Friday, December 31, 2010

From “Adi” Shankara to “Adi” Vasi

From “Adi” Shankara to “Adi” Vasi
Saeed Naqvi

Funny, the mind should flit from Binayak Sen to Anthony Trollope? Trollope describes a conversation between two Tasmanians (if my memory does not fail me) in which one asks the other: if you see a native and a snake whom should you kill first? In a matter of fact way, the other replies: the question should not arise!

Those were days when the aborigines were hunted in hundreds for trophy. Let us not forget that Australia’s “whites only” policy continued until 1974.

In the Americas, natives experienced much worse. The intervention of the Church softened the pain: natives were shot to paradise after being duly baptized.

I appear to be digressing into these frightful stories because they are the very antithesis of the good work the remarkable medical doctor, Binayak Sen, has spent a lifetime doing among the tribals of Chattisgarh. But what about those elements of the state which seek life long incarceration for people like Sen? No genocide but “them” versus “us” exists, more so since “they” sit on resources required by “us” to sustain 11% growth. But did not “our” Home Minister suggest helicopter gunships last summer?

The amazingly imbalanced judgement on Binayak Sen handed down by the Chattisgarh court has some lessons for all. There has been from colonial times, reasonable co-ordination between the local courts and the police. This was in pursuance of the colonial purpose of keeping substantive laws for the administration of such justice as was necessary, and allowing procedural law (police lock up, for instance) to generate fear among people, whatever the eventual judgement.

The (A) that was added in 1870 to section 124 concerned sedition under which Mahatma Gandhi and such like figures were jailed for, say, six years. That was the colonial limit. But justice B.P.Verma obviously has his eyes set on posterity giving a record life imprisonment for a man who inspires universal admiration. Justice Verma is one of “us” trying to make an example of Binayak Sen, one of “us” collaborating with “them”. Basically, intellectuals are being put on notice. Don’t cross the Red Line otherwise this will be your fate. It would probably have been something of a deterrent in the confines of Chattisgarh. But His Lordship’s moffussil mind had not taken globalization and an age of instant communication into account which has enabled people like Noam Chomsky to join the explosion of sympathy for Binayak Sen.

The burgeoning tribe of intelligentsia among whom sympathy for Binayak Sen is in direct proportion to the severity of the Chattisgarh judgement, are now pitted against those who consider Sen a threat to their version of the hard state.

That Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh appears to be isolated is just that – an appearance. Just as he has been forthright on Malegaon and Samjhauta Express terror (along with Jehadi terror), so has he been candid on the Binayak Sen issue. The Congressmen who whisper that he is isolated have developed amnesia about a letter their leader, Sonia Gandhi, wrote in May 2010 on the issue exhorting her party men to make navigational corrections. She was very clear:
“While we must address acts of terror decisively and forcefully, we have to address the root causes of Naxalism. The rise of Naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grassroots, especially in our most backward tribal districts.”

The Congress Working Committee member who supported the Party President in the most ringing tones was one who is in the news again – K. Keshav Rao. He is in the thick of Telegana issue which too is partly linked to Maoism throughout what is loosely called the “red corridor”. Through cavernous routes, the corridor also links up with Nepal where, given the deadlock over drafting the constitution, some Indian hardliners (a minority) would acquiesce in a spell of Nepalese army rule until the next elections

The numerous interconnections sometimes blur the faultlines that are spread accross the Indian landscape – communal, caste, regional, linguistic. A most durable faultline is the one least noticed at the popular level in that form – a faultline.

This faultline between the plainspeople and those of the forests, sometimes invested with demonic attributes in ancient texts, is the most durable one whose resolution requires exactly the healing touch of Binayak Sen.

A most perplexing paradox concerns the differentiated status we accord to the “Adi” Shankara, original Shankaracharya and the “Adi” vasi, original inhabitants of India. One is our highest “sage-saint” and the other not just the lowest of the low, but outside the pale.]

Gangajal is holy to the caste Hindu; Mahua brew to the tribals – a drop is given to a child at birth and sprinkled on the dead before burial. The tribal must carry defensive weapons which the Forest Act forbids. This is not just a civilizational gap but a system of separate development, apartheid, which a reformed sate and thousands of Binayak Sens will take decades to bridge.

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