Hypocrisy Unlimited

New Phase of Dalit Awakening


Recently, Savitri Bai Phule, a dalit MP elected on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket, has spoken out once again on the double-faced behaviour of her party. Some months ago, she complained about the reduction of reservation and other benefits for dalits. Now she has opened her mouth against the enactments of dramas by BJP leaders by going to dalit homes and eating there. She has said that in this way, the BJP leaders are insulting dalits. She has pointed out that the food these leaders are consuming at dalit homes is cooked by persons of other castes or brought from hotels. They are drinking bottled mineral water and taking food from new plates. She has also asked whether these leaders are obliging the dalits adding that the dalits will achieve social emancipation only when they will receive education and jobs, and those who are now showing sympathy for dalits do not at all consider them as human beings. Visibly the BJP is in great trouble over dalits. They are trying to project themselves as 'friends of dalits' in order to receive their votes. Alongside, please have a look at a news published in the Times of India on 5 May. In Baghpat in UP, a dalit young man named Akal Khnadwa, living in a Gujjar-populated area was beaten so severely for marrying an upper-caste girl that he was struggling against death in a Meerut hospital when the news was published. Although the BJP and Sangh parivar had apparently no connection with the incident, it is clear that they are believers in upper-caste ideology and it is they who everywhere perpetrate attacks on dalits from behind. If a dalit young man marries an upper caste or middle caste girl, there is nothing objectionable in it as per the Indian constitution or legal system. On the contrary, the way the constitution has interpreted untouchability and spoken of measures against it suggests that opposing inter-caste marriage is itself an illegal act. But upper and middle castes, who occupy the dominant position in the Indian society, have always stood in extreme opposition to it and that opposition has sometimes assumed the form of genocide and burning of dalit villages.

As a matter of fact, the process of appropriation of surplus under the Indian system of caste-feudalism rests on suppression of lower castes. For ages, landowning classes and castes made dalits work for them without wages or at half of due wages. Low social status of dalits was in conformity with this system. But this social system crumbles if dalit young men marry upper caste girls. That is why dalits are attacked and in most cases, dalits fail to obtain legal protection, because the police, the administration and the judiciary often consist of upper-caste persons whose natural sympathy is with attackers, and so justice eludes the wronged. In 1989, when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister, the Act on "Prevention of Atrocities on SCs and STs" was enacted. On 20 March, the Supreme Court, obviously with the consent of the Government of India, passed a judgment in favour of dilution of some clauses of this Act. But the intensity of nationwide dalit grievances has frightened the BJP and it has approached the Supreme Court for a revision of this judgment. At the same time, leaders of the BJP have been instructed to go to rural dalit homes and dine there. The fact is that followers of Manu are in dire trouble over dalits and Dr Ambedkar. On one hand, they are breaking the statues of Ambedkar also, while demolishing those of Lenin and Periyar. But they are doing it with their faces covered. Publicly, they find themselves compelled to worship Ambedkar, but this worship is tinged with hypocrisy. For example, they, in Uttar Pradesh, have painted Ambedkar's statues with saffron colour. Acolytes of Ambedkar generally paint his statues with blue colour. Followers of Manu want to saffronise him by painting his statues with saffron colour. In fact, just as they are seeking to saffronise Indian history and culture, they are seeking to saffronise protest movements also. They are doing all these in the midst of a desperate situation. This desperate situation is the countrywide dalit awakening that has upset all their calculations.

When Narendra Modi ascended to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Hindutvaites dreamt of advancing one step forward towards a Hindu Rastra. They wanted to establish the doctrine of Manu, the first step of which was to push dalits, adivasis and other lower castes into a state of subjugation, so as to deprive them of the right to property, right to education and right to government jobs. They wanted a return to the days when dalits were made to work at zero or low wages, their wives and daughters could be sexually exploited and their children gave free labour service. Whenever dalits tried to defy or raise their heads, they were subjected to village-burning, mass rape and genocides, including women and children. People can still recall numerous incidents, e.g. Arwal (1987), Bathanitola (1996) and Laxanpur Bathe (1997) of Bihar, Kil Bhinmani (1968) of Tamil Nadu, Khoirlanji (2006) of Maharshtra, Hissar (2010) and Sonepat (2005) of Haryana and Sundur (1991). It is not that the "Prevention of Atrocities" Act stopped atrocities on dalits, but on some occasions the killers were punished. For example, after the Khoirlanji incident, ten persons received death sentences, which the High Court commuted to life imprisonment. After Modi's ascent to power, one section of the upper and middle castes started agitating for the cancellation of the "Prevention of Atrocities" Act. Likewise, they began to use central official power to curtail the opportunities for dalits that had come into existence. For ages, dalits remained deprived of the opportunity for education. For this reason, acquiring the right to education was the first step for securing equal rights. Stipends and reservation in the sphere of education and jobs created some opportunities for Scs/STs, by means of which one section of dalit young men and women acquired the right to attain middle-class standards of living. Just as in the 1970s, partial land reforms, coal nationalisation, bank nationalisation etc increased the bargaining power of dalits and adivasis, and one section of them attained middle-class standards of living. For example, dalits and adivasis constituted a major section of the workers of Coal India. After nationalisation, they became permanent workers and began to earn enough to be included in the income tax bracket. Under Narendra Modi's rule, the process of contraction of these facilities began. This attempt of Hindutva-wallas is clear from the way the dalit researcher Rohit Vemula of Hyderabad was forced to commit suicide and many persons ranging from the central education minister to a BJP MP got involved in the episode. At Madras IIT, the Ambedkar Periyar study circle was closed down and budgetary allocation for dalits was curtailed. Stipends and reservations at colleges and universities were reduced. Alongside, incidents of attacks on dalits went on increasing. In 2013, 39000 such attacks occurred and this number rose to 47000 in the following year. Then began attacks on leather trade in the name of cow protection. It was a well-planned affair. Dalits who skin cows or do other leather works are somewhat solvent economically and enjoy better bargaining power in the labour market. Investigation has revealed that at Una, Gujarat, where dalits were flogged, dalits and Patels had been in disputes over wages.

Dalit leaders of earlier generation was compelled to maintain a near-silence on these attacks. The reason is that before 2014, they either joined the BJP or became its collaborators and shared power with it. As examples, the names of Ramdas Athwale of Maharastra, Rambilas Paswan of Bihar and Udit Raj of Delhi may be mentioned. When the Modi government was about to take away the rights acquired by dalits, new leaders emerged from the ranks of dalit youths. Jignesh Mevani emerged as the new face in Gujarat, and the arrest of Chandra-sekhar Azad by the UP government further intensified the grievances of dalits.

Under these circumstances, the 20 March verdict of the Supreme Court stoked the fire of dalit anger. The verdict was to modify the "Prevention of Atrocities Act" in such a way as to blunt its edge and to render it incapable for being used against oppressors of dalits and adivasis. In the verdict, there is talk of misuse of this Act. But what is the reality? Upper echelons of the police and administration, and the judiciary also are dominated by persons with upper caste sentiments. After the introduction of the "Prevention of Atrocities Act", oppressors were punished in some cases, which instilled some fear in the minds of miscreants. The verdict of the Supreme Court gave the message that dalits and adivasis would have to remain in a state of suppression.

The simmering countrywide discontent in the wake of the suicide of Rohit Vemula erupted through the Bharat Bandh of 2 April after the Supreme Court verdict. The entire north India—Gujarat, Maharastra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi—became paralysed. The BJP-ruled state governments gunned down eleven. It has intensified grievances and further spread the message that the central government is anti-dalit. Those dalit leaders who were elected to the Parliament on BJP tickets or with BJP's support are sensing this anger and have opened their mouths. Dr Yasovant Sinha, the BJP MP from UP, has accused the Modi government of doing nothing for dalits. Similarly, other BJP MPs like Udit Raj, Savitri Bai Phule, Chhote Lal and Alok Kumar Dohre have spoken in the same vein. The way Phule has taunted the BJP leaders' visits to dalit homes manifests this trend.

What may be the result of this new dalit awakening? First of all, the Lok Sabha polls are due in the very next year. This awakening may play a large part in defeating the BJP. That is very important. India is now at a crossroads. The danger of establishment of communal fascism is complete negation of whatever progress the country has made towards democracy in the last sixty years. In order to thwart this danger, defeating the BJP is very much important. It is true that in the non-BJP bourgeois parties too there are various degrees of communalism, casteism and other mediaeval ideologies. But they cannot be called bastions of fascism. The line of equal distance from the Congress and the BJP, advocated by some, is theoretically erroneous and practically harmful. Yet it would be a mistake to view this new awakening only from the perspective of the 2019 polls. For a long period, Marxism-inspired workers' and peasants' movements did not develop any closeness with dalit movements. Yet the question of dalit liberation is an extremely important one in the struggle for the democratisation of Indian society. Hence Marxists should have done much more work on this question. Now the situation has changed much and a much larger opportunity has arrived for combining the question of preservation of dalit and adivasi interests with peasants' demands like fair prices, land to the tillers, loan waivers and others. It may be hoped that those interested in social change will give due importance to the issue.

[Courtesy, Deshkal Bhabna, May, 2018]

Vol. 51, No.6, Aug 12 - 18, 2018