Who should apologise for centuries of injustice?

By Amb. Surendra Kumar. Publishers: Har-Anand,  pages 154, Price: Rs 595
By H K Dua
Ambassador Surendra Kumar has spent a life time in the foreign service but during his years of diplomacy he did not forget the issues that afflicted the people at home. This is too clear from a short volume he has come out  titled “Who Should Say Sorry for Two Millennia of Injustices?”.
He has been provoked to write this article by Shashi Tharoor’s demand during his Oxford Union speech that the British should apologise to India for the enormous wrongs they had done to India during the 200 years of the colonial rule.
Surendra Kumar has raised the vital question to his own country: what about the inhuman dignities, injustices and cruelty inflicted on the dalits in India by the higher castes over 2000 years of its history?
“Should not they own up social, economic, political and psychological deprivation they deliberately and systematically caused to them?” he bluntly asks.
He is rightly angry about what wrongs the higher castes in India have done to the lower castes.   “High castes of the Hindu society, on the other hand, treated their own countrymen so inhumanly for so long — for no fault of theirs!” Also, “over the years, they created numerous political, social and religious dictums to perpetuate the slavery and subjugation of the low castes forever. For centuries, the lower castes had no right to property, no right to education; their sole purpose in life was to serve the higher castes and without protest.
“ The low castes were condemned to live at the outskirts of village and cities. They were not allowed to draw water from the common wells, nor could they pray in the temples built by higher castes.  He adds: This exploitative system was made hereditary, generation after generation must live in these humiliating conditions on account of their birth in low caste families.  What kind of debilitating and degrading psychological inferiority complex might have been caused in the low castes by this?
He points out that the constitutional guarantees and affirmative action and various developmental schemes have resulted in some improvement in economic and social conditions of the dalits, but a lot remains to be done.
He quotes: “Former Home Minister Chidambaram, to point out, had once told Parliament that there were more than 13,500 registered cases of physical assault on the Dalits in India in a single year.  As out of 4 cases hardly one gets registered, the actual number of assaults might be as high as 50,000!”
Who should say sorry for the injustice done to the low castes in India during  the last 2000 years? The Upper Castes is the writer’s answer.
Surendra Kumar’s instinct is right but he has written only on this vital question in a single article and in a couple of others on related issues.  He should have spent more time to go into greater depth in a book rather than just touching on serious faultlines of the Indian society and the injustice done to a vast number of people over hundreds of years.  Instead the writer has written an odd combination of articles ranging from Baba Ramdev to Arvind, Kejriwal to Dr B R Ambedkar and Swami Vivekanand and music maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Surendra Kumar has been a civil servant and has raised some other questions as: why should there be an irresistible lure of babudom, reservsation-cum-meritocracy and the stupidity of cut-off marks which worries the parents and students across the country.
The writer has strangely added two satirical articles at the end. They are: “Oh for a Kiss…” and: Mere Sunder Sapna Toot Gaya…”
May be in a country where humour is drying up, he thought he should  add a light touch to his book. Luckily, the right to laugh is optional!

Mr H K Dua is a former editor, ambassador,  Member of Parliament and Media Advisor to Prime Minister. He is now Advisor in Observer Research Foundation. (ORF).