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Mainstream, VOL LV No 51 New Delhi December 9, 2017

Sporting Moustache represents the New Format of Dalit Politics

Sunday 10 December 2017

by Arun Srivastava

In three separate violent incident at least three Dalit youths were recently thrashed in the Gujarat villages by the Rajputs for “sporting moustache”. Humiliating and thrashing Dalit youths in Gujarat for sporting moustache by upper-caste people is a new element in the long drawnout tactics to assert might through coercive and violent means. An insight into the atrocities of Dalits in the State points to the fact that a serious endeavour is on to make Gujarat a Hindutva laboratory. It is in this backdrop that Dalits with twirled moustaches have become a challenge to their supremacy. The protest by the Dalits also make it explicit that a social revolution of sorts has been fast emerging. In the seventies most of the struggles were economic in nature. The social struggles were mainly confined to the issue of izzat. In the prevalent scenario, instead of raising economic issues, the upper castes are attacking the Dalits on these issues.

For the Rajput lords, the social assertion of the Dalits and having a twirling moustache are challenges to their feudal pride. This was also a potent threat to their policy of hegemony and dominance. After assaulting the Dalit youth, Krunal Maheria, a law student, the Rajput goons told Maheria, who was visiting a friend in the village, that he “cannot become a Rajput by just sporting a moustache”.

In yet another incident that took place on September 25, Rajput mercenaries thrashed 24-year-old Piyush Parmar while he was returning home after watching garba at a local temple. The audacity of the Rajputs could be assessed from the fact that on October 3 yet another 17-year Dalit youth was stabbed in the same village where two Dalits had earlier been attacked by the Rajputs. He was also punished by the mercenaries for committing the crime of sporting a moustache.

To protest the attacks over a moustache, Dalits near Sanand have adopted a twirled moustache logo as their WhatsApp display picture. It is a twirled black moustache with a crown and a line that reads Mr Dalit. It is their way of telling people that Dalits will sport a moustache and twirl it like a king without caring for the consequences.

The upper castes have been oppressing and perpetrating torture on the Dalits and Harijans for a pretty long time. It is not that the Dalits and Harijans did not resent or protest. A number of glorious struggles were fought by them. The historic role of the Communist Parties, especially the Naxalites, in mobilising them against the tyrannies of the landlords has been a known fact. This protest acquired a new dynamics in the late sixties after the emergence of the Naxalbari movement. In those days the struggles began over the issues of minimum wages and protection of prestige (izzat) of the Dalit and Harijan women. These were the issues which witnessed the resurrection of the Naxalite struggle in Bhojpur of Bihar, just after it was announced by the bourgeois media that the movement had fizzled out. The struggle has its glorious past. Even the BSF and other para- military forces at one stage were reluctant to confront the rebellion of Dalits and Harijans.

However with the BJP coming to power, the upper-caste goons and mercenaries have become aggressive throughout the country. This time the issues have changed. The old issues of minimum wages and izzat have been replaced by the Hindutva agenda. The Dalits are being killed and tortured for skinning cows. The mercenaries have been attacking them in the garb of the cow vigilantes. With the BJP and Modi Government out to protect their class and caste interest, they are determined to maim the Dalits. For liberal democrats, this may appear to be a case of vigilante attack. But beneath this, there lies a dangerous ideological implication. Basically, this is the reason that the Modi Government or for that matter the BJP govern-ments have not been opposing the actions of the vigilantes.

The public pretension of the RSS and Modi to the upper-caste leaders and also to the Dalits to have cordial relations and treat each other at par has been merely a hoax. Beneath the façade of sab ka saath, Modi has been striving to perpetuate the rule of the upper-caste feudal elements. Almost all the States have been witnessing the emergence of a fresh round of attack on the Dalits. The nature of aggressiveness of the upper castes could be understood from their violent actions in UP, Gujarat, Haryana and even Rajasthan. A serious attempt is underway to uproot the Harijans from their homeland.

Recently a group of Dalits from Gujarat, who were on their way to Lucknow with a plan to gift a 125-kg soap to Adityanath as a mark of protest, were stopped and sent back from the Jhansi railway station. Those expressing solidarity with them in Lucknow, including a retired senior IPS officer, S. R. Darapuri, were also taken into custody. This underlines the double standards of the BJP and its government towards Dalits.

Perpetrating torture on Dalits has acquired a new dimension in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. While the oppression and persecution of Dalits have been a regular phenomenon in Bihar, the Dalits of Gujarat have been facing the worst nature of feudal tyranny. It is really a matter of shame that neither the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, nor his party leaders have been voicing their concern. This has made the government and administration to behave in an ostrich-like manner. The government has been least bothered of the systematic murderous attack on the Dalits. Modi has been resorting to tokenism in castigating and condemning the actions of the mercenaries.

Feudal tyranny and totalitarianism have acquired such a ruthless dynamics that barely some days ago more than 300 Dalits embraced Buddhism in Ahmedabad and Vadodara on the occasion of the Ashoka Vijaya Dashami, the day emperor Ashok had pledged non-violence and converted to Buddhism in Vadodara, where Babasaheb had launched his fight against untouchability. Incidentally, on this day Ambedkar had also embraced Buddhism with lakhs of people in Nagpur in 1956.

The intensity of increase in feudal tyranny could be understood from the simple fact that a 21-year-old Dalit youth was killed by goons belonging to the upper-caste Patel community, for attending a garba event, in a temple in a village in Anand on September 30. Before the killing, the marauders had warned the Dalits that they “do not have any right to watch garba”.

In a significant development, Gujarat and Maharashtra have been witnessing an increasing radicalisation of Dalit politics. The torture and oppression perpetrated by the feudal lords has forced them to look for a radical youth leader. During the last decade, a significant number of young Dalit leaders like Jignesh Mewani have emerged. This shows a volatile setting of caste resurgence and identity politics. The Dalits have become conscious of their identity.

Though Modi has been reiterating his concern for the welfare of the Dalits, the fact is that the attacks on them have increased many fold during his rule. The BJP and the Modi Government have been trying to conceal the fact behind the façade of expressing their anxiety for them. Some months back the RSS constituted a group of Buddhist monks with the avowed aim to reach out to the Dalits in the villages of Chhatish-garh for assuaging their emotions and feelings. But even after spending six months in Dalit villages the monks failed to have significant impact.

No doubt in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections the Dalit caste arithmetic paid the dividend and the party could manage a clean sweep. But it would be wrong to say that it managed to build an impregnable support-base amongst them. Like any other sector of voters they too revolted against the ruling dispensation and their leader Mayawati. An insight into Amit Shah dining at the residences of Dalits would reveal that this has not helped the BJP win the hearts and minds of the Dalits. Unlike the upper-caste people the Dalits do not exhibit their arrogance or hatred for the feudal element. Their tolerance index is quite high.

Though the BJP and UP Government have been denying, the fact remains that during the rule of Yogi Adityanath as the UP CM the attacks on Dalits have increased considerably in the State. The Yogi Government has been found to be wanting in taking action against these upper-caste marauders. The State Police is reluctant to lay its hands on the killers.

Intellectuals and academics owing allegiance to the RSS strongly deny that caste assertion has been the strategy of the BJP. Like another party, the fact remains that at national as well as regional levels, the BJP has been pursuing hard-core caste politics and working out a social engineering agenda. Else, what was the reason that Amit Shah moves around the Dalit ghettos and dines at their houses? What an irony, BJP President Amit Shah and other leaders of the party are now eating food with Dalit families to woo them! These are the same people who used to criticise Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi when he did the same thing.

Not only this, even in the matter of functioning of the party, the upper-caste lords are allowed a greater role. The party is assiduously striving to strengthen its upper- caste base but at the same time working to keep the Dalits happy. It is not ready to patronise the Dalits at the cost of alienating the upper-caste and bania supporters. The bond between the banias and Sangh continues to be the same as it was three years back. This was clearly manifest in the Sassahara speech of Mohan Bhagwat who expressed concern at their plight due to note- bandi and also asked Modi to help them.

While Modi has been exhorting his party leaders to reach out to the Dalits obviously with an electoral perspective, a report from the USA painted a very grim picture of Modi rule and observed that attacks against Muslims and Dalits grew sharply in India under Modi. The report, titled ‘Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India’ and sponsored by the US Commission on Inter-national Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said the religious minority communities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution in India where hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversion have escalated dramatically since 2014.

The report pointed out that religious tolerance has deteriorated and violations of religions freedom have escalated dramatically since 2014. While hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversion have escalated, India faces serious challenges to its pluralistic traditions. The report suggested that India must adopt the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The report underlined: “Since the BJP assumed power, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by BJP politicians and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by affiliated Hindu nationa-list groups such as the RSS, Sangh Parivar, and Vishva Hindu Parishad.”

Not in so many words, but the report also dropped hints for imposing some sort of sanction. It suggested to the US Government to put religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid and diplomatic interactions with India. “India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a Constitution that provides legal equality for its citizens irres-pective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination.” The USCIRF Chairman Thomas J. Reese observed: “The reality is far different. India’s pluralistic tradition faces serious challenges in a number of its States. To reverse this negative trajectory, the Indian and State governments must align their laws with both the country’s constitutional commitments and international human rights standards.”

The USCIRF further held that the Indian Government—at both the national and State levels—often ignores its constitutional commit-ments to protect the rights of religious mino-rities. The statistics supplied by the Home Ministry said that in 2015, India experienced a 17 per cent increase in communal violence, when compared to the previous year. In 2015, there were 751 reported incidents of communal violence, up from 644 in 2014. It also urged the US Government to counsel the Indian Govern-ment to push its States that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform to international norms. The Indian Government must lift its sanctions against non-governmental organisations working for the welfare of the minorities in India, it underscored.

The report also urged the foreign funders not to provide any fund to the Hindu fanatic groups. The report underlined: “Identify Hindutva groups that raise funds from US citizens and support hate campaigns in India. Such groups should be banned from operating in the United States if they are found to spread hatred against religious minorities in India.”

The Dalits have always been at the receiving end, had to face the torture and oppression of the feudal lords in the past, yet they nurse the strong view that the governments of yesteryears had unleashed the communal forces against them. In those years the fight was on the issues of wages and izzat. The feudal lords would let loose their private militia who enjoyed the patronage of the government agencies and its police. If cases were filed against these elements, the police would arrest them. Later of course, they were released on bail.

But in the present scenario the government has been directly involved in encouraging such goons and criminals. The Centrist and liberal character of the previous governments was a major deterrent for those governments to work nakedly in favour of the landed gentry and upper castes. But now the fascist political formations have been openly patronising and supporting them. Today, the Dalits no longer have the same confidence in the government. The feudal lords have shifted their support and loyalty to the BJP. The party is no longer the party of banias only; instead it represents the aspirations of the upper-caste feudal lords, corporate sector and the urban middle class primarily constituting the upper-caste populace.

An insight into the violence perpetrated on the Dalits and Harijans would reveal that in yesteryears it was mainly associated with the agrarian relations and crisis in the States of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, MP and Rajasthan. The worst affected was Bihar. The State witnessed gruesome killings of the Dalits and Harijans during the last fifty years. As per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, the total number of crimes against SCs in the country in 2010 was 32,643, of which UP accounted for 7522 (23 per cent). The number of crimes increased to 47,064 in 2014, in which UP’s share was 8075.

But the recent addition to the long list of atrocities and assaults has been the socio-religious oppression. This does not provide the right ambience for the Dalits to unite and launch a sustained struggle against the feudal lords. In the present situation violence against the Dalits needs serious consideration. It is a wrong notion that caste has been the primary factor for perpetration of violence against them. An analysis of the incidents would reveal that behind the façade of caste it is the class that has been the motivating factor.

Until about four or five decades ago, the Dalits would meekly surrender to the wishes of the so-called upper castes in social, economic and political matters. But during the last decade a significant change in the style and approach of the Dalits is also being witnessed. The struggles led by the Communist Parties, and especially the Naxalites, have brought about a major change in their attitude. While the Dalit youths were reluctant to accept their lordship, this new class has started to refuse the conven-tional social stigmatisation and subordination by the upper castes.

This Dalit assertion has been posing a challenge to the upper-caste hegemony. Jignesh Mewani’s mobilisation of Dalits over the flogging of five Dalit youth for skinning a dead cow in Una, Gujarat, and also mobilisation by the young lawyer, Chandrasekhar, and the Bhim Army at Jantar Mantar in the national Capital are examples of Dalit assertion.

At the BJP’s two-day national executive in Bhubaneswar in April, Amit Shah had cautioned his upper-caste support base: “Our mass base is changing rapidly. So change your behaviour, language and tone accordingly.” But it is interesting to watch that there has been no taker for his advice. The upper-caste elements continue to indulge in brutal violence against the Dalits. There has been no let up in violent actions. The more the Hindutva protagonists, incidentally the upper caste Hindus and urban middle class, are striving to impose themselves on the Dalits, the more vehemently the Dalit youths have been opposing their mechanism.

In recent years a new swing and also trans-formation is being witnessed in Dalit politics. While old ways of doing Dalit politics are still in vogue, asserting their individuality is being added to the new form of politics. However, the character and mode of the new politics is not yet clear. While the urban Dalits, who have joined the ranks of the neo-middle class, are for asserting their identity in the light of the teachings of Babasaheb Ambedkar, those in the rural areas relate it to their economic assertion and accessing their economic rights. Still their work is not evaluated in relation to the capitalist economy and market forces that have been defining the Indian economy.

No doubt Dalits are increasingly striving to take charge of affairs in their own hands. But they are not clear of the mechanism with which to accomplish the task. Though caste continues to be the basic index of their assertion, the fact is that they are disillusioned of caste politics. They nurse a strong feeling that their caste leaders have exploited them and used them for their personal gains. In recent times a hot debate is going on about the real intent of BSP chief Mayawati, Udit Raj and even Ram Vilas Paswan and their brand of politics. The various social Dalit organisations feel that they should adopt a broader political spectrum.

The 2017 elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly have made it explicit that the Dalits look for a wider canvass. Use of the social media to connect and communicate has proliferated; Left politics and its limitations are under scrutiny. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they have distanced away from the traditional Communist Parties. Naxalites are the only political force which attract them. Incidentally, in the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections while the Grand Alliance of the RJD-JD(U) bulldozed the BJP, the CPI(ML) managed to win three seats having Mahadalit population.

It is also significant that a paradigm shift is being witnessed in the attitude of the Dalits and agricultural labourers towards the movements relating to their own problems. During the last two years the Patna High Court exonerated the goons of the landlords involved in at least three genocides, but the Dalits did not protest against the government and its lawyers for preparing and presenting weak cases before the court. They have been pursuing the cases in their own modest way.

India is witnessing the emergence of a new Dalit politics which lays emphasis on widening the landscape of struggle rather than merely restricting it to political power or religious conversion. The struggle would have to be multipronged. The slogans that resound in the Dalit movement underline the new trend. The slogans echo: ‘choice of food’, ‘right to land’, ‘swabhiman’ and ‘atmabhiman’ (self-respect), ‘azadi’ (freedom) and ‘dignity’. They denounce the surveillance of the Hindutva brigade on them. A Hindu mob dragging out Mohammad Akhlaq from his house and killing him for allegedly storing beef at his house has become an important issue in Dalit struggles. The new politics has raised the subject of right to food for the first time in a strong manner.

Mewani, the prominent face of the new Dalit politics, argued that his movement’s main demand was that every landless Dalit should be given five acres of land. His movement was “pitching for an alternative model of develop-ment, based on land reforms”. This will be an attempt to define the character and element of productivity of the Dalits. Little doubt the biggest challenge before Dalit politics is to combine identity politics with a material basis; to fight for social justice as well as economic justice.

Though a number of prominent Dalit political faces and leaders have joined the BJP, it would be in the interest of the Dalits that they should counter saffron politics. The objective of land reforms was to make India a more egalitarian society, and uplift the Dalits and the landless. But the rulers pursuing semi-feudal and semi- colonial policies did not implement it seriously. A majority of India’s population still depends on agriculture for survival. Dalits in the changed scenario must strive for an alternative model of development, based on land reforms, where productivity and wealth gains will be crucial elements.

So far not only Gujarat but almost all the States have carried out land reforms but only on paper. This was an eye-wash primarily to fool the people, especially the poor. Land pattas were distributed but the Dalits did not have the actual possession. These lands are still under the physical control of the landlords and feudal elements. In most of the States the bureaucrats and administrations have failed to prepare the parcha (land deed) to be distributed amongst the Dalits as they do not have proper records of the government vested lands. In some States the pressure of the landlords on the government to desist from this project has been so acute that the governments preferred to push it beneath the carpet.

The present set of Dalit leaders intended that they be turned into political disenchants. For this they felt it necessary to be busy in sloganeering. Dalit politics should have progressed beyond this sloga-neering, but it is bogged down in identity politics. There is thus an imperative need to combine identity politics with material politics to fight for both social justice as well as economic justice.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com

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