People's Democracy

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


No. 37

September 13, 2009

 Change The Material Reality Not Just The Heart!


G Mamatha


IN a recently held State Welfare and Social Justice Ministers� conference in New Delhi, prime minister Manmohan Singh expressed shock over the low conviction rate for cases of atrocities against SC/STs. It is less than 30 per cent against the average of 42 per cent for all cognisable offences under the Indian Penal Code. He adds, �The root of the problem of exclusion from the national mainstream lies in social prejudices and associated discrimination. What can we do to become a more humane and socially progressive society and thereby a more developed society? It appears to me we can begin by changing a mindset� I urge you to carry out a concerted awareness programme that makes creative use of media, educational institutions and civil societies and places the well being of these marginalised sections at the centre of the development agenda for our nation.�


Good to hear that at last the government wants to start a 'concerted awareness programme'. Dalits today are humiliated for wearing nice clothes, for being clean, for being literate and for desiring to be treated with dignity. Dalit students are routinely humiliated and harassed at school. Many drop out because of this. They are seated separately in the classroom and at mid-day meals in countless schools across the country.


Students from the upper castes do not get slapped by the teacher for drinking water from the common pitcher. Nor is there much chance of acid being thrown on their faces in the village if they do well in studies. Nor are they segregated in hostels and in the dining rooms of the colleges they go to. This happens only to the dalits. Discrimination haunts dalits at every turn, every level, at workplace, at educational institues and at public places. Discrimination for dalits is like the proverbial 'cradle to grave' as in many places they are even denied burial grounds. The upper caste landlords in most of the villages occupy these lands, deny access to them by blocking the paths leading to them and thus deprive dalits even space to bury their dead.


In these conditions, to make our society 'more humane' and 'socially progressive' a concerted awareness programme is not sufficient. And moreover, 'changing mindset' is not so easy. After all they are not handsets to be changed in a whiff (Of course, even changing handsets is difficult for the majority in our country). These theories of change of heart, change of mindset are nothing new for the Congress leadership. There were many attempts to eliminate caste discrimination and untouchability by encouraging a change in the social behaviour of the people, through inter-caste marriages and such other means. Unfortunately such attempts did not address the root cause of the problem and thus were not able to completely eliminate these vices.


The prime minister should realise that the root of the problem of exclusion, of caste discrimination and associated atrocities lies in the economic basis on which this oppression thrives. In India today, more than 836 million people live on less than Rs 20 a day. Around 90 per cent of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (and many from the Other Backward Classes and Muslims) fall into this group. Most of the SC and STs  are agricultural wage labourers with no land at all. Unless they are economically empowered through land reforms, which give them the strength to challenge the oppression, there can be no change in their status. Without an attempt to change the land relations, mere appeals for a change of heart or behaviour cannot and will not eliminate this obnoxious social oppression. The struggle for social upliftment should be linked to that of the struggle for economic upliftment.


It was only the then united Communist Party which linked social reform with the struggle against British imperialism and a comprehensive agrarian revolution. Right from the Platform of Action in 1930 to the memorandum submitted to the National Integration Council by Comrade Putchalapalli Sundarayya on behalf of the CPI(M) in 1968, the Communist movement constantly underlined that caste exploitation and social emancipation could be possible only through sweeping changes in agrarian relations. The caste system is the superstructure of a feudal and semi feudal economic base. Therefore, any attempt to overthrow this obnoxious caste oppression will have to target the elimination of the vestiges of this system and should be a socio-economic struggle.


The question before the present government therefore is, is it ready to implement the land reform legislation promulgated by their own earlier government? The Congress leadership was unable to proceed with even the limited land reform legislations because of their class alliance that defines the character of the Indian state. This alliance  prevented in the past and prevents even today the Indian bourgeoisie to complete the tasks of the democratic revolution. Unless this is done, all the pious wishes of the prime minister would remain just as such and would not translate into reality.


Did the wish of this government in its first five years tenure to provide reservations for dalits in the private sector turn into reality? No. Experience tells that mere pleading, (as the prime minister once again had done in the above quoted speech) the corporate sector to shoulder some social responsibility and cater to the needs of the marginalised sections of the society would not materialise. The government should display some political will. This again should not just mean mere legislation. Of course, legislation is important. But implementation or putting the legislation to work is even more important. After all, it is twenty years since the SC, ST atrocities act was passed. In many instances as the prime minister himself had acknowledged its implementation is tardy.


In this scenario, mere words however sweet and well intentioned thus should not fill our hearts. We should fight to force the government convert its rhetoric into action. We should fight to ensure that the existing provisions are properly implemented. We should fight to change the existing inhuman system. It is only through our struggles-both social and economic that a more humane and progressive society can be built.