For Dalits now and backward castes then, from Phule to Periyar, while the education provided by the ancient natural philosophies like Budhism, modern egalitarian religions like Christianity, exploitative but ‘progressive’ British government and the independent India’s democratic government has been one of the prime factors in promoting consciousness of Dalits on their degraded social position, on their exclusion from knowledge, on their lack of material wealth and on their distance from holding power. It informed them on ideology, the culture and the social agency that kept them away from all these is Hindu religion and its offspring called caste system. For one and half centuries, the educated Dalit challenged them both. But custodians of Hindu religion/caste have been quite successful in minimising challenges to the foundations of its ideology/identity. In a situation where it could not avoid carrying out reforms, it has allowed the peripheral culture to be reformed or modernised. In Hinduism, caste though the off-spring of the religion itself, but it was allowed to be reformed in a controlled fashion as a safety volve to avoid the final revolution that might demolish the ideological foundations of the religion. Therefore, the moderate reform consisting of hesitantly breaking few social norms, forcible opening of the exclusive Hindu spirituality, unwilling but hypocritical untouchability eradication as a response the radical call for annihilation of caste and hesitant but strategic reservation as means of Scheduled Caste (only for Dalit Hindus) and Tribes emancipation to keep them in the fold of Hinduism from 1950s.
The hesitant reformers would feel comfortable as long as these reforms do not allow the beneficiaries (SC/STs) to challenge the social structures and religious foundations. if the beneficiaries turn challengers of socio-religious systems into takers and claimers of rights and opportunities, the hell breaks out and the notorious political intelligentsia of the upper caste would hustles up to teach lessons to the alleged ‘out of control rights takers and justice seekers’ to criminalise and brand them as anti-nationals, anti-Hindus and urban Naxals.
Dalit Assertion, a challenge to the Hindutva and Hindu Social Order
If there is any enemy that has been challenging the ideological foundations and putting a continuous pressure on the very foundational objectives of the age-old Vedic Hindu religion or Brahmanism and century old fascist Hindutva is the assertion of Dalits, their philosophies like ancient materialism, Buddhist natural rationalism, Phule-Ambedkar anti- Hindu religion and caste critique, their theorisation of caste oppression and their methods of struggles for justice and egalitarian philosophies like humanism, secularism, democracy and progressivism. In fact, inbuilt positivity of these positivist ideologies perceived as natural threat to the Hinduism for long and for Hindutva in recent times. Dalit assertion from the last quarter of nineteenth century has been posing serious challenges to Hinduism. After Budha, it was Phule, Ambedkar, Narayana Guru, Ayyankali and Ayothidas who have built a strong ideological foundation for anti-caste struggles. Though, their methods and means varied, their focus was on challenging the illogicality of caste and irrationality of Brahamin domination. Their assertion shook the foundations of the Hinduism and sent ripples through the social order.
From 1870s to 1950s, the theory for assertion produced and it’s practicality was tested by the first generation educated intellectuals and presented to the second generation. For the communities with less or no hold on land, got excluded from pre-modern education, knowledge and doing business, education and employment offered by the Christian missionaries and the colonial government were found to be two essential tools for gaining self-respect, economic decency, individual development, human dignity and social and cultural equality. From 1950s, reservations in electoral politics, education and employment for Dalits resulted in the emergence of Dalit political community which is capable establishing its own political parties, it acquired abilities to put pressure on the governments to introduce Dalit welfare programmes and also contributed to the development of political consciousness. It resulted in the emergence of Dalit intellectual community from universities, colleges and research institutions who have been playing determinant role in theorisation of Dalit experience, producing literature on caste and caste atrocities, writing history of Dalits and so on. Reservation also resulted in creating a strong body of young educated Dalits who have been performing two essential functions: first, getting required education that would eventually transform them in rights conscious individuals and to get employment that would eventually contribute to emergence of assertive Dalit. Contribution of all these three categories’ forms into formidable Dalit network of assertion. It is known fact that the chief objective of the Dalit assertion is annihilation of caste.
Since the caste and Hinduism are not separate and reciprocate with each other in their existence, annihilation of caste is also uprooting Hinduism. Therefore, assertive Dalits would be considered dangerous. But given the time and context, it is easy for the catseits and Manuvadis to eliminate assertive Dalits completely. But they could trouble, torture, deprive of opportunities and deny justice. As long as Hindu religion keep its identity on caste, the threat from the assertive Dalits would continue. After all, as long as caste exists, atrocities on Dalits would continue exist. So is the Dalit assertion. It will never die down. No matter what force of oppression used. It is natural for it grow. The degree of threat of the Dalit assertion to casteits depends on the degree of Dalit consciousness.
From 1950s, reservation in political representation, employment and education has naturally increased demography of assertive Dalits that led to networking of national and international Dalit community. While the internal network is spreading consciousness and fighting for justice within the country, the international network has been working on the internationalisation of caste and caste atrocities that consisted of conducting studies on caste and race in international universities and promoting solidarity. This, for casteits and Manuwaids, brought shame to the nation. These hypocrites would like to celebrate the Bharatanatyam, temple architecture, natural beauty of India (Incredible India), yoga, Hindu festivals and ‘Taj Mahal’. But they would not want the world to see and hear about social stink. Though exposing caste atrocities at international theatre cannot be stopped, Indian government and general society would not be a mute spectator if such attempts are made. For instance, they both came together to oppose such an effort at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, 2001. The Government of India not only openly opposed argued that the caste is not an appropriate subject to be discussed at the conference but also termed the efforts of global and national non-governmental organisations as propaganda against India. Omar Abdulla, the then Foreign Affairs minister of National Democratic Alliance under Atal Bihari Vajpai, in his statement stated that ‘in the run up to the world Conference, there has been propaganda, highly exaggerated and misleading, often based on anecdotal evidence, regarding caste-based discrimination in India’. In some parts of the statement, he also claimed that there is no state sponsored discrimination and organisations like United Nations cannot make laws to stop any form discrimination. Indian general society’s attitude was also same. They both not only felt that it is against the sovereignty of India but also angry on the audacity of the Dalit society for taking caste discrimination to international platform without their approval. This they believe that has come from the government sponsored Dalit emancipation programmes and they needed to be relooked at.
For the upper caste, reservation in education, employment and representative politics for Hindu Dalits by state and central governments is neither to question the social order nor it is to transform pre-modern submissive Dalits into assertive. Reservation as a means for eliminating caste based multiple inequalities never allowed to succeed in its objective because though it is envisioned to perform this function, the upper caste as an implementing agency is well aware that it’s success would be end of the upper caste domination over Dalits, it results in weakening social order and in loosing monopoly over resources, knowledge and power. Therefore, the reservation could be allowed to produce Dalits who could seek jobs in B, C and D categories. It could produce degree seekers which could offer jobs but not use education as means of becoming intellectuals and it could produce power seekers who could get elected to positions from Panchayat President to the President of India but should not ever think that they would be allowed to use the power inbuilt in those positions.
The modern democratic societies, not matter how-much-ever less democratic they are, the very nature of democracy would allow the emergence of the rights conscious and rights promoting citizens. They emerge from all sections of society. But those emerge from the rights denied social groups would be bound to be assertive and radical. Since Dalits in India have been deprived of their natural basic human rights, controlling methods of assertion employed by the upper caste would not completely effective. But they do reduce the degree of assertion and assertiveness. From 19th century, history of Dalit assertion, beyond any doubt, proved that the modern education has been one of the prime sources of assertion. The upper caste very well aware of it. However, they knew that meagre percentage of the reservation provided to Dalits in educational institutions would pose any threat to their domination. But over century and half (if we take 1870s Phule’s assertion as a beginning) the accumulated Dalit assertion not only naturally acquired strength but also the degree of it began to increase. Moreover, in its phase-wise assertion, in the first phase, it is provided with theoretical foundations by ideological masters. Despite less mass education of Dalits, these masters could able to prove that few educated is enough to promote consciousness among Dalits who would join ranks to fight for justice. In the second phase, the reservation in education as a constitutional guarantee began to provide pan Indianness as the education rights conscious Dalits are in universities, colleges, central and state government offices, in industries, railways and political corridors are spreading consciousness, promoting Dalit solidarity and comradeship, building associations and organisations of employees, workers, intellectuals, writers, students and professionals and networking them. In this phase, individual Dalit assertion has been fast transforming into group which further led to the creation of organisational set up for its self-sustenance. In the third phase, the assertion becomes a threat to the Hindu religion and upper caste hegemony. The degree of assertion and its omnipresence in almost all spheres of life would suffocate the custodians of religion and caste. It acquired the ability of providing continuity and consistency to the critique of caste. The radicality of assertion in its critique of caste, its ability of building pan-Indian anti-caste movements, its capability of understanding essential ingredients for building proper historical and cultural identity and its audacity to publicly declare that Dalit submissiveness is a thing of past absolutely scare the Hindus, manuwadis and casteits. Since most of the what they are having is guaranteed by religion and caste, they would get busy to counter the assertion with all possible means
Privatisation to Counter Assertion
Historically Dalits are socially designed to be dependents on the upper castes for long. Land, knowledge, power and trade have been sources of respect, social prestige, economic domination and cultural superiority to the upper caste are deprived for the Dalits. Over a long period of time, Dalits, supported by the Christian missionaries and colonial government, despite opposition from upper caste, began to provide relief from the slave like situation. The result of this contribution was the emergence of ideological masters of Dalits. their theorisation and methods of struggles for equality and justice are so powerful the upper caste came to the conclusion that uncontrolled flow of their ideas would lead to the collapse of caste. This is very clear from limiting reservation (positive discrimination of upper caste against Dalits) to Hindu Dalits, violating reservation in its implementation, excluding promising sectors from the ambit of reservation to provide monopoly for upper caste, developing negative narratives on reservation as death of merit and humiliating Dalits entered into various spheres in the name of quota, evolving methods of discrimination for blocking the upward movement and so on. In the last seventy-five years, these methods are effectively used. Apart from these usual methods, newer and much more notorious forms of discrimination are employed in accordance to the nature of Dalit assertion.
For a community that is not only deprived of basic human rights but also subjected to permanent discrimination, assertion to acquire basic rights is natural. like the Afro-Americans in United States of America, for Dalits too, self-help and state sponsored emancipatory measures are two important means of assertion. However, the since the development of Dalits has been tightly controlled by the upper caste, their ability to self-help is though is not completely missing but it could not become prime means as in the case of Afro-Americans. Dalits, especially Hindu Dalits, dependence on the state for their upward movement has been much higher than on themselves. Upper caste tight control on all channels of self-emancipation and social taboo attached to Dalits did not allow them to accel as independent entrepreneurs, land owners, powerful bureaucrats, influential politicians and so on for long. In these areas, Afro-Americans made great advances that let them to acquire sufficient economic resources, political and social capital as well. In recent times, there are some visible sings in case of Dalits too. Dalit entrepreneurs, Dalit politicians as pressure groups, Dalit intellectuals as forces of challenging the superstructures of discrimination and Dalit educated as promoters of consciousness and leaders of justice seeking movements are positive developments. Though these are positive, Dalits have not reached a point where they can declare independence from their dependence on state as an agency of emancipation. However, given that the degree of assertion is higher, critique of caste is stronger and louder, justice seeking mass movements are frequent and challenging, International and pan-Indian network of Dalits organisations are on increase and they are showing the ability of putting press on the government as deliverer of justice, the casteists might argue that enough is done for Dalits.
This audacity of Dalits is making them feel like digging their own graveyard as they feel that this audacity is resulting from the state sponsored emancipation at the cost of their sweat and oppertunities. After the right-wing came to power at centre, natural opposition of Dalits to saffron ideology that is expressed at various educational institutions by Dalit student organisations, anti-caste and anti-fascism narratives build by Dalit intellectual community at national and international levels, justice seeking movement run by Dalit employees’ organisations of central and state establishments are causing discomfort to the casteist-Manuwadi ruling class. Till two decades, in metropolitan universities, the right-wing entry into student politics is viewed as dangerous and so its entry is blocked by the progressive Left, Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi and Women student organisations. Dalit student organisations are in the forefront in blocking the Akhila Bharathiya Vidhyarthi Parisahad. Dalits very well understand that Manuwadis entry into universities not only would increase the degree of discrimination but also might eventually result in closing doors for Dalits into universities. Therefore, they responded aggressively to the fast-growing influence of Manuwadis in student bodies and universities administration. It is this response that resulted in the abolition of Master of Philosophy (M.Phil), reducing Doctor of Philosophy seats for Assistant Professors from ten to four, reducing or eliminating funds for scholarships and threatening the existence of Centers for Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy started by the United Progressive Alliance.
According to Christpohe Jaffrelot and A. Kalaiyarasan in the Central Administrative Services, SCs (about 16 per cent of India’s population) reached 14 per cent of the Class C in 1984, 14.3 per cent of the Class B in 2003 and 13.3 per cent of the Class A in 2015. In the Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), their proportion rose from 14.6 per cent in 2004 to 18.1 per cent in 2014. In parallel, the SCs’ literacy rate jumped from 21.38 per cent in 1981 to 66.1 per cent in 2011. But they also found that while percentage of representation is increasing, jobs are shrinking in public sector. In civil services shortlisted candidate dropped almost 40 percent between 2014 and 2018, from 1, 236 to 759, in central government services, total number of employees dropped from 32. 69 lakh to 26.30 lakh between 2003 to 2012. This amounted to reduction of Dalits benefiting from reservation by 16 percent from 5.40 to 4.55 lakh.
In its second term from 2019, the right-wing government has been perusing privatisation seriously. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in order to justify the aggressive privatisation of the public sector or to strengthen Hindu capitalist forces in India has been making attempts not only to de-signify state as producer and seller of goods but also argues that it is not the state responsibility to use public money for services. In consonance with the masters of Hindutva who called for review of reservation, he develops a narrative that would bring an end to the state sponsored emancipation. His government policy is to kill the state as welfare state because it has been creating assertive Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasis. Though there are many of these communities are at the right-wings disposal, the employed and educated are not only consistent in their opposition and critique but also spreading consciousness among their people on the dangers of Hinduvta.
Therefore, the best way to control them is to deprive of the sources of assertion: employment and education. A private university, a large-scale private industry, a private college, a private school, private transportation corporation, an outsourced service sector which are on raise dramatically either would throw Dalits into pre-modern times or would bring them into submission. Most of the private establishments, as they are now, would be in the hands of the upper caste or the caste Hindus bourgeoise. The supportive organisational and solidarity systems build over decades time by the B, C and D category Dalit employees would crumble down. As soon as the entire public sector is privatised, Dalits automatically would be at the mercy of the caste Hindus. With the disappearance of reservation in education and employment, the upper caste and caste Hindus at the helm of affairs in these two important spheres, Dalits sure would be pushed into a worse situation. Deprived of sources of assertion, Dalits would become submissive as they were in the past. This process would gain pace, as the dispensation at the center is carrying out two anti-Dalit policies simultaneously: privatisation to deprive the sources of assertion and criminalisation of thought and activism to bring assertion to halt.
Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao (Srisri),M.A,Ph.D. International Scholar of the Society for the History of Technology(SHOT),
Associate Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University.