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‘‘Caste is not Rumour’’

The retrogression and rising authoritarianism that characterises Indian politics today is exemplified as well in the rise of Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and dalits (untouchable) are the worst victims of hate campaign by the saffron brigade. Massive student protests earlier this year challenged Modi and his BJP. For valid reasons dalit student Rohit Vemula became a symbol of resistance for that movement. His recent posthumous book, ‘‘Caste is not Rumour’’ states : ‘The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics and in dying and living’.

This is a defence of human dignity that resonates with freedom movements across the country. In Gujarat in August. Dalits in Modi’s home state of Gujarat challenged the mounting oppression with a freedom March travelling through 300 miles of villages. But Dalit resistance is now taking cyber routes.

True, many dalits are too poor to own smart phones or access the internet. A small but vocal dalit middle class of bureaucrats, doctors, politicians and engineers has been created by more than six decades of affirmative action policies, more precisely reservation policies. There is no barrier for Dalits’ entry into social media. For some years, educated dalits are using ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ for activism. The Twitter site offers several regional languages. A little more than 22 million Indians used Twitter in 2014, and it is growing in its power to shape public debate. Dalit communities are using Twitter to propagate their views, or counter opponents. They are using it to influence or criticise the stories that the mainstream media covers. The Indian media remains largely an upper-caste bastion, with no formal affirmative-action policy to hire dalits. India’s national media has no active interest in covering dalit issues on a regular basis.

When a bridge collapsed in Kolkata in March 2016, killing dozens, a wealthy businessman crated a stir on Twitter, by blaming it on the country’s ‘‘scheduled caste’’ engineers, who graduated on ‘reserved caste’ vacancies. Dalits conducted a strong pushback on Twitter, and within hours the critic deleted the tweet, and apologised. Recently, dalits on twitter forced a big Indian company, that makes ceiling fans to remove a TV commercial, that showed affirmative action in a poor light. Dalits with proper twitter handles are routinely flexing their muscles on the micro-blogging site, acting as community watch-dogs. They are highlighting issues of ban, brutality and bigotry, which they claim India’s predominantly upper caste media tends to ignore. Since April 2016, a news portal called ‘‘the news minute.com’’ became the first mainstream English media outlet in India, to run a ‘‘Dalit History Month’’ series on caste discrimination, dalit poetry and art. For Dalits, twitter has the potential for a 'revolution’. Dalits on twitter, say they face a volley of abuse and rampage trolling.

 25-11-2016

Frontier
Vol. 49, No.22, Dec 4 - 10, 2016