Updated: October 6, 2016 2:14:21 pm
The makers of our Constitution were men and women of great vision and foresight. A subaltern leader who voiced the concerns of the depressed classes chaired the drafting committee of the Constitution: Babasaheb Ambedkar stood for the empowerment of the socially and politically deprived segment of the society. His vision drives the battle for Dalit dignity today.
Untouchability is still rampant in different forms. My years in politics — I started in the student wing of a naxalite organisation and have been with the BJP for the past three decades — have convinced me that the panacea for social ills lie in dialogue, discussion and debate. As a politician and a teacher, I have tried to engage with the stakeholders of the Dalit discourse, even at the cost of facing barbs from friends and foes.
In this context, I want to speak about a recent incident in Lucknow, where I was invited to speak at the “Diversity” day celebration. The organiser, H.L. Dusadh, has been working tirelessly to advance the cause of Dalit representation in key sectors through his writings and literary interventions in the past two decades. His idea of “diversity” is inspired by the US model of affirmative action and protective discrimination for ensuring justice and equality in public spheres. “Diversity” in the Indian context is social diversity. This means women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are adequately represented in decision-making bodies.
Guests, speakers and delegates from across the ideological spectrum had been invited to the event. Former governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Mata Prasad, Ashok Bharti of the Republican Party of India, Radhika Vemula, mother of the late Rohith Vemula, Jignesh Mevani from Ahmedabad and I were to speak at the event. Invitations were circulated and the event gained traction on social media. Then, to my surprise, I was told that Mevani and Radhika Vemula backed out because of my presence. I was taken aback. Soon after the unfortunate death of Rohith Vemula, I had expressed my angst on twitter at the cost of antagonising my party. I had also met Radhika Vemula at a press conference in New Delhi.
To label us khaki-nikkerwala and disengage with us is antithetical to the larger Dalit cause. Evading debate indicates lack of faith and confidence in one’s ideology. Is this a devious attempt to keep out other views and thereby demoralise the BJP and the BSP? If so, how feasible is it? Why should it not be denounced as an exclusionary approach impervious to core democratic values such as dissent, free speech and constructive engagement between contrasting viewpoints?
The Congress-Left-Socialist nexus ruled the nation for six decades and robbed the Dalit community of opportunities. The Congress, which perpetuated the interests of one family, commoditised the Dalits and saw them as a “vote bank”. The new Dalit aspiration transcends petty politics; we want to be perceived as a “thought bank”.
The current prime minister comes from a humble background. He is aware of the pain, agony, challenges, deprivations and everyday threat a socially disadvantaged person faces in the rural set-up. Under his leadership, Parliament discussed the life and works of Ambedkar. The Jan Dhan Yojana has ended financial untouchability to a large extent. The BJP currently has the highest number of Dalit parliamentarians.
The next stage of Dalit empowerment will encompass representation, which would be made possible through integration and not confrontation. Any strategy of Dalit empowerment could emerge through consensus and not conflict, through dialogue and not dominance. The present need is to depoliticise the Dalit discourse and strive towards an independent, objective, dispassionate and solution-centric Dalit narrative.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines