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l September 03 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 5 l


Increasing polarisation and divisions

Swaraj Singh

If we look at the state of our society fifty-six years after independence, then one factor emerges as most striking: there is growing polarization of society and divisions among people are deepening. Actually, there are two completely different Indias which seem to be existing side by side. One is the westernized elite and the other is the rest of India—which is still living in the traditional style. This 5% to 10% westernized elite, which has been the main beneficiary of the progress, is completely alienated from the other 90% people. There is a gap between the rich and the poor in any society but in the case of India, the gap has become the widest. Whether it is language, dress, food, mannerism, way of thinking, cultural values, aspirations, or attitude or outlook to life, the two Indias are very different. We can take the example of TV shows, which mostly depict the life of the westernized elite. In all of these shows we see glamorous women with beautiful figures who often are shown engaging in premarital or extramarital sex. But, on the same TV channel, when we watch the news, a very different picture emerges. We see scandals where women are being sold for 2,000 rupees (about forty dollars). Some of these women were shown on TV. They look so worn out and destitute; with equally pathetic children running around in the run down and impoverished households in the Ferozpur district of Punjab.

One India is concerned about maintaining its figure, looking for gyms and other places to exercise in order to burn some calories to get rid of extra fat. The other India is struggling to somehow get the minimum calories needed for survival. One India is searching for prestigious beauty parlors and hair stylists, the other India has difficulty in finding places for answering calls of nature. One India is carrying expensive bottled water everywhere (which have become a sort of status symbol), the other India is looking for any hand pump or water tap to quench its thirst—wondering if the hand pump has dried up or if the tap still has running water. One India is bragging about the 35 lakh (about three and a half million) rupees bill it just paid to an exclusive private hospital while the other India cannot even get a bed in a public hospital (where there are no medicines or supplies to change dressings on their wounds). While one India can get seats for its children in medical colleges by paying up to 1 crore (10 million) rupees, the other India sends its children to government schools where they do not have teachers to give the children the most basic education.

Besides growing polarization between the rich and the poor, other divisions among the people are also deepening. These divisions are based on religion, caste, and even geographical location. Independence started with a great tragedy: partition. Millions were uprooted, a million were killed, and many thousands of women were raped. The divisive politics, which were responsible for the division of the country, have continued after the partition. The politicians and the political parties do not hesitate to divide people on the basis of religion or caste if such a division assures their political survival.

The Congress party is blaming the BJP for promoting Hindu radicalism. But the BJP says that there was more communal violence under Congress’s regime than under BJP’s rule. Even when Congress is pressing for an investigation into communal riots in Gujarat, Mr. Modi, the BJP chief minister, wants details of all the communal riots in the country so far. He wants to prove that there were more communal riots under the Congress government than under the BJP. The BJP also continues to remind the Congress that the Congress was responsible for the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984.

After 56 years of independence, not only religious divisions have deepened but the divisions based on caste have also become more pronounced. All major political parties have contributed to this widening division. The political parties base their strategy on the caste factor. How much caste factor is involved has become obvious and can be seen by just looking at the matrimonial advertisement section in the newspapers. In many newspapers, there are separate columns for different castes. It is becoming more fashionable to write one’s last name. In the Indian context, the last name is the caste name. Even among the Sikhs this phenomenon is becoming very popular--even though the Sikh religion came into existence to do away with caste divisions and to unite people. Sometime back we went to see a war memorial near Ludhiana; the names of the Sikh soldiers who died in both world wars all ended with “Singh.” Similarly, the earlier immigrants to North America used “Singh” as their last name but now a vast majority of Sikhs in North America use different (caste-based) last names. The so-called “progressives” have gone even a step further, they do not use the name “Singh” even as a middle name. They find “Singh” conservative and limiting. What kind of logic is this? The last name is caste and tribe-based. Therefore, from a wider (religious) unit they are limiting themselves to a backward tribal unit.

Recently, we have seen growing tensions between the Jaats and the Dalits in Punjab. Although the main cause for this is the promotion of Jaat chauvinism by the feudal and elitist elements among the Jaats (who are the leading community in Punjab); but a new phenomenon of Dalit elitism and opportunism has also contributed to the problem. The opportunists in the upper castes have also found that exploiting the caste factor can be a matter of political expediency. A growing number of politicians from the upper castes are also advocating reservations for their castes.

Another gap which is becoming wider everyday is geographical location: the North and South continental divide. The North and the South are facing a widening division based on economic and social factors. The two most important factors concerning India are population growth and literacy. All of the four Southern states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karanataka, and Andhra Pradesh) are way ahead of the North. The literacy rate is about 100% and the population growth is about 0%. The North is becoming increasingly overcrowded and illiterate. Eventually, this phenomenon will lead to more and more economic disparity and could serve as a basis for a feeling of separation.

With the increasing polarization and deepening divisions, how can we unite people and make sure that the benefits of growth and progress are shared by all people? We have to understand that in part, globalization is responsible for promoting these divisions. Because globalization, which is the highest state of imperialism, is promoting uniformity in order to convert the whole world into one market. The different units of people are resisting this assimilation in order to preserve their independent existence. If we can mobilize people against the economic and cultural invasion of “globalization,” then we can unite people in the struggle against exploitation and oppression. 

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