Sunday, April 29, 2007

Stay on OBC Reservation Bill- Gross Human Right Violation?

Cheat us once. Shame on you.
Cheat us twice. Shame on us.

{A Chinese proverb}

My concern is based on two recent legal decisions made by the esteemed Supreme Court of India, the final authority on legal matters in the nation. First, the March 29, 2007 stay on Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Bill that was intended to provide 27% reservation in admission to Other Backward Castes. Second, it granted protective minority rights to Christians and Muslims in Kerala, two most economically, socially and educationally advanced religious groups in the state in terms of their ownership in capital, landed property and institutions.

If the first decision put a plug on many young Indians’ dream to enter India’s elite institutions in the 2007 academic year, the second has not even trickled into Kerala’s ordinary people. Because they haven’t even heard of it; the media in Kerala, owned by Christian and Hindu managements apparently muted the news.

According to my knowledge no TV channel, state run or otherwise, a radio station or any means of public or private communication uttered a word about the crisis that has the most devastating effect on the majority Keralites who belong to Hinduism, the most traditional religion of the land.

Neither Deshabhimani, a media apparently under the ownership of the state’s ruling Communist Marxist party did find it apt to inform the public.

The only media in my understanding that disclosed the judgment was Madhyamam, apparently run by a Muslim management and not read all over Kerala. My hats off to its editorial integrity.

A few websites that disclosed the matter are of little use to the affected Kerala population for Internet and English are beyond their reach.

More on the OBC Reservation Bill

According to N.S. Sajith in the ‘The Judiciary’s Excesses’ that appeared in Deshabhimani Weekly, 22 April 2007, Supreme Court’s March 29 stay on the Reservation Bill was its second quash on Parliaments’ initiative to reserve seats for the backward castes. In 2006 it had ruled against admitting India’s socially and educationally backward learners into professional Institutions. The parliament then unanimously passed the Reservation Bill as part of its 93rd constitutional amendment, on April 7, 2007 as an alternative to that ruling.

The protest staged by the student bodies of the elite institution of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi and the euphoria it unleashed in the major metropolis of India after the SC’s stay is an indication of how they view the government’s act to bring the disadvantaged in the society up to their level.

Those ‘meritocrats’ of the current globalised material world of India see themselves as an advanced group replete with inborn potential as opposed to the majority with hardly any potential begging for an undeserving statusquo.

It is not by accident that the majority of ‘meritocrats’ are in those institutions. In racial and religious terms they represent India’s oppressor castes. Out of anger they called Arjun Singh the minister of India’s Human Resource Development who presented the Bill in the parliament as one of the ‘cynical old man acting on cold political arithmetic’.

They ridiculed Ram Jethmalani for saying in the Parliament that “the present generation, the people of so-called merit must learn that the present society will have to pay for the sins of our ancestors’.

But how do they know about their ancestors if the truth about their ancestry and anthropology is shrouded in the fabricated history of India?

They believe that they “belong to the Rang De Basanti generation who believe in har desh mahan nahi hota, use mahan banana padta hain (A country can achieve greatness only if its citizens strive to make it great”.

And this should be read in conjunction with the Supreme Court’s judgment,
“Nowhere in the world do castes queue up to be branded as backward. Nowhere in the world is there a competition to become backward” (Sunday Times; South Africa).

The government had made it clear that the additional 27% OBC admission would never affect the non-reserved in any way. It has plans “to increase the total number of seats in central educational institutions by 54 per cent within a year, at an estimated expense of Rs. 80 billion (Rs. 8,000 crores)”, if the plan goes ahead.

However the central government is still determined to maintain the Bill.

On 23rd April, it appealed before the Supreme Court to ‘vacate the stay on the Reservation Bill’. But the court declined.

The failure of Indian democracy.

Ironically the Court’s judicial rationale on staying the Bill has nothing to do with the backwardness of the OBC. But it has everything to do with the backwardness, lack of merit and morality within the democratic components; executive, legislative and judiciary of India controlled so far by its ‘great’ groups.

While the court heavily criticised Mandal commission’s (1991) recommendations to provide 27% reservation for OBC as inaccurate and flawed being based on false fundamentals it does not know how the correct information could be gathered. That was how the SC judges answered the minister from Kerala on his question about it last week. The legal authority of India is questioning after sixteen years the Commission’s findings that OBC constitute 52% of the population of India.

What more, India has no valid information on the demography of its backward castes. The only information of that kind available from a 1931 national census is not valid now. The commission’s statistics were the basis for the reservation Bill.

There is not even a proper definition for India’s disadvantaged people in the normal historical and anthropological contexts. Scheduled caste, tribes, backward and other backward are political categories tinkered up in the post- independent India.

The classic cases of India’s judicial, executive and legislative bungling are surfacing now only to punish the majority population who are already variously disadvantaged. Alienated from traditional skills, they lost their historical and social relevance and are now a political football between the executive and the judiciary.

Some may concur with NS Sajith that the stay on the reservation Bill is the case of India’s judicial excesses on the executive.

The ‘meritocrats’ may proclaim that time has come for India’ s judicial awakening to clear up its political mess such as ‘vote bank’ a sleazy trade of reservation for political power between India’s ‘great’ leaders and small people.

But when one reads the following statement from the SC verdict on the Bill, belief in the court will take a different turn

“(OBC Reservation) would lead to chaos, confusion, and anarchy which would have destructive impact on the peaceful atmosphere in the educational and other institutions and would seriously affect social and communal harmony. The constitutional guarantee of equality and equal opportunity shall be seriously prejudiced” (http://www.esamskriti.com/html/readcont/sc_2007.doc).

Kerala has been a reservation state. And any communal and racial harmony it can boast of has come from its reservation approaches nullifies the above argument.

Prabhul Biwai in his essay,’Anti-quota Stir Misguided’ argues that the anti-reservation move was not spontaneous and natural but organised by three parties ‘one upper caste-dominated professional guilds like the Indian Medical Association; captains of industry and owners of private colleges, who stridently oppose any extension of Dalit-Adivasi (Scheduled Castes-Scheduled Tribes) reservations; and Bhartiya Janata Party politicians’
(http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/may/30bidwai.htm)

If this is true, it puts the judicial integrity of India’s Supreme Court in serious jeopardy making its monumental stay on OBC reservation a deliberate attempt at further stagnate the socially and educationally backward castes of India who have been the subject of a political ride since independence, the responsibility of which rests on its so called leaders who belong to the ‘meritocrats’ camp.

In this regard the issue of the Bill’s stay is the violation of the fundamental human rights of its disadvantaged population. It implies that India’s apartheid still continues under its democratic skin.

And the ‘meritocrats’ ’ presumption that only one section of the population is eligible for super speciality education and the majority does not qualify for that is gross insensitivity to India’s skewed socio-economic and educational development and is therefore a further proof for its hidden apartheid.

The court did not argue that ‘a backward minority’ is a myth, but it opposed the arithmetic used in projecting their statistics. Is it the problem of the backward castes?

The court has agreed to hear the appeal on the Bill in a few months’ time seemingly in September. And how are the politicians going to formulate a comprehensive caste statistics about a major chunk of India’s population in an honest and sincere manner within such a short time?

And what will be the outcome of that appeal?

An important question now, is what is the role of India’s disadvantaged castes to help each other to escape from this politico-judicial quagmire?

As I wrote at the top, they have cheated India’s disadvantaged not once but many times. So now the fault is theirs if they do not stand up to get counted.

And how do they do it?

Next Kerala’s controversial ‘minority rights‘


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vishu- Keralite's New Year


vishukonna(cassia fistula)
Keralites celebrate this year, April 15 as their New Year day. Pampered at its western coast by the Arabian Sea, Kerala is the smallest state in India.

Its population of 30 million speak Malayalam, a language formed out of Tamil under Sanskrit influence. Nearly one third of its population live overseas in Africa, Europe, America, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and Asia.

Keralites celebrates their New Year as Vishu. It is the day on which the sun enters the Mesha zodiac according to astronomical and astrological calculations popular in the state. On the celestial map it comes after the autumnal equinox. Zodiac is a band of 12 constellations around the sky with the ecliptic passing through its centre.

Setting of the Kani



The celebrations kick off in the early auspicious hours of the day (between 4 am and 6am) with the watching of the Vishukkani (kani). Kani as shown in the picture is an arrangement of few natural articles easily available in any Kerala home during the season. It is set out by the lady of the home. She does it the previous night after the household went to sleep so that nobody else sees it before the right time.

Vegetables and fruits golden in colour, rice or paddy, konna (cassia fistula) flowers, a clean folded linen, a coconut half, beetle leaf, a book, coins, rounded metallic mirror and gold are the items needed to set the kani.

It is set in a bell-metal pot (any round pot will do). To start with, spread the paddy into its centre. Oil is poured into the coconut half to which a cotton wick (cloth folded and tied to form a bulb at the bottom) is lowered. This coconut lamp is placed over the paddy at the centre of the pot. Everything else is arranged around it in an orderly fashion with the mirror behind to reflect its light when lighted. Prayer room is an ideal place to set the Kani.

When the lamp is lighted at the auspicious time, the kani is ready to be seen by the household. Normally the lady of the house leads everybody in the family one by one to the kani blindfolded so that it is his or her first sight of the day.
The golden colour of the fruits and the flowers resemble the colour of the Sun. The light from the coconut lamp reflected from the round mirror when shines through the yellow article creates a spectacular miniature sunrise.

After the turn of the people the kani is taken to the outside to be seen by the cattle, the birds and all living animals and plants.

However the arrangement of the kani may vary from places to places.

Vishukaineetam or giving Vishu gifts is the second item of the celebration. It is the responsibility of the man of the house. He presents coins to everybody in the household and receives them from the most beloved one in the family.

Seeing spectacular sight and getting presents on the first day of the New Year takes care of the entire year is the belief behind Vishukani and Vishukaineetam.

As the day unfolds youngsters get serious with firecrackers and females with cooking a sumptuous lunch. It is prepared in the Kerala culinary style to include the four prominent rasas (tastes): bitter, sour, sweet and hot.

Meals are served on plantain leaves. All members of the family sit together for the meals. After the meal people visit friends and relatives and indulge in entertainments.

While Vishu embodies prosperity, beauty, wellness, knowledge, communal life, family organisation and friendship at a mundane level it unfolds ‘an elementary oneness’ of the universe at a spiritual level.

The time the sun enters the Mesha zodiac has implications for life on earth that are affected by seasons and other aspects of nature.

Every year, in Kerala, learned Jyothisis predict such effects based on the astrological calendar called Panchangam. This is an ancient Indian practise.

Vishu a secular event

Vishu observations are secular. Nothing about religion is mentioned in its original texts in spite of the contemporary Kerala temple practices to attach it with the deities.

Vishu is not the only New Year celebrations in India. It is commemorated in various parts of India under various names during March-April. In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Puthu Varsham. In parts of Tamil Nadu closer to Kerala, people celebrate Vishu as New Year. In Andhra Predesh it is known as Ugadi. The Bengalis celebrates it as Polia Baishak and the Assamese call it Bihu festival. Baishakhi is the Punjabi New Year.

Nepalese celebrate it by the third week of March while the Kashmeeris observe it on the second week of March. Many olden traditions in the world observe New Year on the days of vernal or autumnal equinoxes which falls during March.

Indians in general and Keralites in particular are people who wish to carry on with their traditions wherever they happen to live. It is important to pass on their ancient wisdom to their younger generations. Even if you live away from home it is not difficult to organise a Vishukkani for the auspicious time of the day.

One can replace many original things in the kani with the locally available products. For example, in South Africa a yellow pumpkin and a yellow ripe mango can replace the jackfruit and golden coloured cucumber. Any yellow flower of the season can replace the konna flowers. Coconuts are available all over South Africa and a cotton cloth wick can be made out of pure cotton (or any small lamp will do).

I wish all Keralites and all who celebrate new year now, a very Happy Vishu and a prosperous New Year.