Bhim Army is an assertion of and by Dalits against oppression

To create a larger Hindu vote bank, the Sangh has in recent years repeatedly tried to galvanize Dalits and other oppressed castes into a larger Hindu vote bank, pitting them against Muslims.

Written by Jignesh Mewani | Updated: May 24, 2017 8:29 pm
Bhim Army, dalits, dalits oppression, Bhim army against oppression, RSS, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindutva, scheduled castes, indian caste system, hindu caste system, india, indian express opinion Bhim army is not merely an expression of Dalits defending themselves against upper castes, but an assertion of and by Dalits against the relentless oppression they continually face. Representational Image.

As part of a well designed strategy, Uttar Pradesh after Gujarat, is being turned into another laboratory for Hindutva. This model is based on the propagation of large doses of violence against Dalits and Muslims, while simultaneously pitting them against each other. In his seminal text Annihilation of Caste, Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar stated in unequivocal terms that Hindu society is a myth: “Hindu society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be all and end all of its existence. Castes do not even form a federation. A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot.”

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) tries to materialize this in its own sinister design. To create a larger Hindu vote bank, the Sangh has in recent years repeatedly tried to galvanize Dalits and other oppressed castes into a larger Hindu vote bank, pitting them against Muslims. After the Gujarat riots of 2002, the most visible manifestation of this strategy is now being seen in Uttar Pradesh. Certainly, it has reaped the BJP rich electoral dividends.

But even when they are pitted against Muslims, Dalits are not given any self-respect or dignity inside this ‘Hindu fold’. They continue to be treated as untouchables. They are denied access to common resources in the village and their lives are characterized by brutal, everyday violence.

The same Dalit population recently attacked with swords in Saharanpur, were described as “Hindus” on the eve of this Assembly elections. There were also attempts to pit them against Muslims and create a communal polarization in the wake of a programme called by local Sangh leaders to commemorate Ambedkar.

In both these instances, the Dalits of Saharanpur amongst whom the Bhim Army — a gathering of Dalit youth determined to fight caste oppression — has worked, refused to be foot-soldiers in the Sangh’s game-plan. The Bhim Army even gave a categorical statement dissociating itself from the communal frenzy the RSS was trying to create. In no time, the ‘Hindus’ (as the Dalits were till then being called) had reverted back to being untouchables.

The RSS tried to create communal frenzy by keeping Ambedkar symbolically in front. But when the Dalits of Shabbirpur (a precinct in Saharanpur) tried to install their own Ambedkar statue so as to assert their self-respect and dignity, all hell broke loose.

Now the Thakurs had for a long time been preventing an Ambedkar statue from coming up in the village. On this particular occasion, in a show of valour and caste pride, the Thakurs took out a massive rally to honour the Rajput ruler, Maharana Pratap. The Dalit community objected to the loud music being played by the Thakurs. The clashes that followed are an outcome of the Thakurs wanting to teach the Dalits a “lesson” they will never forget.

On the 11th day after the attack, when I visited the Shabbirpur village of Saharanpur, smoke was still coming out of Dalit houses. They recounted horrific details of the attack by the dominant Thakurs – pregnant women being attacked by swords, attempts even made to throw a small child into the fire. As the police stood mutely, over 60 Dalit houses were burnt down.

But this is not a new phenomenon. In the largely feudal belt of western Uttar Pradesh, relentless harassment, intimidation, threats and assaults on Dalits are common. This is why the Bhim Army came into being. It is not merely an expression of Dalits defending themselves against upper castes, but an assertion of and by Dalits against the relentless oppression they continually face.

The betrayal by mainstream Dalit parties and their inability to take on feudal forces as well as communal fascists has also fuelled this anger. The gathering fury of Dalit youth is making these older Dalit parties look increasingly irrelevant.

Dadri, Una, Alwar, Latehar and now Saharanpur. This is the roll call of terror incidents against Dalits, that have taken place since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. The saffron brigade is so brazen it believes it has a licence to kill Muslims and Dalits. In 2014, the number of atrocity cases against Dalits were 39,000. In 2015-16, the figure had increased to 47,000, while the rates of conviction has come down. The desperation on the part of Hindutva forces to turn this country into a Hindu Rashtra is leading to bloodshed and violence. Saharanpur is just another example of this strategy.

But the situation is far worse on the ground. Beyond these reported caste atrocities and instances of direct violence, the spiralling agrarian crisis, industrial stagnation and anti-people policies like demonetization, have exacerbated the cost of living for the poorest of poor Indians. We, Dalits, belong to that category.

We need to unitedly fight and defeat the Sangh’s ‘manuvaad’ which employs the instruments of this neoliberal economy to pit human against fellow human. The Bhim Army is able to see through these nefarious designs. That is why it is emerging as a key player in this decisive battle against communal fascists and for a true equality amongst all Indians – just like Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar had once dreamed about in his book, also called the Constitution of India.

Jignesh Mevani is a lawyer and social activist from Gujarat who strongly campaigns in favour of Dalit rights.
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