By trading off the Dalit vote bank for self gratification, Dalit leaders have failed to serve their community, writes Arun Srivastava.
On November 25, three Mahadalit members of a family were brutally assassinated by upper caste goons in Jandaha. They were the father, mother and ten-year-old brother of a Dalit girl. The goons owing allegiance to the upper caste people of the area nursed a lecherous desire to rape the girl. They forcibly entered into her house. When her parents fiercely resisted, the goons killed the three and also brutally thrashed the girl. She is now fighting for her life at the Patna Medical College and Hospital. The police of chief minister Nitish Kumar, who carved out the Mahadalit from the Dalit on the plea of providing better opportunities and facilities to them for their empowerment, turned its face away and allowed them to carry on their terror.
It was indeed a coincidence that on November 27 when the news broke out in Patna, the messiah of the Dalit, wedded to the cause of the feudal landed gentry, Ram Bilas Paswan was celebrating the foundation day of his Dalit political force, LJP, in the state capital. He was not even remotely aware that such a nasty incident had taken place just some kilometres away from his convention venue. Even his party's Dalit leader hailing from the area did not bother to put the news into his ears. This is the extent of aversion that political leaders display towards the plight of the Dalits.
Furthermore, neither the local language nor the national newspapers published from Patna carried the news of this atrocity. This simply manifests how Dalits and Mahadalits, in a consistent but planned manner, are being forced to vacate the space for others, who have greater relevance for the urban middle-class and the market forces. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar lead the country in the number of cases of crimes against the Dalits and Mahadalits. In Gujarat too, the numbers of crimes against Dalits jumped to 6,655 in 2015 from 1,130 in 2014.
Some time back, a 15-year-old Mahadalit boy was allegedly burnt to death after his goats ate the paddy crop of an upper caste man at Mohanpur, under the jurisdiction of the Karakat police station in Bihar. In yet another incident, two persons, including an elderly Mahadalit man, were allegedly hacked to death in a village, under the Bhargama police station area in Bihar's Araria district. The clash had broken out between some Mahadalit people and some upper caste landowners in the Rahariya village, over a piece of land with a lake.
The killings of the Mahadalits or Dalits in Bihar acquire significance as the state has thrown open the concept of social justice into the public domain. It was expected that the reforms and globalisation of the economy would have brought about at least some basic changes in the attitude of the feudal landed gentry. But unfortunately, they are immune to any such transformation. On the contrary, these elements have become more assertive and aggressive, as has been shown by the violent incidents in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
Despite all the rhetoric about the welfare of the Dalits and the downtrodden, politicians treat these sections simply as a commodity that can be bought and used for winning elections. Their populist politics has made little material difference to the life of these people or their empowerment. Issues concerning the Dalits, the poor and the Mahadalits have lost their relevance for the politicians and the political establishment of the country, except as a prospective vote bank, which the Dalit leaders trade off for their own benefit. While the Dalits continue to be an eyesore for the upper caste leaders, the Dalit leadership too has failed to uphold their cause.
A report examining India's economic liberalisation unravels the exclusion of a large section of Dalits and Muslims from the growth paradigm, compared to the more influential and empowered sections of society. As India's economy grew rapidly, the inequality between the richest and the poorest rose, the number of landless farmers increased and employment generation was lowest in 2015. The high decibel growth led to a 12-fold increase in wealth for the richest 10 per cent people since 2000, while for the poorest 10 per cent, the income jumped just three times, mainly due to the dismal record in new job creation. The Labour Bureau's data underlined that only 1.35 lakh new jobs were created by the government in 2015.
In fact, the answer to these failures and poor performance could be traced in the apathetic and averse attitude and approach of the political system towards Dalits and the proletariats. Unfortunately, the traditional Dalit politicians have been pushing them towards reformist politics, which has created a new class amongst the Dalits, keen to align with the upper castes to judiciously follow their political line. A general impression has been created that Dalits have come above the poverty level.
It is an irony that the impact of globalisation and reforms has been quite despicable on Dalits. The lopsided growth has led to the higher migration of 35-40 million labourers, almost half of the casual labourers outside agriculture. This can be owed to a fall in the proportion of cultivators and the multiplying of farm labourers since 1951. Shockingly, the political leaders have failed to do justice to them.
An insight into the recent lynching of the Dalits by the gau rakshaks (cow vigilante) clearly reveals that it is a strategy to suppress their voice forever. The killing of four Dalits in Una in Gujarat, in fact, led to a new Dalit uprising in the state, led by Jignesh Mevani. Apparently, this appeared like a protest against the government, initially, but it has had much wider contours. Since the naxalbari movement, this was the most remarkable and concrete step towards politicisation of the Dalits, after a long gap. Mevani has been trying to redefine the new Dalit politics.
The immediate impact of the movement could be realised from the fact that the Congress has referred to a "special package" for the Dalits in the party's Gujarat manifesto with "economic, social and legal guarantees" for the community. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi was also forced to declare; "Justice for the Una atrocity should not be your demand. It is a legal imperative. It is not a gift by any government, it is your right."
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)