The traits of Manusmriti are still prevalent in the society. Things are, in fact, getting worse. If the Manusmriti prescribed gruesome punishments to Dalits who dare to place themselves on the same seat with a man of a high caste, now even their freedom to celebrate an occasion, which they had been doing for ages, has been curtailed. The issue relates to the celebration of the role of Mahars (Dalits) in the British victory over the army of Peshwa on January 1, 1818, at a memorial built at the site of the battle in Bhima-Koregaon, some 30 km from Pune. A peshwa was an equivalent of a modern Prime Minister in the Maratha empire and all peshwas were Brahmins.
The spark for the latest Dalit protests came when a youth of the community was killed during a shutdown across Maharashtra last week. The shutdown was called against alleged government failure that led to caste clashes near Pune ahead of the celebration of the 200 years of the Bhima-Koregaon battle. In the chain of events that followed, the newly elected MLA and Dalit leader from Gujarat, Jignesh Mevani, reached the ground zero calling the BJP the "New Peshwas". He touched the nerve of the ruling party by stating that he would take the battle forward till 2019, the year of next general elections. Mevani’s stirring speeches and call to Dalits to take to the streets should be seen in the background of a series of atrocities against the members of the community in various States.
The outrageously growing number of such attacks exposes the deepening caste divide and the reluctance of upper caste people to see Dalits at par with them. The Constitution of India, the custodian of laws, ensures equality, but the caste system continues to have its stranglehold. Babasaheb Ambedkar saw this coming. He knew that the inflated ego of upper castes will not accept equality among castes, and the blemished mindset will perpetuate inequality and unleash violent methods against Dalits.
It would be a grave mistake to see the Dalit upsurge in Maharashtra in isolation. It exposes the pestering wounds on the body politic of the country. Communal clashes on one hand and the caste wars on the other have left the country bleeding. Though the Modi government has come to power on the slogan of Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikaas (with everyone, for everyone’s development), the story on the ground is gory. Many progressive Hindus might abhor the caste cruelties; many might talk eloquently on the caste equality. But the Hindutva elements brook no arguments, and the stain of caste rivalry remains stuck. The BJP-ruled States are at the forefront of keeping the ‘caste cauldron burning. The words of Radhika Vemula, the mother of Hyderabad Central University scholar Rohit who committed suicide last year, sum up the recent Dalit upsurge: “ Our need to fight back has been simmering for the past two years. The struggle that has been demonstrated …. has to be viewed more as a resistance. It was a much-needed resistance against the ongoing atrocities of the BJP in Maharashtra, and also at the Center.”
(Published on 08th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 02)