Una Flag Hoisting

There were two significant flag-hoisting ceremonies on Independence Day. One was at the Red Fort in Delhi, presided over by the P M, wearing a long-tailed safa in some fine-spun material (mull?) in shades of deep strawberry, candy pink, flaming orange and turmeric yellow. The other was 359 km away at Una in his home State, where Radhika Vemula, Rohith Vemula’s mother, hoisted the tricolor, assisted by Balubhai Sarvaiya, father of one of the victims of the Una flogging atrocity. 

The PM’s speech, which ran for a record 94 minutes, was full of a sense of power and the consummate confidence of a man who sees himself on top of his job. I’m not sure I’d have had the aural endurance to listen to it with the same care and patience that I accorded it in print. In all probability, I’d have nodded off like Arvind Kejriwal, Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar, all of whom appeared to depend on the theory that one absorbs more with closed eyes than with open eyes. Oh? There’s no such theory? Then let’s say without mincing words (and why should we mince them when the P M himself has declared open season on pussy-footing with his aggressively forthright references to Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK?) that the speech was boooooring. It is never as riveting to hear details, accompanied by statistics, of jobs done, as it is to hear airy promises of jobs intended to be done. There’s so much more force in saying we will cover every kilometre of India’s length and breadth with toilets in the next two years than to render an account of how many of those wretched things actually got built, especially if you’re not going to mention livelier stats of how many of them are inoperative due to lack of water and how many are being used as storehouses because built spaces are scarcer than fields which are always there to welcome natural manure.

It would have added a delicious edge to the statistics of 70,000 open defecation-free villages (total number of villages in India according to the 2001 census is about 6,38,000), if Modiji had mentioned the Magsaysay award winner Bezwada Wilson, who has spent a lifetime campaigning against manual scavenging. India still has almost eight lakh dry latrines, many of them public, from which human beings remove excrement, carry it on their heads and deposit it in designated places. “While the Constitution and other laws prohibit dry latrines and the employment of manual scavengers, these have not been strictly enforced, since the government itself is the biggest violator,” said Wilson’s Magsaysay award citation.

However, it was heartening that the PM took cognizance of the threat that casteism poses to the country’s unity. “When a society is divided into touchables and untouchables, upper and lower, then such a society cannot last,” he categorically asserted. “These evils are centuries-old and will have to be tackled more sternly and sensitively…. We together will have to fight these social ills.”

Perhaps the PM could have called upon sadhus and sants who are so close to his Party and have such an enormous following among people, to help in the cause; for what a godman says to his devotees probably carries more weight, given his spiritual authority, than what a Prime Minister with mere political power says from the remote heights of the Red Fort.

However, the dalits are not waiting around any longer for social, spiritual or political help. What happened at Una is a clear sign that they have decided to take their destinies in their own hands.  Jignesh Mevani, the lawyer-journalist-activist who led the Dalit Asmita Yatra from Ahmedabad to Una, exhorted the gathering of 10,000 (at a modest estimate), to take a pledge never again to lift human excreta or carcasses of dead animals, particularly cows, for skinning. The slogan that had fired dalits from the time of the first rally held in Ahmedabad after the Una flogging, “You take the cow’s tail, give us land”, was translated into a concrete demand here for five acres of land per dalit family.

Meanwhile, six civilians fell to army bullets in a Budgam village and one CRPF Commandant to militant bullets on August 15, the 39th day of violence in the Valley. Omar Abdullah tweeted, “6 protestors dead in Kashmir in 24 hours but WTH let’s go sort out Balochistan since we are doing such a good job in J&K at the moment!!!” Bitter. Sarcastic. But WTH, he’s right, right?

Published On : 17-08-2016