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Unending Struggle For Equality

Unending Struggle For Equality

Increased atrocities on the Dalits are nothing but the reaction of the upper castes to the assertion by the Dalits of their dignity, self respect and human rights. Feudal and casteist elements in the Indian society, particularly in the rural areas, do not want any change in the exploitative caste hierarchy.

A series of measures adopted by the independent India has immensely contributed to the empowerment of Dalits, in spite of the failures in the implementation of these measures. Some of the measures that contributed to the transformation of the Dalit communities are (1) abolition of untouchability by the Indian Constitution (2) provision of equal rights in the constitution to all citizens (3) enactment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and (4) reservation for Dalits in the Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and local self governments, government jobs and higher education. Number of welfare schemes implemented by central and state governments also contributed to the socio-economic and educational development of the Dalit communities. 

The Dalits are no more ready to swallow the discriminations and indignities heaped on them by the upper castes. They have started questioning discriminations and taking recourse to law when atrocities are committed on them. The Massive protests by the Dalits after the flogging of Dalit youths in public at Una in Gujarat, accusing them of killing cows and the huge Dalit rally at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on May 22, 2017 to protest against the inaction of the UP  Government in Saharanpur caste violence are the visible expressions of Dalit anger against injustice. Bhima Koregoan violence in January this year resulted in widespread protests by Dalits in Mumbai and other towns of Maharashtra.

Millions of Dalits all over India took to the streets on April 2. The Dalits protested against what they believed was a dilution of laws meant to protect them from atrocities by upper castes. Eleven people were killed during the protests triggered by the Supreme Court making changes to the SC/ST (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes) Act. According to an NDTV investigation, a significant number of Dalits killed in clashes that day are victims of upper caste retaliation.

The Dalit assertion continues to evoke backlash from the upper castes. It was recently reported in the media that three Dalit boys were stripped, beaten and paraded nude in Wakadi village of Jalgoan district of Maharashtra allegedly for swimming in a village well. On June 10, a large number of locals, including many from the upper castes, gathered around the well when they learnt that the boys were swimming in it and pulled them out. They were shouted at and subjected to abuses before some persons forced the boys to strip and paraded them nude around the village. In Gujarat, a 13 year old Dalit boy was assaulted for dressing like a “kshatriya”. In both cases the crime was videographed and circulated on the social media. The videographing of these heinous acts is clearly calculated to humiliate Dalits and dissuade them from claiming their right to public spaces and an equal social footing with other communities. At the same time the Dalits are prepared to fight back.

The newspapers in Madhya Pradesh reported on June 22 shocking news of burning to death a Dalit farmer. The reason for the murder is that Kisori Lal, a Dalit farmer of Parsoria village near Berasia, Bhopal protested against a Yadav farmer for encroaching a portion of his three and half acres of land. When Kisori Lal questioned Tiran Yadav and his son for encroaching and ploughing his land the duo thrashed him and later burnt him to death by pouring petrol. According to a report published in Patrika newspaper, Tiran Yadav and his son, who committed the heinous crime, are the supporters of BJP. Although Kisori Lal had gone to the police to lodge complaint several times, the police refused to register the complaint.   

The political leaders shed crocodile tears when atrocities are committed on the dalits. Their main concern is the vote bank of Dalits who constitute 16.6% in the Indian population. But they fail to take concrete steps to provide dignity and justice to the Dalits by strict implementation of the laws related to discrimination and atrocities against the Dalits. The BJP-RSS combine has adopted various strategies to attract the Dalits to the Hindutva fold. Appropriation of Bhim Rao Ambedkar and depicting him as pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim, use of Bharat Mata, (Mother India) to invoke nationalism in the minds of Dalits, persuading upper caste Hindus to make friends with at least one Dalit family and share their food and co-opting Dalit leaders to BJP are some of the methods used by the BJP-RSS combine. By popularising the Brahmanical culture and religious artefacts as national symbols, the right wing attracts the Dalits into its fold.

The overall strategy of the Hindutva party is to integrate Dalits into Hindu society without upsetting the hierarchy of the caste system. This strategy was successful to a great extent as found in the 2014 general election. Large number of Dalits voted for BJP, particularly in UP. But the contradiction inherent in this strategy was reflected in the response of BJP to the suicide of Rohit Vemula, public flogging of dalit youth by upper caste men at Una, t he riots in Saharanpur, and the arrest of Bhim Sena leader Chandrashekhar Azad under the draconian National Security Act. The Dalit leaders who fight for social justice and human dignity for the Dalits are depicted by the Hindutva party as “ militant hate-builders against the Hindu religion and the Hindutva-led nationalist-state”.

The RSS was vehemently opposed to the present Indian Constitution that guarantees equal rights and opportunities for all citizens irrespective of caste, religion, language, gender etc. Three days after the Constituent Assembly passed Constitution the RSS publication in English,  Organizer on  November 30, 1949, in an editorial rejected it and demanded  MANUSMRITI as the constitution. It read: “But in our constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.

Manusmriti was publically burnt by Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar on December 25, 1927 because it contains many codes that are derogatory to the Dalits and women and justify inequality and discrimination.  Neither BJP nor RSS has declared publically that they condemn the derogatory statements in Manusmriti. As long as the RSS and the BJP continue to hold the Manusmriti in high esteem, their public posture to accept Dalits as equals is highly doubtful. The BJP-RSS combine has been trying to unite the Hindus belonging to various castes by projecting the minorities as the enemies of the nation. In spite of being in power for four years the BJP continues to blame the Congress that because of its policy of appeasing Muslims, the Hindus are suffering. Dalits have started realizing the hollowness of this kind of tactics adopted by the BJP.

The young Dalit leaders like Jignesh Mevani and  Chandrashekhar Azad   are following the commandment of B R Ambedkar, Educate, Agitate and Organize to liberate the Dalits from discrimination and atrocities. These leaders have to make serious efforts for making available to the Dalits good quality education. Ambedkar could emerge as tall leader because of the excellent education he could get. Literacy among the Dalits, 66%, is still lower than the all India literacy rate of 73% as per 2011 census. Agitation or protest against atrocities and discriminations, using non-violent methods is a democratic right.

At the same time the Dalit leadership has to be alert so that the agitation should not take the form of violence in spite of the provocation from the vested interests that are determined to keep the Dalits at the bottom of the Indian society. Violence in any form is not acceptable in a democracy. The Dalits cannot live always in confrontation with the other castes. The young Dalit leadership has to adopt the process of dialogue for resolving conflicts with other castes while asserting their rights.

(jacobpt48@gmail.com)

(Published on 02nd July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 27)