Independence Day was celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana States on the theme of caste based and religious based violence in Independent India. This theme was chosen as it is relevant in the context of completion of 76 years of achieving independence from foreign rule. Caste based oppression and violence has been going on during the past 76 years despite the existence of Constitution and several penal laws. Likewise, religious violence that erupted during the days of independence is still continuing and is rising its ugly head during the recent days. Question remains why religious violence is still going on despite declaring ourselves as secular? In view of the volatile situation that exists in the country with regard to caste and religious violence, it is of immediate relevance to discuss the problem and contribute ideas for its resolution. Hence, DSS chose to conduct a conference and invite intellectuals to share their views on the reasons for the continuation of caste and religious based violence and the ways to contain it.
The conference was held on 9th August, at Press Club, Vijayawada from 10.30 a.m. onwards. Ms. Jhansi Geddam presided over the conference. Other dignitaries that spoke on the occasion were: Prof. Anitha, Head of the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, ANU, Ms. Anupama, Bhumika Women’s Collective, Ms. Swetha, State President of Samatha Sainik Dal, Sridevi, State Coordinator of Safai Karmachari Andolan, Ms. Kumari and Mary Nirmala, DSS leaders from Guntur. Mr. Prakash and Ramesh sung a songs highlighting the need for women education, Bhaskar and Srinivas who were organisers of this meeting shared their experiences. A huge gathering of women, members of dalit women collectives, citizens of Vijayawada actively participated in the conference.
Ms. Sridevi introduced about the theme of the conference, welcomed all the participants and invited the dignitaries on to the podium. Ms. Jhansi Geddam, presided over the conference, while other speakers were: Ms. Anitha, Professor and Head of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Acharya Nagarjuna University, Ms. Anupama from Bhoomika, Swetha from Samata Sainik Dal and District Women Collective members.
Before the commencement of the speeches, the dignitaries on the dais garlanded the portrait of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
Ms. Jhansi Geddam, spoke about the theme of the conference. She referred to the violence in Manipur and commented that it is very saddening. She referred to the ghastly incident of naked parading and rape and murder of women. She said, that as women all of feel shy even our saree
slightly goes apart due to wind etc and immediately adjust the same. That being our state of mind as women, one should imagine the immense insult that a woman feels if she is paraded naked in the public view of thousands of people for kilometres at a stretch. One can’t imagine a ghastlier and more shameful incident than this. Such horrific incidents that occurred in Manipur puts all of us to shame. What happened in Manipur is not just naked parading of a few women, but it is insult to the Indian Nation and a shame on all institutions of governance, politicians and judiciary.
Majority of ordinary women are spending time on watching mobile phones. Unconsciously the women are engaged mostly in petty things like quarrelling with husbands, mother in laws and watching TV serials, paying little interest in social issues and problems of the country. Women should transform their mental attitudes towards serving the society. Because the majority of ordinary people and women are engaged in waste of time activities, silly things, they don’t know anything about the violence in Manipur and are not concerned about the violence in Manipur. It is very important for the mass of the people to know what is happening in Manipur. As on now only a few sections of the educated people know about what is happening in Manipur, but only if the majority of the populace become aware of the situation and rise up prevent recurring of such incidents, then only the rulers will learn to behave properly. Hence, intellectuals have been brought on to the stage today to explain and educate the general people about the situation. In this context she reminded the dalit women about the activities of DSS and told them that DSS doesn’t give any monetary help to the people and the chief role of DSS is spreading awareness on the concepts of gender, caste oppression, constitutional and human rights.
Prof. Anitha, Head of the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, ANU, first appreciated the gathering for their interest in learning about an important social issue. On the one side there is advancement in science and technology but on the other side people have not grown out of inhuman incidents of violence towards others. In this context it is noticed that social media is contributing to some extent in these happenings. Right to equality is an important right that we have. Of all the rights, right to life and personal liberty is very important right and everyone should know about it. Right to life and liberty is so important that most of our other rights are embedded in it. Right to education, medical facilities, protection of women from sexual harassment at work place and various other rights that we demand from the government are part of right to life and liberty. Many people are not aware of the fact that there are peoples struggles behind the rights. Women are subjected to violence everywhere and there is no security for women as an individual and also as a group. She referred to Vakapalli incident where women were subjected to mass rapes. Caste and religion are used to commit atrocities and in all incidents of religious or caste clashes, the main victims are women. Now it is Manipur, but some time ago when there was attacks on Sikh community or in Mumbai riots, it was women that were targeted. In all these incidents that ignited group violence women were not responsible for the incident nor did they commit any wrong which ignited the other group, but the attackers always targeted women and children. The humiliation and atrocities on tribal women are more. She explained her experiences as a journalist in agency area, where the government sanctioned money for tribals for construction of toilets, but they could not construct them as there is no water facility in the toilets. Tribal women had to go long distances to fetch water. She observed that many atrocities on women are committed when they go to fetch water or go for toilet. One can notice that these women and girls become target of rape and there are many instances where minor girls are made pregnant by the males who wait to rape/sexually exploit the girls/women. Thus, the women have to lead a life of daily insecurity in tribal areas. Girls are sexually exploited in schools also. To this type of exploitative situation if caste dimension is added, the attacks would be more. In case of girls/ women of suppressed castes that are dependent on the dominant castes for work etc the sexual exploitation and rapes are more. In case of religious prejudice, the attacks are more.
We should be able to discuss all these things and find out solutions to prevent the same. Further, all the women should develop the courage to immediately report whenever an attack takes place on them. We should not bear the violence or harassment silently. In case of domestic violence, we should be able to utilise the relief under the Act which we could get after prolonged struggles. During the time of covid domestic violence increased. She suggested that we should demand stringent laws to curb religious and caste-based violence. It is necessary to have fast track courts to prosecute and punish the offences committed on the basis of religion and caste.
Ms. Anupama, Bhumika Women’s Collective, explained that they give counselling to couples of inter-caste marriages and other women in distress. In most of the inter-caste marriages problems of compatibility due to variance of traditions and practices crop up and good number of couples break up after some time. This is happening in inter-caste marriages where one of the couples is from scheduled caste and the other is from other castes. Patriarchal ideology is ruling. Likewise, due to various reasons children and youth from scheduled castes are unable to be assertive despite their educational qualifications. This is all due to the social and economic background in which they were brought up. Parents are unable to give their children the requisite encouragement. The roles played by the parents and other elders plays an important role in shaping the thinking of children. If the father regularly beats his wife, abuses her the child also learns the same. Parents should teach their children through their conduct. Parents should be careful with regard to their use of social media and keep in mind that the children learn whatever the parents are doing with their smart phones. Now there is change with regard to freedom of women compared to the past, but violence is continuing. The pattern of violence changed but violence is continuing. Untouchability and caste segregation in villages is continuing. Even now scheduled castes live in one corner of the village while the dominant castes live in the front area of the village. Another important aspect of life is authority. In the family the authority lies with the father, husband or father-in-law. Similarly, on the political front the authority lies with dominant castes. Thus, women are deprived of all say in family, society and political front. Women should be able to assert their authority and tell their opinions in the family and society. She mentioned that several Acts like Domestic Violence Act have come due to the sustained struggles and women should know about those Acts and claim the rights under those laws.
Annamma, DWC of Guntur District appreciated DSS for continuously training the dalit women for enlightening them and increasing their awareness on social situation and laws. She sang a song on the Ambedkar ideology and women situation and then advised the women to educate their children so that the family and community can develop and advance further.
Ms. Swetha, introduced herself as the State Mahila President of Samatha Sainik Dal, which was established by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in 1927. She plays the role of helping all oppressed people within the State and she goes out of state also. She advised the women to wish each other with the words Jai Bheem. She appreciated DSS for choosing to conduct a seminar on the topic of caste and religion which are so important in understanding the ongoing oppression and attacks. She said that caste is accidental and no one is responsible for his/her birth in a particular caste. But religion can be chosen and one can follow a religion of his/her choice. Irrespective of the religion that one follows, everyone should be rational in all aspects of daily life. Religion is an established institution and is chiefly used by politicians to instigate people. The politicians themselves do not follow religion and they maintain relationships on the basis of their politics. The political parties offer a few schemes to Dalits for their votes and give money on the election day. Dalits are thus attracted to vote for the dominant caste parties. Everyone should be able to identify the correct person who stands for values and should not sell their votes. All of you should spend time in getting educated about the social reality by arranging classes by intellectuals periodically.
Sri Devi, State Coordinator of Safai Karmachari Andolan spoke about the pitiable situation of poor sewage workers who are denied their basic right to life. She explained the incident of death of a sewage worker in Machilipatnam on 15th of July. The victim belongs to ST caste and when he died his wife was denied even the right to give complaint. A few middlemen belonging to communist party trade union intervened and negotiated a settlement for Rs.5/lakhs and tried to bury the issue. These middlemen dominated the victim women and exploited her ignorance. These middlemen claiming to be communists instead of fighting on behalf of the victim tribal woman have cheated her and they did all mischief on behalf of the municipal administration. I explained to the victim women that in cases of such deaths by sewage workers, the central government gives Rs.10/ lakhs and that these middlemen cheated her due to her ignorance. Then we conducted a dharna on 16th demanding that the Municipal Commissioner should visit us and negotiate, but he did not turn up. We declared that if he doesn’t come, we will continue dharna at his guest house with the dead body. Then he came at 4.00 p.m. We discussed with him about the compensation from central government and demanded compensation from the local government. When we initiated complaint by the victim’s wife to the police, we were told that already a complaint was given by the trade union. Thus, strangely, the wife was denied her right to give complaint. We questioned the administration about this gross injustice and told them clearly that we will take up the issue of not taking our complaint and proceed further. After all these discussions, the administration came down and finally agreed to give Rs.15/ lakhs in addition to the central government compensation of Rs.10/ lakhs and also a house and job to the dependants. Thus, we were able to achieve as much as possible with our knowledge, otherwise they would have successfully cheated the victim’s wife with mere 5/ lakhs amount. This incident shows clearly that it is our knowledge and our courage to question and protest is important. We should enrich ourselves about our rights and muster courage to demand the rights.
Ms. Kumari, DSS WC leader from Guntur, spoke about the need for unity among dalit women. She appealed to everyone to foster unity like a family and fight for rights like a soldier. It is necessary for all of us to identify problems and make a note of them and discuss for resolving the problems. She said that we should not expect for a few benefits and beg for them without self-respect. Instead, we should organise ourselves and struggle for our rights.
Prakash and Ramesh sung a song about the need for women education.
Bhaskar and Srinivas who were organisers of this meeting expressed thanks to everyone and assured that they will extend their support anytime.
Independence Day celebrations for the state of Telangana was conducted at Ambedkar Resource Centre, Lakadika Pool on 12th August from 1.00 p.m. onwards on the topic, "Caste - Religion and Violence in Independent India ". Dr. Siddoji Rao, Convener, IAS/IPS Officers Forum, presided over the conference. Jhansi Geddam, National Convener, DSS acted as rapporteur. Other dignitaries that spoke on the occasion were: Sri. Vinod Kumar, former Ambassador, Prof. Surepalli Sujatha, Principal, Satavahana University, Sri. PSN Murthy, Rtd. IDAS, Sri. Kalpana, Ex-protocol officer of CMO, Sri. Sajaya, Writer and Women rights activist, Bishop Bhaskar, Sri. Shanker, SC, ST Association Secretary General, Sri. Sadiq, Advocate and Founder, Sadiq Foundation and Arshia from Muslim women rights activist. Women collective members and leaders participated in the conference.
Dr. N. Siddoji Rao, appreciated DSS for conducting this conference on a highly relevant and contextual topic. The gist of the views shared by him are as follows: Religious and caste violence has been existing since long. It is continuing and growing over a time. Violence in caste system is in built, as the very institution grades people as high and low, subordination to higher castes and oppression of lower castes is in built in the system itself. It is comparable to the rankings in the armed forces, where unquestioned authority is exercised by the superior officers over the subordinates. But in case of religion, it is different, as all religions in theory, do not advocate violence. It is used to organize religious communities to indulge in violence over the other religions. Religious violence is promoted by vested political interests. Though violence is not new, it is being done systematically now. Ruling parties are encouraging violence and government supporting majority religious group as against the other, thereby extending impunity to those indulging in violence.
All forms of violence is unethical and illegal, but why it is becoming systematic and why it is foisted on minorities is a subject that all of us should probe and critically examine. I can cite the example of Gujarat as I visited the State and learnt about the cause of violence on Muslim minorities there. Muslims constitute about 15% of the population there and they are mostly in to various businesses. The business people of minority community there are very kind and just in their businesses. They strongly believe in helping the society and distribute a good percentage of their earnings to the people. As such there is lot of respect for them and society loves them for their fair and just conduct. Their businesses also run very well as people respect them. This status of muslims has irked the non-muslim business community and made them jealous of minority community. Politicians have used this opportunity and incited majority community against the muslims and ignited violence. This was done by the politicians with an eye on capturing power in the forthcoming elections.
Government usually oppresses those who understand social reality and speak against injustice. In other words, government uses its force on those who use their brains and ignores those who doesn’t use their brains and remain traditional. This is the reason government targets institutions like JNU.
Ms. Jhansi, National Convener of DSS, spoke about the need to discuss and find out the reasons for growing religious violence. Till now violence in the form of rapes and murder are happening at the individual level. Now the politicians have scaled up the violence from individual level to mass level. In Manipur there is deliberate support to one group by the government to wipe out section of people. This is nothing but an attempt of ethnic cleansing. The entire violence is not reported and every care was taken to suppress the truth, but finally it has come out in social media. One pastor sent the videos of brutal torture and naked parading of woman. Many incidents of brutal, inhuman sexual assault on women and naked parading in front of thousands of people occurred. Despite such brutal violence, unfortunately there is no scope for expressing our feelings as there is all-round fear and oppression. This violence should be condemned as this is being spread deliberately. Today, we brought intellectuals here to learn about how we should go and for future direction to prevent religious violence.
Ms. Arshia, condemned the violence on religious basis and appealed to people to realise the tactics of politicians in inciting the people to indulge in violence. In all instances of violence like the Gujarat violence, people are lured with money and other benefits to commit crimes. Everyone wants development but we can’t accept violence in the name of development. We should be united in identifying the forces that are abetting violence and protest against such forces.
Ms. Surepalli Sujatha, Professor, Satavahana University, appreciated Jhansi for organising this conference, as she has been observing caste and religious violence for decades. Gist of her speech: Religion is supposed to give peace of mind to the people and soothe them, but now mostly religion has turned out to be an oppressive apparatus to apply authority over other and to divide people. Politicians have used it as tool to oppress, attack, maim and kill a section of people. This is what we are now witnessing in Manipur where the ruling forces are using religion to wipe out a section of people with the ulterior objective of laying hand on the rich minerals and land property of the area. In the name of religion churches are being attacked and destroyed.
All religions have a theory of looking down upon women and oppressing them, except Buddhism. Another point to be noted is all religions have adopted the practices of Hinduism, like dowry, women oppression etc. It is unfortunate that even tribals have adopted these patriarchal practices like dowry, looking down upon women as private property and not respecting her views as an individual. Why women are tortured and paraded naked in Manipur. It is saddening to notice that no one is agitated at the atrocities of Manipur. Even Christians are not ready to come on to the roads to protest. The government has closed internet services to suppress the spread of news of violence in Manipur. All these developments should make everyone realise how religion is used to divide people and indulge in violence.
Recently when a she buffalo of a Dalit trespassed into the paddy field of a dominant caste person, he tied the hands and legs of the dalit owner of that animal and tortured him. This indicates that Dalits life and liberty can be taken so lightly that if animal does simple trespass into the field, the dalit can be tortured and humiliated. This is the reality and that’s why Dr. Ambedkar said freedom exists only for the dominant castes and the very caste system makes the country undemocratic. Freedom is available only to the dominant castes and corporate sector in independent India. In Manipur also the oppressors have used religion, women as weapons. Manipur politics will spread everywhere and it doesn’t take much time for these divisive politics to reach here. It is not just the problem of Christians; everyone should respond and protest against this divisive politics and violence. In the present context one can’t afford to be silent. Silence is criminal. We should be alert and prevent repetition of Manipur here.
Sajaya, spoke about various aspects of religion and violence. Gist of her speech is as follows:
We learn from childhood in our homes to be faithful to God and religion and we follow the religion that we are born into. We don’t choose our religion. Usually, all people belong to one or the other religion. Percentage of atheists or rationalists is negligible. Everyone follows religion for calming their minds and for soothing them. Apart from a large number of religions, no religion is monolithic. Every religion has various shades, sub-sects and all churches are not same and all temples are not same. But there is no problem with various denominations and faiths as long as there is not conflict and fights.
Religion is followed at homes and in case of women religion takes the form of burden, while for men it is a weapon. Women have to follow the religious norms concerning clothing, prayer, going outside etc. If a married woman doesn’t follow the method of prayer correctly or doesn’t dress properly, she will be questioned by mother-in-law, husband and everyone. In such instances woman uses religion as weapon against other woman. In Manipur the clash is between two religions/two tribes and it is for authority over land. It is very tragic and shameful that women were nakedly paraded. More shocking is that women of the attacker’s tribe were involved in the naked parading of victim women. The worst and shocking part of violence is that women of the attacking religion/tribe asked their men to rape the women victims. All this happened due to the feelings of superiority of one religion over the other.
Another aspect in all this violence is due to the fact that women are considered as property, hence any revenge against the enemy includes rape of enemy’s women. We see this in case of money lenders also, who ask the debtor to send his daughter if he can’t pay the amount. It is important for us to erase this concept of women being property and stand up for equality.
Women should unite and come up to stop this type of violence. In 2002 when communal rights happened in Gujarat, the male muslim youth who came to know the news became highly emotional and were about to express their anger leading to violence. But about 100 women who were inspired by our work in the area assembled and stopped the enraged youth from resorting to violence. Thus, unwarranted clashes and blood shed was nipped in the bud by the united action of women. This should be taken as inspiration and women should consolidate against all forms of violence. This is more so necessary in Hyderabad in view of the Ganesh festival and Milad un-Nabi festivals coming at the same time next month.
Dr. Vinod Kumar, Ambassador, explained the difference between India and other countries. He said: I was in Germany, Belgium Russia and other countries I observed that all citizens in other countries feel equal by birth, but in India, due to caste system here by birth all are unequal. Religion is acting like opium and people are feeling emotional on these issues. I learnt that government is supporting and even supplying weapons to one section of people in Manipur. Ruling elite wants to control people by dividing them. These elite have done and experiment in Gujarat as laboratory and won the elections there, now they want to implement the same strategy everywhere. They are now doing it in Manipur and Haryana. It is unfortunate that, the opposition parties have to move no confidence motion to force the prime minister to speak on the Manipur situation. Religion should be confined to private and person realm only. People should be cautious in voting and should not vote those forces who want to replace the present constitution with Manu Dharma.
PSN Murthy, IDAS (VR), appreciated DSS for the topic chosen as it is of utmost necessity not to discuss. No religion advocates violence but every religion has been historically indulging in violence. Wars were fought by Hindus, Christians and Muslims. Religious violence resulting in large number of killings occurred during partition in 1947 between Hindus and muslims and Sikhs and muslims. After independence, violence took place in 1984 against Sikhs, in 1992/1996 during Advani’s Radha Yatra and demolition of Babri Masjid and later in Gujarat.
Constitution provides for right to religion, but the right can be restricted in the interests of public order, morality and health. But now BJP is spreading hatred against muslims. I appeal to all not to fall prey for such hate propaganda. We should maintain secular relations with people around us on the basis of the individual traits and not on the basis of religion. If we don’t check up our own internal thinking, we all would turn as religious extremists. We should use our vote to elect only those who don’t spread hate.
Bishop Bhaskar, pointed the need to utilise and vote properly so that Manipur is not repeated anywhere. We should develop secular thinking as advocated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. In Manipur, violence was indulged selectively. Churches belonging to Kuki’s only were attacked and destroyed leaving churches belonging to Nagas, as CM’s wife is a Naga.
G. Sanker, reminded about the unity between Dalits and muslims in Bombay in the past by forming dalit muslim Suraksha Maha Sangh. This unity is being broken by RSS/BJP. Such unity efforts should be made again to thwart the divisive forces. In Tamil Nadu Dalits adopted Islam and attempted to forge unity. RSS is attracting Dalits and we should be careful about it.
Kalpana, Former Protocol officer at CMO, congratulated DSS for organising a conference on this topic of caste, religion and violence. She pointed out how Dalits are shown as low people as if they were created by Brahma from the feet. All people belonging to Hindu, Muslim, Christian religions should be happy, respect each other and should not indulge in violence. Religion should be in the private realm of the individual. During 1970s there was no differences and people from Hindu religion participated in Muslim festivals like peerla festival. We teach unity and peace to all in the family.
Sadiq, Advocate, spoke about all-round violence that exists in the family, society, school and everywhere. He said: In almost all the families, children see their mother being beaten up by their father, which disturbs them, but being children, they can’t speak against their father. Such children are affected by the violence in the family and get psychologically disturbed. Some children learn to beat woman and dominate woman. When children go to school, they experience violence by the teacher. Again, there is violence by the mother when she beats the child. In the TV there is lot of violence propagated. Thus, we see children are grown up in an atmosphere of violence continuously through all means. So, the violence starts here and goes up to Manipur. We should change this atmosphere and learn to change women being targeted for everything.
Narsinga Rao, Ambedkarite first appreciated DSS for conducting this conference on an important topic. He said: This country belongs to all, but a section is trying to dominate for the sake of wealth available in the form of land and minerals. The Aryan invaders who came to this country and dominated the original inhabitants of this land and are imposing Manu dharma sastra. To save themselves from these Aaryan Brahminical ideology, people adopted Islam and Christianity. In Manipur the attackers are brahmins. All this is for the mineral wealth. We are responsible for the raise these forces as we are selling our votes for Rs,500. RSS was established in 1925 and they will be completing centenary in 1925 and it is their agenda to replace the present Ambedkar Constitution with Manu dharma.
Sumathi, DSS state leader, appealed for unity of all women in the slums and villages and raise their awareness.
Jhansi, National Convener of DSS, commented that there are many leaders and appealed to each leader to adopt 5 villages and educate the people. Such serious attempt by the leaders will transform the society. She advised the women to avoid waste of time in watching TV, mobile and other chores and learn Ambedkar ideology.
She conveyed vote of thanks to all the women that attended the conference and the resource persons for enlightening the participants.