Mainstream, VOL LIV No 37 New Delhi September 3, 2016
Dalit Uprising and After: Why Hindutva Would Not Be The Same Again
Monday 5 September 2016, by
When I was born I was not a childI was a dream, a dream of revoltthat my mother, oppressed for thousands of years, dreamt.Still it is untouched in my eyesCovered with wrinkles of thousand years, her faceher eyes, two lakes overflowing with tearshave watered my body.....—Sahil Parmar1
Well-known Gujarati poet Sahil Parmar’s poem ‘When I Was Born’ perhaps reverberates these days in Gujarat when we are witnessing a Dalit upsurge—the first of its kind at least in that region’s history. It will be a talk of folklore for times to come how the flogging of Dalits in a village in Saurashtra by Hindutva fanatics suddenly erupted into a mass movement of Dalits which could catch the imagination of the people cutting across different sections of society. An attempt is being made here to understand the dynamics of the movement and its likely impact on the future trajectory of Hindutva.
Love Cows, Hate Human Beings?
There are moments in the trajectory of any authoritarian/fascist/Right-wing project where one of its closely guarded secrets suddenly tumbles out in the open and then it becomes difficult for it to fix it. The Hindutva brigade today finds itself in a similar situation—thanks to the Dalit upsurge in Gujarat which is still unfolding before our eyes.
The historic march to Una town of Saurashtra region—under the banner of Una Atyachar Ladat Samiti—might be over; thousands and thousands of Dalits, who had gathered there from different parts of the State and outside, might have returned home but their resolve not to undertake the despicable caste practice of manual scavenging and disposing of cattle carcasses still reverberates all over the State. And their demand before the State Government that within the next one month—by the 15th of September—it starts distributing five acres of land to each rural Dalit family for rehabilitation, is reaching far and wide and gathering fresh support.
None from the Hindutva fraternity had ever imagined that in their so-called ‘model State’ itself they would be faced with such a challenge which would put their carefully crafted pan-Hindu social coalition to test. It was beyond their comprehension that Dalits—the most downtrodden section in the Varna hierarchy—who had been slowly roped in down the years in the Hindutva politics and a section amongst them had also become a party to the anti-minority violence in 2002, would one fine morning turn their backs on them and readily join hands with the ‘other’ demanding a life of human dignity and putting in jeopardy the very raison d’etre of the project.
And, as can be expected in such a situation, they literally floundered when they were asked to react to this uprising. The multiple voices which emerged from the broader ‘Parivar’ were an indication of their confusion.
No doubt talking in multiple tongues has always been a part of their overall strategy but this time it also demonstrated disorientation in their own ranks. The moot question became whether to uphold the perpetrators—who were following the script—or support the victims. And thus one found the Prime Minister exposing the majority of the cow vigilantes as being anti-social elements and asking the Home Department to prepare a dossier about them and another significant leader of the same ‘family’ denouncing such characterisation as being ‘anti-Hindu’. The confusion was understandable. In fact, it was for the first time in recent times that Hindutva Supremacists are discovering that the more they push one of their key agenda centering around cow politics—which has served them well till date—the more there is the possibility that their dream of Hindu Unity would see further fissures. (Vidya Subrahmaniam describes it as ‘A reverse Ram Mandir Moment’ in her article on present situation in UP. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/its-mayawati-versus-modi-in-up/article9022511.ece? ref=topnavwidget&utm _source=topnavdd&utm_me dium=topnavdropdown widget&utm_campaign= topnavdropdown) Apart from Dalits, who have come under increasing attack at the hands of overzealous ‘cow protectors’ and are slowly turning against the ‘Parivar’ itself, a large section of the peasant population is peeved over the fact that politics around the cow has made their life miserable as they are not able to do away with cattles who have become old or have stopped producing milk. One of the couplets by Saint Tulsidas captures Hindutva’s plight beautifully: ‘Bhayal Gati Saap Chachunder Jaisi..’.
“Rashtravadi toh hamare saath hain, humein Dalit aur pichchde ko saath lana hai”
Everybody knows that there was nothing ‘unusual’—as far as depradations unleashed by Hindutva fanatics under the name of cow protection were concerned—about what happened to Dalits from Mota Samadhiyala village when they were skinning a dead cow.
One can recollect that such attacks were common even in those days when the BJP did not have a majority of its own at the Centre. A classic example has been the killing of five Dalits in Dulina (Jhajjar)—hardly fifty kilometres away from the national Capital—who were similarly skinning dead cows, by a cow vigilante mob (2003) before the Dulina Police Station itself with leading officers of the police and administration remaining mute witnesses. A leading Hindutva leader (dead sometime back) even ‘justified’ the killings by citing reference to ancient Hindu sciptures claiming that in the ‘Puranas cows were more valued than human beings’. The killings definitely led to an outrage; there were few symbolic arrests as well but the commotion died down soon and in fact the perpetrators of this massacre were decorated as ‘cow protectors’.
In fact, most such attacks in recent times had been rather more brutal. To name a few, lynching of two young men after their brutal torture near Latehar, Jharkhand by cow vigilantes; killing an adolescent near Udhampur while he was sleeping in a truck by throwing petrol bomb under the suspicion that the truck was carrying beef; near riot-like situation which emerged in Palwal, Haryana because of the cow vigilantes’ attack on a truck carrying meat or the way two transporters were fed cowdung laced with urine when they were found transporting cattle for sale near Gurgaon. Scan the internet to watch the ‘valour’ of these fanatics and you will find scores of such criminal attacks on innocents. Videos after videos are available showing how these self-proclaimed cow protectors brutalised the people for carrying cows from one place to the other or because of suspicion that they were carrying beef and how there was no action against them from the law and order people.
But thrashing of Dalits from Mota Samadhiyala village by cow vigilantes, uploading the video of their ‘valour’ on the social media has proved to be a turning-point.
Anybody can see that the Dalit uprising which the Una incident has triggered has inadvertently or so unearthed the ‘well guarded secret’ behind this exclucivist project—where it is clear even to a layperson now that for Hindutva, Dalits or the other marginalised are lesser human beings or the ‘other’, whatever might be its claims about the great samrasta it upholds. There is a growing realisation that the formal posturing of Hindutva politics, where it is presented /understood in the form of religious imaginaries where ‘minorities’—may be Muslim or Christian—are portrayed as the ‘other’ is one thing but essentially the whole idea of a Hindu Rashtra is an attempt to further legitimise the Brahminical project of hegemonising and homogenising the Indian society where the secondary position of Dalits has received religious sanction also. An inkling of how they view Dalits and the backwards—when they are talking among themselves—can be had from the recent comments by PM Modi when he spoke at length at a meeting which was attended by 400 top leaders of the BJP, at the end of the 15-day patriotism drive. Newspaper reports tell us that he called on his party to continue playing the nationalism card which is ‘central to the BJP’s ideology’. Perhaps the most telling comment made by him was the following: “Rashtravadi toh hamare saath hain, humein Dalit aur pichchde ko saath lana hai. The nationalists are with us, we need to bring Dalits and backward groups.” (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/nationalists-are-with-us-lets-reach-out-to-dalits-backwards-pm-modi-to-party-2993281/)
Was it just a slip of tongue or an admission of the truth that for the Hindutva non-backwards, non-Dalits, that is, the upper castes, have sole claim over the nation and Dalits as well as backwards outside its purview need to be brought closer. (http://scroll.in/article/814769/the-daily-fix-what-did-modi-mean-when-he-said-there-is-a-chasm-between-dalits-and-nationalists)
Perhaps a marker of their continuing indifference or disdain towards the plight of the Dalits (forget those Bollywood-type dialogues ‘Shoot Me but Do Not Shoot My Dalit Brothers’) could also be gauged from the fact that when the Dalit upsurge was at its peak in the State, the provocative statement by one of their own MLAs from Telangana who ‘justified’ the beatings and uploaded a video on facebook did not prompt them to take any action. His words were: “Jo Dalit gaye ke maas ko le ja raha tha, jo uski pitai hui hai, woh bohut hi achhi hui hai [Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen].”(http://scroll.in/latest/812903/anyone-who-kills-cows-deserves-to-be-beaten-says-bjp-mla-raja-singh)
Unpacking the Gujarat Model!
Recently Jignesh Mewani, the convener of the ‘Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti’ which is spearheading this upsurge, was in the Capital to communicate the message of the movement to a broader audience and also garner support for the Rail Roko programme organised by the front from September 15. He underlined the resolve of the Dalits that they are firm in their decision not to clean up other people’s dirt, nor to lift carcasses of dead cattles. He told the audience how twenty thousand Dalits had gathered in their rally in Ahmedabad and have taken an oath not to undertake any such profession which they have been condemned to because of the Varna hierarchy and are further stigmatised because of that. In a tongue-in-cheek comment he added:
“We (Dalits) are not going to clean up people’s dirt any more. Modiji, now you are welcome to experience the spirituality that is supposed to be there in scavenging.”
Jignesh—who is an advocate and an activist—was referring to Karmayog, a collection of Modi’s speeches to trainee IAS officers, brought out by a Gujarat PSU, in which he had said that scavenging was an “experience in spirituality” for the Valmikis (a sub-caste of Dalits). (See: https://kafila.org/2014/02/12/modi-and-the-art-of-disappearing-of-untouchability/)
Explaining the genesis of the movement and why the flogging incident of Dalits by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes affiliated to a Hindutva organisation triggered the uprising, he shared details of the lives of deprivation and discrimination and atrocities faced by Dalits under the much-talked-about Gujarat Model. According to him,
—there are thousands of cases of atrocities against Dalits every year;
—atrocities continued to rise during Mr Modi’s chief ministership which lasted for 13 years;
—there are more than 55,000 Dalits who are still engaged in the work of scavenging;
—one lakh sanitation workers are still not getting minimum wages;
—Dalits in 119 villages in Gujarat are living under police protection;
—the rate of conviction in cases of Dalit atrocities is merely three per cent.
According to him, a glaring example of denial of justice to Dalits has been the killing of three Dalits by the police with ‘AK 47 rifles as if they were terrorists’ in Thangarh in Gujarat in the year 2012 and despite the fact that more than a lakh Dalits demonstrated against these killings, there was no action by the government against the accused police personnel. (As we go to press one hears that the Gujarat Government has announced an SIT to look into the killings and has also raised compensation for the affected families.)
When someone in the audience posed a question about availability of land in the State, Jignesh shared figures about availability of land under various schemes and how dominant castes/classes have been in actual possession of such land meant for the exploited and the marginalised. According to him, thousands of acres of land with the state that it got during the Bhoodan aandolan have also not been distributed. He further shared lesser known provisions about the SC-ST sub-plan which talks about ‘purchase of land for its distribution to the landless’ in case of its unavailability. His simple poser which struck a deep chord among the audience was that ‘if under the name of development the state can allocate thousands of acres of land at throwaway prices to the Ambanis, Adanis and the Tatas, why should Dalits be denied their rightful due?’ He also explained how the recent changes undertaken by the State Government under the Land Acquisition Act have many ‘draconian’ provisions inherent in it where the ‘consent’ clause has been deleted—means if the government wishes to hand over land to the corporates for ‘development’ work, then it can simply take over the peasant’s land supposedly for ‘public good’, offer some symbolic compensation and need not seek her/his consent.
To the poser as to what would happen if Dalits leave their ‘traditional profession’ which grants them some sort of ‘economic security’, he quoted Ambedkar who had asked his followers during the historic Mahad Satyagrah (1927) that they should get ready to ‘die of hunger’ to live a life of dignity but should never undertake such stigmatised professions.
Gujarat Model: Dalit, tribal, OBC landless denied surplus land, Patels “received” 12 lakh acres
Fresh facts have come to light suggesting that in Gujarat there has been extremely questionable progress in the allocation of surplus land to the landless, acquired from big landlords under the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, 1960. Based on RTI applications, the District Registrar of Land Records, Junagadh, has admitted that out of 11 of 16 villages for which information was sought, “no survey of surplus land has taken place” for the last 24 years; hence there was no allocation.
In another instance, in Navsari district, the Gujarat Government declared that between 2006 and 2008, while Modi ruled the State, it had “allocated” land to 7542 landless beneficiaries; but a year later, it admitted the land titles were yet to be given to 3616 beneficiaries. “However, now, on the basis of an RTI reply, we know that things have not changed even in 2015.”
In an article published in Dalit Adhikar, a Gujarati periodical, Jignesh Mewani says: “Information with us suggests that the Gujarat Government, in all, acquired 163,808 acres land under the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, 1960, and we feel most of it has been allocated to the landless only on paper. The landless, mainly Dalits, tribals and belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), haven’t yet got actual possession of land.”
Mewani says: “Chief beneficiaries of the land-to-the-tiller policy have been the upper-caste Patels. About 55,000 Patels were allocated 12 lakh acres of land declared mainly in Saurashtra and Kutch regions of Gujarat. But as for Dalit landless agriculturists, they have received not even 12 inches of land. Only a very small section, which is very close to the powers-that-be, has gained.”
According to Mewani, “Let us give a sample of the Gujarat Government’s good governance: We made in all 65 RTI applications between 2011 and 2015 to find out facts about allocation of just 6500 acres of land in different villages. Yet, officials are refusing to give copies of land titles which may show that land has been actually handed to the beneficiaries.”
Associated with the Jan Sangharsh Manch, a Gujarat-based human rights organisation, Mewani says: “Of the 163,808 acres of surplus land, 70,000 acres of land is under dispute with the revenue tribunal, Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court. While this land may not be allocated, there is a need to answer as to why the rest of the land, too, remains unallocated.”
In fact, says Mewani, there are 15,519 acres of surplus land, on which there is “no dispute” at all, yet the Gujarat Government is “refusing to act”.....
Jignesh’s claims about continuous denial of justice to Dalits or the great hiatus which exists between claims by the government and the actual situation on the ground is a fact which even earlier reports by the NHRC have admitted. A cursory glance at its 2009 report had declared that Gujarat accounted for 3813 complaints of human rights violation of the total of 94,559 cases from across the country, which was less than only Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. (The Indian Express, March 20, 2009)
A 23-page confidential report, submitted by the State Social Justice Department to the State Chief Secretary and legal departments, provides glaring examples of ‘mishandling’ of cases registered under Prevention of Atrocities Act against SC/STs. (The Indian Express, September 15, 2006). The rate of conviction of cases under the Prevention of Atrocity Act against SC/STs in Gujarat is a mere 2.5 per cent while the rate of acquittal is 97.5 per cent.
The report provides details of how cases are not investigated properly by the police and the hostile role played by public prosecutors during the time of trials.
—The Act clearly stipulates that offences which are registered under this Act cannot be investigated by an officer below the rank of Deputy SP but more than 4000 such cases have been investigated by Police Inspectors or Police Sub-Inspectors.
—Acquittal of the perpetrator because the victim not identified as a member of the SC or ST community. Reason, not attaching caste certificate of the victim with the case papers.
—Public prosecutors’ false claims before the courts that the Act has been modified by the State Government altough it is known that it is a Central Act.
—Granting of anticipatory bails although there is no such provision in the Act. Interestingly the Parliamentary Committee on SC and ST affairs had also expressed concern over such anticipatory bails granted ‘in atrocity cases in the State of Gujarat’.
In fact a detailed and systematic study of 400 judgements done by Vajibhai Patel, the Secretary of the Council for Social Justice (March 11, Year 2005, No. 106, http://www.sabrang.com) had compelled the government to work on this 23-page report. It tells us that utterly negligent police investigation at both the higher and lower levels, coupled with a distinctly hostile role played by the public prosecutors, is the main reason for the collapse of cases filed under the Atrocities Act. It is worth noting that he has meticulously documented these judgements delivered under this Act since April 1, 1995 in the Special Atrocity Courts set up in 16 districts of the State. The study also blasts the common perception that the inefficacy of this law is due to false complaints being lodged or compromises between the parties; in actuality it is a complicit State that has rendered the Act toothless.
‘Keep Cow’s Tail With You, And Give Us Our Land’
On March 20, 1927, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar led the Mahad satyagraha—for drinking water from the Chavdar tank at Mahad. This was the “foundational struggle” of the Dalit movement, a movement for water—and for caste annihilation.
In his statement at the time, Dr Ambedkar put the movement in the broadest possible context. Why do we fight?—he asked. It is not simply for drinking water; drinking the water will not give us very much. It is not even a matter of only of our human rights, though we fight to establish the right to drink water. But our goal is no less than that of the French Revolution...
And so Dalits went to drink the water at Mahad. They were met with ferocious repression: attack by the caste Hindus followed. The Dalits retreated, came back several months later on December 25 for a renewed struggle, and since the Collector had given an injunction against any further attempt, Ambedkar decided to honour this and instead burned the Manusmriti. A fitting climax to the first battle of dalit liberation!
The Dalit uprising in Gujarat and the manner in which it has rattled the State Government and severely impacted the BJP’s well-laid-out plans to consolidate its support-base among the Dalits has been a whiff of fresh air for every peace and justice-loving person in this part of Asia.
What has caught the imagination of the people is the key slogan of the movement which says: ‘Keep Cow’s Tail With You, And Give Us Our Land’. It is a single slogan which encapsulates the question of caste discrimination as well as communalism and puts forward a positive demand to fight material deprivation—which has been an integral part of the sanctified hierarchy of caste.
The emphasis of the movement that Dalits leave the ‘stigmatised professions’—which have condemned them to the lowest position on the Varna/Caste hierarchy—and wholehearted participation of thousands and thousands of Dalits in it, the militancy it has added to the Dalit movement has broken a new ground in the Dalit movement.
No doubt, there was a lot of spontaniety in the movement but the way it moved ahead and added a new edge to Dalit assertion could not have been imagined without the young leadership which took charge. Their inclusive approach also helped them rope in on a common agenda activists of other organisations or attract many such people who are opposed to or uncomfortable with the Hindutva politics. Inclusiveness of the movement was also evident in the fact that Muslims—who have been put in a very miserable condition post-2002 carnage—also joined the Azaadi Kooch to Una. Many welcomed it on the way in large numbers and also travelled to Una in their hundreds for the August 15 Independence Day rally held there.
A less discussed aspect of this upsurge is the fact that Dalits are merely seven per cent of the State’s population and have not had a long history of militant movement but despite these limitations the impact of the movement has been phenomenal. Not only did it compel the BJP to change its Chief Minister for mishandling the movement, but it also disturbed its Dalit outreach plans elsewhere.
Remember, barring the historic struggle led by Dadasaheb Gaikwad—a close comrade of Dr Ambedkar—in the late 1950s in Maharashtra where the issue of land was highlighted, rare have been occasions in post-independence times when the issue of material deprivation of Dalits was creatly integrated with socio-cultural discrimination and political marginaliation. Una has changed the picture. It has also raised many unheard of slogans in the Dalit movement. ‘Dalits of the World Unite’, ‘Workers of the World Unite’ or ‘Jai Bhim’, ‘Lal Salaam’ and ‘Jai Savitribai’. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= 9jqgA75o5PE)
Analysts have rightly pointed out it that the Dalit movement in recent times has largely remained limited/focussed on what can be called the issue of ‘identity/asmita’ but Una marks a new beginning where the issue of ‘existence/astitva’ has also come to the fore. Possibly gone are the days when ‘victimhood’ was highlighted or the rhetoric of ‘Brahminism down-down’ was repeated ad nauseum and a careful silence was maintained about economic issues. As a revolutionary activist shared in his e-mail, ‘[a]n important thing to note is that the Una struggle can also be seen as part of a continuum where a social movement connects itself with anti-systemic struggles.’
Definitely the Una struggle, which has sent shivers down the spine of the Hindutva Supremacists, cannot be seen in isolation. It is rather a continuation of growing Dalit assertion against Hindutva depradations, especially after the ascendance of the Modi-led regime at the Centre. The realisation has slowly sunk in that not only does it want to attack affirmative action programmes but its economic policies—coupled with its regressive sociocultural agenda—are bringing ruin to the Dalits and other marginalised sections of society. It is becoming more and more clear to them that the people in power want a docile/pliable Dalit polity which can dance to their tune. They want Ambedkar but not the real one, only his sanitised version. How much they are scared about the real Ambedkar and his ideas can be seen from a decision of the Anandi Patel-led government: it literally dumped four lakh copies of Ambedkar’s biography, which it had printed for massive distribution, as the author of the book had also included 22 vows which Ambedkar recited with his followers at the time of conversion to Buddhism.
And this realisation has given rise to a tremendous reaction. Ranging from the successful campaign against derecognition of Ambekdar Periyar Study Circle active in Chennai, IIT by the management (https://kafila.org/2015/06/05/no-to-ambedkar-periyar-in-modern-day-agraharam/), or the countrywide movement—where students and youth were in the forefront—after the ‘institutional murder of Rohith Vemula’ (https://kafila.org/2016/01/22/long-live-the-legacy-of-comrade-vemula-rohith-chakravarthy-statement-by-new-socialist-initiative-nsi/), or the massive mass mobilisation against demolition of the Ambedkar Bhavan in Mumbai by the BJP-led government or the ‘Zameen Prapti Movement’ in Punjab led by the revolutionary Left where Dalits have come together to form collectives etc., one can easily see that such assertion is increasing in its intensity and militancy.
In Punjab, the share of the Dalits in the 1,58,000 acres of Panchayat land is 52,667 acres. There are also legal entitlements for them in the Nazool lands. However, the actual possession of these lands has remained with the landlords and rich peasants. As per the agricultural census 2010-11, the SCs in Punjab, who are a third of its population, owned just 6.02 per cent of the land holdings and 3.2 per cent of the land area of the State. Of these operational holdings also a large proportion (nearly 85 per cent) are said to be unviable due to the small size of less than five hectares.
Since 2014, the Dalit peasantry, organised under the banner of ZPSC (Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Samiti) and holding firmly aloft its red flag in the blazing sun, has begun to assert their claim over what is rightfully theirs. These lands used to be auctioned to dummy candidates of landlords; a gaushala in Sangrur district has been given land for 30 years at the rate of Rs 7000 an acre by the Akali-BJP Government of the State whereas the price for Dalits is over Rs 20,000 an acre. This struggle, that is spreading in districts of South Punjab, has been met with police and landlord repression, false FIRs against ‘unknowns’, but the struggle rages on like a spreading blaze.
If the unexpected shift of a section of the Dalit masses—for various reasons—towards the BJP was an important factor in the latter’s ascent to power in the year 2014, this growing assertion of Dalits is a proof that they cannot be hoodwinked anymore. With the real agenda of these Hindutva Supremacists out in the open—which is witnessed not only in its attacks on the right to life and right to livelihood of every exploited and marginalised section but also in its hurry to co-opt Ambedkar and bulldoze every element of Dalit assertion—the battlelines have been finally drawn.
And the unfolding Dalit uprising has added new lustre to it.
- Translated from the original Gujarati by G.K. Vankar. (http://roundtableindia.co.in/lit-blogs/?tag=sahil-parmar)
Subhash Gatade is a writer and Left activist who is associated with the New Socialist Initiative.