Why was a labourer, Venkatesh, chained in a quarry near Mysore for nearly two years?

Venkatesh had said he felt unbearably light when he was released: ‘It is a strange feeling. It is like coming out of water.’ It was a very Indian story, and one that emerged from a prevailing social order. More extreme human rights abuses happen in neighbouring countries, but the absolute indifference shown to Venkatesh was an unexceptional Indian response to another human being’s suffering. Many people, including the local police, would have known the quarry contained chained labourers, but nobody had bothered to do anything about it. It was the same indifference that allowed modern India to ignore the plight of Adivasis and let ‘Maoists’ become their spokespeople, and in turn allowed the Maoist leadership to slaughter police jawans because they were ‘class enemies’. Compassion (in the original sense of ‘suffering with’, which implies a commonality) is not a Hindu concept, except where it involves ritual donation in pursuit of a religious obligation. Loyalty is shown to the family or to your particular community, rather than to people in general. The idea that all are equal in the sight of God is Islamic, while ‘Do as you would be done by’ is a Christian concept. In this case, Venkatesh was not seen as a fellow human to whom care might be extended; he was nobody, nothing. His incarceration, or slavery, happened in a country with democratic rights and genuine constitutional safeguards, less than a hundred miles from one of the nation’s most prosperous cities…

READ MORE in India: A Portrait by Patrick French

Comments are closed.