By Vijay Darda | 08-08-2016
We have a Dalit crisis since time immemorial. It is not that we have done nothing to solve it, but the fact remains that it persists in spite of all our efforts. Whenever an incident takes place of Dalit atrocity, the responses may be on partisan lines, but these are usually politically correct. When it comes to lip service we are second to none. All the right kind of noises are made. The Dalit icon Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar is always praised sky high but nothing changes as it becomes business as usual, till the next incident. It is this kind of attitude that sees a year on year rise in crimes against Dalits. Statistics seldom tell the pain of human suffering behind the crimes but a look at 173,088 cases of crimes against scheduled castes in the five year period 2009-2013 with an annual growth rate of nearly 17 percent reveals the tragic tale of the Dalit crisis.
But the crimes apart, at the core of it, the problem is of accumulated social distortions and the stubborn refusal of the people to accept the Dalits as equals. Let us face it, there are millions amongst us who are yet to accept Dalits as equals socially and in every other respect. The word ‘untouchable’ may have been barred from public discourse at the insistence of Mahatma Gandhi, and its use may attract punishment under the law, but it still remains very much a part of the mindset of millions. This above all, is the root cause of the continuing Dalit crisis.
Its manifestations are different. They are not allowed to draw water from the community wells. They are not permitted to enter temples. Self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’ kill them for skinning dead animals. Their women are assaulted and raped by upper caste folks. They face discrimination in jobs, and elsewhere in the society. The list is endless and the nature of the atrocity depends on the power and ingenuity of the upper caste oppressors. The degree of impunity enjoyed by their oppressors is directly proportional to their political clout in the power structure. So a Dayashankar Singh can openly hurl an abuse against the tallest Dalit leader Mayawati, and escape with a mild punishment of losing his position in the party. He is also out on bail now. In all probability, he would be contesting the forthcoming state assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, and would be touted as a leader who had the courage to take on ‘Behenji.’
In fact, given the history of the Dalit crisis, it is very facile for the current ruling dispensation to argue that we should not politicise such incidents and treat these as a social problem. These incidents are a part of the continuing legacy, they argue and there is no problem in accepting this rationale. But the difficulty rests with the attitude of the leaders of the ruling dispensation who pit the cow against the Dalits. It is here that they fail the humanity test. They celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Dr Babasheb Ambedkar and wish to appropriate his legacy. But all this is lip service at its best. The reality of the anti-Dalit attitude of the ruling dispensation is revealed in critical situations.
It came out in all its colours when senior ministers of the Union government raised questions about Rohith Vemula’s caste as campus unrest spread in Hyderabad after the young Dalit scholar committed suicide in an act that put a question mark over the attitude of all concerned. You are bound to ask a question as to what kind of people search for the caste certificate of a young man whose ‘dying declaration’ is so potent? More so when these people are cabinet ministers who have taken an oath of office under the Constitution to abide by it. They are committed to doing justice without fear or favour sans any bias. But what kind of justice do Dalits get from such a ruling dispensation?
The Sangh is the real power behind the current ruling dispensation, and its chief Mohanrao Bhagwat wants that India should become the ‘vishwa guru.” Now can we achieve this goal when we have an approach that the Dalit who skins a dead cow will also be skinned? The Dalits and the Muslims put together account for almost 40 percent of our population, do we remain a modern country when ‘gau rakshaks’ target Muslims and Dalits? We are not living in a closed world, such an attitude clearly hurts India’s image abroad. Along with power comes responsibility, and it is time that the Sangh accepts that is the need of the hour to ensure that all its affiliates treat every Indian citizen as a human being who deserves equal respect and dignity. Or else it shall fail the humanity test.
We must remember that Mahatma Gandhi did make a dent into the problem, when he insisted that everyone should clean his own ‘toilets’. Dr Babsaheb Ambedkar took that land mark step of enshrining the concept of positive discrimination in their favour in the Constitution. But the grudging acceptance of both these steps is in evidence everywhere. Manual scavenging by Dalits continues and the debate that reservation compromises merit shows the anti- reservation mind. But this argument is evidently hollow as even a student admitted under the reserved category has to pass the same examination. In such a situation, calls by responsible leaders to revisit the provision of reservations hardens the social attitude among the upper castes who nurture the feeling that even if their forefathers did exploit the Dalits, then why should be asked to pay their mistakes? That the reservations are a means of correcting past wrongs, is seen as a futile utopia by them.
The Dalit crises cannot be resolved through a mere celebration of Ambedkar Jayanti, it shall end only when leaders stop believing that having a meal at a Dalit home is the highest point of their pro-Dalit stance. All our actions in the context of Dalits must pass the humanity test for a genuine end to these crises.
Before I conclude…
It is a matter of some satisfaction that the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress came together to pass the GST Constitution Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Both sides climbed down from their previous hard line positions to make it happen. There is still a lot of distance to be covered before a GST roll-out takes place, and the same cooperative attitude may or may not remain. But at least a beginning has been made and this is a good augury. In the same way, it is a good sign that prime minister Narendra Modi expressed his concerns when the Congress president Sonia Gandhi fell ill during the course of her impressive roadshow in Varanasi…