August 15, 2007
India's Statue of Liberty
On August 15th, India celebrates her 60th birthday as a modern independent nation. Celebrations are already on as Indians proudly remember their past 60 years and the many successes in them. The Dalit freedom movement too celebrates the founding of the democratic Indian nation. There is much to be proud of.
In the fields of agriculture, technology, education, economics and our experiment with 'democracy' we have done well. We have managed to remain a pluralistic, democratic, free India in spite of attempts to destroy our diversity, plurality of religions and our democratic foundations by fundamentalist forces. These forces have never reconciled to the idea of a modern Indian nation built on the modern Indian Constitution.
We remember our founding fathers: Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Predictably, the elitist media and spin doctors will pay some lip service to Ambedkar or completely forget him as did the speechwriters and advisors of President Bush when he gave his speech in New Delhi in March 2006 and mentioned Nehru, Gandhi and Tagore as India's great founding leaders.
Tagore was a great Indian but not a founding father of the Indian nation. Ambedkar was. Without Ambedkar, the author of India’s Constitution and a Dalit, there would be no social justice in the nation; there never would be the empowerment of millions of Dalits and lower castes in modern day India through the means of 'reservation' and affirmative action by the State in keeping with the requirements listed in the Constitution.
Without Ambedkar and Nehru there would be no religious freedom of the kind we have known in India for 60 years. It has withstood efforts of the Hindutva forces – those who live by the slogan ‘one nation, one religion, one culture’ – to take away this freedom from the masses through anti-conversion laws dubbed as 'freedom of religion' laws. Thankfully, three governors of states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have recently rejected the anti-conversion laws passed by legislators.
The Indian National Congress party – traditionally nonsectarian and currently in power nationally – seems to have a schizophrenic mentality towards these laws. While the Congress governors in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are contesting the laws passed by the BJP governments, the Congress leadership allowed the state of Himachal Pradesh – where the Congress party is in power – to pass an anti-conversion law despite wide spread protests by civil society groups.
This catering to a 'soft-Hindutva' line has been one of main reasons for the demise of the Congress Party in northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and the Hindi heartland. Those who want Hindutva do not opt for the softer version. They go for the real thing. And anyway the majority of oppressed peoples and the minorities do not want Hindutva because it will not deliver freedom, dignity and development for the masses. The people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two of India's most populated states, have repeatedly demonstrated this.
The present Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit woman, reportedly is building a statue of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the city of Lucknow which will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. If this really happens it would be a fitting symbol of liberty and equality within the Indian nation as we celebrate our 60th birthday: an Ambedkar statue with the Constitution in his hand. The Hindutva founders declared over 60 years ago that they would discard the present Constitution in favour of a 'Hindutva' Constitution! I don't think it will ever happen.
There is good news for the Dalit campaign for freedom, equality and empowerment. The IT Indian giant Infosys recently set an example by picking dozens of Dalit candidates and training them for India's IT sector. Bharti, the company that owns Airtel which is perhaps India’s largest mobile phone operator, has followed and just announced they will train low caste engineers and other minorities who are left out because of the lack of access to English education and other facilities. This is very good news indeed. Will US companies and other foreign companies follow suit?
And what about Infosys, Bharti and others going one step further and investing in schools that will give English education to Dalits and lower castes? This would resolve the problem at the root.
If they are listening, we welcome them to work with us in the Dalit Freedom Network. We are committed to building a united, democratic, free, modern and equally empowered Indian nation on our 60th birthday.