In the wake of nation-wide protests by Dalit groups following the Supreme Court order on the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, the BJP leadership has repeatedly said the party doesn’t agree with the apex court’s stance and that the law is not to be tampered with. The Union government has also filed a review petition in the Court on the Atrocities Act order. However, a review petition alone does not maketh for a pro-Dalit politics. The Dalit anger, evident since the April 2 protests, is not born of a single incident or slight; it is the outburst of accumulated bitterness, frustration, fear at being betrayed, marginalised and oppressed by state institutions, political parties and even the civil society.
Incidents since April 2 have only intensified the anger and alienation, especially in BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and UP. Dalit protestors were fired upon in MP, killing at least seven people and in Shobhapur, Meerut, a BSP worker was shot on April 5, after his name appeared in a list of 83 people, named as “Dalit vandals and arsonists from Shobhapur”, circulated on social media. Dalit youth from Shobhapur have fled the village and are yet to return fearing persecution. Five Dalit MPs from the BJP, four of them from UP, have now spoken out against the party leadership’s approach to Dalit concerns. One of them, Ashok Dohre from Etawah, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the UP police was using abusive language against Dalits and targeting them by registering false cases against them. Other MPs too have flagged escalation of police atrocities against the Dalits, the perception that the BJP is against reservations and wants the Atrocities Act diluted as reasons for the Dalit unease with the party. If the BJP wants to address its estrangement with the Dalits, it can start with the party’s own state governments. These need to be told to uphold due process and investigate crimes against Dalits. Political will is necessary to end the anti-Dalit bias in public services and institutions including the police and bureaucracy.
The institutionalisation of bias against the Dalits, surely, didn’t start with the BJP gaining office, but it has sharpened since 2014. The current spate of violence has only stoked their fears.