People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 27

July 13 , 2008


Neo-Liberalism And Social Justice - II


Suneet Chopra


IT is the tendency of retreating from every humanitarian concern that is evident from the braying of the votaries of neo-liberalism for “less government”, “fiscal responsibility”, “pseudo-secularism” and “jobs on merit” for the already privileged. All this should make us doubly conscious that in the conditions of India, the ideology of the ‘Devil take the Hindmost’ takes on a particularly dangerous character.


This is because we live in a society where humanity itself is called into question. As per the vedas, there are the Brahmins from the head of Brahma, Kshatriyas from the arms, Vaishyas from the stomach and Shudras from the thighs. The god is one but the people are not. Humanity and human rights cannot exist in caste society.


It follows from this that there is nothing like “human rights” or common principles of justice. The violent crushing of attempts at seeking social justice is given religious sanction in the Ramayana that begins with the murder of Shambhuka a shudra who was meditating by Rama, at the request of a Brahmin. What is more, even a radical like Tulsi Das, who was expelled from Kashi for writing the Ramayana in Avadhi, cries out in it: “Drums, peasant, shudras, animals and women need to be kept in order by regular beating” and “the powerful can commit no mistake”.


The Congress Party too, is equally insensitive when it gives ‘Dronacharya’ awards to teachers, in effect honouring a man who had got his tribal student to cut off his thumb as guru-dakshina.


The Sikh Gurus went to great lengths to break the prejudices of caste, untouchability and brought people of all castes together to share common meals in gurudwaras. But today in Punjab we find a curious alliance between these casteist elements and the self-proclaimed devotees of Gurus. Castes are encouraged to have their own gurudwaras. Often dalit Sikhs are not allowed to serve prasad to congregations of other castes. Inter caste marriages often lead to “honour killings”. And recently an old dalit woman was physically prevented from being cremated in the village cremation ground.


These are ominous signs, especially when we see them in the context of India becoming the country with the largest number of murders in the world, nearly twice as many as in the USA, which was known for its crimes. Since 1981 to 2000, no less than 3,57,945 atrocities against SC/ST have taken place. In 2000 alone, there were 486 cases of murder, 3298 of grievous hurt, 260 of arson, 1034 of rape and 18,644 other offences. This gives us serious cause for concern as 19.2 per cent households in the country belong to the scheduled castes and 8.4 per cent to the scheduled tribes. Together they constitute 27.6 per cent of the population. Every fourth person in the country belongs to this category. Can we preserve our national unity if this oppression is not brought to an end?





Economically too, these sections are losing ground. In 1991, 70 per cent of the total scheduled caste households were landless. By 2000 the percentage had risen to 75. In terms of fixed capital assets, in 2000, only 28 per cent dalits had any assets while for the rest of the population the figure was 56 per cent. At the time 49.06 per cent of the SC working population were agricultural labour as compared to 32.69 per cent for STs and 19.66 per cent for other castes. The unemployment figures of SCs were also higher. Moreover, even though 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent of central government posts are reserved for SCs and STs respectively, only 10.15 per cent posts in Group A, 12.67 per cent in Group B, 16.15 per cent in Group C and 21.26 per cent in Group D were filled. Not only are SCs and STs relegated to Class IV jobs, the quotas are not filled there too. Of the  544 judges in High Courts only 13 were SC and 4 were ST. Only 6.7 per cent school teachers were SC/ST, while the figure dropped further to only 2.6 per cent for college teachers. It is evident they are being excluded in every sphere of life and the exclusion is becoming more evident with neo-liberal policies being implemented today. Of the 600 lakh child labour in India, 40 per cent are from SC, while the figure rises to 80 per cent in arduous and “dirty” jobs like carpet weaving, tanning, dyeing, lifting dead animals, cleaning human refuse, soiled clothes, waste from slaughter houses and sale of local liquor.


The literacy rate for SC was 54.7 per cent while for STs it was 47.1 per cent. The infant mortality rate for SC was 83 per 1000 compared to 61.8 per 1000 for others. This is not surprising as only 11 per cent SC houses and 7 per cent ST houses have access to sanitation, as opposed to a national average of 29 per cent. Similarly, while the national average for the use of electricity was 48 per cent, only 28 per cent of the SC population and 22 per cent of the ST had access to it. Now, given the vast reduction of expenditure in the social sector, their condition can only worsen.


In Punjab, which has an SC population of 32 per cent of the total households well above the national average of 19.2 per cent the share of SCs in government jobs has declined from 23.98 per cent to 23.01 per cent in 2005. Predictably, only 1880 SCs are there in class I of a total of 11703 filled posts. The figures from class II are 2168 of a total of 12754. For class III the figures are 47,836 of a total of 2,21,517, while for Class IV the figures are 21,594 of a total of 61833. Clearly the caste bias of reserving only menial posts for SCs is visible here and it has to be fought.


It is evident from these figures that caste is not class. There is no untouchability when seed is sown in the field, watered, harvested or threshed. It is only the cooking pot that untouchability applies to. Similarly stone carvers can be dalits, they can carve the images of temples, even carry them there, but they cannot pray in them. Untouchability does not touch the sphere of production in general, except where certain types of unclean work is not permitted for Brahmins and Kshatriyas. It is grafted on to it to divide the working people. The rich and powerful “have no caste” as the old adage goes, “Raja Ki Jat Nahin Hoti”. Worse, the members of the scheduled castes and tribes have themselves taken on the ideology of caste to their detriment, as we can see from the legend of Eklavya in the Mahabharata when he cuts his thumb as Gurudakshina for Dronacharya. In the same way, it took Dr Ambedkar nearly three decades from the late twenties to the fifties to realise caste institutions were intrinsically linked to the practice of Hinduism and were incapable of being reformed. They needed to be destroyed. That is why he and his followers converted to Buddhism. It must be noted, however, that conversion is no solution. In our history, the Delhi Sultans and the Mughals, who were Muslims, patronised Brahminism as a way of keeping the masses divided. And the British, like Warren Hastings, had caste practices codified as law that gave caste a far greater force under colonial rule than it ever had under Hindu rulers. So the caste problem has wider ramifications than the mere religious fabric of Hinduism. The exploiting classes, especially the landlord class and rural vested interests have given it a function beyond just one religion. And social discrimination exists even after conversion to other religions, so the benefits of reservations should be extended to them as well. It is obvious that it must be fought primarily as a struggle of the oppressed against their oppression. As part of this the oppressed castes must take up the tasks of ending discrimination among themselves to present a unified resistance and not squabble over a few reservations. The dalit identity must be an inclusive one and not a number of mutually exclusive fragments. Encouraging inter caste marriages can play an important role in this process.





As for the exploited, they must challenge the divisive agenda of caste by targetting untouchability, oppression and the implementation of reservations along with struggles for land, work, a living wage, a universal public distribution system, against rising prices, for better education and health and protection of the civil rights of all citizens. From the perspective of the neo-liberal reforms, SEZs and the corporatisation of forests and farming must be resisted alongside job-killing mechanisation.  The privatisation of PSUs must be opposed as reserved category jobs are eliminated along with downsizing that increases unemployment on one hand and the workload on the other. At the same time a demand for reservations in the private sector can be raised. Jobless growth with its increasing workload affects workers as a whole and it must be resisted collectively, especially in government employment that affects both dalits and non dalits. Discrimination against dalits like giving them only “unclean” or “class IV” work must be resisted together as it is a question that impinges on inhuman working conditions. If the conditions of work of dalits, like scavengers being forced to carry nightsoil on their heads, are allowed to continue, others will also find themselves in the same state of affairs in a period of casualisation of work, lower wages and no checks on working norms.


Under neo-liberal pressure there is an all-out attack and oppression unleashed on the workers, peasants, artisans, like seizing their assets, underpricing their products and cutting subsidies on their inputs, abandoning food security and destroying the PDS, while refusing to implement minimum wages acts and denying cheap credit. Even criminal laws are being diluted so that the legal system and the police work for the highest bidder. This situation gives us a remarkable chance for the first time since the national movement to unite the working people, the discriminated and the oppressed, the petty producers and tradesmen in one coalition to fight privatisation, corporatisation, asset grabbing, unemployment, casualisation, hunger, non-payment of wages, inhumanity at the work place, untouchability, physical violence and even the most gruesome crimes against those who are exploited and oppressed.


The choice before dalit organisations is also more flexible than ever before. They can choose to join workers’ and peasants’ movements, as they have in Andhra Pradesh or they can choose the path of the BSP which has integrated with the system, has had to mute its anti-Manuvadi perspective, alter its coalition of Bahujan Samaj to include oppressors of the Sarvajan Samaj and dilute the Harijan Act that has led to a sharp spate of attacks on dalits in UP.  Still, while being aware of this being an either-or situation, we must allow dalit organisations to find their own path in relation to the level of their consciousness. Social awakening follows complex paths and we must encourage it and not impose our own views on others. Nor must we romanticise the dalit movement and see it as an alternative to class movements. On the contrary we must do everything in our power to attract dalit leaders, cadres and organisations to take part in them and awaken to the task of leading the toiling masses as a whole and not just a section of them. The time is opportune for this.