November 29, 2015

A Vacuous Tribute

THE winter session of parliament is to begin with a two-day special sitting to observe the 125th birth anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar and the adoption of the draft Constitution on November 26, 1949. There is no doubt that the legacy of Dr Ambedkar, the champion of social equality and one of the main architects of the Constitution should be commemorated. But the question is, how it is to be done. The 21st Congress of the CPI(M) had, in a resolution on the observance of the anniversary, called for a special session of parliament to discuss issues connected with the status of Scheduled Castes in India. The session could have made an in depth analysis of the present conditions of dalits and adopted concrete measures for the amelioration of some of their problems. The plight of the dalits, even after 65 years of the promulgation of the Constitution which proclaims equality and social justice, is well-known. Dalits face various forms of discrimination in society. Untouchability is widely prevalent. Dalit children are segregated in many schools. The case of a 12 year old boy being beaten by a school teacher for touching plates meant for upper-caste students in a Jodhpur government school and another case of the boycott of meals prepared by a dalit cook in a school in Kolar district in Karnataka are just glimpses of how untouchability and apartheid is practiced widely. The dalits continue to be subjected to atrocities whenever they seek to assert their rights. The two children burnt to death in Faridabad district is the latest instance of such atrocities. Large sections of dalits in rural India are landless workers without any assets. There is a huge backlog on filling up reserved posts for the Scheduled Castes; the increasing privatisation is making reservation in jobs and education infructuous for the dalits. Even the legislative measures which have been taken such as the Prevention of Atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Act or the Manual Scavengers Act are not being implemented properly. Much of the funds allocated for the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe development get diverted for other purposes. The special session of parliament could have discussed these matters and decided on taking some concrete steps to ensure their fundamental rights and their access to education, employment, land, health and other basic facilities. But the BJP government decided to devote the first two days of the winter session towards observing the Ambedkar anniversary. In such a situation, at least, the government should have come prepared with a specific legislative agenda which could take forward Dr Ambedkar’s vision of equality and social justice. As a start, three important legislations could have been taken up. The first being the adoption of a law for extending reservations in the private sector for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This is an unfulfilled agenda which the UPA government had failed to pursue. Reservation in jobs and education can be meaningful only if it is extended to the private sector. The second piece of legislation is the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Bill 2015, which seeks to strengthen the existing Act. This is pending before the Rajya Sabha after being adopted by the Lok Sabha and can be immediately adopted. The third is a law to provide statutory status for the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Sub-Plan. Such a legal status for the Sub-Plan fund allocation is necessary if it is not to be diverted for other purposes. The government could have also made the two day sitting of parliament a substantial and worthwhile one if it had presented a report on the continuing inequality and injustice suffered on the basis of caste oppression by the dalits and suggested a comprehensive roadmap on how to eliminate this shameful situation in Indian society. Not having undertaken any of the above, the BJP government has made the two day sitting a vacuous one confined to speech making and paying pious tributes to Ambedkar without anything substantive having been achieved. (November 25, 2015)