Defanging Caste, Khalistan: Talking Points For Our Babus And Netas To Change The Narrative

Defanging Caste, Khalistan: Talking Points For Our Babus And Netas To Change The Narrative

by R Jagannathan - Friday, March 24, 2023 11:43 AM IST
Defanging Caste, Khalistan: Talking Points For Our Babus And Netas To Change The NarrativePro-Khalistan activists stage a demonstration. (Representative image) (ANI)
  • If the best minds of scholars, intellectuals, bureaucrats and politicians can be brought together to change the anti-India narratives abroad, the change will be visible in just a few years.

India’s leaden-footed diplomacy and inability to influence the global narratives building against us has never been as exposed as now.

In Canada, the US, Britain and Australia, extremist Sikhs have been able to raise the decibel level on Khalistan.

All we have been able to do is demand protection for our consulates and embassies.

A bill has been introduced in the California senate to make caste discrimination illegal (Seattle city did so last month), but no one seems to point out the ludicrousness of an Afghan-American legislator Aisha Wahab taking the lead in this matter. 

Both state and non-state actors abroad are threatening India’s unity and integrity by weaponising our internal fault-lines.

But the Indian government and its foreign service have behaved like deer caught in the headlights.

There has been no significant effort to aggressively counter the narratives being built against India.

We are being painted as an oppressive state, out to victimise its various minorities and under-privileged jatis or social groups.

Why are our politicians and babus, including the privileged babus of the foreign service, unable to provide counter-narratives?

Why are we unable to deal with caste and regional issues with candour and honesty, enough to make at least the Indian diaspora and foreign politicians understand what is at stake here?

I don’t know the answers, except that they can’t see beyond their own noses and narrow personal interests.

The following are brief talking points that can be used in the foreign media and for discussion with intellectuals and politicians abroad.

The points refer to both caste discrimination, and the alleged alienation of Sikhs in India.

Caste: The first and most important point to make is to accept that caste discrimination exists, but it is something India has to fight in India, not California or Seattle. 

Second, the Constitution’s provisions (articles 17 and 25), which specifically prohibit untouchability and caste-based discrimination in religious places, must be emphasised.

This does not mean discrimination does not exist, but that it is a work-in-progress, and discrimination is reducing.

It may take time to eliminate fully, given the size and complexity of India, but both the state and its leaders are committed to it.

Third, attention must be drawn to two Indian laws. One deals with compulsory affirmative action in favour of SC/STs and other backward classes (OBCs), which have been hard-coded into most laws.

The other law is the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, where anyone accused of using a slur against Dalits or tribals has to be compulsorily arrested.

Accusation is enough. It may go against basic norms of fairness, but this is the extraordinary level of social commitment to eliminate caste-based prejudices in India.

We must challenge US lawmakers to show as much commitment to ending racial prejudices as we have done to eliminate caste-based discrimination at home.

India’s laws for quotas and non-discrimination laws are open-ended and multi-generational, and even the courts cannot change them. Indian laws on anti-discrimination should be any woke liberal’s dream, but we get no credit whatsoever for that.

Fourth, it is also worth mentioning that India’s most powerful politicians, from the PM down to many chief ministers, are no longer from the upper castes.

A social change brought about by steady political progress and demographics is going unnoticed in the west, and this needs pointing out.

Fifth, some history has to be brought into the explanations. We need to emphasise that colonial interventions made the complex varna-jati-kula traditions in India conflated with the word caste.

These aspects must be explained by genuine scholars and historians, but never to deny the existence of discrimination. 

Khalistan: On Khalistan, our task is even simpler. Five points are worth making to show the baselessness of the charge that Sikhs are being discriminated against.

First, history is important here. Sikhism and Hinduism never saw the kind of conflict or antagonism that the birth any new faith causes with the older religion.

The separation of Christianity from Judaism caused more bigotry than almost any other religious change.

The creation of Islam led to more violence and discrimination against both its predecessor Abrahamic religions than any other.

Just read Bat Ye’or’s book on Understanding Dhimmitude, where conquering Islamic armies were first welcomed by Christians in order to target Jews, but Islam then went on to finish Christianity itself in the whole of West Asia and North Africa, where Christianity was the dominant religion.

In contrast, Hindus and Sikhs have led a syncretic existence. The two communities have always had a roti-beti relationship, emphasising inter-marriage and common social customs.

The Khalistan movement is intended to break this social fabric by claiming that Sikhism has no relationship with Hinduism or Hindus.

Second, the holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple, is as sacred for Hindus, especially Sindhi Hindus, as to Sikhs themselves. There is simply no Hindu antagonism towards Sikh holy places or Sikhs in general.

When Sikhism was in its growth phase, many families had one son joining the Sikh Panth, while the other remained Hindu.

Third, the two difficult moments in Hindu-Sikh relations came in 1984, when Indira Gandhi launched Operation Blue Star to flush out terrorists from the Golden Temple. And the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October of the same year triggered a wave of attacks on Sikhs in Delhi which we cannot but be ashamed of.

But these two outlier incidents need to be properly contextualised for a foreign audience so that Khalistanis do not have a field day painting the Indian state and Hindus as aggressors. 

We can certainly admit today that using the army in the Golden Temple complex was a mistake, but at that time, when Bhindranwale and Khalistani terrorists had built up a huge arsenal of sophisticated weapons in that sacred site, using a large force to flush out the terrorists did not seem excessive.

It is also worth pointing out the atrocities that preceded Blue Star, including the targeting of Hindus in Punjab, including the mass killings of Hindus pulled out from public transport at random.

One should also contrast the anti-Sikh attacks after Indira Gandhi’s assassination with the BJP’s own statement, made by L K Advani, condemning these attacks. The “Hindu nationalist” BJP has never been inimical to Sikhism.

Fourth, the Hindu-Sikh demography in Punjab, and the spread of Sikh economic interests all over India and in several sectors (defence, transport, small businesses, agriculture) must be emphasised to show that there is no discrimination whatsoever against this community.

Some of these entrepreneurs, modern agriculturists and defence personnel should be quoted to firmly reject the idea that Sikhs face any kind of bias in India.

India has not only had a Sikh prime minister, but several chiefs of army staff too. Sikhs in the armed forces account for a larger share than their share in the total population.

A Sikh, Ajay Banga, could well become the next head of the World Bank.

Fifth, the treatment of Sikhs in the Indian sub-continent, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, should be highlighted to buttress the point that only in India is Sikhism safe and Sikhs free to practise their religion without restrictions.

Cases of attacks on Sikhs in the US and Australia can be used to contrast what really happens in India, excluding the events of 1984.

That year was an aberration, and needs to be dealt with head-on without obfuscation and dilatory logic. 

The case for Khalistan exists only in Canada or Australia, where there are many “khali-sthans”, empty, uncolonised spaces that can use entrepreneurial Sikhs.

These points are indicative in nature, and more can be highlighted to audiences abroad.

If the best minds of scholars, intellectuals, bureaucrats and politicians can be brought together to change the anti-India narratives abroad, the change will be visible in just a few years.

India’s case is going by default, with tongue-tied babus and clueless political leaders. 

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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