It was VI Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, who famously said that the indication of a revolutionary situation is when the exploited and oppressed masses refuse to live in the old way and when the exploiters are unable to carry on and rule in the old way.
Anti-caste revolution in the making
A reminder of this came with the scenes of Dalit protests in Gujarat over the last few days against the public stripping and thrashing by gau rakshaks of seven Dalits, who were skinning a dead cow near the town of Una.
Thousands of Dalit protesters took to the streets throughout Gujarat to declare their refusal to silently continue the traditional caste tasks of handling and disposal of dead animals.
In a vividly inventive agitational move they brought truckloads of dead cattle and dumped them in the grounds and offices at the district headquarters and tehsil centres in various parts of the state. No other action could perhaps be a better assertion of their unwillingness to live and suffer in the old way that the caste laws had laid down.
As hundreds of carcasses lay rotting before government offices, houses of political leaders, on roads and other public places, upper caste organisations and the state machinery were left running helter-skelter in search of a solution.
As the Dalits demanded that those who considered the "gau" (cow) as their "mata" (mother) should undertake the task of performing the dead cows' last rites, it became amply clear that there were no takers for this task.
None of the gau rakshaks or any other of the activists of the Sangh Parivar were seen coming forward to perform this task. As putrefying cow carcasses were left to be torn apart by stray dogs while the upper castes watched helplessly, it seemed as if the oppressors had no means by which they could continue to enforce the law of Manu in the old way.
The events in Gujarat are not the first indicators of such an anti-caste revolution in the making.
The past several months have seen frequent instances of small and large-scale Dalit resistance to upper caste discrimination and oppression taking place in various parts of the country.
A large number of the confrontations have been around incidents of caste atrocities perpetrated by the dominant castes. But, as it has been argued, this rise in conflict is evidently as much about a greater Dalit readiness to resist as it is about an escalation in upper caste violence.
The Rohith Vemula incident
A nodal point seems to have been reached with a pan-India mobilisation around the suicide of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar of Hyderabad Central University (HCU). Vemula's death, widely seen as a sacrifice, while proving a catalyst for the coming together of students across a very wide spectrum, also provided the rallying point for the numerous forces which have felt the need to stand up against the repressiveness of the current casteist and communal order.
While students were seen at the forefront, there have been a host of organisations belonging to the Dalit and other communities which have been galvanised into action.
BR Ambedkar's revolutionary call for the annihilation of caste, long forgotten by the established Ambedkarite parties, has become the battle cry of this rebellion.
Joint action committees of students in various cities, formed initially for the purpose of justice for Rohith, soon transformed into joint action committees (of a variety of mass organisations) for social justice, with a definite caste annihilation agenda.
Even states where such committees did not emerge could not remain untouched by this anti-caste wave.
Its effects were wide enough to reactivate long dormant organisations formed during earlier periods of struggle. One such organisation was the Dalit Panthers of Gujarat, which gave a call for Gujarat bandh on July 20, 2016 to protest the Una atrocity.
Resistance with a difference
Some features stand out prominently in the present round of anti-caste struggles.
Very significant has been the near absence of demands for concessions. The subject of reservations, for example, which figured prominently in many earlier struggles has been near absent this time around.
In fact, the agitations erupting independently in various corners of the country have had a distinct focus on issues related to an end to caste discrimination and oppression.
Another key point of departure from previous campaigns is the considerable mobilisation from non-Dalit sections in the present anti-caste struggles.
While Dalit contingents continue to constitute the vanguard, the present movement has seen a wide mobilisation from other castes, which have normally stood on the other side of the caste divide.
The other notable difference has been the conspicuous lack of dependence on assistance from the State apparatus.
Earlier movements have often devoted considerable energies to lobbying with ministers and other ruling class eminences to achieve their demands through administrative or judicial action.
But repeated blatant collusion by a casteist police and a near-zero conviction rate under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 have drastically downsized expectations. The present movement seems to be concentrating on mass mobilisation on the streets to achieve its goals.
But the most important feature perhaps is a near absence of established political parties and their mass organisations in the initiation and leadership of the resistance.
Disillusionment with a discredited political leadership - particularly Dalit party leaders - is widespread.
While many have later on tried to jump on to the bandwagon, some like Ramdas Athawale have even had to suffer the ignominy of being turned away by agitators. Students and youth and lower level activists have often been the ones to launch and lead the struggles. This has given this movement a level of spontaneity not seen before.
It is this spontaneity that is its strength, as well as its weakness. It is indicative of the wellspring of discontent that is feeding and will continue for some more time to feed this anti-caste upsurge.
It shows how wide the feeling among younger sections is that the time has come to topple the centuries-old edifice of discrimination and oppression.
A movement, however, needs to grow a leadership and organisation to take it ahead. Thus far the signs of this emerging are few and far between.
It will require to develop through a more conscious and consolidated process, if the present movement is to prove a great leap forward on the revolutionary road towards the demolition of the caste system.