Wake Up, India: Essays for Our Times – Part 2.
Chapter 1 – Dalits in the Spotlight during 2014- 18 BJP Rule.
On 17, January 2016, Rohith Vemula died. His suicide letter became the cause of a widespread anger that again highlighted or brought to the forefront the issue of whether Dalits are treated justly or unjustly in India and what its root causes are and if there is any amelioration for the same.
I quote the full letter to refresh your memory:
I would not be around when you read this letter. Don’t get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.
I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.
The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote.To a number.To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust.In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.
I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.
My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.
May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse.
I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.
People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.
If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that.
Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.
“From shadows to the stars.”
Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing.
To ASA family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future.
For one last time,
I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself.
No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act.
This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this.
Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone.”
The Wire from which I took this also writes that the “dean Appa Rao Podile, who went on leave in the aftermath of Vemula’s death, has returned to his post and has even been given an award at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
The two opponents in this case were the ABVP and ASA (Ambedkar Students Association). Vemula, since my article is going to be about analysis, was defeated, in political terms, as he did not belong to the stronger SFI camp which would perhaps have not allowed things to come to such a pass. But his real mistake, the fatal one, was allowing himself to be dubbed anti national due to his ignorance and it is this ignorance regarding what would have been Ambedkar’s nationalist stance on issues like Pakistani induced or home grown collaborative terror that is dangerous in those who take up the fight for reservation in these days. Kanhaiya Kumar is no less naive or ignorant in espousing democratic process without understanding about the need of those in governance to take care of the security interests of civilians in daily life going about their normal business.
Having said this – his Achilles’ heel which drew on him the ire of foes too powerful for him to handle and lead to his suicide – what is left to be pondered on is the machinery of state justice which is in place and the value it sets in a democracy on who matters and who does not in today’s world and whether it is any different than 1947 or any other time in India’s or Bharath’s past. The answer is no and this is what has to be foregrounded, privileged or highlighted when we speak of reservation, caste discrimination and class discrimination in the last four years of BJP rule. Is it better than in Congress times? No. Is it worse? Yes. A definite yes. The battle goes on with even now the BJP Finance Minister, though it should have been the Home Minister going on NDTV to speak against the Opposition for making Vemula’s suicide a political issue. Thus again diverting the real issue which is about Dalits and equity.
I need to prove it. But first I need to point out the rising tide of protests against the Govt. by the Dalits, esp. in BJP ruled states presently as that shows their perception of who is more just and fair to their commonly perceived as just and ancient cause in India.
The second incident worthy of mention by me is the following one: “The Jat Reservation Agitation was a series of protests in February 2016 by Jat people of North India, especially those in the state of Haryana, which “paralysed the State for 10 days.” The protesters sought inclusion of their caste in the Other Backward Class (OBC) category, which would make them eligible for affirmative action benefits. Besides Haryana, the protests also spread to the neighbouring states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and also the National Capital Region.
(1Jats stage ‘jail bharo’ protest in Jind. The Hindu (New Delhi).Retrieved 5 May 2016.2’We are prepared to fight for our rights’: Jat agitation spreads to UP. (Meerut) Hindustan Times.Retrieved 14 March 2016. 3Jat agitation finds echo in western UP. The Times of India.Retrieved 14 March 2016. 4Jat leaders in Rajasthan extend support to quota stir in Haryana (Jaipur). The Indian Express.Retrieved 14 March 2016.5Rajasthan’s Jat call off stir after government’s assurance (Bharatpur). Press Trust of India. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 6Jat agitation spreads to Gurgaon as protesters block major roads. The Indian Express (New Delhi). Retrieved 14 March 2016. 7Jat Samiti halts traffic in Faridabad (Faridabad). The Tribune.Retrieved 14 March 2016.)
The question here is complex. People are fighting to get reservation and now more so than ever before and more than the question of if they deserve it or not when even those promised it earlier have not yet had it given to them properly highlighted by the Vemula case is why suddenly from 2016 it is becoming an increasingly rampant issue leading to violence between in the first case a student organization that supports the present government and one that is seen as against it and in the second against state governments that presently support the centre and the centre itself as in the Jat uprising. The commonality I want to point out is the increasing violence and loss of life and loss to the nation in terms of the anarchy and destruction of property and to the national exchequer with no solution in sight. The lack of a solution in sight is for a simple reason, this present government is even less bothered than the previous one to try to even think of one, let alone try to implement it as it is against reservation showing it is a peculiar creature as in the case of the Ram temple it speaks of historicity and continuity and extension – almost, but not quite, sounding Vedic in the process – showing its vision is not to set right past well documented wrongs but only to valorize past ‘greatness.’ To throw dust in the eyes of AamJanatha it may appoint a Kalam or Kovind but only as Presidents, a Modi but only as HMV of the Brahmins and Kshatriyas of a particular ideology, and get on its side a Mehbooba Mufti or an AphonseKannathannam, all probably looked down upon in their own inner and uppermost echelons and in the shadowy organizations behind them for being only useful as tools right now for their larger and nefarious purposes which are about power, assets, capital and sustaining it impenetrably for aeons as they did till now in India at the expense of those they hate – a long list of people groups- and go on thus perpetrating the same old errors and mistakes, a process that can by no stretch of the imagination or means be called democratic.
The philosophical position of the Congress led to their including in the Indian Constitution on the advice of Ambedkar and others the right to reservation. That of the BJP is diametrically opposite, considering it as provisional and something to be done away with over time, or at least that is what most of those vociferous voices one comes across on twitter and fb and other such social media claim. The brunt of the argument is that it has done no good or too much good as the fact that there exists a creamy layer in the quota is complained against as is the fact it is given (seemingly at the expense of somebody or the other) and all the complainants are as far as one can make out from the nature of their surnames Hindus who are not from SC/ST or OBC categories but from so called upper caste ones.
While the Congress was there Ambedkar had got them adequate reservation and reservation and later in 1955 Protection of Civil Rights Act as well as SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 which was strengthened in 1990.
“Section 3 of the new law lists out the various acts that constitute atrocities. The section offers protection and remedies against the following offences. It recognises social disabilities (denial of access to places), personal atrocities (forceful drinking or eating of inedible and obnoxious substances, parading people naked, sexual exploitation of women etc), atrocities affecting property (wrongful occupation of land, dispossession from land etc). It also recognises atrocities by malicious prosecution and causing political and economic disability.”
On 20 March, the SC diluted these stringent conditions leading to the Dalit Bharat Bandh. The Bandh mobilized the support of Dalits all over the country showing that they had power enough now to raise the hackles of those in authority and all over media they found enough representation to get people to write of them.
It was on April 4, 2018.
One of its leaders was JigneshMewani who stood on an independent ticket in States elections in Gujarat on December 18, 2017, in Modi heartland and won by 23000 votes. As an agitator who had successfully shown his anguish by organizing a protest against Dalit killings by gaurakshaks in his state his voice has come to matter to many people as representative of the fact that the Dalit cause can still produce leaders who count despite all attempts to quash the movement.
From reservation and inclusion and recognition to civil rights to fight against atrocities the Dalits have waged long, desperate and huge battles but the Bharat Bandh of 2018 is special as it is against the Centre, the SC and even the law and authorities in each state and district not to mention the only caste-based religion in the whole world, the police, the press which is the fourth estate etc., if they are fond obstructing justice. This amounts to a clear understanding that they got nothing from the Hindu majority’s idea of democracy, secularism and liberalism or socialism and a so called tolerant India.
Meanwhile incidents of civil rights negation and atrocities against Dalits keep being reported, especially up in the North, more and more frequently.
The ‘violence in a retaliatory mode’ of the Bharat Bandh led to the arrest of Chandrasekhar ‘Rawan’ Azad for being responsible for the violence and he said: ““My greatest desire is to work for society, but the BJP will make sure I never leave prison. I cannot appear to be despondent or break down before someone with tears in my eyes for the simple reason that the spirit of my community has been broken so often that there is only one option left for us now – of struggle.” [ Citation same as above] His claim to be released has become a rallying point for Dalits to unite, and one more blow to BJP’s anti- Dalit agenda.
Meanwhile in Karnataka another reservation drama unfolded when Siddaramaiah gave not only separate religion status to the Lingayyats but also reservation rights and was thus the reason for losing most of the seats in the just contested Karnataka election, having to come back in thus through the coalition with Janata Dal S to defeat BJP.
This as in the case of the Jats, highlights the two strands of how reservation as an issue is looked at now in India, one as a fight for the Dalits to not lose what they gained and add to it and two as a fight by others to also gain the same rights, whether deserved or not, of the Dalits to reservation.
Last, but not least, has been the Women’s Reservation Bill which has come back into prominence in February 21, 2018.
“…the Women’s Reservation bill. The bill, also known as the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, seeks to ensure that 33 per cent of the seats in the LokSabha as well as in state legislative Assemblies are reserved for women.
Introduced by the UPA government in 2008, it was passed in the RajyaSabha, but the LokSabha hadn’t voted on it and it therefore lapsed after the Congress-led UPA government lost power in 2014. Had it been enacted, seats would have been reserved on a rotation basis with no seat being reserved more than once in three consecutive general elections.”
This bill has no hope of being renewed by BJP.
To sum up – the study on what laws prescribe in India shows more vision on the part of Congress than there ever was on the BJP side and though it is clear that they failed in implementation thoroughly, BJP is only interested in bringing back a world that has no longer any right to exist in an international judiciary’s world as that is one in which equality, liberty, and equity are part of civil rights as is resistance or protest as a valid mode and method to get them.
Voices of sanity speak of co existence and not violence but not at the expense of the weaker sections of society and any talk of reservation being denied has to come with the solution of a replacement not only on paper but put into place before such talk and proved to be successful on the field. India has not been able to do this and things have only gotten worse as shown by the four fold case scenario I have quoted till now of Vemula’s case (Jan 2016), the Jats (2017). the Bharat Bandh (2018) and the Lingayyats (2018). The women have been neglected. In short, the situation is worse after the BJP came to power and not better.
In my first, earlier book with the same title which also started with chapters on reservation written in times that were more pleasant I had said that the Dalit movement had made gains but am now forced to retrench what I said as the gain seems to be slipping out of their hands due to an increasing drive to capitalize on Hindu revivalism of the wrong kind and capitalism to make the Dalits feel hunted and unwanted even more in their own land and as if they are meant to bear the brunt of history forever and any reversal to this in their fortunes and tide of affairs can only come if BJP is put back to being what they actually are, a regional party with no relevance to today’s world and the helm of affairs is once again manned by those more in the know of what is right and just and moral in the world we live in today and what is evil.
You can miss the wood for the trees or the trees for the wood. When doing a Pan Indian or global Indians based analysis it is natural to miss the trees for the wood. That is why I have had to concentrate on four particular instances to begin with, though I could find others to share if I wanted that are more sensationalist and would get me more immediate attention.
I need to ask a question which is why after coming to power in 2014, the BJP suddenly ran into tough weather with the Vemula case in 2016, and the Jat issue in 2017, and the Bharat Bandh in 2018 and the Congress in 2018 as a result of the Lingayyat reservation issue when it came to voting. The reason is that oppressed people of India, here meaning the Dalits, had given the BJP two years, a period of time in which they expected one thing and were given another and no longer able to contain their dismay, fear, disgust and clarity that this regime was not just inimical to their interests in the Congress manner of indifference, negligence, carelessness, increasing apathy etc., in the Congress’s corrupt lackadaisical method but totally against them, that what they were interested in was an agenda that did not include them in any way but was also least bothered about whether they would be completely eradicated and wiped out in the process. Slow rot replaced by active, galvanized animosity.
The steady deepening of this fear that the government or its ideological henchmen did nothing to allay as the fear was right, is what led to the outcry after Vemula’s death and the rise of new leaders like Mewani and Azad, to replace the older gentler ones like KanchaIlaiah Shepherd and Chandra Bhan Prasad, younger ones no longer satisfied with the narratives that Dalits should suffer, be non violent and marry only poor Dalit girls and be ideal citizens and come up the hard way not expecting anything including reservation and not try to marry from the upper castes etc., in a world where it was demanded only of the Other while the leading junta composed of the so called upper castes could flout precisely these rules through caste privileges in villages, state machinery in governments, and biases in judgements which are made by human beings after all as well as use of force by the paramilitary and false reporting by the press, all escalating under the present regime and well documented by a press that refuses to be muzzled in India like Scroll and Wire, whereby the ones in power can use violence, can force sex and torture on those of the depressed castes and do not have to suffer but have every right to enforce abnegation of the former three turned in the ‘wrong’ direction on the latter and, of course, suffering.
But this is more in the nature of an emotional rant and one has to return after such flights of purple prose to analysis which is to answer the question of atrocities on Dalits in the last four years. Has it increased or decreased?
The complicit nature of this uneasy collusion between the people and the government is what has to be noticed here. a. That part of the people who take the law into their hand to mete out justice, the new vigilantes, impose their penalties and punishments on the Dalits, and then it is reported in the press. b. The law, the courts, the state, all; turn a blind eye c. The people are desensitized and after a while do not even blink when they hear of a new atrocity even worse than the one before. d. Fascism has been achieved and its only task left now is to maintain and accelerate it to its logical culmination of a return to an iron clad caste slavery
Here is a list of atrocities against Dalits during 2014 -2019 for those interested to know which list alone if given to Human Rights organizations like Amnesty International would be enough in international courts of law to land many leaders in India behind bars for crimes of hate if we had not been living in a sad world where justice is blind in every country and the world.
I give links to three articles to show the reality.
What is to be deduced from these articles. On the one hand sops are constantly introduced in the form of offers by governments to help Dalits come up but on the other hand ruthless extermination of their lives or basic rights and needs goes on at the ground level, stopping just short of a genocide which is the kind of evil Hinduism has specialized in down the ages and the statistics show unequivocally that the worst hit places are all BJP ruled states. UP, Rajasthan top the list and Bihar comes only after that and there is no redress anywhere in sight, not only that, but things are, as the reporters say, getting worse, admitted even by pro government online parties like Firstpostdespite attempts to change plank by giving waivers etc.
The reason is BJP ideology and its backing by people in these states who are set to destroy the nation that India is to the detriment of all the people in it in the name of caste and religion and if terrorists who misinterpret Islam or racist Christian fanaticism of the American South variety is unsavoury to the rest of the world, the variety of inhumanity dished out by BJP, RSS, ABVP etc., is as much to be abhorred and removed lock, stock and barrel from the land from its very root, if India is to have any hope of a future.
When I wrote the first book with the same name some people criticized me saying that I had pointed out what was wrong with India but not suggested how the problems could be tackled. This was not entirely right as I had outlined not only issues but also based on my training as a social innovator ways and means sketchily of meeting them. However this time, I plan to make a more conscious attempt at giving solutions for what it is worth. While dealing with the Dalit issue and attendant ones regarding ethne or ethnicities or minorities or tribals or indigenous peoples that are endangered for whatever reasons, the giving of solutions can only come after I take into consideration that Dalits may say his solutions do not matter as he is not one and others may say his do not matter as he is too pro Dalit for our liking but this should not hinder me as a thinker who has much in common with the Dalits being a minority representative from carrying out to its logical conclusion what seems to be my exercise in analysis by bringing about also as it fruit the necessary empowering points that I feel will bring about a change to the solution.
The Dalits can be empowered in various ways and are already doing it quite well themselves which is partly the reason for the jealousy and attacks against them that increase in recent times. However to be not defeated they need to step up on the aggression, not relax on it.
Here are some clear ways they will be able to do this.
- Have their own party. The Dalit Panthers was a good beginning. It is a party that is pushy that is needed, not one which is passive. Groups like ASA are welcome and have to proliferate even more.2. Keep the reservation plank and window open till the time when they actually achieve parity with everyone else in the world and the nation in terms of capital which not only means money and assets but also in terms of cultural and all other kinds of wealth and capital. 3. Dalits have to start their own businesses more for which they need to tie up with people who will fracture the power of the so called upper castes and their followers and prosper.4. They have to leave Hinduism en masse, all OBCs and SC/STs and what they adopt later even if nothing or anything else does not matter as Ambedkar clearly understood. They may form a separate new Dalit religion or religions ancient or modern or worship English or convert to Buddhism or Christianity or Islam or Marxism or be atheists, rationalists, capitalists or materialists but they have to get out of the Hindu fold while still retaining reservation rights if they really want to defeat their real foe and enemy which is the idea of resurgent and revivalist Hindu nationalism, especially of the BJP variety.
“Ambedkar had in a speech in 1935 said, “After giving deep thought to the problem, everybody will have to admit that conversion is necessary to the Untouchables as self-government is to India. The ultimate object of both is the same. There is not the slightest difference in their ultimate goal. This ultimate aim is to attain freedom. And if the freedom is necessary for the life of mankind, conversion of Untouchables which brings them complete freedom cannot be called worthless by any stretch of imagination.”
- They need more and greater upward social mobility for which they need education, capital and ability to move freely from village and town to city and abroad as well where foreigners do not ask their caste or religion but qualification and efficiency as well as have excellence in science, technology, training in the same and the power to shift occupations from traditional caste ones to new ones. They need to become business oriented mainly. 6. They need their own educational institutions, cultural events, history and upbringing and environment and arts which is gradually coming up even as they already have their many heroes past and present in a long line of powerful warriors that include Ekalavya, Karna, Buddha, Basavanna, Ambedkar, Gadar, Periyar, PoykayilYohannan, the Phules and many others. They already have poets like NamdeoDhasal to boast of and this base is being steadily increased. 7. They need to marry whomever they like and not be tied down to ideas of who they should marry set before them by others. 8. They need to resist, protest, organize, carry out demonstrations and battle legally, politically and religiously against the nation or government state or central or religion or legislature, or judiciary or press or law and military or paramilitary organizations that do not give them their rights but oppress them without fear. 9. To gain liberty, equality, equity and fraternity in India and abroad and with the Hindus to whom they should never belong unless they want to they need to thus understand that their battle has to be planned on four fronts meaning economically, politically, socially and religiously, taking into consideration the present and the future in terms of free movement and travel, science and technology and trade. 10. They need Dalit pride and anarchy as their tools to overthrow the revivalism and resurgence of Brahmanism/Brahminism in India by the BJP and who support it silently or openly, even if not BJP. Also stories of success regarding Dalit millionaires, women, NRIs etc. 11. They can leave the country and become prosperous citizens of other countries, especially the affluent ones and send help back to both pull out others as well as improve the lives of those left behind.
With these eleven points the tide can not only be turned but the fight won, though it still will take a long time and the struggle is steep and still on fiercely and arduous.
Dr A.V. Koshy is an established author and writer who is a poet, critic and artist. He has a doctorate in Samuel Beckett’s Poems in English from the University of Kerala, now published. He has co-authored and published a monograph of essays called Wrighteings: In Media Res and has several, published research papers to his credit. His greatest desire is to build a village for people having autism where all their needs are met. He runs an NGO called “Autism for Help Village Project” with his wife for this dream to come true. He has fourteen other books out now as fiction writer, literary critic, poet, academician, literary theoretician, essayist, editor, anthologist, co -editor, co-author and co-contributor. His latest and perhaps best book is a collection of short stories Scream and Other Urbane Legends.
© KOSHY AV