Beyond Rashtrapati Bhawan

A Dalit will be president. But decline of BSP, rise of cow politics, has made Dalits more angry, less hopeful.

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Published:July 14, 2017 12:00 am
presidential elections, president poll, dalit president, ram nath kovind, meira kumar, BJP kovind, congress meira, Up elections, ambedkar, ambedkar village, rohith vemula, indian express news, india news, opinion Meira Kumar and Ram Nath Kovind

The new president of India will be a Dalit, but not an Ambedkarite. That was also the case when K.R. Narayanan was elected head of state in 1997. But at that time, the BSP was on the rise. The BSP had governed Uttar Pradesh as a coalition partner and initiated major schemes such as the “Ambedkar village”. Today, the situation is very different. The BSP is in crisis, after winning only 19 seats in the UP elections and failing to have even one MP in the Lok Sabha. More importantly, Dalits are at the receiving end.

Certainly, there is the legacy of a long history of oppression and disposession. The 2016 report of the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) showed that the rate of landlessness was highest among Dalits, at 57.3 per cent, against 52.6 per cent for Muslims. And those who had land had very little: 2.08 per cent of the Dalit households own more than two hectares of land. Another indication of the Dalits’ condition is reflected in their over representation in Indian jails — next to Muslims, at 21.6 per cent (compared to 16.6 per cent in the population). In some states, the over-representation is even more striking: In Madhya Pradesh, where the Dalits account for 15.6 per cent of the population, they form 22.2 per cent of the jail inmates. In Gujarat, the gap is even more significant, with, respectively, 6.7 per cent and 17 per cent.

Scheduled Caste members benefit from reservations and tend to join, therefore, the neo middle class in the metropolis, but these quotas represent a very small proportion of the total Dalit population, partly because they remain unfulfilled and partly because they are shrinking in the era of liberalisation. In any case, a few jatis corner most of the reserved jobs (there is no creamy layer system for the SCs) and these “winners” continue to be affected by stigma, evident from the processes of ghettoisation.

But these structural issues have been accentuated by a series of events over the last three years. First, the suicide of Rohith Vemula and the subsequent controversy about his caste identity has shaken Dalits across the country. Second, the flogging of Dalits in Una has made a significant impact, evident from the mass mobilisation in Gujarat and beyond. Third, the cow protection movement and correlative laws have badly affected the leather industry, in which crores of Dalits work. Fourth, “atrocities” continue to hit the headlines, as even a random sample of reports from 2017 will show: “MP: Well used by Dalits contaminated with kerosene for playing ‘band baaja’ at wedding”, “Dalit beaten up in Rajasthan for riding mare on his wedding day”, “90-yr old Dalit man burnt alive for trying to enter temple in UP” etc. Fifth, the government has alienated sections of the Dalit intelligentsia by stopping funding of “centres for the study of social exclusion and inclusive policy” established in 35 universities in the course of the 11th and 12th five-year plans.

Last but not least, the UP elections have been a trauma for many Dalits. Not only has the BSP been defeated, but the new assembly, as shown by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, consists of more than 44 per cent upper castes, 12 percentage points more than in 2012 and the highest proportion since the early 1980s. The government of Yogi Adityanath appears to represent this upper caste ethos. Yogi Adityanath ordered for “shuddhikaran (purification)” of the chief minister’s office in Lucknow. Subsequently, Dalits made a point to offer him soaps, as protest. He made the cow protection movement stricter by closing down illegal slaughterhouses and encouraging gau rakshaks.

The Saharanpur violence broke out in May, when Dalits objected to the procession of Maharana Pratap through the temple of Ravidas. The Rajputs conducting the procession allegedly attacked Dalits, burning their houses. In May, three people died, casualties being on both sides. About 5,000 Dalits demonstrated peacefully at Jantar Mantar in reaction to this violence, and some of them converted to Buddhism.

The organisation sponsoring this mobilisation, Bhim Army, was created in 2015, in Saharanpur by a Dalit lawyer, Chandrashekhar Azad, 30, who was accused by the UP police of the Saharanpur violence, and finally arrested in June. He had made a surprise appearance in the Jantar Mantar demonstration to say (in Hindi): “Don’t be under the illusion that we are quiet because we are weak. We are quiet because we are following the Constitution”.

The Constitution is sacred to Dalits because of the role of Ambedkar in its making. That they have formed an “army” does not mean they will resort to illegal means. After all, Ambedkar himself had created a self-defence force in 1927, during the Mahad satyagraha, the Samata Sainik Dal (Social Equality Corps). But today, Dalits articulate a deep sense of anger that has been echoed by the Union minister of Social Justice & Empowerment himself. In April, Thawaarchand Gehlot declared (in Hindi): “You get a well dug by us, but when it becomes yours, you stop us from drinking its water. When a pond has to be made, we are made to labour. At that time, we spit in it, sweat in it, and even urinate in it. But when we get a chance to drink water from it, you say that the water will become impure. You install idols in temples amid chanting mantras, then the doors are closed to us. Who will set things right? We made the idol, although you may have paid us for our labour, but at least let us have a darshan, and touch it”.

This viewpoint is not really in tune with the philosophy of shuddhikaran. In fact, the Sangh Parivar may face a new contradiction due to the Dalits’ claim for their rights. More importantly, the government probably needs to engage them to defuse tensions. Till recently, the BSP offered an antidote to radicalism, as a constitutional alternative, simply because of the hope of returning to power that it embodied. This prospect has gone, but the Dalits’ anger has increased. Will the election of the NDA candidate be enough? Possibly for the Dalit neo middle class, but others may look for another sense of direction. Other repertoires are still available, like the Dalit Panthers’ modus operandum. After all, even Ambedkar declared that he would like to burn the Indian Constitution in the early 1950s.

The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris and professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London

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  1. K
    Kumarpushp
    Jul 16, 2017 at 7:27 pm
    120 milion dalits should join with120 million muslims to snatch the power from hindus and there hindu led Government in India.Kanshi Ram had asked dalits to sell your TV sets and buy arms topunish the hindus and there Hindu led Government. KOvind is a RSS and Hindu Bu m lickers adn not Ambedkerite
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    1. P
      pankaj
      Jul 15, 2017 at 9:01 pm
      and who is a Ambedkaraite? Somebody approved by you westerners or somebody approved by islamists? the western society kept black as slaves and women disenfranchised for so long in a shameful way and still keeps its neck stuck in other people's ambedakrite or non ambedkarite type of silly stuff, height of stupidity. If you do a check on lie detector, nobody knows what is ambedkarite.. guess why??? Ambedkar hated islam the most among religions, and Islamists and leftist will like to call those as Ambedakrite who will unite with muslims to generate united vote bank. Ambedkar himself worked with upper caste people all the time, be it Nehru (Brahmin) or Gandhi (Vaishya) or Patel or whoever and married a Brahmin wife and his teacher, who made him Ambedkar, was a Brahmin. But conflict creating communists will like to call only those as AMbedkarite who cannot live and work with upper castes... This guy is dumbo and knows nothing, so deals in stuff like Ambedakrite and non-Ambedkarite
      Reply
      1. K
        Kumar Abhishek
        Jul 15, 2017 at 2:11 pm
        DISPOSESSION [WRONG] dispossession
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        1. M
          Me Maratha
          Jul 15, 2017 at 1:58 pm
          Hats of Christophe! The true picture of Dalits you presented. The RSS /BJP not presenting Hindu Bahujan but Hindu Brahmins and their chamcha's like Thakur, Rajput, Gujju . These all are Aryans. By making fool to original Indians they ruled 1000 yrs. Now on the name Gowraksha again they making fool. The cow is origin of Europe, which Aryans brought in India. Originally they are Beef eaters. Refer B.Tilak literature. Buffalo is original indian animal but Brahmins will not allow to make Buffalo is a God. We have no problem. Over the years cow will finish in this country like Sanskrit language, as farmers will not do loss business of milk. They will keep more Buffalo. It's not a Gouraksha but intimidating to Muslims, Christian, Dalits for riots and election gains nothing else.
          Reply
          1. H
            Harish
            Jul 15, 2017 at 6:55 am
            Point is, we need more dalit and muslim women and men in Sangh Parivar.
            Reply
            1. R
              Ramesh Nittoor
              Jul 15, 2017 at 6:06 am
              even Ambedkar declared that he would like to burn the Indian Cons ution in the early 1950s. --- We have a kannada idiom, पुस्तक बदनेयकायी, it is applicable to this author. Quoting Ambedkar out of context, not comprehending what he meant when he said it, is a misreading of kind to which the phrase refers. The ins ution of Presidency in India is of a different kind than a French of US one, the office is closer to British Royalty, but serves a fundamentally different purpose, to partly instill, and also partly signal social change. The NDA-1 choice in President Kalam, also had a slogan Jai Vigyan. This time, the matter of social justice, for which several measures have been taken over decades, is getting stepped up to social equality. Given that caste inequalities beset Sanatana Dharma, this social-religious messaging to the wider society, may have a profound impact, though risk of it fizzling out is also real. This was the real concern of Ambedkar which may be met to an extent.
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              1. M
                mark
                Jul 15, 2017 at 6:24 am
                Jaffrelot is certainly aware of this great difference in cons utional law. Actually, a few European countries have now such a system (starting from Germany) and France itself had a comparable system for two successive Republics, before 1958. Only he doesn't like this future President, not enough proper dalit for him ... and I also think the "burning of Cons ution" is probably out of context.
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                1. M
                  mark
                  Jul 15, 2017 at 6:36 am
                  And one may note that being choosy about someone being "proper dalit" or not is, after all, somehow casteist (manu-style), because what about the man's personal qualities? nothing.
                  1. P
                    pankaj
                    Jul 15, 2017 at 6:41 am
                    His own scale for measure of dalitness and any necessity for Indian president to be a dalit (and of his mesaure) reflect his extreme biased approach when dealing with India. For his own country, Frnace, it is like asking France to consider being from Saint Domingue to be the most important aspect of being president. This is where they kept 500000 slaves. It is stupid, but for India it is more stupid than even for France, because Indians were not creating dalits nor their helpless state. Anybody who was not prince or zamindar was helpless and tortured in last 600 years. Because India was not even ruled by Hindus for last 600 years and was tortured by muslim/british rulers at all levels, destroying society, creating divisions, looting farmers, creating zamindars and torturing and converting hindus.
                2. H
                  Harry
                  Jul 15, 2017 at 5:45 am
                  Why every dalit has to be Ambedkarite to be counted as independent minded otherwise is believed to be stooge of somebody Mr. jeafferelot? it is like saying every Frenchman has to de Gaulleite to be Independent minded otherwise he is stooge of Germans, British or Americans.
                  Reply
                  1. M
                    mark
                    Jul 15, 2017 at 6:16 am
                    Good point, but can be discussed, as for Jaffrelot he is probably not Gaullist
                    Reply
                  2. A
                    Alok Narayan
                    Jul 15, 2017 at 4:52 am
                    Dude..Just a quick timeline check would suffice to point towards the inherent mischief of your arguments as even subsequent to all that media frenzy on Vemula Suicide Una case Non-Jatav Dalits in U.P still voted for suitable leaders of their communities within BJP. Again, this narrative about Dalit anguish due to BSP's clearly discounts this new-found wave non-committal at ude in the community and BJP's innovative and seemingly effective de-novo approach towards Backward outreach.
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