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Caste, character-building and social justice - The Pioneer

Sudheendra Kulkarni ()
19 November 1996

Title : Cast, character-building and social justice
Author : Sudheendra Kulkarni
Publication : The Pioneer
Date : November 19, 1996

The recent unfortunate attack on journalist by some
workers of the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by none other
than its supremo, Mr. Kanshi Ram, is symptomatic of a
deeper malady afflicting Dalit politics in the country.
The malady is one of mindless militancy. It is the
arrogance of the wronged who arrogate to themselves the
unchallengeable power to wrong others, the bullying
attitude which Mahatma Gandhi mentioned in the context of
Muslim socio-political leaders' behaviour with Hindus in
his time, the reckless refusal to act in a responsible
manner with other sections of society. The malady is not
limited to today's vocal Dalit leadership. It is also
visible in the socio-political behaviour of many of our
Mandalite leader at various levels. Mr Laloo Prasad
Yadav and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, as also their followers
right upto the village level, seem to think that, just
because they carry on OBC birth certificate, they have an
inalienable right to practice corrupt and criminalised

And such has been the nature of political discourse in
the country in recent years that it is considered anti-
progressivism to question the wrongful conduct of our
Dalit or OBC politicians. How many of our progressives,
for example, raised their voice of protest when some
unruly activists of the Republican Party of India black-
ened the face of Arun Shourie at a public meeting in Pune
early this year, just because he had written some criti-
cal (albeit well-researched) articles about DR Ambedkar?
It is not only reactionary to demand responsible
political behaviour from our haloed Dalit and OBC
leaders, but to do so is also to display something that
is treated as worse than anti-progressivism, namely,
sympathy for communalism. For, after all, aren't Mr
Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav front-
ranking commanders in the battle against the communal

Indeed the self-styled progressives' ire against Mr
Kanshi Ram is not so much that he lacks self-discipline,
an essential job requirement for anyone who chooses a
calling in public life, but that he does not consider the
communal forces to be untouchables. In other words, the
spread of casteism and aided and abetted, and its worst
manifestations are frequently condoned by our progressives,
all in the name of fighting the so-called Hindu communal

What is being overlooked, however, is that the malady of
casteism has caused great harm to the values and norms
which are needed to keep our public life clean. The media,
in its tendency to focus only on personally-centred
politics, often overlooks how divisive caste
politics impacts on those spheres of social life where
ordinary people, belonging necessarily to different
castes, have to interact with one another on a daily

basis. Here is an example of how arrogant Dalit politics
translates itself into arrogant social behaviour. It is
about the humiliating experience of a Brahmin doctor in a
small town in north Karnataka at the hands of a local
leader of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti. The local doctors'
association had resolved that all its members must close
their clinics by 9.00 pm and only handle emergency pa-
tients thereafter. One night, just after the doctor had
closed shop, the Dalit leader brought a patient and
demanded that the doctor see him in the clinic. "Is it
an emergency case?" "No, it is not, but I want you to
open the clinic right now and examine the patient," the
Dalit leader insisted. "If it's not an emergency case,
then you may take the medicine I prescribe for the night
and I shall examine the patient tomorrow morning," re-
sponded the doctor.

The civic dharma

The Dalit leader lost his cool, bad-mouthed the doctor
("Don't you know who I am?"), man-handled him in front of
a crowd and even threatened him with dire consequences.
The doctor too was about to lose his temper, but reminded
himself just in the nick of time that he was dealing with
a Dalit leader and decided to face humiliation rather
than retaliate.

The story did not end there. The next day, the doctor
complained to the local medicos' association that he
suffered public ignominy precisely because he followed
the association's rule and hence demanded its interven-
tion. The response was predictable: "Don't be a fool.
It is a sensitive political issue involving a Dalit
leader. Just consider yourself unlucky and forget what
happened." Incidents like these - indeed, far more
egregious manifestations of public behaviour by Dalit and
Mandalite politicians - are not at all uncommon today.
To express anguish at this situation is not in the least
to argue that arrogance, incompetence and lack of charac-
ter are the hallmark of all - or only - Dalits and OBC's.
No, they are to be found in all castes and communities.
There are indeed more white collar criminals among the
so-called upper castes than among all other sections of
society. Similarly, there are also competent, upright
and genuinely well-behaved people in all castes and
communities. What is important is that arrogance, incom-
petence and lack of character must be condemned irrespec-
tive of the caste of the person in public life in whom
they manifest. What is important is to create a civic
culture in which no person, irrespective of the caste he
belongs to, can act in an improper manner without incur-
ring the censure of society.

Why is it important to value competence, character and
responsible public behaviour and demand the same in our
politicians, public servants, businessmen, teachers and
professionals? Because even a moment's non-partisan
reflection would show that no society can remain healthy
or make progress without these values. They constitute
the civic dharma which is the basis of any genuine per-
spective on social justice and which is non-
denominational, in the sense that these values belong
neither to any particular caste nor creed. The observ-
ance of these values benefits all, just as flouting them
harms all, including the particular caste or creed to
which the delinquent public figure belongs. Thus, Dalits

and OBCs (or, for that matter, people belonging to any
other caste or religion) will be sure sufferers in the
long run if they allow such leaders to represent them who
do not care for the basic civic dharma.

Few of our socio-political leaders, however, have so far
shown the courage to speak out against the mindless
Mandalisation of Indian society and the alarming erosion
it has caused in the values of civic dharma. The one
notable exception has been Professor Rajendra Singh, the
chief to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In his annual
Vijaya Dashmi speech in Nagpur last month Rajju Bhaiyya
exhorted the nation that it must once again begin to
value character, rather than caste, in our public life if
we are truly interested in veering India away from cor-
ruption, criminalisation, divisiveness and unscrupulous
public behaviour. The RSS chief's warning was clear:
The politics of caste will harm Dalits and OBCs them-
selves, not to speak of the country as a whole, if it is
divorced from basic character-building. It is not with-
out significance that character-building does not figure
anywhere in the exertions of our Dalit and Mandalite
political parties. But just because it is an RSS leader
who has spoken for character in public life, our progres-
sives are sure to dismiss it is an "upper caste", hege-
monistic mental product.

Social justice is a profound idea. But like any other
profound idea, it gets profaned when the men who mouth it
are sans character.

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