Lenin Raghuvanshi’s passionate acceptance speech at the recent Rev. M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award-2016 ceremony, once again shows the deep commitment and dedication of his life’s avowed mission. A firebrand Human Rights activist, he risked his life and limbs for upholding the cause of the downtrodden. He said, “India is the world’s oldest living civilisations with a vibrant culture and diversity of its people and languages. Paradoxically, this enormous diversity also hides a dark and sinister side in the shadows of its culture, the caste system…. Piquantly, the caste hierarchy dictates the lives of its citizens even today. The tribal, minorities and the lower castes or untouchable communities face discrimination and severe oppression due to their social status…. 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, are the most relevant human rights issues in India.” Here’s a report by Shruti, in the regular column, exclusively in Different Truths.
“It is a landmark honour for me, my colleagues, think tanks and advisors at the Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), partner organisations especially Child Right and You (CRY),Global Fund Children(GFC)–USA, European Union, FK-Norway, INSEC-Nepal, IRCT (International Rehabilitation Council of Torture Victims), FORUM Asia, DIGNITY: Danish Institute against Torture, Tata Trusts, Sukria & Pluralismo, Indo-German Society of Remscheid and associates, Ms. Helma Ritscher from Germany, Shruti Nagvanshi of Varanasi and Ms. Parul Sharma of Sweden to receive the Rev. M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award-2016 fighting for the dignity of the poor, marginalised and the “Untouchables” of India. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland portrays the authentic picture of marginalised, “The poor and marginalised are ignored by political parties and the media. When they are victims of crime they hesitate to report it because they do not trust the police or courts. Corruption is widespread. Poor people are forced to pay for protection and services which, according to human rights law, should be free. The economic crisis only makes things worse, providing an excuse for politicians to blame the victims rather than help them.”
“My greetings and sincere thanks to award selection committee, board of trustee of Vigil India Movement for acknowledgment of most wretchedly treated people in the world, the Dalits of India, known once as “Untouchables.” The culture of silence imposed by draconian suppression sanctified by the religious rituals of the upper caste was such that the outside world knew little about this colossal cruelty.
“Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer, former Judge, Supreme Court of India and recipient of MA Thomas National Human Rights Award described the plight of the Dalits in the following words, I quote, ‘Courts to them are alien, laws their enemy and human justice their despair.’
“India is the world’s oldest living civilisations with a vibrant culture and diversity of its people and languages. Paradoxically, this enormous diversity also hides a dark and sinister side in the shadows of its culture, the caste system. Embedded in the feudal culture, based on the mind of the caste for several centuries, the caste system is one of the world’s longest surviving forms of social stratification. It divides the society into social castes. This graded inequality has the sanction of classical Indian religious scriptures.
“Piquantly, the caste hierarchy dictates the lives of its citizens even today. The tribal, minorities and the lower castes or untouchable communities face discrimination and severe oppression due to their social status. As a result, they have been further marginalised in the society and denied their basic fundamental rights.
“The severest human rights violations in India, 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 never 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, are the most relevant human rights issues in India.
“A victim of arbitrary use of power by police becomes traumatised as Justice MN Venkatachaliah, former chief, National Human Rights Commission of India, said: ‘Arrest has a diminishing and demoralising effect on his [victim’s] personality. He is outraged, alienated and becomes hostile.’
“Arbitrary use of powers by the police also taints image of a country as the quality of a nation’s civilisation is largely measured by the methods it uses in the enforcement of criminal law.
“The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) made a strong pitch for immediate passage of Prevention of Torture Bill in upper house of Indian Parliament, saying it is urgent to ensure that extracting information through torture is declared illegal. Addressing a conference organized by PVCHR and DIGNITY: Danish Institute against Torture on July 12, 2012, NHRC Chairperson K G Balakrishnan said that the Parliament needs to pass the Bill urgently so that the culture of extracting information through torture is made illegal and the guilty are punished by law. ‘Torture is a serious problem for India. Basic human rights are violated when torture is inflicted. It is not just physical pain, but mental which traumatises the individual and is an assault on his right to life,’ he said. India has also not ratified the UN convention against torture which asks states to declare torturing a criminal offense under its jurisdiction, he noted1. Till today after many promises, Government of India is making eyewash tactics for ratification of UNCAT.
“In the last few years, brutal, vicious attacks on women and young girls in India have been resonating in the local and international media, shocking and angering people the world over.
Elements of modernity such as wealth, urban development and wider education, including the promotion of women’s rights and freedoms, have never been standing more in contrast with the deeply-rooted, powerful patriarchal system that has always dominated village politics and traditional Indian culture.
“Such ancient feudal structures still survive today, ensuring that women remain oppressed, obedient, subjugated and marginalised.
“We routinely read reports on social media about these grim realities, but the quick-news cycle often fails to connect us emotionally with the victims and their unique stories, or to the people tirelessly working towards justice and social change.
“The main problems facing the India emerge from two things: the implementation of a ‘culture of impunity’, which is a shared belief that few can act without be accountable for their actions, at the social, economic and political level, and, secondly, the cognitive problem in the context of market democracy and economic globalisation. This explanation reveals how the combination of those two factors – cognitive and contextual – allow the rise of a Neo-Fascism state – an authoritarian state, which wants to make one country with one nation – and the implementation of an aggressive Neo-Liberal capitalism – which perpetuate social and economic injustice. In this way, we see how the Neo-fascist Hindutva project is used as new emerging corporate fascism to perpetuate caste domination and allow the Indian leaders to realise profit by selling the country to national and international companies.
“We comprehend 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 against a neo-fascist politics of castes and community division? The answer is unity. Which kind of unity can we create to fight against the caste system – which is the origin of social division and culture of impunity – and neo-liberalism – that increase the gap between the haves and the have nots. It 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 is not a matter of theologies. A union between shudras and ati-shudras, or between Dalits and ati-Dalits, and a union with minorities, lower castes and other marginalised peoples. A movement of the poor and the abused people for breaking the economic exploitation and the silent culture of caste torture is another unity. The movement is against Brahmanism and caste system, but not against Hinduism and upper-caste. The movement is against neo-liberalism capitalism, not against democratic capitalism/welfare state 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 norms of exclusion and because we don’t think that change will come from peoples who benefit because 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 that has suffered the most of all for this entire situation and because this name is already synonym of political struggle created by Baba Saheb Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar2.
“Because the “divide for a better ruler” politics is becoming an institution in the country: what better answer than a unified process of lower castes from all religions and further unity with progressive people born in the upper castes, who are against the caste system, can we give to create a unified social movement again Brahmanism caste system, communal neo-fascism and neo-liberalism capitalism.
“A union of lower castes against caste alienation, a union of religions against communalism, and a union of the poor against neo-liberalism are three fights lead by one community, the neo-Dalits.
“But what about the means of our fight? How should such social movements of unity emerge? Or which kind of struggle should it lead? These questions are important and need to be addressed.
“The creation of a neo-Dalit political party doesn’t seem to be the right choice. A political party that wants to defend the poor is not going to raise enough money to play electoral games. And the leaders who are involved in these institutional games have good chance to be socialised into corruptive rules of those institutions. The risk is that this may take them some distance with the people that they are supposed to defender or, worst, play the democratic game only for their own profits. Another way seems to be preferable.
“It is better to promote a reconciliation movement among different castes and religious communities at the grassroots in order to create contact among those, who were speared for long by communal sectarianism and Brahmanism. Connection and meetings are the best way to fight against 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 huge and strong network among all the civil society organisations, 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 begins by coordinated actions lead by a shared interpretation of our common problems.
“For this reason, the present clarion call is destined to all Suhdras and ati-Shudras, to all organisations that are fighting for the respect of human right, to all progressive peoples – whatever her/his caste, creed, religion, sex or social class – who want to reverse this process of state-privatisation, abuse of natural resources and division of society through hatred spiral fed by communitarianism, feudalism and patriarchal-ism implemented by the Brahmanism 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 thought leaders and others representative of those groups. This idea is not new. Few times after India’s independence, Gandhiji has already shown us that it is possible to put an end to communalism fight in a non- violent way. I talked about what people called “the miracle of Calcutta.” Gandhiji was able to engage and disarm the process of violent gangs in the city, but was not satisfied by this victory. He demanded more. He asked the leaders of Muslim and Hindu communities to promise that they will keep peace between them. And, lo and behold, a “Miracle”, Calcutta and its areas had never seen any more communalism riots!
“There are a lot of best practices based on innovation, resilience, cost effectiveness and participation of children and other target groups 3 . Elimination of the culture of silence, fear and phobia of organised violence and torture are the predominant factors of resilience to inculcate social transformation. It contributes in poverty elimination. The stories of Sarai and Sakara villages are the classical examples of how change happens. The success of Sarai village achieved by the people of Sarai is creating waves in the struggle against poverty, injustice, caste system and torture and organised violence, as a slogan: ‘You Can!’4 Government of India needs to implement learning of grassroots level.
“PVCHR is fighting back the caste system of India through participatory activism through ‘local thinking and local-global action.’ Now, Dalit is un-censoring themselves and claiming their own voice in a sustained way, PVCHR has aimed at voicing the disgust of the silent millions not through the bayonet, but by reinstituting their faith in the system of democracy; by fighting continuously with the state to assert their rights.
“Dalit, marginalised and Human Rights defenders associated with PVCHR ask, ‘Is the earth alone?’ Don’t you have to go to the earthworm, busy making earth fertile, and ask before taking any important decision!
“Who knows if the ants are more concerned about the earth’s future than you? /I am worth an earthworm. For you, I am only an ant to be crushed. /My human rights puny before your demon rights /we may be insignificant come on. /Agreed let our claim over the earth is no way less than yours.
“Rabindranath Tagore5, 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 Gitanjali6:
“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.
“Martin Luther King rightly says, ‘The urgency of the hour calls for leaders of wise judgment and sound integrity – leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice; leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity; leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.7 ’
“India is in need of a better government that protects its own people and brings them together to build a strong nation-state, and to give them dignity and honour. “Hence, in all humbleness and humility, I accept the Rev. M.A. Thomas National Human
“Hence, in all humbleness and humility, I accept the Rev. M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award 2016 as a step toward a different India, grounded on the values of justice, freedom and integrity.
7 King, Martin Luther, Jr. Facing the Challenge of a New Age, in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., page 143, (ed.) James M. Washington, Harper & Row, Publishers
Photos sourced by the author.
Shruti is a social activist and co-founder of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Right (PVCHR), India. A strong activist in favour of justice for the downtrodden, aptly describes Shruti’s persona. She has won many national and international awards for her work in promoting social justice and defending rights of the marginalised, vulnerable Dalit women and children, mainly in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, India.