Dalit vs Dalit

But the presidential contest invokes a hollowed-out caste identity, distanced from its ground realities.

Written by BHALCHANDRA MUNGEKAR | Published:June 28, 2017 12:20 am
presidential polls, ram nath kovind, presidential polls 2017, Bhupender Yadav, bjp, nda, Yogi Adityanath, india news When the BJP declared Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s presidential candidate and since he belongs to a Dalit caste, it was as if “being Dalit” suddenly became a virtue in Indian politics.

The word “Dalit” refers to castes stigmatised in the socio-economic, political and cultural discourse of Indian society. The “untouchables”, until the Constitution abolished untouchability. Gandhi glorified them as “Harijans”, the term Ambedkar vehemently denounced. It was the British government that categorised them as the “Scheduled Castes.” The same was done in the case of the Scheduled Tribes.

When the BJP declared Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s presidential candidate and since he belongs to a Dalit caste, it was as if “being Dalit” suddenly became a virtue in Indian politics. What was disturbing was that, rather than discussing his personal attributes and capabilities, the entire focus of public discussion was on his caste background — Amit Shah, BJP president, while declaring Kovind’s candidature, mentioned his caste about 15 times. Would this have happened had the presidential nominee been a non-Dalit?

Now, not only constituents of the BJP-led NDA such as the TDP, but the BJD, TRS, YSR-Congress, AIADMK etc have declared their support to the BJP candidate. The JD(U) was the first to endorse his nomination, notwithstanding the fact that it was Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister and the supreme leader of the JD(U), who first suggested putting up of a common candidate by the non-BJP (read “secular”) parties. In this background, the Congress and its co-travellers had no option but to offer a Dalit candidate. This made Meira Kumar their final choice. That these parties, even in view of the BJP and its supporters having majority in the electoral college, could have contested the presidential election more effectively, is a different story.

Evidently, no political party could risk being seen as “anti-Dalit”, whatever may be the ground realities about the social, economic and political marginalisation of the Dalits in every walk of life. The Dalits constitute about 20 per cent of the country’s population. What is their share in economic, political, administrative, educational and judicial power? Are they in a position to even enjoy, freely and truly, the freedoms granted to them by the Indian Constitution? Are they free from caste-based discrimination, hatred, prejudice and bias that, many times, cripples their confidence and creates a feeling in their minds that they are reduced to “second grade” citizens? And, what about the caste-based atrocities against them that have become a feature of the nation’s daily life?

According to the Union Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau, between 2009 and 2015, about 2,27,000 cases of crime against Dalits (including cases of atrocities) have been recorded. During 2009-2013, there were 3,194 incidents of Dalit murders, 7,849 Dalit women were raped. During this period, the seven states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh accounted for 80 per cent of the total crimes and atrocities, with UP alone accounting for about 25 per cent.

Despite the stringent provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, the conviction rate is abysmally low, thanks to the destruction of evidence by the accused and their supporters including the police, delay in trials, threatening of witnesses and the fear of social boycott, paucity of fast track courts, and the callous attitude of the entire state machinery. Second, ideas of “purity” and “pollution” still dominate the deeply entrenched caste-based mindset. This is reflected in the incidents of “honour killing”, particularly in the northern states, over inter-caste marriages, especially when brides belong to the so-called upper castes.

Third, caste-based discrimination against Dalits is still rampant, be it disguised or open. Notably, institutions of higher education are the citadels of such caste-based discrimination. There have been instances of Dalit students committing suicide due to their inability to withstand such discrimination. The suicide of Rohith Vemula of Hyderabad Central University last year shook the country. Five Dalit youths were flogged and beaten almost to death by the lumpen and self-appointed “gau rakshaks” in Gujarat for skinning a dead cow. Last year, a 22 year-old Dalit boy was killed in Nagar, Maharashtra, for setting a tune related to Ambedkar on his mobile.

Recently, a Dalit woman was paraded naked in Buldhana district of Maharashtra for an alleged offence of theft. Earlier this month, a sedition case was filed by the Haryana government against 10 Dalit students of Kurukshetra university because they had grievances against university authorities. Fourth, following the Central government, not a single state government is allocating funds from its annual budget in proportion to the population of the SCs and STs in the state as proposed in the Scheduled Castes and Tribal Sub-Plans, the two special schemes introduced by Indira Gandhi in the 1980s, to ensure their speedy economic development and bridge the gap between them and the rest of society.

Fifth, Dalits constitute about 40 per cent of the total agricultural labourers in the country. Another 40 per cent are marginal and small farmers and, like agricultural labourers, they too depend upon agricultural wages as their main source of livelihood. The Agricultural Wages Act of 1948 has prescribed the revision of these wages every five years. But not a single state government is following this provision.

When Dalit agricultural labourers ask for higher wages, their demand is put down with a heavy hand by the rich peasants, sometimes with the brutal force of the separate “senas” maintained for this purpose, particularly in the northern states. Nearly 25 per cent of the cases of violence and atrocities against the Dalits in rural India, including their murder and burning of houses, are caused by these economic factors.

Lastly, only a few of the Dalit political representatives elected on the reserved seats, who constitute about 15 cent of all members of Parliament and state legislatures, raise issues concerning Dalits. Apart from the fact that they are divided along party lines, they are scared of their upper-caste party bosses. This explains why all political parties are in favour of continued political reservation.

If political parties are really serious about the socio-economic, political and educational empowerment of Dalits, and tribals, they must go beyond mere symbolism. They must address the harsh ground realities. Taking the name of Dalits and symbolically “branding” Ambedkar may bring them political dividends, but will not help Dalits to break the shackles of social stigma, economic misery, educational backwardness, nor lead to genuine political empowerment.

The writer is a former member of the Rajya Sabha and Planning Commission

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  1. P
    Prakash MB
    Jul 1, 2017 at 2:11 pm
    b ed Hitler, Halaku and Jingish Khan as a tyrant, autocrats, dictators and even during their regime such heinous incident has not happened and the Muslim's rule, British regime women were held in high esteem and commanded great respect.” He recollected an instance, during a campaign Jangesh Khan was resting in his camp, at the midnight soldiers bought a burkha clad woman and presented before him. He queried what is her crime, the soldiers replied that she is from an enemy camp and suspected of spying, and before the woman could veil her burkha the king said, “ Mother, please do not remove your burka” and at once ordered his soldiers and sent back to her camp with all honor and dignity. Even Maratha King Shivaji behaved like him during his campaigns.
    1. P
      Prakash MB
      Jul 1, 2017 at 2:10 pm
      We are worse than the dictators Although the King Ravana ruler of Srilanka abducted Rama's wife, Sita, however, during her captivity, Ravana neither raped nor assaulted her. Bharatiya Bhim Sena founder B. Shyam Sunder addressing a protest meeting on July 14, 1974, at the Bhim Sena office in Gulbarga due to an unnatural death of a Dalit unmarried pregnant woman. He reminded we boast India is a great democratic nation in the world and abide by the Cons ution, but mentioned an incident “on 22nd December 1963 In Serasagoan, Gangapura taluka in Aurangabad district in Maharashtra State. Four Harijans women were stripped of their dresses and paraded naked in the broad daylight on the main street of the town because they refused to join those women who have consented to work without wages. Further, similar occurrences are neither accounted in the Nuremberg nor in Tokyo war crime tribunals and in reality, we are great Zalims compared to the dictators. Further, the world has b ed Hitler,
      1. Y
        Jun 29, 2017 at 8:20 am
        Caste iden y is not hollowed out. It is enshrined in the cons ution as counterbalancing a bullwark against equality. It will live and become strong as long as cons ution recognizes it.
        1. S
          Jun 29, 2017 at 4:36 am
          Political correctness fully permeats the article. As such genuineness doubtful.
          1. P
            Jun 29, 2017 at 2:45 am
            Dalits are human and have intellect of their own and these authors and peddlers of caste based iden ies and conflicts do not know that deceptive propaganda works for much shorter time in the age of internet when intellect gets to hear all kind of voices and has chance to dissect them. They think that people will always remain fool and be able to be manipulated.
            1. V
              V. Ramaswami
              Jun 28, 2017 at 11:31 pm
              I cannot but agree with this article's tenor and theme, namely, that cynical symbolism is not enough, and ground realities of inequity must be redressed. However, I disagree in the merit has been compromised through reservations and en lements - Ambedkar and similar people are much to blame for these - at the expense of merit. Change to a system of identifying deserving minorities and helping them with whatever it takes to achieve the merit to compete as equals. Both they and the nation will benefit much, and, in addition, we will not have debates like the present one whether something came to one by virtue of a label and the endemic opportunistic cynicism or real merit.
              1. H
                Jun 28, 2017 at 11:30 pm
                And last but not least, capitalism and open market economy has made everyone selfish and there is a lost sense of family, community and nationality. We have become so Individually centralised that we are seldom concerned about our country's political fate and that of our fellow countrymen's. Current, So called professional education and consumerism has turned sensitive citizens into money making ATM's. So, who really bothers about the country.
                1. H
                  Jun 28, 2017 at 11:21 pm
                  We boast ourselves being the largest democracy. But to make democracy successful, we need educated, healthy and financially independent voter, to have his independent and informed decision about his choice of political leader. Where do our masses stand today, is not a secret for all of us. Our poor farmer and unorganized urban labourer and women (whom we granted Universal adult franchise even before many advanced Western nations) are in no way in a condition to judge a political candidate before vote. Second, our FPTP (first past the pole) system of election is faulty and irrational. Total votes got by any non-winning parties always outweigh the votes won by the winning one. So how the winning party can represent the whole countrymen's in the Parliament. Third, why not one can have RTI answered for funding of any party, because there are some issues on which all political parties are united. And few of those issues are RTI, Reservation, Lokpal etc. And last but not least, capitalism
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