Medical Strike: Misplaced Sympathies and Denial of Privilege

I will call this the Princess Diana Syndrome. Remember that poor adorable princess who met an untimely death? The whole world just seemed to have lost this great soul who was so beautiful and could have changed everyone’s lives by posing alongside the orphans. Media everywhere from global to national to regional to local got hooked onto the image of Diana as the savior who was a victim (even if that meant that she was victim of media themselves!) To some extent the media houses blamed each other, the paparazzis and even the evil cash-rich boyfriend who was also some kind of a prince.

The fairy tale ended with Diana. Or as much I thought.

Until I started following the medical students in India. A country that recently underwent a historic blunder with a nuclear treaty, whose prime minister went on the stage to hail the colonial powers, whose farmers were reportedly committing suicides every passing day off unpaid debts, whose tribal people were being shot at by police brutally for absolutely no legal reason, whose fortunes had been so unevenly distributed that the gap between the rich and the poor had only been doubling periodically if not more, whose healthcare system, education system, and corruption system were all continuing to be elitist in every phase of reincarnations.

Suddenly someone dropped a cup of tea. Reservation bill for the other backward castes. I thought it was teacup indeed because I read from school civics book about the directive principles of state policies in Section IV of Indian constitution. And if I never would have read those books, then also I could have understood the need for such reservations for a country like India. In my recent trip to India this last December I could feel that Bangalore needed some reservations for working class people to stay there, lest the city be taken over by cash-rich tech-savvy tenants. In Hyderabad, I felt like in Charminar area, there needed to be some reservations for the Muslim preachers so that the Hindu temple created alongside the monument does not continue intentionally blowing its bhajans on loudspeakers. In Bhubaneswar, I felt like the Orissa tribals needed some reservations at Kalinga Nagar lest the lands all get to money hungry arms dealers aka government. But hardly I realized that the teacup would become a storm, possibly the worst storm to have hit India in recent times.

I always thought reservations for backward caste people in India are not some proposal or imaginings. It is a necessity. It’s a historical necessity! But instead what I found as I kept flapping emails and newspapers and blog comments were some grounds of objection which were gaining mammoth popularity. I have dealt with many issues, including Merit, elsewhere in this blog. But I will lay out other popular domains here.

1) Is Reservation a Favor?
One, the ground that the backward caste people have made quite some progress, and so they do not need reservation anymore.

Of course this is valid observation to say that they have made quite some progress. But to say that they don’t need reservation any more is to defeat the crux of the observation itself. Precisely because they have made progress, it’s logical to conclude that the reservation policies in India have worked positively in improving the lots of some people who include people that we historically called untouchables. Now the reality though is their improvement has taken place only marginally so far, and is on a constant progression. They are growing in the social ladders, but are yet to attain the power structures. Quite similar to the black people of America where through affirmative actions, many of the minority people rose to stardom, yet we know that not many of them have become influential so far in many elite areas. Even today more than 90% or more of the deans of colleges all over are White. Even today there is only one Senator who is a black. But some progress is being made nevertheless. I have a quicker solution (to which I will allude in a while), but I am also ready to go with the tide!

Likewise in India, the progress in order to continue demands that we increase the reservation quotas even more so that we can see more substantial improvement in the lives of the historically dispossessed. There is also a moral question here, which often goes unnoticed. That answers the question of ‘Why should we care’ types. These people are lower caste, because they were declared so by the ‘higher’ castes. They suffered so that the higher ones would enjoy the privilege. And hence, if not for any other legal and rational reasons (which are aplenty), for this moral reason itself, India needs to resurrect itself and let the lower caste people have greater shares of the cake now on. We owe it to them. To our domestic servants, and to the farmer-slaves. And to those students whose seats we not only refused them to have, but also refused them to dream of having.

2) Who Divides the Society?

Second line of reasoning that I see common to my readers’ resentments is pertaining to the division of society on basis of caste. To this, my answer is one of amazement. Caste politics have always continued to thrive in India. All the while, the lower caste people were subjugated and there was not a sign of remorse and guilt (and no demonstrations by upper castes against their fellow oppressors. When Gandhi offered his token fasts, he was also killed by the Hindu fundamentalists). Even to this day, all classified marriage ads would stress on marriages within castes. Even today domestic slaves are continuing to flock households of higher classes. Division of labor is indeed a casteist prerogative. Medical students who are polishing shoes to demonstrate their anger are clearly suggesting that they consider the work of cobbler as below their dignity! Even to this day! In other words the children of Brahmin caste would not allow their children to become cobblers in India. No matter how poor, the Brahmin families would stress on wearing the sacred thread to distinguish them from lower caste families. These active forms of caste discriminations are being practiced in India for as long as we know. And now only since the structure of Brahminical dominance bastion (the education) is being challenged, the country is noticing havoc. Suddenly politicians are being blamed for caste-based politics now. All along when the politicians themselves practiced Brahminism and the people did so religiously (everytime they invited only the Brahmin priests to solemnize a marriage) then no one questioned the caste divisions of India. Only when there is a valid demand for legitimate share in higher education, there is the hue and cry. Some of the more progressive minds agree that it’s fine to “improve the quality of primary education by granting even 80% seats to backward castes”, but its not OK to have reservations in Higher Education! I mean, the answer to that is, of course there are 80% of people in India who are backward castes anyway. So all of them will be in primary education, which is free and compulsory! It is the lack of resources and access to elite medical school coachings and preparations for them that deprive these 80% people! Hence the need for reservations.

The point is regarding losing the power. The well-meaning friends know it too well that primary schools do not change power equations. Throw them to schools, when their parents will force them to work in fields or have them sold to ragpickers, they will anyway drop-out. Plus they know that there is no chance in hell for the backward castes people to fund their medical preparations or other elite education at all. So it’s easier to give those 80% away to primary education! The ruling class knows the rules of wishful thinkings. Saying let them have primary education is like saying, let the wives do the household works only! When it comes to decision making and when it comes to budgeting money, the Men are there! Young students of India are actually thinking that higher education needs merit, and let the primary education go to the lower castes. The transition and the factors in between, the vertical structure of class society, the money factor, the debt factor, the social mobility factor, the factor of having one surname in place of another—are completely lost on the blue-eyed youngsters!

3) The Infatuation with Exotic Exceptions:

Third, is the question of the poor Brahmins. The poor Brahmins are aplenty in India. No denying that. But how come again, the minority poor Brahmins are now becoming the issue when the majority poor backward castes never were catered to?!

If total population of Brahmins in India are mere 5% and of them one percent would be actually poor, or comparatively poor with the landless Dalits and Adivasis we need to make policy decisions here. No I do not agree with the alternative proposals of economic parity argument. I am sure that’s not going to work in a simple way. From Vivekananda to Aurobindo, Hindu preachers knew to what extent caste is a socio-economically complex concept. The poor Brahmins are NOT the same as the poor Dalits. Period.

We all know it just too well. When the poor Brahmin begs in India, it’s considered a blessing to serve him/her. When the poor Dalit begs, the person is treated like a cursed cur. Who are we kidding? It’s actually regressive to even equate both categories. To begin with, Brahmins were not supposed to be wealth accumulators. I hardly know many Brahmins who are super rich. As I have stated earlier it’s the Kshyatriyas and Vaisyas who were the rich and powerful. All that the Brahmins had was the monopoly on knowledge, and that to a great extent translated power for them. Because of that so-called ‘knowledge’, the Brahmins have always survived the otherwise economic onslaughts. Using that today, most of them have become Pandits, Vedis, Dwivedis, Trivedis and Chaturvedis! They are the traditional scholars building up the ivory towers of education. They have defined the syllabus where students don’t read history of Dalit plights in independent India. They have demarcated the superiority of engineering and medicine as subjects that only they have ensured as more worthy by creating a demand-supply ratio that increases market pressure for those jobs. The Brahmins have relegated farming as a lowly activity although India is supposed to be an agricultural country. In Brahminical India, the farmers commit suicides and engineers fly first class! They have not just conceptualized their brand of education and forced its validity down on us, they have also created a market for their education (reason why students of literature and art history do not get jobs and find hardly any takers for marriage even for a dowry!), and they have earmarked the status tags.

In that whole process, their monopoly has not got lost on us—and which we see every passing day, the disproportionately high beggars on Indian streets, the prostitutes in cheap brothels and the large unemployed crime-prone youth groups. What it has also done is let a few cracks fall here and there, where there have been some Brahmin victims as well. But the victims in these cases are victimized because of a Brahminical structure itself, not because they are Brahmins. It’s like the White homeless people of America are victim of a White structure that thrives on market capitalism.

The question is where to start the reform process. As I have said earlier, I have quicker ways to address these issues. I guess many are working towards that in Nepal, in Orissa, and in Jharkhand now. But since the governments, that are more interested to guard the Indian Hindu Constitution than to empower the people in reality want a reform process, I think they know the answer now.

Part of the reason why even a rightwing BJP is supporting the Communists in this case (whoa!) is because it understands that the opportunistic Communist members in the UPA do not want radical replacement of the power structure. They want to maintain the ‘sanctity’ of the unity factor which enables the ruling class to rule.

The reason why different nations of India are not yet separate countries is because Nehru passed a bill in early 60’s that made it illegal to cede from the country. Likewise, every ruling coalition guards its interests. That’s the reason why all political parties want this reservation to go on, not as a revolutionary step—but as a conservative step to prevent the alternative.

Is there a Quicker Alternative?

The young inspired idiots who think they are some medical scholars should get the political maturity to understand that there cannot be a better government for them than the current UPA. At least Manmohan Singh can use his so-called leftist pimps to silence the Dalit resentments in India. In the other case, if they fail to do that (and Lord Ram forbid, Advani must be chanting) a massive revolution of the landless against the landlords in India could result not only in abolition of those medical coaching centers, but also in revamping of the healthcare system completely.

Five decades ago, the US thought Cubans were no good other than being sex slaves and sugarcane farmers. Fidel Castro got the support of his revolutionary people to change the country into one of the best healthcare haven known in the world history (even better than the US itself)! It’s because Cuba did not have an elite medical education, nor did it distinguish between people of different jobs. Yes, the media reports have denounced Cuba because the doctors get less pay there than the peons get paid in Indian government offices. But what the heck, doctors in Cuba have demonstrated highest human concerns (even to a Katrina crisis that US could not handle), whereas for all we know, India has one of the worst healthcare systems in the recorded world history that ignore the poor people systematically who cannot pay their fees.

If the medicos do not heed to their politically powerful friends in both ruling and opposition (as if there is a difference between Manmohan Singh and LK Advani!), they will soon be unable to withstand the abolition of elitist structure of higher education. Once higher education will be massified, and will be available for free to all (deservedly so), they can no longer monopolize over the professions and they can no longer demand French wines from Pharmaceutical companies to prescribe illicit drugs! My friends who are Pharma sales representatives have given me rides to clinics of doctors in big cities of India, where they demand for gifts ranging from liquor to flight tickets to call girls! Oh those merit-based established Brahmin doctors of India!

The Taboo Question: Do Doctors deserve the Hype?

With all these talks of merit and education, the medical practitioners in India are impaired by skills. Engineering and medical colleges in India are institutes of big fraudulent activities. Seats are blocked, sold and malpractices in examinations are so rampant that even the college principals have to call off the examinations. Why “Munnabhai MBBS” movie became such approved despite being an unoriginal flick is because people have lost trust on the doctors as a whole. Visit any medical and one finds unattended patients rolling down on the floor for days. Only those who have money or power are lucky enough to procure a bed inside the hospital. People die on the hospital corridors every passing day because doctors simply refuse to look at them. The AIIMS, where one protestor was allegedly killed (another media hype which could turn out to be false) is a place where thousands of critical patients are without beds, where to get a doctor appointment one needs to wait for weeks, and where dozens of people die on daily basis because of inefficient care even before being admitted! The private hospitals like Apollo are so expensive that even Americans would prefer the state hospital of Baltimore county.

India, the country to second largest population in the world is mired by healthcare issues from the beginning. Brahminical stress on female infanticide and the expensive screening of unborn gender are a regular inhuman practice. Historically “merit”-orious doctors have history of neglect that have no known parallels, in terms of sheer magnitude.

The myth of merit being attached to doctors is one which also needs to be shattered. Democratization (proper representation of backward castes which form the majority) and not professionalization (elitism) holds the key if we want any change for the good.

In the meantime, I am saddened to notice that many well-meaning people have actually found their Princess Diana in the medical students’ strikes. It’s glamorous. Pretty faces holding slogans any day get more prominence in media than black-faced coal mine workers. Or the landless tribals who get killed for defending their rights, or even the students who demand reservations because they are discriminated on grounds of merit. After all, just like caste, Merit is also a human construct.

Caste and Merit: Two sides of the same Coin?

What’s interesting is that both caste and merit were devised by the upper class Brahmins. When it suited them to rule over others, they used ‘Caste’ and aided the Kings in exploiting the masses. Those were the days when even the ‘poor’ Brahmins were comfortable being poor, because they gained respect ONLY by renouncing their wealth. People from villages to royal palace would continuously garland them with gifts and foods, and those poor Brahmins would not have to toil on fields and even if they did not own a palace they had unrestricted access to any house they wanted to visit, to rape lower caste virgins or to ‘banish’ lower caste rebels.

When the feudal society was “replaced” by capitalistic one (not entirely though as we learn more) by the same ruling class, the terms changed slightly. The moving money started ruling, instead of the concrete lands. At this juncture also, the ruling class (including the Brahmins) started monopolizing over the money since modern money economy also germinated from Gold (their traditional ownership) than crops (the farmers’ produce, although that also took place in lands owned by the landlords).

But with the revolution of the landless once again to cause imbalance of ruling structure, money found itself in slightly more democratic structure (just as the historic progression of everything else). Here is where some Brahmins and members of other ruling classes fell prey to competition. Before all the palaces and the institutions were about to be conquered by the hitherto landless class, the ruling coalition devised the Class Society.

The sustenance of Class Society:

Class Society in Democratic systems work in a hegemonist way, to facilitate power consolidation in the society on basis of “Knowledge”, another traditional weapon of the ruling class. Here also, the only ones who benefited were the small elites. But when the most accessible ones (the applications or the Arts) could be understood by the majority, the ruling elites raised the bar for the most inaccessible ones –only with the aim to exclude people, not include—(the principles or the Sciences).

At this juncture, the traditionally landless people are now rising up to demand their share in the inaccessible sciences, to stop further gaps between them and the knowledge, not just in terms of economic costs, but also in terms of social costs of understanding. In the past, we have seen how physical sciences were hijacked by the ruling elites also by practice. Indian bomb needed to be called a Hindu Bomb for that reason! The nuclear physics that earmarked the class society helped the traditional Pandits. What has a tribal society got to do with nuclear weapons? Even if it has some constructive uses, why should the traditionally landless village dwellers bother about this when they can live peacefully with their Mother River, without disturbing “geopolitics” of “Indian subcontinent?.

But as the class society progressed in its greed, the divisions became more apparent. The modern landless of India got most affected in the whole process. Bereft of traditional education, and threatened by industrial displacements, the majority of the poor have been organizing at several places of India at several levels. But at the same time, irrespective of the local area developments, and the cooperatives, there has been such an exoticization of the backward caste people that an imagery of them becoming engineers and doctors are inviting wraths from the traditional bastion holders.

Just like the “White Men’s Burdens”, the Brahminical burden to civilize Indian population has expressed itself in bad to worse forums. One comment on a blog read, “How can you let a SC/ST doctor conduct operation”? Its not unfortunate, its actually criminal to think that someone from a lower caste who get, lets say 40 marks less than the higher caste (for various reasons spanning from absence of English heritage, to lack of malpractice, to no proximity with the professor who rather wants to give away his daughter’s hand to a fellow Brahmin aspirant doctor) will become an inferior doctor.

With the current healthcare records of India as an indicator, if nothing else, the candidates getting lower marks (which is anyway improbable) must be allowed to replace the candidates with higher marks. For the practice of medicine is not meant to be proven in its elitism of institution or certificate rankings, but in the everyday dealings with suffering people. Established doctors and enrolled medical students who have clearly demonstrated that they do not feel for the fellow suffering aspirant students, are clearly also sending out a message that they are highly insincere, insensitive and criminal when it comes to dealing with suffering patients. We do not need high-scoring candidates now, all that India needs now is skilled people with human values that champions the causes of the dispossessed. We have the majority of such well meaning people (clearly evident by the way they have been tolerating a minor Hindu supremacist rule in India since decades now) in the country. What we need is to merely train them in the elite fields to make the skills accessible to most people. Since there are a handful of opportunist professionals (like airline pilots) blackmailing the country, Indian people perhaps should request doctors from fellow third world countries for a short duration and in the meantime, fix these irresponsible doctors behind bars, and completely overhaul the current healthcare system, where they must allow no more than 5% of upper caste people to get into the profession (they will be needed for short time, since the indifferent socialites will need some counseling from those so-called doctors who can actually empathize with their midlife crises).

No more Princess Diana tears, please. What we need is addressing of the real issues that affect THE MAJORITY, not the minority. When Bolsheviks came to power they had to overlook the pains caused to beautiful daughters of the royal families. When peasant revolutionaries of India chased the Kings down the streets, they did not spare the innocent children of the palace either. When a revolution takes place or almost takes shape (as in Nepal) one does not have time nor patience to attend the cute royal Dianas’ pleas.

At least 80% to 95% reservations of seats in medical institutes (merely to reflect the proportion of backward caste people), if not outright revolutionary takeover of the medical colleges, is a necessity at this critical juncture. If a small minority of 5% of people could rule over the country through complete control over elite institutions (and promote divisive oppressions), then 80% of people taking over every hospital to take care of their own lot through complete control over elite institutions (to make them mass institutes, and promote majority rule) is definitely going to be a welcome relief in India.


Is Reservation a Solution?

Fellow readers and activists Satya and Rajesh have sent me via an email a response they had, to the issue of reservation, at the UMass., Amherst mailing list “Indian Manifesto”. I simply love everything they have to say here. And especially the way they end the note with:

“One CANNOT reverse the arrow of time. In the last two decades, the lower castes are on the move and have been more influential than ever before, in determining national politics, distribution of power and resources, redefining culture, and the very texture of everyday life. That’s the greatest thing that has happened to India in the recent past. In fact, it is a more significant event in the history of Indian than even the independence struggle.”

Absolutely a must-read!

Medical Strikes: Revisiting few Elite Myths

Fellow reader Open to Discussion asks me some valid questions following my earlier post on the topic . I have decided to publish my answers here as well for more general readership.

OD asks:
1. why so much of poison my dear friend?
2. no where in india were the rulers were brahmins
entire UP and bihar had been ruled by Yadavs(OBC), rajasthan by jats (OBC), in tamil nadu all except Brahmins come under reserved cat, so some body amongst them must be ruler.
3. algebra questions are never asked in medical entrance!!
u set any syllabus, it does not matter, toppers will remain toppers.
for indigenous med, we have separate ayurvedic collages. there is no need to include it in allopathy

I respond:
Dear Open to Discussion:
The reason behind my relatively long posts is that I explore the forest, not stick to trees. If you will read the entire post, it merely says that it’s a wrong thing for elite students to protest against possibility of equal opportunity for students who have been historically denied the privilege, owing to their socio-economic class.

To further this humble opinion, I have cited examples to show how the ruling classes guard their interests and growth by NOT sacrificing their privilege.

I do not wish to influence you into believing one way or the other, but I do not wish to find your words in my mouth either. Hence, my quick responses to your questions:

1. There is no poison. But yes, lots of anger. Because I possess a privileged ‘caste’ background myself, and I would not wish to support such protests being done by people coming from my social locations. Therefore I feel something in me is at stake too. Coming from Orissa, I have witnessed firsthand the violence against the so-called lower-caste and untouchable people. By not denying my privilege, I have understood to what extent I am a part of the oppressive sphere. And by seeing that the cycle is not being allowed to change, again by the ruling classes in Orissa, the Brahmin Bureaucracy and the Patnaik governance, I would be naïve not to see the role of my social class in perpetuating the crisis. For all I know, if I took my resume to a place of work in Orissa, (or anywhere in India), I will not have to feel conscious of my surname and no one will make assumption that by family name, such as, ‘you are good only to mend shoes’. And you know what, I am born with this great privilege. Hence it’s not a poison. Its an understanding of being privileged and expressing resentments when such privilege is mis-utilized, as at the current juncture by some fellow medicos.

2. I do not like to be dragged into this, because I personally think some of the Indian rulers I will name now are my favorites too. However, my point was not to say that Brahmin rulers should not be there, but to say that we must reserve seats for rulers of other caste varieties too (and overwhelmingly so, since they represent a much wider people). However my friend, to refute your supposition, following are few exemplars:

Historically, yes Brahmins were never the rulers. In fact, Hardly ever! But they surely collaborated with the local kings to help the caste division take place according to their sacred texts. We are well aware of the Brahmin sponsored Mauryan coup against the Nandas. Or several such dynasties. Since my post is mostly about current India, we will focus on the here and now (the India which began in 1947).

First, there needs to be a distinction between who are the actual rulers. As you know, there are thousands of people in the power structure but only a few really implement the policies. There are very many different Nations inside India. Only a few govern them through federal laws. I will refer to them here; (note, not all of them are Brahmin supremacists at all…quite the contrary, many are very progressive indeed. But this was beyond the point…since you need the statistics..)

The prime ministers: Nehru, Indira, Rajiv (one family that actually ruled..!), P.V. Narasimha Rao, Morarji Desai and Atal Bihar Vajpayee… (did I leave out any other name…Shastriji?)…Whoa…that’s called real power.
Being the prime minister of India, being able to change national languages, being able to divide Tamil Nadu, being able to annex Tripura, being able to destroy Babri Masjid, being able to cause Bofors ….

Looking at the huge majority of PMs and all the Prime Minister’s Men (ministers, bureaucrats), India has been ruled ALWAYS by the Brahmin caste, if that answers your curiosity. It’s the prime ministers alone who decide over the fate of this country, alongwith their clouts of bureaucrats. Unless you want to include presidents, and we can talk of V.V. Giri, Shankar Dayal Sharma etc.

You bring up the question of Bihar and UP and cite OBC rulers. Clearly OBCs may not be equally disadvantaged. But partly also because they are more than 60% of population in those states. On a closer look, even as they are majority in UP, what do we see? Time after time, “Presidents Rule”. Don’t forget Romesh Bhandari’s weapon to destabilize UP! Or creation of Jharkhand and the perpetual poverty that plagues Bihar, once the most treasured state of India. To even think that Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party or Rashtriya Janata Dal have ever ruled the country is a lie. Not even DMK or AIADMK. Although I will come to Tamil Nadu now.
Her Highness Jayalalitha is also a Brahmin. Not just that, she is a loyal ally of the BJP! So when you say “in tamil nadu all except Brahmins come under reserved cat, so some body amongst them must be ruler”, you need do more research.

Kushwant Singh had given a statistical interface to suggest Brahminical hegemony in India long back. Those were the days when the right wing had not even seized India. Now situation is far worse. But here is a pointer to some of his findings:
The Brahmins control over 70% of the top decision-making posts in the political system, administration, judiciary, army, police, press, media and academics (Statistics on composition from 1935 and 1985)
For example, in 1935, during the Anglo-Brahmin Colonial Era, the 5% Brahmin caste group held most of the gazetted positions among Indians in the upper echelons of the administrative machinery. In 1985 one finds that out of 3,300 Indian Administrative Officers (IAS), 2,376 are Brahmins; from the rank of deputy secretaries upwards, out of 500, 310 are Brahmins; of the 26 state chief secretaries, 19 are Brahmins; of the 16 Supreme Court judges, 9 are Brahmins; of 438 district magistrates, 250 are Brahmins; and so on in other circles of power and policy in the Indian state. If we also include the “twice born” Brahmanical castes, mainly comprising the Banias and Kayasths, the combined state power of theirs jumps from 70% to almost 95%.

Now that says clearly something! We can look at all chief secretaries of India and confirm the statistics even in 2006. Lets not forget Romesh Sharma either! These are again instances of not Brahminism so much, as they are instances of an absence of lower castes and tribes in the actual power structure of India.

And what is the percentage of Brahmin population in India? Five %

3. As regards, Algebra in entrance tests, again we miss the point when we look at certain question papers in some states than looking at the entire philosophy. First off, only students who have science backgrounds are usually eligible to sit for these tests. Which essentially demands knowledge of mathematics. And yes, when I said Algebra, it also meant Formulae and Values in Physics, which are integral to the examinations. The point I was making is that many complicated concepts make up for the entrance test, and most are foreign to students of minority community, ESSENTIALLY because they cannot afford a two-year coaching preparation education to know these concepts!

Since a ‘good’ education that can help someone fit into the system’s demands requires Money with a big M, its not so simple to say that “Toppers will be Toppers”. Toppers are those people who have access to the best of resources in their fields of studies and have incentives good enough to motivate them to secure that position. Please take it from me, as I have topped in many exams (state level, university level etc) myself, and I have to feel humbled to say that it was nothing so extraordinary to have achieved what I did, which others with similar environment could not have. Its only a systematic deprivation of sections of society from availing the resources that undernourishes them. Even to get loans for coaching, one needs to have a rich men network, to begin with. Unless we block the desired number of seats for the backward people and coach them for free (while continuing to charge the rich for their kids’ education), we will be only part of the same oppressive ancestors who subjugated the country, territorially, and now as we realize more and more, mentally too.

Regarding Ayurveda, the point of reference was that the respect traditionally attached to Allopathic medicine science is because of the exclusivity and professionalism attached with Medical profession (reason why seats are always limited to begin with). And what I was offering was basic assertion that all of the medicinal practices (Allopathy, Ayurvedic and what we have…) need not gear towards becoming ‘elitist’. Since health is the most common factor for survival, the attitude of practitioners should be to “massify” their skills, not “classify”.

I am open to discussion as well. But more open to an understanding AND empathetic discussion geared towards social justice for people who are most marginal in our society; than towards justice for students who hold banners in their hands to shamelessly protest against equal opportunity (yes social equality needs sacrifice of individual liberty at many junctures). I can understand why the elites need to guard their class interests, but can never support their stands.

Medicos Strike: Sick! Yuck! Rotten stench!

It should not be surprising to notice that just as the Indian economy is getting liberalized day after day, Indian society is growing regressive quite at the same pace.

As an instance, we allowed private broadcasters to dominate television primetime. Once what used to be an instructional medium for a nascent republic, Doordarshan soon gave way to a television culture that heralded an era of perverse family-centric, monolithic, stereotyped middle-class squabbles. On another instance, India let go of its mission-centric national healthcare focus and allowed doctors to practice in private, for the rich, and to get paid by business trusts. In its latest instance, we allowed private education sphere to dictate the nation’s future, and the publicly funded institutions of learning that once strived to provide equal opportunity to all, soon succumbed to corporate norms of cut-throat competition and insecurity.

It is possibly a combination of all three (and many more such) making a simultaneous movement ahead, that is making sure that the gap between the privileged and the dispossessed is maintained and fostered.

At the same breath, as a consequence, it should not be surprising either to notice the recent demonstrations of the medical students against the proposal for reservation of seats. Not only does this movement sing to the tune of the global media hegemonists who thrive on “individualistic interests” of instant gratifications (by means of a dominating television culture), it also promotes the business sense of private concerns who place money above everything else even in basic needs such as healthcare; and nourishes the merit-myths of an unequal society in order to perpetuate exploitation of historically unprivileged people.

The ongoing medical students’ demonstrations
bring out simply the worst, the most disgraceful and most selfish core that can occupy human hearts. It’s not that this is something unique to Indian medical practitioners. Such pathetic stance of elitist bias can exhibit itself on the streets any given day at any place in the world.

But these are the times when rest of the world is slowly waking up to realize the need for “affirmative actions”, and “equal opportunity policies” to not only allow the ruling class an occasion to atone for causing historical injustices to discriminated sections of society, but also to understand that the society would not progress without those whose interests have been sacrificed at its alter. And ironically, these are the times when on the roads of India, privileged students are organizing efforts to prevent historically “forced” backward class of people from joining ranks!

Basically the dichotomy is this. The indigenous, tribals and “backward” castes peoples have been systematically exploited in the land of India since ancient times. Since the days of Aryan Invasion (which is basically an Indo-Iranian phase), a section of elites who formed the ruling class (Kshyatriya) always faced unsuccessful challenges from the people who originally inhabited the vast land from Himalayas to Kanyakumari. Unfortunately, as elsewhere, these indigenous people were never known to be violent or reactionary (a horrendous Tyrant Asoka realized this when he was massacring millions of Oriya tribals in 261 Before Common Era). They had already developed their own models of collective living (so-called ancient civilizations were already in place before “Aryan” invasions, just like America was already a people of inhabited land before Columbus “discovered” it). And for the ruling class invaders that ‘settled’ in India, conquering lands were easy, but to silent the egalitarian mass of tribal people from putting up resistance was the most arduous task. Not that the ruling elites were incapable of winning small wars against the tribal people, but the reality is they needed them to build roads, clean palaces and become sex slaves. (Just as today, the state and central governments of India would much rather do without the tribal people and their naxalite inspirations, but then, who would sweep the floors and clean the kitchen and become domestic slaves of the Babus?)

The elite minorities always need the presence of the larger majority of hapless people. Now not everyone in the elite minority section may be actually ruling. And not everyone from the larger majority may be suffering. But when it comes to guard interests of their respective historical classes, they know who to stick to (barring an extremely few exceptions…and those, we shall leave to Hindi filmmakers for sensationally outlandish cinemas). On a general rule of thumb, the elite minorities to remain guilt-free have chosen two principal methods to rule over: one, to divide people and ruthlessly suppress popular resentments, and two, to create a more inclusive basis for their governance to project themselves as representative of the majority.

One may argue that “divide and rule” has been the most potent weapon in the hands of the ruling class. From Mohandas Gandhi to Malcolm X, great freedom fighters have expressed this several times that some elite White men have always divided the world in order for them to rule. Whereas this is an accurate assessment of colonial history, in my view, there have been greater and far more effective tools of oppression in the hands of the ruling elites. And this one comes from more ancient times and has been lasting to more recent days! This one, I will call, “inclusive rule”.

To demonstrate validity, let’s go back to the days of Aryan/Columbus/White invasions. After discovering that annihilation of indigenous people creates more problems than its worth, and also realizing that the ruling class had lost all moral authority to rule in an ancient world where people were not only egalitarian, but highly spiritual (worshippers of river, sun, earth), the militarist ruling class sought an alternative solution. Why not to create a class of people who would come from within the masses, will possibly stay as the masses themselves, but yet serve the cause of the ruling class by NOT positing a division, but a coalition.

Thus the movement aimed at converting of spiritual into religious began by the ruling militarists who took definitive help of a group of “learned” people who in different religions are called differently (in Hindu India, they were declared the Brahmins). The innately spiritual tribal people were assured that it is in their own good to accept the Brahmins as the higher forms of human beings since they have attained from birth already what masses of people have been striving to attain throughout life. To a society that was unaware and absolutely seeking no God (since it found the Eternal in every element of nature anyway), such a Brahmin striving was named ‘God’. The people of the mountains and rivers were told that they did not know what they sought for, if they did not seek for that one God, who the Brahmins had a way to communicate with.

Simultaneous world history shows similar activities taking place everywhere else. The Americans (I mean, the real original ones) were forcibly converted into Christianity by invading Europeans. Bible was forced down the throats of the indigenous people who hitherto had only worshipped the elements of nature. In every continent, the Aryan/Columbus/White mix in its overtly ambitious project of conquering (count Napoleon to Asoka within this bracket) the world followed this method. NOT of divide and conquer. But of being Inclusive Rulers. From Chanakya to Machiavelli, all political treatise involved diplomatic ways to rule lands, not by causing outright divisions among people.

So, once the society was comprised of different caste structures (or liberal Hindus may say “division-of-labor” structure—as if it helps any bit), the ruling coalitions (of Kshyatriyas and Brahmins….or ….landlords and priests) continued their ruling legacies for centuries hence on, putting forth the simple proposition: “we are the mandated rulers, blessed and permitted by God to create rules of legal living”.

Today, as mandated rulers, the politicians appoint their favored people too. The judges in India still pass judgments from over a table that shows a mythological figurehead from Hindu Epic. Judges in the West still have Biblical inscriptions on the walls of courtrooms (or just outside). The ruling class since those days of brutal conquests have been parroting the same lines of “God Bless Our Land”, “God’s Own Land” etc to position their seats of power as clearly invincible and definitely indestructible. When God, in their projection is the creator, and when God wills their rules, how can their seats be overthrown?

Fortunately, these opportunistic alliances have never succeeded at ruling for long at a stretch. Despite the masterminded intelligence plans of including people in their ruling coalitions, they have only given vent to a dictum created by themselves: Power corrupts. Neither power instrument nor corruption mechanism ever existed in the communitarian ways of living in the beginning (a funny quip I have to invent here: … “In the beginning..there were peoples”!). These were the contributions of these ruling classes. And they kept felling victims to their own trap almost all the time. In name of monarchy, they fought with each other for power. Princes killed their father Emperors for power. Second queen poisoned the food of the King so that her son will fight and win battle with son of the first queen. All kinds of perverse self-centric conquests permeated this culture.

All along, in the historical stages of progress, peoples’ revolutions, although never highlighted, made kingdoms fall, resulted in several wars where people came on the verge of eliminating power addiction among the ruling classes. But using all kinds of manipulative methods to rule was never the prerogative of the oppressed masses. Perhaps in the daily slavery, they did not have time to devise plans. Or perhaps they had grown conditioned into defeatist mindsets (these are the only two reasons why people today don’t fight the militarists either). When the coalition rules did not succeed, and indeed their inability to contain popular resentments caused them to kill each other inside kingdoms, people grew more conscious of their need to eliminate these class structures. Although, deeply uprooted from their rationalist thought processes, and perhaps blinded by religious fervors too, people still have always wanted to punish the ruling class. From Sepoy Mutiny of 19th century to Grandmother Against War of 21st, people have always fantasized about teaching a lesson or two to the ruling class combines. But ask them if they would like to rule then? The answer always invariably been: “Not interested in politics. Thank you!”. I always despised those answers, because they smack of indifference. But ask me, and I will answer very similarly too. Why? Because people refuse to play into the game of the ruling class. It’s not just for Marie Antoinette to say ‘let them have cake’. Its also peoples’ prerogative to say “let them fight and squabble and rule and die”.

Such a people have always existed. In fact, many from these people (and count me in that) accidentally or deliberately, simply do not believe that power games are necessarily a good thing. These people never believed that Kings were doing any good to the society. They provided the backbone for popular resentments and a wish to establish a form of society that existed in the beginning, lacking competition, thriving on cooperation and understanding.

Once the ruling coalition of militarists and priests came to the realization that like them, not everybody is a pig and not everyone wants to get dirty, not everyone cares about their harems and their crowns and their glories, and actually most of them are so fed up with the elite culture of writing history that they would rather revolt and take away their thrones and dump them into obscurity, the ruling class changed its strategies. Of course, the indigenous people along with their other working class counterparts forced the kings to flee. And they refused to work as bonded laborers to landlords, and work as slaves to masters. But of course before things could get really out of control, and more radical elements among the resisters could actually behead all of the ruling class folks (not out of their love for violence…but out of their love for tolerance for a peaceful society which could be established only without lecherous treacherous emperors), the ruling class left the kingdoms and created the parliaments or Houses.

The transition of ruling class from slaveowners to “elected” presidents has been extremely smooth. The transition of Royals to “elected” members of parliament has been equally smooth. The transition of feudal lords to market capitalists has been definitely smooth. The transition of priests and Brahmins to educators and scholars has been exceedingly smooth. The conversations of transitions left out the indigenous and working class peoples entirely! So much so, in fact, the transitions needed to take place without their consent.

The so-called democratic institutions everywhere in the world were founded on the well-laid out plans charted by the ruling class, which changed colors (from White British imperialists to Brown Indian capitalists) but the transfers of powers took place between the parties that agreed upon with each other whereby the dominance cycle would have to continue, with direct or indirect benefits to the ruling elites, only.

So for instance, in India, there was a transfer of power quickly done, just when the British realized that freedom movement among peasant revolutionaries were possible—people who didn’t seek power and were not affiliated to any political parties that would agree to future British terms. They came to this conclusion after several times imprisoning Indian leaders, just to test if Indian people could lead a struggle without these leaders. And spontaneous peasant uprisings everywhere suggested they bloody well could and shall. Before things could turn ugly for the ruling class (landlords, kings of princely states, Indian opportunistic leaders, Hindu fanatics, and British rulers), the (potential) ruling coalition comprising all these aforesaid categories made quick compromises. Everyone’s interests were taken care of. Landlords who had enslaved hundreds of indigenous people were let go without penalty (even their lands remained with themselves, until after Indira Gandhi was pressured by Soviet Bloc to act on these pests). Kings of princely states anyway had left their palaces fearing murders, but they were all provided security and even parliamentary tickets to fight elections. Opportunistic political leaders quickly agreed with any and every terms so that they could also enjoy the seats of power, no matter if it meant division of the country and separated families from each other and caused millions of deaths. Hindu fanatics had a field day in keeping the huge majority of country with them, to the greediest extent that they refused to even let go of a Muslim state of Kashmir. British rulers of course after tea parties and tiresome map drawings, left to a wealthier exploiter Britain most comfortably, without being tried and hung in public even for once in an Indian court for all the millions of lives they had taken (although today, Indian ruling class is very interested in Saddam Hussein’s trial)!

The winners took it all, and loser people stood small. These small people were soon called names in the free India. The dominant argument went that India would progress quickly if the government would not spend money on these low class people. The elite Brahmins who had declared the indigenous and tribal people as ‘Untouchables’ shivered at the idea of allowing them a place in the Indian mainstream. ‘They were good only for the jungles, after all!’ So in every possible fields, attempts were made to keep the ‘backward’ castes (whoever devised that term clearly thought of ‘his’ caste as a ‘forward’..sic! because its not meant in just the economic sense) out of focus. When they could not stop Ambedkar, they projected Nehru. Although Nehru was actually progressive, he was since 1930’s dominated by Ballavbhai Patel in Indian politics. So even as Nehru sat on the throne, Patel ran the show after doing the country a favor by integrating the princely states (whose kings were anyway thrown out by the revolutionary masses) with Union of India. When Communists came to Kerala, they together dismissed its legitimacy. When Dravidian languages raised their heads, they installed a first president of India who was a Hindi fanatic and Hindi-fied the country. The Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan slogan went hand in hand with the ruling combines.

The structure changed, but the coalition never changed. Although the BJP might be cribbing about not tasting power for three decades, it should take heart that greater Hindu representatives were always ruling over India in the garb of Congress. S Radhakrishnan, the first vice president was an authority on why Hinduism was the best religion in the world. Religious, casteist perverts continued the same rampage directly in the ‘free’ India which they used to carry out on behalf of British imperialists in the days of colonial India. The structure had just been changed. Not replaced.

The history of this so-called Independent India is now nearing 60 years. And the original inhabitants of India, the indigenous peoples even to this day are being sacrificed at the alter of ‘development’. Be it the great redundant Dam on Narmada or be it the shining McDonalds at nook and corners, the tribal people have no place in India’s landscape to go to. They are being denied rivers they have worshipped for generations. They are being charged the same taxes (or more) that they paid to the landlords earlier, now in more sophisticated manner. They are being displaced and sent to the city outskirts to live in inhuman slums. Forced to sell their own children in want of food. If their child has a talent, (like Buddhia) its being targeted to be killed. They have no ways and means to compete with the city-dweller upper caste coalitions who know how to order a ‘Maharaja Mac’. They end up becoming rag pickers, sex workers, and domestic slaves.

All this, not because we never did not have policies in place to reserve seats for these oppressed people. In fact, Indian policies for reservations (thanks to the only backward caste guy in the entire constituent assembly—BR Ambedkar) were in place long before the US opted for Affirmative Actions to benefit the Black population at education and workplaces. But the fact remains, the “Inclusive Politics” diplomacy works to put up an illusive front, and whereas it says the law is there, it does not guarantee that it’s implemented. Just as the law is harsh on rapists, but rapists get away anyway. We have reservation policies in place, its just that it does not get implemented.

For instance, let’s begin from the latest scenario. With growing privatization, the law for reservations will not hold good. Private concerns do not give a damn to government regulations (partly explains why they are called private, and not public). Of course, they do encourage workplace diversity and end up recruiting many women candidates. In effect, these candidates are chosen not on basis of caste, but on gender alone. And whereas that’s a good beginning, it’s still like the second wave feminism where white women got equal rights as white men! The backward caste women never stand a chance to get employed in this case. That’s the reason why I have always opposed the Women’s Reservation Bill in Indian Parliament, because it will eventually lead to wives and daughters of royal families ruling the country. It’s another story they are already in such a large population in parliament. The Indian mainstream media acting as their pimp, keep criticizing lower caste Rabri Devi, but puts Her Highness Rajmata Vijayraje Scindia of BJP on Page 3.

Educational institutions are increasingly becoming private, hiring teachers by providing them higher scales and better facilities to groom students. They are interviewing parents before admitting children and finding out if the parents are rich and ‘English’ enough first! (Sic!)

Healthcare industry likewise is hiring doctors and grooming them to be the best, funding their researches, sending them abroad, installs sophisticated machineries, and caters to elite clients alone. Basically the best doctors are today affiliated with private practice, flatly refusing to treat the poor, who need the treatments the most owing to their circumstantial disadvantages and lack of access to other healthy platforms.

Privatization of Indian economy is not an accidental phenomenon. It’s a very well envisaged part of the ruling combine that has historically ruled. The land-grabbing, convent educated, wealthy, upper-caste social bulls and butterflies of India find it extremely convenient to maintain their own class status. To that extent, they are willing to go to any end. They are the ones who created the class society on basis of language (Sanskrit vs Pali or Hindi vs Assamese/Oriya), religion (Hindu vs Islam), caste (Brahmin vs scheduled castes/tribes), education (Engineering/technology vs Humanities), economics (landowners vs landless), geographical location (North vs the rest), employment (bureaucrats vs ragpickers/constables) etc.

And now they want to make sure of few more things in order to secure their seat belts all the better. They have orchestrated an extremely elitist demonstration which is causing havoc in daily lives of millions of people in India. They are blackmailing the entire country to decide once and for all, on the issue of reservations for backward caste people. And with the convenient middle class mentality that they have been able to create now, the decision will soon be against reservations. And that will be yet another victory in their history books. And yet another struggle of the oppressed against the mighty, that will never be taught at classrooms. For the time being, if you need a chapter, draw a leaf from SCP’s simply outstanding analysis about the need of reservations and the criminally redundant positions taken up by the elite students. Click here to read this excellent post.

Reminds to me, if the country had given equal support to the Tribal people who came on the streets to protest against police state’s organized killing of 14 innocent people and the subsequent mutilation of their body parts to evade post-mortem charges at Kalinganagar, we would not have seen these elite medical students on the streets. They should have been by now serving the villages of the same indigenous peoples who need medical assistance, and bloody well deserve it.

These medical professionals are examples of the most ungrateful humans. Before their conscience pricks, they should realize few things: that they are not smart from the womb, that they are being groomed to be doctors, and that a certain number of seats does not mean that that’s the number of people who are talented in the country. They should also not confuse talent for a skill, with merit to qualify for the skill. They should realize that indigenous people have a lot to bring into the medical profession through their crude understanding just as some elites have introduced convoluted Ayurveda as an alternative form or just as someone like a Deepak Chopra introduces Hindu ways to healthy living. The world should know of the elementary nature cures, which can be introduced by people from the rural areas only. For this of course, we must ensure the so-called medical entrance tests to be reconfigured to include questions pertaining to tribal and Other Backward castes’ history and their history of struggles with medical facilities and seek their judgments on how to improve healthcare system in India, and stop asking frivolously complicated European algebra questions…

The police will surely not kill 14 of these students (since they are children of bloodsucking bureaucrats and tax evading businessmen, and because their lives are not worth just fifty thousand rupees like the Orissa Chief Minister estimated as the cost of tribal lives he took away). But the police must put all these disturbing people behind bars and the Supreme Court of India must act immediately to forbid these people from practicing ever in their life as doctors. In my humble opinion, they should start working as janitors on the roadside as they are good to take to streets so often, and for that they need to sit for national entrance tests too. For the rest, who do not qualify, I am sure some of them will ‘attempt’ (and of course never commit!!!) self-immolation acts already enacted by the dramatist par excellence Rajiv Goswami during Mandal issue.

It’s a shameful chapter that the history of India has to go through, and down six generations, children reading history books will know how grossly pathetic Indian civilization actually has been, evaluated from the lens of mainstream culture—a thoroughly racist, casteist, sexist, patriarchal, elitist country based on systematic discrimination, state sponsored fraud, and oppressive regimes. And where the oppressed are killed by police bullets and sympathies go for the reactionary elites.

Madhusudan Das, Mahatma Gandhi and Manual Working Class

Gandhism and Leninism surely intersect at interesting crossroads. And they could be more pivotal than merely interesting. At the macro level they intersect at their common abhorrence towards militarism. At the micro level, they are one with the advocacy for community cooperatives. At both stages though, interests are similar: promote peace, for it is at this situation alone that cooperatives can exist. In every conceivable way, Gandhism and Leninism stressed on peace and cooperation because of their stress on workers’ welfare.

The question which naturally arises then is, if Gandhi believed in social emancipation of working class who worked in cooperatives. The answer is clearly yes, but the methods he would have employed would be different, some of the arguments follow. But I feel, relating Gandhi to working class struggle is as moot a question as relating need of violence to further state’s interest in Stalinist Russia.

I have always believed that Gandhi and Stalin (or you may say Lenin) both used the long-term goals of revolution as primary objective and immediate concerns as secondary. Gandhi’s call for tolerance in face of brutal murders of thousands of Indians was as stoically violent, as was the communist path to emancipation of working class in face of gory class wars.

How then were the goals in liberating Indian masses and emancipating Russian working class similar? The answer is, by the yardstick of labor. By the recognition of working tools. This is where the weapons of the masses come to focus. And Gandhi intersects with the Left.

Gandhian philosophy: From Hindu-centric to Workers-centric:

The critical question here, then is not to the extent that Gandhi respected working peoples’ tools, but how did he acquire this knowledge of need. Whereas Gandhi’s relation with the Left could be an inferred one, in oblivion to his own knowledge (although he has admired Lenin several times in his life and he had only great words to describe the revolutionary), his understanding of working peoples’ aspirations to self assertions is clearly an acquired knowledge.

The educated and well-off Gandhi upon his entry into India saw things similar to South Africa in terms of racism, but not in terms of economic class of peoples. This is important to understand because in South Africa, Gandhi stood for the interests of Indian trading class, not the most poorest economic class (who incidentally were the Blacks of Africa, not so much the browns of India). The only way he could get away with that slant of social justice was to claim to his nationalistic role, and his subsequent inevitable arrival in India to pursue that cause to his death.

What then, led to the transformation in Gandhi from being a Hindu nationalist, to craft a radical talisman; his core belief that he had to work for the ‘poorest of the poor’? What led to his famous declaration that every step that we make must be made towards welfare of only the Poorest of the Poor (the proletariat)? Obviously, his exposure to Gujarat did not do Gandhi any enlightenment. His association with industrialists and trading class of India (just like in South Africa) would have again led him astray into supporting the Indian bourgeois cause of petitioning in the Indian National Congress than walking across all villages to mobilize the greatest mass movement in the world history. What brought him the change, the new worldview?
It was Orissa, a state of India, that continues to be the poorest and most underdeveloped state of the vast country. And the chief architect of Orissa’s struggle for independence, Utkal Gaurav Madhusudan Das, whose birth anniversary was celebrated last week.

Teachings of Madhusudan Das:
Gandhi came to learn from Madhusudan Das that two things afflicted India the most: poverty and superstitions. Basically, the lack of class consciousness and adoption of religious practices. (Interestingly, those days, these two were also the primary motivations for the Bolsheviks to cause revolution in Russia.)

And the real life enactor of those struggles in India was Madhusudan Das. Gandhi knew of two postulates: that India was not poor historically, and its Gods were not discriminatory historically either. The ancient rich state of Orissa, and the most universally worshipped Lord Jagannath were the biggest riddles for Gandhi to solve. And in doing so, Gandhi would change his entire course of action, from representing the Congress (his initial interests in presiding it) to representing the people (his growing attachment to causes of peoples in daily lives). Gandhi wanted an end to religious chauvinism, to Hindu supremacists, to Brahminical casteists and to economic exploitators. For him, the role model was an Oriya of great eminence, Madhusudan Das.

Talking of how he started his struggle for freedom of his self and others, Gandhi pointed at both Jagannath culture and Orissan poverty as the eye-opening experiences. He said, “You know that in the whole of our country the land of Orissa is the dearest to me. As soon as I returned to India I began to hear of Orissa’s poverty and famine. We raised an amount and sent over Thakkar Bapa in the capacity of a servant of this afflicted province and organized famine relief.”

Those were the days when Orissa was really afflicted. Her Lord Jagannath was hijacked by the conquerors of the land who spoke different languages, pretended to be representative of Orissan people and instead forced opium addiction on the poor peasants, and the non-Oriya traders used their lobby to force brahminical supremacy over a large indigenous population of Orissa that were either highlanders or just forest dwellers. In a way, the poverty of mineral rich Orissa was brought on it by the ruling classes of adjoining states who also blackmailed some native Kings into forcing cultural seclusion (attempts to make Hindi a state language in Sambalpur, Bangali as language in rest of the state etc), religious dogmatism (project the Lord Jagannath from a universal goddess of peasant class, a black god representing the working class aspirations and the most secular one, for some of whose greatest followers came from religion of Islam too—the most famous being Bhakta Salabega, to a male god who banned entry of non-hindus and the oppressed), and enforced poverty (the spread of opium—literally in Orissa to keep it economically weak).

Few Oriya leaders who were educated and exposed to international working class movements took up the challenge to fight these three pronged reactionary overbearings of language-religion-economics issue. The primary of them was Utkal Gaurav Madhusudan Das, who went on to inspire Gandhi to lead national struggle against religious dogmatism.

Gandhi’s struggle against the Hindu Conservatives & Reformists:
Gandhi said he could not give up his struggles against the Sanatanists (the hindu practitioners). Indeed, he went on to say, “I also realized that if I could serve Orissa somewhat I would by so doing serve India. Thus Orissa became for me a place of pilgrimage—not because the temple of Lord Jagannath was there—for it was not open to me, as it was not open to the Harijans—but because I thought of a novel way of touring the country for the sacred mission of the abolition of untouchability. I had heard that the so-called sanatanists were enraged at my mission of removing untouchability and would even try to frustrate it with violence. If they were really so minded, I said to myself, I should make their work easy by discarding the railway train and motor-car and trekking through the country. Moreover, people don’t go on a pilgrimage in cars and trains.

And if there was trouble in Puri because of the anger of the sanatanists, we could not flee from their wrath. It does not behove a satyagrahi to run away. We must face it. I could not do all this in a car or a railway train, and so I decided to perform the rest of the Harijan pilgrimage on foot. The temple of Lord Jagannath has the reputation of being the most famous in India, for there all human distinctions are supposed to vanish, and all sorts of people, Brahmin and pariah, brush shoulders with one another vying for the darshan of the Lord and even eat His prasad out of one another’s hands. But evidently it had outlived that reputation and the description had become a fiction, for the priests would not admit Harijans, but throw them out of the doors of the Lord of the World. I said to myself that so long as these distinctions of high and low endured before the very eyes of the Lord of the World, that Lord was not my Lord, that He was the Lord of the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas who exploited his name and kept Harijans out, but certainly not the Lord of the World. My ambition of restoring its old reputation to the temple is yet unfulfilled, and you have to help me in fulfilling it. So long as the doors of the Jagannath temple are closed to the Harijans, they are closed to me as well.”

This struggle of Gandhi against the Sanatan Dharmi or the Hindus, was inspired by Madhusudan Das of Orissa, who had himself, out of sheer disgust at Hindu supremacists had adopted Christianity, even if just to demonstrate that untouchability was not going to be practiced by him at any level and nor be tolerated.

Madhubabu’s progressive roots:
If Gandhi learnt the lessons in racism at South Africa, he learnt the ways to deal with it, from Madhubabu (fondly so called). Madhubabu had set before Gandhi an example, which the latter would continuously refer to, while defining essence of what a human being should aspire for. Madhubabu, despite his high qualifications as a lawyer, not only opened a tannery in Cuttack, Orissa, but also worked there himself. He invested his own money, worked by his own hands and exemplified at least few core virtues that were to guide Gandhian philosophy in future: self-reliance, non-discrimination (since until then, only the “untouchables” were relegated the work of tanning), and relentless perseverance.

Gandhi was so moved by this living example that he wrote to industrialist GD Birla on September 27, 1925 (during his first series of struggles itself), to lend a helping hand to Madhubabu in his loss-making venture.
“Shri Madhusudan Das owns a tannery at Cuttack which he has developed into a limited company. I feel like acquiring a majority of its shares…. The tannery’s liabilities amount to Rs. 1,20,000. It is necessary to rescue it from this dead weight. The tannery uses only the hides of dead animals….; I would also like you to undertake its management. If that is not practicable, I shall find someone else who can manage it. The tannery has a few acres of land which I have seen myself. Shri Madhusudan Das has spent a considerable amount on it out of his own pocket.”

Gandhi acknowledged that there was a need for the country to be sensitized in the direction of thought that was pursued by Madhubabu. Indeed, he thought Madhusudan Das was showing light in the direction of future that India must strive towards: use of hands and feet to abolish class society (yet another Marxist principle) and establish an industrial climate based on vocation (a Soviet measure during that period). In “Navajivan” of September 23, 1928, Gandhi wrote an editorial, “This country needs an industrial climate. In the education of this country, the vocational aspect should constitute its dominant part. When this takes place, the students who will go on learning a craft will support their schools through it. Shri Madhusudan Das had conceived such a plan with regard to his tannery in Cuttack. The plan was a fine one. But it did not materialize as the prevailing atmosphere in the country provided no encouragement to vocational training or a tannery. Why should not carpentry be an indispensable part of our higher education? Education without a knowledge of weaving would be comparable to the solar system without the sun. Where such trades are being properly learnt, the students should be able to meet the expenses of their own schools. For this scheme to succeed, the students should have physical strength, will-power and a favorable atmosphere created by the teachers. If a weaver could become a Kabir, why cannot other weavers become, if not Kabirs, at any rate, Gidwanis, Kripalanis or Kalelkars? If a cobbler could become a Shakespeare, why cannot other cobblers become, if not great poets, at any rate, experts in the fields of chemistry, economics and such other subjects?”

Not just blatant untochability, but also the reformist Hindu argument (some quote Swami Vivekananda to substantiate it) that caste division is a necessity to maintain division of labor was completely quashed by Madhusudan Das in his own trade and by Gandhi in his following Madhubabu’s examples.

Need for Public Sector:
Madhusudan Das was not only the greatest fighter against caste and class society, he also enlightened Gandhi about the need to preserve the ethnic living arts of the peoples by welcoming industrialization on national terms (public sector industries). In the editorial on “Swedeshi vs Foreign” in Navajivan on June 19, 1927, Gandhi paid glowing tribute to Madhubabu for his works in words and deeds: “Raw materials worth crores of rupees are produced in this country and, thanks to our ignorance, lethargy and lack of invention, exported to foreign countries; the result is, as Shri Madhusudan Das has pointed out, that we remain ignorant like animals, our hands do not get the training which they ought to and our intellects do not develop as they should. As a consequence, living art has disappeared from our land and we are content to imitate the West. As long as we cannot make the machines required for utilizing the hide of dead cattle, worth nine crores, available in our country, I would be ready to import them from any part of the world and would still believe that I was scrupulously keeping of the world and would still believe that I scrupulously keeping the vow of swadeshi. I would believe that I would be only discrediting that vow by refusing, out of obstinacy, to import those machines. Similarly our country produces a great many things with medicinal properties, and those come back to us in the form of a variety of drugs or other articles. It is our duty to import any machines, and obtain any help, which will enable us to utilize these things in our own country. Swadeshi is an eternal religious duty. The manner of following it may, and ought to, change from age to age. The principle of swadeshi is the soul and khadi is its body in this age and in this country.”

Talking of “Deadly march of Civilization”, Gandhi said in Young India dated May 10, 1928, that “Under the guise of the civilizing influence of commerce the innocent people of Burma are being impoverished and reduced to the condition of cattle. As Sjt. Madhusudan Das has pointed out, people who merely work with cattle and forget the cunning of the hand by giving up handicrafts are impoverished not only in body but also in mind.

Tolstoy and Madhusudan Das:
In support of workers’ unique contributions, and the needs for intellectuals to stand in solidarity and their participation in workers’ movements, Gandhi compared Madhusudan Das to Lev Tolstoy: “The late Madhusudan Das was a lawyer, but he was convinced that without the use of our hands and feet our brain would be atrophied, and even if it worked it would be the home of Satan. Tolstoy had taught the same lesson through many of his tales.” (Speech at a Marwari Shiksha Mandal on October 22, 1937)

Even as the British were busy creating the class society of high-paying bureaucrats and “lowly” peasants, Gandhi remained unruffled because he always had Madhubabu as the example to follow. At Birbol, in a village industries exhibition on March 25, 1938, Gandhi stressed again, “Man differs from the beast in several ways. As the late Madhusudan Das used to say, one of the distinctions is the differing anatomy of both. Man has feet and hands with fingers that he can use intelligently and artistically. If man therefore depended wholly and solely on agriculture, he would not be using the fingers that God has specially endowed him with. We will be worthy of being called human beings if we utilize our fingers. Moreover, mere agriculture cannot support us, unless it is supplemented by the work of the hands and the fingers.”

Khadi and genesis of the Mahatma:
Likewise, Gandhi’s core realization for stress on Khadi as a village industry came from Madhubabu’s legacy that he left behind. In a speech at a public meeting in Nagpur, Gandhi said on March 1, 1935, “It was during my walk in Orissa, in the course of my Harijan tour, that it was clearly brought home to me that the village industries must be revived if khadi is to be universal.
I could not have realized this in any tour by rail or car. As the late Madhusudan Das had said, our villagers were fast being reduced to the state of the brutes with whom they worked and lived as a result of the forced idleness in which they passed their days. If they continued in that state, not even independence would improve the state of India. I, therefore, decided that I must, even in the evening of my life, make a heroic effort to end this idleness, this inertia.
……..We have to employ all these crores of human machines that are idle, we have to make them intelligent machines, and unless cities decide to depend for the necessaries of life and for most of their other needs on the villages, this can never happen. We are guilty of a grievous wrong against the villagers, and the only way in which we can expiate it is by encouraging them to revive their lost industries and arts by assuring them of a ready market.”

Similarly at another public speech at Ramgarh on March 14, 1940, Gandhi said, “The true Indian civilization is in the Indian villages. The modern city civilization you find in Europe and America, and in a handful of our cities which are copies of the Western cities and which were built for the foreigner, and by him. But they cannot last. It is only the handicraft civilization that will endure and stand the test of time. But it can do so only if we can correlate the intellect with the hand. The late Madhusudan Das used to say that our peasants and workers had, by reason of working with bullocks, become like bullocks; and he was right. We have to lift them from the estate of the brute to the estate of man, and that we can do only by correlating the intellect with the hand. Not until they learn to work intelligently and make something new every day, not until they are taught to know the joy of work, can we raise them from their low estate.”

Workers’ tools of freedom:
Workers’ self-reliance, their pride in their own hands and feet, their resistance to superstitious deviance, their need for correlation of intellect with the hand—Gandhi followed Madhu Sudan Das in his footsteps throughout in the struggle for peoples’ freedom.

The tools of the oppressed, according to Madhubabu were their own hands and feet. The tools of the oppressors were the opiums—religious and otherwise. Gandhi understood these basic tenets of human service from his great teacher-Madhusudan Das.

Today, in an increasingly sophisticated machinery world, as we inch more toward monopolistic corporate societies, lessons of Madhusudan Das should not be lost on us. And the dignity of each work, as Madhubabu used to preach and practice, should remain a hallmark in our collective thinking. For, only when we have learnt to appreciate the workers, can we distinguish the seeds of exploitations. Only when we acknowledge the contributions of the working class of the entire world, can we differentiate the ruling class of the unipolar world. Only by realizing that the part-time workers are exploited in the name of non-exemptness, in the name of disguised employment, in the name of unauthorized working permits etc, can we acknowledge that without these so-called low class workers, we would not even exist today as a human race. Workers deserve the rights they demand, in every parts of the world, and we must acknowledge that they deserve equal pay for equal works, no matter the nature of the work, as long as the hours are the same. For a change, like Madhubabu, we must prepare ourselves to undertake any kinds of works, just to be in solidarity with the working class interests, without any discriminations!