Human Rights and Citizenship: denial and restoration
anita cheria and edwin
Citizenship assumes that human rights are fulfilled, and that the other discretionary or ‘specific’ rights that a citizenship confers on a person can be addressed. While all humans—whether criminals, refugees or citizens—have certain rights by virtue of being human, citizenship rights are conferred only on ‘citizens’. In this paper we will look at citizenship rights, who gets them and the long struggle to restore these rights to all ‘citizens’.
In this paper, we first define the concepts: the difference between human rights and citizenship rights. The differences and similarities, specially the overlapping areas, are delineated. We then look at the experiences of citizenship of women, sexuality minorities, Dalits and the Tharu. Finally, we look at the challenges in restoration of citizenship: the roots of the conflict, the shifting goal posts, strata and strategy, the question of violence, relief and rehabilitation, unequal and unfair expectations and standards and global citizenship.
1 Human rights and citizenship
All humans have certain rights. They possess these by virtue of being humans. These rights cannot be taken away at anytime—even with the ‘prior informed consent’ of the individual. Even an invading army has to ensure these rights of the ‘conquered’ people. This includes 20 litres of water per day, adequate sanitation, and security. Even criminals need to be ensured these rights.
The rights of citizenship must be seen within the context that all rights are indivisible and interdependent. Citizenship rights however, are only for ‘citizens’. They cannot be claimed by, for instance, refugees. There are three distinguishing factors of citizenship from human rights. The key citizenship rights are the rights to:
• Participate in government
• Self-regulation and correction.
The core of human rights is ‘dignity for all at all times’, while for citizenship it is an acknowledgement of ‘agency’—of the ability to ‘act’, of ‘personhood’ or ‘adulthood’.
2 Citizenship: Key Characteristics
2.1 Participate in government
Only citizens have the right to elect and be elected. While even refugees can claim good governance as their right, it is only citizens who can claim participation in government as a right. The choice of government and representatives is intrinsic to participation. This means that in monarchies there are less citizens than in democracies. The more egalitarian the society, the more likely that there will be more citizens. With increasing cost of participation in elections, even democracies are restricting participation to only the wealthy.
The right to information movement is one of the most prominent global movements for citizenship. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, MKSS, of Rajasthan in North West India was able to force the government to share information with the people. The right to information has now become the right of all Indian citizens. Taking back the state from the government is the core of citizenship movements. It flows from the human right to ‘informed consent’.
All nations have sections that are excluded from the benefits of progress, or are discriminated against. Women, minorities and indigenous peoples come readily to mind. They need to be brought into full citizenship in rights and duties by creating appropriate systems, structures, investment and opportunities.
There will always be those who are ‘different’. The enforcement of standardisation is sometimes subtle, sometimes crude but at all times carries immense psychosocial costs. It is perhaps no accident that USA has more people in prisons than in its farms. All human progress is when people dare to be different. This standardisation is to clone ‘others’ into copies of those who are considered citizens.
This could be in the language [with one ‘national’ language] or religion officially, and can include other facets [such as caste] unofficially. Dress codes are enforced [such as a tax on beards] on those who are nationals, but not on citizens. Bhutan even makes the dress code mandatory for nationality.
It is in the expression of people’s right to dissent and express dissent that citizenship is really measured. The way in which dissent is addressed is an indicator of whether one is a citizen or a national. States and institutions—including organised religion, transnational corporations and social systems—often suppress dissent, labelling it as trouble-making, insubordination, security threat, insurgency and so on if it is from a national. Dissent from citizens is heard and addressed.
2.3 Self-regulation and correction
An important indicator to assess if one is treated as a ‘citizen’ is the right to self-regulation and correction in contrast to punishment. States punish nationals. However, all citizens are allowed self-regulation. Bureaucrats have immunity from prosecution for acts done in ‘good faith’. Similarly, the middle class mainly comprises of citizens. The legal fallout is that crimes by the middle class—even if resulting in death with knowledge beforehand—is considered to be ‘white collar’ crime, and awarded less punishment than for other crimes. Even if a suit does get to court, and the citizens are found guilty, the judge would often admonish these citizen-criminals and exhort them to better behaviour since they are ‘respected pillars of society’. Never mind that they embezzled 10 or even a 1000 times their contribution to their local sports club, and have just been pronounced criminals by the same court!
When the rights of a citizen are violated, the state takes immediate exemplary action. Lethargy vanishes. The most obvious case is the difference in the event of relief and rehabilitation.
3 Experiences in citizenship
3.1 Citizenship and women
The fact that women are only nationals and not citizens is obvious to most. The Vatican is probably unique in that it is the only sovereign state that does not even have one female national, let alone citizens. Most religions do not give citizenship rights to women.
Though the modern normative value base of society makes discrimination in law difficult, many countries bar women from both voting and standing for elections. Though women form about half the population of the world, nowhere are they in equal positions of responsibility and authority. Even democracies such as India balk at full participation for women. By sins of omission and commission the state pleads helplessness in removing barriers for women, and by not creating an enabling environment. It is only in the case of political representation for women that the Indian parliament awaits a consensus. In contrast, to fulfil US/UN dictates on terror laws, a joint session of parliament was called to pass the anti-terror law because the government was not sure of passing it in the lower house. This clearly indicates that women are only nationals and not citizens when it comes to political representation.
The most important consequence of not having this right is that the ability to create a gendered, egalitarian society and polity is ceded. For instance, this translates into formal law—as opposed to the traditional, which in any case is biased against all non-males—that denies women equal share in ancestral property. It is only recently that women have the right to property, and an abridged one at that, in India.
Many Islamic countries follow the Sharia. The interpretation of the Sharia by all-male institutions however values a woman less than a man, both for inheritance and evidence. While dowry is prohibited, the Jamaat—the body that gives verdicts—is full of men who have accepted dowry. Thus there is no condemnation of, or ‘fatwas’ against, men who take dowry—which is clearly against the tenets of Islam. The fatwas are instead pronounced against women without even hearing them, deliberately keeping the women away by holding the Jamaat sittings in all-male mosques so that women cannot attend.
The initiative of Sharifa Khanum to have an all-women Jamaat, in a mosque built by women is to recapture this space. At the sittings of the Jamaat, both the men and women involved take part in the debate, mediations or negotiations. ‘This is so unlike what happens in the other chauvinistic all-male, one-sided Jamaats. The women can never present their side. Decisions are taken based on the man’s version alone and talaq is pronounced without hearing what the woman has to say in her defence,’ points out Sharifa.
3.2 Citizenship and sexuality minorities
Sexuality minorities are not only invisible, but they are often not even considered ‘normal’ human beings. Social ordering seldom gives them any place. Despite two avatars of Vishnu being explicitly changing over to the feminine, the Indian horror at anything other than the missionary position is legendary. Though widely prevalent, society goes through the moralistic notions. The two gay teenagers who were recently executed in Iran had only one defence: they did not know it was wrong because everybody was doing it.
Most countries acknowledge only two sexes, though this is changing in some. In international conferences, reference is made specifically to two sexes, implicitly acknowledging that there are others, and that these other sexes are being excluded. Sexuality minorities are denied not only their biological rights, but also their citizenship rights. In the past, the denial of gay and lesbian rights could be justified in the name of the need for survival [and so justify the denial of human rights]. But in a world with surplus population, the biological survival argument has lost all relevance, even assuming it was needed at some time in the past.
The gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals are denied property rights as a norm. They do not have the right to marry. This denies them many other rights. While the right to adopt can be denied on moralistic grounds, this denies them even housing loans that any married heterosexual couple have access to depending on their credit history. Sexuality becomes an important factor of creditworthiness. Though non-heterosexual couples have not been proved to be more abusive to children than heterosexuals, there is stigma attached to them. It is the fear of heterosexuals that non-heterosexual families would adopt ‘their babies’ that leads to this denial of marriage.
The state acceptance of only two sexes leads to others having to choose a sexual identity that is not theirs for certification at the time of school admissions, graduation, passports and marriage. This does not signify acceptance. If they are found not to be male or female, then they are penalised. At the time of registration of property, they are specially vulnerable. They are often disinherited, and if not, denied property solely due to their not being born male or female. Those who undergo transgender surgery are still vulnerable.
The sexuality minorities live in the fear of discovery. In the case of transsexuals, they are denied any means of livelihood other than sex-work and begging, both of which are illegal according to Indian law. Though the Indian Supreme Court has ruled that the fundamental right to life includes the right to a livelihood, this is denied to the sexuality minorities.
3.3 Citizenship and Dalits
There are over 260 million people in the world who are voiceless victims of caste discrimination who continue to suffer from extreme forms of segregation, violence, and exploitation because of their ‘low caste’ or outcaste status or other forms of discrimination based on work and descent. About 66% of them are from India.
Communities adversely affected by caste or caste–based systems include the Dalits of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Buraku of Japan, Osu of Nigeria, and Rodiya of Sri Lanka. Others with caste or caste–like systems include Senegal, Mauritania, Madagascar, Mali, Guinea and regions with significant Indian Diaspora such as Eastern and Southern Africa, North America, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and the United States of America.
In many cases caste systems exist side by side with otherwise democratic structures. In countries such as India and Nigeria, governments have enacted progressive legislation to combat atrocities against ‘lower’ caste communities. But discriminatory treatment remains endemic, and discriminatory societal norms continue to be reinforced with impunity by government and private structures and practices, frequently through violent means, with the connivance and complicity of the State.
As India’s then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao said: Attempts by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to … improve their lot and claim what is rightfully theirs, are often the principal cause of the atrocities that are perpetrated on them. There is a lack of sensitivity on the part of the police and the district administration … The law enforcers themselves, in many cases, fail to act promptly or collude with the other side. Government figures on the atrocities confirm that fifteen years down the line, the atrocities have increased.
Though there were many attempts to better the lot of the ‘untouchables’ most had only a local impact, and were based on a charity and welfare approach. While some opine that there are some benefits in the caste system, there is absolute consensus on the need to eliminate caste discrimination. However, in the competition to be higher on the caste scale, myths are invented to degrade others. Even Shivaji’s descendents had the ignominy of being considered Shudras once they were out of power!
Social reformers from Periyar to Sri Narayana Guru to Mahatma Phule opposed the caste system lock, stock and barrel. Gandhi’s approach was more moralistic, depending on the goodwill of the oppressor castes rather than a right of the ‘Depressed Classes’. Though extremely sympathetic to the cause of the ‘Harijans’—he repeatedly expressed his desire to be reborn as one—he still felt that the caste system was right. It took the political and intellectual skills of B R Ambedkar to provide the pan Indian framework for Dalit liberation, in part because he wrote in English, to the consternation of Brahminism which until then had virtual monopoly over the discourse. Educated in the western tradition, he applied the rigorous academic analysis to the Hindu scriptures—much as the modernists did to the Bible in Europe—and provided a countervailing ideological framework for Dalit assertion. Though published by the Government of Maharashtra itself, his ‘Riddles in Hinduism’ was made ‘out of print’ when hostile governments were in power. This iconic—almost demigodlike—pan Indian recognition has provided the centre around which Dalit assertion has coalesced.
The Indian state and intelligentsia have been liberal. It was ensured that a Dalit would be the President at the 50th anniversary of Independence—equivalent to having a Black as the President of the US, which has not happened in their 220 year history. The ‘architect of the Indian constitution’ was Dr Ambedkar. It is also true that he was the first to burn it—an accurate reflection of the contradiction between ideals and reality. This contradiction is illustrated in the Mandal Commission report—which all parties promised to implement in their manifestoes—and the reaction to the announcement of its implementation. The Mandal Commission recommended sweeping affirmative action measures to empower the weaker sections. Large parts of Indian society reacted negatively to this. Faced with this threat, Indian society closed ranks against the Dalits. Curiously, the recommendations were for reservations for the other backward classes, the OBCs not for Dalits! The SC/ST Atrocities [Prevention] Act, Protection of Civil Rights Act and several others to protect the human rights of weaker sections have a dismal record of conviction, let alone in their stated objective of prevention.
The claims of those pointing to the numerous affirmative action provisions are disputed by none less than President K R Narayanan of India who noted: Untouchability has been abolished by the law but the shades of it remain in the ingrained attitude nurtured by the caste system. Though the provisions of reservation in educational institutions and public services flow from our constitution, these provisions remain unfulfilled through bureaucratic and administrative deformation or by narrow interpretations of these special provisions.
The practice has been to articulate lofty ideals, but ensure that the practice of these ideals does not happen in one’s neighbourhood—the ‘nimby’ syndrome: not in my backyard. The captains of Indian industry—not known for efficiency in the best of times—stoutly oppose any affirmative action in the private sector and want everything to be on ‘merit’. Ironically, two days after the public opposition—on the editorial page of a national daily—the same stalwart of Indian industry appointed his son the director of his company. How ‘merit’ and ‘seniority’ applied there is a mystery. Significantly, neither he nor large parts of society, saw the irony of it all.
With some mobility due to the global dynamics, increasing access to education, and job reservation in the public sector, some Dalits have refused to be degraded or be the waste absorbers of the nation. The social reaction has been to find more brutal ways of countering mobility and assertion. Mass gang-rapes of Dalit women in whole villages, burning entire families, total destruction of Dalit property in cycles of 12 to 15 years, denial of modern services, destruction of traditional livelihoods and new forms of discrimination are being invented to keep the Dalits under subjugation.
Water, electricity, roads, schools and community halls—not to speak of the location of government offices and services—all reach the Dalit part of the village or city last. Even when the services do reach, the control switches are kept with the dominant castes, so that they can control the Dalits. The electrical switches and water pipes being in the dominant caste part of the town or village is but one example. Dalits are specially targeted for conversion, and used as cannon fodder by all sides in communal riots. Segregated eating exists even in the mid-day meals given to students in government schools. Dalit children are forced to sweep the school and do domestic work in the homes of teachers—something that dominant caste children are not asked to do.
In the 2004 South Asian tsunami relief, the Dalits got less than 10% of what the non-Dalits got. Even the government segregated the relief camps. So strong is the hold of the caste system that even in their distress, others refused to inter-dine or share relief camps with Dalits. Ironically, Dalits were imported from other areas to bury the dead.
Discrimination continues even on conversion to other ‘egalitarian’ religions like Christianity, Sikhism and Islam. When the Dalit Christians protested discrimination within the church—where they make up the majority but are minority of priests and even less Bishops—the church promptly diverted their attention by coopting the struggle and sought to paper over the internal contradiction by demanding reservations in government jobs for Dalit Christians. The present Dalit position is that they are neither Hindus nor Christians or anything else but Dalits. There is some movement towards Neo-Buddhism as a political expression of protest. Temple entry used to be high on the agenda but the emphasis now is more on ‘separate, but equal’ spaces both for worship, socialisation and livelihood. Even when Chandrababu Naidu tried out temple entry with government backing in Andhra Pradesh, it left the Dalits vulnerable to the certain backlash, which was not long in coming. Many did not even respond to the Chief Minister’s call, fed up with the tokenism, constant discrimination and struggle.
With the nascent Dalit middle class finding its voice, they have been able to link globally. There have been recent victories in the UN, which has appointed a special rapporteur and asserted that caste discrimination is a form of racial discrimination—over-ruling the Indian government. Their votes have become consolidated across the nation, and even those who swear by class and religion are forced to take notice of the caste arithmetic in their electoral calculations. Just how organised this section is politically can be gauged by this simple fact: with 50% of the population and votes, women have been struggling through consecutive governments for 33% of seats in parliament. With less than half that, de facto reservation for Dalits even in ministries is unquestioned. The contradiction is visible here too: Dalits are routinely prevented from voting, and contesting in the seats reserved for them. In some panchayats, they are prevented from filing their papers, or forced to resign immediately, or when force does not work slaughtered—as in Melavalavu.
At the same time, internal contradictions within the ‘Dalit’ identity have come to the fore. The well known Mala–Madiga conflict, where the better off claim all the benefits, is but one of the results of the stratification and sanskritisation among the Dalits themselves. The internal contradictions are not just between the castes that make up the ‘Dalits’—and who practice untouchability amongst themselves too—but also among men and women. The contradictions of larger society have found their way into the Dalit communities also. Though the Dalit women have stood shoulder to shoulder with their men, they are sometimes invisible and called ‘Dalits among Dalits’. In the words of the black women’s movement of USA, ‘all Blacks are men, all women are white’. The situation is no different in India. The Dalit women are invisible to both the Dalit movement and the women’s movements. It is no mean achievement that the list of 1000 women nominated for the Nobel peace prize has Ruth Manorama—the leader of the National Alliance of Women’s organisations, NAWO, and National Federation of Dalit Women, NFDW.
Indians blame all problems on the ‘foreign hand’. Unfortunately, this one is totally home grown. The Gandhian approach of ‘atonement’ has not even taken off. The Ambedkarite approach of assertion and ‘political power is the key’ has worked far better. The global shift to a sovereignty and human rights based framework makes obsolete anything less.
3.4 Citizenship and the Tharu
The 1.6 million Tharu are the fourth most populous community of Nepal, and are about 6.5% of its people. They are an accurate portrait of what happens when nationals are not considered citizens. The same process is repeated in India regarding the indigenous people, Sri Lanka re the Tamils, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh… and virtually all over the world in what is called ‘ethnic swarming’ and a ‘slow strangulation process’.
There has been a slow, long drawn out process of dispossession that led to the situation of bondage for the With the ‘unification’ of Nepal in the 1760s, the kings of Nepal extended their domain over Naya Muluk, meaning ‘new country’. The Tharu land was part of this ‘new country’, which was considered terra nullius by the rulers.
Though the Tharu already inhabited the land, the king bestowed the land upon royals, courtiers and other royal staff. With the emergence of the Ranas, land was appropriated even faster. Migrants from India and the hills were brought in to make the land more ‘productive’ further displacing the indigenous people.
3.4.1 The slow strangulation process
The Kamaiya system of bonded labour did not consume the Tharu and their lands in one go. It did so gradually, in different stages.
• Up to 1860: Terra nullius
In this phase, the people were literally ‘non-persons’. They were lost, and gained, with the territory. The land, with the non-persons, was lost to the British in 1816, and regained from them in 1861.
• 1860 to 1930: Immigrants
In this stage, the land was gifted to the royal retainers. Half the Naya Muluk, which included the entire Bardiya district, was gifted as Birta—land from which he could collect tax—to Jung Bahadur Rana.
• 1930 to 1960: Settlers
During the two decades from 1930, there was a prominent increase in Rana landlords. When the land was surveyed in 1946-47, the landlords illegally claimed a majority of the land, and almost all the prime land. They left less than 20 percent to the tillers. They used the survey to legalise their claim to more land.
• Post 1960: Kamaiya lords
After 1960, the dispossession was much more stark. The number of migrants increased. They no longer went back in summer to their ‘home’. Home for the migrants also became Tharuwan.
• 2000: Liberation
The Kamaiya were declared free on 17 July 2000 by a government proclamation. There has been a process of rehabilitation afterwards.
Two supposedly good welfare measures alienated the Tharu from their land—the census and the abolition of Birta, the private collection of tax from land gifted to the royal retainers by the king. The innocent Tharu did not get the land registered in their name, so the land legally became the property of those who claimed it for the sake of record. With the abolishment of Birta, they had to pay taxes in cash. Unused to the cash economy, they had to sell their land.
The initial practice was relatively more equitable, with the Kamaiya getting some land for their own use. They could use the produce of this land at their discretion, though they could work on this land only after working on the land of the Kamaiya lord. This land was later reduced, as indicated by term ‘bali bigha’. Bali bigha is only half the normal bigha, strongly suggesting that the Kamaiya started off with one bigha of land, which was then reduced to half a bigha for his own use.
In a further reduction, the ‘bigha’ was changed into giving 12 sacks of rice in about 1973. When the Kamaiya protested and struck work, their leader Josi Ram was singled out for revenge. Twenty–five Kamaiya lords surrounded him and charged him with being responsible for the lost production. They then garlanded him with shoes in front of the whole village—a practice that is prevalent in Nepal to humiliate someone publicly. Unable to bear the humiliation, he was forced to leave the village. Deprived of leadership and bereft of support, the remaining Kamaiya resumed work. It was only after a quarter of a century—with much more external support and links—that they would systematically resist and, of course, they would win.
3.4.2 The lessons
Two important facets stand out in the narrative: the inertia of the state in protecting the Tharu, and the alacrity with which they promoted the elite ethnic swamping of Tharuwan. The different ways in which the state sees its citizens and nationals are illuminating.
Though there were sufficient legal provisions to liberate the Tharu from bonded labour, the Supreme Court abdicated its responsibility, even when a writ was filed before it in a case of wanting not to see the injustice, saying that the state was doing enough to address the issue [but would the court have taken the same benign stance if a Brahmin was kept bonded by a Tharu?].
The government just set up study after study after study to get to know of the problem. Though government studies concluded that ‘the Kamaiya system [agriculture bonded labour] is one of the remaining forms of slavery in existence’ it concluded that the Kamaiya should pay off their debts from their own money!
The same report recommended that the ‘government should campaign to liberate bonded labour, and the landlord or Zamindar who do such pious jobs should be recognised and respected socially and morally’… in other words, when the citizen merely consents to cease being a criminal, the state should bestow a special award of recognition.
Even by government reports, the landlords had land in excess of the land ceiling. The government could confiscate the excess land and distribute it to the ex-Kamaiya. The government did not do that. It went one step further. It confiscated the land in excess of 5 katta from the ex-Kamaiya Tharu! Of course, confiscating the land of the landlords over the legal maximum of 25 bigha was unthinkable. This is despite the government itself having documented that the landlords had an average of 85.36 bigha, with a high of 118.47 bigha in Bardiya with the names of each landlord.
The ‘rehabilitation package’ was—and is—even more absurd. In the initial stages, most ex-Kamaiya were given just one or two katta of land. But this, as the government itself knew in 1999, was woefully insufficient: Two katta of land is not sufficient for even two months of survival.
Even the land for their own use when they were Kamaiya—the bali bigha—was ten katta. And that was demonstrably insufficient for their sustenance, drawing them deeper into debt. Giving less than viable landholdings is delayed distribution to the landlords, since this land will have to be sold for the very survival of the ex-Kamaiya.
There was less than 6% difference in the number of Kamaiya identified. The government used the difference to delay distribution. Even with the NGO’s figure of 11,119 households, the total requirement of land to settle all the identified houseless and landless ex-Kamaiya with ten katta of land per family was just 5,560 bigha. The Cotton Development Board [CDB] had 5,000 bigha of land that had never been used for cotton production. One of the ideas presented by an NGO working in Bardiya was to authorize the resettlement in CDB area, since less than half of CDB’s land would be enough to resettle all the ex-Kamaiya of Bardiya district with ten katta of land per household. In a case of sheer cussedness, the bureaucracy killed it with silence.
4 Restoring Citizenship: Some issues and challenges
4.1 Roots of conflict
While all nationals want to be citizens—which most states claim they are—the reality is different. Citizenship rights are granted only to ‘nationals’, but not all ‘nationals’ are ‘citizens’. There are many other qualifications for becoming a citizen. The reality is that citizenship, apart from being a legal and territorial identifier, is an engendered, religious, ethnic, racial and linguistic construct. It is more a socio-cultural paradigm than merely legal.
In the process of exclusion, religion is the most emotive. By definition, religion is based on ‘faith’ and therefore cannot be subjected to rational scientific discourse. This leads to permanently privileged ‘gatekeepers’—such as the Brahmins in Hinduism—and the permanently disadvantaged, such as the Dalits, and women in all religions. But language is the most visible since everyday routine social interaction in the public sphere makes language a vital public good. The dominant often impose their language on the others, saying that the other languages are in some way inferior, leading to the statement that ‘a language is a dialect with an army’. Language is a good indicator of ‘belonging’ and ‘citizenship’—from the privileged positions occupied by those whose ‘mother tongue’ is also the ‘national language’ to the more subtle forms as in the accent that gives away the class or the territorial origin.
In some countries, such as Nepal, it is explicit in law. Citizenship has to be formally obtained. In others it is de facto. The conflict between the ‘nationals’ and the government arises over the very definition of the nation. Governments have often defined the nation as its territory. People have always defined the nation as an extended family. It is in this framework that the exclusion and inclusion of people from ‘citizenship’ should be seen. Citizens have privileges, while the nationals have duties. Citizens pay tax, and have the right to expect and demand government services. Nationals pay rent, and therefore must be content with the state letting them live.
The government tends to make rules that discriminate between those who are citizens, and those who are only ‘nationals’ or the nominal citizens. The citizens are shielded from their action by what is called the ‘good intent’ clause. A category of citizens is the government bureaucracy. If a government servant does anything, they are absolved from any blame if they did it with good intentions. However, for the nationals, ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’! The human rights principle of non-discrimination must apply.
4.2 Structural dimensions
To make the poor become part of any nation’s idea of ‘we, the people’, institutions of the state must fulfil the need of the poor to defend themselves against the outside and to protect the individual from majoritarian tyranny. These are the systems and structures that will enable the poor to enjoy and enhance the fruits of their labour, and insure equitable distribution.
But this distinction between ‘citizens’ and ‘nationals’ translates into systems and procedures with bias. States have infrastructure—both physical and mental—to take from the poor and give to the rich. This is an intrinsic characteristic of institutional systems: they take from others and give to their constituency. Trade unions have systems to get and deliver benefits, goods and services to their members—often organised labour. When some are considered citizens, the state has systems to take from others and given to its ‘citizens’. Conservative states take from the poor and give the rich: there are taxes for the poor, and tax breaks for the industry. NGOs, in contrast, have the infrastructure to take from the rich and give to the poor. This is seen best in times of emergency: it is the NGOs who can really help the poor, reach out to them and be with them in their times of need. The government systems are in disarray.
In ‘normal’ times too, the state takes from the nationals to give the citizens in a slow strangulation process.
4.3 Shifting goal posts
Restoring citizenship is a difficult task due to shifting goal posts. The dominant often claim that their laws are ‘fair’. But ‘fair’ does not mean just as in justice. It is as racist as the English language, which equates white with good, and black with evil. While pretending to be just, these laws and the equality before the law is only for the citizens. When the nationals ask for non-discriminatory application of laws, the laws are changed, stripping away any pretence of neutrality, impartiality, even-handedness and ‘equality before the law’.
• The Indian independence struggle started off with ‘One King, One Law’. The British—till then proponents of equality—disagreed.
• The US revolution started off with ‘No taxation without representation’. The British again disagreed.
• When the portions of the Nepalese Constitution on minimum wage was broadcast—as a paid advertisement, no less—the slave owners got it banned from the airwaves.
• The World Bank had Operational Directive 4.20 regarding indigenous peoples… but the moment the Narmada Bachao Andolan used it, they changed it, severely diluting and changing it to ‘best practice’. This meant that it was no longer mandatory, but only a recommendation.
• When the indigenous people of Keralam in Southern India asked for the enforcement of the law, the normally fractious state legislature voted—with just one dissenting vote—to legalise the encroachment… and called the indigenous people terrorists.
It is this realisation of being permanent rent payers that causes resentment and resistance.
4.4 Strata and strategy
Nationals often launch resistance movements just to retain status quo—no matter how unjust this status quo is. Seldom do they launch movements for ‘citizenship’, which they believe is beyond their capacity.
Depending on where the community is placed on the ladder of access and control over resources—survival, sustenance, security or self–esteem—the state permits different forms of dissent and choice.
Social strata Resource level Sustainability level Change mode Change process
Absolute poor Survival A day or less Mass struggle Relief
Lower class Sustenance The present Campaigns Resistance
Middle class Security One generation Advocacy Reconstruction
Upper class Self–esteem Two or more generations Lobbying Rectification
The state is less responsive to the calls for change from those lower down the rungs. For instance, a letter from a person in the dominant hierarchy gets much more of a result than anything less than armed resistance from those at the bottom. Therefore, the only option for those at survival levels is a mass struggle—though even here there is emphasis on ‘peaceful and democratic’ struggles.
Those at the sustenance levels [the lower class] can have campaigns. Those with security do advocacy, and those at the self–esteem levels do lobbying. For those at survival levels, they are even physically removed from the corridors of power so the question of being in the lobbies for ‘lobbying’ does not arise.
4.5 The question of violence
Given the contemporary political environment where every assertion of human rights is labelled ‘terrorist’, it becomes important to address the question of the source and use of violence. Unequal status quo is maintained through violence. Most of this violence remains unseen since it is built into the normative base of society, and thus is ‘background noise’—shut out by habit—until brought to consciousness by its increase to intolerable limits or conscious focus and sensitising.
Most often, systemic violence is so normative, it becomes visible only when the oppressed resist. Then they—the oppressed—are blamed for the violence. For instance, women claiming equal rights to property are blamed for upsetting tradition. However, the oppressed resort to resistance only when death is preferable to acquiescence.
In the particular context of Nepal, this must be kept in mind, especially since many ex-Kamaiya are accused of being Communist Party of Nepal [Maoist] supporters. Not redressing the injustice, continuing wilful blindness to their plight, decades of apathy—all point to the complicity of the state in pushing and even encouraging them to direct action. It is the establishment that bears the onus of pushing them into extreme forms of hopelessness, protest and survival.
In an incredible feat of mental agility, but a move well known to human rights defenders, rooting out slavery was considered a threat to national security and termed anti-national, while the slave owners—law breakers, if not criminals themselves—were considered pillars of the nation and of national stability. When lawbreakers become the pillars of the nation, anarchy and revolution are not far behind.
A typical case of ‘violence’ and direct action in Dang brings out these issues.
S Chaudhary was a married woman. She was just 19. She lived as Kamlahari in the house of Shovakar Dangi in Dikpur VDC-1 from the time she was 14. Her parents had taken a sauki [loan] of Rupees 18,760 and some grain. She and her brother worked for the Kamaiya lord for five years without wages.
When she was raped for the fourth time on 14 March 2001 by ex-Kamaiya lord Shovakar Dangi, her parents complained to the VDC and other concerned authorities. There was no response.
At a mass meeting of ex-Kamaiya and KMAPS held on 20 March 2001, they shared their frustration. The ex-Kamaiya of Dang captured Shovakar Dangi the very next day, blackened his face and delivered him to the Tulsipur Police Station.
True to form, the police, instead of taking action against Shovakar Dangi, booked cases against the 51 ex-Kamaiya and Shram Lal Chaudhary, the coordinator of KMAPS in Dang, who dared to arrest Shovakar Dangi.
The case of the indigenous people of Keralam is no different. Despite winning every court case for restoration of their land for 30 years, the state refused to implement court orders. The state even tried to change the law to legalise encroachment. When the indigenous people finally went to restore their land, the police accused them of violence. In the melee, one police officer was killed. Shaking off its almost half-a-century of lethargy, the state Immediately swung into action to arrest and harass them.
… or in Brazil where the government shot and killed 14 martyrs of Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST, the movement of landless people in Brazil, when they were trying to enforce the land ceiling laws that the government was unwilling to enforce.
Unless the state and society change their behaviour, labelling those who assert their rights as ‘terrorists’ will not help. Every citizen has rights. States that pretend they cannot understand the language of rights are forced to understand it by the language of resistance.
4.6 Relief and Rehabilitation
During the earthquake relief in Gujarat, relief was systematically denied to Dalit and Muslim villages. The Muslim victims of the riots got Rupees 10,000 while the Hindus got Rupees 200,000.
Relief was denied to Dalits during the recent Tsunami. For instance, in Karaikal the fisher-folk received 60 kgs of rice while the landless agricultural labourers—mainly Dalits—received only 5 kgs. This is bizarre since both have lost their livelihoods: the fisher-folk lost their boats and nets and thus the ability to fish while the Dalits lost their ability to get work on lands since the land became saline with the ingress of the sea.
Rehabilitation of citizens focus on the standards for the life with dignity. For the nationals, it is based on the present standard of living of a victim that was whittled down to unsustainable levels in which they can barely survive. The focus of rehabilitation standards should be the community. Such a focus will ensure that their cultural sensitivities are factored in, that their future needs are met, that their skill sets are respected. If rehabilitation is for the ‘bonded labourers’ then the yardstick would be ‘anything better than bondage’ is good, and rehabilitation standards would be a relief camp.
In the case of the Kamaiya, ‘anything better than bondage’ has resulted in giving them just five katta of land at best. When they were Kamaiya they got Bali Bigha which was 10 katta of land. Even with that they were starving. In government ‘rehabilitation’ they were given 5 katta. Ironic, that ‘rehabilitation’ is even worse than slavery.
4.7 Higher standards
The nationals are always held to higher standards than the citizens. As a feminist once said ‘women have to be twice as good as men to be thought of as half as efficient. Fortunately, that’s not difficult’.
• When the women want seats in parliament, the men want guarantees that the women will not be corrupt [in which case, why should the men who are corrupt be elected?], will actually be effective [given that India has one of the lowest re-election rates for MPs, how many men can claim to be?], are actually representative of all women [!]…
• When the Dalits want reservation in the private sector, the business bodies tell the government to let the private sector run only on merit, and that government should not interfere. But the same industry wants tax breaks, favourable policies, free land to be acquired for them by the government [meaning use the police and bureaucrats paid for by the citizens taxes to acquire land for them]. The head of India’s largest business house is a college dropout… yet Dalit PhDs do not get even clerical jobs.
• When the indigenous people want their land to be restored to them, the argument is that they will drink it away. So the government gives them only occupation or possession certificates and not ownership certificates. But they forget that more non indigenous people drink their fortunes away.
4.8 … and Global citizens
There are now ‘global citizens’ and the ‘international community’. This concept of ‘citizenship’ as ‘one-of-us’ and demonising of ‘the other’ leads to the unintentional irony of this statement: ‘I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq,’ which would be interpreted as a call for the exit of the American and British foreign troops from Iraq. But Paul Wolfowitz meant something else when he was the US Assistant Secretary of War. By ‘foreign’ he meant Arabs and Muslims from neighbouring towns and villages, not White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants from a continent away.
Prior to the invasion of Iraq on false pretences, 500,000 infants died because sanctions deprived them of medicine and food. Asked by the press, Madelene Albright, then US secretary of state, whether she thought the price was not too high for stopping Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, she said it was difficult but the price (death of 500,000 children) was worth it… yet the US says that terrorists kill innocents…
The US and UK took it upon themselves to invade Iraq in order to remove an allegedly authoritarian government. The result of the invasion is that many more people have been killed and injured than Saddam was ever accused of. Worse still, the powers which are supposed to save the Iraqi people have broken international laws on human rights, by detaining Iraqis and others and torturing them at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere … yet the US and Britain ‘liberated’ Iraq.
The list is long… the fact is there are multiple standards. If you are a ‘citizen’—of a country or of the world—then what is expected from you is little, while you can expect the best from others. The others may be nationals, refugees or even lesser humans.
5 In conclusion
The challenge is to make all ‘nationals’ into ‘citizens’. As the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran pointed out, there cannot be two kinds of citizenship in the world. The global movements to restore citizenship work on the premise that human rights are inherent, indivisible, interdependent and inalienable. In a globalised world, global citizenship becomes a necessity. We cannot be rent payers in this world. The globalisation process has created a new class of global citizens, who use the rest of the world defining and redefining the rules, vocabulary and thought. ‘Globalisation’—the free movement—of capital, markets and business is sought to be made the natural order of things, while the globalisation of human beings, relationships and solidarity is prohibited.
Since human rights are interdependent and indivisible, while working for human rights, it is also important to work for ‘citizenship rights’. These rights mean not only at the nation-state level, but also for global citizenship, though grassroots action is a prerequisite. Multiple action, at multiple levels, in different forums and spaces, by multiple actors becomes a necessity.
‘Citizenship’ flows through the projection of power. Creation of power in an inclusive, democratic, internally just process—often called an empowerment process—is the need of the hour for claiming this citizenship. There has been some progress. However, much more needs to be done… and miles to go to awake into ‘that heaven of freedom’.
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 Muslim women get own Jamaat, want mosque http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=77958 . The mosque is yet to come up, though she has got the land. STEPS, works in Parambu village in Pudukottai district in the South Indian state of Tamilnadu.
 Address at the inaugural of the meeting of chief ministers, New Delhi, 4 October 1991.
 Ambedkar Bhim Rao, Collected Works, Volume 4, Government of Maharasthra.
 Address to the nation, Republic Day, 26 January 2000.
 For details on how it works in South India, see Cheria Anita Why Does Nagarhole Burn? and Cheria Anita, Bijoy CR, Narayanan K and Edwin A Search for Justice: A citizens report on the Adivasi report in South India.
 In English: Empty land.
 Dhakal Suresh, Rai Janak, Chemjong Dambar, Maharjan Dhruba, Pradhan Pranita, Maharjan Jagat and Chaudhary Shreeram, Issues and Experiences: Kamaiya system, Kanara Andolan and Tharus in Bardiya, SPACE, September 2000, p34.
 The Kamaiya system had adult Tharu males, who were called ‘Kamaiya’—meaning hard worker—working for the landlord.
 1 Katta= 3,645 square feet; 1 Bali Bigha = 10 Katta; 1 Bigha = 20 Katta; 3 Bigha = 2 Hectares [approx].
 Robertson Adam and Mishra Shisham, Forced to Plough: Bonded Labour in Nepal’s Agricultural Economy, Anti-Slavery International and INSEC, 1997, p68.
 Shrestha Krishna Prasad, Shrestha Nabin Lal, Summary report on the socio-economic status of Kamaiya, Ministry of Land Reforms and Management, Government of Nepal, November 1999, p38. This brief report is a must read for facts and figures. The tables give a clinical—and therefore more chilling—picture of the nature, extent and impact of the system. It answers the question: What did the government know, and when did they know it?
 Shrestha K P, Shrestha N L, p26—28.
 The land, as one commentator put it, that was watered by the sweat and blood of the Kamaiya for generations.
 Shrestha K P, Shrestha N L, p26—28.
 Shrestha K P, Shrestha N Ll, p26.
 Devkota Bharat Mani, A status report on the situation of the Kamaiyas in far- and mid-west Tarai, Update on the Kamaiya situation: August 2001.
 Female Kamaiya working for the landlord.
 Kamaiya Mukti Andolan Parichalan Samiti [Kamaiya Liberation Movement Mobilization Committee]
 Kandangwa Nanda Kumar and Thapa Narabikram, Freed Kamaiya Status Report, ActionAid Nepal 2001, p8 and Annual Report 2000, ActionAid Nepal 2001, p7.
 Paul D. Wolfowitz, quoted in The New York Times, 22 July 2003.
 Mahathir Mohamad, People with blood-soaked hands, speech.
 Mahathir Mohamad, People with blood-soaked hands, speech.
 UN General Assembly on 19 September 2005. ‘We have a right to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. The US is attempting to divide the world into light and dark countries… everyday they are threatening other nations with nuclear weapons, and they are never inspected’.
 We have elaborated the ‘rights and solidarity empowerment process’ in our books A human rights based approach to development: A resource book and Life goes on...; Sustainability of community development programs and the withdrawal of NGO support: an enquiry into expectations and implications
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