Union MoS for Social Justice and RPI(A) president Ramdas Athawale believes the generation next Dalits are getting more assertive and are ready to fight for their rights. In an interview to the Indian Express, he explains why B R Ambedkar followers can’t subscribe to Naxalism.
Are dalits drifting to armed struggle under the banner of CPI(Maoists)?
A die-hard Ambedkarite will never subscribe to any Naxal activities. We should understand that the biggest inspiration for the Dalits are Dr B R Ambedkar, who himself had adopted the middle path, Buddhism, which shuns violence. Ambedkar is also the architect of the Constitution, which has laid the strong foundation of democracy.
How do you perceive the attack against human right activists who are championing the cause of Dalits?
At the Elgaar Parishad held in Pune on December 31, last year, on the eve of the battle of Koregaon, five persons were arrested. Later, five more were arrested for alleged links with Naxals. Since, the investigation is underway and police have explained its stand, it would be improper to comment. I believe anybody who is adopting democratic methods to voice their views should have the right. I am sure Dalits had no role in the Bhima Koregaon violence. It was the handiwork of outsiders.
Do you get a sense of Dalit intellectuals and cadre realigning with Left Front organisations?
Generally, Dalits have always considered Left Front as their friend. They associate with the Left Front on broader issues. But when it comes to electoral politics, Dalits are never with Communists. It has its origin in the ideology and politics of Babasaheb Ambedkar who believed communism would not work in complex caste-ridden society. The communists believe in only two classes — rich and poor. Whereas, Dr Ambedkar reckoned there are 64,000 jatis (castes) and 18 languages in India. Therefore, he felt Indian politics required a different approach and politics.
How do you perceive Naxal movement?
One is always sympathetic to the struggle for the welfare of tribals and Dalits. But we cannot endorse their armed struggle. I think Naxals should join the mainstream and accept democracy. I would like to cite the example of former Nepal Prime Minister Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal). After leading Nepal Maoist Party, he gave up armed struggle and came into mainstream to contest elections and became the PM. Another example I can give is about myself. I led the Dalit Panther party in the past, which was more fierce than the current Naxals. Yet, we never endorsed violence. We had made it clear, we will not indulge in violence, but if Dalits are exploited we would retaliate.
How do you perceive the growing caste-conflict?
There are many aspects. Gone are the days when Dalits would swallow insults, bow their heads and walk away. Today, generation next is ready to give a befitting reply. So, society has to reconcile and accept the changing times.
There is a common refrain about misuse of the atrocities act by Dalits against the upper castes?
My ministry deals with the subject. The total cases registered under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act are 47,000. There are adequate provisions that mandate every case is scrutinised. Nobody is arrested unless the crime is established. My counter argument is that if people stop abusing and exploiting Dalits, they will not invite charges under the act. Also, it has come to our notice that often in villages, two rival upper caste groups have used Dalits to settle their scores.
What about growing unrest due to reservation politics?
I admit there is a growing unrest among the upper castes as they see Dalits, tribals and OBCs walking away with incentives because of quota. For the last 10 years, I have been suggesting 25 per cent quota to accommodate all the economically backward among forward castes, including Marathas. The Parliament should take a decision unanimously to amend the laws within the Constitution to enhance the quota from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.