Updated: May 23, 2017 4:50:14 am
Head of Congress SC wing tells MANOJ C G rally at Jantar Mantar is a turning point in Dalit movement, needs to be taken seriously.
As head of the Congress SC department, what do you make of Sunday’s huge Dalit rally at Jantar Mantar?
I have spent a lot of time with the victims of the Saharanpur violence and the people there. What is becoming clear is that it was a case of the administration conniving with those who have committed those atrocities or the administration remaining silent. The police were there but they did not stop [the attacks]. So, this is one of a series of such incidents happening in the country in the last three years. The anger among Dalits is building up. Earlier they used to look up to a political party to come to their rescue but now… the kind of voluntary mobilisation that has happened from across many states… that really shows that Dalits want to assert themselves. They want to make their voice heard without having to come under the umbrella of any political party. It is a kind of turning point in the Dalit movement where, within a short time, they are able to connect with a large number of Dalits through social media and telephones. So if the governments at the Centre and in the states… if they don’t take it seriously, if they don’t demonstrate that they are committed to protecting their rights… they will be in for serious problems.
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Why do you think the governments could be in trouble?
See, for instance, look at the the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act… These amendments were aimed at primarily dealing with such situations — administration conniving with perpetrators of violence. Unfortunately, in Saharanpur there was no relief and rehabilitation arranged, there was no action taken by the administration to instil confidence among the victims. So the state has violated the Atrocities Act; they have ignored the responsibilities they are supposed to discharge. I would say it is a warning bell to the government in power that they can no longer tolerate these kinds of atrocities.
The sense of the speeches at Jantar Mantar was that mainstream political parties have failed them. So, when you say that it is a warning bell to the government, isn’t it also a wake-up call for parties?
Yes, to all the political parties, including the Congress. That is correct. It is a warning bell to all political parties in the first instance and then to the government. That is the sense I also got.
So it it a threat to the Opposition parties too?
That should worry us more than any other party.
As head of the Congress’s SC department, what would you do?
My challenge is to make non-Dalit leaders in the party empathise with the pain of Dalits. Only then would there be kind of an action from their end. See, it is very clear that the party’s leadership, which is mostly held by non-Dalits, unless they become sensitive to these issues… just one vice president becoming sensitive, rushing to those spots whenever incidents happen, remaining with them or doing hunger-strike like for example in the case of Rohith Vemula…. Whenever any incident happens, Rahul Gandhi is rushing… that alone will not help.
Have you or Rahul tried to reach out to Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar or Jignesh Mewani in Gujarat?
We are reaching out to all of them. We feel their strength and we would like to build bridges with them. In terms of getting the Dalits to come together and get their rights… it can happen only with political parties taking up their cause. I have seen how all such apolitical agitations… however sustained they may be, they don’t give you the desired results at the end of the day unless a political party takes it up… In the interest of the Dalit cause — not as a Congress leader… but as somebody who would like to see Dalits empowerment happening — I hope to see all these movements get connected with the Congress. It is only the Congress that can give them confidence and Rahul is fully open to that.
Has Rahul spoken to Chandrashkhar?
That has not happened yet. See, there is a timing also. It will happen.
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