Dalit issues ranging from atrocities to representation to empowerment have predominantly influenced the contemporary political narrative.
It is often observed that social issues are turned into misguided missiles under the influence of passionate rhetoric and emotional platitudes. Let us try to understand the Dalit problem from a dispassionate perspective. It is a perspective beyond vilification and vindication, and the purest way to decode that would be analysis on the basis of sound data and logic.
As we know, the attack on Dalits by cow protection groups at Una (in Gujarat) has embarrassed India.
It is an incident that has put a question mark on the progressive and forward-looking character of our nation.
Incidents like these make it difficult to believe we are the same nation that sent a satellite to Mars or became part of the elite group of nations to possess Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).
It is beyond doubt that the culprits in the Una incident need to be punished. We are a constitutional democracy and no one has the right to take the law into his or her own hands.
The problem occurs when we are plagued with motivated perspectives while examining socially sensitive issues like the present one.
|The attack on Dalits by cow protection groups has, without a doubt, embarrassd the nation.|
In the name of social justice or for that matter standing up for the cause of the subaltern, one-sided reportage and columns are being used against the government in power at the Centre.
It is not a herculean task to see that the problem of caste is more social than political in nature. Needless to say, politics does have a role in the long-term to deal with this problem because to effect any change you need resolute political will.
But depoliticising the Dalit issue will be more pragmatic as National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data clearly indicate that the number of registered cases of atrocities against Dalits has been embarrassingly higher under the Congress dispensation.
This is expected because the Congress has been in power at the Centre more than any other political party in the entire political history of independent India.
The data for the number of registered crimes against Dalits show Uttar Pradesh topping the list with 8,075 cases in 2014, followed by Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka with 7,893, 4,114, 2,266 and 2,138 cases respectively.
The BJP is not in power in any of these states.
The decadal data is also important to be noted here. The number of crimes recorded in this category during 1991-2001 was 17,731, with an average of 1,612 atrocities per year.
Growing assertion of Dalits through affirmative action and opening up of markets resulted in a drastic reduction of cases of atrocities in the following decade.
In the period of 2002-2015, 14,634 cases of atrocities were registered with an average of 1,045 offences every year.
If we dig deep into specific data like the number of rapes, murders, and other offences against the scheduled castes, one can infer that politics or the party in power has got little to do with cases of caste-related atrocities.
As a case in Tamil Nadu in March 2016 highlighted, there have increasingly been assaults on Dalits by OBCs in the state. Bihar is another example where intermediate caste groups like Yadavs and Kurmis have been violently taking on the growing assertion of Dalits.
Politics is a dirty game of construction and manipulation of identities. Especially social identities. Manipulating social identities is electorally advantageous and beneficial for political parties.
As members of the civil society, the least we could do is to avoid cases like Una to be looked at with prejudicial and ideological lenses.
The Central government, which is just about two-and-a-half-years old, has taken steps to integrate the subaltern social groups into the mainstream.
On September 8, 2014, the government paid tributes to one of Kerala's visionary Dalit leaders, Mahatma Ayyanakali.
On the economic front, the government is working closely with the Dalit Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), in order to promote entrepreneurship as a tool of emancipation.
For this purpose Stand Up India was launched on the birth anniversary of Babu Jagjivan Ram, late deputy prime minister and a great Dalit leader.
In the days to come, we are likely to witness more positive stories of Dalit empowerment.
A case in point is the spirit in which Milind Kamble is steering the DICCI. Last year, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the DICCI, more than 1,000 Dalit entrepreneurs assembled in New Delhi to declare that they were equal and relevant stakeholders in the growth story of India.
In this meeting Kamble said: "We don't want to be jobseekers but job-givers." This one line would serve as a definite tool of emancipation for those who have been marginalised for decades.
However, the situation demands that more needs to be done. A prime minister, chief minister, MLA or MP cannot do this; it needs the intervention of several key stakeholders like the media, civil society, judiciary, spiritual organisations and especially the youth of India.
The author is not arguing that the Dalit scenario is good; it is still far from good. But there is hope.
The Dalit narrative is replete with stories of agony, victimhood and protest. Ignoring the positive side of the story with many Dalits rising to the top echelons purely by dint of their efforts and merit would be a great disservice to the Dalit cause.
What we forgot in the case of Una is that the enlightened citizenry of Una decried such attempts of the cow vigilantes and initiated a social boycott in clear terms that no social interaction (marriage, for instance) would be done with the families of the accused.
As a proud citizen of India and a conscious Dalit youth, I appeal to the intelligentsia to be only guided by facts. The need of the hour, therefore, is integration not confrontation; this is the key to social justice and rise of the subaltern.