Caste system is racial discrimination: UN rights panel

GENEVA: UN Human Rights Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has controverted India’s stand at its recent Geneva hearings that the caste system is not racial discrimination based on descent.

In its concluding observations, CERD, which consists of reputed international experts in international law, academics, sociologists and diplomacy, arrived at the conclusion that India’s denial is not correct, and that there is alarming discrimination in practice against Dalits and Scheduled Tribes, as well as minorities who have converted from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam to avoid discrimination.

CERD, however, complimented the Union government for its legislation and constitution to counter whatever discrimination there is, and the efforts made by the Indian delegation to explain its stand in its 35-page report on racial discrimination, submitted after a 7-year wait.

India’s stand in the report is that its caste discrimination falls within the scope of article 1 of the convention on racial discrimination. Indian laws ban discrimination of any kind. Despite the exchange of views with the Indian delegation, CERD maintained that “discrimination based on ‘descent’ includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights.” Discrimination based on the ground of caste is therefore fully covered by the convention.

Some comments to the Indian delegation by experts was one by Prof Sicilianos the India rapporteur: “The reason why we are talking about caste all the time is that it is difficult to know why India refuses to discuss this.” He questioned: “If India is really committed to social cohesion is it not conceivable that you may use every single instrument at your disposal to assist you?

Why see the convention as a threat instead of assisting you in achieving social cohesion?” The committee pointed out with appreciation the declaration of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where he likened the practice of untouchability to apartheid in South Africa, at the Dalit minority international conference in December 2006.

The observations were made after detailed perusal of India’s report, and a two-day interaction with the members of the Indian delegation, which were mostly cordial and illuminatory, but unfortunately marred by word-sparring and confusing statements by a member of the Indian delegation on customs in the caste system — that the Indian society is not constructed around and does not function on the basis of caste and that poverty and other social problems affected many castes; that those who are born in a caste are proud to be part of that caste; and that children of inter-caste marriages are casteless “unlike race when black marries white.”

CERD has observed that there is de facto discrimination against the Dalits and Scheduled Tribes, who cannot defend themselves, and who are disadvantaged in practice in jobs, education, affirmative action (despite legislation), elections, political participation and compensation. Their lands tend to be appropriated by upper caste neighbours, while they don’t get any protection from the police, and they are even sexually exploited, some CERD observers felt.

CERD says that there is “social acceptance of caste-based discrimination and racial and ethnic prejudice” particularly in rural areas. CERD calls for its eradication by intensifying public education and awareness-raising campaigns, incorporating educational objectives of inter-caste tolerance and respect for other ethnicities, as well as instruction of the culture of scheduled castes and scheduled and other tribes, in the National Curriculum framework, and ensuring adequate media representation of issues concerning scheduled castes, tribes and ethnic minorities, with a view to achieving true social cohesion among all ethnic groups, castes and tribes of India.

SHEILA MATHRANI, TIMES NEWS NETWORK  MARCH 30, 2007

Billionaires contribute 25 percent of India’s GDP !

Bad Governance Promotes Bad Business

Nandigram violence bespeaks inefficient policies of Indian government

India is a fascinating, incredible nation — the more one sees of it, the more one is mesmerized by its sheer diversity. Many of us Indians, seeing the country from within, wonder how it is perceived by the rest of the world.

In the mid-seventies, there was the “Garibi Hatao” (“Abolish Poverty”) campaign; in 2004, we had the “Aam Admi” (“Common Man”) campaign. Aam Admi was sponsored by the Indian National Congress, the party behind the present ruling coalition government and one that has ruled India for more than 80 percent of the time since independence. The result of the Garibi Hatao campaign, if it can be concluded after only three decades, can be seen by all: 70 percent of Indians live on less that $2 a day and more than 30 percent of these on less than $1 a day. Recent reports showed that 95 percent of rural India, where 65 percent of 1.1 billion Indians live, lives on less than $1 a day, and 5 percent on less than 2 cents a day. In other words, not much has changed.

Incredible India also showed “results” under Aam Admi, as Indians continued to feature in the global billionaires list published by Forbes.

Japan, with a nominal economy more than five times the size of India’s GDP, and a population of less than 1/8th of India’s, has 24 billionaires (combined net wealth of $64 billion) whereas India has 36 billionaires (combined net wealth of $191 billion).

When the billionaires’ wealth is computed as a percentage of GDP, India probably ranks highest in the world, at around 25 percent (even excluding the wealth of Indian residents abroad), whereas the comparable figure for the world is 6-7 percent. For the U.S., it is 12-13 percent, and for Japan, less than 2 percent. India’s share of global GDP is 2 percent. For 17 percent of the population, per capita income is around $700, 1/10th of the global average, and nearly 1/60th of the U.S. average. India’s per capita GNI is lower than Sub-Saharan Africa.

So there goes another feather in the cap of the government’s “unity in diversity” and “Incredible India” bottom line.

The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and their colleagues, pursues policies in a mad race to the bottom for growth, the benchmark being China. To record a higher growth rate, the present administration is ready to acquire 20,000 acres of land if not more from poor Indian farmers at dictated prices — acres that will be given to anyone willing to pay $500 million, irrespective of the credibility of the owner. The government will even offer concessions if need be — in the form of free land, free taxes, subsidized mining and more. You name it, toss down a few million dollars, and it’s yours to do with as you please.

In the race to the bottom, a well-researched area in global emerging economics, states export economies deliberately in an attempt to keep their currencies low. When developed and developing giants indulge in this practice, imagine the power that poor Bangladesh or Kenya gain in export competitiveness. So for every winner in this race to the bottom, there will be many more losers. (The real winner is the country that is importing against credit money because in the end it pays less for imports, and thereby contains inflation.)

In the Indian scenario, states are encouraged to indulge in a similar race to the bottom. Like Kenya or Bangladesh, the states of Assam or Bihar have no chance of competing with a Gujarat or a Maharashtra. Thus, along with the bright side of India’s economic growth in a few large states, there remains a darker side in many more states.

When the real estate boom hit India a little late, somehow the billionaires’ portfolio wasn’t filled with 25 percent of India’s land. “How unfair,” decried Indian policy makers. Billionaires contribute 25 percent of India’s GDP in wealth; don’t they deserve to own 25 percent of India’s land? Present policy makers are slowly reserving up to 25 percent of Indian land for the billionaires’ club — not through the constitution, but through another driver called “inclusive growth.” This involves special economic zones (SEZs) that combine the 21st century industrialization drive with the 19th century colonial act of land acquisition.

Just like that, the constitutional reservation fails to make any difference to the millions of the needy poor, some of whom now operate under Maoist-terrorism; on one-fourth of Indian land, there is disenchantment through neglect from administration after administration.

Democracy, economic growth, getting rich, industrialization, SEZs — these aren’t in and of themselves good or bad for society. It’s what one does with them that determines whether they are good or bad.

So we have the latest controversy of forceful land acquisition at a pittance of $25,000 an acre of investment in one proposed capital intensive chemical hub SEZ in Nandigram, in left-controlled West Bengal state: poor villagers (including women and children) of Nandigram were killed or terrorized (including raped) on March 14 by minions of the state administration for their land. The numbers vary from 14 to many more, if local media is to be believed.

Through some simple arithmetic, we can see that at $25,000 per acre of land, the whole of India, including parliament would fall short of attracting 1/15th of the FDI that has gone into China in last 30 years.

If this is not land grabbing in the name of industrialization taking place within Indian states, I don’t know what is.

If government looked into governance and improved it by reducing corruption and making business rules friendly to good businesses rather than bad ones, as it stands now, India would not be able to run its race against China but it still might come up a winner in economic growth for society.

Otherwise, as a citizen, I must say that developments like Nandigram hurt.

Ranjit Goswami, OhMyNews.COM , March 18, 2007

Indians are worlds most undemocratic people: Book

New Delhi, March. 4 (PTI): Indians are perhaps the world’s most undemocratic people, living in the world’s largest and most plural democracy where a person’s self-worth is almost exclusively determined by the rank he occupies, says a new book. A profoundly hierarchical society, in India the determination of relative rank (Is this person superior or inferior to me?) remains very near the top of subconscious questions evoked in an interpersonal encounter, says the book The Indians, Portrait of a People by psychoanalyst and culture commentator Sudhir Kakkar and anthropologist Katherina Kakkar.The gratification of the 300 million middle-class consumers, does not lie in their being consumers in a global marketplace but in being somebody in a profoundly hierarchical society, the authors say. You must be somebody to survive with dignity, since rank is the only substitute for money. Thus retired judges, ex-ambassadors and other sundry officials who are no longer in service are never caught without calling cards prominently displaying who they once were, authors say.

Irrespective of his educational status and more than in any other culture in the world, an Indian is a homo hierarchicus, the book says.

Although at first glance the notion of Indian-ness among the one billion population speaking 14 major languages with pronounced regional differences may seem far-fetched, yet from ancient times European, Chinese and Arab travellers have identified common features among India’s peoples, it says.

Some of the values that govern Indian institutional and work life empirically demonstrated by the GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) revealed that South Asia has the greatest power distance – that is, the degree to which people are separated by power, authority and prestige. In other words, the difference in status between the chief executive and the office peon, the raja and the runk is at its maximum in this region and in India, the book says.

Second only to the family as a pervasive social dimension of Indian identity is the institution of caste, the authors say. The ancient divisions of Hindu society into the priest (Brahmin), warrior (Kshatriya), tradesman (Vaishya) and servant (Shudra) classes, in that order of ranking is still used to locate a person in the wider social space, the book says and quotes an example political commentators speaking of mobilising the Brahmin, Vaishya or the backward classes (as the Shudras are called now) during elections.

The authors also say that although the cliched relationship between an overpowering mother-in-law and a silently suffering daughter-in-law is a bitter reality for many young women, the changes that are taking place in the power structure of the educated middle class have made many a mother-in-law views herself as a loser across the board. She feels bitter and shortchanged that although she suffered under the whims and moods of older family members when she was young bride, now, when it is her turn to reap the fruits of being the family matriarch, she can neither take the respect of her better educated daughter-in-law or the loyalty of her son for granted.

The Indians: Portrait of a People by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar
Published by Penguin Books India Price: Rs 395.00, ISBN: 0670999237

Muslims in the Indian army, only 2% ?

Muslims in Army : Hiding what`s well-known 

The reason for the Muslim under-representation in the Indian army, or the Sikh over-representation, is something that lies partly in history, and its public disclosure would harm nobody.

There’s something surreal about India’s debate on Muslim under-representation in the Indian army. If the defence minister says the army has done no head-count of its Muslims, how did the army give an exact Muslim figure of 29,093 last month? The figure is backed by a retired lieutenant-general who says the Muslims are 2 per cent.

Whatever the exact percentage, a huge Muslim under-representation in our army is a fact. So is a huge Sikh over-representation. See the contrast. Sikhs form 1.86 per cent of India’s population but number around 8 per cent in the Indian army. Muslims form 13 per cent of India’s population but are 2 per cent in the army. Why should this truth about Muslim under-representation be suppressed? Or that of Sikh over-representation? But an irrational love of secrecy causes Indian rulers to hide information whose public disclosure would harm nobody.

Just as Muslims are under-represented in the army, so are the Bengalis, Biharis, Oriyas, south Indians or Gujaratis. And just as Sikhs are over-represented, so are the Jats, Dogras, Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Gurkhas, Marathas, Pathans and Punjabis.

The reason for this disparity lies in history. The Indian army’s recruitment pattern was set 150 years ago by India’s 1857 uprising. Traumatised by the rebellion, the British army adopted a recruitment policy that punished the groups which rebelled and rewarded the ones that stayed loyal. Because Muslims of Awadh, Bihar and West Bengal led the uprising, the British army stopped hiring soldiers from these areas.

Also blacklisted from these places were high-caste Hindus whose regiments in Bengal had also mutinied. In contrast, the British raised the recruitment of castes that had stood by the British to put down the uprising. These castes were the Sikhs, the Jats, Dogras, Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Gurkhas, Marathas, Pathans, plus Punjabis, both Hindus and Muslims. Honoured as martial races, they received preferential treatment in army recruitment for the next 90 years. Like any institution, the Indian army’s a prisoner of the past.

Even today, it favours enlisting men from the martial races. Their over-representation in the Indian army is huge. Figures bear this out. Of 2.87 lakh jawans hired by the army in the last three years, a disproportionate 44,471 came from three “martial” states, Punjab, Haryana, and the mountain state of Uttaranchal. So these states which account for 5 per cent of India’s population provided 15 per cent of India’s army jawans.

In contrast, the fewest recruits came from “non-martial” West Bengal, Bihar and Gujarat. These three states account for 30 per cent of India’s population, but they provided only 14 per cent of army jawans in this three-year period. So the Indian army has not only a religion-based disparity in recruitment, but also one based on caste and region. A glimpse of this discrimination was provided by a press release issued by a defence office in Jammu five years ago. Seeking recruits for the Indian army, the press release said: “No vacancies for Muslims and tradesmen.” Meaning that martial Dogras were welcome to apply, but not Hindu business castes like the Baniyas and the Khatris.

About the Muslim under-representation in the Indian army, the reasons are three. One was Partition. Before Independence, Muslims were around 25 per cent of the Indian army and 25 per cent of undivided India. But when India broke up and Muslim soldiers were asked to choose between India and Pakistan, they joined Pakistan en masse. So Muslim numbers in the Indian army dropped so drastically that they were only 2 per cent in 1953, according to India’s then minister of state for defence. Jawaharlal Nehru himself expressed concern that “hardly any Muslims” were left in the army. And Muslim numbers never really picked up in the last 60 years for a well-known reason.

India’s military establishment hesitates to hire Muslims as soldiers because it suspects Muslim loyalty to India. This discrimination is a natural outcome of India and Pakistan’s bitter hostility over 60 years. In similar situations, the same thing happens all over the world. The Israeli army doesn’t trust its Arab soldiers in jobs related to defence security. The Buddhist Sinhalese army under-recruits its Hindu Tamils lest their sympathies lie with the Tamil Tigers. After 9/11, US army recruiters would probably screen a Muslim American volunteer more thoroughly than a Christian American. Thanks to our four wars with Pakistan, the same anti-Muslim animus works here in army recruitment.

Proof of it lies in an enormous mass of documentary and other evidence which expresses distrust of Muslims. Otherwise, why does India have separate regiments for the Sikhs, Jats, Dogras, Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Mahars, the Nagas, even the Gurkhas, but not a single Muslim regiment? This is tragic but it’s a truth which shouldn’t be suppressed. It should be acknowledged and dealt with.

Events have consequences. Muslim under-recruitment in the Indian army is a consequence of Partition. India and Pakistan’s hostility is seen in both countries in Hindu versus Muslim terms. So it’s natural for India’s Hindu army establishment to distrust a Muslim who wants to join as a soldier.

This prejudice itself discourages qualified Muslim youths from applying, which drives down Muslim numbers even more. Another reason for Muslim under-recruitment is the relatively poor education of Muslims. When they try to enlist as soldiers, they are simply out-competed by better-educated Sikh, Hindu, and Christian youths. So Muslim leaders are quite right that Muslim under-recruitment in the army deprives the community of a good, life-long source of employment. It’s a sad situation not so easy to correct.

In life, however, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. The under-representation of Muslims and other caste or regional groups benefits the over-represented ones. The composition of the Indian army is totally askew numbers-wise. West Bengal’s population is eight times that of Uttaranchal. But Uttaranchal provided almost the same number of army recruits as West Bengal last year. Compare a “martial” Punjab with a non-martial Gujarat. Punjab’s population is half that of Gujarat. But it provided four times as many people to the Indian army as Gujarat. The Indian army hired far more recruits in Rajasthan than in Tamil Nadu though Tamil Nadu’s population is higher. Essentially, the Indian army is dominated numbers-wise by Sikhs and Hindi-speaking Hindus of north India. The current status quo suits them perfectly.

Arvind Kala / New Delhi March 04, 2006, Business Standard

www.business-standard.com

Armed forces are not a Holy Cow

Armed forces are not a Holy Cow

It is extremely unfortunate that the government has dropped the move to collate data on the status of Muslims in the armed forces. This follows an uproar over the steps taken by the Prime Minister’s High-Level Committee — PMHC — on the social economic and educational status of the Muslim community headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar to approach the defence forces for such data.

The Bharatiya Janata Party sought the President’s intervention in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces to stop this ‘misguided’ survey. Former army officers held dharnas against the ‘divisive’ move, which they believe, would weaken a robustly secular institution. And former defence minister George Fernandes termed the PMHC’s work a ‘seditious act’ aimed at ‘communalising’ the armed forces!

After this, much of the media simply renamed the PMHC the Sachar Committee. The Congress defensively pleaded that its survey would be ‘purely a data-gathering and fact-finding exercise.’ The Prime Minister’s Office quickly distanced itself from the committee. Chief of Army Staff General J J Singh said: ‘It is not the army’s philosophy to disseminate or maintain (community-wise) information’; ‘we are not concerned with the faith or language’ of the people employed or ‘where they come from.’ And the defence ministry, which had sought the relevant data from the armed services, assured them it won’t forward it to the PMHC.

In the heat of emotion, it was all but forgotten that in our Parliamentary system, the President is not the court of last resort. He is the defence services’ Supreme Commander in a figurative sense. He does not possess the executive authority to start or stop a survey. Since then, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General R S Kadyan has approached the Supreme Court to ask that the survey be stayed. He argues the survey would help to ‘sow the seed of communalism in the defence forces.’

Numerous arguments were advanced by opponents of the move. These old that the very conduct of the survey would tarnish the armed forces’ image as a professional force; that words like caste, creed, religion and reservation are unheard of in regimental messes; that the army is one of the few reliably secular institutions in India, which is fully trusted by the religious minorities — unlike the police or paramilitary forces; it has an enviable record of protecting the lives of the minorities in communally charged situations.

Some of these arguments are undoubtedly valid. For instance, no one can seriously question the army’s secular credentials and its impartial role in protecting the life and property of the minorities when called upon to do so. The Indian Army represents a remarkable achievement. It is one of the few apolitical militaries in the Third World to function fully under civilian control.

And yet, the anti-survey arguments miss one essential paradox: namely, that the army does not fully reflect the rich diversity and plurality of Indian society. It suffers from under-representation of certain ethnic, religious and social groups, and from over-representation of some others, most notably the so-called “martial races” favoured under the colonial system of recruitment, including Sikhs, Gorkhas, Dogras, Jats, Rajputs, etc.

We are an apolitical and secular force: Army chief

Among the under-represented groups are people from the Northeast, Dalits, OBCs, and Muslims. We know from a note sent on January 9 by the army to the defence ministry that in 2004 it had only 29,093 Muslims among a total of 1.1 million personnel — a ratio of 2.6 percent, which compares poorly with the Muslims’ 13 percent share in the Indian population. Similarly, there have been complaints of under-representation from Dalit and Adivasi leaders and smaller linguistic groups.

To demand that their recruitment be increased is not to advance an anti-national, communal or divisive agenda, but to ask for diversity and balance. None other than then defence minister Jagjivan Ram raised the demand for greater Dalit recruitment in 1971.

Indeed, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s greatest prime minister, who cannot even be remotely accused of a communal bias, noted in 1953 that ‘in our Defence Services, there are hardly any Muslims left. What concerns me most is that there is no effort being made to improve this situation, which is likely to grow worse unless checked.’ This concern was reiterated by Mahavir Tyagi, then minister of state for defence, who disclosed that ‘the percentage of Muslims in the armed forces, which was 32 percent at the time of Partition has come down to two. I have instructed that due regard should be paid to their recruitment.’

The PMHC was not being wayward in asking for information about the recruitment and status of Muslims in the army. It’s vital to collect ‘authentic information about the social, economic and educational status’ of Muslims in different government departments. Without such a data bank, we won’t know whether there is under-representation of different groups, what its extent is, and what its causes might be. Collating such information is also the best way of countering prejudices about ‘minority appeasement’.>

True, such information is relevant not just for Muslims; it is necessary for other groups too. But the PMHC’s brief pertains to Muslims. It was perfectly legitimate for it to solicit information about Muslims. This is in keeping with the National Common Minimum Programme of the UPA, which promised to promote the welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities.

The issue of Muslim under-representation in the defence forces must be situated in context. As MIT-based scholar Omar Khalidi argues in his Khaki and the Ethnic Violence in India (Three Essays, New Delhi, 2003), the army embraced the discredited colonial ‘martial races’ theory which favoured certain ‘Fixed Classes’ like Gorkhas, Sikhs, Dogras and Rajputs in recruitment. Muslims were excluded from these, except for groups such as the Qaimkhani community of Rajasthan and UP, and units like the Grenadiers, Armoured Corps, Bombay Engineers Group and the J&K Light Infantry. It Is only in 1984, after the ‘revolt’ by some soldiers of the Sikh Regiment following Operation Bluestar, that the army adopted a better mix in what’s called the ‘All-India Class.’

Yet, the proportion of Muslims in the army remains under 3 percent. In the case of officers, this may be explained by educational backwardness among Muslims. But this cannot explain the community’s low representation among Other Ranks. We need to know whether this is because of a reluctance of Muslims to join the army, skewed distribution of recruitment, or because of unacknowledged barriers to entry, including prejudices.

General Kadyan’s petition is wrong to allege that if such information is collated, ‘it will create very illogical and unnecessary data which might create… in the mind of the minority communities… a feeling of their being less in number in the defence forces… giving them cause for… fear of the majority community.’ This presumption is fundamentally mistaken. There’s nothing ‘illogical’ about documenting the status of different communities in national institutions. The United States army, for instance, regularly compiles publicly available data on Muslims, Blacks, and other ethnic groups.

More generally, the armed forces cannot be an exception to the concept of citizenship in a multi-ethnic society. Nor can they demand to be shielded from scrutiny just because they perform a role in India’s defence. All citizens have a valid role to play in our national life. Real security derives not just from military defence, but other things including human security, justice, social cohesion and human rights. The armed forces are not a Holy Cow.

A data bank on the ethnic-religious composition of all our public institutions is a precondition for measures to promote the welfare of citizens, including affirmative action in favour of the underprivileged and under-recruited. It goes without saying that this should not take the form of quotas and job reservations. But that’s not an argument against diversifying recruitment or promoting equality of opportunity. There’s no reason why the government cannot unilaterally announce that it will endeavour to recruit more and more under-represented groups without embracing a quota system. A caring-and-sharing society must have adequate room for such measures.

Two other points are in order. In many countries, promotion of inclusive multi-cultural policies and diversity became possible only when they abandoned ostrich-like attitudes and confronted reality. For instance, the British police began an internal evaluation after the race riots of the early 1980s. An extensive survey was undertaken of the ethnic composition of the force and prevalence of race and ethnicity-related biases. This prepared the ground for diversity sensitisation programmes, retraining, and positive discrimination.

Second, there is disturbing evidence that certain Indian security and intelligence-related agencies simply don’t recruit Muslims. These include the Research & Analysis Wing, Intelligence Bureau and National Security Guard. This is totally unacceptable and unworthy of a plural society that aspires to a degree of equity. Even the CIA would be embarrassed if it were to exclude African-Americans. The PMHC should thoroughly probe such institutions. Exclusion, and attitudes that rationalise it in the name of ‘security’, are the surest recipe for alienation of our own citizens. We cannot afford this if we want a minimally decent and self-confident India.

Praful Bidwai, February 27, 2006, Rediff.COM