Dalit President Alone Can’t Empower Dalits, Adivasis
“During the elections they had declared that we all are Hindus, just for the sake of votes. After the elections they treat us worse than slaves. This is the reason we are now leaving the Hindu fold to convert to Buddhism. When the Thakurs attacked, the government has imprisoned us instead of helping us. The Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath being a Thakur makes us more vulnerable from the Thakur community.” These were the words of a 25 year-old Dalit activist from Sahranpur, Narendra Goutham.
Dalits from Sahranpur had taken the idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, of whom they were previously devotees, from their homes and threw them into the canals to take up Buddhism. What was the reason behind this drastic action by them? Seven decades after independence Dalits still face discrimination and oppression. Democratically elected parties are under the control of the oppressive Hindu majority who are also economically and socially more powerful. Even though the government is taking actions and coming up with schemes in the name of Dalit empowerment they have not been able to do anything to stop the continuous assaults on Dalits, constant discrimination and caste based violence. Moreover, there has been a steady rise in violence against Dalits and in the discrimination faced by dalits. One must understand the actions of the Dalits in Sahranpur against this background.
In Shabbirpur village of Sahranpur district, twenty five houses belonging to Dalits had been burnt down by the Thakurs and the Dalits lost all that they owned that day. The landholding Thakurs did not allow the erection of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s statue by the Dalits. Further, they had not allowed them to place that statue inside the Ravidas Temple which was in the Dalit locality. On top of that, they had led a procession of Rana Pratap Singh on May 5th through the Dalit locality raising slogans, “Ambedkar murdabad.” On receiving the complaint, the policemen had attempted to stop the procession, but according to a preconceived plan the Thakurs had enmasse attacked the Dalit households with deadly weapons in which a few policemen were also injured. The Thakurs then proceeded to burn down the houses in the Dalit neighborhood and molested and groped the dalit women. They also proceeded to destroy five shops belonging to Dalits from the neighbouring village Maheshpur. The police, however, till date have not taken any action against the Thakurs involved in the “clashes”.
On May 21st, a protest demonstration in Jantarmantar, Delhi, by the Bhim Army did not get any response from the government but held Chandrashekar Ravan of Bhim Army responsible for the May 5th incident and had placed him under arrest. Chandrashekar had started the Bhim army for imparting education to Dalit children with over 300 schools in Saharanpur district. Chandrashekar’s arrest had complicated the situation for the Dalits in Saharanpur. They had elected Chandrashekar’s mother, Kamalesh Devi, as the new head of the Bhim Army. She had led another procession in Delhi’s Jantarmantar on June 18th, calling for action from the government. Despite police blockades and arrests of hundreds of Dalits, a large number of Dalits had thronged Jantar Mantar to attend the procession. Centre and State governments were not successful in preventing the success of the procession. With an urge to end thousands of years of discrimination and slavery, and tearing themselves away from Hindu fold which has been breeding the same oppression and discrimination, Sahranpur Dalits had gone a step further by following Ambedkar and taking to Buddhism.
The BJP which holds power in the Centre and many other states has brought out a new strategy instead of taking measures to protect the Dalit population and their dignity, which was announcing a Dalit, Ram Nath Kovind as the presidential candidate. This action by the BJP is welcome because a Dalit in the higher echelons of politics would bring about a sense of protection and confidence among the Dalit community. K.R. Narayanan had left a mark on the nation’s politics in the past. It must, however, be noted that the President plays a minimal role in the functioning of the country. Though BJP’s decision is a step forward, it is unwise to assume that this would end all problems faced by the Dalits. The central government must take specific measures to solving problems of the Dalits, especially the violence against Dalits. Election of a Dalit President will bring about nothing if there is no minimum protection of the rights of dalits.
For the past 3 years, Modi’s Government had not done much for Dalit welfare. Dalits have not gotten adequate budget allocation nor are the allocated funds being used properly. For the past three years no schemes have been made targeting Dalits, Tribals and backward classes. Modi’s interview on 15 September 2016 to News 18 channel throws light on his thoughts and perspective on issues of Caste problems, attacks on Dalits. “Our culture is thousands of years old,” he said, “there are some inequalities. We should deal with them intelligently. This is a social problem and a deep rooted one.” He did not, however, speak about untouchability or caste discrimination. He further said that there are lesser atrocities committed against Dalits under the BJP rule than the previous governments. This statement is far from the truth. Under the NDA rule there was a rise in crimes against Dalit women and men. In 2012, the total number of reported crimes against Dalits was 33,655; in 2013 it rose to 39, 408; 2015 saw a total number of 45,003. In 2012, 651 Dalits were murdered, in 2013, they rose to 676, in 2015 the number rose to 707. Crimes against Dalit women in 2012 were 1,570, 2013 saw a rise to 2,073, in 2015 they rose to 2,326. This information is publicly available in the NCRB website. Our Prime Minister quite deliberately and blatantly propagated an absolute lie. His nonchalant attitude towards the Dalit community can be clearly seen from this statement.
In the same interview, Modi had promised that he would strive for the protection and development of Dalits, Adivasis, women and other backward classes. For the past three years Modi’s government had rolled out schemes and programmes like, Digital India, Make In India, Skill India, Startup-standup, Power Sector, Highways, Cleaning the Ganga, Jan-Dhan and Demonetization, among various others. None of which were to honour the commitment he made in his interview. Moreover he had scrapped the SC/ST Sub-Plan which was working for the past 45 years. The ongoing movement for the proper allocation of the plan funds and accountability fell on deaf ears. This year saw a cut in the post matriculation scholarship that was to be allocated to the states. Scholarships in universities also saw a considerable cut among other schemes and allocations of funds that were cut short, this is the reality.
Social and tribal welfare programmes are intertwined with educational programmes and employment programmes, followed closely by economic and self-employment programmes. No such programmes can be seen in the present rule. Moreover there has been a steady rise in oppression of dalit, minority, women and tribal students in higher education. Rohit Vemula’s forced suicide was a result of such oppression. Student protests all over the country are being ignored by the government.
In the name of large scale projects many scheduled caste and scheduled tribe populations are being evacuated and made homeless. They are being hurled away from their homes, cultures and their projects. The tribal communities are losing their indigenous identities and are being “relocated” in what is uninhabitable environment for them.
BJP’s Presidential Candidate Ram Nath Kovind belongs to the Kol community. The Kol community was predominantly artisan community. However, they now have to resort to being agricultural labourers due to loss of their livelihood. The Government must take measures to protect the livelihood of these communities. Presidential nomination of Ram Nath Kovind is not enough. Real empowerment of Dalit comes from their protection from oppression, discrimination and atrocities. Granting posts to some members of the community cannot be seen as development. The sooner the government understands this, the better for the Dalits.