Saturday, March 1, 2008

... A word unto you

The established systems believe blindly in their infinite existence and so curtail the deviations, negative or positive, with their ultimate authority for a final say. Unfortunately the so called ‘final say’ happens to be the same which is said (and set) in the beginning. Any system once established becomes static and so the life in it. In its endeavour to restrain deviants, the system ends up in enforcing barriers of different nature. There is no evidence that a lopsided and static system favoured all the segments of its population. In a time where we talk about dynamism at intellectual circles, the life of Indian Dalits reminds us of the static nature of our society, which in a way we all have denied or ignored but never accepted. We all contribute as individuals, as communities, as governments and as a nation, knowingly or unknowingly, to all the barriers that Dalits presently face in accessing resources, primarily their food and livelihood, and in living as equals. The plight of exclusions and discriminations based on caste hierarchical system is an unforgettable history and a formidable present in this country.

Exclusion can not be executed in its entirety until it is extended into the economic sphere of the lives of the people. Denial of equality is being built on the denials of equal opportunities, ownership of assets and income distribution. This is again supplemented by the hindrances in accessing health care facilities, welfare schemes, etc. The same is the case happening in the discrimination drama which is primarily focused against the Dalits of this country.

The economic trap that entangles the Dalit community grows well beyond their life’s economic sphere and curtails also their socio-political mobility. It never allows them to move upwards in the caste hierarchy which results in their being destined to be at the lower rung of the society. Forced to stand in the last of the ‘democratic’ queue, they are simply denied of their deserved assets and desired benefits. Starting from the unequal income distribution to the unavailable health care facilities; there is a vast range of factors that paint the present’s canvas to be ugly so that it cannot be a beautiful history of tomorrow.

Denial of basic needs gradually grows into the denial of livelihood opportunities in the society, unless and otherwise a greater surplus is created for redistribution. A casteist economic system that is functioning in a visible form in rural set up and invisibly in urban areas is continuously succeeding in the extension of the rigid traditions through all the possible means. Importantly the denial of Dalit’s right to get educated is one of the major barriers that the dominant class creates to keep the oppressed distant from seeking any new and alternative livelihood options, which may again pose threat to the traditional dominancy in amassing wealth and in the limited distribution of surplus. Dalit kids getting barred from the schools and teachers sprinkling cow-urine to ‘purify’ dalit kids are very few natural outcomes of the deeper existence of such a socio-economic system. There are also instances where the humiliations by 'casteist' teachers forced Dalits to start their own school.

Hunger as a way of life is not very uncommon in this country. What might strike in it would be the major proportion of Dalits who share the burden of this meta-narrative of suffering. When history reveals the ugly roots of this persisting inequality, the present too looks not very promising. The visible imbalance requires a further deep attention to trace out the barriers that hinder the oppressed communities from equally accessing the deserved livelihood options.
Whenever the native as well as neighbouring communities fail to serve the basic needs of all the sections of its populace, the state is expected to intervene with remedial measures, mostly in the mode of welfare schemes. There can be two ways which (mis)lead the eligible beneficiaries out of the purview of the scheme benefits. One is the low or no awareness about the schemes from the part of people and the other is the implementation mechanism which functions with a complicated set of eligibility criteria that again indirectly help the lower level state machinery to strategically exclude the real needy. The game is here played with a coin which has tails on both the sides and continuation of which will never get them the ‘heads’ that is actually needed.

There is more to be known about the second way of exclusion from scheme benefits that is of state complexities in implementation than the lower awareness of the people. As when awareness creation foresees a clear solution, making a simple implementation mechanism poses challenges to the policy makers and that needs a great deal of understanding of the barriers that people actually face in accessing the welfare schemes of the Government.

Access to the scheme benefits requires in the first instance the basics to be present in the local set up. The issue of cards, registration in institutions, listed in official lists, etc. In case of Dalits it is these basics which are non-existent either due to denial or negligence. It is important to note here that in an eastern U.P village named Dogra (in Kushinagar Dt), where a starvation death was reported (Nagina Musahar), the state immediately intervened in a large extent and could succeed to list the villagers under all the available schemes. The villagers got all types of cards, registrations and inclusions. Of course the distribution of benefits is still questionable. But the point here is that all the Dalit communities can not afford to have such ‘martyrs’ just to get listed under schemes and there is nothing to be proud of such sacrifices too.

Revelations through many disturbing statistics and reports clearly shows that a better implementation of a scheme is dependent not only upon the factors at policy level but also includes the local government machinery. In the present scenario of decentralization process the local government machinery also involves the community leaders, at least in a rural set up. If the community happens to be casteist and lopsided, it affects the functioning of the local administration to a great extent as the distribution of benefits is ultimately dependent upon them. From school teachers to panchayats presidents to electoral system where everyone and everything is ruled by caste, the reach of welfare schemes would be still skeptical. When it really matters what we are and where one’s social identity is rigidly determined there is not much short cuts to reach the destination. There is of course a long way to go.

Starvation deaths in the context of Musahars are now a popularized issue as development journalists and also mainstream media have written reports after reports and have exploited all the public sympathy. The question is how far we were able to go beyond just sympathasing. All the focus of our criticisms was mainly on making a responsive state leaving aside the responsibility of the native and neighbourhood communities.

As a society we are convinced to believe that human labour is necessary to keep our spaces clean. The next generation intellectuals have started creating scientific knowledge base against positive discrimination without knowing the other half of the India. The whole public consciousness is being comfortable by converting everything into state failure. In such situations, the deceived communities have not many options as the barriers in securing their much needed food are socio-political. They are left to face the unbearable consequences and desperately search for hard ways to live. Our understandings tell us that the barriers faced by the oppressed are not only the failure of the state rather a societal failure.

Having made a generation to believe that, they have to either die or migrate or continue their distressing profession to cope up with hunger and food insecurity, a system has got well established on the basis of caste hierarchy. It is not possible that only laws and policies can bring equality into the common living sphere. There is a need to think something beyond. The state may pave the way to bring in certain strategies, which would really ensure the food security through all the possible means, the first step towards self-emancipation. It is then left to the society to decide whether to live equally or not.

Knowing more and more of the inequities that prevails within us makes me disturbed and pushes me to search for the ways out. I am tracing the meta- narrative of the inequality that prevails among us. It leaves me with more questions than answers. There is still this hope that we together can really trace it down and endeavour towards equalising.

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