The release of five-time Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah on Saturday after seven months in detention is a welcome step that could open fresh political possibilities in the troubled region.
The conditions of his release, if any, are not public but it is clear that there were backchannels open between him and the Centre before the release.
Taken together with other recent relaxations in J&K that was put under a lockdown last August as the Centre unilaterally ended its special constitutional status, his release could help reopen the public space in the Valley.
ASSURANCE OF STATEHOOD:
Coinciding with his release, Prime Minister Modi met a delegation of the newly formed Apni Party led by former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Altaf Bukhari.
PM assured that he would work towards the restoration of statehood for J&K, which was downgraded to a Union Territory as part of last year’s restructuring.
Mr. Modi also said no demographic changes would be forced in J&K. Earlier, mobile telephony was restored fully and mobile Internet partially.
However, restrictions on assembly remain largely in place, and hundreds, including two former Chief Ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, still remain in detention.
Their staggered release could be the next step towards normalcy.
SURPRISE AND SUBTERFUGE:
Mr. Modi’s moves have often been characterised by surprise and subterfuge, including on J&K.
There could be justification for such secrecy in statecraft, but new beginnings in the Valley will require more openness as there is a considerable trust deficit between its people and New Delhi.
The Centre should not try to orchestrate politics but engage with it as it organically evolves.
UNDO THE DAMAGE:
Hard as it is, the Centre must try and undo the damage it did to mainstream parties such as the National Conference and the PDP.
It must allow all opinions to be articulated. Coercive measures must be limited to combating violence.
It must shun the baseless notion that communities will surrender political autonomy in return for material prosperity.
Above all, it must end its perilous propensity to paint the demands for autonomy and separatism with the same brush.
J&K’s instrumental status as a place for demonstrating the strength of the Indian nation in the current government’s imagination is not helpful.
There is also an evolving international situation that could complicate the situation.
With the long-expected U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan now imminent, Islamist forces in South Asia are feeling triumphant and are using the current communal turmoil in India to paint it as a Hindu theocracy.
The Pakistani military establishment will exploit the situation to India’s disadvantage.
India’s approach towards J&K must be people-centric and guided by a resolute commitment to its diversity and religious pluralism.
The Centre must do more to restore normalcy in J&K, and return it to full statehood.
2) Needless appeal: On U.P. move against removal of ‘name and shame’ posters
It is regrettable that the Uttar Pradesh government has appealed against the Allahabad High Court order directing the removal of hoardings in Lucknow that displayed details of those who participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Further, it has approved an ordinance that provides for recovery of compensation from those suspected of involvement in rioting for any damage to property.
In a quick and well-reasoned response, the court curbed the administration’s gross misuse of power.
Even though the Supreme Court’s vacation judges were sceptical about the legal basis of the government’s action, they referred it to a larger Bench, observing that crucial questions of law were involved.
It is difficult to see what arcane legal question has arisen, considering that the High Court’s order was on the grounds that the erection of the hoardings lacked statutory backing and that it was a gross violation of citizens’ privacy.
The Lucknow administration had displayed the photographs, names and addresses of those who, it claimed, owed compensation for the alleged destruction of public property during the protests.
There has been no judicial finding that those named were involved in such violence; and there is no law that authorises such public “naming and shaming”.
It was quite apparent that the government was humiliating the protesters and exposing them to danger from the CAA’s supporters and the government.
Once the High Court Bench, headed by Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha, took suo motu cognisance of the development, the government could not justify its action on any legal ground.
All it could do was come up with weak objections to the court acting on its own motion, arguing that those featured in the banners had the capacity to seek legal redress themselves, and also questioning whether the principal seat in Allahabad could take cognisance of developments in Lucknow, which has its own Bench.
At a time when the higher judiciary is seen to be passive before a powerful executive, the court’s resolve to act on its own against a case of obvious injustice and violation of fundamental rights is quite commendable.
Its approach was rooted in the revivified privacy rights jurisprudence established by a nine-Judge apex court Bench in K.S. Puttaswamy.
Applying the tests laid down in that verdict, the top court ruled that there was no necessity for a democratic government to disclose anyone’s identity and particulars without a legitimate purpose.
And that choosing a small group among hundreds arrested in connection with the violence during the protests for the public display was a “colourable exercise” of power.
That the State government went on appeal shows that the judicial order hardly had any chastening effect on the regime that has been displaying unusual stridency in its crackdown on the anti-CAA protests.
HC rap for violating citizens’ privacy through banners has had no effect on Yogi’s regime
3) When every line in the book is violated
After a violent riot, teachers of young children have a difficult time deciding what to say in their classes when children ask awkward questions.
Some of these questions arise from the news that children have heard or from the scenes they have seen on television.
In some cases, they ask about what they have seen with their own eyes. There are also questions reflecting the children’s desire to verify something their parents have told them.
It is not difficult to imagine the bewildering array of queries that the recent communal riots in the nation’s capital have triggered in the minds of young people.
How a teacher can address them is anyone’s guess.
Cities such as Mumbai and Delhi and many provincial towns of northern India have considerable experience of living through violent riots.
Little effort has been made to study the response of children to such occurrences and the dilemma that teachers face when classes resume after a riot.
A violent riot is normally seen as a breakdown of law and order. That it indeed is, implying a weakening of the state’s moral authority and people’s trust in it.
Within a few days, the state re-establishes its authority and state functionaries, such as the police and other officers, start to assume that the damage done to their credibility has been restored.
IMPACT OF RIOT ON EDUCATION:
In the context of education, however, the impact of a riot goes much deeper. Although schools are the main provider of education, their routine functioning is hardly an adequate measure of the state’s expectation from their role.
As an institution of the state, a school — whether privately run or managed directly by the government — enables the young to imbibe the moral principle underlying the state’s authority.
It is this moral principle that permits the state to exercise power over the lives of citizens.
When a riot breaks out, schools are closed, mainly to protect children from aggression and violence.
During the Delhi riots, a private school was set on fire and its property looted. Imagine the horror this school would have faced if children were inside it.
When a riot has swept past, schools reopen and the resumption of their routine is usually perceived as the return of normalcy.
THE REAL LOSS:
This perception is erroneous because it does not take into account the school’s real loss in terms of its own authority to serve and perpetuate the state’s morality.
Every core value of education is injured by the violence that breaks out among citizens during a riot.
It takes years to explain to the young that relations among people and communities are guided by certain values.
Even a specific topic such as respect for someone else’s property and publicly owned infrastructure takes a long time to teach in a manner that it would make sense to children.
All this effort is wasted when children see with their own eyes that people are killing others and burning shops, houses and buses.
In the case of Delhi, the damage done to children’s learning was greater as it included the incredible realisation that the police did nothing and merely watched when the killing and looting started.
The magical significance of the phone number 100 is conveyed to children in their primary classes. Why didn’t the police stop the riot, children want to know.
THEN AND NOW:
No wonder that teachers feel like Sisyphus when teaching resumes after a riot. Sisyphus was a king depicted in Greek mythology.
He was condemned to a life of hard labour which involved routinely destroying its own accomplishment.
Sisyphus was supposed to push a huge rock uphill, and when he reached the top, the rock rolled back down, forcing him to start all over again.
This image captures the frustration a teacher must face after people are killed or wounded in a riot.
In early November of 1984, riots broke out following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Schools remained closed for many days.
When they reopened, the government sent a specific instruction to schools, forbidding any discussion of the riots.
Teachers faced a dilemma. They knew how deeply many children had been scarred. Not just Sikh children who had seen the brute killing of their own elders, but others too who had witnessed horror or heard about it.
They all needed ways to express their disturbed minds and seek some solace from teachers.
Now, 36 years later, the city is back at the same juncture. Teachers feel bewildered as they face the task of explaining to the young why a part of Delhi burst into flames.
Any explanation would necessarily involve telling children why the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 has proved controversial.
A teacher attempting to discuss this subject is likely to get into trouble, both within and outside the school. A school in Bidar, Karnataka, recently faced police action for staging a play on the citizenship law.
In the charged atmosphere that preceded the riots and still prevails, no critical thinking is likely to be tolerated.
Although the official curriculum now proudly claims to promote critical thinking and foundational learning, these terms provide little scope for responding to what is happening in one’s own neighbourhood or the country.
Like everything else in education, these wonderful sounding terms are now used for promoting hollow formal routines.
The Delhi riots coincided with an official visit of the American President, Donald Trump, to India, beginning February 24.
His wife, Melania Trump, was scheduled to witness how a government school transacts a so-called ‘happiness’ curriculum.
It was terribly ironical that she was attending a ‘happiness’ class in south Delhi while violence and fire raged in the north-eastern part of the city.
We can imagine the meaning of the happiness that curriculum designers hope to impart through this innovation.
In their design, happiness is another form of cynicism, marking the capacity to stay aloof and unaffected by the fate of fellow human beings.
SANCTITY OF EDUCATION:
Textbooks, teachers and principals routinely tell children that India’s religious diversity is a matter of pride.
What, then, accounts for so much hatred, children must wonder. Someone will have to explain to them why there is such a sharp contradiction between real collective life and what is conveyed to them.
Many children know from watching television that Delhi’s present political ethos is full of bitterness and anger.
Slogans that ask for shooting down dissent have been openly shouted. In such an ethos, the official message conveyed through post-riot parent-teacher meetings that all is well now cannot reduce cynicism.
The personal trauma suffered by hundreds and the bewilderment of others who have witnessed the collapse of social order and police responsibility cannot be healed by words and promises alone.
Education must deal with the deeper anxieties of the young in order to retain its own sanctity and credibility.
The hatred that found open expression for some days in north-east Delhi has put a question mark on the capacity of the system of education to nurture the core values a democratic order demand.
Violent riots knock down the sanctity of public education and people’s faith in it as a resource for maintaining basic human values.
In a post-conflict phase, officers and teachers must decide what they will tell the young and how.
To follow the modern idiom and simply ‘move on’ (i.e. put the riots behind) is to invite the usual price that unresolved trauma incurs. Its effects go deeper.
The temporary social breakdown that riots signify requires a long-term strategy to restore teachers’ morale and people’s trust in schools.
Simply ignoring the damage done to the sanity of young minds is tantamount to letting democracy suffer the loss of intellectual vitality that education alone can provide.
4) Kanshiram’s legacy of Dalit empowerment left adrift
In republican India’s history, there is no politician who can match Kanshiram’s life story. No one else could have carved a niche for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and the Minorities as much as he did.
He came on the Indian political scene without a resumé popping with credentials of legacy, inheritance, wealth, title, surname or party.
Irrespective of all these barriers, he sculpted a solid, unremitting, electrifying Bahujan movement in India.
He hailed from an agriculturist Chamar family, but being a Sikh had no impact on caste exclusions of Dalits in the region.
Kanshiram, born on March 15, 1934, was aware of this, yet not to the extent of grasping the nuances of such discrimination.
He had naively thought of Brahmins as being a poor and backward community due to their low status in Jaat-dominant Punjab.
In his later life, there was one incident in his diverse working stints that had an impact on him.
In 1957, he settled for a job as a research assistant in the Ministry of Defence’s Explosives Research and Development Laboratory (also called the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory), in Pune.
A colleague, a class IV employee, Dinabhana from Rajasthan’s Bhangi caste, had taken it upon himself to protest the administration’s cancellation of holidays for Ambedkar and Buddha Jayanti.
As a consequence, he was fired for raising the issue. He chose to fight it in court. Looking at Dinabhana’s unrelenting struggle, Kanshiram turned towards activism to seek social justice and political freedoms.
Much of Kanshiram’s memories are lived through anecdotes and his speeches. A.R. Akela, a foremost scholar of the Bahujan movement, has compiled a series and published them in Hindi.
It must be noted that Kanshiram did not leave extensive written records or archives barring the classic, The Chamcha Age (An Era of the Stooge).
Dedicated to Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, The Chamcha Age was later to be the founding ground of a party that would be a disrupter in India’s casteist political spectrum — the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Kanshiram started by wanting to do nothing with the tokenised, genuflecting leadership of Dalit leaders that the Poona Pact between Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar had produced.
Such a leadership was willing to be the secondary elements of the dominant Congress party.
Following simmering resentment against the political attitude towards Dalits, Kanshiram gathered middle class government employees who were seeking leadership that had a spine and self-pride.
He recruited disgruntled intellectuals and government employees to give wheels to the caravan of the Bahujan movement.
In current times, Kanshiram’s struggle continues to be more popular and his ideas acceptable to second and third generation Dalits who are unwilling to settle for anything less than what they deserve.
Educated and with a confident outlook, the young breed of Dalits are now aiming to give life to Ambedkar’s vision — of becoming a part of the ruling class of the country.
Through Kanshiram they see a feasible, methodical approach to getting that throne.
Almost every student organisation, social and political outfit subscribes to the legacy of Ambedkar.
The Bhim Army Ekta Mission, for instance, wants to be seen as a part of Kanshiram’s Ambedkarite legacy.
The Bhim Army’s status is complicated on a national scale. Though its flamboyant leader, Chandrashekhar Azad, has an appeal across caste, religion and regional lines, the organisation’s social base has still to be firmed up.
Its apolitical work such as pre-school training, having an atrocity grievance cell and cultural activism needs to be expanded. There needs to be a multi-organisational strategy.
There are several Bahujan organisations that work towards Dr. Ambedkar’s dream of a non-caste India.
But the origins of this can be traced back to the BAMCEF, or the All India Backward (SC, ST, and OBC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation.
Along with his colleagues, Kanshiram began one of the largest unions of government employees.
Through BAMCEF, he connected SC, ST, OBCs, and other minorities to fight back against atrocities and discrimination.
With a structure in place, he was able to help create a strong sense of accountability towards the community.
Thus, the widely popular initiative ‘Pay Back to Society’ was inaugurated in 1973. As a part of BAMCEF there were simultaneous initiatives such as the BAMCEF Datta Grahan, -Bhaichara, -Sahkarita.
In 1981, the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4) with 10 wings (students, women, etc.) was established to experiment with socio-political possibilities. Eventually the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was formally established in 1984.
Kanshiram declared that he wanted the community to become givers rather than receivers. For that to happen it required training and preparation. Cadre camps and various events filled the gap.
STRENGTHENING OPPRESSED CASTE ASSOCIATIONS:
Instead of downplaying the importance of caste, Kanshiram opted to strengthen oppressed caste associations which was one way to weaken the structures that sustain caste.
Every ‘upper’ caste had an investment in caste, which is why it transferred this into structures that catered to its needs. Kanshiram invested in the cultures of caste and cultural methods of anti-casteism.
He understood well that artists and in turn their art were organic intellectuals who were a part of the grass-roots. He sought them out and trained them.
It is no accident that the ‘Ambedkar Mela on Wheels’ was among the many first Dalit History Month projects that featured Ambedkar’s photographs, books, pamphlets and posters.
Kanshiram understood that emotional appeal was a far more powerful way to use radical anger that would help tackle the oppressor.
Thus, the artwork and paintings depicting atrocities on the communities played a pivotal role in his outreach initiatives.
He had grasped early on that while emotions are essential, a strategy was also needed to direct people’s thoughts into producing material.
His deft editorial skills also found expression. The popular The Oppressed Indian and the Bahujan Sanghatak were his organisation’s mouthpieces.
There were others that dealt with land reform, nationalisation of industries and a labour welfare regime such as Aarthik Utthan (1980) and Economic Monthly (1981) in addition to the impressive Bahujan Times (1984).
Kanshiram can be said to be the leader who introduced Periyar to villages in north, central, eastern and western India.
Like Periyar, there were many unsung heroes who were given space on the canvas of the BSP.
They include Nandanar, Iyothee Thass, Nangeli, Birsa Munda, Savitribai Phule and Jhalkaribai.
In hindsight, we are yet to find similar investments by his protégés. There are certainly no intellectual research wings, as was the case earlier, which can provide guidance to the movement.
There is no media that can converse with the public on a daily basis on Dalit issues; neither is there any trust-building mechanism.
Finally, moving to the present state of the BSP, it appears that the party leadership lacks a committed young cadre that can be trained to take over the reins of the leadership.
Kanshiram’s legacy remains alive and kicking in the words of the BSP’s chief Mayawati.
But in the absence of any credible sourcing of talent, organisations such as the Bhim Army and many BAMCEF-BSP inspired regional parties could step in and fill the vacuum.