Is the Dalit movement a piggyback for Indian Politics?

The Sun of self-respect burst into flame
Let it burn up these castes
Smash, break, destroy
These walls of hatred
Crush to smithereens this eons-old school of blindness,
Rise, O People!!

This poignant piece of Dalit poetry encapsulates but a part of what the Dalit movement in India signifies: a cry of heart rending anguish at the trauma of birth as a “lowly untouchable.”

Our inability to eradicate caste completely even after the rise of great men like Mahatma Phule and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar reveals our own blindness to one of the most dehumanising systems the world has ever known. To eradicate this evil there has been movement in country for long time. BR Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule, Babu Jagjeevan Ram, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati have been the torch bearer of this movement till date.

But somewhere along the way, these days, I feel that the movement has lost the steam and track. The leaders of the Dalits are now self-obsessed and they haven’t been able to carry forward the legacy of the movement started by BR Ambedkar. It is just not the general view but these views are also shared by the few within the community as well. I was just reading few posts, the one written by Tej Singh. He says: “Here in India, our people by and large are simple, illiterate and ignorant. But, right from the beginning, they have even supported the so called men of Baba Sahib Ambedkar (B.P. Maurya, Ram Vilas Paswan, Kanshi Ram, Mayawati, etc.) with their empty stomachs and bare feet, but nobody was interested in paying back to them! They have become self-centered and self-seekers! Everybody of them used this gullible mass as a ladder. On reaching the top (on acquiring ’paisa, position and power’), they have kicked the ladder (our gullible masses).”

The current chunk of Dalit leaders are more interested in personal gain and have neglected their community. They are only concerned with getting votes from them. Moreover, they haven’t taken some innovative steps to educate the people. BR Ambedkar always said to educate, agitate and organise. But there have been no dedicated efforts for the same. Moreover, the government in Uttar Pradesh is using his name and statue for something, which is really not concerned with the movement.

Rajdeep Sardesai said in one of his blog posts:

Why is it that there are more statues of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar in India than any other historical person of the last millennium? In her book ‘Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India’, social scientist Gail Omvedt has suggested that the statues have played a major role in political assertion in contemporary India.

She writes:

“The raising of the statues has represented a claim to pride and public space. Their opponents also take them as such and express their hostility to Dalit assertion by putting ‘garlands’ of chappals around such statues – actions which have often led to severe rioting and police firing. With all of this, it is clear that in the ‘politics of flags and statues’, Dalits have placed Ambedkar at the top of the world.”

Ironically Ambedkar himself would have hated being a statue. In 1943 he wrote, “India is still par excellence a land of idolatry. There is idolatry in religion and in politics. Heroes and hero worship is a hard if unfortunate fact in India’s political life. Hero worship is demoralising for the devotee and dangerous for the country.” The hero worship of Ambedkar has perhaps been the greatest failing of the modern Dalit movement.

As Arun Shourie writes in his controversial book, ‘Worshipping False Gods’:

“Statues, dressed in garish blue, holding a copy of the Constitution – have been put up in city after city.”

Not only does the writer seem to find them aesthetically repugnant, but also symbolic of the bankruptcy of the Dalit leadership.

This is where I also have some points. The current leadership of the community is somewhere not concerned to the real upliftment of the people. They have made Ambedkar a vehicle of social mobility. By invoking Ambedkar, his followers are seen to be asserting a more basic desire for a more ‘inclusive’ society, a demand that is fundamental to any social or economic change in contemporary India. It’s a demand, which is universal enough to ensure that no political party can afford to ignore it. So this is the prime reason that why no political party can dare to oppose rising of Ambedkar’s statues or any comment on him.

You can criticize Gandhi and Nehru millions of times but if you say even one word against Ambedkar their is outrage in the country. When a statue of Gandhi is garlanded with chappals in Gujarat, there is no major flare-up, but when an Ambedkar statue is desecrated, there is a near-spontaneous eruption. A Mayawati and Kanshi Ram could get away by abusing Gandhi, but could any national leader or public intellectual even question Ambedkar’s teachings and expect to survive?

I also feel that the few in community just can’t see beyond BR Ambedkar. Whenever Mayawati will find herself in Catch 22 situation she will always say that “I am daughter of Dalit. Upper caste people are conspiring against me, etc. But now this face of Dalit has joined hands with the community’s biggest ‘enemies’, the Brahmins.

I have no objections or problem with the leaders using the reference of BR Ambedkar but I just have one question. Are these leaders really carrying forward the legacy of Dr. BR Ambedkar? Instead of empowering the Dalits, they are always busy telling people, “You are Dalit; I am a Dalit.” This very approach will never solve the problem instead it will cause further divisions. Every leader wants the success in political fields but is hardly doing anything to make them more empowered, create jobs and awareness and help them to be the part of the mainstream.

The youth of nation is looking forward for such an environment where he can give wings to his dreams. They want to break all shackles and be free. The caste though dominant is not the undermining factor for a section of the youth. They just want to be an active participant of a vibrant nation.

I have no doubt that caste system is a blot on the nation but if we are not able to get over the caste then we need to be blamed as well. We have always voted without looking at the wider picture. We still vote for the candidate belonging to particular caste/community. As long as we will fall prey to such tactics of cunning politicians we will be always tied to a caste. And the simple reason that your caste serves as fodder for the so called well wishers in the name of politicians. You have option of either to crib and complain about the unfair system or rise to write a new script in the independent India. Dream India will be achieved only when all the sections of the society come together and take the nation to greater heights.

Can’t we think beyond reservations?

Reservations on baseless criterion has created further divisions in the already divided Indian society. Our political parties are persistently surfacing with manifestos and promises to lure voters into their votebanks.

In yet another move to use the reservations as a convenient toy to bloat up their votebank, the Lok Jan Shakti Party headed by Ramvilas Paswan has come out with few unique ideas.

What LJP has done is that it has promised to have a ‘Dalit Regiment’ in the army to make representation of Dalits in the armed forces and to infuse self-respect among them. Paswan has gone a tad bit further in making an optimum use of the tool of reservations, saying that his party wants to extend the sfacility of reservation for SC/ST, OBC and minorities to judicial services and establishment of National Judicial Services.

The manifesto has promised to take the initiative for socio-economic and educational development of minorities, especially Muslims, in the light of the findings of the Sachar Committee.

Here are some of made by the promises by LJP as a part of its election manifesto:

  • The symbol of integrity, Indian Army will have regiments on the basis of caste.
  • Reservation for SC/ST, OBC and minorities in Judicial services.
  • Reservation for SCs and STs in the private sector.
  • 15 per cent reservation for minorities, with 10 per cent for Muslims only.
  • Removal of 50 per cent ceiling on reservation.

Paswan, who was a minister in the NDA government, left it a year before the 2004 elections.

He then joined the UPA and became the Union Minister of Steel, Chemicals and Fertilisers. Now, he has broken from the UPA as well and formed a ‘secular’ alliance with Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal. These state level leaders have lost hold in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In an attempt to make his playing field much bigger, the party manifesto has also supported the demand of formation of Telangana, Vidarbha, Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand and Vikas Pardesh in western UP.

LJP, RJD and SP have always been opportunistic. They will be readily available after the results of elections are declared. On the basis of their own performance they will play a deal game.

How long will we see such appeasements on caste and religion to lure voters?

It’s an appeal to all well-meaning citizens, not to be the victims of vote bank politics. Let’s ask political parties to come up with an agenda. An agenda to provide employment to youth and powering the underprivileged to be able to manage their own food.

With our leaders coming up with such dividing policies, my earnest request to all the voters would be to please think practically and sensibly before casting your votes.