Reducing the poor to numbers

Reducing the poor to numbers

With rising food insecurity, the proportion of the poor will definitely soar (“Who count as India’s poor?" Mint, 2 October). The same is true for those classified as vulnerable and stressed. It is deplorable that our representatives fight like cats and dogs over statistics and their reliability. This is nothing but a cheap attempt to justify ratios and proportions established by surveys and censuses, and by so-called think tanks who undertake the task of achieving “comfortable numbers to play with". This act of putting the cart before the horse jeopardizes many lives while Nero enjoys his fiddle. An attempt to place 50% of the population below the poverty line is not only a welcome relief but pro-human and pro-life.

— Rohit Saroj

This letter refers to Mrinal Pande’s thought-provoking article “Caste in a new mould " (Mint, 9 October). After 62 years of Independence, Dalit exploitation continues even if the setting and players are different: refreshingly, not the usual whipping boys but the Brahmins. If the Plan projects from the 1950s onwards have made people richer, the ingenuity of the latter-day politicians in introducing an ever expanding “OBC" (other backward class) list has given them a doubly assured vote bank.

The article refers to the killing of 16 villagers in Bihar (Khagaria district), originating in “land ownership and use", an area in which our post-Independence leaders enacted progressive statutes. For example, Tamil Nadu (TN) is one of the early states which introduced the salutary principle, “land to the tiller". Several hundred Brahmin mirasdars (landlords) had to part with the land to the actual tillers. TN has not looked back since then, even if the Brahmin mirasdars had to choose other livelihood options and even migrate. On the same principle, Kurmis of Bihar cannot cite their holding 500 bighas in Amausi if the Dalits were sharecroppers, managing and tilling the land for generations. Bihar’s agricultural and revenue departments are sufficiently endowed for ascertaining the factual situation and deciding the issue. It is a grave mistake on their part to have let the situation result in mass killings. Will the Dalits of Amausi ever get the ownership of the land which they have been tilling for several generations?

Pande has also touched on the role of education. The Brahmin intellectual and statesman Rajaji, during his TN chief ministership, introduced an educational system —earn while you learn —whereby all would get primary and secondary education while learning their family craftsmanship, which was vital for livelihood until their education was completed. This would have avoided the worrying phenomenon of increasing school dropouts, but he was unjustifiably branded as a perpetrator of caste system. It is a little-known fact that long afterwards, even in Britain, the New Labour intellectuals of Tony Blair proposed a similar system for its citizens to enjoy the fruits of the “knowledge economy".

Until political powers stop viewing Dalit uplift as a vote bank issue—or stop perpetrating the caste system by continuously expanding the grouping called OBC—caste will not die nor will Dalits see progress. The West is using the “human rights movement" to cash in on our miseries, which we are trying to cure. This is one more area where the government has failed in the international arena.

Sadly, this festering issue is witnessing a theatrical display. Lately, Dalits and their neighbourhoods are being turned into tourist, picnic or pilgrimage spots by politicians wanting to be noticed by their leaders. It is an amusing spectacle to notice “mentions" that they should not carry separate tiffin boxes but partake in the frugal meals of the Dalits, and sleep on their humble charpoys. What an innovative way to treat this festering sore.

— S. Subramanyan