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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sai Taj durbars: Communal harmony among saints, devotees!

The 'Sai-Taj' durbars seem to be a recent phenomenon. People who have belief in both the saints--Sai Baba and Tajuddin Baba, visit these durbars which now exist in various cities.

These durbars are neither temples nor like samadhis or mazaars. But there are certain rituals that are observed here and the members of different communities with beliefs in the saint, visit these places.

The social gatherings at these durbars may not be too large but there is a camaraderie among visitors of every durbar, which is quite similar to the bonding in a cult.

I have met a number of people who are associated to different durbars. A friend is a staunch devotee of a living saint, who dabbles in tantrik practices.

The devotees of Sai Baba of Shirdi comprise members of almost all the communities though he is now more considered a Hindu saint and Sai temples are common across the country.

Tajuddin Baba, a Sufi saint, has a huge following in Maharashtra and neighbouring states, particularly Chhattisgarh. Though the durbar can comprise of any two or three saints' devotees, Sai Baba and Tajuddin Baba share much more in common as they hail from same region and there are tens of thousands who throng to both shrines, in Shirdi and Nagpur.

Thus the existence of such durbars makes more sense. Of course, there is a commercial angle also. But that's the case with most shrines. The growing religiosity, ritualism and even beliefs in cults may worry social scientists and rationalists, one can't dismiss them as they do provide succour to the genuine devotees who have faith in babas and feel that they get mental peace at such places.

At the durbars, the anniversaries are celebrated with great fanfare and on certain week days also there is a big crowd. Otherwise the atmosphere is same--incense sticks around lifesize photographs and portraits of the saint, whom many believers consider divine and even at par with God.

Many Hindus and Muslims disapprove of such practices and are alarmed at the growing number of cults. However, this is a unique aspect of the Indian culture and shows the general devotion among masses many of whom remain attached to a particular religion but are at the same time devoted to saint belonging to another religion with an equal fervour.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Welfare Vs Warfare: How to tackle Naxalism in India

It's astonishing that even after the death of 76 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada, the policy-makers don't seems to have an idea how to tackle the Naxalites, rather the clueless politicians-bureaucracy seem to be falling in the Naxal trap.

Everybody seems unanimous in arming policemen, sending more forces and even using airforce but don't realise that this is not the solution. For the last 15 years, police strength has gone up astronomically in this region but the situation has in fact worsened. My thoughts on the issue:

1. Don't forget this IAS officer & others of his ilk

It's high-time the Centre must introspect. Do you recall the name of an IAS officer who was caught just a couple of months back for amassing vast assets including 220 bank accounts and property worth crores in this tribal-dominated poor state.

BL Agarwal was just one of the numerous government employees who ensure that out of every 1 rupee only 0.01 reaches the citizen. He was not dismissed but merely put under suspension after several days following tremendous media pressure.

Officials who milched this mineral-rich state that was called rice bowl of country and had one of the most dense forests in the country, should not be spared at any cost. It is they who are responsible for this huge socio-economic inequity that gave Maoists an opportunity to brainwash the tribal populace, which in turn led to the phenomenon of Naxalism.

2. Development can defeat Naxalism

Naxals can be defeated through development. But in rural, especially tribal India, development is a dream. At least, the most basic facilities can be provided. Dantewara is Naxal-infested district. But has basic development reached districts not affected by Maoists?

Everybody worries about sending army and more policemen to the forests but did they ever plan sending medical practitioners to rural areas, or making it mandatory for doctors to serve in rural areas for at least a year or two. Or even training health staff.

3. Lack of vision, concern

Today no doctor would go to Dantewara but ten years ago it wasn't the situation here. Was there any concern then? Either a district is Naxal affected or not, the situation remains same. Centre and state governments have no concrete plan to provide health facilities in villages.

Officials rarely visit rural areas. And that is true for every department. The lack of monitoring of schemes and their implementation has caused alienation among underprivileged tribals, which is perhaps giving rise to the insurgency.

Tribals were depended on forests but the officials' nexus with forest mafia led to large-scale tree felling which disturbed the entire ecosystem for the indigenous Indians. All these things happened unchecked for years and there should be a serious national debate on it.

4. If only they sent doctors to tribal lands...

Officers sitting in Delhi and Raipur don't see pregnant women writhing in pain with no primary health centres. Even compounders and basic medicines are not available once you travel 10 kms out of an urban centre.

Just a day back a pregnant woman was left bleeding on the floor of a major hospital and had it not been a concerned journalist's frantic calls to officials after midnight, she may not have survived. This happened in a major urban centre. Forget rural areas and tribal heartland. Education is important but medicine is needed most after meals.

5. Where Patwari is demigod

Another example is that of an educated senior citizen unable to get property registered in his name because he has not been able to locate the Patwari for the last couple of years. The land is still registered in his mother's name who was born almost a century ago and lists him as minor child even today.

In rural areas, even an official of the rank of Patwari becomes demigod. Once a lower-level government official transfers one's land is someone's name or changes records, there is no way it can be redressed, unless the person has high-connections.

Majority of feuds in rural areas are over land disputes. And corruption at the lower-rung of government is responsible for this situation. There is no speedy redressal. Now imagine the situation of tribals, mostly illiterate and having no papers to support any property claim.

6. War is not wisdom

The world around the tribals changed fast. They lived without harming forests and water. Urbanisation and greed forced them out of their forests and were evicted. They aren't greedy but even the most basic amenities haven't reached them.

Agreed, some of them have been brain-washed. Many of them are hardcore killers too. But war cries and Us Vs Them rhetoric can't solve the issue. Left-wing extremism is a serious law-and-order issue but gunning down tribals is not the solution. It's ironic that top officials, intellectuals and politicians appear unanimous that increasing police presence would solve the crisis.

It may put more pressure on Maoists. However, terming it a war is insane. When guns blaze from both sides, the tribal will be forced to choose either side. He may be brainwashed or forced to join any of the groups. He might not be a Maoist sympathiser in first place rather a victim of the circumstances. In this situation, is it pertinent to wage war against tribals? They must be won over.

7. Improving quality of lives: Healing touch, concern needed

But shouldn't there be any introspection on part of policy-makers about the ways to improve the lives of the tribals. If it happens in one district, the effect will percolate to other neighbouring districts. However, corruption and brute repressive measures can't solve the issue.

It's very easy to raise battalions of impoverished tribals to kill fellow tribals. Toppos and Ekkas killing the Minjs and Xalxos won't lead us anywhere. Salwa Judam hasn't solved the issue. This mindless bloodbath has to be stopped. A healing touch is needed for tribals.

8. Hold officials accountable, sack corrupt babus

Just a month ago, umpteen children died during vaccination in rurual parts of Northern MP. Once again no top official or politician was held responsible. Attenders and nurses were made scapegoat even as officers whose job is monitoring the drives escaped responsibility.

This is the irony in this country. Responsibility is not fixed. Poor kids can die but no one will be punished. No one resigns even if 76 cops are killed. Union Home minister has taken responsibility but what about Union Home Secretary and Chhattisgarh's ministers.

CRPF and State police play blame game. Someone should be axed. Neither State home minister nor intelligence officers are made to pay for the casualties. Everybody among us who makes mistakes or blunders in professional life, either have to pay for it, but here there are no apologies either.

9. Is this not a terrorist attack?

In fact, it was not termed a terror attack either. After all, the perpetrators had an ideology but didn't belong to a particular religion. And the victims were not the ones with whom the middle-class can identify much. There is a sense of shock but not collective anger.

If an engineering student, an MBA or a software professional are killed, it affects Urban India. Constables, Head constables and even company commanders aren't much like 'us'. So hardly any interviews on TV channels ab out deceased's wives.

For the MNC obsessed urban India, Naxalites are bad but also vague and faraway in forests. The Naxal is the 'other', just like a tribal with whom urbanites have no connection. Perhaps, it's the reason that the Red Radical doesn't create the image of a monster or enemy. And as a result there isn't much thought about how to deal with it.

10. Romanticising Naxalism equally dangerous but...

There is a section that romanticises Naxalism, without realising that it is no less a dangerous position. Tribals will be the worst affected. However, abusing Arundhati Roy round the clock is no less absurd. It serves no purpose.

In newspapers and on websites, its common to see comments urging the government for an all out invasion, as if no human beings live outside cities. Action is needed in the form of development, pro-poor policies and amending laws to protect the rights of tribals.

In urban areas, every law is violated and still the encroachers get away or manage to legalize their violation by paying up through legal or illegal means. But tribals are evicted at the drop of hat. This situation must change.

Even the 'neo-nationalists', the VHP, that once sent its cadres to stop missionary work and convert [or revert] tribals is no longer visible in Chhattisgarh. Till a few years ago the tribal was also a favourite for both the proselytising groups.

With Naxal surge, the right-wing rabblerousers have also left the tribal. The indigenous Indian who has suffered decades of neglect and was exploited by Thanedaar-Patwari-Forest officials, is now caught in this bloddy battle, getting crushed from both sides.

This is the similar story from Jharkhand to Chhattisgarh and Orissa to rural parts of West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh, the vast mineral-rich region which is termed as the Red Corridor.

If pro-poor policies are properly implemented, corruption checked and development reaches tribal areas, there is a possibility to tackle the insurgency. Unfortunately this aspect gets ignored in all the debates on Naxalism.

Read related posts on this blog: Failure of bureaucracy and ills plaguing the system