Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where is the nearest Dalit village?


Patna, Nov.18 (ANI): So long as this question is asked in India, there is no India shining, India emerging, or as President Obama said in New Delhi, a week ago – India emerged. I am in village Gaunpura, an hour’s drive from Patna. But to get to this village was an adventure in itself. The highway from Patna is perfectly laid; the traffic is orderly as compared to Punjab or Haryana. Then we turn into towns.
There is filth everywhere. Rotting mounds of garbage, which has probably never been cleared. It just keeps piling up, layer upon layer. The gutters are overflowing. Man and pig cohabit. The stench is unbearable. I walk gingerly placing one foot ahead of the other avoiding animal faeces. I look around, nobody other than I have a cloth covering his or her nose. It appears worse than many similar towns that I have been to, in the rest of India. This seems to be the same Bihar I have visited earlier. Same problem of a lack of civic facilities here too, just like before, and just like in UP, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh. Any state for that matter. 
The people seem oblivious to the smell and the filth around them. And amidst all this decay, there stands a bright red pandal (decorative tent) with a garishly attired statue of the Mother Goddess. It is the most important festival of Chatt and people of all castes are allowed, by tradition, to participate in the festivities. Tradition and modernity, vulgar modernity, mingle outrageously. ‘Munni badnaam hui’, a raucous song from the latest Bollywood film ‘Dabbang’ blares from loud speakers. I take my pictures like any big city dweller, searching for colour in India but finding squalor instead. Arvind Adiga''s The White Tiger comes to mind. The stark contrast between rural and semi-urban India on the one hand, and the glass skyscrapers of Gurgaon, Haryana, on the other. Yes, Rahul Gandhi is probably right; there are two Indias, and more.
My destination is a Mahadalit village. Now, the term Dalit has roots in Sanskrit where the root ''dal'' means ''to split, crack, open''. Dalit has thus come to mean things or persons who are cut, split, broken or torn asunder, scattered or crushed and destroyed. The present usage of the term Dalit goes back to the nineteenth century, when Marathi social reformer, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule used it to describe outcastes and untouchables as the oppressed and the broken victims of our caste-ridden society.
But I’m deeply fascinated by the term Mahadalit at many levels. That there is a term called Mahadalit. Although it can be literally translated as "Mega Dalits", what does it really mean – the blessed among the Dalits or the most depressed section among the Dalits? I am told it is the latter --- the most deprived of the deprived.
Mahadalit is a term created with great political fanfare in 2007, when the Nitish Kumar Government set up the Mahadalit Commission to identify Mahadalits, ostensibly for a better targeting of schemes for their uplift and development.
According to the Commission, there were three criteria of inclusion: literacy rates, placement in services and social stigma. The Commission identified 18 of Bihar’s 22 Dalit castes as Mahadalit. The four groups that were excluded were: Jatavs and Paswans, together accounting for more than 60 per cent of Bihar’s Scheduled Caste (SC) population; and Dhobis and Pasis, the two groups considered relatively better off among Dalits. In 2008, Pasis and Dhobis were also included in the Mahadalit list. In 2009, the Jatavs followed them into the burgeoning Mahadalit ranks, leaving out only the Paswans.
In Gaunpura, I am shocked that the Mahadalits live separately than people of other castes, even other Dalits. Hadn’t Bihar changed? TV programmes have been telling us so. So my cameraman and I get off the highway into ‘kuchcha’ roads, drive over a snake, and ask “Bhaiyya, yahan Dalit basti kahan hai?”(Where is the Dalit village)? Blank. I repeat, “Dalit basti”. No response. Then my cameraman whispers, “Harijan basti”. We get the directions. Gaunpura is a little hamlet where about 30 families live in abject poverty.
They are well aware of their rights, that they are entitled to housing under the Indira Awas Yojna programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) should grant them minimum days of work. Some of them who worked under this scheme like Ramdev were not paid for 11 days of labour that he did, out of the 60 days he was employed under the MGNREGA. He has been fighting with the authorities to get that money.  Another says he was thrown in jail when he asked for his complete wages. Bijay Pawan says fake MGNREGA booklets are handed to the villagers to sign in their attendance and then they were cheated off their wages. Uma Devi is completely illiterate, but has cast her vote a few days back. She says that it is to teach a lesson to those who should have built a house for her under a central government scheme, but didn’t do it. I visit another ‘home’ of sorts. Here, 18-year-old Chand is making cow dung cakes to be used as fuel for cooking. Chand was pulled out of school when she was in the seventh grade because her older brothers would not send her to the next village to attend high school. Has she heard of the state government scheme, I ask her, which entitles her to a cycle so that she can get to a school safely and quickly? With a shy smile, Chand says that her brothers would never allow it because she would have to cycle past an upper caste village.
I drive out to Shahjahanpur, a Hindu upper caste village. The contrast seems stark. The roads cut at right angles; there is round the clock electricity, clean yards and brick-and-mortar homes. The men wear footwear and vests over trousers, unlike in Gaunpura. The women wear synthetic sarees and jewellery. The children are studying in Delhi or Singapore. I spot some Maruti cars and one Honda city as well! There is cable TV connection in all homes. The Dalits live outside the village, and no Muslim family resides in this village called err…Shahjahanpur.
Dabbang! This is straight out of the latest Bollywood potboiler Dabbang, it seems. When I ask whom they voted for, pat comes the reply, “Nitish Kumar and the BJP…he has reduced lawlessness in the area. We can go out at night without being scared of being kidnapped.” “But what about the Naxalite problem,” I ask. “Oh that is only in the poor areas, you know where there is no development.” Hmm..So there is an area of complete darkness, some area of substantial darkness and some semi-dark areas in the ‘area of darkness’ known as Bihar.
Anecdotes may not be evidence but they do tell a story. Last week, in a village near Patna, a 55-year-old Dalit was beaten to death. Retaliatory attacks by Dalits led to several arrests. Lal Babu Ram had walked through the fields of an upper caste landowner. Some say he refused to work in the landowner’s fields. Babu Ram is dead. We will never know the truth.
Reporters, who travel with the chief minister during his campaign tours, have filed reports that it is development and not caste, that is the main electoral plank this time in Bihar. This is just spin. Politicians have promised development in every election held in Bihar.
Even today, development doesn''''t trump caste in Bihar. The choice is not between development and caste. Caste remains a social and political reality in Bihar, which no political leader --- from Nitish Kumar to Rahul Gandhi --- can afford to ignore. A Brahmin, Rajput or Bhumihar (upper caste Hindu) does not stand a chance of becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar. In the same vein, the empowerment of the poor among the backward castes is still a long way off.
Villagers want bijli, sadak and pani (electricity, roads and water). Every election, it is the same demand, and the same promise. The message is not new. What is different is the style of delivery. Nitish Kumar, the current chief minister doesn’t indulge in histrionics as his immediate rival Laloo Yadav. He has indubitably brought about a change in Bihar, at least in some parts of Bihar. But decades of misgovernance have made corruption and criminalisation a part of the system. 
Things are changing in Bihar since I was last here. The change, though perceptible, is very slow. Bihar needs to change faster, and change equitably for the complete society. If I, in my lifetime, come to a place in Bihar and don''''t have to ask, "Where is the Dalit village?" I''''d say India has emerged. Else, I am not going to take even President Obama''''s word for it. (ANI)

Manipur editors not to publish statements of 2 ultra groups


A meeting of editors of all newspapers in Manipur on Wednesday evening decided not to publish any statements issued by two rival militant outfits following their threat to media houses. A joint statement of the editors on Thursady said that the dailies in the state would not publish any statement issued by Kangleipak Communist Party-Mobile Task force (KCP-MTF) Kesho group and KCP-MTF Sunil group. The statement said that while one faction wanted their statement to be published, the other objected to it.As both the outfits threatened the media houses if their diktat was not followed the dailies would not carry any statement of the two if they (ouitfits) did not withdraw their threats, the statement said.

Dam on Brahmaputra not against India, allays Beijing


Amidst concerns over the construction of a mega hydel project on the Brahmaputra river in Tibet, Beijing has tried to allay the fears of Delhi about the dam and says the dam is not aimed against India. The construction of the dam has already started despite the repeated protests by India.
With China building a huge USD 1.2 billion dam over Brahmaputra river in Tibet, it assured New Delhi that the project was not aimed at diverting the river waters to affect the flow to India and other lower riparian countries. The issue of the dam figured high in the fourth round of the India-China strategic dialogue held between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun in Beijing on Tuesday. The issue was raised by Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. Then she was reassured by Chinese Vice Minister that it was not a project designed to divert the water and affect the welfare and availability of water to the countries in the lower reaches. Beijing maintained that the dam is a power project and is not going to affect people in lower reaches. It also said that China was cooperating with India on hydrological data which is going on since 2003 and would continue to do so. Four experts-level talks have been held to exchange provisions of hydrological data and flood management so far. India was told about the dam initially during the visit of External Affairs Minister S M Krishna in Beijing in April this year. China is building the dam in Brahmaputra for the first time in order to begin the main construction work on a 510 MW hydropower station project. The river was dammed on November 12 to help in the construction of the Zangmu Hydropower Station project in the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra river in Gyaca County of Lhoka Prefecture in Tibet Autonomous Region. The station will have six 85-megawatt generating units, which will bring the total installed capacity to 510 megawatts. It will be the first large hydropower station in Tibet and its first unit will be put into operation in 2014, which will greatly alleviate the power shortage in central Tibet. The hydropower station is about 325 kilometres away from the Tibetan capital Lhasa and its average annual generating capacity is expected to reach 2.5 billion kilowatt hours. Its main function is power generation, but it can also be used for flood control and irrigation. The report of the construction of the dam has raised concerns in India. Though there has been opposition on big dams on the rivers in Arunachal Pradesh, the union forest and environment minister Jairam Ramesh has been repeatedly saying that these dams are strategically important as it gives India bargaining power vis-à-vis China on the Brahmaputra water. However, it is feared that construction of the dam would spell doom for the people of Assam and Arunachal in the monsoon while the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries would dry up during the winter. It is to be mentioned that apart from Assam and Arunachal, the Brahmaputra river also flows through Bangladesh and the country is already raising its concerns over the proposed dam.

Mizoram issues school dress code

Mizoram’s School Education Department has issued an order asking educational institutes in the state to enforce from the 2011 academic session a decent dress code. The order followed a recommendation from the department’s Committee on Indecent School Dress and Hairstyle formed earlier this year. A crusade by the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (students’ union) demanding a ban on ‘seductive uniforms’ in schools had made the government form the panel.

The students’ body had observed that school uniforms were getting “too sexy for comfort”. It had particularly objected to underwear-revealing low-slung trousers and the micro miniskirts besides funky colour-streaked hairstyles.
“The order applicable for primary to higher secondary schools from next year was issued on Tuesday. We have a number of do’s and don’ts for students. A first-time violator of this order will be fined Rs 300. The second violation entails a fine of Rs 500 while a third offence will lead to his or her expulsion from school.
The reason for termination will as per rule have to be mentioned in transfer certificates,” said school education department secretary Esther Lalruatkimi from state capital Aizawl.
The order also outlines punitive action against school authorities failing to ensure dress decency during session. 
In a separate order, the school education department prohibited extra tight dresses, very short hair with hair colour, ear-rings, jewellery on any part of the body, use of powder, lipstick, spray perfume, nail polish, eye liner and colour lip gloss for the girls.
The order also prohibited extra loose and very tight pants, use of hair gel, bringing of mobile phones, pen drives, walkman, discman, iPod, etc., by the students. Besides, students have been prohibited from bringing two-wheelers and cars to school and even driving in school uniform.
Possession of cigarette, any gutkha product, tobacco, and non-text books such has glossy magazines and posters have also been prohibited.

Pritam lifted my songs: Assamese singer


A popular Assamese singer has dheere se served Bollywood music director Pritam a zor ka jhatka. Singer-composer Kumar Bhabesh has accused Pritam of lifting two of his songs and blending them into the foot-tapping Zor ka jhatka hai dheere se lagaa, a song Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan dance to in retro-comedy Action Repplay.
"The mukhda of this hit number sounds the same as my chartbuster Dehati laahi laahi bukukhonu joubane bharaa (Slender girl with a heart full of youthful exuberance) while the antara is uncannily similar to my 2008 song Aahana kothabor...pohila Ramzanote," Bhabesh said.
The first song – a hybrid in Assamese and Bodo languages – is from the album Sonpahi which Bhabesh had cut in 2000 while, the second is from his 2008 album Roja replete with Islamic songs.
Bhabesh said he heard the song on Tuesday evening after returning from a two-month music project in a remote village in Assam's Karbi Anglong district. "I don't know if an arranger gave Pritam my albums or he had it sourced, but he should have had the decency in contacting me before using my scores. Or he should have given due credit to me and my team," he said.
The Assamese singer has given Pritam five days to respond or face legal action.