(This is the text of his speech on the theme ‘Undoing the Dominant Narrative’ delivered at the SIO national conference on February 23rd, 2018. It was transcribed by Sumeet Samos)
Jai Bhim to all the participants, friends, elders, women and student representatives on behalf of my organization BAPSA.
Tonight, I speak here not as a leader but as a student. I am an Ambedkarite and many Ambedkarite organizations and movements across the country quite often ask me why don’t I attend many of these programs and share my thoughts. I usually tell them that I don’t believe in two kinds of celebrations: one, where there is a celebration of Right wing and Modi, while the other celebration is all about creating jokes out of Modi. In both of these celebrations, I don’t find any mentions of the pressing issues which should be discussed, reflected and pondered upon to seek answers for the many profound questions which the oppressed masses live through in their everyday realities. Having said this, I won’t be making any jokes on BJP or Modi from this platform.
The tradition that I come from, the place I belong to and the politics that I have known have taught me one important thing, which is if the intellectual class of a community fails to find answers to these questions (which the oppressed masses face) then that community is bound to remain at the bottom of the society. Taking this responsibility, I would like to share a few thoughts with you all.
Tonight’s topic is “Undoing the dominant narrative”.The dominant narrative is brought in front of us through the media, the political party in power, prominent social organizations of the ruling class, songs, movies and through everyday conversations.I would like to point out two things in this context. In this country, RSS and BJP have been successfully able to build their narrative despite extreme poverty, despite ruling for more than three years with all sorts of violence. (Despite all that) BJP has been able to come to power, be it in Gujarat or many other states. This has been possible not just because of money and power but also because they have been successful in convincing people in the conversations that happen around in their everyday lives.
We have to accept this and to ignore this fact would be a grave mistake.This is where I don’t believe in the jokes made on Modi. Whenever I open my social media, there are dozens of jokes on Modi but I want to remind you all of one thing. Secular, liberal, left whatever you might claim yourselves to be, we have failed in producing a counter narrative or counter normative against the Right wing and Modi in this country. If you don’t accept this then you won’t be able to move forward.
Why is this happening?? It’s happening because, in this country, we as oppressed communities (Adivasis, Dalits, OBCs, EBCs, Muslims, Pasmandas, transgender, women) have not been able to come together with our discourses, discussions, and demands. If we talk about Dalits, they constitute 15 to 17% of this country’s population.There are again many castes among Dalits. Post UP elections, many intellectuals came out saying some castes among Dalits voted for BJP and people have also started believing this, media too projected a similar narrative.
Here I would like to pose a question in front of you all. In this country, not only Thakurs, Brahmins and Bhumihars even some of the backward castes and the community that calls itself a Muslim minority did not recognize many oppressed castes, nor did they bother about the political representation (of these unrecognized oppressed castes). Nobody recognized them when they were forced to rear pigs, treated as dirty — nobody ever bothered to visit their houses, nor considered them worthy to even share a meal with them.They are the same castes whom Congress did not recognize because they could never come up with strong agitations.They are the same castes who couldn’t raise their voice, nor did anyone bother to hear them out.
Today RSS and BJP are reaching out to them, assuring them about political representation, reservations and with many promises the actual fullfillment of which is a different debate. After all of this, if someone comes up to the stage and says these people have become sanghis, fascists and right wing then I would call that a mistake. This political affiliation and association with RSS and BJP were made possible only because we never held their hands and nor did we make any efforts to have any deliberations with them. Filled with Caste and feudal arrogance we never thought about their political representation, never visited them and nor did we ever share a meal with them.
This is something we should seriously think about. I urge the students gathered here to reflect upon this. In UP and Bihar there is a discourse that is coming up where people are saying they are Pasmanda and that there exist castes among Muslims. They are saying “We are being discriminated and it is only the upper castes among us who have been getting political representation — be it in SP, Congress or any other political parties. We haven’t got our share of political representation”. If tomorrow BJP comes to them assuring them of standing with the demands of the Pasmanda and if Pasmanda go along with BJP, would you label them as becoming sanghis and fascists?? If you think so, then you are making a mistake.
We need to deconstruct this discourse which labels everyone with BJP as sanghis. In this country, there are thousands of castes across religions that grapple with the basic questions of everyday lives. These castes are living an everyday life of social untouchability and lack of political representation. While navigating through this, they are desperately looking out for an alternative that would bring them out of this immediate oppression of their everyday lives. If you sideline them just because they are getting associated with certain political parties, I think that is not an answer to the question.
Many people are saying that Fascism has come after BJP coming to power. I urge you to visit three states: Rajasthan, Haryana and Marathwada in Maharashtra. It is Congress which has institutionalized caste atrocities on Dalits and I can prove this in writing, logically and intellectually, and so will the Dalits of this country. In Haryana, Congress is equivalent to Jats and in Maharashtra, Congress is equivalent to Marathas who perpetrate violence on Dalits day in day out. If someone comes up to me saying we need to fight against the larger right wing coming along with Congress then count me out.
We need to deconstruct these narratives. Rahul Gandhi is projected as a secular leader and the same Rahul Gandhi is my enemy when he tries to prove himself to be a Janeudhari Brahmin by wearing a Janeu. This is rooted in the Caste hierarchy of this country and if Rahul Gandhi manifests the same then he cannot be an anti-fascist leader. We need to make this very clear, from this platform, as a Dalit who has come out of a slum – and like me, there are many more Dalit students who are aspiring to reach Universities, with a lot of pain and conviction.
I have a responsibility towards my community and whatever I speak should stem from a genuine conviction and should also be truthful. I cannot just present to you some false discourse. If we have to establish an Anti-BJP, Anti Right wing discourse, we cannot establish it by standing alongside Congress, nor with the ones who claim to be secular. This discourse can be established only when the oppressed masses of this country, Dalits, Adivasis and all those communities who are deeply affected by the Right wing, come together by saying, “When the pain is ours, the battle is ours, then the stage should be ours, the leaders should be ours and the Government should be ours”.
Jai Bhim, Inquilab Zindabad.
Rahul Sonpimple is a research student at JNU and a leader of BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association).