Why is India so casteistic

India: A Crisis of Extreme Segregation and Hostility Against Muslims

Charvaka Roy * is a political activist from India. He currently lives in Kolkata, West Bengal. Susheela Mahendran spoke to him about the situation during the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

The love of freedom: Hello Charvaka, thank you for taking your time for us. There are currently 62,294 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,254 deaths (May 11). What do we actually know about the unreported number of deaths and infected people?

Charvaka Roy: The number of tests that are still being carried out in India is very small. While this lockdown is a temporary measure to contain the spread, the ideal way is to do more testing and isolate patients. Meanwhile, there have been several reports of states tampering with COVID-19-related deaths. Videos are also being circulated of someone in the patient's family actively seeking information or help from authorities to find out the whereabouts of loved ones who have been placed in quarantine zones. Causes of death on "death certificates" are misrepresented by labeling deaths from COVID-19 as kidney failure or cardiac arrest or something else.

The love of freedom: How is the public and private health system divided?

Charvaka Roy: The health system in India is miserable at best. The National Health Profile puts GDP expenditure behind health care at a meager 1.28 percent. This is by no means a good situation for a country that otherwise suffers from severe malnutrition and high annual numbers of malaria, dengue and cancer. To answer your question, there is a sharp and steep divide between the private and public health systems. Private health care is for the middle and upper class who can afford it, and they themselves skim every penny they can afford from patients. Basically, health has become a lucrative asset. On the other hand, there is always a lack of doctors, beds, nurses and, in most cases, the latest technology to combat a disease in state hospitals. It is not uncommon to walk the hallways of a large public hospital in India and find patients lying on the floor or sharing beds. You see, it is an invisible war of the rich against the poor. And you see in state hospitals what you see in a war situation, only that it is there all the time.

To the best of my knowledge, doctors, health workers and nurses are being punished and arrested by the police for telling them about the real conditions in hospitals, not only in West Bengal, but also in other parts of India. The conditions in hospitals are catastrophic, according to my friend who is a doctor. They do not have enough equipment, for example doctors were initially given raincoats instead of PPE (personal protective equipment). In the beginning there were only a few leaked videos about the conditions in the quarantine facilities, since then cell phones are no longer allowed in the quarantine stations.

The love of freedom: How are lower caste workers affected by this crisis?

Charvaka Roy: Most of the Indian economy is run by the informal sector. This basically includes all forms of economy that do not directly affect the infrastructure of the state or the big bourgeoisie. For example, in India, the largest industrial sector is the agricultural sector, which in itself is divided into small and medium-sized land classes. Employment in agriculture is also divided, most people who have no land or only a very small amount of land work as day laborers and part-tenants in other people's fields. For a considerable part of the year, a large proportion of these farm workers, as well as other people from rural areas, move to work in the cities and in the industrial sectors. This means that a large part of the Indian economy employs workers who are migrants from their respective villages and provinces (now states). This large working class mainly includes members of the so-called lower castes, politically Dalits and Bahujans called, as well as Muslims.

The announced curfew was announced without prior notice, information, or warning. The sudden enforcement of lockdown without giving people time to prepare for it comes from a class character that doesn't care at all about the population or the millions of poor people who are now starving on the streets. Modi's simple demeanor is reminiscent of another historical figure who ruled in the Middle Ages, the mad Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq - he too did what he wanted with power. Modi announced the one-day lockdown, which he called "Janta Curfew" or "People’s Curfew," and then announced a 21-day lockdown from March 24th. All migrant workers trapped in different states were then arrested wherever they were and suffered brutal beatings and tear gas bombardment by the police. An important aspect of this curfew is the fact that the class differences that already existed in India had become sharper at this point. The middle class, the petty bourgeoisie, and the upper class quickly stocked up on food and stashed it in their homes, while the rest of the poor Indian population, migrant workers, blue-collar workers, small business owners, and virtually anyone unable to ration for months, were doomed was.

The media didn't help either. We have a part of the media that is not only docile, but also practically a mouthpiece for the government and, unfortunately, also for the ideals of the BJP party.
And so here we are, still under an extended curfew until May 17th, people are starving, the economy is going down the drain and meanwhile (although the number of tests has increased) they are still testing only a handful of the billion-dollar population. In the meantime, deep down, the upper caste, consisting predominantly of middle and upper classes, has finally found a legitimate reason to practice segregation and untouchability. The act of "social distancing" is not an innocent and precautionary measure in India, but the thousand year old practice of casteism in India has finally received its legitimation. Here are the elites and the middle classes, mostly upper castes, the poor, the Dalits and Bahujans, and the Muslims and Adivasi groups: the elites can now really practice segregation in the name of precautionary measures. I fear that systems are already at play in which, through newer forms of racism, including casteism in India, we could see a newer type of apartheid around the world.

The love of freedom: Understand. How are workers additionally exploited in global trade?

Charvaka Roy: The Indian bourgeoisie mainly exports its natural resources while assembling or taking partial measures in actual production. Or in other cases the production takes place in sweatshops while the value realization takes place somewhere in the west. Both conditions exist and both harm people equally. It has left the Indian economy at the mercy of large corporations, leaving them with a severe handicap where we are at the mercy of foreign production and distribution. The national, regional or local bourgeoisie has to fight against such a franchise and delivery structure of large corporations. It severely paralyzes the local producers and workers and leaves them at the mercy of a certain inventory reduction or build-up in a foreign country.

The situation with COVID-19 has made things even worse. The unemployment rate has risen sharply and the lockdown has left the informal economy in a shabby state. We already had the highest unemployment rate in India in 50 years, now we are facing another spike in unemployment and we have nowhere to go. As we speak, we are looking at the hunger and livelihood loss of millions of people, and the future does not look good. Primarily because of the BJP party's propensity for corporate bailouts with nationalized banks and revenues, and because of Modi's own catastrophic foreign policy.

The love of freedom: Does the Indian government have the financial resources to pay the lost wages?

Charvaka Roy: The Modi-led government has given top priority to some populist gags, arms trafficking and NRC (National Register of Citizen), NPR (National Population Register) and so on. This government has spent Rs.2,989 million to make a tall statue and a budget of Rs.1,400 million to cover the cost of the NPR-CAA. For workers, however, the Supreme Court has ruled that since they receive food, they will not be required to receive wages during the government curfew. This shows the lack of empathy for the workers and, simply put, a total disregard for the millions of migrant workers trapped in places other than their own.

The love of freedom: What is the Indian government doing to help poor and immigrant people? How do people organize themselves?

Charvaka Roy: There was already an emergency or natural disaster fund for situations like this in India, called the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). The amazing thing about this situation is that Modi has set up a separate fund under a private NGO registration called PM-Cares. It is not clear what exactly he cares about, and PM-Cares' expense reports are not public either. Basically, it seems like a huge loophole to avoid audits and records of the use of public funds. It is a mystery why Modi is not touching the PMNRF, except, of course, because of the liabilities that would have to be presented to the public.

The government, which is mostly state rather than central, seeks to ensure that food and rations are delivered to the poorest of the population and, in some cases, to migrant workers. However, due to the positive cases of COVID-19 among several community workers, there are also problems with distribution. Several small local but efficient groups have formed that collect funds and donate essential rations, masks, disinfectants, soaps and the like to the poor. The situation is, however, that if the curfew continues, all individual or civil society efforts to provide rations will fail. And that's already happening now.

The love of freedom: Can you tell us more about the enmity between Hindus and Muslims and how Muslims are being scapegoated again for this crisis?

Charvaka Roy: The enmity between Hindus and Muslims that we see on the ground today is historical, and it is based, as it were, on English colonial rulers, Hindu upper classes and some Muslim elites. In an effort to surpass the centuries-old rule of the Mughals and their practical, economic and ideological impact on India at that time, the English "discovered" the fame of "Hindooism". To be historically correct, the word “Hindooism” appears for the first time in the work of an Englishman, before there was no such thing as Hinduism. It is no coincidence that the idea of ​​the Hindu-Muslim conflict was part of the “Divide and Rule” policy of the English. The Hindu upper class population, especially the Brahmins, saw this as an opportunity not only to refine the nationalist spirit, but also to reinforce strong feelings of more Abrahamic regimentation among various sects now grouped together as Hindus. Unfortunately, however, a large section of this upper-caste Hindu leadership made them serve the British more and spend more time despising the Muslims. Her early thinkers include both VD Savarkar (who swore to help the British) and MS Golwalkar, who learned lessons from Hitler's Nazi party and wanted a similar political structure in India. These fascists are the founders of the Hindutva ideology - an ideology that promotes racial purity and the implementation of the extremely racist, casteist and mysoginist text as "Manu Samhita" in the Indian political situation. The partition of India, led by the political elites of India at the time, widened the gap between Hindu-Muslim unity. Since then, all demands for workers' rights, food, clothing, shelter and human rights have been bypassed either by bombarding people with news of a new border conflict or by a local Hindu-Muslim uprising. The largest of its kind took place on December 6, 1992, when thousands of Hindutva members demolished a mosque to build a Ram temple instead. This one act sparked unrest across the country and soon consolidated the power of the BJP-led government in the elections.

Recently there was another incident that created mass hysteria against Muslims. After Modi abruptly announced a curfew, a group of Muslims called the Tablighi Jamaat Movement was trapped in a mosque in Delhi. The situation in India is such that fears of a Muslim being lynched by Hindu mobs have been great since the new BJP regime came to power. Fear of Muslims has now increased as part of the media showed that these captured Muslims of the Tableeghi Jamaat movement are deliberately hiding from the authorities. And since some of them were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, the thought was being spread that Muslims across the subcontinent were actively spreading the virus to kill Hindus by deliberately spitting on people and food. Several fake videos have also been circulated on WhatsApp to further spread this vitriolic hatred against Muslims. So now we have a COVID-19 crisis, as well as a crisis of extreme segregation and hostility towards Muslims.

The love of freedom: Politically, the restrictive curfew is certainly of great help to the BJP government amid the ongoing anti-NRC, NPR and CAA protests since December last year.

Charvaka Roy: Yes exactly. The lockdown has given the BJP party some political respite. It came under severe pressure after establishing a National Register for Citizens (NRC) and a National Population Register (NPR) for a population of 1.2 billion in India. Once again, according to the pre-election manifesto of the BJP party. The NRC or NPR was advised to create a register of citizens where everyone would have to "prove their citizenship" by showing some form of ancestral document, which is the case for most of India where the land class rarely has such documents , is just a pipe dream. And it should “find out” the “outsiders” in India and deport them to refugee camps, which have now turned out to be nothing more than unsanitary, unhealthy, criminally designed labor camps to blackmail the “undesirable” people of the regime into work nobody's surprise are Muslims. However, the plan backfired in Assam state, where the first NRC and also the second NRC found more Hindus unable to prove their citizenship than the sparse Muslim population. For this reason, they introduced the CAA or Citizenship Amendment Act, through which anyone of any faith except Muslims from neighboring countries can obtain citizenship if they can prove that they were tortured and tortured in their original country was hunted. Again, this seemed too far-fetched as there is still no way that most people can produce their ancestral documents or "evidence" that they were attacked in their previous lands. The nation was thus inundated with protests and we saw people of all faiths and political backgrounds on the streets against the CAA and NPR alongside a separate block of people who still support the BJP party.So this curfew has political benefits and controls for the BJP, not just government medical precautions.

This strategy of curfew as a control has been used several times in India. For the people in the former Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, this curfew is nothing new because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several thousand soldiers were drafted into Kashmir and a curfew has been imposed since August last year. On August 5, 2019, under the BJP regime, the Indian government repealed Article 370, which granted the people of Jammu and Kashmir special status and land rights. This former Indian state was the only one with a Muslim majority. Then the BJP government went further, dividing the state into two union territories on October 31, making Ladakh a separate territory. This happened according to the BJP party's pre-election manifesto, and it meant that the already tense situation in Indian-administered Kashmir was now taking a dire turn. This resulted in quick home arrests of all Kashmiri-based political leaders and a gag for the press and media.

The love of freedom: What do you expect from the Indian left?

Charvaka Roy: The thought that the Indian left, with different ideologies and origins, is actively involved in relief efforts for the poor is commendable. However, this should also be the time when the common mass is made aware of the dire conditions in which we live and realizes that true freedom does not come from the benevolent work of civil society or the (often inadequate) monthly rations that serve as a favor Rather, the aim should be to encourage the masses to take control of the means of production. At least that's the lesson I draw from the regular updates and pictures of the starving and unemployed millions.

The love of freedom: Last question: Indian activist Manish Azad sees the origin of COVID-19 in meat production in Wuhan, China. In his article "Political economy of COVID-19" he writes:

“The connection between the COVID-19 virus and many earlier viruses such as SARS, Ebola, swine flu, Zika, MER and the like with such industrial meat production is now very clear. Zoologist Rob Wallace, author of the famous book 'Big Farms Make Big Flu', says: 'To understand why viruses are becoming more and more dangerous, one has to examine the industrial model of agriculture and, in particular, livestock. In a word: you have to understand capitalism. ‘ Rob Wallace says elsewhere that these companies not only produce meat, but also breed viruses that cause serious illness. The situation is almost the same in agriculture. In fact, due to the simple genetic structure of the plants, genetic engineering is used on a large scale here. Apart from that, the way in which 'pesticides' and 'herbicides' (insecticides and weed killers) are used extensively in agriculture has not only contributed to global warming, but has also made a decisive and qualitative change in the entire earth's atmosphere ”.

You read this article. Do you think that humans need to change their lifestyle and eating habits to avoid future viruses that could be a result of industrial meat production or environmental exploitation?

Charvaka Roy: I appreciate and understand to some extent the opposition to large corporations that capitalize on meat consumption and production. However, I live in a country where the fascists and the bourgeoisie are all vegetarians, and some “progressive” elite activists are vegans too. At the moment I have nothing against the consumption of meat and fish, in fact in several places it is inextricably linked to the identity of a minority or a region and in some cases even an act of rebellion. The fact remains that for most of the Indian working class, meat or fish is the cheapest and most available source of nutrients, and these poor people and minority groups suffer from the Hindu fascist BJP party who criminalized and ideologically preached the consumption of animal protein . Muslims are often lynched to death for eating or trading beef, or almost all life is beaten out of them, as are Dalits for consuming beef or pork.

The logic of big business in the meat trade is not applicable in India and as long as my country is still in the bottom of the world hunger index, I am not in the mood to speak out against meat consumption, I will even preach it.

The love of freedom: I thank you for the interview

* Name changed

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