Seeking to give a new direction to the Dalit movement, Jignesh Mevani, the newly elected MLA in Gujarat on Monday said Dalit struggle needs to focus on “real” and “material issues” and move away from rhetorical slogans of Manuvad and Brahminism. In Pune to attend the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima, Mevani said his fight was against “Brahminism” and not Brahmins.
“For example, there are labourers who are by caste Brahmins and are being exploited by Dalit factory owners. I will side with the labourers in such cases. Brahminism can be found among Dalits as well. Our fight must be against Brahminism,” he told The Indian Express.
Mevani was one of the star speakers at Saturday’s Elgaar Parishad, one of the main events organised to commemorate the anniversary of the battle in which the British Army defeated the Peshwas. In the Dalit narrative, however, it is seen as a victory of Dalits, who formed a majority of the British forces in the battle against Peshwas, who were upper-caste Brahmins.
The 35-year-old Mevani said the unrest among the Dalit youth needed to be channelised in a proper direction. “There is an incredible sense of assertion, empowerment and desire to come on to the streets among the Dalit youth ever since the Rohith Vemula episode. This was also seen in Una (in Gujarat where a few Dalits were lynched by so-called cow protection gang). There is great need on the part of the Dalit leadership to give the movement a proper shape and link it to struggles of material issues.”
He added: “We are entangled in the rhetoric of just giving slogans against Manuwaad and Brahminism and we have to get rid of it. We are not talking about the real issues. Why can’t the Dalit movement talk about rights of poor, including Dalits, on GST and demonetisation, about foreign policy? Dalit movement has to be not just vibrant but also encompassing the real material issues.”
“We have launched a platform called Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, which as of today, is limited to Gujarat and I want to see it expanding. Our tagline is Sangharsh: Atmasamman ke liye aur astitva ke liye (struggle for self respect and existence). I can talk about self respect, but what about my roti, kapda, makaan, health and education? How can I be silent on issues of governance, corruption, inflation, corporate loot and farmer suicides?” he asked.
Mevani added: “These issues, which are generally on the sidelines in the Dalit movement, have to come to the forefront. (Dalit) Leaders also need to introspect. For example, I say Savitribai Phule zindabad but then, there are very few women in my own core team. So we have to be honest to ourselves.” Mevani also spoke about the branding of the BJP, RSS and other organisations as “new Peshwas”, a theme that was used repeatedly in the run-up to and during the Elgaar Parishad.
“The foundation of Peshwa regime was caste system. Same is perpetuated by (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji through modern methods. To me, Modi is a neo-liberal Peshwa. We must do everything to stop this new Peshwa.”
The MLA said: “He (Modi) has perpetuated the neo-liberal programmes by favouring capitalist greed of corporate giants and continued the Brahminical oppression. Had Shivaji been alive today, he would have launched an attack on this regime. People have been attacked in the name of cow, ghar wapsi and love jihad. This wave of fascism had to be stopped.”
The Elgaar Parishad also saw participation of Umar Khalid, a JNU student who was at the centre of a slogan-shouting controversy last year. Khalid told The Indian Express that Mevani and his colleagues represented a new kind of Dalit politics. “There is a new wave in the Dalit politics represented by people like Jignesh or Chandra Shekhar in Saharanpur. This is different from the politics of the Bahujan Samaj Party, for example. Their (the BSP and others) politics was about representation and being in the corridors of power. It is needed but we need to go beyond that.”