’2000 year old caste system is still in our hearts’: Harsh Mander

Harsh Mander Photo: the Hindu

3rd Dec. 2010: Harsh Mander, former IAS officer, writer and activist delivered a talk on ‘Building a just, secular, peaceful and humane society in India.’ The talk was organized at Indian social Institute, Bangalore on the occasion of ‘Fifth Henry Volken Memorial Lecture.’

India is an extraordinary country; a country hard to understand. It has some of the richest people listed in the Forbes Magazine, while … millions … go to sleep hungry every night. These two India’s live side by side,”

The toughest lesson a Dalit woman, from borders of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, teach their kids to sleep hungry. These women spend most parts of the day looking for food. They pick undigested grain from cattle dung and hunt for rats,” he said. “In developing India with 8% to 10% growth every second child is malnourished. Even though with changing time the middle class has evolved a lot in their consciousness. We have exiled the poor from our conscience and consciousness. This is part of a deeper reality. As a society, we have come to terms and live with enormous inequalities,”, he further added.

For requirement of basic human rights in our nation, he said that we should at least respect human dignity. No person should sleep with empty stomach, nobody should sleep in open, every child irrespective of background should go to school and nobody should die because of not getting treatment in a hospital. As a country we do have resources but lack the will of striving to work for the people.

He said that 2000 year old caste system is still in our hearts and has its roots deep down in ancient India. This inequality starts in the classroom. Communal enmity is also a part of it. The Babri Masjid – Ram Janmabhoomi dispute manifested this inequality in its ugliest form. The dispute shows on what terms the minorities will be allowed to live in India.”

He said that government policies in recent time has given hope to him as Food Rights Bill is on its completion stages which will directly benefit the poorest people of this society. The nation will not change until we change our selves. Finally, he appealed to students present in Gandhian way i.e before taking any step in your life, think about most poor person you witnessed in your life and think for a moment that how after your step his life is going to change.

Harsh Mander, is currently a member of Sonia Gandhi led National Advisory Council (NAC) comprising mainly of members from civil society organizations & which is currently looking at the feasibility of Universalization of the Public Distribution System (PDS) through a food security bill. But the recent recommendations of the NAC on the food security bill has been disappointing to say the least.

It smacks a return back to the targeting system instead of universalization as was originally envisaged. The history of the targeting system (APL & BPL) has only resulted in discrimination & denial of subsided food grains to those very poorest of the poor who were supposed to be its ultimate beneficiaries! The message is clear, the ruling class will never reconcile itself with a return back to universalization, which will have a marked effect of lessing the food prices & goes against the very philosophy of the free market profiteers.

While striving for every bit of improvements in the daily lives of the working people & supporting every progressive legislations in bringing about this change, it should be borne in mind that the system based on capitalism & landlordism will always find ways & means of distorting every pro-people legislations in its mad pursuit of profit. Ultimately unless we challenge the very system based on capitalism & landlordism, it will difficult to envisage a future were everyone is blessed with food for all or health for all or even lead a life with dignity & peaceful co-existence.

Azhar Khan