Why Are Dalits Supporting Farmers? Chandra Bhan Prasad Explains

“If Sikhs are attacked, the Dalits feel they are being attacked,” says the Dalit writer and thinker.

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Rakesh Tikait is getting Muslims to raise slogans and members of the Jat community to chant “Allahu Akbar”. What does it mean?

In which direction is the farmers’ protest moving, and how has it sustained for so long? What are the concerns of the minority communities, including the Dalits, with regard to this protest?

The Quint talked to Dalit writer Chandra Bhan Prasad to find answers some of these questions.


What Is Different About Punjab, Haryana and Western UP?

The initial perception was that it is a movement of the Sikhs. Then, when farmers came in from western Uttar Pradesh, it was perceived as a Jat-Sikh movement. But, why does it not involve those from Benaras, Allahabad, eastern UP or Lucknow? Prasad explains:

“Punjab, Haryana, and western UP are areas where owners cultivate their lands. Land owners at a mere 700-km distance from Benaras do not cultivate their own lands. These are the people we call ‘caste Hindus’ – a term given by BR Ambedkar to those belonging to the upper rungs of the Indian caste system. They are Hindus who give more importance to caste than to religion. Neither do caste Hindus farm their own lands by themselves nor do they know how to do it. Thus, they give their farms for sharecropping. Consequentially, the land remains under-utilised and less grain is produced. Therefore, the movement has not reached those areas.”

He adds that there are three reasons for those involved in the "farmers’ uprising” – higher yield, farming, and use of land.


Why Are Dalits Strongly Supporting the Farmers’ Protest?

Not only Dalits, Prasad notes, but “all those belonging to caste or religious communities who feel threatened by a ‘Hindu Caste Nation’ are in support of the movement.”

“Castes and religious communities that are not powerful enough to stop the chariot of the Hindu nation itself have recognised the strength in farmers – and they will continue to give them the support.”
Chandra Bhan Prasad

He further says that Dalits have opinions about their “old masters" which is consequential to this movement.

“Those who lived in the 700-800-km radius of Benares, around the Gangetic belt, were people from the upper caste who maintained a relationship with the farmers like they were their ‘subjects’. At the same time, the Jat landlords in Punjab, Haryana, and western UP were not the ‘masters’ of the Dalits. In this sense, if this was an upper-caste movement, the Dalits would not have any sympathy for it because the upper caste owned Dalits and committed crimes against them. Moreover, the upper caste are against the movement whether they own agricultural land or not.”
Chandra Bhan Prasad

Further, Ravidas is included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs. “If Sikhs are attacked, the Dalits feel they are being attacked,” he adds.

How Has the Farmers’ Movement Been Able to Sustain Itself for So Long?

The farmers’ movement has lasted for more than two months – and still does not see any dwindling of spirit. Prasad explains that the farmer is not a “professional agitator", like a worker in a factory who decides to call for a strike.

For farmers, "emotions" have a lot of importance.

“When protesting farmers were stopped from entering Delhi, it hurt their feelings. They started wondering whether Delhi is not theirs. More recently, hookah and water were stopped, nails hammered on roads – their feelings have been hurt by such acts. And when you attack someone’s self-respect, he will die but will not surrender.”
Chandra Bhan Prasad

What Are the Social Changes Brought About by This Movement?

This movement, which is going on as a "political opposition" to the three farm laws, is bringing in some significant social changes.

Prasad says that the “middle caste” is now mainstream.

Farmers who cultivate themselves are different from the upper castes, Dalits, and the lower OBCs in the Indian varna system. Thus, they form the “middle caste”.

“The middle caste has never before been honoured in the mainstream society. They have now become important for different social classes. In the land dynamics that are now emerging, the agricultural land has come into focus, because if this land is taken away, then these classes will become subjects of corporate houses. Farmers fear that if the agricultural land is taken away, they will become subjects, quite like Dalits were subjects in the Gangetic belt for thousands of years.”
Chandra Bhan Prasad

(This piece was been translated from Quint Hindi. Read the story in Hindi here.)

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