This blog is in response to the news items on Nov. 30th ’06 on Indian TV and newspapers.
It got me thinking. The one person who has the largest numbers of statues erected in his memory is Mahatma Gandhi. His statues are everywhere. Luckily he is no longer considered the champion or torch bearer for any particular caste or political party and hence any damage or insult to his statue is generally ignored. I have seen statues of Gandhi covered in pigeon droppings, limbs broken, inscribed with graffiti etc., I have seen his statues painted in colours that would shock one’s senses. Bright green, blue, red, silver etc., are some of the colours I have seen. I am sure Gandhi would have had a hearty laugh to see his statues in such form. Dr. Ambedkar, likewise was a well educated man with a western education. He too would have liked his followers to abide by his sayings than worship and erect more of his statutes. He is also considered the Chief Architect of the Indian constitution. He coined the term Dalit, meaning broken and oppressed, to describe the lower castes of Hindu society. Gandhi had earlier coined the term Harijan, meaning Children of God. Many Dalit’s today consider ‘Harijan’ condescending, or otherwise feel obliged to discard the term ‘Hari’-a Hindu divine name-in preference to the term ‘Dalit’.

So why would damage to Ambedkar’s statue in an obscure location cause such widespread carnage? If I was an unemployed Dalit youth sitting at home and watching news on TV, yes I would certainly be upset that the statue of my leader was shown insult. But would that be sufficient cause for me to get out and torch public transports like buses and train? After all, these trains and buses belong to everyone irrespective of their castes. So obviously the answer lay elsewhere. This was a politically motivated carnage to embarrass the party that holds power in Maharashtra. Youths were mobilized by these so called political leaders to cause carnage. And I am sure not all who participated in this mayhem would have been a Dalit.

So what is the solution to prevent such incidents? For one, laws should be made very strict against damaging public property. Lengthy non-bailable sentences should be imposed. Since public transport is run by tax-payers money, this law would receive the common man’s consent. Private TV new channels should show maturity and restraint in portraying news that could fan and incite any particular sections of the society. But I am afraid it may not happen easily, as all they crave for is shock value in their news to grab viewer’s attention. It would probably make sense to prescribe a code of conduct for these channels to follow and strict penalties including taking them off the air should be enforced for those that break this conduct. Censorship, like in China is not what I recommend.

India’s democracy and political system needs to be revamped. We are falling more and more into caste based politics and certainly this is not the Democracy that our founding fathers envisaged. Political parties representing a particular caste should be banned from contesting elections. Anyone living in India knows which these parties are. They have a small fraction of seats in the parliament, but demand a much larger share of the pie in the formation of the government. Sigh! This is India.
We may be the world’s largest democracy as many of us like to proclaim. But we probably have the most disorganized political system on this earth. However, I don’t wish to end this blog on a pessimistic note. As India’s economy progresses, literacy levels go up and un-employment decreases, we will see such incidents becoming rare. But until then laws should be made very strict to prevent such stupid behaviour.