Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) leader Mayawati’s resignation from the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday may or may not be a gimmick. Fact is, she has never quit although riots and mass violence against Dalits have taken place before. Moreover, not much is left of her present tenure in the Upper House – it ends in mid-2018.
There is, however, a consensus among political analysts across the board, that Mayawati is playing on Dalit anger, and thereby, attempting to salvage the dwindling fortunes of her party.
This is where the unarticulated fact surfaces, that Dalits are angry as well as anxious about the present, and fearful of the future…What if prime minister Narendra Modi repeats his 2014 victory story in 2019 as well?
Anything that remotely resembles the highly ritualized identity that comes with being a “Hindu” upsets Dalits easily. Let me explain this feeling by invoking the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s ludicrous and uncivil behavior towards Hindus, laced with mindless brutality.
For example, Aurangzeb imposed several taxes against Hindus, including the infamous ‘jaziya’ tax, but compared to the severities of some Hindu rulers, Dalits feel he was extraordinarily liberal. For instance, he didn’t impose the ‘moustache’ tax on men or the ‘breast’ tax on women which Hindu rulers have done without impunity in the past.
Fact is, let us not think that Untouchability is a matter of the past, or that caste atrocities are a medieval phenomenon. Only a few weeks ago, a Dalit boy in Uttar Pradesh’s Bahriach was shot by caste Hindu youth for dressing well.
The boy was shot with an air gun. Of course, the attackers didn’t intend to kill the Dalit boy, they just wanted to punish him and frighten other Dalits so that they wouldn’t follow suit. Last year in Balrampur, also in Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit man qualified for the UPSC interview, but days before he was to board the train for Delhi he was attacked by caste Hindu boys who forced sand into his mouth. Their intention was clear. The Dalit boy need not take the trouble to appear before the UPSC interview.
We, India’s Dalits, are used to people practicing Untouchability in various forms even today – although it has been banned since India became independent 70 years ago. But we also know that the more saintly or priestly a person appears, especially those dressed in saffron robes, the greater his cruelty quotient towards Dalits.
“This is God’s own wish, celebrate your current birth as an Untouchable, do good deeds and in the next birth your place in the hierarchical order will definitely change,” goes the narrative commonly employed by these sadhu-saints against Dalits. Caste brutality is routinely given divine sanction in independent India.
The BJP’s 2014 poll campaign built on the vikas theorem and subtly underlaid by Hindutva sold well. Post-May 2014 mandate, things began changing, fast. The saffron fabric was fully and openly in fashion, with all kinds of Hindutva groups flaunting their newly acquired power in streets and parks.
If the Lok Sabha election in 2014 saw the BJP underplaying Hindu symbols, being subtle in its aggression, the election campaign for Uttar Pradesh earlier this year called for Hindus Rising. The words in the Hindu victimhood narrative were still subdued, but the symbols spoke of war. The prime minister’s own Varanasi roadshows were an open demonstration of saffron belligerence.
After the UP verdict and the launching of Yogi Adityanath as the state’s chief minister and CEO, nothing was left to doubt. It is now clear that Hindu Raj is not only a possibility but an imperative. With UP taken, the rest of North India will slowly crumble, while the march to the South and East is no longer an impossibility.
Ask the Dalit civil servants of UP why they have been pushed to remote and insignificant locations in the state’s bureaucracy, and they will be at a loss to explain. Where have Dalit police Inspectors gone, why have new forms of attacks on the community surfaced?
Do we need data to prove that Dalits are living in tense times? The PM himself has worded his anguish publicly. Kill me instead, he has said, and accused gau rakshaks of taking the law into their own hands. Meanwhile, home minister Rajnath Singh keeps promising that the law and order situation will be improved.
Certainly, the 2014 electoral triumph of the BJP has been interpreted by several Hindu fascists as a “return to the motherland.” Several upper caste Hindus believe that the caste system is finally back and that is how it should always be.
Despite several public pronouncements to the contrary, nothing seems to be happening. The Union ministries seem to have declared their independence from the Cabinet system, the bureaucracy seems to have declared its independence from the PMO, while the BJP MPs seem to have declared their independence from Parliament. The state, meanwhile, seems to have declared its independence from the Constitution.
Please do not begin to start wondering why unlawful actions have evolved into a fashion statement. A friend asks me : Why does Yogi Adityanath fill his inner circle with upper caste bureaucrats?
The answer is simpler than one thinks. The rise of Hindus, increasingly openly celebrated by the BJP, means the rise of the Upper Castes and the rise of Caste Codes over the Law book that the father of the Constitution, and one of India’s most important Dalit leaders, B R Ambedkar, always carried.
As the 2019 elections approach, Dalits are angry and fearful; memories of their open subjugation at the hands of upper caste men, whether in Una or Saharanpur, are still terribly fresh. We experience them everyday. The freedom that we celebrate, of the past 70 years, a golden period in India’s history – the 2014 verdict seems dismissive of that.
What Mayawati did yesterday in the Rajya Sabha, any smart politician should have done a long time ago. Dalits, indeed, are living in tense times. We just wish that the rest of the country also saw it and understood why.