On July 24, 2016, the news of an attack on peacefully demonstrating dalits of ‘Youth for Buddhist India’ by some ‘Singh Sena’ activists, or should one call them goons of upper strata of orthodox Hindu society, was reported on some sites such as National Dastak and Round Table India. But it was almost absent in national Hindi news channels. It’s not new that the national media has successfully suppressed an issue related with Dalit resistance, whether it was protests for demanding justice for Rohith Vemula or protests against the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan in Mumbai. Even the case of bare backed Dalits being beaten by Gau Rakshaks in Gujarat was shown after it was much publicised on social media and raised in the Rajya Sabha. However, in sharr contrast, national media will not leave any opportunity to promote an issue which will act as a deterrent for a united Dalit movement or aligning of Dalits against a particular political thought.
The issue that rises here is that: why this differential treatment which results in an approach of suppressing dalit issues, whether related with atrocities against dalits or their resistance? Who is responsible for it? How it can be solved?
The question of suppressing Dalit issues is very simple as well as tricky. It is simple because it is the result of the age old mentality of Varnashrama wherein Hindu upper castes treat lower caste people like slaves and deprive them of all the opportunities for raising their self-esteem. It’s tricky as India is governed on the basis of a constitution and our carefully crafted constitution has not only provided proper safeguards against any form of discrimination on the basis of Caste, Creed or Religion under fundamental rights, it has also made special provisions in the form of reservations to the marginalized in proportion to their population i.e SCs and STs. Further, there are statutory bodies like NCSC/ST which deal with issues of Dalit atrocities. In this way, dealing with Dalit issues with a biased mentality indicates that most of the dominant caste Indians do not respect the spirit of the Indian constitution.
Today whether it is judiciary, which is responsible for interpretation of correct laws, delivering justice to the people and also acts as a guardian to the constitution, or the legislature, which is responsible for making laws, or be it the Executive, which is responsible for implementation of laws and other welfare govt. schemes – every organ of govt. is dominated by upper caste Hindus. Although there is no reservation for upper posts of judiciary, but even after the existence of proportionate reservation for about 70 years now, it hasn’t happened that a proportionate number of Dalits could reach the decision making or at least decision affecting levels in the executive and legislature. It is difficult to find Dalits holding important portfolios of cabinet ministers for Defence, Railways, Home, HRD, Finance, Commerce & Industry except in very few instances. Similarly, in executive we will hardly notice any cabinet secretary or secretaries of important ministries since independence to be Dalits.
So this is the condition in politics and in the Government where reservation system has been utilized. Then it’s not an aberration that the entire mainstream print and electronic media, where no reservation exists, is dominated by upper caste Hindus.
Now it’s a fact that followers of any religion – whether it is Christianity, Islam or – will take pride in following the practice advised by its religious texts. So why should an upper caste Hindus promote upliftment of a lower caste Dalit, when he is advised to suppress them by numerous examples of discrimination (in the form of Karna, Ekalavya, Shabari and Shambuka) against lower caste Shoodras in Ramayana, Mahabharata, which are their two most revered religious texts? This fact was quite stressfully emphasized by Babasaheb Dr. B R Ambedkar in his popular book “Annihilation of Caste”, wherein he argued that untouchability has been sanctioned by sacred Hindu texts and we will not be able to end this differentiation until sacredness or supremacy of these Hindu Shastras is not challenged. The hollow argument given for Varna system being based on occupation has been effectively challenged by Dr. Ambedkar in the same book. Even quite earlier than that, Mahatma Jotiba Fule had also given a logical explanation of the origin of Varna System and generation of castes in his classic work “Gulamgiri”. As a result, Hindu upper Caste dominated upper strata of Indian society sees no harm and on the contrary takes it as a matter of pride in suppressing dalit issues and in a manner encouraging atrocities against them as the same is sanctioned by sacred religious texts.
Next, we come to the question of who is responsible for it. Here before proceeding further, I would like to remember the last few words of Dr. Ambedkar. In his last days, he uttered with a heavy heart that he had been deceived by the learned and able people of his own society. Today there is no doubt tha twe ourselves are responsible for this situation. We treat Babasaheb Ambedkar as our messiah but we have not followed his teachings. Dr. Ambedkar was very clear that if Dalits continue to follow Sanatan teachings based Hinduism, they will themselves feel inferior to upper caste Hindus as the so-called Gods have made them inferior to Savarna Hindus. And as a result, they will not be able to unite and will not agitate from the core of their heart against the age old suppression. To deal with this critical issue, he showed the path of Dhamma which he chose after a careful study of various religions for about 25 years. But even after 60 years of his death and getting benefits of education for more than 70 years, how many of us have embraced Buddhism or have at least realised that the stigma associated with lower castes is only due to the fact that it has emanated from the Purusha Sukta or Manusmriti? Some of the Dalits in south India have converted to Christianity, separating themselves altogether from Hindu society. Lack of integrated intellectual alignment of Dalits has been one of the main reasons which has acted as a hindrance in their united resistance to oppression.
Politics is the only area where reservations have been utilized effectively. Ideally, what else is required if you get political power? But that political power which Dalit leaders got through reservations has only been proved to be equivalent to the powers given to a middle level bureaucrat. For which Sahib Shri Kanshiramji had rightly used the phrase “Chamcha Yug”. The different political parties where Dalits join are using them as per their will and as per their party’s line of thinking. As a consequence, these Dalits do not take the risk of annoying their masters by getting involved in cases of Dalit atrocities as most of the time conflict of interests are created with oppressors being powerful upper caste Hindus who enjoy full support of these political parties. Recent remarks of Chirag Paswan and that of Udit Raj made in context of review of reservation system are very relevant here. Chirag Paswan belongs to a political party headed by his father Ram Vilas Paswan, who is a Dalit himself. But even after handling an important portfolio as railway minister in 1996-98, Ram Vilas Paswan became a minister of less significant ministries in successive governments, but did not take up any dalit issue during that govt. This suggests that he is an opportunist who has utilized reservation benefits for his family and relatives only.
Similarly, Dalits who got govt. or even private jobs through benefits of reservations first in education then in vacancies have become busy either in their day to day family life, or are wasting their life in drinks or other superficial luxuries not even thinking about their next generations. They are afraid of revealing their identity at public platforms. In their own friend circle they tend to avoid situations where issues of Dalit pride are discussed with a negative frame of mind. Its true that personal responsibilities and work conditions limit your over activism in politics or social movements, but at the same time nothing stops you in making your own people aware about the benefits of education and their rights. They are not even interested in making their children more powerful than what they themselves are. Because these children will tomorrow make the same Dalit society. This indifference in an average Dalit is a major cause of concern.
Now we come to the last question i.e how it can be solved? One may argue that since it is deeply embedded in Indian culture hence it cannot be solved, it will remain like that. But we have seen culture changing from pre-independence day to present as far as untouchability goes. We have also seen Dalits quietly bearing oppression to recent many violent and seemingly organized agitations, like the last week in Gujarat. This indicates that this age old problem can be solved. But the problem has to be solved by Dalits themselves. After the implementation of constitution it is our own baby, we are responsible for it and we have to solve it. No Political party dominated by Hindu Upper castes will ever try to annihilate caste. Since we know that the origin of the problem lies in Hindu religious texts and as per our constitution everycitizen has got full freedom to practice his faith, we cannot reason or expect others to discard their religious faiths, but since we are the sufferers of those faiths, we can at least discard the divine sanctity of those texts. How can a person preaching and practicing Gita accept that he is born low caste due to the fact that he is born in a particular religion and not because of his karmas in previous birth? It’s a pity for the society that the learned and able people are respecting Ambedkar but have no time to read his literature and thus to follow his teachings. In addition to respecting Dr.Ambedkar, they have to study him more, they have to follow him in his religious philosophy. This will give a tremendous boost to their self confidence.
The political power entrusted to Dalits by the constitution has to be exercised effectively by the Dalit leaders. In spite of the fact no Dalit leader is given important portfolio or position by major political parties, there are very few examples of Dalit leaders taking the risk of leaving a major political party. For example during the recent controversies such as Rohith Vemula case, Dalit beating case of Una, Gujarat or the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan, it would have given a firm message to the upper strata of society had all the dalit MLAs & MPs of concerned ruling party taken moral responsibility of the same as they were associated with the ruling dispensation. They should have resigned from their positions. Dalits have to chose leaders of such high moral character while voting. It has been the experience of most Dalits that under certain Governments, they were feeling comfortable even experiencing themselves as if wearing an invisible crown of power whereas under certain Governments they are under a consistent fear. Some times their self-esteem is at its peak. Whereas sometimes they are keeping low profile.Dalit voters need to be more politically educated and matured while exercising their voting right. In today’s world dominated by social media this has become all the more easier.
As general public, Dalits have to also fulfil their duties towards society which are all the more important as well as of greater magnitude than the duties of affluent upper castes. Based on their capacity and capability they can take part in Dalit movements and demonstrations for the greater cause of society as a whole and help their neighbours take benefits of Right to Education, Right To Information, Reservations, Scholarships in Higher Education, etc. They have to make their children familiar with Dalit history and make them not only confident of their identity but make them capable of raising their living standards to such a level so that they can further uplift a few Dalit families. Slowly but surely it will bring the whole society to a level where it will be impossible to ignore their existence or undermine their human rights. It’s a tendency among Dalits to hide their identity provided by caste. Even in social media, literate/well-to-do middle class Dalits, in particular avoid commenting or liking or sharing articles related with Dalit pride, the only fear is that they will be alienated from their upper caste friends. This has to be changed. Literate middle class Dalits have to take initiative in getting organized through social media and give Dalit issues as much publicity as possible through their social media platforms. They have to understand that they are not Chamar, Bhangi, Gond, Nishad or Dhobi etc ; they are either SC or ST. They should take pride in saying this loudly rather than feeling any sort of inferiority complex.
“Exploitation and discrimination will end, its difficult but it is not impossible”.
Lalit Kumar is a Mechanical Engineer of 1996 batch from NIT, Kurukshetra. At present he is employed in the Ministry Of Defence/Department Of Defence P & S, Government of India.