Continued from here
Myth making traditions are uncannily similar in wars and movements of the dominant classes, even before the enemy has been clearly identified, weapons get fashioned. That the JLB is a weapon against the national ‘enemy’ is very clear. But who is this enemy? In other words, who are the corrupt against whom this massive weapon is to be deployed?
It is much easier to find the corrupt in the JLB than finding out what the authors mean by corruption. We meet the enemy on page 7. The corrupt here are neither the ones who are stripping our forests and ravaging the earth for ores, nor the forces that perpetually underpay and exploit women and the working classes, not those who keep significant numbers of citizens undernourished, starved, unsheltered, unclothed, deprived of basic rights and services, not those who make our stomachs churn with ostentatious 9 nine day wedding bashes, and definitely not the mafia and criminal gangs cited earlier. It turns out this document’s creators have identified one category of workers: The public servants!
The ones who have brought the nation to this moral wasteland through their pathological corruptness, we are told, are none other than the public servants. The elected and recruited public servants turn out to be the evildoers and bear the whole burden of the nation’s corruptness!
From this we are left to infer Team Kejriwal’s idea of corruption, as documented in the JLB, is only of one kind, and that is monetary, and only when indulged in by the state’s employees.
Without doubt this is an area that needs social reform. Dalitbahujan men and women are the worst affected by all forms of corruption that plague this country, and efforts to reform even a narrow aspect of corruption would ideally be supported by them.
But just keyword ‘lokpal bill’ in Roundtable, and the archives will pull out the various analyses, objections and mobilizations against it. The dalitbahujan or anti-caste stand against the JLB has been vocal and consistent.
Punish not reform
The document is strongest in the parts where it details the powers of the JLB committee members. It demands the addition of an army of public servants, who will operate under the same unchanged structural conditions. Cheerily anticipating corruption by JLB officers, the bill provides more punishing mechanisms, by a separate body! We can keep doing this endlessly, right?
Further reading of the document does not show any signs of it being a tool of social reform, nothing in it attempts to analyze and reduce the structural reasons which act as the fermenting broth for corruption by public servants.
Instead, it reads like a punitive and vengeful set of rules to punish individuals who are already condemned in the minds of the creators. The enormous detail and emphasis in the selection procedures, functions and powers of the committee members is very revealing, as to who it intends to empower and whom to disempower. Building on existing caste privileges, the JLB has been designed to evade democratic interventions at all stages. Should this nation show the immaturity to approve this regressive document, dalitbahujan men and women will figure perpetually as the accused, the corrupt.
JLB’s primary purpose is to criminalize public service. It renders all public servants vulnerable to be accused of corruption by anybody and be incarcerated on corruption charges by the most powerful body.
In an equitable society, all public servants will be equally vulnerable. In a caste society, even constitutional provisions have not made a dent in improving the representation of dalitbahujan. Caste combined with patriarchal mechanisms ensures women’s representation in public service remains dismal. In this scenario, does one need to illustrate the increased vulnerability of dalitbahujan men and women becoming easy targets of corruption charges? This war on corruption is all set to reproduce America’s war on drugs which systematically ensures that people of color selectively and massively fill the prisons.
Sold out audience is data?
The most startling aspect of this bill is that it carries no data, no study to back the need for why this bill is necessary, though it has pre-decided that monetary corruption is the only corruption at hand. It purely operates on the perceptions of the JLB advocates.
There is of course no tool that can accurately compute corruption data, because the nature of corruption is hidden. All the same, there are a host of analytical tools and means to arrive at comparative figures which can help us better understand which sector is contributing to what percentage of monetary corruption, such as the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The CPI itself is under criticism, for it uses proxies and surveys having non-tangible parameters. Nevertheless, these are tools that incorporate the essentials of analytical reasoning.
Indian media and academics imply from their writings on the movement– that the crowds at the Ramlila grounds are meant to substitute for data on corruption. That somehow the corruption perceptions of the JLB’s authors coincide exactly with the corruption perceptions of the crowds at Ramlila grounds.
The JLB makes no pretense that some analytical methodology underlies its framing. Therefore there is no predictive possibility of anything changing for the better. The media floats a figure of 60-70% reduction in corruption, if the JLB is passed, how they came by this figure remains a mystery. Percentage of what? Which department, which service, which survey are they basing this projection on?
At this point, one wonders about the Indian academia: does it have something to offer in terms of tools, surveys, studies and data on corruption? If yes, either all of it remains inaccessible to the public sphere or there is nothing to show. Therefore, in the movement, a random NGO gives itself the right to utter anything and everything about corruption without the consequence of verifiability. A movement such as this is a phenomenon of sensory overload, its assertions cannot be reconstructed and re-examined with any degree of clarity. As its take home messages can mean many things to many people. On the other hand, the document is composed of the written word. A tangible text that can be probed by all citizens, at all times.
Let me put down my reaction to reading this document in one sentence: I am repulsed by the contents of the Jan Lokpal bill from page 1 to the last one, page 33.
Since reading it, I wholeheartedly echo Kancha Ilaiah’s call to the dalitbahujan: No Lokpal!
The JLB advocates, who choreograph this movement and their avid interlocutors are evidently into big time myth building precisely because of the non-availability of myths for analysis.
Unsurprisingly, the caste and class composition of the civil society actors, media and academic champions of the war against corruption are the same. For all their clout, their revolutionary reasoning remains purely myth based.
Public service and us
All these upper caste-class manipulations have manifold implications on the dalitbahujan men and women.
First, let’s look at the implied meaning of criminalizing public service in the JLB or elsewhere for the dalitbahujan.
As public servants are evildoers against whom this avenging law is crafted, and dalitbahujan men and women are hardly represented, and will remain so, and as govt jobs are not going to increase in the future, why do we want to view the JLB discourse through gender and caste lenses?
We do so because public service remains a desired goal for the oppressed. To extricate oneself from the deeply embedded talons of caste on our labor, our savings and dreams, as is the norm in the unorganized sector. To become a public servant embodies the aspiration of the laboring classes craving an exit from manual labor, seeking an outlet to avail rightful services of a citizen, but mostly dreaming of dignity associated with public service.
The JLB’s narrative ensures that caste reappears as the monitoring, humiliating and terrorizing agent in this form of labor too.
Brahmanism and patriarchy are symbionts, and Kejriwal’s team has been unashamedly extending the blatant exclusionary practices of brahminism-patriarchy combined. However, the writings and debates against JLB by dalitbahujan intellectuals, activists and politicians have ensured that active consideration of representation of women, minorities and dalitbahujan in institutions such as the lokpal committee becomes a reality. This kind of deepening of democratic values by prying open the rigid walls of caste and patriarchy around governing institutions is the legacy that dalitbahujan politics constantly bequeath to this nation.
National conversations and us
The movement, the bill, and the mediators have condensed the mammoth phenomenon of corruption into a single point problem with a single point solution.
This they do by massively suffocating out all other issues and monopolizing the national conversation around the JLB– a staged conflict of upper caste men vs upper caste men.
Struggles against non-availability of healthcare, employment, equitable wages and other inequalities that patriarchy and casteism dually bequeath on dalitbahujan, remain one long continuum for us. All these struggles are directly connected to corruption, including the monetary kind. These protests zero in on the structural reasons that enable corruption.
Dalitbahujan men and women engaged in various movements and struggles spanning decades, have been the biggest casualty of the JLB hogging the public discourse.
The gigantic JLB discourse is an exercise of domination by upper caste male power over dalitbahujan assertions. Kejriwal team’s manipulations have effectively appropriated the struggles against corruption from women and dalitbahujan.
Let me list a few names and contemporary struggles to illustrate the above point:
Irom against AFSPA in Manipur, mothers and APDP in Kashmir, Chitralekha against CITU in Kerala–protesting single women, groups of mothers, sisters and neighbors. From Manipur to Kashmir to Kerala– they fast, organize and mobilize against corruption of a hundred kinds, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.
A young woman fasting for more than a decade against the ugliest form of corruption is stubbornly left at the periphery of the nation’s conscience. But a 12 day fast by an aging Hindu male with humongous support structures, becomes a symbol of protest. Does one need a better example to contrast, and demonstrate that it is brahmanism and patriarchy which directs and sets the limits of the Hindu imagination?
Krishnaveni, Challama, Jayanthi, all dalit women, all elected public servants– their protests against corruption remain unrecorded. No academic institute has studied the reasons for the murders of public servants like Honamma. The corruption they protest against is a complex phenomenon, it intertwines, intersects and loops around caste, gender, religious and class oppressions.
These are valiant anti-corruption protests by marginalized women and men, protests that are viciously refused space in the local or national conversations.
A connecting narrative of the dalitbahujan protests is simply not permissible. For the mainstream it is so necessary to keep these protests as fragmented, discrete and disparate episodes of public memory.
Academics may perhaps theorize on this as the silencing effect of media enabled protests such as the Ramlila movement. Not for us; these women and men’s protests refuse to be brand marketed, but they ignite our souls and sing in our blood.
They inspire us to go on protesting inequality and corruption, in all their forms.
Please read the first part of this article here. Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.