At the big Valimiki Basti adjoining Feroze Shah Kotla, in the heart of the national capital, Pradeep, a safai karamchari (cleaner) with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), isn’t sure what all the fuss is. “Ambedkar Jayanti? What’s that? Woh to Chama**n ki hoti hai. Hum thode hi… (Jatavs celebrate that; we don’t), ” he says.
Rakesh Nath, another safai karmchari, is certain the anniversary fell on Thursday. yesterday). After all, “some people were distributing gifts, sweets yesterday.” Chahat Raj, an 18-year-old aspirant gym-trainer with bulging biceps, cannot recall who Ambedkar was. “Something was there (on Ambedkar) in school. Yaad nahin (can’t recall).”
The slum cluster of nearly 400 homes of Valmiki, a major caste under the Scheduled Castes (SC) category, underlines the inherent irony of Dalit politics today. It also reinforces Ambedkar’s wisdom that divided in myriad castes, Hinduism finds little to unite.
Another aspect of this irony vibrates in Delhi’s renowned Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where three SC youths, cramped in a hostel room, are busy writing a paper. The campus has recently seen a pulsating union of “Jai Bhim” and “Lal Salaam”, followers of Ambedkar and Lenin, now seemingly evolving on many campuses across the country.
The trio, leaders of Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA), disagree — completely. “Murder of Social Justice: The unity of Left and Ambedkaraites cannot be built on the carcass of social justice,” the paper’s title reads. “The present JNUSU under the leadership of Kanhaiya Kumar has lost its legitimacy for us,” a sentence notes, listing how Kumar and his AISF, the students’ wing of the Communist Party of India, have destroyed the Dalit cause.
“What you hear about JNU from outside, slogans like ‘Brahamanvad Murdabad’, is superficial. This campus has as much discrimination against Dalits as any other place. Kanhaiya talks about the Left and Dalit unity but did not even table our concerns at the board meeting. The Left makes rhetoric, but does little for Dalits,” says Uday, a BAPSA member.
Odisha resident Chinmaya, a co-founder of BAPSA, is doing his PhD on Ambedkar and Lenin. “The Left has never understood the caste system,” he says, and cites RTI data: between 2008 and ’15, only 64 SC, 28 ST and 108 OBC students were directly admitted to PhD programmes in JNU. This, against 677 students of General categories.
“Most of the seats for SC students and teachers are vacant here,” they say.
The mood echoes in a band of teenage girls of Karol Bagh — Daughters of Savitri Band, they call their team. Savitri Phule was a noted social reformer. “Teri ankhon men aansoo hain, tere sine men shole hain. (Your eyes are full of tears. There is a fire burning in your chest),” they sing at a rally on Ambedkar at Jantar Mantar, where people from across the country have assembled to pay homage to the political India’s latest icon.
They know a bit about Ambedkar, mock the government’s celebrations, and assert that discrimination exists all over. “The nature of discrimination has changed from what it was during his (Ambedkar) time, but it exists. In school, we are made to sit separately. Teachers humiliate our parents,” says Anjana, doing BCom from Open School. Shilpa, who recently took the Class XII Boards, says: “Even today it’s a Dalit who sweeps. Why doesn’t any upper caste (person) clean gutters? If governments really want to do something for us, they must stop hiring Dalits for scavenging and sweeping.”
Move across Dalit bastis and it becomes clear that barring those affiliated to political parties, most SCs have little hopes from politicians. “The BJP doesn’t like Dalits — let’s be clear on that,” says Sanjay Pawar, a safai karmchari who lives in a JJ Camp at Dhaula Kuan and has assembled with community members at Delhi government’s event on Ambedkar at Talkatora Stadium. When reminded that the RSS runs Samrasta programmes for SCs, Ram Kishan says, “They are lying. Theirs is a Brahmanical order. They come only for their interests.”
Pointing out that politicians’ love for Ambedkar is recent, Pawar says: “When Mayawati talked about Ambedkar earlier, all politicians abused her. Now, everyone is suddenly talking about Ambdekar. It’s opportunism, of course.”
Such is the anguish against the system that even government employees do not hesitate in speaking out against the establishment. Kamal Singh, general secretary of Post and Telegraph SC/ST Employers Association, says: “Congress, BJP or AAP, no one is concerned about us. They have stalled several Bills for our welfare.” About PM Narendra Modi’s rally in Mhow, he says it’s a sure sign the ABJP is “scared”. “They have recently lost three major elections. Now they need our votes. Therefore they suddenly remember Babasaheb.”
He, like many other SCs The Indian Express spoke to today, asserts that welfare of Dalits is not possible in the Hindu fold, an argument Ambedkar had made nearly a century ago. The mainstream political parties are aware of this restlessness, but perhaps choose to remain ignorant. They continue to make themselves believe that he was “essentially a Hindu”, a claim loudly forwarded by the RSS, but denied by his followers.
Obviously then, while the show went on across the country, at the party headquarters, the BJP had a small tribute to Ambedkar. Congress did not hold even a perfunctory photo-garlanding formality at 24, Akbar Road.
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