At The Cross Road
09 August, 2005
June 2005, I saw a huge crowd of Madigas at the Nizam college ground
sitting two days and demanding categorization of reservation meant for
scheduled castes. There were rumors that the opposition Telugu Desham
instigated this incident to divide the Dalit votes who have been supporting
the Congress Party for long. Though, these charges may not be entirely
ruled out yet those championing the cause of Dalits need to ponder over
the situation as what has happened to the entire movement. Whether there
was a Dalit movement or there were separate caste movement defending
their own identities.
Dalit movement has
a rich history of rationalism and humanism. In fact, the historical
evolution took place with Buddha's revolt against Varnashram dharma.
Buddha not only rejected supremacy of Brahmins but also of the Shastras.
Sanskrit was the language of the Brahmins and knowledge their sole domain
and Buddha not only demolished their knowledge base of Brahmins but
also popularized among the masses by sermonizing in Prakrit.
And this tradition
of revolt continued at the later stage also. All the indigenous reform
movement and religions in India had inherently revolted against the
Brahmanical value system, which gave divine sanction to untouchability
and caste system. After Buddha, Mahavir Swami rejected the notion of
caste and violence in the brahmanical structure. Even the birth of Sikhism
is related to the caste prejudices rampant in varnashram dharma system.
In the 15th century Kabir talked of rejection of caste system and talked
of one God. He attacked rituals and Shastras and talked of a society
based on equality.
Yet the brahmanical
system continued by hook or by crook. The brahmanical literature degraded
Dalits and talked very cleverly about the pre-birth theory. They promoted
Gita which in return promoted not only violence but also caste system.
The Brahmin intellectuals carefully planted their own people among Dalits
to justify their position.
One is ashamed that
even today we have gurus like Dronacharya who supported Varna Vywvastha
and denied Eklavya, a Dalit to become the number one arch of his time.
Accordingly, Dalits were not supposed to learn arms and only the Kshatriyas
had a right to learn military training according to Varna Vyawastha.
We could have accepted such norms in the primitive time and forgot about
it but in the post independence India, the government followed it and
formed not only Arjuna Award for best sports person but Dronacharya
award for best coaches, indicating nothing has changed the mindset of
our rulers. The result is that we have coaches like Dronacharya today
who differentiate between their subjects and the condition is that our
sports are in the worst shape.
While Mughal rule
in India was a status quoits one, the emergence of British power made
a lot of difference for the downtrodden people. They brought a sense
of liberty for the marginalized communities. Jyoti Ba Phule belonged
to Mali ( fishermen) community of Maharastra. Pune's Chitpawan Brahmin
would not allow any Dalit and backward to join schools. Women and particularly
of Dalit community could never dream of going to school. Phule realized
that unless the community get educated they would not be able to emancipate
themselves. So he started a massive work of education by starting various
schools in and around Pune. The Brahmins opposed education movement
among Dalits which they had denied for years. Phule exposed the brahamnical
literature, wrote plays about the exploitation of the farmers and appreciated
Christian missionaries for their noble work in school education.
from Phule, Baba Saheb Dr Ambedkar also talked the importance of education.
But education must be rationalists and reasonable. Education agitate
our mind. It gives us thought about what, is good and what is bad. Hence
Education is root of every movement. Agitation on certain thing is a
uniting factor. It became the famous word of Ambedkar " Educate,
agitate and organise'. Ambedkar was one of the tallest intellectuals
of the country, a scholar who understood the crookedness of the Shastras.
He was an iconoclast and questioned the very essence of Shastras. In
his letters to Gandhi he says that we should amend Shastras because
they talk of caste system. Gandhi said that we had to believe in Shastras
if we want to call ourselves Hindu because if we challenge the very
foundation of Hinduism, which is the Shastras, then we have no business
in calling ourselves Hindu. In fact, this led to bitter dual between
Ambedkar and Gandhi. Ambedkar not only said clearly that he was born
as a Hindu but would not die as a Hindu.
Ambedkar read Gita
and Ramayana and questioned the wisdom. He was among very few intellectuals
of his time who never considered Rama and Krishna as idol for Indians.
How can be a person who maltreat his wife, be considered an ideal man,
he opined. Gita, he suggested, openly justify killing and Varnavyavastha.
He cites example of Krishna's sermon to Arjuna when the latter refuses
to attack his own brotherns and relatives, "Oh Arjuna, you are
not killing them.. You are just killing their bodies, for soul is immortal,
ever present. It cannot be burnt, neither could it be dried." Ambedkar
wondered that if a person murder some one, if would be easier for his
lawyer to make his presentation in the court saying my client has not
killed any one. He just killed his body the soul is immortal. Are these
for the dignity of Dalits. The Hindu Varnavyavastha snatched the dignity
from Dalits. It degraded labour. The person who works hard to earn his
bred was considered lowest while the Brahmins with their narrow minded
tainted vision became 'Bhoodevatas', gods on the earth. The bloodsucking
Gods had inherently anti Dalit bias. So angry was Ambedkar with the
Hindu law book, which he considered as the source of caste system and
discrimination against Daltis in India that he launched a movement against
On December 25th,
1927, Ambedkar launched a Satygrah in Mahad town of Maharastra for the
water rights of Dalits and against the Manu Smriti. He burnt Manu Smriti
terming it a document of discrimination with a number of his supporters.
It was an act of great courage to do so in the den of violent Chitpawan
Brahmins in Maharastra.
It is interesting
that Ambedkar fought for the rights of Dalits and had a broader vision
forhis community. Unfortunately, when he started thinking of giving
them a vision in 1955, he died. It was time when he embraced Buddhism
and gave them an identity. Many people question Ambedkar's motivation
to embrace Buddhism. Ambedkar has his own definition of Buddhism. He
wanted his people to give an identity so that they get out of Varna
System. Whatever we say, as long as we are a part of the Varna Vyawastha,
whatever we do reflect our caste identities. Ambedkar, Phule and Periyar,
all, wanted their followers to be provocative and proactive. Reject
caste system and for that complete break up from the Hindu social order
and embrace a better system.
Ambedkar wrote many
thing over a period of 30 years. Some time he was living in deep anguish,
elsewhere working with the government or framing constition and at the
end as a Buddhist. And on each of these occasions he had different moods.
There was a time when he became frustrated with the Varnavyavastha and
he tore the Shastras. Then a time came when Ambedkar's main concern
was to ensure fare participation of Dalits in political life of the
country and he succeeded in getting separate electorate for them which
he had to withdraw to 'save' the life of Gandhi, in 1932, known as Poona
Pact. Then as a constitutionalist when he drafted constitution and later
worked very hard to ensure fare deal for women in the Hindu Code Bill.
In the last phase of his life when Baba Saheb embraced Buddhism, his
main concern was providing a political alternative to Dalits.
It is also interesting
to note that that Dr Ambedkar was a humanist to the core of his heart.
Even when his so-called followers have converted him as a caste man
or narrowly interpreted his ideologies and perception, Ambedkar could
be termed an international humanist. A person who the persecuted all
over the world today look to get inspiration. The narrow minded political
fringes in the name of Dalit vision should think that Ambedkar first
formed Indian Labour Party and later Republican Party of India and at
no point of time he formed vision based on caste. Even on his 'thought
on Pakistan' Ambedkar suggested that there should a party representing
poor Hindus and poor Muslims, entirely secular, only that could save
India. Muslim communalism only feed Hindu communalism.
Dr Ambedkar's untimely death paralyzed the entire Dalit movement. His
followers went to different streams. There are so many Republican Party
of India that it is difficult who can we call as original party. The
Ambedkarite movement (if it ever was), remained confined to 'Sarkari
babu log', who will throng the parliament street in Delhi or Diksha
bhoomi in Nagpur on December 6th and April 14th every year. It looked
Ambedkar never spoke beyond reservation and varnya vyavastha. His writings
of 30s were used more then the writings in the later stage perhaps to
gain political leverages but that had hurt the movement.
While there is no
denying fact that Ambedkar's popularity among the Dalits is not due
to the 'Sarkari Babu Log' but the poor Dalits who consider him his emancipator.
But hate campaign in the name of Ambedkar are uncalled for. There are
many reasons for the same. Ambedkar is a uniting factor for Dalits.
No doubt that he has become an icon from North to South from Hindi heartland
to the southern Tamilnadu. To be frank, Ambedkar's reach to areas beyond
his traditional domain is not just spreading of his ideology but using
him as point of entry to gain a separate political status by the elite
Dalit groups. The worst fact is the Ambedkar is mainly known among the
working class Dalits and enlightened and numerically powerful communities
like Mahars in Maharastra, Chamars and Jatavs in the North India, Namshudras
in West Bengal, Malas in Andhra and a few others in Tamilnadu. While
Mahars hold sway in Maharastra and the Jatavs and Chamars outnumber
any other community in the north contributed fairly to Ambedkarisation
process. That helped people under the banner of
Bahujan Political Party which used it as a vehicle to spread its wing.
When Mayawati became
the chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh, analyists mistook it as a great
revolution in the Dalits of Uttar-Pradesh. The fact of the matter is
while it may be proudly said that a Dalit woman
became chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh and that every Dalit felt proud
of her being there at the chair yet the fact of Mayawati's ascendancy
to Lucknow's thrown are different then what we perceive. They have very
little to do with Ambedkar's movement and more to do with Mayawati's
Chamar caste. The Chamar consolidation behind Mayawati ensured that
she has an important role to play in Uttar-Pradesh. While it gave Mayawati
a substantial chunk of seats in Uttar-Pradesh and increased her bargaining
capabilities, it made her vulnerable also. For the past two decade no
government in UP got to work full terms of five years. Mayawati's on
tally in the assembly could never reached beyond 25% of the total seats
of the assembly. Mulayam Singh Yadav has the same status quo situation.
Both have realized that their respective vote bank remain in their pocket
and will not ditch them however both now think to go beyond their traditional
vote banks and are now flirting with the Brahmins and Thakurs. So the
narrow Dalit politicisation in UP has also resulted in increasing power
of the Brahmins and Thakurs being wooed by both the SP and BSP. This
is an unfortunate trend being followed everywhere. The reason for this
is the politics of power in the villages. BSP's over dependence on
Chamars and a few other communities antagonized the other dalit communities,
Mulyam Singh dependence on Yadavs and Thakurs also created problems
for other backward communities and the need was to involve all the oppressed
Dalits and backward together. This experiment of UP was sought to be
taken elsewhere by disgruntled Ambedkarite who started crying foul on
Periyar. Simply because the Dravidian parties are not taking them into
consideration does not make a case to say that Periyar was anti Dalit.
This irony of the
Dalits movement is that it has not resolved its own contradictions because
Ambedkar is used as tool to hit at others and not resolve our own contradictions.
Ambedkar's use is condemning
brahmanical literature and values is no doubt useful in bringing people
together but his positive writing for an alternative vision need to
reestablished. It is easier to unite the communities on agitational
mode against some one but very difficult to manage it when you get power
or share in power. Dalits are facing it now. The elite Dalit groups
who enjoyed reservation and power now refuse to accept this reality
that those living in villages, living as landless, powerless without
participation in political life are to be catered. They have no emotion
other then selling Ambedkar's portrait and their own self. Today, this
growing chasm between different Dalit group is just not an upper caste
ploy but their own contradiction. In politics every opponent is ready
to hit you when you are weak. Dalit movement failed to resolved many
issues important to it and now face flak from all over.
The politics of
identity never helps. The Dalits vision is to fight against hegemonies
but in this process of breaking hegemonies, if we create our own hegemonies
then the movement will break. In our efforts to break brahmanical hegemonies
we created hegemonies in our own self and therefore Valmikis ( Swachchkars),
Madigas, Kuhmhars, Mangs and hundreds of other communities ask question
for their fare representation. And a typical elite answer is that they
have been allured by the upper castes. But the fact of the matter is
that there is a wide gap between the numerically powerful communities
in Dalits and the minorities.
The irony of the
entire movement is that rather then working on the collective wisdom,
the movement though claim to work for all communities, has by and large
remain confined to a few individuals who used their community identity
to gain the political clout. The Ambedkarite movement rarely talk of
violence and violation of human rights. Their obsession with Manu Smriti
and Hindu Gods to joke at took a perverted turn as one of the major
problem that the Dalits face is to get acknowledgement from the caste
Hindus. That a majority of Dalits despite all the facts, go the temples
of the Brahmins and follow the same rituals. But these issues are seldom
addressed in true sense. They are used as a rhetoric to lumpen the brahmanical
system. The system will not go unless we want to get rid of it. The
reason for not raising the issue of violence of Dalits is that many
'intellectual' feel 'uncomfortable' on this issue as they used their
identity to get the entry into the media and would talk of 'philosophy'.
Today, the same intellectuals have left all the work of the brahmanical
system and now target the backward communities. Why has the Dalit movement
changed its track from anti brahmanical campaign to anti backward campaign?
And as I mentioned
earlier, it has nothing to do with social movement which we all need
to secularise and democratize our societies. The entire campaign is
a power game. In this power game no body want to leave anything for
others. In these power games we don't talk of philosophy. No doubt the
backwards have become radical Hindutva people and have physically hit
the Dalits and there is a need to draw a line. Like a few Dalit powerful
communities, there are few backward powerful communities. The fight
between a powerful Dalit community and a powerful backward community
cannot be allowed to create a permanent rift between two groups. It
has to be seen that the categorization of castes into backwards and
schedule castes had its own flaws. There are oppressed backward communities
which should have been in the Scheduled castes.
The non ambedkarite
groups, mainly the NGOs, self-styled civil society people don't talk
of philosophy. They bring a bundle of individual cases and weep all
the time that Dalits are beaten up. One should remember that no movement
can succeed without a philosophy and there would be no takers for a
philosophy unless it is popularized in the movements. So issue of a
broader secular democratic Dalit movement and atrocities on Dalits need
to be worked at the same level. Narrowing Ambedkar's vision to a limited
people and communities will damage the entire Dalit movement. Dalit
movement is at the crossroad and need various answers.
I for all purposes,
consider Ambedkar one of the tallest intellectual, a human rights defender
and a humanist. For all his life he never accepted the finality of the
religious text, questioned them and even burnt them. Secondly, he was
a truly democrat, not a caste-ist and worked over time to talk about
labour and women. Ambedkar has been misquoted by every interest groups.
The upper castes, the Muslims, the Christians and the Sikhs every one
has quoted Ambedkar for their own purposes. He embraced Buddhism on
his own interpretations and noton the interpretations of any religious
guru. He redefined it and probably would have given it the new meaning
had he survived some more
exposed the religious myths attached to Dalits. He tore apart the fundamentals
put forward by the Brahmins in their holy texts. But at the same point
of time one need to understand Ambedkar fully when he decided to embrace
Buddhism with millions of Dalits. Ambedkar's genuine anti Brahmin or
anti varna sentiments got exploited by the religious groups for the
purpose of prosiletisation. Embracing any tradition or religion is the
fundamental right of an individual but the fact remain that where does
it help Dalits as an institution. When we challenge the institutions
of holy religious text, question their finality and even burnt them
when we feel they go against humanity, is it possible that we have the
same elsewhere? Dalits have every reason to believe and tear apart the
Hindu verna vyavastha but should they keep quiet when the other faiths
also become tormentors? Should they not support those who are victims
of their own faiths? If I like ' Why I am not a Hindu', I am sure we
should not forget the cry of legendary Bertrand Russell long ago who
wrote " Why I am not a Christian' and a few years back another
fellow came up with resounding ' why I am not a Muslim'. Faiths have
always been like that. They thrive on miracles and mischief.
If Rama and his
brothers were mocked by Ambedkar about how they were born, similar is
the case of Christ. It is no point blaming one and keeping quiet on
others. Today's favorite things are blame game. A progressive Dalit
movement cannot stand on the selective criticism of a few religious
texts and conspicuously keeping quiet on other. A movement cannot be
build on superfluous philosophy of negativism. It has to provide its
own alternative to the people. Dalits have their own distinct identity
and culture and those claiming to provide them an alternative God really
misquote Ambedkar and kill their revolutionary spirit as suggested by
many Dalit activists.
The high voltage
of political power among Dalits in Uttar-Pradesh is due to its politicization
process while the religious conversion has made them apolitical. The
tribals in India became the victim of this
apolitical process by NGOs and religious groups going there and taking
over the leadership. The result was the tribals remain isolated and
exploited. Dalits on the other side remained politically mobile and
hence their leadership took over and negotiated in their own terms and
conditions. There is another fact that the number of so-called NGOs
among Dalits in South is more then what we imagined in the north but
the account of political power in the Dalits in the North is much higher
then the South. And this is the process of turning them apolitical and
more religious ultimately resulted in their exploitation. In the south
the conversion process was higher then the North. The Chamars and Jatavs
of Uttar Pradesh rarely converted. They always claimed to be Buddhists.
In Maharastra, the Mahars became neo Buddhists and the awareness level
among them was superb. Buddhism did not take away their politicization
process initiated by Dr Ambedkar but the conversion to other faiths
actually made them apolitical resulting in more exploitation.
is very rich and need to be protected by us all. Dalit movement itself
is a revolt against the obnoxious brahmanical values but at the same
point of time, should express solidarity with all oppressed masses of
the world. The movement should build bridges with likeminded groups,
secular and democratic organizations, and avoid becoming another cult
group. It should broaden its ideas and perception and reach those masses
where it has not reached. It should avoid becoming politically correct.
Identity will never work and those who have harped thesis of ' I ' only
speak for them and nobody else has a business to speak for or on behalf
of Dalits should resist such things. Nobody speaks for others. We all
speak our own perception. We should avoid such hyperbole that I speak
for my entire community. I speak for my philosophy and experience. Because
if identities are our point of speaking then one should remember Dalits
are not a homogeneous community. In fact no community in the world is
homogeneous. They are as wide as any body else and hence these
identities fits in there also. So if this theory of Dalit speak for
Dalit is used, then the why should we accept western whites to speak
for the Dalits. What prompts the Christians and Muslims to speak for
the Dalits after all they have their own history of exploitation everywhere.
Why should a Chamar speak for a Valmiki or Mala speak for Madiga ? And
above all, why should a Dalit male speak for Dalit
against Dalits showed that how things take a dangerous if you make a
community apolitical. Our political masters want them to be apolitical.
But like them the agenda supported and furnished by the religious groups
also end up in nothing. Dalits remained pitiable condition in Tamilnadu
and Pondicherry. Their leaders were complaining outside India to the
UN and to the Church while the ground level the higher ups among the
backward communities ganging up against them. In fact the fishermen
who happened to be Christians also refused to eat along with their fellow
Christian Dalits. Why did the issue not become a hot issue accept a
few headlines. We should have taken head on the prejudiced system. A
religious community cannot fight a democratic battle. If we want to
compare ourselves with the history of strong movements for civil rights
by the blacks in the US, we will have to study the politicization process
of the blacks, their fights for the right and broad spectrum of the
movement. Moreover, the reach and ideological perspective of the movement
were very clear. They revolve around more on the issues of human rights,
civil liberties and attracted a very wide range of activists all over
the US while the irony of the Dalit movement is that it remains more
on the books, with the elite castes and with the organized sector and
very little is done for the people sitting on the margin, in the villages.
These are dangerous
and superficial ideas by those who have done little for their work.
A movement based on negativism will never work. Identities have served
the pocket of political masters and their 'intellectual' chums. They
will not help the minorities among the marginalized. They are not based
on democracy and participation. They are the collective ego of the powerful
elite among them. A movement san respect for individual and without
a corrective philosophy would not work. Dalits have their own cultural
values and system, a system which need to explored and new values added
to them. It is time for us to provide our own democratic secular progressive
vision and rather then just work on an agitation mode forever. We need
to introspect and bring the last man into our mainstream, otherwise
these contradiction are powerful enough to destroy the legacy of a powerful
man, named as Ambedkar. If we consider ourselves grateful to his legacy,
time has come to redefine the Dalit movement .