Ostrich Syndrome!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Pointing Finger of Babasaheb Ambedkar

Mayawati, the Chief Minister of the most populous state of India is in news yet again. Her fondness to Greek Parthenon-style memorials has landed her in trouble with the highest court in the country. I wonder what the Supreme Court of India would have done to the likes of Shahjahan, Akbar, Cholas of Southern India and Rajputs of Rajasthan if it existed in their times. Surely, Mayawati is not a Shahjahan and her Parks nothing compared to the beauty of Taj and the Thanjavur temple. Well, that is not the point I am arguing. No sensible person on earth can defend the exorbitant and vulgar waste of public money in building stone monuments even when more than half of state’s children perish with malnutrition and disease. In fact I can argue with more fervor against the building of Mayawati’s parks and her loathness with development projects in the state. What we need is a more thoughtful insight into the reasons which go into the execution of this agenda of capricious commemoration. The sensitivity involved in Mayawati’s parks is more heart aching than the stone sculptures they represent. I see these parks as embodiments of pride and smugness. They are a means to leave an imprint in the sand of time by those who are tasting power maybe for the first time. The startling size of the statues is in direct proportion to the degree of throttle which the dalit community struggled with in the centuries gone by. I believe by building parks and grotesque statues, a subtle message goes: we have arrived! The building of statues and memorials is not new to us. Every dynasty and every ruler has tried to leave his impression in stone. Even if we ignore the rulers of ancient and medieval India, it is presumed that the largest number of statues came up immediately after independence, in the new, vibrant and democratic India. Each freedom fighter was celebrated in stone. That was our way of showing to the world that we have arrived. We called it different names. We never questioned its absurdity. Even as the country struggled to find solutions to the problems of illiteracy, hunger and poverty, more and more statues came up. More memorials were built and even more were planned for the next decade. Each statue came with adjectives like honor, pride and respect. Our courts never questioned their correctness. Baba Saheb was himself idolized in stone across thousands of small dalit villages and “mohallas” in India. His not very alluring statue, with the pointing finger, pock marked the country in unprecedented numbers. Was this an attempt to immortalize his philosophy? Surely not. Those who build his statues are alien to his philosophy. They are too illiterate to read the volumes of literature he has written. Their understanding limits itself to self pride and gratification. It is a celebration of their freedom within the tiny confines of the shadow of his statue. It is scientifically proven that statue building is a method of emotional expression. We can surely see the emotions which go in building the statues of the most respected dalit leader of all times. To me, Mayawati’s parks are an expanded and a vulgar version of this statue of Ambedkar. So where does this all lead us to? With hands across our hearts we need to ask difficult questions. Are we reacting to Mayawati’s parks and statues because she comes from a background to which we, the Indian elite, are not used to getting ruled by? Are we not being more stringent with her than with her predecessors? Are we not disturbed in our comfortable cocoons with the political rise of dalits in this country? The charges of corruption against her are extremely serious. But are we not being too self righteous in approaching her? Is it new that a Chief Minister has been charged with corruption? Well we have sitting Chief Ministers with charges of murder! Surely two wrongs do not make a right but the judgment of right and wrong has to come with a clear, un-jaundiced vision. We accepted Mulayam and Lalu, the abbreviated versions of dalit leaders, but to accept Mayawati is getting difficult for us. She represents a community which was meant to be ruled, to be decimated at will. She surely stands guilty of breaking this rule. Baba Saheb Ambedkar had once written, “Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the depressed classes. Their salvation lies in their social elevation. They must cleanse their evil habits. They must improve their bad ways of living”. I am sure if he was alive today; he would have been pained to see the contemptible misuse of money in building parks and statues. Mayawati too needs to learn from this message of salvation and social elevation. Political power is temporary, social elevation permanent. Statues can be a way to display social arrival and arrogance but surely it would be better if the same money is used for genuine emancipation of the most depressed sections of the Indian society. I wonder why Barrack Obama doesn’t start building statues of all those who toiled for the rights of the African-American community in the USA? He won’t because a level of education has taught him the correct way of achieving salvation. The blacks of America will not be benefited by a statue of Frederick Douglas but they surely will benefit from the health reforms on the agenda. We may like it or not, but Mayawati is a change which we have to come to terms with. Her statues may be a representation of corruption in the political class but surely they are much more than mere stone idols. As Indians, the only way in which we can stop this vulgar display of symbols of emancipation, is to give life to the thoughts of people who are idolized in these statues. By imbibing the thoughts of Ambedkar, we will no longer have to face his pointing finger.


Anonymous said...

Dr Khan,
Let me first declare my background upfront; I am born in a Hindu brahmin Bengali famly. I am also an atheist. Also a beef-eater. I give a damn to Mayawati's caste so long as she gave a damn to hers and mine; if you get the drift.

I live very close to NOIDA and I have watched with anguish as large expanses of greenery has made way for creating concrete structures. I assure you, my dismay has nothing to do with her caste but everything to do with how public money is spent on things that are urgently needed.
No, sir. I refuse to be defensive about my opposition to such displays of public megalomania. Our children deserve a better future.

Shah Alam said...

Dear Eastdelhicitizen,
Thanks for your comments. To begin, you were not required to varify your phenotypic and genotypic credentials (upfront) on this blog. I give it a damn just like you. By the way I may clarify that being an athesist doesn't make one casteless, well at least not in India. Having said this, I have no doubts on you being a casteless Indian (a rare commodity indeed). As for argument on the work in Noida, I do appreciate your concern but I would really like to know why didn't anyone complaint when un-organised, unplanned multi storeyed appartments swallowed acres and acres of green land of Noida? Why diidn't anyone complaint when acres of land were distributed in the name of SEZ in and around the green belt of Noida? (most of these SEZ never became fuctional) Why did we kep mum when green land of Tehri was swallowed by an ecologically disastrous dam?
My friend we do need to see "why now". I am against all this stupidity of statues and parks but definitely we need to ask difficult and thorny questions so that equality in this land is never put to trial.
Thanks for giving my article a thought.
Shah Alam Khan

Anonymous said...

Dr Khan,
Probably the answer to "why now" lies in the fact that Mayawati's support was needed for the previous UPA government and now no longer ;-)
You are right about the large apartment complexes and SEZs coming up where there was greenery. I make two points; one, that it is surely not your case that land-use patterns will remain static (it is not mine either) and no agricultural land will ever not be taken over for industrial/ urban use. In a populous country like India, that is unrealistic. Secondly, the SEZs and apartments ultimately had a public purpose, of gneerating housing and employment. Like in most public projects in India, money would have changed hands, and not just to one hand but several and across the political spectrum. As with all such projects, the end result may not have met with the end objectives. It is difficult to justify Mayawati's building statues for herself as having any other objective than self-promotion.
Finally, sir, I do not know whether I am a casteless Indian. I summed up my basic life philosophy here:
Best regards

Shah Alam Kha said...

Dear Eastdelhicitizen,
Thanks once again. You are right agrarian land has to be used for development. It happened in the whole of Europe (I am not saying the US as they had plenty of land unlike Europe). But we were not talking of agricultural land. It was the general greenery in NOIDA on which you and I commented. You are right thats not the issue. In fact land use (or grab as in Nandigram) will continue under political clout. The bigger question is who is reponsible and are we ready to treat the land grabbers equally? That was the point I was trying to make in my article. Buddhadev and Mayawati (or for that matter all sitting CMs) are equally reponsible for the dire state of their subjects. Its our perception of people with a tinge of caste, creed and colour which makes them look different. So if Buddhadev does it or Modi does it its OK but when Mayawati does it there is hue and cry. This is what I meant to depict.
By the way I was impressed to see your description on wordpress. The most interesting part was ”Vasudha eva kutumbakam”; you really relate to a larger world.
Good to be in discourse with you.

Fatima said...

Shahu (I take this liberty for being ur senior at jnmc), I too felt the same sentiment as you on Maya's Shahjahanic works. It is to be seen to be believed in the manner the touring dalits from Bharat gawk with pride at the Mayavi Marvels here at Lucknow. I can discern that Social change too is round the corner but not necessarily in ways we expect or like. No other leader has such an accurate hold on the pulse of her people. No mistakes here...she knows what she's doing even if it appears all wrong to the world....just imagine if I or u were born as Mayawati.

Anonymous said...

to Mr.Khan,
dis is not america my dear frd this is India. N India me ussi ki baat suni jati hai jike pass Power ho.
You Said "We accepted Mulayam and Lalu, the abbreviated versions of dalit leaders, but to accept Mayawati is getting difficult for"
Jald hi aisa tym aayega Sab Mayawatiji ko bhi accept karenge...
Bahot hi Jaldi tym aayega jab RAJ karne wale dabe kucle honge aur Lower caste k Pratinidhi Raaj karenge.... Dis is like revenge...
And side-by-side development bhi honi chaiye.