The attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men is yet to develop in India.
Does anybody still remember the Dalits of Chakwara, a village around 50km from Jaipur in Rajasthan, who had launched a struggle to gain access to the pond in their village? It is more than 18 years since the Dalits, supported by human rights organisations, won that fight for water. Their undertaking had echoes with the historic struggle launched by Dr BR Ambedkar in March 1927 at Chavdar tank at Mahad to assert the equal rights of Dalits to water. It is well known to most people that while animals were allowed to use the water of this tank in present-day Raigad district of the state, the Dalits were not. Anand Teltumbde has described the events of this satyagraha in his book, Mahad: The Making of the First Dalit Revolt, published by Navayana in 2016.
But what happened at Chakwara after the Dalits started using the village pond is hardly known: the upper castes slowly stopped using the water from the pond once the Dalits gained access to it, saying it had become “impure”. Enraged by the assertion of the Dalits and keen to humiliate them for it, they dug up the village sewer and directed the waste water to their own village pond. There is no change in the status quo there.
Around 700km away, in Viramgam near Ahmedabad in Gujarat, a village cemetery used by Dalits was recently flooded with sewer water, a stark reminder that the gap of two decades has not changed the caste scenario in the country. The executioners of this sinister plan in Viramgam were the residents of two housing societies in which the well-off and educated middle classes live. For more than the last six months, the graves of the socially-disadvantaged Vankar, Chamar, Rohit, Dangasia, Shetwa and other communities have been surrounded by dirty water. The district administration did not intervene on behalf of the Dalits despite their repeated complaints. The fact that dignity after death is being denied to marginalised communities did not seem to rouse the administration.
The recent spate of attacks on dalits in the state is an indicator of the fact that the unfolding project of RSS’s Hindu Rashtra has entered a new phase where the community is being construed as the ‘new other’.
When I was born, I was not a child
I was a dream, a dream of revolt
that my mother, oppressed for thousands of years,
Still it is untouched in my eyes
Covered with wrinkles of thousand years, her face
her eyes, two lakes overflowing with tears
have watered my body….
– Sahil Parmar (Noted Gujarati Poet)
‘You are Welcome to Enter … Village of Hindu Rashtra’!
It was around two decades ago that headlines in a few national newspapers reported the ‘arrival’ of Hindu Rashtra in parts of Gujarat. A few inquisitive journalists had even displayed photographs detailing the nascent phenomenon then.
The shock generated by the news died down in a short while.
Hardly anybody then could have a premonition that it won’t take much time for the idea of Hindu Rashtra to gain wider acceptability across India with a commonsense gaining ground rather getting consolidated where religious minorities were increasingly understood as ‘the other’.
Could it be said that the recent spate of attacks on dalits — leading to at least three deaths in the past one month in the same state, coupled with growing instances of life of insecurity of many concerning their lives or their continued deprivation by the dominant castes, is an indicator of the fact that the unfolding project of Hindu Rashtra has entered a new phase where dalits are being construed as the ‘new other’, one who could wreck the project of ‘Hindu Unity’ from within.
Perhaps it is too early to draw any such conclusion, but portents are there for everyone to see.
Mujadpur, a village in Haryana’s Hisar district, which has been in the news recently for what the government lexicon calls ‘dalit atrocities’, involving murders and ‘suicides’.
Recently, it was hit by another such incident, albeit of a less fatal nature: Members of the Jat community thrashed a dalit man called Ramdhari and his family members and stuffed cow dung in his mouth. Reportedly, Ramdhari installed a statue of BR Ambedkar in his house and that provoked the upper caste Jats.
The irony of this cannot be emphasised enough.
One does not know whether in an area dominated by the Jats, Ramdhari’s perpetrators have been arrested under provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989) or not.
Or has the incident been explained away in the light of some vague personal animosity, which is what happened when two children in Sunped were recently killed by throwing of inflammable material in their house by dominant castes.
As the nation begins another series of grand celebrations, this time to celebrate the contributions of BR Ambedkar, the plight of a dalit family for merely installing his statue stares at us in our eyes. It is symptomatic of the gap between the principles and values on which the Constitution is based and the situation on the ground.
Anand Teltumbde is a noted Bombay-based Dalit intellectual who also wears the hat of a business executive. He has written this book about the lynching of a Dalit family in a Maharashtra village in 2006 to ensure that the incident is not easily erased from memory. He quotes Milan Kundera: “The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” In other words, he sees this book as being a seminal work on the Khairlanji atrocity.
The book begins with Abel Meeropol’s song Strange Fruit, written in 1936 (and not 1939, as the book incorrectly states) about the lynching of two black youth. It is from this song that the book derives its sub-title, “A Strange and Bitter Crop,” which once again reinforces the book’s ambition. Billie Holiday’s rendition of Strange Fruit (in 1939) soon became an anthem for the anti-lynching movement in the US, but does Teltumbde’s book achieve its ambitious goal?
I gather that the Uttar Pradesh police has become especially sensitive to crimes against Dalits after the Lok Sabha debacle of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party. I gather that the head of the state police is now flying dowin in his helicopter to areas that are reporting serious atrocity cases, routinely suspending his department’s employees in-charge of the area. I gather that Dalits going to the police station in UP’s villages are no longer being told, ‘Do a compromise. Why do you want to complicate matters? After all inter-caste harmony is needed to make Behenji Prime Minister!’ Continue reading Lathi, Charged→
The Gujarat Earthquake in the year 2001 and the consequent relief and rehabilitation programme was an eyeopener to the outside world regarding the deep seated caste bias in the Gujarati community apart from the much talked about bias against the minorities. There were reports that at places the relief and rehabilitation work bypassed the dalits and the Muslims.