It is the highest civilian award in India, but its recipients do not cover the diversity of the country
Shivangi Narayan | January 6, 2015
When 24 out of the 45 Bharat Ratnas awarded till date belong to a single community (read brahmins), it indicates a problem. It indicates how in a country where diversity is such that the language changes every 20 kilometres, it is only a single community capable of producing more than 50 percent of the worthy Indians.
The problem thus becomes two-pronged. Is it that in a highly diverse country of 1.2 billion people, is it only the brahmins who could produce a majority of the Bharat Ratnas? Or is it that only the brahmins who were worthy of being recognised? Both problems again indicate a huge lacuna when it comes to mentoring, honing, and recognising the talent and worth in a country of 1.2 billion people. And that lacuna is that in a country of 1.2 billion people, when it comes to all the above three mentioned processes, only one criterion comes into play: caste.
Mayawati thus is not wrong in asking why leaders like Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule and Kanshi Ram are ignored for the top civilian honour. The Phule couple started schools for girls, way back in 1848. He started education girls and people from the low castes when educating them was miles removed from human consciousness (I use the term human because these children were then trained to take over their parents in serving the communities in doing menial jobs. They weren’t considered human enough to study or do anything besides serving the upper castes. The problem was compounded with the added layer of the female gender).
Jyotiba Phule could not teach girls directly being a male, so he taught and trained his wife, Savitribai, to teach them. He also started homes for widows from all castes in 1854 and a home for unwed pregnant women.
It was not easy for Savitrabai Phule when she set out to teach women. People threw keechad (mud mixed with grime) on her way to school, to prevent her from reaching there. To overcome this, she carried an extra pair of saree in her bag, to change into the clean one on reaching school. She endured the keechad but did not stop going to school. Did not stop teaching. The Bharat Ratna is given “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order”. If this is not exceptional service, I wonder what is.
Kanshi Ram is credited as the creator of the Bahujan Samaj Party or the BSP, which can be claimed to be the only political party that works not only as a representative vehicle for the dalits and the marginalised in Indian politics, but as a vehicle of social change. It is only through the BSP that the dalits have been able to claim self-representation in the polity of India. It was a paradigm shift in the participation of dalits in Indian politics, which used to be at the mercy of upper caste organisations like the BJP and the Congress, to self-representation where they could set their own political agenda.
Again if, mobilising the marginalised sections of society so that they understand their self worth and participate in the process nation-building is not considered exceptional service, I wonder what is.
Mayawati, as a current leader of the BSP, is not asking for the proverbial moon when she says that the “contributions of the dalit icons should also be recognised”. How else are the dalits expected to stake a claim in the nation that is India?
How else is India going to provide social participation to the dalits, apart from just political one, if not by recognising the services that their leaders provided in its making?