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The reason behind Dalit assertion is …..

The reason behind Dalit assertion is …..

June 08, 2017 10:38 PM

Vinayak Dutt

The twenty first century is witnessing a new kind of Dalit assertion where the marginalized and the depressed are not ready to take the abomination of upper caste lying down. They are making every move possible not only to enhance their representation in every sphere of the decision making process but also postulate their liberation from the centuries old feudal setup.

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. This is no longer true.

Access to higher and professional education has enabled horizontal and vertical social and economic mobility for Dalits. It has led to the creation of a class of writers, professionals, administrators and entrepreneurs within the Dalit community. This new class has started to refuse the conventional social stigmatisation and subordination of the Dalits by the upper castes.

The recent anti-Dalit violence in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh is also an example of this friction between the two sections of this society. The violence reportedly started with the dominant Thakur community preventing the Dalits in Shabbirpur village from installing a statue of B R Ambedkar at the Saint Ravidas temple on the occasion of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, though they had got the necessary permission from the authorities.

 In fact, with Yogi Adityanath government coming to reign in the state, Thakur community was bound to flex its muscles in the castist society. As a matter of fact, Yogi too is a Thakur by caste and his community feels empowered with him at the helm of affairs of a state that has been in control of the backwards for a quite some time.  

However, in the aftermath of the Saharanpur violence, the Dalits could not reconcile with the outrage. Therefore, when the Thakurs took out a procession to celebrate the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap, they opposed it. The Thakur community treated this act of resistance as a challenge to their dominance and thus took to violence.

Dalit houses were torched, their cattlesheds ransacked, and belongings were destroyed. Two Dalits were killed; one of them, a 22-year-old, while returning from a public meeting addressed by Mayawati. However, Adityanath government has taken some action but the atmosphere has been tense and peace remains elusive.

When one examines the anti-Dalit violence in India over a period of time, the four northern states of UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan, popularly known as the “cow-belt” states, top the list.

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 7,522 (23 per cent). The number of crimes increased to 47,064 in 2014, in which UP’s share was 8,075.

Though its share in the national tally fell by four percentage points to 17 per cent, it continued to top the list. UP’s share declined because crimes against SCs increased in MP and Rajasthan.

Clearly, Saharanpur is not an exceptional incident. However, the implications of the anti-Dalit violence need serious consideration.

This reaffirms that caste constitutes the basic structure of Indian society. Though its pervasive influence has somewhat weakened due to increase in literacy rate, urbanization, upward occupational mobility of various backward castes.

However, due to the slow progress of these material development indicators, such a mindset is more dominant in the ‘cow-belt’ states compared to the southern states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The caste-based hierarchy, to use Ambedkar’s words, created “graded inequality” that gave a sense of caste superiority not only to the intermediate castes such as Thakurs, but also to many OBCs. Though this is a pan-Indian phenomenon, it is more pronounced in the “cow-belt” states.

 The anti-Dalit violence in Saharanpur reveals that despite the lip-service paid to Ambedkar’s legacy by the upper and intermediate castes and the OBCs, he remains for many just a Dalit leader.

The Indian political class has failed to convince the masses about Ambedkar’s great contribution towards the making of modern India.

Ambedkar’s movement of Dalit liberation created a sense of confidence and assertion in the community, which in turn enabled it to overcome traditional feelings of defeatism. Dalit literature played an important role in sharpening confidence.

This Dalit assertion has started posing a challenge to the age-old hierarchy-based supremacy of the upper and intermediate castes and even the OBCs. The latter are finding it increasingly difficult to accept this new Dalit assertion as it threatens their various interests. 

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