Bengaluru Declaration

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Preamble

Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar once argued that “a nation is not a people synthesised by a common culture derived from common language, common religion or common race…Nationality is a feeling of oneness which makes those who are charged with it feel they are kith and kin…It is a feeling of “consciousness of kind”…it is longing to belonging to one’s own group. This is the essence of what is called a nationality and national feeling”.

Giving shape to that vision, and stemming from their experiences of the freedom struggle, our founders consistently strived to forge a “consciousness of kind”. They ensured that each one of us was accorded equal opportunities to live with dignity and security, to have equitable access to a better life, and is an equal partner in this nation’s growth. This has been the foundation of India’s rapid growth in the last 70 years.

If India is to continue to rise to ever greater heights in the next 70 years, we must further the promise of the nation to all Indians through creative policies and constructive politics. We can only do that by:

  • Reasserting the fundamental principle of one person-one value;
  • Reclaiming our freedom, dignity and human personality;
  • Comprehensively addressing the needs and aspirations of all Indians, especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalised, such as Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Women and Minorities;
  • Celebrating the fact that we are stronger together, and because of each other.
  • Overcoming the divisive politics that attempt to pit caste against caste, class against class, and community against community.

Process of drafting Declaration

To actualise the above mentioned goals, it was decided to seek recommendations to deepen and further the promise of India. Leveraging the platform provided by the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar International Conference, held from the 21-23 of July, 2017, the Bengaluru Declaration is a compilation of recommendations received from consultations held with academics, activists and policymakers, from discussions held at the Conference and from ordinary citizens across India. This Peoples’ Declaration hopes to be a dynamic blueprint that addresses the needs and aspirations of all Indians, and a starting point for an “alliance of equity” of all progressive forces committed to safeguarding the idea of India.

Recommendations

Safeguarding the People
  • Upholding the Rule of Law: The State must be unequivocal in its protection of fundamental rights and constitutional values. To do this:

    Irrespective of religious identities or institutional affiliations, the State needs to strictly reassert political and legal accountability for any violence. This is the only way to prevent lynchings and uphold the rule of law.

    - The police services must be freed from political control, and reformed by fully implementing police reforms, so that they become a service provider to citizens rather than a force to impose control.

    - Just like the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, a special Act for the prevention of caste, religious and gender discrimination in educational institutions must be passed. This will prevent discrimination in admission, enhance access to quality education, and ensure equality as an integral part of the education process.

    - The State must uphold the Constitution in letter and spirit. Any attempt at reviewing the Constitution shall be opposed forthwith.

  • Protecting Individual Rights and Freedoms: All provisions that place constraints on freedom of speech, expression and individual rights should be reformed or removed. These include those on defamation, sedition, art/film censorship and social media.
Strengthening Democratic Institutions
  • Reform of political representation:The political party is a key institution in our democracy that organises and channelises the political wishes of the people. To ensure that they continue to do so, the following are proposed:

    - State funding of elections.

    - The Election Commission of India should be conferred with extensive regulatory powers to ensure that political parties mandatorily uphold fundamental rights and adhere to constitutional values, as well as comply with internal democratic procedures.

    - The ECI must also ensure that religious beliefs and practices cannot be mobilised in any form in electoral or governance practices.

    - To promote enhanced diversity and representation, a constitutional amendment institutionalising reservations for OBCs to assembly and parliament should be passed.

    - To promote gender parity in assembly and parliament, a constitutional amendment for reservations for women with an appropriate provision for representation of SC, ST, and OBC women, should be passed.

    - Reforms of the electoral system to ensure SC and ST representation better reflects the will, and are accountable to these sections.

  • Protecting media freedoms: Freedom of press is paramount for strengthening and deepening democracy. Today, the freedom of the press is compromised and individual journalists are under attack by fundamentalist elements and subject to tacit State censorship. Secondly, journalistic standards are also being systematically compromised. Thirdly, sections of the media are complicit in creating or exacerbating casteist and religious tensions. To ensure the media is able to function as a nation’s conscience keeper, it is proposed:

    - The Press Council of India (PCI) should be conferred with extensive regulatory powers to take suo-moto action against attacks on individual journalists and censorship.

    - The PCI will also be empowered to regulate corporate monopoly and cross ownership of media.

    - The PCI should also strive to ensure greater diversity in media houses by promoting representation of SC, ST, OBC, Minority and women at all levels.

  • Judicial reforms: To ensure that the judiciary is robust and reflective of the social diversity of India, reservations for SCs/STs/OBCs in the higher judiciaries must be institutionalised. Furthermore, as per the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission, an All India Judicial Services should be created with provisions of reservation for SC/STs/OBCs.
Deepening Social Justice
  • Equal Opportunities Commission: Given widespread inequities which include underrepresentation of SC, ST, OBC, Women and Minorities in employment, the State should establish an Equal Opportunities Commission which should adopt creative strategies and policies to achieve equity in the public and private sectors. The Chairpersons of the National Commissions for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Socially and Educationally Backward Classes shall be members of the Equal Opportunities Commission.
  • Scheduled Caste Special Component and Tribal Component Legislation: A national legislation to ensure that a portion of the budget equal to the population proportion of SC & STs to support schemes to bridge the gaps in development of SCs & STs when compared to rest of the society should be brought out by the central government. These funds should be directly and exclusively meant for the welfare of SCs and STs, and not include generic expenditure.
  • Ensuring study of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma Jyotiba & Savitribai Phule in school and college curriculum: To inspire and educate future generations on ideas and movements of social justice, curriculum in schools and colleges should mandatorily include the study of the life and work of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma and Savitribai Phule.
  • Accelerated development of SC, ST, and OBC dominated habitations: Like the Multi- Sectoral Development Programme, the State should ensure that every SC, ST, and OBC household should get access to basic civic amenities, including power supply, tapped water, sanitation and connectivity within five years.
  • Reservations in procurement and contracts: Like in Karnataka, there should be reservations in procurement and contracts for up to 100 lakhs. This will benefit SC, ST and OBC entrepreneurs.
  • Equitable access to reservations: The State shall put in place an appropriate institutional mechanism to ensure all the sub-castes among SCs & STs enjoy equal access to benefits of reservations.
  • Reservation in Promotion: The State shall amend the Constitution, if necessary, so as to ensure reservations in promotion for SCs/STs/OBCs in all government and semigovernment sector.
  • English medium education to SCs, STs, OBCs, Women and Minorities: To ensure these communities are able to stand as equals with forward castes, the State shall ensure access to quality English medium education from secondary school level onwards.
  • Navodaya type residential schools for all vulnerable children: To uplift and empower through quality education, one Navodaya type of residential school from class six to class 12 should be instituted in every district, block and sub-block level for all vulnerable children, especially SCs, STs, OBCs and Minorities.
  • Universal access to hostels for SCs, STs and OBCs:To empower and give flight to their aspirations, access to hostels should be universalised for all SC, ST and OBC students.
  • Reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in private higher educational institutions: Considering the expansion of higher educational institutions in the private section, reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in these institutions shall be made mandatory.
  • Filling up backlog vacancies in reserved posts: Despite numerous administrative measures, backlog vacancies in government, universities and Public Sector Undertakings remain a pressing concern. The State must therefore mandatorily fill up all the backlog vacancies in reserved posts within a year and such a drive shall be repeated every year.
  • Reservations in the private sector: To ensure diversity in all sectors, the State shall bring in a legislation guaranteeing reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in the private organised sector.
  • Economic Empowerment of SC/ST/OBCs and Minorities: The State shall ensure adequate special funds to boost entrepreneurship among the SC/STs, OBCs and Minorities, to ensure they attain economic liberty. The State shall also reserve at least 10 per cent of Stakes/Shares in PSUs/Corporations/Companies, for SC/STs/OBCs to enhance their participation in the economic activities of the State. For this, the State shall create a special corpus fund for SC/ST/OBCs to buy these stakes/shares. Similar other mechanisms to increase representations of SC/ST/OBCs in Governments financial institutions should also be ensured.
  • Agricultural land for landless Dalits: Landless Dalits should be provided with agricultural land as a legal entitlement and special support should be provided so that agriculture becomes an economically viable occupation including the provisions for minimum agricultural income for all people engaged in agriculture. Special legislation should be passed to this effect.
  • Universal irrigation of all SC, ST and OBC lands: Universal irrigation of all SC, ST and OBC lands should be urgently undertaken to ensure sustainable farming.
  • Institutionalising Special Tribunal to ensure ST lands are restored: A special tribunal should be institutionalised to ensure that all land belonging to STs but purchased by non-STs should be restored back to the STs.
  • Sustainable livelihoods for STs: To ensure STs are guaranteed sustainable livelihood, Minimum Support Price for non-timber forest produce should be ensured.
  • Legislation to secure SC & ST lands: Legislation prohibiting acquisition and occupation of SC & ST lands by others should be strengthened and enacted where do they do not exist. These need to be strictly enforced.
  • Land banks to protect SC & ST land ownership: Land banks should be established to buy at market prices lands of SCs and STs who need to sell their land. Furthermore, reallotments of such land should happen only to SCs and STs so that total land ownership of SCs and STs is not diluted.
  • Permanent, not contractual employment: Safai Karmacharies in the rural and urban local bodies employed under contract system should be provided permanent employment, by abolishing contract system. Furthermore, all steps should be taken to stop manual scavenging in any forms in a time bound manner.
  • Comprehensive reform of caste based occupational vocations:All caste based occupational vocations must be comprehensively reformed so that they are modernised, formalised and it is ensured that those entering the particular occupation are not representative of a particular caste or community. At the same time, through the above mentioned educational and employment recommendations, the State should liberate people from caste based occupational oppression.
  • Immediate publishing of Socio-Economic Caste Census: The State shall immediately publicise the results of the socio-economic and caste census undertaken in the urban and rural areas.
Enhancing Human Development
  • Farmers Income Commission: The agricultural sector is in acute crisis, and the last three years have seen a marked decline in the economic condition of farmers. It is imperative that farmers’ incomes are first protected, and then augmented. Therefore a Farmers Income Commission must be urgently institutionalised to ensure income security for India’s annadatas.
  • Nine is Mine: The State should allocate six percent of the GDP for education and three percent for health. Both health and education should be universal rights.
  • Universal secondary education: Building on the Right to Education, secondary education should be universal. The State should especially focus on ensuring universal enrolment and retention of SCs, STs, OBCs and Minorities.
  • Right to Shelter and Housing: A Right to Shelter and Housing to guarantee homestead in rural India and urban areas for the poor. Special care should be taken to secure these rights for SCs, STs, OBCs and Minorities.
  • Nutritional support for children covered under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS): To improve nutritional levels at the growing stages and eliminate malnutrition, every child covered under the ICDS must receive one hot cooked meal, milk and an egg, daily.
  • Halfway homes to support employment: Tier I and II cities should have half-way homes to give free accommodation for all youth who secured employment in the cities till they find accommodation or three months (whichever is earlier).
Ensuring Responsive Governance
  • The State must establish institutionalised mechanisms for citizens to participate in all aspects of decision making in governance. This is the essence of a participatory democracy.

    - As mandated under Section 4 of the RTI Act, there must be a transparent and participatory pre-legislative process for soliciting citizen feedback before laws are passed.

    - Social audits wherein citizens and beneficiaries evaluate the impact and performance of public programmes must be extended to all areas of governance.

    - A legal framework for ensuring time bound grievance redress through a comprehensive architecture that is independent and decentralised, and incorporates provisions of social audit, public disclosures, codified citizen charter and job charts and citizen facilitation should be passed. This will ensure that the Right to Information organically becomes into the government’s Requirement To Inform.

Promoting Social Security
  • Universal social security for unorganised sector: All labourers working in the unorganised sector should be covered with a comprehensive social security scheme providing for life, disability and health insurance. In addition, monthly pensions should be provided to those who have crossed 60 years.
  • Living wage for unorganised sector: Workers in the unorganised sector must be secured with a ‘Living Wage’ which ensures a decent standard of life, full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural activities.
  • Ensuring Dignity in Retirement through enhanced pensions: To ensure that the old, disabled and widows are able to lead a dignified life, pensions will be enhanced to Rs. 1500 p.m., with an increase every year in tune with the Consumer Price Index.
  • Enhanced safety net: To uplift and empower the most vulnerable, the State’s safety net should be expanded by universalising access to all poverty elimination programmes for every family where no members of the family pays income tax.
  • Fund for landless labourers: All loan waivers should have an additional 20 per cent kept aside as a fund for rehabilitating and uplifting landless labourers.
  • Low cost housing for the urban poor in all private housing layouts: To ensure affordable housing for the urban poor, all private housing layouts must allocate 20 per cent of land for low cost housing.

Conclusion

  • India’s founders consciously chose to create a society where each individual - irrespective of caste, gender, ethnicity, region, religion, income capacities or ideological inclination – was to be recognised, by both the State and by every other citizen, as possessor of equal value and inalienable dignity. They sought to ensure that every person had equal access to the promise of this nation. In the last 70 years the leaders of modern India have strived to ensure that every citizen - especially SCs, STs, OBCs, Women and Minorities - enjoyed equal rights and that no one gets left, or held behind.

    Regressive social and political forces have consistently resisted and tried to undermine both the constitutional idea of India and the efforts of the State in the last 70 years. These forces also seek to homogenise India and restore the principles of hierarchy, patriarchy and fundamentalism that Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jagjivan Ram, Vallabhai Patel, Maulana Azad and other founders rejected at the birth of the nation. Now that they enjoy State power, they are systematically dismantling the institutions that are the foundations of our society, by undermining India’s holistic welfare and affirmative action architecture and by destroying the pluralistic fabric of our nation. This poses a grave threat to the idea of India espoused by the freedom movement and spelt out in the Constitution.

    We need to address these concerns urgently, and resist these attacks boldly. India needs to return to its noblest ideals, the spirit of its Constitution. It is time for the Indian people to recognise the constitutional path we chose 70 years ago and dedicate ourselves to protect and enhance this legacy. In this quest, the Bengaluru Declaration hopes that all progressive forces, collectively and across party lines, will adopt and implement these recommendations to fulfil Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream of an equitable, just and egalitarian society.