Why are the dalits rising?
Are the dalits rising? Images of dalit protests shown on electronic channels in the aftermath of the Rohith incident, the Gujarat incident in which four dalit youths were publically flogged for skinning a dead cow, the demolition of Ambedkar Bhawan in Mumbai, the mobilization of BSP cadre against derogatory remarks related to BSP supremo and the incident in Haryana where a dalit girl was gang raped. The intensity and vocabulary of protests show the dalit resistance battle has now come of change; the dalits are no longer willing to take things lying down and are not averse to paying back non dalits in the same coin when it comes to confrontation. The democratization of information with the advent of social media has provided a platform for the subalterns to vent out their grievances and agenda. No wonder, the social media was littered with objectionable comments against Hindu religion & gods-goddesses, vituperation against Manuwad & upper castes and crude attempts highlighting cultural incompatibility between the dalits & the Hindus. Without an iota of doubt, it can be said that the dalits are in rage and rising. But what are the reasons for this vehemence and sectarianism? Is it the widely prevalent caste discrimination against them that is driving them to despairs or is it something more underneath the surface?
For years, dalits have faced caste brutalities and caste discrimination. Violence against dalits has been ideology neutral. Whether it has been the states ruled by Congress or the BJP or the states like Bihar, UP and Tamil Nadu ruled by intermediate/OBC castes, dalits have been compelled to lead a life of deprivation and humiliation. According to National Human Rights Commission figures (2011), a crime is committed every 18 minutes against a dalit. On an average, two dalits are murdered and three dalit women are raped every day. The NCRB figures indicate that in 2014, there were more than 44000 cases of atrocities on dalits, an increase of more than 44 percent over 33000 such cases in 2010. It’s not proper to blame the coming into power of BJP for the spurt in crimes against dalits because BJP needs dalits more today than the dalits need BJP. Dalits are an important component of Hindutva national expansion programme. If there is one party that stands to gain the most from removal of caste discrimination & caste, it is the BJP because that would make its task of consolidation of Hindu votes much easier. Some fringe elements may have become emboldened enough but why should the BJP be blamed for fomenting caste tensions? However, perceptions matter more in electoral polity than realities as media keeps exaggerating the atrocities as if they are happening only during the BJP regime. There is more to it than what meets the eye.
The rise of Modi has upset the left leaning narrative of the dalits. BJP got a substantial share of dalit votes in 2014 LS elections and the subsequent Assembly elections in the states of Maharashtra, Haryana and Bihar. As a matter of fact, BSP could not open its account in LS 2014 elections because a section of its constituency gravitated towards the development rhetoric of Hindu Right. Dalits turning right is fast becoming a reality though the leftist dalit elites refuse to see the writing on the wall. The collapse of the Nehruvian consensus, the decay of communists and the limited impact of socialist ideology has led to a fear among the leftists-secular-radical Ambedkarite camp that if the BJP is not checked, the days of cultural nationalism and Hindutva are not far off. BJP’s attempts at appropriation of Ambedkar have also not gone down well with the parties for whom Ambedkar is a bread and butter issue. Ambedkarism has often been used as a tool to hit at others and hence, it does not surprise anyone when leftists, sections of dalit leadership and secular camp accuse BJP of imposing Hindu hegemony, subverting constitution and abiding by the diktats of RSS which is often at odds with dalit agenda & Ambedkarism. It suits the agenda of dalit elites & middle class dalits to keep the common dalit masses ghettoised and prevent their assimilation with the national mainstream. They want their leadership and privileged positions in the community intact. The shrill intensity of diatribe against BJP is guided by the left/secular/Congress pathological dislike of the Hindu Right.
The arrival of BJP has also led to increased debates on reservation. The statement of RSS chief calling for a review of reservation and the subsequent acts of BJP ruled states of Gujarat and Haryana setting aside a reservation percentage for the economically backward class to tide over the Patel and Jat demand respectively have fuelled talks of the government trying to move away from the caste centric definition of backwardness. The fact that RSS initially was not in favour of reservation though it changed its stated position later also doesn’t help matters. Naturally the middle class dalits who are making merry at the cost of their less fortunate brethren are upset and this explains their belligerence. The increased assertions of Kapus, Jats, Patels and Marathas for reservation benefits, the helplessness of the state in meeting their demands and the obduracy of the judiciary in enhancing the reservation limit have further made the elite sections of the dalits jittery as they feel this deadlock may force some action on part of the government. The JNU incident and the Hyderabad University incidents are poignant reminders of subtle caste victimisation of dalits but the problems of the students/faculty have more to do with the class preferences of the well off dalits. Personnel problems related to employment may be passed off as caste problems. The dalit protests are guided by the agenda of the middle class and elite dalits who are cut off from the rural dalits for whom land deprivation is an obstacle for gaining visibility and self respect. Dalit fury is aimed at pre empting any future endeavour on the part of the government to revisit reservation. It’s sort of blackmail. But these protests have made one thing crystal clear. Today the dalits have become a force to be reckoned of in Indian polity; no party can ignore them. When it comes to confrontation with the state or others, they work as immense pressure force.
Caste discrimination may be one of the factors of dalit fury but rest assured, this alone is not the sole factor. The relationships between dalits, OBCs and upper castes are more overlapping now in contrast to earlier times, the style of interactions have changed and naturally, chances of friction on economic matters, property matters, personal disputes and symbolic matters can’t be ruled out. All atrocities are not on account of caste factor alone. Chances of SC/ST act getting misused can’t be ruled out completely. There may be fabricated cases in which non dalits are wrongly targeted. The problem with the media & local dalit leadership has been to attribute all dalit problems to caste. Every often, individual cases related to dalit atrocities are bunched together and highlighted. Even petty personal disputes are made to appear as if they have caste connotations. If caste has been so cruel for dalits, why are they not ready to dispense with it? Why do they want to retain caste? Isn’t this puzzling? The harsh reality is that dalits don’t want removal of caste. They want caste to stay because it provides them electoral clout and reservation. All they want is to elevate dalit to the level of a super caste with which non dalits don’t dare to mess; they want to act as a strong pressure lobby in Indian politics. The neo dalit agenda is not social revolution but capture of political power for which their caste identity is vital. If the protest would have been about caste deprivation or caste discrimination, they would have stopped the moment action was taken against culprits but this did not happen. The protests were rather intensified. The dalit agenda is less about discrimination and more about cementing their identities as different from rest of the Hindus. It has got to do not only with social sectarianism but also cultural exclusion. Just witness how the radical dalit left camp is weaving a counter cultural narrative to the mainstream Hindu cultural paradigm. Hindu religion and religious texts, Hindu gods and goddesses and Hindu symbols are being attacked. The Manuwadis are being castigated for subjugating the culture of Bahujans and imposing their cultural hegemony. The radicalised dalits are seeing red in everything Hindu. For so long, the left ideology or the Lohia-ite-Mandal ideology or the all in compassing Congress ideology did not offer the kind of resistance that Hindutva ideology can offer to dalit agenda. The dalits risk being run over by the saffron ideology.
It’s a well come change in the annals of our history that dalits are on the upsurge. But the causes that they are championing represent the class aspirations of the middle class & well off dalits. In some cases, the perceived insult to their icons or derogatory language used against their icons is also driving their protests. They are also attaching too much importance to cultural symbols that are pitting them directly against non dalit castes. Majority of the dalits live in village and suffer from historical dispossession from lands, they are forced to work as landless labour, people from marginalized communities are committing suicides but who cares? The dalit elites and intelligentsia want to be seen on TV debates debating Manuwad & Ambedkar. They have no time for the masses. But of course, they need the support of masses to win elections and hence all these machinations of driving wedge in the social fabric of the country. It’s as simple as “we” versus “they”. The poles can’t meet. Dalits and non dalits have existed together for more than 3000 years with a shared geography, culture and aspirations. If caste has been a pernicious legacy, the need of the hour is to allow it to wither away and decrease the incentives associated with it so that people won’t see any benefit in holding on it. Caste discrimination needs to be tackled with tough laws and awareness drives aimed at attitudinal change. The last thing that the dalit movement needs is erosion of its credibility. Making too much fuss on irrelevant issues, sabre rattling at the drop of a hat and failure to introspect on real issues will take the movement nowhere. It may arouse the other social groups against the dalits which may be politically unproductive. Murders, rapes and tortures are not confined to dalits only. Such problems require law & order interventions and should be left at that without trying to create a political capital on caste. Why only for murder of a dalit, zero tolerance should be there for murder of a person belonging to any community?
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on email@example.com.