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Is secularism dying in India?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Gauri Lankesh was shot to death on September 5, 2017.  A consistent critic of Hindutva politics and right-wing Hindu extremism, the journalist-activist edited Gauri Lankesh Patrike her own weekly.  She was not the first. 

In August 2015, Malleshappo M. Kalburgi, a noted scholar who was opposed to superstition in Hinduism, was assassinated.  Both Lankesh and Kalburgi were staunch proponents of the theory that their Lingayat religion was distinct from Hinduism.

Also in 2015, in February, it was Govind Pansare, a left-wing politician who also opposed religious superstitions (like, for example, the ritual to ensure a male child), and also lobbied vocally for the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act.  Then there was rationalist Narendra Achyut Dabholkar, who made debunking religious superstition and mysticism his life’s work.  In August 2013, he was shot and killed as he took his morning walk.  Following his death, the Anti-superstition act he had worked so hard without success to get through the Maharashtra state government was finally enacted.

The killings of three rationalists, i.e. atheists, and a strong dissenter have cast a pall.  Voices are being stilled.  There is much more as evidenced by the complicity of authorities in instances of mass killing, their mono-cultural narrow vision in a multicultural and multi-religious society, and insurgencies in many parts of the country.

Celebrating 70 years of independence last August 15, India has much to be proud of including strong economic growth.  Yet in this new century India’s steps are clearly faltering given its darker side, and, while it tries to assume a role on the world stage, the state within is cause for some despair.   

 Last month on August 25th, following the rape conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh — a former Sikh, styled the guru of bling for his flamboyant lifestyle — thousands of his Dera religious supporters ran amuck burning buildings, vehicles, railway stations and bringing life to a halt in the states of Haryana and Punjab, and even in parts of Delhi.  More than 30 people died and a curfew was imposed.

Indeed gurus are popular:  Mr. Modi has appointed a saffron-robed, Hindutva firebrand religious leader, Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state.  This was after local elections there in which communalism was an essential ingredient of his party’s victory.

Also on August 25th, activists across the country observed Kandhmal day in memory of the victims of an anti-Christian pogrom in 2008.  Kandhmal is in the state of Orissa just southwest of Bengal and over a thousand miles east from Punjab. 

A 2016 documentary directed by K. P. Sasi vividly illustrates this notorious incident.  Titled Voices from the Ruins:  Kandhmal in Search of Justice, it relates the story simply and without resort to emotion.  The effect is devastating as the horror of pitiless violence unfolds.  In this orgy of arson and bloodshed, the victims were Adivasi and Dalit Christians — converts continue to be remembered as Dalits in their communities.  Dalits are the lowest caste of Hindus formerly known as untouchables.  The Hindutva perpetrators destroyed over 350 churches and 6500 dwellings.  Eight years later fear and intimidation still rule, and the more than 56,000 people who were displaced have not returned.  Churches and homes remain the ruins they were after the pogrom.  

Devastating as it was, it is an event not as well known as the 2002 Gujarat riots directed against another minority group, the Muslims, in which at least 1000 were killed.  Gujarat is a 1000 miles south of Punjab.  The geography of the three incidents is an indicator of how  communal hatred has infected people across the nation.

Rana Ayyub, (author of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up and a friend of Gauri Lankesh) is the journalist who, at tremendous personal risk, exposed administrative and police complicity through a sting operation sponsored by Tehelka magazine.  She has just been honored in Vancouver with a Courage in Journalism Award.   On her heels, the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has secured the convictions of 119 individuals including a minister (Indira Jaising, Outlook magazine, March 2015).  The founders of CJP are paying for their success:  Several cases have been filed against them, including criminal charges for such transgressions as accepting about $290,000 over a ten year period from the Ford Foundation.   Some use these cases to question their veracity; others say they are being subjected to a campaign of harassment in the courts.

The last twenty-five years have seen the delicate fabric of communal amity rent repeatedly for political gain by upper caste Hindu nationalist parties.  For instance, Prime Minister Modi’s new laws against cattle slaughter not only affect a $10 billion industry employing mostly Dalits and Muslims, but added to the incendiary rhetoric his ruling party have  fostered a climate of hate leading to tragic events.  Attacks against Muslims and Dalits have intensified. 

On June 22, 2017, three days before the Muslim holiday of Eid, four boys were returning home to Mathura on the train from Delhi following a shopping trip.  Recognized as Muslims, they were taunted as beef eaters and then set upon.  In a moving train with other travelers looking on, they were beaten severely and 16-year old Junaid Khan stabbed fatally.  One should note that much of southern India eats beef as does the northeast, and of course Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. Kerala’s legislature protested the Modi slaughter restrictions by having a beef breakfast.

Gau rakshak or cow protectors, whose vigilante bands now number over 200 in Gujarat alone, are terrorizing innocents.  Their attacks on meat-eating Dalits, who skin carcasses for sale to the leather tanneries, and on Muslims have led to several deaths hitting the headlines lately.

Thus on April 1st this year, a dairy farmer from Haryana was transporting cows purchased legitimately at a cattle fair in Rajasthan back to his home, when he was set upon by gau rakshaks.  Beaten mercilessly, Pehlu Khan died from his injuries two days later.  The police have done nothing so far to apprehend the suspects despite the man’s family traveling to the capital, New Delhi, and holding a vigil demanding justice.

Last year on September 13, 2016, two men again legally transporting a cow and a calf were attacked by a cow-protector gang and also severely beaten.  One of the men, Mohammad Ayub, died from his injuries shortly thereafter at a hospital in Ahmedabad.  The police first registered a case of attempted murder naming the vigilantes as Janak Ramesh Mistry, Ajay Sajar Rabari and Bharat Nag Rabari.  But as Pratik Sinha, a human rights activist, reported in a Facebook post after Ayub’s death, the police filed a second case underlining India’s present-day reality.  This time, instead of naming the assailants, they wrote down ‘unknown’.  The license plates of the cars involved in the attacks are also known.  Dalits and Muslims can expect little in the way of justice.   Except for a belated word, Mr. Modi has remained notoriously silent on the issue.

Overall figures for minority communal violence according to official statistics are  averaging 700 per year, leading to thousands of deaths.  In such an environment of hate, it is not surprising some were celebrating Pakistan’s recent victory over India in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy finals by a record margin.  For this 15 celebrants were arrested in Madhya Pradesh and charged with sedition.  When this farce could not be sustained, they were charged with disturbing ‘communal harmony’. 

Legislators in the U.S. became concerned enough to send Indian Prime Minister Modi a letter.  Dated February 25, 2017, it was signed by 26 congressmen and 8 senators and expressed grave concern over the ‘intolerance and violence’ against religious minorities.  They specifically cited the killings of Hasmat Ali in Manipur, Mohammad Saif in Uttar Pradesh, and two Sikh men during demonstrations protesting the desecration of their holy book.  Innocent Sikhs were also the target of revenge attacks after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by a Sikh bodyguard.  Almost 2000 were killed.

In the April 2015 issue of National Geographic, a magazine few would call political, an eye-popping map of India is displayed in its signature graphic style. A rusty, dried-blood light brown, mapped carefully adjacent to areas of government control, it reveals almost a quarter of the country where the Naxalite rebellion coupled with the Adivasi (another minority) struggle for land rights has taken hold. The area runs south from the Nepal border, to Kolkata (Calcutta), then along the Bay of Bengal almost to Chennai (Madras).  Westwards, it approaches close to Varanasi (Benares) on the Ganges, then towards Nagpur in Central India and to Bangalore (India’s IT capital) in the south.  Add the insurgencies in Assam, Manipur (minorities) and Kashmir (minority Muslim) which is bleeding again, and fully a third of the country is in strife.  Figures vary but frequently quoted is 100,000 dead in Kashmir with no end in sight.

Post independence the promise of the first prime minister’s socialist secularism brought forth a focus on education and heavy-industry development.  Flourishing first class technological institutes and rapid industrial growth was one result.  Yet illiteracy proved stubborn, and the country mired by corruption and strife became bogged down in an inequality stasis with crushing poverty, where it still remains.  Jawaharlal Nehru had fought for India’s independence, and as India’s first leader strongly emphasized a secular state.  Wealthy and highest caste (Brahmin), educated at elite Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge before taking law and the bar exams through Inner Temple, he became a Fabian socialist.  One wonders if he is turning over in his grave.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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South Asia

Sino-India Emerging Rivalry: Implications for Stability of South Asia

Tahama Asad

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India and China, both heirs to ancient civilizations, have emerged today as the two most powerful and influential Asian nations in terms of their economic clout and geopolitical standing in the international arena. The two countries recognize the need to eliminate enduring mistrust between them and have been focusing on building a rational partnership underpinned by China’s pragmatism. However, despite the recognition that cooperation may be in their mutual interest, this will be easier said than done. India-China relations have always been complexing with multifaceted regional and global dimensions, which have complicated their bilateral relationship. Even as India and China have crossed a long road from being friends to adversaries to rational partners, a factor which has been constant in the conduct of their affairs, is the that they are neighbors who have as much to gain from each other as to fear from the other. Both the states clearly understand that cooperation could work to their mutual advantage and benefit. Any conflict between the two countries would not only jeopardize their national security but would also have serious implications for their regional and global security perspectives. Tensions along the India-China border high in the Himalayas have again flared up the situation between both the countries. Thousands of soldiers from both sides have been facing off just a few 100m from each other in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. China has objected to India building a road through the valley connecting the region to an airstrip, possibly sparking its move to assert control over the territory along the border that is not clearly defined in places. India and China engaged in a similar standoff for 73 days at Dokhlam, at the other end of their disputed border in 2017, when Indian troops were mobilized to counter what was seen as moves by the Chinese side to expand its presence along the border with Bhutan. The situation was later defused through diplomatic channels

In political realism, power is the capability to make another state do something it would not otherwise do and vice versa. What makes a state powerful is its capability to influence the other. The South Asian region is home to one fourth of the world’s population which is the least economically unified regions in the world. Intraregional trade remains well below its potential due to historical political tensions and mistrust because of cross-border conflicts and security concerns. Since the advent of the 21st century, China has been conducting multi-dimensional cooperation with all the South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka). China’s major interests in South Asia include promoting stability in both Pakistan  and Afghanistan in order to curb the influence of extremists, to facilitate trade and energy corridors throughout the region that China can access, and to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean Region . India fears that China’s investment in South Asian ports not only serves its commercial interests, but also facilitates China’s military goals. India perceives the Chinese presence in South Asian countries as a design to thwart what was once considered as India’s sphere of influence.

China has so far been successful in influencing South Asia because of many factors. One of the major reasons is that China has managed to project itself as a neighbour that would not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries least of all in the internal affairs of its friends and partners. In the light of its “Good Neighbourhood” policy, China’s increased diplomatic and economic engagements in South Asia are aimed to enhance its strategic influence in the region. China is focusing on construction of a chain of airfields and ports at Gwadar-Pakistan, Hambantota-Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Chittagong-Bangladesh  has part of its “String of Pearls” strategy, which also includes China’s influence in South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. India, on the other hand has been trying to consolidate influence over its smaller South Asian neighbours other than Pakistan and holds almost complete sway over the SARRC setup. Defining Indian strategic environment, former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee once stated, “India’s strategic environment extends from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, across the entire Indian Ocean, including Northwest Central Asia and Afghanistan, East Asia, China and Southeast Asia. Our strategic thinking must be extended to these horizons Line”.

The changing alliances and power equilibrium among the United States, China, India, and Pakistan bear key implications on the inter-state rivalry and the consequent crisis dynamics in South Asia. Since the introduction of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy 2018, mutual suspicion and hostility between India   have intensified. There is a shift in the regional dynamics with the United States and India being on one side and Pakistan-China on the other. These changing dynamics will have significant implications for U.S. policy toward South Asia and crisis management down the road. Previously, the US had rendered constructive support in Pakistan-India crisis management. This role was taken up due to US perception of India-Pakistan’s relative power balance. However, US strategic interests in Asia Pacific region. Since Pakistan finds itself unable to serve as China’s balancer against India in the region, the immediate solution in Chinas calculus has been to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity and potential for economic growth and stability through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a fusion of infrastructure projects and funding aimed at reviving Pakistan’s economy. The CPEC will also serve China’s own strategic interest to reach out to the world through the shortest trade corridor offered by Pakistan due to its geopolitical location.

It is widely believed across the Chinese political circles that Indian aggression in the region is generally triggered by China’s support to Pakistan. India’s increasing inclination and reliance on the US has resulted in a heightened aggressive regional outlook of Prime Minister Modi. For instance, India’s revocation of Article 370 followed five months after India-Pakistan- brinkmanship resulting from the Pulwama crisis. The Indian decision to break the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories had directly challenged the territorial claim of Ladakh by China. China’s support to Pakistan is not perceived as China’s good will but as a concession extracted due to India’s might. Therefore, India might make even more encroachments on the LAC if China’s support for Pakistan increases. However, the change in China’s policy orientation regarding South Asia’s crisis management does not suggest that China will actively expedite or facilitate a crisis in the region. Traditionally, China has resorted to mediation for Pakistan-India crises. China can be helpful under a situation when US treats crisis management in the region as a significant priority and Chinese cooperation as an inevitable factor. But Beijing’s relations with Washington have deteriorated in the past few years. Beijing has been seeking to highlight issues of convergence that can lead to cooperation with US to improve bilateral ties. In case the US wishes to mutually manage a crisis in the South Asian region, Beijing might be open to cooperation. However, it is also expected that China might not assist in seeking a solution that would continue to capitalize on US need for cooperation. In the light of the current great power competition between US and China, crisis management in the South Asian region might be another case of collateral damage.

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South Asia

Crisis of good governance

Mujtaba Qureshi

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Good governance is one of the significant aspect of government in an country. Fair governance provides parallel  opportunities, ensure rule of law, equal distribution of resources, accountability of affairs, efficient institutions, decentralization of powers, etc. On the contrary, bad governance give birth to gigantic issues and problems. As a result, ordinary people bear the burnt of inefficiency, mismanagement, and short-sightedness of the government of the day. The state of governance in Pakistan remained worse in past, but corona virus pandemic had made it worst of all the time. From nowhere, it seems better rather everything is going out of control.

During the time of crisis, national government do its utmost effort to provide relief to the vulnerable in country. It came to service of the people irrespective of political affiliation, race, color, and creed. Thus, distribute the dividend among them in fair and square. But, this depends upon the efficiency and potential of the government then it can come to rescue them. Otherwise, over burden them by adopting the exclusive policies.

Mishandling of the ongoing corona virus pandemic echoes the sorry state of governance in country. From the very first day when virus related cases are identified, government hardly paid the heed to warnings by World Health Organization (WHO), showed meagre interest to the calls by health experts. Owing to this reluctance, contagion spread nook and cranny of the country within no time. It also failed to coordinate the provinces to formulate a unified policy to contain the virus. Overall, it has affected more than 2 lac people, and caused few thousand deaths in country. Sadly, WHO has warned authorities to speed up testing as actual number of the cases is confirmed. The recent decrease in reported cases is due to low number of testing. So, Pakistan is still to touch the peak in coming days. although, it seems people at the helm of affairs are unmoved even after WHO warnings.

Moreover, worsening economic crisis is another addition into annals of poor governance in country. Globally, pandemic has brought all economies at standstill, Pakistan is also not exception. Amid the virus, lockdown has paused inflow and outflow of trade in country. Resultantly, recent economic growth is moving downward. It is estimated -0.4 growth rate in last fiscal year. According to International Monetary Fund (IMF), economic growth in next fiscal year will be -1.5 percent. on the other, World Bank (WB) predicted -2.6 percent. Apart from it, Pakistani authorities are showing – 0.4 percent growth rate in next fiscal year. Public debt had increased to 88 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). External debt and liabilities stood at USD 76.5 billion. Apart from it, about Rs. 800 billion loss was simply on account of revenue collection. Moreover, the first  audit report of the incumbent has unveiled irregularities and corruption to the tune of Rs.270 billion in 40 government  departments and ministries under its tenure. However, incumbent government came in power on the pretext of accountability, justice, and elimination of corruption. But, all in vain, things are getting more worse and worse after every passing day.

Further, sugar and wheat crisis in last month had exposed the lofty claims of people centric government. Despite the ban on wheat export imposed in July 2019, the government allowed exports of 48,000 tons, which fueled the price hike in the country. It reveals how much powerful and influencing are the mafias. Imran Khan led government formed committee to probe the crisis. Findings of the committee were shocking as it included people who are part and parcel of the government. The report of the committee brought on surface that billions of the rupees were made by creating shortage, and also factory owners gain billions in subsidy for export  of sugar. Here, at the very outset government failed to overcome the crisis, failed to control the shooting prices in local market, and to make matter worse subsidize export of both items even there was ban on it.

After the mismanagement of sugar and wheat crisis, then came fuel crisis across the country. Previously, reduction in fuel prices to the tune of Rs.74 per liter was fallowed by sharp decrease in oil demand and consumption at global level due to lockdown amid corona virus. Gradually, oil started to disappear from oil stations, hue and cry increased, but no adequate action was taken by Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA)  to overcome the crisis. Against the mandatory stocks of 21 days oil reserves that Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) are legally bound to maintain, the country was left with meagre reserves. The crisis intensified by the beginning of the June as country wide stocks decreased. Indeed, government has admitted that it was an artificial shortage, produced and managed by the OMCs. Undoubtedly, fuel shortage is over now when government has increased price of fuel up to Rs.26 per liter. It is only the masses who are bearing the brunt of crisis after crisis, even during this hard time of corona virus. however, government is doing nothing, except blaming hidden mafia for all economic misshape in the country. Thus, lacking efficient and people centric policies in country which ensure relief and assistance to face the pandemic.

What it needs to restore the good governance in country, through strong and independent parliament which make laws for citizens well-being, supremacy of the rule of law to ensure accountability across the board, de-politicization of state institutions in order to eliminate the culture of favoritism, exemption, and undue rewards and subsidies, public-private partnership to foster economic growth and development in country as well as making infrastructure better, human resources development through training institutions, and last but not least zero tolerance for corruption at all level.

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South Asia

How the reservation system of India is defining a new era of human rights violation

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India at the time of its independence made a provision to reserve around 22 per cent of the seats in education and government jobs. The lawmakers did this with an intention to uplift the socially marginalised class of the society (which includes Dalits and the tribals) but with the time this system raised some serious concerns. These concerns did not come until the application of another 27 per cent of reservation provided for the other backward class (OBCs) of the society. The move was completely motivated by political earnings and raised the total reservation from 22 per cent to around 50 per cent.
 
Here, one of the problems with this system is that anyone who comes from the reserved section can take admissions and jobs with very fewer marks as compared to the unreserved class of the society which somehow jeopardizes the quality of education and industry. Moreover, a very low cutoff mark for the reserved candidates is victimising with those who fight in unreserved class. Now many of you are wondering how it can be decided that someone would fight in the reserved category or not. The answer is simple and straight if someone takes birth in Dalits, OBCs and tribal’s family then he can enjoy the facility of reservation. It totally depends on your birth. Also, this system claims around 60 per cent of the Indian population. Alas, the low cutoff for these reserved category people is sinking the talent of the country in sadness. Now, Imagine a system which produces a pool of teachers who scored in negatives in their exams. This is exactly what’s happening in India. In one of its largest states Rajasthan, many candidates got selected by just scoring in negatives. These teachers who were not able to score even zero marks are teaching maths and science in the government schools and colleges. Even for the top engineering colleges students with an unreserved class have to score four times as compare to the reserved class students. This disparity and segregation is killing the young gifted brains and prefers the worst.  In IITs, which produces top engineers of the world, the last year cutoff for the unreserved category is twice to the reserved category students. This means if perversely, you took birth in any of the unreserved class then you are supposed to score as twice or sometimes thrice the students of the unreserved class. Ominously, this highly convoluted system dooms the talent of the country.  

This is why many of the meritorious and highly compatible students are not able to take admissions in the top science and technology colleges. This trend recapitulates in Jobs and also in some contractual services. The bureaucracy of India is not working fine. Everything is in chaos, thanks to the reservation system. The major dent which this system has done on India is the destruction of science and technology. The reserved seats in space agency like ISRO and defence sectors are pushing India backward. In a result of this, still, India has to depend heavily on the foreign powers in an order to satisfy its technological needs. Whereas, its bystander China is leading a way forward in terms of science and technology even though both countries have nearly the same proportion of the men power.

Due to heavy reservation and the worst application of this system, many of the bright students move to Europe or in the United States. Adding to this, one of the states Tamil Nadu has a reservation ceiling of 69% in Jobs and education. This is pushing students of the unreserved class to move out of the state or even from the country. Sundar Pichai, Ceo of google’s parent company Alphabet is the best in explaining what I am trying to say. Sundar Pichai is an IIT graduate and has its roots from the Tamil Nadu but heavy reservation and fewer opportunities drove him to the United States.

Apart from the issue of talent flushing, it is also under-representing the unreserved section of the society. In Tamil Nadu, one of the unreserved class is Brahmanical society who lost their representation due to disturbing reservation policies. Jotting down that this society is one of the leading educated society but reservation brings down their talent as well as their representation. Not only reservation, but this unreserved class is also suffering from the suffocating caste-based policies of the government. Due to their social structure, they are obliged to pay more for the government services as compared to the reserved section.
 This unreserved class is like the slaves of the colonial era who have to pay more for the services and in return received humiliation. The amount of humiliation can be calculated by this that a poor student from an unreserved category has supposed to pay thrice to the rich student of a reserved class. Moreover, the voice of these unreserved class people in India has no social status as many of the Dalit writers and activists who come from the reserved category is disseminating false and irrelevant information about the Brahmins, Rajputs and Baniyas who belong to the unreserved section of the society. The bombardment of these scripted articles comes from the mainstream media outlets where these Dalit writers accentuated more on propagating false writeups.

However, a small section of reserved society also wants some changes in the existing structure of the reservation. In spite of all these things, some leaders from the Dalit society has made their caste-based political organizations who engage in abusing Brahmins and the people from the unreserved section. The amount of hate and violent thoughts they are carrying can be anticipated by a report prepared by a Delhi based news portal, Falana Dikhana. This portal exposed their one of the highly recognised leader Chandrashekhar Azaad who used to write sexual, offensive and hateful words for the female tweeter users who belongs to the unreserved class. The comments were made by the official verified account of the Dalit leader. In its series of reports, Falana Dikhana tells the truth of these Dalit leaders and how their nexus is working in abusing the Brahmins and the unreserved class of the society.

The condition of unreserved class in India is just like a slave. Whether its to take admissions, paying fees or to take jobs they are compelled to suffer. They die daily, not once but at every moment. 

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