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Rotting food

Gail Omvedt

India's food is rotting. The greatest harvest of foodgrains in the country's history is beginning to waste away in storage, eaten by rodents and insects, spoiled by moisture. Some of it, for want of storage space, is sitting in the open, exposed to the late monsoon rains.

Estimated losses of foodgrains, according to the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, are about 10 per cent of the total production, or 20 million tonnes a year, about as much as what Australia produces. Most of these losses take place in storage, in the vast godowns of the Food Corporation of India, which are, according to Rohit Saran in India Today, better protected than the nation's borders: the public is forbidden entry. Transparency has never been a characteristic of India's bureaucracy, least of all the FCI. And, while farmers have not done badly at producing food, the bureaucracy of the FCI seems clearly to be failing in its storage.

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Reservation in the private sector

Gail Omvedt

With quotas declared for Jats in Rajasthan and with controversy about some recent Supreme Court decisions, the issue of reservation has again come to the forefront. Probably, though, nothing is as controversial as the whole question of private sector reservation. Here, on the one hand many Dalit leaders have been led to oppose "liberalisation and privatisation" in the belief that the public sector is their main road to economic and political empowerment. And, on the other, those who recognise change as inevitable are now demanding, as Maharashtra's RPI leader and MP, Mr. Ramdas Athavale, recently did at a large rally, "reservation in the private sector". The issue, however, is not a simple one.

There are, in fact, four rather different ways that oppressed communities - such as blacks (African-Americans) in the U.S. and Dalits in India - have organised against the exploitation they have endured for centuries. One is as political communities demanding "compensatory discrimination" programmes from the State which in this respect is taken as representing the ``whole people''. (Reservation in India, "affirmative action" programmes in the U.S. and special subsidies and grants in both countries are the important examples). The second is as political communities, mobilising to achieve political power directly through the force of their votes and the alliances they are able to make. (The BSP in India and the large number of black large city mayors in the U.S. provide noteworthy examples). The third is as cultural communities seeking to confront and change the internalised "cultural" characteristics that result from their centuries of oppression but hamper their movement forward in the present. (The best example here was the "million man march" organised some years ago in Washington D.C. by the black Muslim leader, Mr. Louis Farakhan, which was aimed at restoring the dignity and the family and community position of black men). And the fourth is as economic communities exerting pressure on companies or institutions, both to employ more of their community and to produce the kind of products suitable to their needs.

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The purpose of reservation

 

Gail Omvedt

The wave of rioting at the time of the Mandal Commission showed that the goal of reservation had not simply been unfulfilled, but totally distorted. It revealed, among other things, the degree to which educated upper caste youth had gotten into the habit of considering the Government administration not as "public service" but as a source of employment - with lucrative salaries and pensions, not to mention ample scope for bribe-taking.

Bribery - a major theme of Phule's polemical 19th century writings - has not apparently changed very much. There are undoubtedly many honest officials, but they are fighting a system that gives them very little scope, one which binds together politicians and bureaucrats in a nexus of corruption. International surveys of corruption in Government show India at the bottom of the list; losses in "transmission and distribution" of the State electricity boards; the necessity of giving "weight" in order to get projects approved or papers moved through desks in administrative offices, all remain flagrant. In this context, the idea that reservation somehow has an adverse effect on "merit" and "efficiency" looks somewhat laughable. Since the mass education which all the anti-caste radicals so fervently sought has also remained a distant dream, this has rendered the masses of toiling people more dependent on the literate officials and activists.

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Ms. Gail Omvedt's ill Advice To Dalit Bahujans

Referring to a recent article "Congress, Dalits and elections" by Ms. Gail Omvedt in the Hindu, the Dalits need to think and take some hard decisions: Empowering of Dalit-Bahujans was started by Mahatma Phule in mid nineteenth century, furthered by his widow Sawitribai, later supported by Rajarshi Shahu in his state and lastly implemented by Dr. Ambedkar in whole of India.

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The Dravidian movement

 

Gail Omvedt

"So many movements have failed. In Tamil Nadu there was a movement in the name of anti-Brahmanism under the leadership of Periyar. It attracted Dalits, but after 30 years of power, the Dalits understand that they are as badly-off - or worse-off - as they were under the Brahmans. Under Dravidian rule, they have been attacked and killed, their due share in government service is not given, they are not allowed to rise.''

So says Dr. Krishnasami, leader of the militant movement of the Dalit community known as "Devendra Kula Vellalas" of southern Tamil Nadu and founder of a new political party, Puthiya Tamilakam. This sense of disillusionment with the Dravidian parties is pervasive among not only the Dalits but also many militant non-Brahmans as well. The anti-caste movements of the past, in Dr. Krishnasami's words, have failed to achieve their main goals. Mr. Thirumavalavan of the Liberation Panthers speaks of discrimination and atrocities against those who fight against the evil and adds: "Castes keep their identity just as before, they don't intermarry, there are no longer any self-respect marriages."

Like Dr. Krishnasami, he does not reject the goals of the movement, arguing "the Dalit struggle has to be for the liberation of a nationality", and Hindutva should be opposed through Tamil nationalism. He feels that the existing Dravidian parties have betrayed the Dalits.

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Marx and globalisation

 

Gail Omvedt

Today, as India faces the challenge of an unprecedented globalising world, with goods from Korean automobiles to Australian apples and Chinese toys coming into its markets, most of the marxists in the country are confronting it as a demon, trying to erect something like a "Great Wall" against the threat from without, though China itself has long since relegated its own to a tourist attraction.

The rhetoric is moving to new heights, but opposing "liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation" has become such a mantra of the Left, often contradicted by its proponents when they are in power, that we may be excused from seeing this opposition simply as a way of maintaining and arousing its traditional trade union base.

In fact, the whole depiction of globalisation as "neocolonialism" is in many ways against the very spirit of Marx, who proclaimed the immense creative-destructive forces of capitalism with the intention not of preventing their growth, but of moving through them, going beyond history to the establishment of a socialist society.

The Communist Manifesto itself reads almost like a paean to the forces of globalisation, describing capitalism as giving "a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country... In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations... The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National onesidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature". As capitalism revolutionises the means of production and social relations, it smashes the barriers of feudalism and mercantilism everywhere, destroying old feudal bondages and old medieval certainties and antiquated dreams. Capitalism is ever-moving, ever-changing, and forces humans to face the reality of change and their own role in it: "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned and man is at last compelled to face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life..."

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