– Filmmaker terrorised for exposing caste slavery in Tamil Nadu

Divya Bharathi faces death threats, criminal charges for documentary

Arvin Valmuci

Chennai, 9 August 2017. After releasing a documentary exposing in vivid detail the daily lives of manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu, 26-year-old filmmaker Divya Bharathi has been slapped with criminal charges, including cyber terrorism.

“Kakkoos,” a nearly two-hour documentary, shows how countless sanitation workers remain engaged in the ancient, caste-based practice of removal and disposal of human excrement using bare hands and feet.

The Hindu caste system traditionally relegated the work to those considered “outcastes” and consequently treated them as Untouchables. Bharathi believes more than 200,000 people are currently engaged in manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu alone.

On August 3, Divya Bharathi was charged by Madurai police with violating Indian Penal Codes Section 153A and Section 505 (1)(b) as well as the Information Technology Act (2006) Section 66F.

The first two laws prohibit “promoting enmity between different groups… on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever” and publishing statements “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

The third law prohibits cyber terrorism.

Charges were filed after complaints by Dr Krishnasamy, a wealthy political leader and former member of Tamil Nadu’s Legislative Assembly. “In my documentary, I had listed 10 castes, including Pallar, whose members are involved in manual scavenging,” explained Bharathi.

“It upset K. Krishnasamy of Puthiya Tamilagam, mainly representing the Scheduled Caste (SC) Dalit subgroup Pallar. He was upset that his caste was named. Krishnasamy has moved ahead economically and socially and he thinks it is damaging for this reputation.”

“‘Kakkoos’ reveals the miserable condition of these poor souls who are forced into this life of slavery,” said Bhajan Singh, Founding Director of Organization for Minorities of India.

“Yet instead of being offended by the reality of the suffering of the oppressed, powerful people have taken offense at the documentation of the truth of the ground realities. Divya is a courageous young woman who deserves our praise and our support.”

Bharathi has also endured a wave of abuse. “My phone number was made public on Facebook and other social media,” she said on August 7. “After this public threat, I received around 2000 calls abusing and threatening to rape and kill me.”

She blames the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for instigating both the abuse and the criminal charges, linking Krishnasamy to BJP president Amit Shah.

“[Krishnasamy] emerged as a Dalit leader but now is an ally of BJP,” said Bharathi. “He welcomed the beef ban… and held a meeting welcoming Amit Shah in Madurai. It is a well-organised political attack by the BJP by using Krishnasamy.”

In a video posted to Facebook on August 3, the young filmmaker stated: “Caste system should be annihilated as Ambedkar told…. The BJP, which supports caste, is bringing the fake cases against me…. I request all to raise your voice against these regressive forces.”

“Kakkoos” has faced strong opposition since its release in February 2017. Film screenings in Tamil Nadu have been repeatedly blocked by the state government; according to Bharathi, the government of neighboring Kerala has even acted to prevent screenings as far away as Delhi.

Screenings were cancelled, reported Bharathi, “on grounds that it would become a law and order issue.”

“Rather than acknowledging the problem of manual scavenging and working to correct it, the Indian State is focused on concealing it by brushing it under the rug and gagging anyone who talks about it,” said Pieter Friedrich, an analyst of South Asian Affairs.

“Divya Bharathi’s experience is a horrifying reminder that not only is caste a very current issue, but that Indian citizens lack protection of other very basic human rights such as freedom of speech. The State should never possess the power to censor a film, especially an offensive film.

Of course, in this case, the only reason the film is offensive is because it shows the truth about how people are being oppressed by the government with total impunity.”

India’s 2011 census documented 794,000 cases of manual scavenging across the country. According to government figures, the practice was most common in Maharashtra, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura and Karnataka.

Various laws at state and national levels have addressed the ongoing practice of manual scavenging. Most notably, the Indian Parliament passed “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.”
However, implementation of the laws is severely lacking. According to Bharathi: “Neither the central government nor the state government is interested in rehabilitating manual scavengers…. In my film, I have proved that all sanitary workers are manual scavengers.”

In “Kakkoos,” Advocate Saravanan stated: “The 2013 act that bans humans cleaning human shit says that 44 safety tools are to be provided to the workers. Of these 44, do you know what our workers have?”

The film then cuts to a montage of over a dozen workers explaining: “They have given us nothing. Not even gloves.” Earlier in the film, describing his job duties, a worker said: “Last week, we went into the sewage canal, with slime till our neck.

We cleaned with our hands only.” Another worker stated: “Gloves, boots are all there safely in the office. They are not given to us. If we ask, they will dismiss us.”

Interviewed by Bharathi, social activist Padam Narayanan explained the municipal selection process for sanitation workers: “When the Chennai Metro water hires people through contractors… When they come for job selection, first they have to remove all their clothes, with just a loin around the waste.

Then they have to drink alcohol. Then they will be sent inside the sewage ditches by hanging on a rope. When that person is inside, the others outside will count….

Those people who can hold their breath for 3 to 4 minutes will be selected. Others are not qualified…. In no other part of the world, you would have ever seen such recruitment method.”

“Manual scavenging is a scourge on Indian society,” remarked Friedrich as he emphasized the widespread extent of the practice. “This is not an issue of a few people being caught up in an obsolete method of sanitation.

As ‘Kakkoos’ shows, employment of people as manual scavengers is common practice by the sanitation departments of some of the largest cities in Tamil Nadu.

The sanitation methodology is inseparably connected to the belief in the caste system, as workers in the film testify, safety equipment is available and yet denied to them. These oppressed people are intentionally, deliberately kept as so-called ‘Untouchables’ by compelling them to work in dangerous, filthy conditions.”

In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) explained that many people are forced to perform manual scavenging. “Manual scavenging can constitute forced labor because entry into this practice is entirely caste-designated….

Consequences for leaving manual scavenging include community threats of physical violence and displacement — and even threats and harassment by local officials mandated by law to end the practice, who instead withhold wages and threaten eviction from homes,” stated the report.

Furthermore, reported HRW, “Government village councils and municipalities have engaged in caste-based recruitment to clean open defecation areas.” According to HRW’s South Asia Director, Meenakshi Ganguly: “People work as manual scavengers because their caste is expected to fulfill this role, and are typically unable to get any other work.”

“Only if we get rid of the caste from our minds can we think of providing other jobs to these people,” stated Bezwada Wilson in “Kakkoos.” Wilson is a cofounder of Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), which describes itself as a movement to eradicate manual scavenging in India.

As reported on SKA’s website: “The caste system dictates that those born into a particular Dalit sub-caste should engage in manual scavenging and should remain doing so throughout their lives, prohibiting them to lead a dignified life in the community….

Apart from being employed by individual households there are many manual scavengers employed by the government for cleaning at the community dry latrines, Railway stations, government hospitals, etc.”

“The caste system retards all progress,” explained Arvin Valmuci, a communications coordinator for OFMI. “Caste retards economic progress, technological progress, social progress. It stifles innovation.

The Hindu scriptures require the downtrodden to perform the filthiest work of society in the most degrading manner for the benefit of the upper castes. Believers in this system have no incentive to improve conditions. The only way to fully eradicate manual scavenging is to utterly reject caste.”

Bhajan Singh demanded all charges against Bharathi be dropped immediately. “The duty of the government of Tamil Nadu is to protect Divya, not charge her,” said Singh.

“Instead of persecuting her to try and silence her, the government should be acting to completely remedy its atrocious caste-based practices. Instead of harassing her, the government should be hailing her as a hero for standing up against oppression.”

BBC News – Is India’s ban on cattle slaughter ‘food fascism’?

A lawmaker from India’s southern state of Kerala has announced that he is returning to eating meat, fish and eggs after practising vegetarianism for nearly two decades.

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 2 June 2017. There’s nothing unusual about a lapsed vegetarian but V T Balram said his decision was prompted by the federal Hindu nationalist BJP government’s attempt to seize the people’s right to eat what they wanted.

“I have been living without eating meat, fish or eggs since 1998. But now the time has come break it and uphold the right politics of food assertively,” Mr Balram said, while posting a video of him eating beef with friends and fellow party workers.

The BJP believes that cows should be protected, because they are considered holy by India’s majority Hindu population. Some 18 Indian states have already banned slaughter of cattle.

But millions of Indians, including Dalits (formerly untouchables), Muslims and Christians, consume beef.

And it’s another matter, say many, that there’s no outrage against the routine selling of male calves by Hindu farmers and pastoralists to middlemen for slaughter as the animals are of little use, bullocks have been phased out by tractors in much of rural India, and villagers need to rear only the occasional bull.

Ironically, the cow has become a polarising animal. Two years ago, a mob attacked a man and killed him over “rumours” that his family ate beef. Vigilante cow protection groups, operating with impunity, have killed people for transporting cattle.

More recently, the chief of BJP’s powerful ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Organisation) has called for a countrywide ban on the slaughter of cows. And this week, a senior judge said the cow should be declared a national animal and people who slaughter cows should be sentenced to life in prison.

Many say this is all contributing to effectively killing India’s thriving buffalo meat trade.

Earlier this week, several Indian states opposed the federal government’s decision to ban the sale of cattle for slaughter at livestock markets. The government said the order was aimed at preventing uncontrolled and unregulated animal trade.

But the ban, say many, could end up hurting some $4bn (£3.11bn) in annual beef exports and millions of jobs. There are some 190 million cattle in India, and tens of millions “go out of the system”, die or need to be slaughtered – every year. How will poor farmers sell their animals?

So, as lawyer Gautam Bhatia says, the new rules are “perceived as imposing an indirect beef ban”. He believes the government will find it difficult to defend them if they are challenged in the court, one state court, responding to a petition that they violate the right of a person to chose what he eats, has already put the ban on hold.

The badly-drafted rules, Mr Bhatia says, are “an opportunity for citizens and courts to think once again whether the prescription of food choices is consistent with a Constitution that promises economic and social liberty to all”.

‘Dietary profiling’

Critics have been calling the beef ban an example of “dietary profiling” and “food fascism”. Others say it smacks of cultural imperialism, and is a brazen attack on India’s secularism and constitutional values. Don’t laugh, but there could be a conspiracy to turn India vegetarian, screamed a recent headline.

Many believe that the BJP, under Narendra Modi, appears to be completely out of depth with India’s widely diverse food practices which have always been distinguished by religion, region, caste, class, age and gender.

Indians now eat more meat, including beef, cow and buffalo meat, than ever. Consumption of beef grew up 14% in cities, and 35% in villages, according to government data analysed by IndiaSpend, a non-profit data journalism initiative.

Beef is the preferred meat in north-eastern states like Nagaland and Meghalaya. According to National Sample Survey data, 42% Indians describe themselves as vegetarians who don’t eat eggs, fish or meat; another baseline government survey showed 71% of Indians over the age of 15 are non-vegetarian.

Governments have tried to impose food bans and choices around the world, mostly using health and environment concerns and hygiene concerns.

In the US, for example, groups have rallied against subsidised vegetables, outlawing large sodas, promotion of organic food and taxing fat. Bangkok is banning street food to clean up streets and enforce hygiene standards.

India has done the same in the past. Crops like BT brinjal have been stalled by the government and industrially manufactured food like Maggi noodles banned temporarily amid claims they contained dangerously high levels of lead.
Scarcity has also led to bans, a ban of milk sweets in the 1970s in Delhi was justified because milk used to be in short supply.

‘Unfit animals’

“To the extent that this ban on cattle slaughter justifies itself by speaking of ‘unfit and infected cattle’, it seems to invoke public health, but then stops short by not banning the sale of goats, sheep and chicken as well,” sociologist Amita Baviskar told me.

“In fact, the public health argument leads logically to a move towards better regulation like stricter checking of animals for disease, more hygienic slaughter and storage of meat rather than a flat-out ban.”

Clearly, the ban appears to be working already.

“Selling red meat, even goat meat, in a BJP-ruled state is now injurious to one’s health. Who would want to risk the wrath of the vigilantes?,” says Dr Baviskar.

As it is, she says, meat-eating habits of Indians have been changing rapidly in the last couple of decades and the chicken, once regarded as a “dirty bird”, is now the most popular meat.

“I see a greater polarisation taking place between red states (meat-eating) and white states (chicken eating) Within the white states, meat-eaters will have to skulk about, looking over their shoulder as they bite into a beef kebab”. – Navjot Singh Sidhu has joined Congress without any pre-conditions: Amarinder Singh

Amritsar, Panjab, 19 January 2017. Coming together for the first time after cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu joined the Congress, Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh on Thursday said that Sidhu had joined the party without any pre-conditions.

“He is a foot soldier of the party, and has joined without any conditions. He never put forth any conditions,” Amarinder said, expressing happiness at Sidhu’s joining the Congress fold.

He made it clear that “Sidhu had joined the Congress without any preconditions and would be the party’s star campaigner in these polls”.

Amarinder later tweeted a photo of the two together: “Addressing our first Press Conference together. @sherryontopp (Sidhu) is like my son, and I’m glad we’re together in our #BattleForPunjab.”

There was speculation that Amarinder, who was conspicuous by his absence at Sidhu’s formal joining of the Congress in Delhi on Sunday, was upset that Sidhu was being projected as a chief ministerial probable by the Congress high command.

Amarinder had, on Tuesday, told the media: “I do not know if I am the CM (chief minister) candidate. It is up to the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) to decide.”

Responding to media queries, Sidhu rubbished all speculation on his vying for a post in the next Congress government, saying “son is son, and father is father”.

Declaring that he was in the Congress because of Amarinder, Sidhu asserted that he would go to Lambi constituency as campaigner to campaign against Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Sidhu tweeted: “Line-up is ready, boys are enthused, the captain @capt_amarinder formidable. Time to knock Badals out of the park! #TeamPunjab #BattleForPunjab.”

Amarinder said there was no truth in allegations by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders that he was being “soft” on Badal.

“I am contesting from Lambi to defeat Badal,” Amarinder said.

Amarinder Singh said if the Congress came to power, he would order reinvestigation into the SIT (special investigation team) clean chit in the drugs racket case in which the name of Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia figured.

The Hindu – BJP is an anti-Hindu party, says Kejriwal

Maria Akran

New Delhi, 17 October 2016. A day after his rally in Surat where he criticised BJP President Amit Shah, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal continued with his attack and called BJP an ‘anti-Hindu’ party. Supporting his claim, he said that the BJP government in Gujarat is using violence against the Patidar and Dalit youths.

In a Facebook post, the Delhi CM said that the BJP claims to be a party of Hindus yet it used force against the Patel community. At least 12 people were killed during the agitation which started in July 2015.

Referring to the incident of flogging of Dalit youths in Una, the AAP leader said that those youths were Hindus and yet they were beaten up. “Though there is a government but we all know orders come from Delhi. Weren’t these people Hindus?” he wrote.

He accused BJP of running after money and power and remarked that BJP will “not even spare their own.”

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The Indian Express – Dalits should embrace Buddhism, says Ramdas Bandu Athawale

Ramdas Bandu Athawale, speaks on a wide range of issues, from the flogging of Dalit youths in Una to the political fallout in UP of BJP leader Dayashankar Singh’s remarks against Mayawati and the quota system.

Sheela Bhatt

New Delhi, 30 July 2016. Minister of State of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ramdas Bandu Athawale, who is a veteran Dalit leader from Maharashtra and president of the Republican Party of India (RPI), speaks to The Indian Express on a wide range of issues, from the flogging of Dalit youths in Una to the political fallout in UP of BJP leader Dayashankar Singh’s remarks against Mayawati and the quota system, and said that “Dalits should embrace Buddhism”.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q: You have become a minister at a time when the BJP is being questioned among Dalits over the suicide of Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula and other incidents that have raised concern among the community. Are you feeling the heat?

A: Not at all. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, personally, is not anti-Dalit. The BJP, too, is talking about Babasaheb Ambedkar, saying that it is their duty to protect his Constitution. I agree that the Rohith Vemula incident was very serious. No student, Dalit or non-Dalit, should commit suicide.

Before Rohith, nine other students, some of them Dalits, had committed suicide. Narendra Modi has offered me this ministry at an appropriate time. Babasaheb was in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet. After 67 years, I feel proud that I was inducted in the Union Cabinet. It will be an advantage for BJP.

My party works all over India, and there are believers of Ambedkar all over the country. Since I have become a minister, it will help the BJP in UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab. If they had taken me before, they would have benefitted more. It’s late by two years but nevertheless, Narendra Modi has taken a good decision.

Q: Is it alright for you to see the BJP supporting Swati Singh (the wife of Dayashankar Singh who was suspended by the party for his abusive remarks against Mayawati) against the Dalit leaders of BSP?

A: Dayashankar used an incorrect word against Mayawati. The BJP has suspended him from the party. I was perturbed by the dirty remark and condemned it, too. But now, it seems the BJP has come out to protect (him) because BSP leaders have spoken wrongly against Dayashankar’s family members.

Q: When a powerful upper-caste group goes to a police station to lodge a complaint, how will the Dalits in UP feel? Won’t they have fear?

A: No. Nobody can scare Dalits just like that. Dalits have become very strong now. The BJP is not scaring Dalits. They are talking about some BSP leaders. I think both sides should clear things between them and calm down. I appreciate the BJP for taking stern action against Dayashankar. It was well done.

Q: Following this incident, will Dalits once again consolidate behind Mayawati?

A: She does have Dalit support, there are Dalits who consider her their leader. Mayawati is blaming the BJP today but she could become the chief minister of UP thrice only with the help of BJP. Mayawati opposes manuvaad (casteism), so do I. But she took the help of BJP to get power. She can’t forget that.

Once upon a time, the RPI was all-powerful in UP. We had ministers in the Charan Singh government. The elephant symbol once belonged to the RPI. It was only due to Kanshi Ram that she got the base. Kanshi Ram made an alliance of Dalits, Muslims and some OBC castes.

He branded Brahmin, Baniya and Thakur as enemies. Kanshi Ram used to say in public rallies if any Brahmin or Thakur was in the audience, he should leave.

But Mayawati has changed the slogan of bahujanhitay, bahujansukhay (welfare of majority) to sarvajanhitay, sarvajansukhay (welfare of all). Ten years ago, Mayawati took the help of (her aide) Satish Mishra and gave tickets to Brahmins in big numbers.

She will get some gains from the current controversy but we will go to the villages and explain that she had become CM four times in the past. She doesn’t have the sole right over Dalit votes. UP is our land, the land of RPI. Mayawati has encroached upon our land. I will reclaim that land from her. If not all, I will get back some part of my land, at least.

Q: Many Dalits perceive the BJP as a Brahmin-Baniya party. How do you respond to them now?

A: It was a Brahmin-Baniya party, today it is not. The BJP got 71 seats in UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, which means that Dalits of UP have voted for it. It means Dalits have accepted the leadership of Modi and not viewed his party as anti-Dalit. But I believe it’s the duty of the government to protect Dalits.

Q: How do you view the continuing atrocities against Dalits? What’s your view of the incident in Una, where a group of Dalits were flogged for skinning a dead cow?

A: I have condemned it. My workers have gone to Una. But during Congress rule, so many such incidents have happened. How have you forgotten those? The BJP has condemned the Una incident, as well. You saw how strict action has been taken against the attackers. The common man doesn’t think the BJP is responsible for atrocities against Dalits.

Q: What’s your view on gau rakshaks who attacked Dalits in Gujarat and Muslims in MP?

A: The Una incident is very serious. I want to ask gau rakshaks: There is a law against gau hatya (killing of cows), you continue with gau raksha (protection of cows), but why do manav hatya (killing of human beings)? If you do gau raksha, who will do manav raksha (protection of human beings)? They should not beat people.

If we don’t skin dead cows, who will do it? It’s not illegal to make leather from the skin of dead bulls and cows. By protecting cows in a violent way, they are defaming their state and the government. The government should deliberate on how to take action against these people who take the law in their hands. The government should ensure that such incidents are not repeated.

Q: What is the impact of these cow protectors and their vigilantism on Dalits and Muslims?

I respect the feelings about cows, let us not kill them. I am a Buddhist. I still respect the sentiments of Hindus. (The ban on cow slaughter) is a law belonging to Babasaheb’s Constitution. These gau rakshaks should follow rules so that such violent incidents are not repeated.

Dadagiri (bullying) should be avoided. Dalits face a lot of trouble on other fronts, too. Often, inter-caste marriages are opposed if a Dalit boy or girl is involved. The families of Dalit girls or boys suffer so much when murders take place due to such marriages. Police take the entire Dalit family into custody for no fault of their own.

We should do something about it. I am a firm believer that to remove casteism we should encourage inter-caste marriages. We should give protection to such marriages. It will unify Indian society. I am married to a woman from a Brahmin family. She is from Benaras.

They didn’t come to murder me. People should accept inter-caste marriages. My ministry will work to promote inter-caste marriages. I believe there should be arranged marriages among different castes.

Q: As a Buddhist, how do you find the state of your religion in India when the BJP, which mainly represents Hindu sentiments, is in power?

A: Buddhism is doing fine in India. RSS ka chehara Hindutvawadi ho sakta hai, lekin BJP ka chehara utna Hindutvawadi nahi hai (The face of RSS may be Hindutva, but the BJP’s face is not so much about Hindutva). Narendra Modi kept a statue of Buddha at his home in Gandhinagar. At his office, too, he had one.

On many occasions, he has said that he is where he is due to the Constitution of Babasaheb Ambedakar. I have a desire, to keep the statue of Buddha in Parliament. For the sake of peace, we should have it. It’s my regret that it’s not there. I will work for it. I will meet the Prime Minister soon and request it.

Q: Do Buddhists feel safe in India? Mayawati once spoke about it.

A: Mayawati is doing politics over Babasaheb. But she is not following him truly. Mayawati criticises Hindutva but she has not accepted Buddhism. Mayawati is a Hindu. Why is Mayawati not Buddhist, yet, if she claims to be a true Ambedkarite? She keeps criticising Manuvaad, talks about conversions but has not accepted Buddhism.

She announced her conversion many times but remains a Hindu. Dalits should embrace Buddhism. The other castes are fine if they merely support Ambedkar and Buddhism. There is no pressure on me because I am a Buddhist. I have a very good relationship with Narendra Modi, I have a good relationship with (BJP president) Amit Shah.

Q: What are the top three suggestions from you to the Modi government for the upliftment of Dalits?

A: During the Indira Gandhi government, a decision was taken to keep 15 per cent of Budgetary allocation for the SC plan. It’s not a law but a government order. The condition of Dalits is improving but more needs to be done. Two, reservation should be there for promotions in government jobs.

A Reservation Act should be made and the government should see that its implementation is done strictly. If any government officer shows laxity in filling up reserved posts, he should be punished. And, provision of reservation should be added in the ninth schedule of Constitution. It will protect the reservation system better.

Right now, SCs (15 per cent), STs (7.5 per cent) and OBCs (27 per cent) have 49.5 per cent reservation. But their population is much more. The SCs are 16.6 per cent, tribals are 8.6 per cent and OBCs 52 per cent. So, for a population of 77 per cent, you are giving a reservation of only 49.5 per cent.

In effect, those who are 23 per cent of the population have access to 51.5 per cent non-reserved space. So, in view of the agitations for reservation by Jats, Patels, Thakurs, Marathas and others, we should think fresh. We should not touch SC, ST and OBC reservation but consider 20-25 per cent reservation for the remaining 23 per cent population on the basis of economically backward criteria.

We should apply the creamy layer criteria and keep economically forward people out of the scheme. It will end the quarrel over reservation because then, 100 per cent Indians will get reservation. Three decades ago, OBCs were saying that they are not backward but today they have reservation and asking for more. Babasaheb were not against any castes, he was against casteism.

Q: Should Muslims get reservation, too?

A: In the Mandal commission, 80 per cent of poor Muslims are covered. The Constitution doesn’t allow religion-based reservation. For them, we should think separately so that they can get an advantage.

The Statesman – BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu to join AAP, resigns from RS

New Delhi, 18 July 2016. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and nominated Rajya Sabha MP Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned from Parliament on Monday.

The former cricketer’s wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu, a BJP MLA from Amritsar (East) and Chief Parliamentary Secretary (CPS) in the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP (SAD-BJP) government, is also likely to quit from the Punjab Legislative Assembly.

Media reports suggest that the former Indian cricketer is joining the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This is a major setback for the ruling Punjab government ahead of the Assembly polls.

Navjot Singh Sidhu was MP from Amritsar from 2004 to 2014. He, however, was asked to step down and make way for Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to fight from his constituency during the 2014 parliamentary elections.

In a bizzare move, Navjot Kaur had announced her resignation from the BJP through a Facebook post in April. Later, she had changed her stand and continued to be a part of the saffron party.

The Hindu – After Apna Dal, BJP now allies with party named after medieval Dalit king

The party is focused on bringing on board smaller caste-based parties ahead of UP elections next year

Omar Rashid

Lucknow, 10 July 2016. For the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is focused on bringing on board smaller caste-based parties.

After recently reaffirming its alliance with the Apna Dal faction led by Anupriya Patel, the party on Saturday announced it would fight the polls with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, named after the 11th century Dalit king Suheldev, revered by Rajbhars (MBC) and Pasis (Dalits) alike.

Formed in 2002 by ex-BSP leader Om Prakash Rajbhar, who has in the past claimed to be a descendant of Suheldev, the party has a strong following among certain sections of backwards and Dalits.

Rajbhars are one of the 17 MBC castes that have been demanding inclusion into the Scheduled Caste category and their support is expected to further push the BJP’s outreach among non-Yadav backwards, especially in Purvanchal.

BJP president Amit Shah and State president Keshav Prasad Maurya announced the decision in a rally organised by the SBSP in Mau.

In Mau, Mr. Shah addressed the ‘Ati-pichhda, Ati-Dalit mahapanchayat” organised by the SBSP. The BJP-RSS have over the years aggressively tried to portray Suheldev as a Hindutva warrior who stopped the march of Muslim invader Ghazi Mian, a nephew of Mahmud Ghaznavi, at Bahraich.

Mr. Shah’s speech was laced with those references. “Raja Suheldev not only protected the country from foreign invasion but also safeguarded its dharm,” Mr. Shah said, referring to Rajbhars as “descendants of Suheldev.”

The SBSP, however, has not been too successful politically. In 2012, it contested 52 seats and secured over 4 lakh total votes but failed to open its score. Mr. Rajbhar himself stood third.

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it became a part of Ekta Manch that included the Quami Ekta Dal, led by jailed MLA (Mau) Mukhtar Ansari and his brother Afzal Ansari. Mr. Rajbhar stood fourth but received 66,084 votes. Ironically, the BJP has been flaying the SP’s recent merger — later revoked — with the QED.

In his speech too, Mr. Shah made references to Mr. Ansari’s merger to target the SP. When asked to explain the BJP’s position, Mr. Pathak said: “Om Prakash Rajbhar will answer that. It was his own calculation with whom he aligned [in the past]. BJP has an understanding with the SBSP and will fight polls together with it.”