Syria’s New Media Law: More Freedom, Less Restrictions

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday issued a decree on a new media law that would ban journalists being jailed and also give them access to information.

Assad "issued the legislative decree of the media law," the official news agency SANA reported, without elaborating.

The law partly liberalizes repressive legislation under which journalists faced jail for, among other things, attacking "the prestige and dignity of the state, national unity and the morale of the army."


Elias Murad, head of the journalists’ union, told AFP that the association "has always demanded a modern press law to give Syrian media the chance to play a comprehensive role in providing the truth and serving society."

"There is an important article in the new law that bans the imprisonment of journalists. The law gives more freedom to have access to information, and officials will be obligated to provide information," he said.


Murad said the law did not put restrictions on journalists, "excluding issues related to the nation, enemy and national unity, which is natural."

Under the new law, which was discussed by the government earlier this month, an independent national media council will be created. "It authorizes citizens to open a newspaper or television station and obliges government officials and public institutions to provide information so journalists can ply their trade, while taking national imperatives into account," Murad said.

In May, Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmud announced the formation of a media commission including experts, journalists and academics to draft a "new comprehensive press law for print, audio and visual media."

Earlier this month, Assad issued decrees on the formation of political parties as well as general elections.

Source: Agencies

Reflections on the Dalit Leadership

Atrocities against women and children rising in Kerala

Women and children in the state appear to have become more unsafe than ever before. The recent crime statistics published by the Kerala Police till June 2011 reveal a disturbing increase in crimes against women and children.

Around 546 rape cases have been reported in the first six months of 2011 against 617 cases last year. Kasargod tops the list with 96 cases marking around four-fold increase from the previous year.

Thiruvananthapuram stands second with 76 cases while the least number of cases were registered in Kannur with 12. As far as atrocities against children are concerned, a total of 698 cases were reported till June. The number of cases reported in the previous year was 596.

There is a noticeable increase in rape cases, kidnapping and abduction and other crimes against children.

Social activists and leaders of women’s organisations consider this as an indication of the increasing rate of decadence occurring in the society. “Reports of girls being raped by their fathers are coming up every day now.?? The situation is so pathetic that girls are not safe even with their fathers. This should be seen as the consequence of increase in alcohol consumption.

With globalisation and urbanisation, people are becoming more money-oriented, deliberately ignoring the values of relationships and ethics,” said K Ajitha, social activists and president of Anweshi Women’s Counselling Centre based in Kozhikode.

Malappuram continues to top the list in the cases pertaining to cruelty against women from husbands

or relatives with 340 cases out of the total 1,109 cases reported in the period. Last time, the total figure of Malappuram district in this category was 652. Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode districts follow the list with 287, 284 and 245 cases respectively. The highest number of molestation cases was reported in state capital-382.

As many as 6,600 cases were registered in the state till June 2011 on crimes against women. Cases pertaining to rape and cruelty by husbands apart, these include: 1,816 molestation cases, 101 kidnapping cases, 347 eve teasing cases, six dowry cases and 1,109 other offences.

Thiruvananthapuram leads with 829 cases.

Kollam follows with 774 cases and Thrissur and Malappuram districts with 670 and 632 cases respectively.? Pathanamthitta reported the lowest number- 205 cases. A total of 10,781 cases were reported in 2010


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Dalits Media Watch – News Updates 19.08.11

Dalits Media Watch

News Updates 19.08.11

Vacancies galore in Bhadrak collectorate – IBN Live

Intercaste marriage costs UK couple job – The Times Of India

WINGS CLIPPED – The Telegraph

10 SC students to go abroad for study each year – The Pioneer

In the mirror, guilt doesn’t look so good – Tehelka

IBN Live

Vacancies galore in Bhadrak collectorate

Express News Service , The New Indian Express

Posted on Aug 19, 2011 at 12:12pm IST

BHADRAK: Visitors making a beeline before various departments and a handful of officials hopping from one office to another to cope with the mad rush is a common sight in the Collectorate here. The office has been a witness to such a mess for the last three years. Sources said only two deputy collectors are left to handle 13 departments.

The post of the Sub-Collector has been lying vacant for a fortnight now. To cap it,Additional Sub-Collector Sarat Biswal hardly manages to hold the Sub-Collector’s criminal court.

The staff crisis has hit functioning of the office. While around 25,000 pension holders await pension, over 800 Dalits have been making rounds of the office for permission to dispose of their lands. Scores of pending land disputes remain unresolved.

The officials reporting for duty are overworked. Biswal alone oversees land dispute cases in three tehsils – Bonth, Bhandaripokhari and Dhamnagar. He also dabbles as the District Project Coordinator of Sarva Sikshya Abhijan apart from managing the Department of Consolidation. Besides, Biswal is in charge of the Additional Sub-Collector’s office in Kendujhar. “I have to organise the Janasunai camp in Bonth block,” Biswal said.

Deputy Collectors Md Ajfar and Renuprabha Nayak go through similar grind. Afjar shuttles between the office of Election Officer, the Executive Magistrate Court, Revenue Department of the Sub-Collector, Road Transport Office, Establishment Department and the Sub-Register Officer. Nayak multi-tasks handling the Audit Department, Record room, RTI cell, Nizarat and Special Certificate Department. Besides, she heads the General and Miscellaneous departments. Sources said the four deputy collector posts have been lying vacant for the last four years.

Similar fate awaited Suryakanta Padhi who was posted by the State Transport Department as Special Land Acquisition Officer, Dhamra port. He is now in charge of District Revenue, Development, Land Acquisition and Emergency Excise.

The staff crunch has affected one sub-division and three blocks in the district. DRDA Project Director, Tehsildar of Bon, Additional tehsildar and Additional Block Development Officer Posts remain vacant. District Collector Akshay Kumar Pani admitted to the shortage of staff and promised to apprise the Secretary of State Revenue Department of the situation.

The Times Of India

Intercaste marriage costs UK couple job

Ashis Ray, TNN | Aug 19, 2011, 06.54AM IST

LONDON: The Indian caste system seems to have cost a British Indian couple their jobs and prospects. Vijay Begraj, 32, and his wife Amardeep, 33, claim that their bosses discriminated against them because they were from different castes.

A Birmingham employment tribunal was told on Tuesday that Amardeep’s career had suffered at the hands of Coventry-based solicitors Heer Manak ever since she married Begraj. Her husband was sacked after seven years of service in 2010 and his wife resigned in January this year. Vijay, who was a law firm practice manager, is a Dalit, while his wife, a solicitor, is a Jat. He is a Hindu and she a Sikh. In India’s complex caste system, Dalits are considered to be low- caste Hindus. The couple claim that even at their wedding their employers made barbed comments. One colleague raised a toast to "Jat girls going down the drain" said Amardeep.

She said her bosses handed more work to her than she could cope with, gave reduced help from support staff and paid less than her colleagues, after finding out about them dating.

The Telegraph


Publicity, even of the negative kind, can make careers. But Prakash Jha can hardly hope for such luck. The Bollywood director, who is known for making films with a conscience, has run into serious losses over his latest offering, Aarakshan. It is alleged that the film, which explores the controversies surrounding caste-based reservations in India, has ended up endorsing derogatory attitudes towards Dalits. Three state governments have banned it, and audiences elsewhere are, understandably, wary of going to film theatres that are heavily guarded by the police and liable to erupt in hooliganism any moment. While it is quite possible that the film does not live up to the expectations of certain sections of its viewers, there are civilized ways of recording such disapproval. Banning a film is not one of them. Such a stance violates the basic freedoms that the Indian Constitution gives to every citizen of the country. It is also irrational to confuse reality with fiction — which is what a film is mostly based on. Such neat correspondences become especially problematic when the subject of the film is as knotty as reservation — where right and wrong, black and white are notoriously conflated.

It is unfortunate that India is yet to earn the title of a mature democracy even 65 years after its Independence. Books, films, paintings and plays continue to be banned by the State at the slightest hint of trouble. In nearly all these cases, as with Mr Jha’s film, an ulterior motive is usually involved in the demand for censorship. For some state governments, rabble-rousing over the depiction of caste relations in a film may be a useful strategy to gain political mileage on the eve of assembly elections. But such deluded notions are going to hold water with only a handful of party loyals and anti-social elements who need but an excuse to disrupt civil society. Rather than promoting social justice, such outbreaks of violence may ultimately prove detrimental to the advances, big and small, that have been made in the arena of caste politics. And what, one wonders, is the meaning of such State paternalism when there is open trading in pirated books and DVDs on every Indian street and the internet has revolutionized the idea of access?

The Pioneer

10 SC students to go abroad for study each year

August 18, 2011 11:42:47 PM

Staff Reporter | Bhopal

Minister of State for Scheduled Caste Welfare Harishankar Khatik has asked the officers to ensure that at least ten students belonging to Scheduled Castes must go on foreign study visit every year under the department’s Foreign Study Scholarship Scheme. He said if required, amendment would also be made in annual income limit and other rules pertaining to the scholarship scheme. Minister of State Khatik was reviewing departmental schemes at Mantralaya on Wednesday.

Khatik directed officers to make application form process online so that maximum number of students can apply for the scholarship. By doing so, the students of Madhya Pradesh studying in other States will also be able to apply for the scholarship easily.

At the meeting it was informed that so far 23 students have been sent to foreign countries to pursue higher education under the scheme, which was launched in 2003. The State Government has spent a sum of Rs 3.60 crore on the education of these students.

At the meet it was informed that this year a sum of Rs 30 crore would be provided to 2.30 lakh girls under Kanya Saksharta Yojna. The meeting also discussed other scholarships given to Scheduled Caste students and their distribution mode. Tribal Welfare Secretary DP Ahirwar and Additional Director Sanjay Varshney were present at the meeting.

At the meet it was informed that a decision has been taken to provide Foreign Study Scholarship to six male and four female students every year.

The meeting was informed that this year post-matric scholarships worth Rs 165 crore were given to 2.26 lakh scheduled caste students studying in class 11, State Scholarship worth Rs 48.89 crore to 12.32 lakh students studying in class six to ten and scholarship worth Rs 21 crore to 8.72 lakh girls of schedule castes studying in Class I to V.


In the mirror, guilt doesn’t look so good

Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan is such a timid look at caste issues that the mind boggles. So what does the fuss over its content tell us about us?

BOLLYWOOD FILMS are fond of that attire, which is flamboyant and can hide the real crippled skin. The established lingo of our films depicts the language of the ill-attached storytellers who develop their script under the aegis of what is described as market mantra. These films may be commercially successful, but just charming visuals and award-winning performances does not on its own constitute a serious depiction of reality or make it a good film. On certain artistic standards it may be viable and correct but the demonstrated reality is miles away from the concrete actualities of regular life. In the absence of rooted conjunctions with the lives of the deprived and marginalised sections, our films, having a claim of social messages, are made to serve the interest and entertainment logic of the dominant elites of society. The recently released Aarakshan by Prakash Jha is nothing but a confused attempt by the filmmaker to serve the typical Bollywood ingredients in a packaged dish of meaningful cinema. Caste question needs a serious and sensitive dimension, which the filmmakers in Bollywood have failed to realise till date.

Aarakshan has tried to read the political and social grammar, which has tremendously changed under the policy of reservation. Jha depicts the recent turmoil, especially the emergence of the coaching mafia, under the new liberal market logic versus the constitutional mandate that essentialised the need of welfare-oriented policies for the historically deprived sections. Prabhakar Anand, a character played by Amitabh Bachchan, as an interlocutor between the two, has a messianic presence here. His Gandhian guilt confronts the profit-seeking educationists but without touching the historic question of caste antagonism and injustice. The narrative is utterly perplexed between the ethics of social justice and individual liberty.

The first half is a swift attempt to showcase the dialectical churning between the dominant and dominated caste groups in India over the issue of reservation. The caste prejudices of the social elites and the fighting spirit of the young Dalit protagonist, played by Saif Ali Khan, is sensitively handled. However, the story loses all its social concern after the interval to promote Bachchan as the main lead who fights for justice in his own way. The Dalit character is reduced to a supplement readable only in the context of the main lead. The possibility that a young educated Dalit character can lead the battle against social inequalities and capitalist domination is not even explored in the film. What Aarakshan represents is the utopia of the storyteller, which craftily cut itself from the popular movements for social change and imagines the realities with indifferent idealist inputs. Bollywood needs a concentrated deliberation and a different angle to reflect on the changed graph of contemporary society. The lower caste groups have utilised democratic awareness and have entered into the public domain, formerly dominated by the upper caste psyche. However in most of the arenas, their presence is yet to gain equal space and respect.

The issue of caste is dangerous territory, full of complexities and contesting political values similar to the religio-communal problems. The storytellers of Bollywood normally shy away from entering the dirty world of downtrodden masses. Without even having a hint of experience about how a Dalit or tribal really feels, we narrate a story under the dominant stereotypes. The embedded commonsense of Bollywood related to the Dalits, scantily dressed, dark complexion and sometimes even challenged – remember Kachra in Aamir Khan’s Lagaan, is favourable to the upper caste sensitivities, which hesitate to acknowledge the Dalit as a struggling robust hero. The recent attempts to present a Dalit protagonist (Bavandar, Eklavya, Aakrosh (Ajay Devgn), Raktcharitra-I and Raavan) were appreciative, but they also revolve around the provided structural logic of the upper caste world where the Dalits always have degraded self and peripheral connectivity. The aspirations and dreams of the marginalised sections, to become an equal part and parcel of the dominant narrative, is still a challenged constituency.

Bollywood is yet to produce a hero from the marginalised sections who may be acceptable to the masses as their own. The depiction of Dalit, OBC or even Muslim characters are mostly attached as second or third fiddle to the lead

Regular Bollywood filmmakers mostly endorse simple market ethics and they see sensationalism and entertainment as an ideal vehicle to reach to their target. Hence, they have distanced themselves from the social responsibilities as an artist to make films with effective social massage, political actualities and progressive content. For example, Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen and Sujata, Raj Kapoor’s Jagte Raho, Mehboob Khan’s Mother India and Gautam Ghose’s Paar are some instances of such moralistic social messages and were also widely popular among masses for their artistic and entertainment quotient. Even the so-called parallel cinema of an earlier period has become strategic cinema today mainly for the multiplex audiences (Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba and Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha are some recent examples of these changes) and compartmentalises intellectual cinema for niche groups. Under such a scenario, expecting that Bollywood would produce realistic cinema about the ongoing contestation of social identities is futile. Bollywood is not ready for such a radical attempt.

There are reasons why the normal reality of the political and social life is exceptionally represented in the narratives of our Hindi films. I would like to argue that the new age cinema of contemporary Bollywood is yet to reflect on the caste question with a serious note and vision because of their stiff attachment to the brahmanical cultural logic and bourgeois middle-class consciousness. The filmmakers cannot contest against their higher social location and also have to work within the compulsions of the market. Hindi films mostly serve these two purposes simultaneously and thus turning a blind eye towards the caste question appears so natural. Such hegemonic appropriation of cinema mainly to serve a specific kind of elite interest has made Bollywood a clichéd, repetitive and non-creative enterprise. Even the earlier generation has not substantively contributed here, which could have been an example for the current generation of filmmakers – Achchut Kanya, Mrigaya, Sadgati and Aakrosh are some of the exceptional films made on Dalit and tribal lives in all these years. The caste question has significantly democratised the sociopolitical spectrum but the cinema industry has remained in the powerful clutches of the upper caste elites.

BOLLYWOOD IS yet to produce a hero from the marginalised sections who may be acceptable to the masses as their own. In the United States, the rich popularity of artists like Michael Jackson, Samuel Jackson, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Jackie Chan and Jennifer Lopez reflects the acceptability of racial and cultural differences by the people and even the filmmakers there have shown tremendous openness in depicting them as the main lead in their films. However, in our films, the depiction of Dalit, OBC or even Muslim characters are mostly attached in the story as a second or third fiddle to the main lead, whereas in most of the stories the protagonist possesses a name attached with an overt upper caste identity. The dominant themes of most of the successful films locate the narration within the brahmanical cultural values as the nominated representation for India (Maine Pyar Kiya,DDLJ, Gadar, KKKG, Devdas) and are burdened under the aesthetical values of an upper middle-class psyche (Three Idiots, Dabangg, Singham, Zindagi na Milegi Dobara). Prakash Jha is also not exceptional in this as in two past films (Gangajal and Apaharan) he explicitly characterises a Muslim and OBC (Yadav) as the prime villains.

The unchallenged presence of an upper caste hero as the representative voice of common Indians hides more than what it reveals. As the main character possesses a specific caste background and identity, the story thus naturally revolves around the sentiments of the protagonist. You change the social identity of the character you will get a different narrative. Also, our films unapologetically celebrate the cultural symbols of the upper caste elites as national and hide the reality that cultural values are distinctively plural and regionally located. I have not come across a popular film that has celebrated the nature-loving customary traditions of the tribals. Further, within these narratives, a majority of the films have bourgeois-middle class ethics that celebrate a close-knit personal world without looking into the hard questions of social responsibility. The narratives operate under considerations that define its territory consciously different from the majority of the population.

The caste question has grown bigger in India as the socially marginalised groups have started mobilising themselves to snatch the cradle of power from the traditional elites – Mayawati’s rise to power in Uttar Pradesh is a suitable example. It does not need high intellectual calibre to understand why there is habitual negligence of Hindi films on reflecting over the changing sociopolitical spectrum. Primarily, the deep prejudice and hesitation of the film fraternity to involve itself with the caste question and secondly, the limited concern and sensitivity towards the socially deprived and marginalised groups disallows them from making a socially relevant film.

The Dalits, adivasis and the OBCs compromise a majority of the population but the ideological merit of Hindi cinema reflects mainly the objectives of the other social elites. The emergent aspirations and dreams of the marginalised people, their cultural differences and the exploitative social order in which these groups survive have barely any representative value in mainstream Hindi cinema. Such exclusive territory must be made more inclusive so that it reflects the multiple realities of social and political churnings in an authentic manner. There is a need to create a serious space in Bollywood, which can sensitively handle the growing aspirations of the deprived classes and provide them an equal and dignified location.

The predominant vision of the Hindi films to locate Dalits as degraded, filthy and parasites needs a reality check now. The time has come to share the heroism with the newly emerging powerful voices of the Dalit youths. Bollywood must sensitively reflect over the idea of visualising Dalits as equal and to portray them as the new hero. Till date, the depiction of these groups was channelised by the intellect of the social elite. So, there is an immediate need to bring the voices of the marginalised as independent articulators of their own interests.

Hindi films made on caste questions reflect the half-baked knowledge of the social elites on contemporary social realities. Aarakshan may have overt upper caste guilt about the changed sociopolitical world, but it does not connect with the newly-found aspirations of the socially deprived sections. The diehard dreams of the Dalits and backward classes to overcome their socioeconomic disabilities and become an integral part of the mainstream have little support in Bollywood.

Some films may have favourably brought the issue of caste within the public debate, like Aarakshan, but it is still treats the caste question from an angle of upper caste values. Hopefully, such films may provide a spark to ignite the minds of the marginalised groups who are simultaneously watching their growing mettle in the political and social milieu.

Harish S Wankhede is an assistant professor at Ramlal Anand College, University of Delhi.

Hindutva and the Dalit Question

Hindutva and the Dalit Question

By Bhanwar Meghvanshi

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Of late, the RSS has been making a tremendous hue-and-cry about what it calls the ‘social assimilation’ (samarasta) of the various castes. The curious fact, however, is that it has no intention whatsoever of promoting the genuine ‘assimilation’ of, leave alone equality between, the various castes. A clear indication of its attitude to the caste question is that from the very beginning it has been strongly opposed to reservations or any other form of protective discrimination for Dalits, Adviasis, OBCs and religious minorities.

The truth is that ‘samarasta’ for the Hindutva camp means that the varna system should remain, as should the different castes and the hierarchies and inequalities that divide them. So, too, must untouchability, and poverty and the enormous differences between the rich and the poor. The Hindutva forces want that the present system, wherein some people continue to have a virtual monopoly over resources and power, while millions of others live in the most pathetic conditions, continues unscathed. It wants, in other words, that the status quo in terms of caste and class relations should continue and that no one should in any way revolt against this. This is what is meant by its jargon about samarasta, which Hindutva ideologues constantly harp about. So that the oppressed Dalits and others do not begin to assert themselves for their rights it is necessary for the Hindutva forces to keep talking about the mirage of samarasta.

The Hindutva forces have always been opposed to social equality. When two brothers cannot be the same, Hindutva ideologues often argue, how can there be equality in society at large? That is why, they say, equality is impossible, and the most that one can seek is samarasta, as they understand the term. In other words, for them the ‘high’ and the rich must remain high and rich, the ‘low’ and the poor must remain low and poor, but society must somehow ‘assimilate’ the two categories harmoniously, as if this were possible.

It requires no great intelligence to understand that this defence of the status quo by Hindutva forces in the name of samarasta brilliantly serves the interests of the exploiting classes, such as capitalists, the feudal class as well as the priestly class, and that is why these three classes are among their most staunch supporters. This trio of classes faces the greatest threat from social equality. The priests want that they should be left to monopolise their profession so that they can continue to fleece people, exploit their faith and comfortably live off their donations. The former rajas and maharajas still want to fancy themselves as rulers of this land and the rest of Indians as their subjects. The Banias want to maintain their hegemony in the economic sphere, and they want no change in the system wherein a tiny class owns almost all the wealth, while the rest are landless, poverty-stricken labourers. For these three classes, the slogan of samarasta serves to maintain the iniquitous system that favours them. To maintain this grossly unequal system in the guise of samarasta, these days Hindutva forces are now trying to woo the Dalits and Adivasi and fool them by presenting themselves as committed to their welfare. Their activists tour Dalit and Adivasi localities, and try to win them over by eating with them or by setting up religious centres for them. In this way, they are trying to create and reinforce the completely fallacious notion that there is no one so committed to the Dalits and Adivasis as they themselves.

But the real face of the Hindutva forces, their true stance on Dalits and other oppressed castes, is easily understood from their position on reservations for these communities. This brutal reality strips the masks under which they seek to hide. From time to time, Hindutva leaders, including top bosses of the RSS, issue confusing statements about reservations for the oppressed castes, but, overall, these are calculated to negate their importance and seek to do away with them. Some years ago, Sudarshan, the then head of the RSS, issued a statement that such reservations had become a tool to mobilize votes. Indresh Kumar, another important RSS leader, declared that reservations on the basis of caste had divided India against itself and had even, so he had the gumption to claim, threatened its unity and integrity and the love and harmony between its different classes. Devendra Swaroop, a key RSS ideologue, also stridently opposed reservations as allegedly undermining democracy and as promoting advancement through greed and by means of crutches. Moreover, he condemned reservations as supposedly divisive and anti-national. He contended that students who believe in ‘merit’, ‘all intellectuals’, the media, the industrialist class, the judiciary and other ‘Constitutional bodies’ ‘have stood up in opposition to this divisive and anti-national reservation policy. A massive movement [against the policy] is beginning to emerge throughout the country.’

Another top Hindutva boss, Pravin Togadia, General Secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, once infamously declared that by providing reservations to the Backward Classes, the government was ‘fulfilling the incomplete task of Khilji and Ghazni’—this being an allusion to medieval supposedly anti-Hindu Muslim invaders, whom the Hindutva forces regard with horror. ‘Through reservations, a conspiracy is being carried out to divide the country’, he announced. Summing up the Hindutva stance on reservations for the oppressed castes, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi quipped, ‘It is wrong to provide reservations on the basis of caste.’ The Shiv Sena, a key member of the Hindutva combine, is notorious for its consistent opposition to reservations for the oppressed castes. It is said that the almost defunct Hindu Mahasabha, at one time in the recent past began showing signs of being revived in order to oppose such reservations. Himani Savarkar, top Mahasabha leader, and daughter-in-law of one of its key founders, VD Savarkar (she belongs to the Godse family), announced, ‘The Hindu Mahasabha has always been opposed to reservations. Even before Independence, the Mahasabha, at its Karnavati and Bhagalpur conventions, had opposed reservations based on caste and religion.’

The RSS keeps harping that ‘All Hindus are Brothers’, but when it comes to reservations for the oppressed castes, it turns, as these examples illustrate, against its supposed co-religionists—the oppressed castes. Hindutva forces are also said to be campaigning under the cover of various other outfits to end the system of reservations, sometimes hesitating to reveal their true intentions for fear of losing the support of the oppressed castes. So much for its claims of being committed to the ‘assimilation’ of the different castes and for its rhetoric about social ‘harmony’.

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