Skip to main content

Caste, gender violence, systemic poverty are promotion of Manu’s concept of karma

Reproduced below is an interview with Martin Macwan, recipient of the prestigious Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award, and founder, Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, by Johanna Deeksha, published in Edex Live, on how protests by African-Americans has begun to impact India’s Dalits, who have begun saying that ‘Manu Must Fall’:
*** 

There are people who deface Ambedkar statues almost on a periodic basis. What do you think about that?

There are two things — this is a systematically organised campaign with vested interest — it has been reported in Maharashtra before every election. Defacing a statue is a way to incite people. Second, Ambedkar has become an icon and is very popular these days, which is causing jealousy among the dominant sections in society. Ambedkar’s evolution, from his portrait being hung in the parliament from not too long ago, today, he finds a place even in people’s homes. The education system has failed as a means to eradicate caste. A country doesn’t become a nation if there is no sense of homogeneity, without equality – Ambedkar was right. How can we become one nation, if caste violence and untouchability continue to exist, or if 30,000 children are dying of malnutrition every year? All this is happening because of Manu’s ideas about fate. This dangerous idea is internalised and passed down from one generation to another.

Have there been attempts in the past to bring Manu’s statue down or did you feel the need to write the letter to Sonia Gandhi only after the BLM movement?

See, we were the first people to file a petition in Gujarat High Court to abolish manual scavenging practices in 1996 after which the national agitation began. I, myself, have been fighting caste violence for over 40 years in Gujarat and I’ve seen violence from very close quarters, one of my own colleagues was shot dead in 1986. So all of this is ultimately connected to the ideology of the avarna. There’s a reason why Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti in 1927 — it is a symbol. When I used to go to the villages as a young boy, I found that all the names for the Dalits were derogatory. When talking about how one should name a child, the Manusmriti says that upper castes should name a child in a way in which reverence is exhibited and for lower castes, the name should be contemptuous. So here, the scripture and the statue are not just symbols, these are symbols that reinforce that ideology.
So when the George Floyd incident happened, I drafted a public letter to Donald Trump and it had more than 4000 signatories. When Trump came to Ahmedabad and visited the Gandhi Ashram, the government built a wall to hide the colony just outside it that consisted mainly of Dalits and poor people. When the Chinese Premier had come earlier, they had covered the entire slum with a green net, but when Trump came, they actually constructed a wall. After protests, they lowered the wall but it remained. So, I connected all these incidents, felt that Black lives and the Dalit lives face a similar kind of situation. And when the protests started there, the first thing that came to my mind was that statue of Manu. And so I decided to write the petition.

Are you optimistic about Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party paying heed to the petition?

By just writing a petition or an open letter, nobody listens. So we have a systematic campaign going on. First, we collected signatures from all over the country and over 700 people have signed. Now we are having a missed call campaign to get support, it was launched only two days ago but by this morning (July 1) we had over 9000 calls coming in, I think it will go up to one lakh within a week. Besides this, on August 15, in 1000 avenues across the country we will get women to hoist the flags. Manu has said that women are an inferior race and that they are born to serve men and there is also an obnoxious law detailing what should be done if women ‘break the rules’. The caste violence, gender violence or the systemic poverty that we have is all a promotion of Manu’s concept of karma — which is that the sufferings of this life is a result of one’s karma and therefore, you one cannot look at it as a violation of one’s right.
In the letter, we have informed the party that we will wait till August 15 for them to pass a resolution at their party office in Rajasthan and Delhi and, as a state, they should decide to remove the statue. If they don’t respond to us, we will be forced to look at other modes of agitation. We have also asked them to file an application for an early hearing of the Rajasthan High Court’s stay order on the removal of the Manu statue which has been pending for 31 years.

A stay order for 31 years? Could you tell us the details of this case?

All the judges of the Rajasthan High Court had resolved and passed an order agreeing to have the statue removed because of the protests that took place in 1989, when the statue was erected. But before the order could be implemented, Acharya Dharmendra, from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, applied for a stay and it was granted by a single judge. And for the last 31 years, only one hearing has taken place on the matter. The last time a hearing took place was in 2015 but the lawyers created such a hungama, that no hearing could take place. If this can happen in the High Court, what will happen in the villages? This is highly concerning and that’s why the letter calls this an attack on the constitution.

The Confederates described their ideology as being centrally based “upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition”. These men, however, were in politics. Do you think Indians will ever be able to draw a parallel here?

There are differences between race and caste but the underlying anger which is within Black minds, exists in Dalit minds as well. That’s what we saw in Una, when the four boys were thrashed in public, the issue got attention across the country. So the anger is there — how can the country promote such a thing so brazenly in a democractic setup even after 71 years?
Now, the facts and statistics that are coming out shows that even in the US this anger was building up. When WEB Du Bois started the movement many years ago, there were hardly any takers, people were scared because of police brutality. Not many people know there was correspondence between Du Bois and Ambedkar, they wanted to come together and raise the issue of discrimination together. After Du Bois, there was Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and the anger started to grow.
People began to get more vocal after they got to know the extent of the violence that was taking place. Now with social media and the digital space, there is scientific data available. So in the US, they’ve found this is not a single incident, in the last 5 years, there have been 5000 murders. There are people who have been keeping track of every single incident, that is something that we did 32 years ago in Gujarat, documenting every single incident that happened. In Gujarat, the Scheduled Caste population is 7.01 percent but representation in jail for those convicted both of major or minor crimes is 32.9 percent. This pattern replicates across the country. On the other hand, when we look at the implementation of the SC, ST (Prevention Against Atrocities) Act, the conviction doesn’t go up to more than 5 percent. Now, when it is against Dalits, the conviction rate is high because there are judicial prejudices – this is systemic. But, students and the younger generation cannot tolerate this anymore. That’s why the language is changing, the articulation is changing and there is renewed anger. 32 years ago, when we were saying these things people would listen, but ask – what can we do? Now, that is changing.

How have the land reforms led to the increased anger among the oppressed?

In Gujarat, two Acts were brought in — The Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act, 1960 and The Gujarat Tenancy and Agricultural Land Act, 1948. They were the most revolutionary Acts brought in post-Independence. It stated that 3.75 million acres of land would be made available to Dalits and tribals in Gujarat. Now, 54 years after its implementation, government figures say that they have been able to give just one-third of the land, that is 12.5 lakh acres of land. But even this is not true because when we were working with the villagers, we got complaint after complaint from them saying that they have land in their name but don’t possess it. When I go and teach in colleges and Universities, the first question to me is: Sir, but for how long can we have reservation? That has become a focal point, no one looks at land reforms. Nobody looks at the violence and inequality in society.

Two years ago, two women Kantabai Ahire and Sheela Pawar blackened Manu’s statue in protest. They, unfortunately, continue to battle criminal charges in court, but what was your reaction to this incident?

These two women had gone there with a plan to give a petition to the Registrar of the High Court demanding that the statue removal matter be heard earlier. But when they got there and saw the statue, all the plans went haywire (laughs) and they decided to follow their own conscience. With their bare hands, they blackened the statue. In my experience, I have found that the anger among women is much more than men. Both Dalit and Tribal women suffer the most. That is where the feminist movement in India has failed — it has failed to address the caste violence on women. I’m the biggest supporter of feminist groups and I’m a part of many too but this is something that I tell them too. That is what the parliament is here for. But no politician wants to open their mouth about the Manu statue, it is a very small matter but this shows what their ideology is. To win an election, they choose not to become reformists. In our letter, we’ve asked Gandhi to also withdraw the cases against these two women.
White people are coming out in large numbers to support the Black Lives Matter movement and they are also taking responsibility for their actions and the actions of their ancestors and are promising to change to provide a safer environment for their African-American brethren. Do you feel we will ever see a day where something similar would happen here?
I’m very hopeful because I have seen change coming through. This is how I see it: 40 years ago, it felt like we were taking one step forward and three backward and now, I feel we’re falling only two steps behind. As a 17-year-old boy when I went with my professors to the villages, I saw with my own eyes how men from dominant castes would enter any Dalit house and do whatever they wanted with the women. Nobody would protest, even their husbands would be helpless. It is something that tore me apart but my professor had told me then: Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. He told me to first learn, listen and understand. It took me more than 10 years to understand this. I understood that people have limitations and they are helpless but today things are different. Today, because of reservation, many from the younger generations have been able to get jobs and become assertive of their rights. That’s why young people who have mustaches or put a ‘Jai Bheem’ sticker on their bikes are getting attacked.
A huge section of the OBC community are falling behind some Dalits too and this has become new grounds for violence. But I work with them on a day-to-day basis and I speak to them and today, those are the people who are giving those missed calls (to support the removal of the Manu statue).

How do you think the removal of the statue will impact us as a society?

This is not just about Manu statue, but about the statue being erected in the premises of the Rajasthan High Court. That is what is most hurtful. If it was in somebody’s private home I won’t bother but this is a judicial institution that is supposed to give justice. When people go there and they see Manu standing there, what message are we giving them? And this was installed by the Judicial Association of lawyers with permission from the High Court. Going back to what Ambedkar said about us becoming a nation only when we become equal – this is how we can do it – our language has to change, articulation has to change, customs have to change AND symbols have to change.

Comments

TRENDING

When phone tapping rumours were afloat in Gujarat among BJP leaders, IAS babus

Gordhan Zadaphia By Rajiv Shah While alerts were coming in over the last few days about a series of articles on how phones of “journalists, ministers, activists” may have been used to spy on them with the help of an Israeli project, Pegasus, finally, when I got up on Monday morning, I saw a Times of India story quoting (imagine!, we never used to do this, did just a followup in case we missed a story) the Wire, a top news portal on this providing some details, along with government reaction.

Gandhi Ashram 'redevelopment': Whither well-known Gandhi experts, Gandhians?

Sudarshan Iyengar, Ramchandra Guha By Rajiv Shah Rehabilitating about 200 families, mostly Dalits, living in the Gandhi Ashram premises by offering them Rs 60 lakh in order to implement a Rs 1,200 crore project called Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project reportedly to bring the Ashram into its "original shape" as Gandhi established appears to me strange, to say the least.

Gandhi Ashram eviction: Finally historian Guha speaks out; but ageing trustees are silent

By Rajiv Shah Finally, at least one expert, top historian Ramachandra Guha, has spoken out on eviction of 200 families living in the Gandhi Ashram premises. Last week, I received an email alert from a veteran academic, Ashoke Chatterjee, former director, National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, which happens to be one of the most prestigious academic institutes of India based, informing me about it. NID is one of the several top institutes founded when Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s Prime Minister.

Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?

By Rajiv Shah Ever since Ashwini Vaishnaw was appointed as railway minister, I was curious to know who he was and how did he come closer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and, most important, when. Hence, I decided to talk with some Sachivalaya officials in Gujarat in order to find out if there was, if any, Gujarat (or Modi) connection.

Non-entity 6 yrs ago, Indian state turned Fr Stan into world class human rights defender

Jharkhand's Adivasi women  By Rajiv Shah A lot is being written on Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who is known more for his work for tribal rights in Jharkhand. His death at the age of 84, even when he was an under trial prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence three years go, has, not without reason, evoked sharp reaction, not just in India but across the world.

Home Ministry data vs Health Ministry data! Gujarat's poor sex ratio at birth data

Home minister Amit Shah, health minister Harsh Vardhan By Rajiv Shah Don’t India’s top ministries – of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and of Home Affairs (MoHA) – tally data before releasing them? It would seem so… A few days back, I did a story in Counterview , based on an MoHA report, stating that Gujarat has the lowest sex rate at birth (SRB) at 901 girls as against 1000 births, followed by Assam (903), Madhya Pradesh (905) and Jammu & Kashmir (909), raising valid apprehensions that widescale female foeticide may be prevalent in India’s “model” State.

July 1: Observing communal harmony day in Ahmedabad, a highly segregated city

Activists at Vasant-Rajab memorial on July 1 By Rajiv Shah Celebrated as Communal Harmony Day in Ahmedabad, July 1, 2021 is remembered for the sacrifice of two friends, Vasant Rao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani, laid down their lives for the cause of communal harmony on the July 1, 1946 in the city. A memorial stands in their memory in Khandni Sheri, Jamalpur, Ahmedabad.

Periyar opposed imposition of alien culture on Dravidian people, but wasn't anti-Hindi

By  Vidya Bhushan Rawat* Thiru K Veeramani is the ideological disciple of EVR Periyar and one of the senior most leaders of the Dravidian movement at the moment. He started working under his mentor EVR Periyar at the age of 10 years when he delivered his first speech in Salem. Veeramani is President of Dravidar Kazhagam and editor of Modern Rationalist, a monthly journal devoted to Periyar’s ideas. That apart, he is editor of many other magazines and journals in Tamil. This interview was conducted by Vidya Bhushan Rawat at the Periyar Thidal on November 1st, 2019. These are some of the excerpts and the entire interview can be viewed at the youtube link being provided at the end of the article. Dravidian movement internationally Thiru Veeramani said that “It is high time that Periyar must be globalised now. He said that it was easier in relation to Dr Ambedkar since he has written in English and almost all the western audience read him through his work. But the southern part of India

Positive side of Vaishnaw? Ex-official insists: Give him loss making BSNL, Air India

By Rajiv Shah A senior chartered accountant, whom I have known intimately (I am not naming him, as I don’t have his permission), has forwarded me an Indian Express (IE) story (July 18), “Ashwini Vaishnaw: The man in the chair”, which, he says, “contradicts” the blog (July 17), "Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?" I had written a day earlier and forwarded it to many of my friends.

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.