But don’t talk about revolution That’s going a bit too far —Phil Ochs
Everyone is buoyed by the recent Dalit uprising in Gujarat, as we should be. Much as the struggle of the Hyderabad university students taught us to fight against all odds despite the grief that we carry in our hearts, the recent incident of Dalits in Gujarat refusing to pick up cattle carcass revived memories of the militant Dalit struggle of the 1970s.
To be honest, I doubt I’ve read one entire news piece about the Una case. I finally watched the video under much mental duress. Just like I would cast furtive glances at the photos of Insha that is still being shared on social media – why do all revolutions need martyr-heroes? I couldn’t resist Zuhra for long either. I have the option to choose – to see or not to see. In a country that is blinding a people with non-lethal weapons taking away even this right to record their history behind their eyelids to be passed on to generations to come. I wonder what their lethal weapons do?
Is Kashmir better or worse than Bastar? Opression is not quantifiable. Building hierarchies of the oppressed will not yield any result. However, it is another digression. The Dalits in Gujarat have given a clarion call for a new wave of Dalit uprising that is clearly giving the state headed by the present right-wing party sleepless nights.
Disposal of cattle carcasses is the source of income for a section of the Dalit community. The dead cow meat also provided sustenance. The social movements within the community have tried to make people aware of the dangers of eating the meat of a dead animal. It has reduced this practice. The primary occupational jobs that the Dalits perform is now of skinning the cattle and tanning the leather. The higher castes still do not touch the carcass of even the animal that they consider to be a mother figure. It is considered impure.
In the recent days, the attacks on lower castes and Muslims have reached a fever pitch. Scores of vigilante groups named Gaurakshak Dals, Singh Sena, Bajrang Dal, etc whose members roam around carrying saffron gamchas and sporting a tilak have found a new leash on life. They roam around the country side with impunity and in cahoots with the police their targets are usually unsuspecting poor youth from the low caste communities, not they spare the children, elderly or the women. Recently, two Muslim women were beaten up by such a mob in Madhya Pradesh on the mere suspicion of carrying cow meat. Suspicion is a pronouncement of the guilt these days. Of course, conditions apply. The state, of course, only needs to prove that the meat found in Akhlaq’s house is beef, for example. The murdering mob can go home happy with all their constitutional safeguards in place. One doesn’t need reminding of the grotesque drama played out in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh when Akhlaq was murdered by the Hindu mob, consisting mostly of the villagers, on the mere suspicion of consuming beef in his house. Now, the state has booked his family members because after many days someone found beef in the dustbin outside his house. The state has done its mandate. Just as they are trying to prove that Rohith Vemula was not a Dalit. That he lied about his caste. Rohith said that he had been reduced to his immediate identity but the state will deny him even that, if they can. Only to save the criminals responsible for his death?
The Una incident, coming in a time when already a heroic struggle is in process against the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, has acted as fuel for fire. The oppressors are ruthless. There are already reports coming in of the threats being issued by the higher castes to the Dalits who refuse to pick up the carcass. One must be alert to the task of monitoring the additional attacks on the Dalits and the mortal danger that their act of resistance may spur. The upper castes and the modi-sponsored gau-rakshaks at present seem to have done more harm than good.
The question of livelihood will be paramount. There would be need to create new jobs for the Dalits who want to quit the so-called traditional work and try to assimilate into the mainstream. Rehabilitation is a long process especially for races who are historically condemned to silence. Many more cultural and social battles will have to be fought. First we need to win the war. Although in a recent article Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves write that the unique feature of the recent uprising of Dalits is the absence of any demand for compensation. If this is indeed the case, then the true emancipation of the Dalits may not be a far-fetched idea.
The Dalits have sounded the horn again. The anger which was simmering since January has reached a decisive stage. Where it will go is up to the people and the kind of leaders they choose. There is one advantage. The Dalits are not fighting alone this time. The Kashmiris and the Adivasis are fighting with them. Each fighting for their rights, which is also the right of all the people.
When Marx says that a “spectre is haunting Europe” in the preamble of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, he aims to meet this “nursery tale of the spectre of Communism” with the written manifesto of the party. New forms of struggle and alliance are emerging in the present. A new manifesto might just be what Marx may order to dispel these spectres in our midst.
Payal is a Delhi-based feminist/activist.