Maharashtra Dalits Backed BJP Due To Frustration: Eknath Awad
Aishik Chanda Interveiws Eknath Awad
26 October, 2014
Fondly called as "Jija" or "The respected" (in Marathi) by his followers, one of the tallest Dalit activist of India, Eknath Awad works for economic empowerment of the most depressed communities of the fuedal region in Deccan Plateau. Through his "Manviya Haq Abhiyaan" or Human rights movement, Jija has secured land for over 50,000 Dalits in Marathwada, giving them social and economic freedom to a great extent. He speaks to TISS student Aishik Chanda at Manviya Haq Abhiyan HQ near Telgaon in Beed district of Maharashtra.
Aishik Chanda: How has the Dalit movement fared in Marathwada till now?
Eknath Awad: Marathwada was a part of Nizam-ruled Hyderabad state, which resulted in feudalism, backwardness and more atrocities on the Dalits. Lack of employement, fuelled by chronic casteism gave strength to the Dalit movement here. There have been several separate movements by the Dalit Panthers, Republican Party of India, Manviya Haq Abhiyan and Ukraant. The more you suppress, the stronger the movement grows.
AC: How has Manviya Haq Abhiyan succeeded so far?
EA: The main aim of Manviya Haq Abhiyan, which started in 1990, was to put a halt to the caste-based occupations in the villages, stop caste atrocities and secure as much as possible fallow government grazing land for the Dalits. A lot of Dalits have got grazing land to toil. Earlier, people did not file cases of atrocities. Things have changed. Dalits have gathered more courage and voice, which has led to more action.
AC: Despite economic empowerment, has social equality come?
EA: It is very hard to bring social equality in our country, even if economic equality has been achieved. After struggling for so many years, I am being looked down upon as a Dalit, but not on the face. Everything is behind my back. Social equality is very hard to achieve...our countrymen are mad people. Humanity has no value. Stones have value, animals have value, but humans don't. Even cats and dogs are treated better than Dalits in our society. Humans are not treated like humans, rest all are gods. Lord Buddha spread the message of equality but the people of our country did not like that. Hence, this situation.
AC: Why do you think Babasaheb Ambedkar's ideology did not make much impact on many Dalit communities throughout India on the level it could have?
EA: In south, Baba's ideology has made a great impact. In U.P., Baba's thoughts were taken forward by Kanshi Ram ji. However, all over India it might not have made a great impact partly because the one's who should have taken the ideas to other states -- The Marathi Dalit -- is largely rural and does not have that level of exposure to the other states.
AC: Where do you see the Dalit movement in Maharashtra post-BJP government both at Centre and state?
EA: The Congress-NCP rule ignored the Dalit issues like anything. The earlier Chief Ministers and the home ministers would visit the Dalit villages after an atrocity or massacre. However, the recent governments even stopped that formality. The Dalits were angry with the government, so they wanted a change and voted for BJP en masse, which is also a reason for BJP's accession to power in Maharashtra.
AC: What are the differences between the Dalit movements in Vidarbha and Marathwada?
EA: The Dalit movements of Marathwada, Vidarbha and western Maharashtra are different from one another. The Marathwada movement has been aggressive as caste-oppression has been the most violent here. The Dalit movement in Vidarbha is not united. However, after a caste atrocity or violence, the Mahars and the Maangs (major Dalit communities) come under the same roof. Organisations join hands to put up a collective fight. Within 15 days of an atrocity, the victim Dalit takes his "revenge" in Marathwada. Such is not the case in Vidarbha. The casteism in western Maharashtra is very subtle and non-violent in nature.
AC: Despite such a strong social movement in Maharashtra, why did not the Dalits get much political power?
EA: It is because of the divide among the Dalits. The shaane (clever) Dalits have outnumbered the deewane (passionate) Dalits in Maharashtra.
AC: What is your stand on Arundhati Roy's "version" of Annhilation of caste?
EA: I haven't read it yet. So, can't comment on that.
AC: Your organisation has Ambedkariite ideology but has supported NCP, Congress and BJP. Does that not clash with your political ideology?
EA: No, it doesn't. The Congress-NCP rule has been more cruel on Dalits than the BJP-SS rule.
AC: So, you can go with any ideology for the betterment of the Dalits?
EA: It is not like that. The Congress has used the Dalits and the Muslims by using the fear of BJP. So, our stand has become "dekh lenge" (We'll see). Hence, the Dalits have supported the BJP this time.
AC: Can Dalits and Muslims ever come together politically?
EA: They can but they won't. Dalits and Muslims have separate agendas. The Muslims have never been politically organised. They have just organised themselves on religious grounds. Dalits till get politically organised. Muslims have voted en masse to BJP here in Majalgaon in Beed district.
AC: Why did it take so long for convicting the perpetrators of Khairlanji incident?
EA: It has been majorly due to state government's negligence. They were never beside the Dalits of Khairlanji. They instead honoured Kahirlanji with a "Tanta Mukti Puraskar" (an award given for solving their problems). In that very village, such a gruesome massacre and rapes took place. The attitude of the government is best seen the way it had changed non-bailable offences to bailable ones.
AC: Where do you see media's role in bringing out atrocities to the "mainstream".
EA: Only Dalit media reports such cases regularly. Big medias have become corporatised. The philanthrophy in journalism has become very weak. The media won't earn much if they publish or report more of atrocities on Dalits, who are not "news".
AC: Where do you see role of Dalit literature as a medium of Dalit voice?
EA: It is very very important. In Mahrashtra, a lot has been done through Dalit literature. Maharashtra has now all types of Dalit literature.
AC: What is the reason that the Dalits in Maharashtra are the most organised?
EA: It is the result of the movements by Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb. A lot has changed here.
AC: Why do you think the BSP did not make much inroads into Maharashtra?
EA: I have fought on a BSP ticket in Lok Sabha elections once. I believe in the ideology. But, with the death of Kanshi Ram ji, his dream too died. Mayawati is busy in petty party politics. Kanshi Ram ji's work was missionary. His mission was to make Dalits wake up. During his lifetime, BSP became a national party. After his death, the downfall of the party started, its area of influence got reduced and limited to in and around U.P.
AC: Do you think there is any chance of Dalit panthers to regain strength in Maharashtra?
EA: No, its not possible. People have changed a lot. A Dalit organisation grows when Dalits are insecure. Now, the situation of Dalits in Maharashtra has improved manifolds. Atrocities have reduced. The "dushman" (enemy) has also become conscious. They now fear the Dalits. They are not in a position to be aggressive against Dalits, as was the situation during Dalit Panthers' time. Also, the commitment among Dalit children towards the movement has reduced. Not many Dalit kids will go on a padayatra (foot march) today. During the heyday of 70s, we used to walk for 40 km a day to reach villages and sensitise people. In this new position, rebuilding and resurecting Dalit Panthers is very very difficult.
AC: Do you support OBC reservations for Marathas?
EA: Not at all!!! They are the exploiters. They have factories, dairies, farms. They are the sarpanch, MLA, MP, ministers, CM. They are everywhere. Why do they need reservation? According to the constitution, reservation if for the traditionally powerless communities. Marathas are in power since ages.
AC: Bengal is second in the country both in terms of Dalit population and percentage. Still its has seen no major Dalit movement post-independence. Is it due to suppression of caste and more importance to class?
EA: Yes. CPI and CPM have done this grave mistake and hence have failed. They believe that social mobility will follow economic mobility. But that has not happened. Babasaheb had told that caste and class issues should go hand-in-hand. So, Dalit issues in Bengal were suppressed by class struggle. Bengal needs a strong Dalit leader now.
The writer is pursuing M.A. Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He was a working journalist at The New Indian Express and Deccan Chronicle in Hyderabad. He is currently an independent journalist.
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