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Black economist says Cuba needs affirmative action

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate.

May 12, 2011

By Juan Tamayo

Black Cubans, already with the worst jobs and lowest salaries, will need “affirmative action” as the government tries to slash its inflated payrolls, a black Havana economist and former Communist Party member wrote Wednesday.

Esteban Morales, 68, made it clear in his lengthy essay that he supports Cuba’s “extraordinarily humanist” revolution and believes it took great pains to outlaw racism and provide equal opportunities for blacks over the past 52 years.

An economist who has written previously on race, he also attacked black Cubans who criticize the revolution as racist, saying they have embraced a U.S. strategy for sparking a “political confrontation” that would change the island’s regime.

In unusually direct language, however, Morales also complains that blacks rank at the bottom of several economic measurements, that Cuban schools do not teach courses on race, and that government socio-economic statistics should be broken down by skin color.

He was “separated” from the Communist Party last year for a similarly harsh essay in which he warned that a burgeoning string of corruption scandals was a bigger threat to the country’s stability than “the counterrevolution.”

Morales’ latest essay essentially argues that questions about race must be a priority for the Raul Castro government as it tries to fix the stagnant economy by slashing state spending – on jobs and subsidies — and allowing more private enterprise.

Blacks and mestizos “have always historically been the least qualified, the most disadvantaged in the workplace, with the worst jobs, the lowest salaries and the lowest retirement benefits,” Morales wrote in his 4,311-word essay, published in his eponymous blog.

Castro himself spoke of the need to increase the number of blacks and women in leadership positions during a speech last month to a Communist Party congress last month. The 2002 census shows 65 percent of Cubans identify themselves as white, and 35 percent as black or mestizo.

Morales went well beyond that, noting that fewer blacks than whites have relatives abroad who can send them cash remittances. He added that black Cubans in Florida also earn less – and therefore can send less to the island – because of U.S. racism.

Blacks and mestizos on the island also have a harder time finding well-paying jobs and tend to “take refuge … in illegal activities, prostitution and pimping, the illegal re-sale of products,” he noted. They make up 57 percent of the prison population, he added.

Morales’ essay notes that Cuba faces many challenges in race relations but adds that he would focus only on four, — starting with the need to create an array of school courses on modern-day racism.

“How is it possible that in a multicolor nation like Cuba … there’s no scientific treatment of those problems” he wrote . University-level education is “especially plagued by prejudices on the racial issue, weak institutional attention to it, ignorance and even fear of studying it.”

Cuba’s National Statistics Office (ONE) should include racial breakdowns when it reports economic and social data such as unemployment, salaries, housing conditions, education levels and life expectancy, Morales noted in his second challenge.

In his third, he urged Cubans to demand equal racial representation in all fields, and in his last he urged Cuba to embrace “the so-called affirmative action” as a way “to balance out the different historical points of departure for the racial groups that today make up our society.”

Cuban government officials have long cringed at the possibility of using affirmative action on the island, arguing that it would explicity admit that the revolution had failed to eradicate race-based discrimination.

Morales’ harshest criticism went to Carlos Moore, a black exile who has attacked Cuba’s leadership as almost exclusively white and argued that blacks were denied the most visible jobs when Cuba opened its doors to foreign tourism in the 1990s.

Morales alleged that some of Moore’s publications were financed by groups that received CIA money. Moore, a black rights activist now living and teaching at a university in Brazil, could not be reached immediately for comment.

Posted on http://www.miamiherald.com

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After cresting in Memphis, flooded Mississippi River takes aim at poverty-stricken Delta

The intern blog below is a commentary on the communities that are being impacted by the recent natural disasters in the South based on the article that can be found below the commentary.

The South has been bombarded with natural disasters this past month. First, tornados devastated Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia. Now communities along the Mississippi River are facing massive flooding and some fear that the worst is yet to come. As with most natural disasters, poor people of color are being hit the hardest and the question is usually whether the government is doing enough to help them. Millions of dollars of property have been destroyed and communities have been fragmented. I wonder what the overall impact of these disasters will be in comparison to Hurricane Katrina and if there will be a racial connection. I am interested in the historical aspect of housing discrimination that puts poor people of color in the most vulnerable locations. It would be interesting to research redlining policies from the first half of the 20th century and see if the areas that have been hit the hardest by these disasters correlate. I am doubtful that much will be done about housing inequalities in the near future because people with higher incomes would not be willing to live in potentially dangerous areas.

After cresting in Memphis, flooded Mississippi River takes aim at poverty-stricken Delta

By Associated Press

VICKSBURG, Miss. — William Jefferson paddles slowly down his street in a small boat, past his house and around his church, both flooded from the bulging Mississippi River that has rolled into the Delta.

“Half my life is still in there,” he said, pointing to the small white house swamped by several feet of water. “I hate to see it when I go back in.”

The river was taking aim at one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country after cresting Tuesday at Memphis, Tenn., just inches short of the record set in 1937. Some low-lying Memphis neighborhoods were inundated, but the city’s high levees protected much of the rest of Memphis.

Downstream in Louisiana, inmates were filling sandbags to protect property in Cajun swamp communities that could be flooded if engineers open a spillway to protect the more densely populated Baton Rouge area. Fear was high among residents there.

Jefferson’s Vicksburg neighborhood has been one of the hardest hit in the historic city that was the site of a pivotal Civil War battle. Jefferson refuses to leave, so he spends his days in the sweltering sun watching the water rise and sleeping in a camper at an intersection that’s likely to flood soon, too.

“If you don’t stay with your stuff, you won’t have it,” he said. “This is what I do every day. Just watch the water.”

Over the past week or so in the Delta, floodwaters along the rain-swollen river and its backed-up tributaries have already washed away crops, forced many to seek higher ground and closed some of the dockside casinos that are vital to the state’s economy.

The state gambling industry is taking a hit: All 19 casinos along the river will be shut down by the end of the week, costing governments $12 million to $13 million in taxes per month, authorities said. That will put some 13,000 employees temporarily out of work.

But the worst is yet to come, with the crest expected over the next few days. The damage in Memphis was estimated at more than $320 million as the serious flooding began, and an official tally won’t be available until the waters recede.

To the south, there were no early figures on the devastation, but with hundreds of homes already damaged, “we’re going to have a lot more when the water gets to where it’s never been before,” said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi emergency management agency.

Across the region, federal officials anxiously checked and reinforced the levees, some of which could be put to their sternest test ever.

In northwestern Mississippi, crews have been using dirt and sand to make a levee higher at the Bolivar-Coahoma county line in the north Delta, said Charlie Tindall, attorney for the Mississippi Levee Board.

About 10 miles north of Vicksburg, contractors lined one side of what is known as a backwater levee with big sheets of plastic to keep it from eroding if floodwaters flow over it as feared — something that has never happened to the levee since it was built in the 1970s.

In Vicksburg, the river was projected to peak Saturday just above the record set during the cataclysmic Great Flood of 1927.

Jimmy Mitchell, 46, and his wife and two children have been living in a loaned camper for more than week at a civic arena in Tunica.

“There’s no sewage hookup. You go in a barn to take a shower,” said Mitchell, who is from the small community of Cutoff. “We have no time frame on how long we can stay.”

As Mitchell and friends sat outside chatting in the breeze, children rode bikes nearby.

“Cutoff is a community where everybody lives from paycheck to paycheck. It’s also a community where everybody sticks together,” Mitchell said.

Widespread flooding was expected along the Yazoo River, a tributary that is backed up because of the bloated Mississippi. Rolling Fork, home of the bluesman Muddy Waters, was also in danger of getting inundated.

Farmers built homemade levees to protect their corn, cotton, wheat and soybean crops, but many believed the crops would be lost entirely.

Vicksburg National Military Park, where thousands of Civil War soldiers who died in an 1863 battle are buried, was expected to remain dry. The park is the site where Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s troops entrapped a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton, forcing its surrender. The victory effectively split the Confederacy in half.

Vicksburg was forecast to see its highest river level ever, slightly above the 56.2-feet mark set in 1927. Farther south in Natchez, forecasters said the 1937 record could be shattered by 4 feet on Saturday.

The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet, just short of its all-time record of 48.7. Officials said the river level had decreased slightly on Wednesday, and they were doing a flyover to assess the most heavily damaged areas.

Some homes had polluted floodwaters near their first-floor ceilings, while others were completely submerged. Snakes and other creatures slithered in the foul water, and officials warned of bacteria. Nearly 500 people in Memphis were in shelters.

The passing of the crest was of little consolation for many.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve already lost everything,” said Rocio Rodriguez, 24, who has been at a shelter for 12 days with her husband and two young children since their trailer park flooded.

On the downtown Memphis riverfront, people came out to gawk at the river. High-water marks were visible on concrete posts, indicating that the level was dropping slowly.

“It could have been a lot worse. Levees could have broke,” said Memphis resident Janice Harbin, 32. “I’m very fortunate to stand out here and see it — and not be a victim of the flood.”

In Louisiana, jail inmates filled sandbags to protect property in St. Martin Parish, which could be flooded if authorities open a second floodway to take pressure off levees that protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

On Monday, the corps began opening the Bonnet Carre spillway near New Orleans. The second floodway, Morganza, is upriver from Baton Rouge and could be opened this weekend.

The floodway pours into the Atchafalaya River, and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Communities such as Morgan City on its southern end were sandbagging against the expected floodwaters, and hoping for the best.

“Everybody is just scared. They don’t know what to do,” said St. Martin Deputy Sheriff Ginny Higgins, who was overseeing prisoners who stuffed sandbags in stifling heat and humidity while clad in black and white striped jumpsuits.

Sharonda Buck, an unemployed 18-year-old mother, lives in a house with 12 relatives in Vicksburg. The water has been creeping into their yard and the power company said electricity will be cut off Wednesday morning. They spent Tuesday walking the railroad tracks through their neighborhood, kids throwing rocks in flooded yards.

“I really don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re trying to find somewhere to stay, that’s all I know,” she said.

Inequalities Complicate S. Africa College Admissions

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate.

May 10, 2011

By Anders Kelto

Universities in South Africa are wrestling with an issue familiar to many Americans: affirmative action.

South Africa is still coping with the aftermath of apartheid and a lingering educational gap between black and white. Now, a series of public debates about college admissions has reopened a national dialogue on race.

During apartheid, the University of Cape Town, which sits on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak, was an all-white university. But now, there are black, white, Asian and mixed-race faces in nearly equal numbers — it’s the kind of diversity usually reserved for promotional materials.

The way in which the university has achieved this diversity, however, is somewhat controversial. To be admitted, white students must score the equivalent of straight A’s. Meanwhile, black and mixed-race students can get in with plenty of B’s. The University of Cape Town doesn’t make this policy a secret — admission cutoffs are listed by race in the prospectus.

The vice chancellor, Max Price, says the policy reflects the fact that black students in South Africa are still highly disadvantaged.

“Even 15 years after the end of apartheid, it’s still the case that 80 percent of black students go to very poor township schools or rural schools,” he says. “Their teachers are poorly qualified, the schools are poorly equipped, and the result is that on the national exams, they perform poorly.”

The government has gone to great lengths to improve an educational system that once taught black students how to wash dishes rather than learn math and science. And though some improvements have been made, the gap between black and white is still immense.

Price says that without race-based admission goals, schools would be nearly as white as they were during apartheid, despite the fact that whites make up fewer than 10 percent of the population. He says that would be unacceptable.

“People would think there was something wrong,” he says. “It would produce social unrest; it would produce a sense that the country hasn’t changed.”

Bringing Positive Change

Across town, engineer Michael Tladi reviews blueprints for a new government hospital. Tladi is black and grew up on the streets of Pretoria, bouncing between children’s homes after his mother abandoned him. He went to an underfunded township school and earned good — but not great — marks. His teachers saw his potential and encouraged him to apply to the country’s top schools.

He was elated when he received an acceptance letter from UCT.

” ‘You have been chosen to come and study at UCT’ — I didn’t even read further. I just … I was so excited,” Tladi recalls.

But like many disadvantaged students, he was overwhelmed when he arrived.

“I was not prepared financially, I was not prepared academically and I was not prepared for the new environment,” he said.

He struggled and almost dropped out, but he eventually completed a degree in engineering and got a job with the provincial government. He also volunteers at a children’s home and says he hopes his story can inspire underprivileged kids.

“I just hope that my success out of UCT can bring a positive change,” he says. “Because they know that I was in the same place, same lifestyle — they can see that they also can do it.”

Creating A Sense Of Entitlement?

Back on campus, Cynthia Ngebe sits with friends in the cafeteria. She says affirmative action is a necessary evil.

“It’s giving people an opportunity,” she says. “Like, in some families now, they’re going to have engineers for the very first time, you know?”

But others, like Amanda Ngwenya, disagree. She worries that the policy is creating a sense of entitlement among her black peers.

“It means they think that, ‘Because I’m black, I deserve special privileges. Because I’m black, I need to be treated differently,’ even though they are just as capable,” Ngwenya says.

It’s a sticky debate, complicated by the legacy of apartheid. But as South Africa’s past grows more distant, the question becomes: When, if ever, should race not matter?

Posted on http://www.npr.org

Tavis Smiley: This Presidential Race Will be Most Racist in History Due to Tea Party and Trump

The intern blog below is a commentary on Tavis Smiley’s opinion of the role that race will play in the 2012 presidential election based on the video that can be found below the commentary.

As the nation gets ready for the 2012 presidential election season to begin, the Republican Party is weighing its options for potential candidates to run against Obama. In the video posted below, Tavis Smiley opines that the 2012 election will be “the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist… in the history of this republic”. The comments of Tea Party supporters and leaders have made the truth in Smiley’s statement apparent. Former Tea Party spokesman Mark Williams stated, “It is the duty of every American Citizen to do everything within their power to disrupt and defeat the domestic enemy that currently occupies the corridors of power in Washington and a dangerous number of state capitols”. This comment, in addition to others, forced him to resign. Even though his words were condemned, I know that many people agree with him, which makes me fearful of the tactics that will be used in the 2012 elections. However, I think that the fact that Osama Bin Laden was killed under Obama’s watch will prove to be a large benefit to his campaign. The New York Times reports that between April and May, Obama’s approval rate went up by 11%. This fact makes me believe that Smiley’s ominous prediction will prove to be true. The Republican Party will have to resort to divisive tactics to have a chance of posing a legitimate threat to Obama.

TAVIS SMILEY, PBS: I said over a year ago that this was going to be, this presidential race, Lawrence, was going to be the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist, the most racist, in the history of this republic. I did not know that that race to the bottom would begin so quickly. One can disagree with the Tea Party…

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, HOST: Why did you see this coming?

SMILEY: I saw it coming because it’s pretty clear given how the Tea Party has acted, given that Donald Trump is now playing to the worst in the Tea Party, that this would be possible. I don’t want to demonize or cast aspersions on the Tea Party broadly. I believe that there’s a certain angst that many people in that entity feel, and I share that angst about government. I don’t believe that it’s the solution to reduce government. Government does have a role to play. We’ve got to figure out, we can figure out and debate what that role is, but there have been semantics they’ve engaged in that made it clear to me: showing up at rallies with guns, and the Secret Service, you know, working overtime to protect this president. More threats against his life than any president in the history of the nation, indeed, presidents combined. So the evidence is pretty clear that they would do anything and say anything in order to make sure he does not get reelected.

Nigeria-Gouvernment: President to Appoint 13 Female Ministers

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate.

May 5, 2011

President to Appoint 13 Female Ministers – In a bid to fulfil his campaign promise of having 35 per cent representation of women in his administration, President Goodluck Jonathan may appoint 13 female ministers in his post-May 29 cabinet, even as women politicians battle professionals over slots.”Research has shown that countries with greater gender equality have higher standards of living and significantly more achievements in all facets of the society.

“Reports have also shown that where women leaders are present in critical numbers and are able to participate effectively, economically, politically, and socially, the result is more socially responsive governance,” the president had observed recently at the Mentorship Summit for African Women, organised by the Centre for African Women Leaders Think-Tank in Abuja.

While the president and First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan were in Obudu, Cross River State, for a week-long retreat, ministerial lobbyists stormed the tourism centre seeking enlistment in the next cabinet.

LEADERSHIP can now authoritatively report that the next Jonathan-Sambo administration would have no fewer than 13 female ministers as a fulfilment of the affirmative action promised the women while they were being wooed ahead of the just concluded polls.

Speaking with our correspondent at the weekend, a presidency source disclosed that, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Jonathan would constitute a 43-man Federal Executive Council (FEC) that would help him implement his developmental blueprint for the nation.

Out of the 43 ministerial positions, LEADERSHIP gleaned that 13 slots would go to the women while men would take the rest.

The presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo and his successor, Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, each had 43 ministers with one representing each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory and each of the six geopolitical zones.

Should this be the case, the president would have ignored the advice asking him to trim his cabinet in a bid to reduce the cost of governance and free more money for investment in decaying infrasturcture.

“President Goodluck Jonathan would fulfil his 35 per cent political appointments including the ministerial slots to the women and this means there are going to be 13 ministers since he would forward 43 names to the Senate as ministers representing each of the 36 states including Abuja while the remaining six would represent the geo-political zones. And every other appointments to be made would follow suit,” said a top government source.

Speaking further, the source who does not want his name in print said: “The only problem is, if the governors or party leadership failed to send women’s names to the president as ministerial nominees. But this would not stop him from fulfilling his promise to the women who constituted the largest voting bloc in the country. Don’t forget he has power to name whoever he wants as his ministers.”

When asked to disclose the intrigues going on and whether the First Lady would be involved, our source, who has been playing a sensitive role since the Obasanjo administration in the State House, disclosed that Patience had been receiving ministerial lobbyists since she returned from the Obudu retreat because she has promised those who campaigned for her husband that their labour would not be in vain.

His words: “The First Lady would play a prominent role in the composition of the female ministerial nominees because of her personal involvement in the campaign that ushered in President Goodluck Jonathan. So many women or groups of women have been coming to meet with the First Lady. So don’t be surprised to see names like Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Senator Grace Bent, Kema Chikwe, Hajiya Ciroma, Dame Anenih, Iyabo Obasanjo and a few others on the ministerial list.”

He said: “Women are divided over how to go about it; while those who are thoroughbred politicians are going through Her Excellency, the First Lady, some who are professionals are doing their lobbying through other contacts. To the professionals, the slots to be given to the womenfolk should be given to them and not to politicians who would not justify such a confidence imposed in them.

“This group is being led by a woman who is currently occupying a sensitive position where she generates revenue to the federal government (name withheld) but the other group is claiming that they were the ones who worked for the victory of the president.”

According to the president, “If South Africa could give 40 per cent of political appointments to women; I don’t see why giving our women 35 per cent is impossible.” It would be recalled that Jonathan is the first Nigerian leader to appoint a woman as Minister of Petroleum even as he also gave directive to the military to begin recruiting women as combatant soldiers.

Just last week, the president, who was represented by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hajiya Salamatu Husseini Suleiman, at the Mentorship Summit for African Women, organised by the Centre for African Women Leaders Think-Thank in Abuja, commended Nigerian women for their massive support towards his success in the presidential polls.

“I am assuring you that all the promises made in my manifesto on 35 per cent representation of women in governance will be fulfilled,” he said, adding that women have occupied various leadership positions in the country and performed excellently.”

Posted on http://www.afriquejet.com

Ruling reserved over affirmative action

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate.

May 4, 2011

Johannesburg – The Johannesburg Labour Appeal Court on Wednesday reserved judgement on an attempt by the SAPS to contest an earlier ruling promoting a white woman police officer to superintendent.

Trade union Solidarity, which is representing Captain Renate Barnard, said it was expected to take between three months and a year for a ruling to be made.

The union’s Dirk Hermann said arguments in court on Wednesday centred on how to apply affirmative action in line with the Constitution. He said the matter might end up in the Constitutional Court.

On February 26 last year the Labour Court ordered the police to promote Barnard to superintendent after she was denied the move because of her skin colour.

“She applied for a promotion as superintendent of the complaints investigation unit for the first time in 2005. She has been working as a captain in the same unit since 2004,” Hermann said.

A selection panel twice identified Barnard as the best candidate for the post in the inspectorate, created to improve service delivery to the public. The job was advertised in September 2005. Barnard and other candidates applied for it.

Service delivery jeopardised

After interviews were held, the panel allocated a mark of 86.67% to her, which was 17.5% higher than the next-highest score allocated to a Captain Shibambu.

The panel found the difference in Barnard and Shibambu’s scores so great that service delivery would be jeopardised if Shibambu was appointed in the post.

Although the panel recommended Barnard for appointment, Assistant Commissioner Rasegatla resolved not to appoint her because doing so would not be in line with affirmative action policies. The position was not filled.

When the position was again advertised in 2006, Barnard reapplied and was once again the most suitable candidate. This time Rasegatla decided she should be appointed. In his recommendation to former police commissioner Jackie Selebi, he pointed out that other candidates had had a year to improve to compete with her, but had not done so. Selebi turned down her appointment on the grounds that it would not promote affirmative action.

He subsequently withdrew the post

One more party for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate.

May 4, 2011

By Arpit Parashar

The political development of the last week have thrown a new, surprise candidate in the power equation of caste politics. Former bureaucrat Udit Raj, the man at the forefront of the campaign to push for OBC and SC/ST reservations in the private sector, has formed a new socio-political front called the Upekshit Dalit Mahapanchayat in Uttar Pradesh.

Though politicians have heard of Raj’s efforts, most of them have not taken notice of the development. A senior BJP politician, speaking to the media “off the record” after a press conference, laughingly dismissed the “concept” of upekshit (marginalised) Dalits as imaginary.

However, one must not forget that the initial reaction of the mainstream parties to the formation of now-successful Dalit parties, like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), was one of dismissal. The Congress often ridiculed the rise of Mayawati’s BSP two decades back. It seemed to tell the BSP, “Align with a mainstream party, or you will lose relevance.”

Ironically, in the case of Uttar Pradesh, the BSP has become the mainstream party and the Congress a marginal player.

The Mayawati brand of politics and the successful assertion movement led by the Kanshi Ram’s Backward and Minority Communities Employees’ Federation (BAMCEF) has translated into successful electoral campaigns and subsequent victories for the BSP over the years. She is presently serving her fourth term as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, after having served three short terms between 1995 and 2003.

And, she won in Uttar Pradesh on her own by engineering a major social change last time around. She came to power without any support from the Congress, the BJP, or the Samajwadi Party in 2007.

Why then has Raj formed a front that will only weaken a successful movement of the country’s most underprivileged and oppressed castes? Observers believe that Raj’s movement is an attempt at addressing the problems that the Dalits face under Mayawati. They point out that power, as is always the case in Uttar Pradesh, benefitted a particular caste group.

“The question is not what Mayawati can do to [Dalits], but what we can do to us,” writer and journalist Chittibabu Padavala wrote about the meaning of Mayawati’s victory in 2007 in The Economic and Political Weekly.

The Dalits have definitely benefited, not just by their own assertion but with consistent efforts of the state government too. Caste atrocities have reduced, affirmative action has been taken and they are much better represented in the administrative and political structures now. But, looking deeper, one finds it is only the Jatavs, who are reaping benefits this time.

Raj says, “Only Jatavs!” And, why is it so? “Because Mayawati is a Jatav too,” says Raj.

Politicians and observers say that while power has changed hands and the traditional ruling castes are no longer the ones in power, the state has seen the emergence of a new feudal system with Jatavs as the dominant caste.

Jatavs make up nearly 57 percent of the Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, and eight to nine per cent of its total population, almost same as that of the Yadavs. The BSP broke the backbone of Samajwadi Party’s successful Yadav-Thakur voter base, using its stronghold among the Jatavs in 2007.

Jatavs are now emerging as an assertive caste in the state, especially with their numbers in the administration growing rapidly in the past decade. “A simple analysis of the data on recent appointments in the police and the administration shows a 30 to 35 per cent increase in the number of appointments of Jatavs,” a senior BSP minister told Tehelka on the condition of anonymity.

Many top postings are recommended from Lucknow. Many other happen almost by default when the candidate is Jatav. It is considered a safe bet to have a senior Jatav officer in any district administration.

The Jatavs have been politically conscious and involved since the time of Babu Jagjivan Ram of the Congress in the 1960s. Then when Kanshi Ram and Mayawati came together, Jatavs took the BAMCEF’s assertion movement forward. And they still do: they form a large chunk of the BSP cadre.

“This constant hammering of her caste’s identity has made them politically forward looking,” Raj says.

The other castes among the Dalits, on the other hand, are still underrepresented in the state government jobs, making up barely five to eight per cent of the force in the administration and the police in the state, that too only on lower posts. Off the record, senior officials in Uttar Pradesh say that most of the housing schemes for Dalits in the state have benefited Jatavs more than any other caste.

“Fruits of governance have gone to just one caste. There is no difference between this regime and the other regimes in the past. Rather, the discrimination is much more open under Mayawati’s rule,” Raj alleges.

The socioeconomic rise of the Jatavs has on the one hand made them confident, and they have stood up to the higher castes in the state, while on the other hand they have also fallen prey to the feudal practices alien to the Jatav society.

They are traditionally a more equal caste and not patriarchal. But, that has changed over the past decade and has often resulted in crimes against lower Dalit castes.

The number of rape cases involving Jatav men has seen a constant rise in western Uttar Pradesh, a phenomenon, senior police officials say, has not been noticed before. Jatavs are often caught in cases of atrocities against other lower Dalit castes as well as the higher castes.

In the Jewar village in Greater Noida near Delhi, where an international airport and India’s first F1 racing track will come up soon, a minor girl from the Valmiki community was raped by a Jatav man in 2008.

Her ordeal did not end there. She was married off to the man who raped her within a few days. The villagepanchayat consulted both the families in the presence of the police and elders made the decisions. The girl now has two children and is not allowed to even step outside the house.

This is not the only such case. There have been many similar cases across western Uttar Pradesh involving Jatavs, information on which is regularly fudged to keep the official counts down.

While Mayawati represents the political force that has consolidated the Dalit vote, Raj partly represents the Dalit movement outside of electoral political framework working towards a caste-less society. He has led campaigns across the country as head of various Dalit unity groups to open up the communities to conversion to other religions. Thousands of Dalits have embraced Buddhism, Islam and Christianity and snubbed the Hindutva forces, irking the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and similar groups repeatedly.

Raj has also challenged Mayawati many a time over the past decade to embrace Buddhism and put an end to the casteist politics altogether. “The objective is the revival of Buddhism to create a caste-less society, so that the decadent social structure can be changed,” he says.

But, Mayawati has consistently attacked him and leaders from all other lower Dalit castes in a derogatory way, he alleges. “Mayawati has been repeatedly pointing out who belongs to which caste. She called Ram Vilas Paswan a Dusadh, pointed out that Bangaru Laxman is a Valmiki, and called me a Khatik,” he said.

“And then in 2008 she announced that her successor will only be a chamar. She has discriminated within the party and openly too. But, you cannot, in India, in a democracy, say who will be your successor and treat the voter base like it is your kingdom. Why preach about the Bahujan samaj when you openly discriminate and say only a chamar will be the successor? Why not any Ambedkarite, irrespective of the caste?” he questions.

Raj formed the Indian Justice Party in 2003, after quitting a government job in 2001. He had ideas very different from that of the BSP. He wanted to push for an equal education system, job reservations for Dalits in the private sector and unite the voters on those lines.

But, now he says it is not the way to go forward. A sense of disillusionment over the four years of Mayawati’s present rule has changed his approach. “I have realised that ideology, development and even honesty do not play a very important role in Uttar Pradesh. Caste configurations and equations do,” he says.

The main agendas of his party have not attracted the communities or the voters. Hence, the new front with a different approach, he says.

Dalit leaders from other parties have joined him too. Ram Nihore Rakesh from the Congress convinced him to form the Upeskshit Dalit Mahapanchayat to fight the rights of castes lower in hierarchy, like Pasi, Dhobi, Kori and Khatik.

“These castes are not aware, educated and conscious of participation in the government and about their rights in governance,” Raj says.

He realises that the caste system cannot be rooted out so easily; it will exist; people in Uttar Pradesh will vote along caste lines.

He now plans to unite leaders representing the marginalised sections from all parties and bring them together. He also wants to collaborate with other parties representing marginalised groups, like the Peace Party, which represents the Muslims in the state.

Jats found the Rashtriya Lok Dal, Yadavs and Gurjjars found Mulayam Singh Yadav, Thakurs found Amar Singh and Jatavs found Mayawati. Maybe it is time for another ignored section of Uttar Pradesh to find representation in the state, where caste loyalties run deep.

Whether Udit Raj succeeds and his ideas translate into votes and electoral success in the 2012 assembly elections or not, he can still play a very important role in bringing debate to the Dalit discourse and push the political system a step closer towards the marginalised within the Dalits.

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