The hunt, it seems, is on again. The CPM in power has begun to show its fangs again, and shamefully, they seem to threaten only dalit people who refuse and criticise their disciplinary/welfarist embrace. In north Kerala, two dalit women were arrested for having allegedly attacked a DYFI leader who abused them in casteist terms. In the south, the persecution of the Buddhist Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM)seems to have begun afresh, with the police and the press foisting on them responsibility for the recent bomb blast at the premises of the Kollam Collectorate. The two women mentioned belong to the Congress party; as for the DHRM, the CPM has had a long-standing grouse against them, carried forward now from their last term in power. I am not sure, but the recent ouster of Laha Gopalan, the leader of the Chengara land struggle in the wake of the CPM’s return to power, could be part of this story too. I have no love lost for that man, who evoked the name of Ambedkar but ran the village set up by the landless in Chengara like a crude caste headman. But the timing of his expulsion and the way the village seems to be under the thumb of the police arouses discomfort.
It is striking that the CPM’s attacks on dalits is never random – they are not merely acts of anger provoked by some specific or immediate chance event. Rather, they occur every time dalit people or persons demand dignity. That is, when they demand unconditional respect for their identity and demand welfare on that basis – and not just as unmarked poor. So Chitralekha, the woman autorickshaw driver who has faced repeated attacks from local CPM cadre and is now a figure of dalit resistance in Kerala, is facing a steep uphill climb in her efforts to build a home for herself in the land allotted to her by the former government. The two women Congress workers in north Kerala protested against casteist insults and were promptly arrested – even if they did attack the male leader who does not seem to have suffered even minor injury, how come this is counted as more of a crime than casteist slurs?
I am however, more deeply disturbed by the attacks on the DHRM because while the other attacks have produced ripples of discussion and protest among large sections of the critical public offline and online, there is a disconcerting silence about the violence unleashed against the DHRM. Really, not even the warriors on Facebook who protested against the recent Malayalam hit Kammattippaadam, claiming that it misrepresented dalit men as violent, destructive losers. Interestingly, in this movie, the dalit protagonists decisively outshone the savarna-looking ‘hero’ in that they fought for dignity in the face of tremendous odds; the film also triggered considerable discussion on caste and displacement in Kerala’s history among the yet-unconverted sections of the public. The movie brought into active critical public discourse the question of masculinity in Kerala’s wretched ‘dalit colonies’ where young dalit men – the most disadvantaged in Kerala’s male population- are recruited by politicians and criminals for all sorts of nefarious activities. Yet, when the state actually tries to profile an organization that has sought to work with precisely these men, the critics and the admirers of Kammattippaadam are equally silent!
I have been in conversation with them since 2009. I still remember the early conversations with the DHRM’s founder-leader, Tathu, who stressed the organization’s role in rebuilding from the ground up, notions of honour and dignity, focusing on re-forming specifically, dalit men who have been abused and misused by elites. His struggle was to actualize what appeared to me a future that is both Ambedkarite as well as rooted in the traditions of dalit and anti-caste resistance in Malayali society. It combined the search for a new spiritual home, in Buddhism of a specifically Malayali-dalit sort, with constant engagement with democracy through participation in general elections, and through the adoption and reform of practices to ensure the continuing democratization of the casteless community to be actualized in the future. The last is the reason why elite civil society and the mainstream press has found them unsettling – the all-black unisex uniform with Ambedkar’s image on it is too threatening, perhaps. The state and the CPM are disquieted because the DHRM has refused both reservations and neoliberal welfarism as routes, claiming that these may lead some dalits to honour defined in terms of, and in favour of, the savarna, but will never help to rebuild dalit dignity and a casteless society. They also do not believe in depending overly on mainstream media and their passivizing sympathy, which seems to have generated a grouse against them.
For this, they have been punished with alarming severity, and the CPM has been especially hostile. The DHRM was accused of murdering an elderly morning walker at Varkala in 2009, allegedly to ‘terrorise their political opponents’ – and despite there was concrete evidence for conflict between the DHRM and the Siva Sena over the loot of natural resources in the area and the DHRM’s insistence on ending the illicit trade in liquor and drugs in the Thoduva colony at Varkala, the police, right from the beginning, refused to listen to them, rejected their complaints, and allowed the Siva Sena and the DYFI to let loose a reign of terror.(Here is a sample of the vicious slander that was spread at that time). Seven DHRM men have been handed down life sentences at the end of this completely biased investigation. The terrible violence against dalit women and children at the colony is still unpunished – despite the fact that their testimony was widely available, being publicized by activists, in online forums including Youtube. Indeed, one can’t help feeling that the manner in which the Jisha case is being handled by Pinarayi Vijayan’s team is inspired by the ‘success’ of their past strategy against the DHRM. Essentially, it involves giving the dog a bad name – and our mainstream press is only too happy to help – and then hang it. In fact, fling so much dirt that some will surely stick and influence the judiciary.
I appeal to all the people in and associated with the CPM, especially pro-CPM students who have been in the forefront of the protests against the Sangh Parivar’s assault on dalit and OBC students in JNU and HCU : if your acts in support of dalits in the country were not out of sheer narcissism (induced by Facebook, especially), we need to hear you question your leadership and bring to an end these ugly attacks. Sure, sure, one knows that internal battles are slow to produce outcomes, and maybe an entire generation needs to pass etc. etc. But even more surely, the slowness of change internally contrasts rather unbecomingly with your eagerness to reap political capital from the anti-caste protests elsewhere. Your slip is showing – it is rather dirty and smelly, and you may profit from attending to it.