Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd breaks down the Dalit uprising
If India wants to sustain democracy, the upper castes who benefited most from it, should also tolerate change.
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In the run-up to the 2014 elections, Narendra Modi had promised if he becomes the prime minister the next decade will belong to the Dalits and the backwards. Even though as PM he has not made any new provision for the development of Dalits, he has been using the name of BR Ambedkar quite frequently as his icon.
The Dalits of the nation are up against the BJP rule at the Centre and in a defiant mood. It is indeed a Dalit Spring.
This didn't happen during the long rule of the Congress, though it has also been mainly an upper caste party. Until 1989, even the Congress governments did not legislate any Act to stop atrocities on SCs and STs.
The real reservation and Dalit-Bahujan revolution occurred during VP Singh's prime ministership. The implementation of the Mandal Commission report, legislating the SC/ST Atrocity Act 1989, and giving Ambedkar the Bharat Ratna happened during that period.
Image: PTI photo
Although his government worked with the support of the BJP, VP Singh was the only upper caste leader who had taken an ideological position and enjoyed the support of leaders like Sharad Yadav, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh and Ram Vilas Paswan. He had pushed the social justice agenda, as that alone could ensure smooth transformation of a caste-ridden Indian society.
The BJP started the "Mandir movement" to undercut all those legal and social reforms initiated by VP Singh and withdrew its support from the government later. But within one year VP Singh had transformed the consciousness of the Dalit-Bahujan masses. The Dalit-Bahujans remember how the BJP deceived them by withdrawing support to the VP Singh government.
Though Narendra Modi claims he is an OBC, he has not done anything comparable to VP Singh so far. On the contrary, the BJP/RSS networks at the ground level in the villages, in the colleges and universities are actively engaged in mobilising opinion about withdrawing reservations, taking away scholarships of the SC/ST/OBCs.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat himself is constantly speaking against reservations. All the upper castes in the Hindutva networks are insulting the reservation system as meritless and brainless. This humiliation, over and above untouchability, has made the Dalits restless.
The BJP government has been sending signals to all universities to close down research schools and social exclusion centres established in the post-Mandal period in Ambedkar's name.
Their intellectuals are arguing - why do we need research on all these issues? Research funds must be spent on studying the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vedas and Upanishads.
They think that modern social science is anti-Hindu. They think exactly like the Muslim clerics of Pakistan and Iraq. Research should be on religious issues, but it should never be on the civil and political society because that will increase thinking of equality.
Social science research will lead to development of the lower castes also and that would increase the demand for equality in all spheres. Fundamentalist Hindus are opposed to this transformation. The RSS is leading all such fundamentalist forces.
The Congress never had such a base wing that could work for negation of the political democratic development.
When the Hindu Mahasabha tried to do that, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru worked to disconnect the relationship. But Modi cannot do that. He does not command such intellectual and moral authority over the RSS/BJP.
The Dalit intellectuals, politicians and its small middle class, more than the OBC and Adivasi leaders, understood this. By the time the Supreme Court judgment came nullifying the SC/ST Atrocities Act, Dalits all over India, particularly in north India, were in an agitationist mood.
Added to this, the cow protection laws have crippled the economy of Dalits more than that of Muslims. They were eating cheap protein food, indulging in leather and bone business. All that has gone with the lynch mob politics of the right-wing squads getting into the field and attacking Dalits. The people at village level know that theses squads have RSS/BJP roots.
Several SC/ST atrocity cases were filed against the lynch squad leaders. They, hence, wanted the law should go.
It was in this atmosphere that non-political Dalit organisations gave the bandh call and came out on the streets in thousands. They have used their social media network to connect to each other. The big firms which are running mobile and app networks must realise that they cannot expand their business to all the sections and also support fundamentalist forces that are opposed to social equality and economic mobility.
Such things will lead to dislocation of all businesses if the oppressed masses come out onto the streets. Dalits are not in the pre-Independence stage, where they will take every humiliation lying down.
No religious fundamentalist party can maintain democratic governance -whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist. Democracy is meant to make rich poor and poor rich in a cyclic order.
It is also meant to make a Dalit Brahmin and a Brahmin Dalit over a period of time.
Religious fundamentalist parties do not want such a change to take place. That is the reason why in many Muslim countries democracy could not survive.
In some fundamentalist Buddhist countries like Myanmar, democracy is struggling to exist.
In a multi-caste and multi-religious country like India, democracy has sustained for 70 years by chance.
In the neighboring Pakistan and Nepal, it is on shaky ground. China is in the hands of one party rule of communist welfarism.
If India wants to sustain democracy, the upper castes who benefited most from it, should also tolerate change. They should be prepared to be ruled by Dalits in the civil society, spiritual society as well as political society. We should be Indians by all means, not Hindus, Brahmins, Vysyas, Ksatriyas and so on.
The nation should be governed by the Constitution, not by religious books.
If more Dalit Springs take place, all Indian institutions will collapse, and all markets will crash.
The only solution is: since the Dalits suffered for the longest time in history, did the most difficult things for the nation, let them get the most preferential treatment without grumbling by all other castes above them.