate assessment of an individual who in course of 35 years of his civil service and more than 2 decades of public service(as a Member of National Commission for SC &ST, as a Member of National Backward Class Commission, as Adviser to Central and State Govts) had made seminal contribution to the cause of promotion, protection and preservation of the human rights of members of SC,ST and socially and educationally backward classes in terms of securing for them their dignity, decency, equality and freedom. This is more so as while he worked un‐remittingly for the cause of dalits and other depressed classes without sparing himself, his views about caste, society, development, human rights and social justice were rather un‐conventional and un‐orthodox which led to misunderstanding with superior officers. His perception and ideology of equality and social justice which he imbibed and assimilated from his childhood and which he held dear to his heart with grit, courage and conviction were not adequately understood or negatively viewed by political leaders and senior administrators. He, however, did not swerve an inch from his professed views and remained firm and un‐deterred like the rocks of Gibraltor.

His un‐mistakable commitment to eradication of un‐touchability has few equals. He was firmly of the view that un‐tontouchability is demeaning, degrading and dehumanising as (a) it hampered educational advancement of members of SC community & (b)On account of untouchability the members of the SC community were deprived of just, fair and equitable access to food, potable water, employment, decent wages, health and nutrition.

While un‐touchability might have weakened in certain parts of the country on account of social movements like "Satya Sodhak Samaj" of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, demographic changes have introduced new forms overt practices of un‐touchability such as:
 emergence of hotels and tea shops in villages and small towns which have introduced notorious 2 tumbler system;
 Members of SCs are denied rented accommodation in certain urban locations;
 only those SCs who secure regular employment at higher levels can get accommodation in govt colonies;
 hotels started by SCs are denied patronage;
when SCs move in to towns and cities, they are absorbed in the un-organised labour sectors and slums;
 un‐touchability is associated with many other disabilities.
The Constitution came in to force w.e.f 26.01.50 but the law under un‐touchability which is punishable as an offence i.e. "Protection of Civil Rights Act" came into force on w.e.f. 01.06.55 only. The track record of enforcement of this legislation has been dismal, to say the least.

It may be appropriate to conclude this write‐up with some personal reminiscences. We first came to know each other in Feb’83 when on my invitation he came to chair a technical session at a National Seminar on elimination of bonded labour system in India. I was DG (LW)/JS , MOL&E then while he was JS, MHA (on leave). Once again in Jan’84 he accepted my invitation to chair a technical session at a 4 day national seminar on "Organising the Un‐organised for social justice and equity". When I was Union Labour Secretary(1996‐2000),I had drafted a comprehensive background paper on elimination of bonded labour system on the request of Justice Sri M N Venkatchaliha, then Chairperson, NHRC. The report was the basis of an intensive involvement of the Commission with eradication of the pernicious system .Sri Krishnan was fully involved with this process. The report of the Working Group on development of SCs (1980‐85) which he chaired and with which I was fully involved is a monumental work which few other documents produced by Ministries/Deptts of Govt. either at the Central or State level can equal in terms of comprehensiveness, animation and sensitivity. Between 2006 (when I was Special Rapporteur, NHRC) and till a few days before his last breath (10.11.19) we had free and frank exchange of ideas at regular intervals on a no. of issues of common concern and, in particular, how to make the Constitutional and statutory provisions stronger, free of ambiguities and contradictions, more relevant and how to make their implementation more transparent, result-oriented and totally in the interest of those "lowliest and lost" for whom they have been enacted.

I am beholden to him in more ways than one for the strength, hope, courage, resilience and enormous self‐confidence he instilled in me to work with renewed resolve, determination and commitment for those marginalised and exploited sections of the society who are also human beings like us, entitled to the same in‐alienable rights as we are and who certainly not responsible for what they are or where they are.

When the Hon’ble Supreme Court led by Justice Sri Arun Mishra, Justice Sri M.R. Saha and Justice Sri B.R. Gavai recalled its earlier order on the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (amended in 2015) (in which enactment he had a pioneering role) dated 20.03.18 and issued a fresh order on 1.10.19, which came as a breath of fresh air, I have seen that rare spark of excitement, happiness and supreme satisfaction but had no clue that the cruel hands of an unseen force would snatch him away barely within a month and half.

Passing away of Sri P. S. Krishnan marks the end of a titan as also end of an era which was remarkable in terms of positive thinking, meticulous planning and passionate action and commitment to bring a little cheer in the cheerless faces of those down‐trodden sections of the society whom Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore has described in "Kadi and Komal" as "dumb, mute and expressionless". A few more titans had passed away before him like his close activist friend and colleague‐S R Sankaran(08.10.2010)(they thought, planned and worked together for more than 5 decades(1957‐ 2010), Anil Bordia (02.09.2012), Dr Bramha Dev Sharma(06.09.2015) and B. N. Yugandhar (13.09.2019) All these titans had one goal, one mission and one mantra which can be described in the words of a Nobel Laureate(1986) and I quote "Our lives no longer belong to us; they belong to those who are in need of the same rather desperately." All of them had spoken with one voice, one energy and one conscience to translate to action what the Nobel Laureate had said. The passing away of these titans has undoubtedly left a void which will be difficult to fill.

(Author: Dr L. Mishra, IAS (Retd.), Former Union Secretary (Labour) )

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