“Bury me standing, I have been on my knees all my life”
Yogesh Hirabhai Solanki, a Dalit youth who committed suicide as a protest at Dhoraji in Rajkot during the statewide outcry against the public thrashing of Dalit youths in Una, might not have heard this Romani proverb, which became popular through the title of Isabel Fonseca’s 1995 non-fiction book- Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey. But it’s an apt analogy. Dalits today and their ancestors have been compelled to be on their knees for centuries, by the largely casteist society of India.
However the scenario has been changing for last eight months. Dalits are no more on their knees.
The ever-changing caste dynamics of the country has put the BJP-led government at the Centre in a spot. The Bharatiya Janata Party has inherently and historically been a political party of the upper caste, higher income group members, and has had a predominantly similar support base.
It has been attempting to gain traction in the Dalit vote base ever since it came to power at the Centre under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi who was projected as a Lower Caste “Chai Wala” to garner the sympathy of the Dalit voters. However, it has not been a cakewalk for the BJP as they have faced major backlash in the recent past from Dalits for not keeping their word of working for the upliftment of the Lower Caste and keeping mum on atrocities being met out to the Dalits by upper caste Hindus in some parts of the country.
Dalits are not content with the environment that has been created after BJP came to power and it is visible in some of the recent development that have been widely reported in national media. A crowd of over one lakh gathered in an election rally organised by BSP chief Mayawati in Agra on 21st of August. Mayawati is getting her grip back among the Dalits and other backwards after a long time. Bharatiya Janata Party has been, on the other hand, facing serious backlash from the Dalit community of the country for last eight months.
“Una Dalit flogging and other Dalit atrocities have resulted in an anger among the Dalits against the BJP. But they have a resort only with the BJP in the present situation. Dalits lost their hope and trust on the Congress, communists and other socialist parties,” said Dr Sanjay Paswan, National President of the Scheduled caste wing ( SC Morcha) of Bharatiya Janata Party.
“Mayawati will definitely get the behoof of this situation. But she will not get more Dalit support at the cost of BJP. Her quantum leap is going to affect the other parties like Samajwadi Party and Congress,” he added.
BJP managed to win 25 per cent of the total Dalit votes (an increase of 15 points) in the last Lok Sabha elections. One of the many reasons apart from polarising votes which helped BJP to win the Dalit support in an unprecedented manner was the political equations they created in different states like Bihar, Maharashtra etc. Another reason was the so-called “Narendra Modi wave” during the elections.
BJP and RSS have been focusing on the Dalit politics keeping imminent assembly elections in mind that are to take place in important states, with their tactics like appropriating Ambedkar, bringing Dalits to leadership etc. They are hoping to contrive Dalit community support through these activities.
“More than forty percent of the Dalit youth in Rajasthan became part of the RSS during these days,” says Bhanwar Meghwanshi, a popular Dalit activist and freelance journalist from Rajasthan.
According to Meghwanshi, nowadays Dalits have started realising that BJP and RSS are playing gimmicks with them. ” Most of the Dalits keep away from RSS after the incident of Rohit Vemula suicide and the Delta Meghwal case,” he said.
On March 29 of this year, Delta Meghwal, a 17-year-old Dalit girl from a village in Barmer district of Rajasthan was found dead in the water tank of the Jain Adarsh Teacher Training Institute for girls in Nokha, Bikaner where she was studying. The FIR filed by Meghwal’s parents in the case states that Meghwal had called her father saying she was raped on 28 March.
The points of conflict between Dalits and combination of the Sangh Parivar and BJP are listed below:
Even if BJP has not taken any anti-reservation stance, most of the affiliated Sangh Parivar organisations have historically been against reservations. BJP and Sangh Parivar have traditionally had followers from the upper castes.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat opined last year that he wants a ‘revision’ in the reservation policy of our country. During this time social media was flooded with anti-reservation jokes and memes and other discussions. It affected BJP in the Bihar assembly elections badly as the statement came out just before the elections.
“RSS have always been anti-Dalit, anti-reservation and anti-Ambedkar. Their holy book is Manusmriti. They have been attempting to do away with reservation,” says Jignesh Mevani, Dalit leader from Gujarat.
BJP-led Rajasthan government has recently given reservation to the people from the Scheduled area who belong to the general category.
Casteist attacks on Dalits are very common in the Indian society. But interestingly in most such attacks, the culprits had some connection with with any of the affiliate Sangh Parivar organisations. Last year, CobraPost exposed the BJP leaders Murali Manohar Joshi and C P Thakur as instigators of Ranvir Sena- a private army of the upper caste landlords in Bihar – who were involved in the massacre of 58 Dalits in Lakshmanpur Bathe village in Jehanabad in 1997.
On 15th May of last year, three members of a Dalit family from Dangawas of Rajasthan’s Nagaur district were killed as they were mowed down by tractors of the people from the Jat community. It was one of those incidents that made the Dalits feel insecure under the BJP rule.
“Jats are with the BJP in Rajasthan. All the accused in this incident were relatives of Ajay Singh Kilaki, minister of the Cooperative department of Rajasthan. They were fully supported by the BJP government,” says Bhanwar Meghwanshi.
Delta Meghwal murder was another such incident which invited the anger of the Dalit communities in Rajasthan.
“Jats became more powerful after the Muzaffarnagar riots in UP. Those riots made them more attached to Sangh Parivar and BJP. After BJP came to power at the Centre, they oppress the Dalits and OBCs of this region,” says a man from Chohtan of Bramer district in Rajasthan.
Most of the fringe groups supported by Sangh Parivar got a confidence boost after Narendra Modi became the PM, and since violence against Dalits and minorities have begun unabated nationwide.
Una Dalit flogging incident fomented an outburst of the Dalit anger towards the upper castes and the incumbent governments of both the state and the Centre. Narendra Modi identified the threat in the Dalit anger against the Hindutva organisations and came out with a rhetoric remark: “You can shoot me rather than target the Dalits”.
“If Modi Saheb has said something about us, then he should ensure that action is taken regarding this, for the Dalit community; our agitation will continue till then,” says Balubhai Sarvaiyya-father of Una Dalit flogging case victim Vasarambhai.
The ultra-Right wing groups find themselves in a very uncomfortable position after the formation of new political equations which strengthened the Dalit-Muslim unity. Dalit Asmita Yatra, which was going to Una from Ahmedabad, witnessed a sizeable participation from the Muslim community. When the rally reached a village named Botad, near Amreli, more than five thousand people gathered in the meeting. Una gathering on 15th August also consisted of substantial Muslim participation. “Dalit-Muslim bhai bhai” was the main slogan in the rally.
“Dalit population in Gujarat is only 6 to 7 percentage. But the Muslim population is about 13 percentage. So if the Dalit, Muslims and the Tribals unite, it will make a formidable number in electoral politics,” opines Jignesh Mevani.
The upper caste communities like Darbars in the region were disturbed by a surge in slogans of Dalit-Muslim alliance. ” ‘Dalit Muslim bhai bhai’ is their slogan. Then where should we upper caste Hindus stay?” asked a member of the Darbar community from Samter village near Una. The people from this community were blocking the roads and pelting stones at the vehicles which were taking people to the rally. The Gujarat police were seen standing idle and doing nothing to suppress the attacks from the upper caste people against those participating in the rally until some police constables were injured in the stone pelting.
“We have order from the higher officials, not to touch the Darbars,” revealed a police constable with 18 years experience to NaradaNews on the condition of anonymity.
History has shown that upper caste groups get distressed seeing the empowerment of Dalits. Unity of Hindus is a superficial utopian concept of the Sangh Parivar which was first presented by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who tried to appropriate Dalits, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains as Hindus through his ‘holy land-motherland’ theory of nationalism. But Ambedkar rejects this appropriation in his book named “Annihilation of Caste”.
“This anti-social spirit, this spirit of protecting its own interests, is as much a marked feature of the different castes in their isolation from one another as it is of nations in their isolation. The Brahmin’s primary concern is to protect “his interest” against those of the non-Brahmins; and the non-Brahmins’ primary concern is to protect their interests against those of the Brahmins. The Hindus, therefore, are not merely an assortment of castes, but are so many warring groups, each living for itself and for its selfish ideal,” reads the book.
“Dalits and Muslims share many common worries in casteist India. Dalits live in the colonies and suffer oppression from the upper castes. Muslims live in ghettos and suffer the same kind of treatment from the upper caste groups. Both of them consumes meat and get lynched for the same,” says Mevani.
But Sanjay Paswan is strongly against the Dalit-Muslim alliance. “The Muslim alliance will not help the Dalits much. Muslims are the victors while Dalits are the victims. Muslims had been ruling this country for more than 600 years prior to the British. They have a feeling that the British have taken the power from them and gave it back to the Hindus. So they will play any tactics like the Dalit alliance to get it back,” opined Paswan.
Mayawati is also shifting her focus from Brahmins to Muslims. “Mayawati and BSP have found the opportunity of an alliance with the Muslims, which works better than an alliance with the Brahmins. This is going to be a big challenge for both the BJP and SP in the UP elections,” says Sunil Sardar a popular Dalit activist.
The 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly election can be seen as BJP’s real test of whether the right wing political party ruling the country has been able to make any inroads as far as winning over the Dalit community is concerned. It seems like the BJP is focusing on the non-Jatav Dalit votes and non-Yadav backward caste votes for UP elections. For this purpose they have entered an alliance with the OBC backed Apna Dal and Suheldeo Bharatiya Samaj Party in UP. Party president Amit Shah has visited OBC dominated areas and promised reservation in posts in the various party committees from booth level to the State level for the backward and women.
Only time will tell whether BJP will be able to reverse their fortunes vis a vis Dalits but as for the moment it seems BJP is losing out on their support due to their anti-Dalit postures.