Hardly a day passes without headline news of some or another atrocity on Dalits. On 24 May, a Dalit man in the Ahmedabad district was beaten and his house attacked by a gang of socalled ‘upper’ caste men after he had attached Sinh to his name on his facebook post.
On 21 May a dalit ragpicker was beaten to death in a Rajkot factory. Atrocities on Dalits are occurring in the midst of a public ideological environment against them. On 26 May news came of a private school in Delhi asking 8th class students to write a note on how reservations help undeserving and unqualified people for their summer vacation homework.
According to National Crime Record Bureau reports for recent years, between 10 to 15 thousand cases of crimes are reported under the Prevention of Atrocities act every year; an average of 35 crimes per day. Many times more crimes actually go unreported. In 2016 Indian courts had over 45 thousand cases under this act. Out of the 4048 cases decided, conviction occurred in 659 cases only. That is, five out of six cases of atrocity against Dalits did not result in any punishment. The number of attacks against one of the weakest and the poorest sections of the society, and the abysmal rate of conviction would put any civilized society to shame, but India chugs along.
Humiliation and physical assaults on the body of Dalits have been a structural feature of the Hindu caste society for thousands of years. Under the enlightened and steadfast leadership of Ambedkar, Dalits managed to get civil rights and affirmative action in the Constitution of India. The Hindu caste society has however carried a grudge against such provisions. Representations of Dalits in state bureaucracy and higher education have always been less than one half to one third of constitutional provisions. Actually, reservations produced a prison house for Dalits to remain within the Hindu fold. Up to nineteen eighties even when they converted to Buddhism, they lost all reservation benefits. Nevertheless, till the political successes of the BJP under Mr Modi, the moral weight of Dalit struggles for their rights meant that post-independence Indian state did not actively participate in their oppression. This is changing now.
The central and state governments under the BJP have specifically targeted autonomous Dalit youth who challenge Hindu caste hierarchy openly without fear. This was the line of attack on Rohith Vemula and his comrades at HCU and Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle of IIT Madras. The most vicious attack has been launched against the Bhim Army of Western UP, whose leader Chandrasekhar Azad has been booked in case after case under the NSA and put in prison by the shameless Yogi government, despite Allahabad High Court quashing many cases against him. In Maharashtra Fadnavis government is hesitant to act against attackers on Bheema Koregaon gathering of Dalits, yet it has initiated cases against organizers of Elgaar Parishad meeting in Pune where RSS-BJP were declared ‘new Peshwai’, the most debauched form of Brahmanical rule. Another round of oppression has visited Dalit youth after 2 April protests against dilution of prevention of atrocities act by Supreme Court. Following these protests the dominant rural castes in Rajasthan, MP and UP have physically assaulted Dalit youth and their neighborhoods, with silent encouragement of the police. Thousands of Dalit youth have been booked and arrested. The district chief for Muzaffarnagar of Bhim Army has been arrested under NSA. Needelss to say, the systematic attacks on radical Dalits, and running down of legal provisions have emboldened the criminal lumpen base of Hindutva in cow vigilante groups, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Yuva vahini to attack ordinary Dalits. This is also contributing to creating an environment in which middle class professionals from ‘upper’ caste Hindus feel no hesitation in circulating manifestly anti-Dalit propaganda on social media.
BJP governments in Center and states also seem to be systematically conniving to dilute existing provisions of affirmative action and legal protection to Dalits. Officials of the Modi government acted most dubiously in the case that led to dilution of provisions of prevention of atrocities act. Additional Solicitor General is on court records to have said this act is being misused. Modi govt did not file a review petition immediately. Governments of Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan showed unseemly haste in implementing the court order, depriving Dalits of essential legal protection. Another area in which BJP government is eager to dilute legal provisions for the benefit of Dalits is in appointments to universities. UGC has passed orders that the basis of reservation roster will be departments rather than university. Following this the advertisement for 52 faculty posts at Indira Gandhi National Tribal University in MP had only one reserved post. Government of India needs to urgently bring in an ordinance to overrule Supreme Court decision in this regard. But Modi administration is sitting pretty.
Brahmanism is the core of Hindutva. It has however been adapted to the requirements of modern electoral politics. Hindutva is following a double pronged policy vis a vis Dalits. On the one hand are symbolic gestures; making a Dalit the president, and routinisied ceremonial appropriation of Ambedkar. On the other, legal and illegal state power and lumpen street power is being used against radical Dalit groups. As is well known Hindutva is a political project to build a political community of Hindus without any internal reforms. This programme became the political common sense of savarna caste Hindus after Congress failed to contain the upsurge of the locally dominant peasant castes, many of them Shudras in the Hindu hierarchy, around the Mandal programme of social justice. These castes had used democratization of caste in electoral politics to successfully assert their claim. Before this, the majority of savarna castes were aligned with the nation-building project of Congress. Their switchover to Hindutva however would not have given RSS-BJP the political success they enjoy. Their genius lies in turning the fragmentation principle of caste against its democratization. Basically, any group which mobilises itself politically as a caste, also alienates other castes. Through blatant misuse of mass religiosity of Hindus, and ground level organisational work, RSS-BJP have managed to bring in sections of lower OBCs (left out of the political successes of dominant rural OBCs) and some Dalit castes within their fold. This has created a voting block under the ideological hegemony of savarna castes.
A radical Dalit who questions the very foundations of Hindu caste order on the basis of principles of Equality and Freedom, is a moral and political anathema to Hindutva project. Attacks on Dalits, and sinister plans to dilute provisions of protection to Dalits and affirmative action are revolting to all citizens with democratic consciousness. It assaults their sense of a just society. However, it is also necessary to understand the political game plan of Hindutva. As Ambedkar showed in his Annihilation of Caste, Hindu society can never be democratic as long as it is caste ridden. For democracy to take sustainable roots in India, it is essential that caste is confronted without any compromise. Its ideology which divides humans in hierarchy, its supporting practices in religious rituals, and its everyday practices which are taken as normal (for instance keeping separate set of utensils for maids and servants in households) need to be challenged. Electoral understandings between opposition parties may locally or nationally defeat the RSS-BJP in elections. However, as long as the socio-political basis of Hindutva success persists, any victory against it will be short lived.