The Bharat bandh by the Dalit community came as a shock to me, as much as it did to many others, I am sure. I had expected some picketing and protests in a few cities. What I did not anticipate was the horrific violence. There is news of seven people having died in the violence. On the face of it, the bandh was just over the changes ordered by the Supreme Court in the SC/ST Act, but there was anger over many other issues that had been simmering below the surface.
Surge in Dalit Anger Since Modi Govt’s Rule
For various reasons, this anger has only increased since the Modi government came to power. My personal belief is that the future of the Modi government will not be determined by the liberals or the Muslims.
The future of RSS and the Modi government will be determined by the Dalits of this country. The more the Modi government pretends to be on the side of the Dalits, the more this anger will grow. There is no scope of friendship between Dalits and the Sangh Parivar, nor does that seem likely in the future.
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Ever since Modi ji came to power, he has attempted to assert many times that he adores Babasaheb Ambedkar, so much so that he named the BHIM APP after him. But he seems to have no answer to the question of why, if the Sangh’s ideology respects Ambedkar so much, Rohith Vemula was ‘compelled’ to commit suicide. Vemula was falsely accused and thrown out of his hostel, and had his fellowship was rescinded.
Despite him being absolved of all blame, Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya put pressure on the then HRD Minister Smriti Irani to have him expelled from the hostel. This was the Modi government’s first blunder, and no attempts were made to fix it.
Dalit Voices Can No Longer Be Silenced
Vemula’s suicide shook Dalits across the country. For the first time, Dalits felt that if a brilliant student like Vemula didn’t get justice under Modi’s rule, then what hope for justice and equality did any of them have? On social media, Dalit anger exploded. Photographs of Dalit boys being beaten up over alleged cow killings in Una, Gujarat convinced Dalits that if they didn’t unite, then the atrocities would only increase.
The Dalit yatra from Ahmedabad to Una, and later, the Dalit rally in Ahmedabad, signalled to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar that Dalits were unwilling to become the sacrificial lamb in the name of Hindutva.
Thanks to the Una incident, Jignesh Mevani, a well-educated and articulate person, came forward as the new face of Dalit leadership. While Vemula’s death sparked anger among Dalits, the Una incident inspired them to unite against their oppressors.
The first example of their organisation and anger was seen in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, when the local village goons tried to suppress the Dalits in the name of Rana Pratap; when the statue of Saint Ravidas was disrespected, the Dalits retaliated.
The villagers had not expected resistance like this. Attempts were made to suppress the resistance with help from the administration. But the Dalits made their power felt by turning up in the thousands at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
New Leaders of Dalit Liberation
Suddenly, the country was introduced to the ‘Bhim Sena’, and Chandrashekhar Azad came forward as its front man – a then 30-year-old man who breathes fire every time he speaks. Even Mayawati began to feel insecure because of him. UP’s BJP government forcefully locked him up, and when the Allahabad High Court granted him bail, Azad was jailed again under the national security law. This did not go down well with the Dalits.
The attack on Dalits in Maharashtra’s Bhima Koregaon recently made angry Dalits embark on a Maharashtra kooch (march/protest). The Maharashtra bandh once again shook the government. But power has its own intoxicating effects. Instead of trying to understand the anger of the Dalits, they were labelled Naxals and anti-nationals. Preparations were made to jail Jignesh. But the BJP had also realised that Dalits could shut shop for them, so Ram Nath Kovind was placed in the Rashtrapati Bhawan as our new President.
Annihilation of Caste
The torch Ambedkar lit in 1927 during the Mahad movement has now turned into a wildfire which won’t stop until it has avenged the atrocities committed against Dalits throughout history. It is seeking justice, not an extinguisher.
In his revolutionary book, The Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar had written that Dalits won’t get justice until the Hindu religion is expunged; because Dalits won’t be able to remove the barriers of caste so long as the caste system exists. And the caste system is at the root of the Hindu religion.
In 1935, Ambedkar proclaimed that he might have been born Hindu, but he would not die as one. Now the question is – how can the RSS, that advocates orthodox Hinduism, truly accept Ambedkar? Does the RSS agree with Ambedkar’s opinion that without destroying the Hindu religion, Dalits won’t get justice?
Whether it’s the RSS supremo MS Golwalkar or the first ‘messiah’ of Hindutva, Savarkar, both had admitted that there were shortcomings in the caste system, but neither spoke of ending it altogether.
Most surprisingly, while both Savarkar and Golwalker criticised the tradition of untouchability, the history of atrocities committed against the Dalits (who have historically been treated as ‘untouchables’), is entirely missing from their writings. RSS literature is mostly silent on the pain and anguish of Dalits, because that critique would mean condemning the upper castes, which means antagonising their support base.
Regarding this issue, Ambedkar didn’t even spare Gandhi. Babasaheb had said that Gandhi wanted to be both leader and Mahatma, which wasn’t possible.
As Mahatma, he talked about Dalit emancipation, but as a leader/politician he didn’t want to lose the support of the upper castes.
While the RSS claims that the Sangh works among Dalits, and doesn’t believe in untouchability, the Sangh is never seen supporting or agitating for Dalit rights. They are ready to kill and die for the holy cow, but want to keep some people marginalised. This is what pained Babasaheb.
Lack of Dalit Representation
Today, Ambedkarites ask: The suicide of Rohith, beating up of Dalits in Una, attack on Dalits in Saharanpur, Chandrashekhar Azad’s imprisonment, the violence against Dalits in Bhima Koregaon – are these incidents without any motive? Reduction in the Dalit quota in universities, Modi government’s unusual silence over the Supreme Court’s decision on the SC/ST Act – what do these indicate?
Dalits want to ask why there is no Dalit holding a major portfolio in Modi’s Cabinet. They want to know what purpose will be served by inserting ‘Ram ji’ in Babasaheb’s name.
This is an ideological fight, and as the aggression of RSS’s Hindutva ideology increases, so will their distance from the Dalits.
This is why the violence on the streets is ominous.
(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This piece has been translated by Mariam Shaheen. This article was originally published on QuintHindi.