Beyond the Judiciary – Reservation as Reparation

Written for Radical Notes
Thursday, 19 April 2007
Saswat Pattanayak

“The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expressions of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas; hence of the relations which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance” (Marx and Engels).

The recent Supreme Court of India decision imposing a stay on the implementation of the 27 percent reservation for the “other backward classes” (OBCs) in elite institutions is a desperate attempt to secure a few public institutions exclusively for the ‘meritorious’ few, whose merit rests on accumulated wealth, connections and opportunities. This is also an attempt to draw a limit to the concessions that a neoliberal regime can admit (for the sake of public legitimacy) against capitalism’s Malthusian values which it is supposed to protect. Already the ruling classes in India – the capitalists and their political and institutional henchmen have been troubled by the growing demand for affirmative action in the private sector. The SC decision comes as a relief for the executive and the legislature, who are formally bound to local interests and pressure. On the other hand, the judiciary is above and beyond every democratic and institutional binding, thus can be more consistent in its approach. Even if the Indian government’s attempt to solicit the opinion of a constitutional bench to overrule the two judges bench decision result in the implementation of the reservations, the present judgment comes as a clear warning – this far and no further!

Here we will address the above issues from two disparate quarters: one, from the lens of the Supreme Court itself, since it appears like the judiciary might have acted here almost independently (considering all the criticisms it has been receiving from political parties), and two, from the perspective of the class society in India, at a more micro level.

Judicial Elitism

If we agree that despite all the technological progresses that should have made life for everyone way easier in the planet, the world is still in a despicable state suffering from unjust social order where majority of the human population is at the receiving end-afflicted by poverty, unemployment, homelessness-across countries, then something somewhere has gone really wrong. And perhaps to set things correct, to offer not mere sacred guidelines but forceful means to implement them, the societies have formed relatively autonomous judicial systems, which are considered essential for establishing the much-revered rule of law. Apparently the judiciary comprises the wiser of the lots deciding over how we are all going to lead lives, when there are disputes and conflicts.

However, the reality is that the revered judiciary for most comprises either people who are close to power structure (when they are selected by the government), or people who get there through sheer academic elitism (by virtue of their access to top law schools). In either case, the judiciary then does not necessarily, and very rarely comprise people, enriched by their varied experiences of social failures in life through which they understand the complexities of living conditions. Often times they are fed through to good schools and better jobs by utilizing their family’s Old Boys Networks. Most often the judges then reflect the interests of the upper social strata of the society – becoming in themselves, the rich, creamy layer. Hence, even when they seem charitable, it is charity that is expected ‘normally’ from these strata.

The basic agenda before the judiciary is to deliberate on what is the best way of maintaining the status quo within a given legal and institutional framework. Revolution cannot be enacted by the judges – on the contrary, when a revolution or any grand change seems imminent, it rests upon the judiciary to make it jurisprudentially ‘normal’, legal and systemically palatable.

On the other hand, one of the basic elements in the conception of peoples’ movements, howsoever moderate, is their challenge to the institutionalization and alienation of rules from popular scrutiny and control, even if they are not explicitly against them. This aspect puts them in conflict with the ‘rulers’, i.e. those who oversee the implementation of these rules. Naturally, every time the activists land at the court’s door for justice, by this very act itself they fail their cause, upholding the ‘sanctity’ of the court or the jurisprudential policing. The court as the arbitrator appointed by the system to negotiate between the system and peoples can legitimately do anything. It has famously disgraced millions of people attached to their landless movements time and again. It is because of the court that displaced peoples (a la Narmada) do not receive any justice. It is because of the court that the high-rises are still allowed to exploit reservoirs worldwide. It is thanks to the court that no ruling has ever banned the police from attacking the workers when they stage a protest against the exploiting bosses. In fact, it is the court alone that has prevented the working class strikes from being legal.

If the society has made any headways in its civilizational history – if it has forced even a faint “sense” of equality among men and women, and among the races of people-it is because of the thousands of movements outside the courtroom-and, always against the prevailing social order. A court merely observes the situations outside to safeguard its own interests inside, because the court often consists of the same class of people that become the object of protests. As the agreements are reached outside, the rulings are made inside-which is why the court is always for months (or weeks) delayed in taking decisions. In the present case, let’s wait till August, the judges have cautiously remarked.

Who’s Afraid of the Class Society in India?

For, it is outside the courtroom, the realities are more apparent, as they are unmediated by the jurisprudential exactitude, which trims down the realities to fit them in the judges’ learned sense. After all, most people do not pretend to be either wise or learned. In a country like India, where fifty percent of women and 35% of all people are sheer illiterate, people have been even instructed that they are not learned. And since wisdom in the age of information warfare is constituted of how much one succeeds in reading books and rulebooks, and not in reading people and situations, the large majority of Indian population is considered to be object, not subject of knowledge, of power.

How else can the country still be managing itself to be riding a racist power ladder since six decades of its “independence” now? How else can one rationalize why the judges could have ignored what the world could not any longer – that casteism in India is racist in nature. Just one week prior to a display of the Indian Supreme Court’s learned ignorance, the United Nations had already recognized in no uncertain terms that India carried on a tradition of racism against the lower castes of people. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) voiced its feeble protests against India being a country that “systematically denies Dalit rights at home”, even as the “learned” creamy smart bunch of Indian delegates at the UN debated over the difference between caste and race, confirming that they can be moral “pundits” over race matters, but will disown their roles in caste oppressions.

The seemingly unwise, ignorant fools of India – that comprises most of us who do not appreciate the fact that getting an entry into one of the elite institutions like an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or Indian Institute of Management (IIM) has anything whatsoever to do with one’s ability to showcase more merit than others – are obviously adopting a regressive path somewhere. How else can one justify the almost complete and continued monopolization of upper castes in India’s power corridors, even as they constitute a tiny percentage of the population? Whose country did we wrest for when the struggle was against colonialism? A country that would have gone back to the elite bureaucrats of the Raj or a country that sought for social equality among classes of people – divided along the line of castes and religions by historical ruling elites?

A mantra of India’s Independence has been well played now – and one can say enough played now – to evoke ringtones and create a thriving industry called Bollywood. But it sure is a sense of humor we could do well without. India continues to be oppressed by a small elite which is a mirror image of their counterparts during the colonial period – a group of people who believe that only a certain segment of population can be allowed to flourish. A group that thrives on a class society that makes impossible to bridge the gap between mental and manual labor. In fact, it thrives because it maintains a relationship of slavery – in which the manual workers are the slaves. In a land predominantly agricultural, India is in fact a sorry country of its slaves-where by its own official estimates, 111,000 peasants committed suicide last decade-even as the slave masters continued to climb corporate ladders in their age of “globalization”. Definitely, this slavery is modernized today – with such a big number of slaves in reserve, you are not required to feed them continuously. The capitalist “hire and fire” machine is very convenient, indeed.

The official Republic of India is the country of slaves and untouchability – one in which discriminations used to be part of an unofficial public policy (until now – after the court decision, it is already official). That is, the Nehruvian dreams had drafted on its mammoth constitution certain sections along the line of abolishing untouchability. In doing so, the racists of India also smartly got rid of their age-old guilt trips arising out of their practice of untouchability. They created cultural images of untouchability existing only in the village lines of drawing water from the well. And silently they went on creating domestic slaves of the manual servants from the lower caste people in their high-rise buildings. They declared that in rural schools, now everyone was free to study and anyone who discriminates against others based on their caste will be penalized. Because they knew they would never enter those schools anyway-schools without blackboard, furniture and most of the times a teacher. Instead they created their own private English medium schools and created a reservation policy for students to enter into their elite technical institutes.

Who deserves reservations?

The progressive reservation policies – be it for SC/ST or OBCs; for the women, or for the people with disabilities-are of course different from the other form of reservations that exist without a debate – for the Non-Resident Rich Indians who call themselves “India Inc” and for the Indian Rich who are invited to buy the seats reserved only for those who can afford them.

The rest of the seats, they call comprises for the students with ‘merit’. No surprises to be here, considering that among other grand narratives of India’s entity (such as independence, liberalization, software giant, knowledge powerhouse, superpower for 2012 etc), this merit proposal fits rather beautifully. After all how can a country claim itself to be a “giant” without saying it has done so through merit!

India is indeed a giant-only one that has surged forward through perishing under its wheels of fortune, the millions of hungry and homeless it always chooses to ignore. After all, giants emerge only in this vicious manner – by gulping down anything that comes on their way. India has almost perfected that art by now, in refusing its people the land they deserve, by refusing its students the access they require, by eliminating its dissenters from its public and private press discourses.

The current discourse around reservations is quite interesting. Indeed no political party seems to be agreeing with the judiciary. So, suddenly have all the political parties gone progressive in India? What is at stake here?

In a simplistic fashion, possibly it is true that the political protests are in part to their apparently temporary loss of power. After all, even with legislative approvals, how could the court nullify the government decision? These protestors still have not got over the shock over this tacit powerlessness, far from realizing that it is they that hold the court to be a sacrosanct institution where they could run to every time they had a conflict over state water policies. Every time the government utilized the court to replace peoples’ protests into policy matters. So whenever in India (or elsewhere in the world likewise) people took up a movement to destabilize the government system, the ruling party and the opposition together rushed to the court in the pretext of granting people justice, whereas all they do is to convert the revolutionary spirits into a “wait-n-watch” policy matter. They took away the issue from the people and gave it to the court. And here we have to realize that this “powerlessness” is actually as much a gimmick as any other power rationales are.

Remember how the Kings used to rule over their states in the bygone days. They would address their resenting masses that the Brahmins will decide the issue, and get absolved of the responsibilities thereon. The Brahmins of course were always in the King’s favor. It would be quite unnatural otherwise-except in cases where the Brahmins themselves resolved to be the kings.

The high priests of those days have now occupied the IITs, IIMs, and National Law School at Bangalore. These are the ones now advising the Kings – the political parties. That is their assigned role (being part of the “three pillars”) because they want the desired positions of security, money and power. It’s true that we know what the priests want. The question, is what do the Kings want?

The political parties of Indian parliament are not in difference with each other. After all, with all the chair-flinging incidents they still are together under the same roof. This is because what brings them together is of a greater value than that, which could force them separate. What values does their unity bring? Why the political parties – despite their most fundamental differences in their agenda sheets-stay together along with their pillar partners – judiciary and the press – is because they can form their so-called “democracy” system only when they stick together. If the “executive”, “legislature”, “judiciary” and “the press” do not stay together who will each run to when they face peoples’ wrath? Who will play the Brahmin when the time comes?

Officially, a prime minister of president or Supreme Court judge or mainstream media editor or any of their corporate investors are claimed to be different “check and balance” corridors of power. In fact at this mass deception too, they play out the acts very well. They have a question hour (get paid for asking questions on behalf of people), they have public interest litigation (what has public interest got to do with the court, anyway?), they have a letter to the editor (views that are of no consequences whatsoever), and they have corporate social responsibility (what’s that?). These are conscious and deliberate efforts to normalize their operations in the interest of the ruling system of which they are a part. No matter if they change political parties or newspapers or corporate houses or departmental bureaucratic divisions – they are the cohorts of the same batch of rulers that must “swim together or sink together”.

Of course they would prefer to swim together. And in this larger context of reservations, especially so.

What is important is not why the judges came up with such a decision (which is a natural class-alliance issue), but the more pressing question is how did they get away with making this decision? Were they not afraid of the people outside – that majority of people in whose favor a contrary decision was supposed to be taken? Were they not taking a chance with the Parliament-that sacred body of legislators who had already taken a decision? The answer is neither.

And in fact, quite the contrary. Judiciary has been once again used by the government to do what it always wanted to: to provide an illusion of equality while maintaining the status of inequality. The parliamentary decision last December had come with pressure to answer back to the constituencies of OBCs. Once the pressure was off, the government rushed to the judiciary with ill-filled papers of 1931 (as an excuse) to reverse the legislation. And the two-bench committee did exactly as per the governmental wish. Like the Brahmins of the royal era, the judicial priests knew that they were the last resort of blinded wisdom.

Such macabre dramas play out in our life everyday. One needs no reading of Arthashastra or of The Prince to learn the art of governance. We are acutely aware of the true faces of power accumulating politicians, corrupt judges, greedy business houses and the corporate press – and we are well aware how despite the façade of apparent disagreements, they all gel so well as to unite together against the majority of people by creating an elite commonsense.

The opposition to reservations in India is part of the elite commonsense. The judges got away with such decisions because they knew they would be protected only if they do so. The larger Indian media have been harping on the need to abolish reservations, so also the top administrators and corporate kingpins. From the editors, to bureaucrats to industrial leaders-majority of them do not just incidentally happen to be belonging to the higher castes, in fact they are there only because of their trampling over the hopes and aspirations of the lower caste peoples.

Just as economic classes developed the race paradigm, they also created the caste structures. Historical alliance between class and caste is no mystery today. What needs exploration is beyond the academic understanding of the alliance, and more of a social revolutionary movement towards destabilizing that alliance.

At this stage, the commonplace dominant narrative insists that the SC/STs were granted reservations by the well-meaning leaders of India. This is entirely false. The “backward” castes of India were not granted anything. They fought along the lines of demands and protests to earn the reservations-and by the sheer proportions of their success in relation to their historical dispossession-they proved worthy of every bit of that. It’s entirely wrong to imagine that a government or its judiciary wing will donate anything in charity. Such a misplaced imagination can only lead one to the corridors of a court.

The fight to go on has to transcend its own limited imaginations. Knocking the door of judiciary is appealing to the hearts of the Brahmins. It is not the Brahmins who need to be blamed after all, considering that they have a share of power. What is important is to revitalize the movement taking place outside to make it entirely impossible for a regressive policy to be crafted either in the Parliament or in the Courts. And that is just the beginning. It’s not a question of reservation issue. It’s a question of revolution issue. The majority of people do not want nominal reservations. They deserve the entire institutes. They do not wish to work for the structures. They want the structures to work for them.

Ultimately reservation is not just a demand, but historical reparation obligation. And at its heart lies not the questions regarding the efficacy of reservations. At its heart lies the question of social order maintenance that thrives on discrimination. The sick medical students and arrogant doctors that went to strike last year are the questions to be solved. The reactionary right wing NGOs like Youth for Equality (who forever fail to understand that they are the root cause of inequality) are the questions to be solved. The judicial system that has no business with social justice is the question to be solved. The question to be solved is the question of our times: how long will people silently suffer at the hands of a political system that uses unofficial policies to maintain authority – pimping press, and a free market. The question to be solved is how to snatch the power from these sugar-coated, superpower-dreaming elites of one-nation Indians and replace the feel-good plutocracy with a truly working democracy driven by the will of the real majority, where the difference between the manual labor and mental labor would have subsided enough to make the issue of IITs/IIMs and their reservation policies quite irrelevant. And any wishful thinking, any pleading politics is not going to ensure that the striking doctors will accept the wage of their domestic servants – no matter if the servant cooks wonderfully to serve the rich master and the doctor lets hundreds of slaves die because he has to stick to the Apollo and the thriving corporate hospital industry.

To snatch the reactionary power of the ruling elites, the task is not to appeal to the rulers. In fact, quite the contrary. Let me end the passage that started this reflection, by quoting Marx and Engels again: “The existence of revolutionary ideas in a particular period presupposes the existence of a revolutionary class.”

That’s the only task that needs to be done: to build the class that snatches its reparations by revolutionary means, not through appeals to courts and parliaments that ride on the waves of social injustice.


Appendix
:

[The above article relates to the following decision by apex court of India:
(Case No: Writ Petition Civill No. 265 of 2006 (With WP Civil No. 269 & 598 of 2006, 35 & 29 of 2007))
Ashoka Kumar Thakur Petitioner versus Union of India and Ors Respondents
Date of Decision(mm/dd/yy): 3/29/2007.

The Subject Index reads:

OBC reservation policy — prayer for grant of interim protection in the writ petition — the policy of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes (in short the ‘OBCs’) contained in the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 is the subject matter of challenge. The primary ground of challenge is that the Union of India has failed in performing the constitutional and legal duties toward the citizenry and its resultant effect. Consequentially the Act shall have the effect and wide ramifications and ultimately it shall have the result in dividing the country on caste basis. It would lead to chaos, confusion, and anarchy which would have destructive impact on the peaceful atmosphere in the educational and other institutions and would seriously affect social and communal harmony — concept of creamy layer cannot prima facie be considered to be irrelevant. It has also to be noted that nowhere else in the world do castes, classes or communities queue up for the sake of gaining backward status. Nowhere else in the world is there competition to assert backwardness and then to claim we are more backward than you — the creamy layer rule is a necessary bargain between the competing ends of caste based reservations and the principle of secularism. It is a part of constitutional scheme. Therefore these cases have to be examined in detail as to whether the stand of Union of India that creamy layer rule is applicable to only Article 16(4) and not Article 15(5) is based on any sound foundation — court not staying operation of the Statute, particularly, Section 6 so far as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates are concerned.]

Advertisements

Gun Control is the Key Question

Virginia Tech massacre is probably the biggest such incident in the US history. But if media reports continue to term it as only thus, it will turn out as even a bigger tragedy.

School shootings are neither new nor infrequent in the US. In fact, hardly a year passes us by when we do not encounter the grim realities of gun trotting on campus areas. And yet, each time there are shootings, the prompt official methods turn out to be “offering prayers”.

There is nothing wrong in offering prayers, and indeed when deep sorrows affect people collectively, all we seek for is healing. But once the hours pass us by, we must reflect back in order to repair and prevent the crisis from recurring. And even as all of us are still shocked over the tragedy, let not the crucial issues go unaddressed.

Weapons of Mass Destruction:
The truth is guns are the biggest weapons of mass destruction. They are like cigarettes. No matter how much we brand certain drugs to be injurious and no matter how many of our celebrities come forward to “Say No to Drugs”, the problem is not so much with the drugs as they are with Cigarettes.

Why? Because cigarettes are consumed by the masses. It is cigarette smoking that causes more deaths per year than drugs can cause per decade. And yet every 7-Eleven and every gas pump in the country has a corner for cigarettes.

Likewise, its not some unknown WMD in a North Korea that should raise so much hell as should the millions of gun-trotting people on this very land, who are “licensed” to own “private” weapons.

And yet, like cigarettes, guns are quite legal in the US. Because both of these weapons of mass destructions are actually products of biggest profiteering industries.

Armament industry flourishes through legalization of weapons in a country where most hard working human beings are considered to be illegal. Corporate investments in guns rather than humans make big business sense because guns earn dual dividends. In fact, the dividends are so lucrative, because they are going to make sense only for the manufacturers, not the consumers.

One, the overpriced costs of weapons are borne by individual customers, and two, the consumers do not get any returns from their own investments. For instance, one could spend money on buying a dictionary and get returns from this investment for a lifetime, whereas spending money on bullets is the stupidest form of disinvestment that there ever is. Neither the bullet can be reused, nor will it server any productive purpose.

This is not such a complicated scenario. And yet, what might appear baffling are the reasons why the federal government and state administrations cannot implement a policy of complete gun-control in an individualized capitalist society.

Top Guns:
Let alone controlling the guns, capitalism thrives on the gun-culture. Flaunting guns becomes an obsession for a system of political governance where private properties are considered yardsticks of human esteems. Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger schools and bigger guns: the craze for exhibitionism spans television sets, Hollywood flicks and political debates. What is worse, the movies and leaders that depict more guns and warfare in their periods emerge more popular and ‘victorious’.

Because of these perverse instant gratifications such as guns and muscular heroes and wars of terrors, guns are advertised as being akin to freedom in many ways. One is “free to” own guns. Of course one has to prove residency: which eliminates the possibility of illegality of human beings. Of course one has to answer few questions: thus making sure that the future gun-owner is declared smart. And then the gun is handed over as the ultimate releaser of pent-up emotions.

Guns under market economy are not necessities. They are not going to be handed over to people en masse. For if, every citizen of the country owned a gun, it would be far more necessary to challenge the system than to kill people in frustrations. In our highly individualized society where social security numbers remain lifelong secrets, any collective endeavor or thought is perceived to be unlikely. Therefore, it is individuals who take up their frustrations in blatantly anarchic fashion. The difference between revolution and reaction is the difference between gun as emancipating tools of social justice and guns as private properties for individual gains. A “free” market economy works towards eliminating the freedom of people to have guns for collective consensus, but promotes to “license” guns only to individuals who meet the power structure criteria.

Just like freedom for none is implied when freedom for all cannot be ensured, the guns have severe limitations when they are wielded by few chosen ones. Instead of emerging as a collective responsibility, gun becomes a tool of individual prerogative.

Point Blank:
In continuance of a macabre history of shootings in school (by much younger kids in the past), Virginia Tech suffered the worst that was yet. So far the question that needs be raised are not being raised. Yet in a capitalistic sensational fashion, the media more or less have been covering reports about the shooter, his racial ethnic background, his class essays, the location of his parents’ house, his assumed girlfriend etc. Many theories are surfacing too: that he was the most lonely soul in the world, that he did not look his roommate in the eyes, that he wore a cap, and even was taking pictures of his classmates in the class. Even famous poetess Nikki Giovanni offers views about her former student.

Now, Cho Seung-Hui, “resident alien from South Korea” has a Wikipedia entry too. Hold on, the assumed girlfriend is a Wiki entry as well.

Whereas, his individual profiling is necessary for the investigators related to this case, there is no reason why this needs to be an issue of concern for the rest of us. Only in a perverse celebrity-driven society would everyone want to have a piece of the camera and soundbyte to describe a person who committed murders. Scores of people now are up in airtime describing this student to be a psychopath. He is being described as a South Korean whose green card renewal was done in 2003 and had been referred to a mental facility for harassing students.

Issues vs Non-issues:

The tragedy is so large scale that it will take really quite some time for the dust to settle down. But once it does partially (that is when the media shift their headlines), it will be a good idea to ponder over several unanswered issues.

a. Racial profiling: It is pointless to call a person by his/her country of origin if she/he has been in this country since early childhood, attended American schools and college and even secured a seat at a prestigious university as a resident student. Such characterization only will stand to create further stereotypes for racial minority populace. Considering the 9/11 memories, such media stereotypes can be extremely dangerous.
b. Personal profiling: Media should probably report sensations, but must refrain from sensationalizing reports. Its one thing to report about the death of 33 students, its quite another to create slideshows of the girlfriend of the murderer. Racial profiling should not be allowed, but personal profiling should be left to the investigators of the case, and not fed to the public.
c. Abnormal Profiling: To consider the case of shooting at campus as either exceptional or a handiwork of a psychopath from an alien land is really undermining the larger issue at question. Indeed the act itself renders one mentally unwell. But the fact is most gun related violence are caused by people with average intelligence. In this case, despite media reports, one will tend to understand that a university such as Virginia Tech would admit students that are above average.
d. Gun control: Whereas the background of the shooters in such cases should be left to investigators, the real issue must be highlighted in the press for the people to critically reflect upon. How many of us own guns? And what purpose do they serve? What is the genesis, and necessity of gun practice? Why are guns being made available for commercial purpose? Who benefits from the sale of guns? Who loses from the sale of guns?

Our world was always unpredictable. Now it is even gloomier if our educated youths mindlessly commit suicides and murders. But what is even more disastrous is if we investigate no more than their health records, and provide no more than some religious prayers.

For the sake of a safer world, renouncement of guns, and other military weapons on the part of state and individuals is a necessary first step. And it must begin from the mighty ones among us. To exemplify that we care for the future generation of brilliant youths, we must implement legitimate gun-control practices in every place. To set this example, we must take every measure to prevent the press from highlighting gory aspects of criminal world (which merely showcases guns—even as they belong to cops—as the tools of solution), to stop preferring violence over sex (all the hoopla over Janet’s breast as opposed to top ratings for cop serials), to check the video game industries that showcase crime and masculinity for children that grow up with those sick ideas, to stop glorifying wars as a solution to anything—where youngsters pick the threads to consider violence as victory.

In case of this young student shooter, either of the two things might be true. One, he had a motive: the girlfriend question, that has been raised, which he might have found an answer to through the powerful guns. Two, the fact that he was mentally unwell and was the loneliest of people, and found that suicide was the path.

In either of the situations, the most glaring instance of alienation in a competitive capitalism surfaces. It is the crisis that we need to address, now that the incident has already taken place. Gun is a consequence, not a cause.

Tax Deduction Day: Together We Sink

Today will be remarkable for its deep venality and outright disgust. To add to the tragedy, not that many will mind it a wee bit. But as people will rush to finish filing taxes to meet tomorrow’s deadlines, it is perhaps a time to candidly examine the system of taxation that defines capitalism to a great extent.

For whom the taxes toll?
Instead of a banal question that wonders if taxation is a good thing or a bad thing (which is as debatable as ethics of don Imus), lets ask if it serves the purpose –and more importantly, whose purpose. Logically, the taxation system must be serving some purpose—else, we would not be having the IRS at the first place emerging as the biggest bureaucratic makeup in the country. Now the critical question is whose purpose is it serving.

Surface answers are quite obvious: taxes serve the rich in a capitalist country. After all, the rich get richer, and the poor poorer as the economic gaps in the first world countries would indicate. But it is this extent of disparity that must force us to pause and rethink the strategies to make the taxation system work- for the majority. (And I am not talking about tax reforms here.)

Perhaps it would be fruitful to assume that the taxation system means differently for the power structure at various phases of history. At one point not so long ago, the landless alone paid the taxes. Slavery was the most visibly institutionalized taxation format in the world. Be it under the ruthless kings, the colonialists or the slaveowners, the sarbahara (dispossessed) was exploited beyond humane reasons. From this exclusively oppressive taxation limited to the poorest, to the current practice of universal taxation aimed at the larger population—the point to ponder is how much has changed ever since, and how much needs be replaced.

Capitalism as Charity:

Indeed, no one wrests for capitalism. There is never a revolution enacted with an aim to provide capitalism. Capitalism is the biggest antidote to revolution, because it is based on charities. Not only it thrives on charities, it in fact originates as one. As inherently mocking is charity towards its recipients, capitalism is doubly so. Doubly, because it transcends the hypocrisy of charity and even declares charity itself as a revolution.

If a car brand called Chevrolet amuses itself as the American Revolution or a TV producer Oprah Winfrey declares the push-up bras she gifts out to standardized women as the biggest revolution in the world, its because in an depressingly shell-shocked environment, only the most ignorant can be permitted to legitimize their views.

As the ancestral philosophies of these ribald declarations, charities have been equated with the “revolutionary” thoughts of capitalism. From the founding days of so-called revolutions in all the first world countries, one has only witnessed filthy “free” rules by the master class over their slave classes of subjects. It was not until the middle of last century that the oppressed class received some of the political rights, if at all. Why did the owner class of the “democracies”- Greek to American- call themselves free rulers of a subjugated people for hundreds of years? Because they thrived on their charities towards the “commoners”—at once, getting rid of the psychological guilt and financial burden.

Likewise, political power was granted in charities—indeed this continues to be the case, as we witness the perfect embodiments of rich capitalist class wielding political power in all the “modern democracies”. A system of taxation, thus was evolved to sustain the class character of charities.

Class Character of Charities:

Its rather simple to understand—the more we have, the more we can donate. In fact, many even go to the extent to justify why they need to have more: because they can donate more! In the perfect sense of reformism, the only way a human being can be useful to the world is by being able to donate more to the world. And the donation is not “empty” thoughts that might turn “dangerous” (and therefore the collective disdain at the Communists in this country, for example), but the donations have to be in form of goods, lotteries, charity shows –all forms of capitalistic exhibitionism.

Individual prerogatives:

Many reformists in the past and present argue for opposing the payment of taxes. Some pacifists argue, since a portion of it goes towards war purpose, it is rather not to be paid. By that logic, the absolutely illiterate celebrities (sounds like a redundant phrase here) protest they are paying way too much for (education of) the poor. Both are dangerous freedom frolics who would probably wish for both Imus and Hip-Hop lyrics to stay on, because they would want to have a piece at the dirt arena too. With all the cameras focused on Al Gore and Anna Nicole (these types are born immortal, after all), its rather a good idea for them to maintain the circus of abuses in the name of freedom! More money, more freedom. Add a pinch of Charity, Cause, or Commotion—and we will have another guilt-free year when we file the taxes.

So what is our role here? All of us—the majority of people- who want to pay honest taxes so that they will be spent for good cause? Should we merely refuse to pay taxes? Hell, no. So should we not apply for “deductions”? Yes? Sounds like a noble idea. This way at least we can make sure that our share of tax remains with the IRS, and not paid back. Sounds good.

But highly improbable. With the hundreds of thousands of tax consultants who are ready to swing the carrots of refunds on our face, and the perfectly “legal” clauses that ask for the Thrift Store receipts or Tuition Fee deductions, why would one refuse to claim the benefits? After all, do we ever insist that the discounts at JC Penney be just not applied to our counter purchases?

Ironically, the truth of charities is that it creates a society based on greed and competition. Both greed and competition promote lies, deceit and outright oppression. For an instance, as a student, perhaps one would say a deduction should be claimed on the textbook purchases. At the same length, a venture capitalist would claim deductions based on massive property. In fact while filling out the form yesterday I noticed one could claim deduction if one had provided shelter to a Katrina victim! On all the above three counts, the acts of deductions are absolutely dishonest. What thoughts go through our minds when pay the tax at the counter? Thoughts that we will have it partially back once the tax season comes? What then, remains of the usefulness of taxation system? Of course its dangerous redundancies are obvious from the continuing state of ill-health that the poorest sections continue to suffer at the hand of apathetic administration. But it also begs for a critical reflection over the concept of taxes, charities and their tunes of deductions.

Charities are inherently oppressive. First, the benefactors gain eminence over the recipients. It is so vulgar that the benefactors in fact name institutions after them for throwing in some illegitimate money that pays them tax dividends. At the same time, they weaken the spirits of the “benefited” who thrive on the charities of the rich—essentially, so that they can never revolt against their own state of dispossession. Charities in this sense merely perpetuate the cycles of oppression, hopelessly, ceaselessly. They do not address the causes of disparities, they work to maintain it in a more acceptable fashion. And so that charities do not cause harm to the donor, the flawed system of taxation comes to the rescue. As a trickled-down effect, this provision also comes to help some of us in the lower rung, and we gladly act on it in the manner we would if a ticket price is “discounted” for us (no matter if it merely means we pay 10% of our income for the discount, while the rich pay less than a percent of theirs at the full price). Why do we let this happen?

What should be done?
As long as we can ‘get away’, we will tend to let others ‘get away’ (even if getting away is a matter of vastly varying degrees). Unfortunately, this is still true for most part in the human society, no matter how much we blow the trumpets of individualistic freedoms, the social equality as a principle must always be aimed at curtailing individual liberties.

Taxation, like healthcare, needs to be truly effective, not figuratively universal. Tax reformers have been arguing that tax should be collected on a proportionate basis. That is, the rich will pay more tax, and the poor will pay less. This is an almost perfect argument. Why it is almost so, is because this is an incomplete argument. The point is collection of tax has something to do with deduction of it as well, because in the final analysis, the effects of collection are impacted by the amount of deductions.

For the taxation to be effective, the state needs to enforce the collection of proportionate taxes at a rate that may not be “convenient”, but maybe socially desirable. For those of us who whine at the relativity of “social desirability’ citing postmodern angst, all we have to do is to position ourselves in the lowest social class ladder to get a grasp of reality that is material, not philosophical.

Tax cuts and deductions must be revisited as a system of operation that may not sound very lucrative (as stated above, no one will give away their freedom to cash a check if the free check is around). And it is because of this temptation, this greed to hold onto our “hard-earned” money (because the poor apparently do not earn…and by this crude logic only the rest of us who pay taxes hard-earn), we need a system at place, not some good hearted individuals.


Deductions Depict Class Society:

Tax deductions are indeed the lifeline of a class society. So long as tax deductions are in place, what is important is not merely to grasp the gaps in deductions that people can afford to ‘get away’ with, but the fact that deductions are present so that they must be unequally applicable to people.

In other words, tax deductions are the biggest proof, and, the biggest security for the existence of a class society. If only all the people, irrespective of mental or physical labor, were employed at equitable income level, there would not be such a thing as ‘tax deductions’.

If only people had an equal stake in the maintenance of social structure, and their roles would not have to depend on their level of income, there would not be deductions in practice to promote acts of charity—whose purpose is to make a hero/heroine of the rich, and to silence the potential dissent by the masses who are fed the cakes thrown from tall balconies.

As a reminder, capitalism will never stop the system of deductions, because that is the manner in which it normalizes the income of the richest—those who own the structure and create its norms.

And if we do not question the system that is designed by the rich, of the rich and for the rich, we would be perhaps talking merely wishfully about social justice and peace and happiness. No amount of either personal charities or noble actions of paying “proportionate” taxes will be useful as a means, if the ends themselves are based on promoting a class society—one in which the poor people have nothing to claim as deductions, for they do not even pay the taxes, because they do not even work, and they do not even have healthcare, nor can afford education. And they are accused as the wretched of America—the “freeloaders”, the social security beggars and the charity-seekers. Give it a thought today: it is not they that are at fault.

Instead of “providing shelter to a Katrina survivor’ as a means of tax deduction, we should have engaged the victims of a massive administrative disaster in all the forms we could to snatch for them the rights to be treated equally by the state apparatus thus ensuring no administrative loopholes exist any longer. But then, in a “free” market economy, we have even sold the state’s responsibilities off, where individuals are left to fend for themselves.

On the “Tax Deduction Day”, lets resolve to take the “power” back from the free markets, and truly have a system that “enforces” equality.

Raindrops

Are these the April raindrops,

Or my lingering heartbeats?

 

My naked windows glasses-

Alive with transpirations

Mired with perspirations

Reflecting back, almost in derision

Calling back, in much anticipation

Halting path, amidst

many a assumption

 

These sounds of cascading water

On my swarded Astorian apartment

Catch me off guard-this very moment

 

Immerse in me, in life–

Even as I dwell in apprehension

Succumb to intoxication

Of increasing aspiration

Drain in imagination

Of the ongoing revolution

 

Will the rain just vanish all too soon

Lambent lightning will too swoon

 

Life is measured in moments — not years

Its prizes are not won in competition

Nor in forms of pricey acquisition

As I hear the raindrops in reverberation

 

Memories of Similipal, ere a score of monsoons

Wise father, tall trees, and proud mountains

 

The source of wisdom–

my admiration

To repose faith in my fascination

And give way to my adulation

Sans preaching or imposition

 

Raindrops don’t just recline

on my windows

Nor merely thump on my bare chest

They form an occasional abyss

To draw me to where I will rest

 

I drown in thee, every now and then,

To be swept across the life I possess–

A gift of maternal affection

And mother nature’s articulation

Akin to rain, our founts quite unknown

Awaiting eagerly for loving absorption

Into history of time and

this living condition

Else this restless life is merely an omission

 

Time will never stand still,

therefore I must

To be one with, what I might have lost

And seek those moments that always a bliss

Transient like raindrops, and forever I miss

 

– Saswat Pattanayak, Peoples’ Poet