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Dalit ‘Sahibs’ And Masses

By Manohar Yadav

Deccan Herald
28 June, 2003

This is a Biblical quote: “If salt loses its strength and vigour, from where shall it be salted with.” Today's dalit world is like the salt that has lost its natural essence. We cannot help the salt to revive its essence by giving some kind of dosage from outside. But it is happening in the case of dalits. Although not with full genuine concern, an endless attempt has been going on to help dalits revive their lost human essence. Policy measures such as reservation of jobs in the government and seats in the legislative assemblies and Parliament have been in operation ever since Independence. And besides this, care has also been shown in a number of ways to address various complex problems of the dalits. Yet nothing impressive seems to have happened in the changing the condition of the dalits. Therefore, even now, along with the social stigma of untouchability, other oppressive features like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy continue to mar the life of dalit masses everywhere.

No gratitude
But what about the 'big people' or the so called 'sahibs' among the dalits? They have raised the eyebrows of the larger society for their amazing accumulation of resources — both material and cultural. Many of them are highly educated and well off. With whatever is within their reach, they should have paid back to the world they belong to. Collectively, top dalit bureaucrats and politicians possess more than the required strength to build up their community. Yet nothing is emerging from them.

Babasaheb Ambedkar expected much succour and help to come from those who used benefits like reservation in acquiring positions in the higher echelons of the power structure. That did not happen at all. Instead large-scale alienation is taking place and these sahibs are slowly drifting away from their community to form their own elite class. They have forgotten that they owe their prosperity to the community in which they were born.

First of all, while sharing the benefits of job reservation, they have created a sort of unequal competition amongst the dalits themselves. In such a situation the poor dalits have not been able to compete with their rich brothers on fair and equal terms. The rich dalits are superior to the poor in many ways. They have created much needed cultural capital besides transforming themselves into a viable economic class of people capable of giving competition to other people. But there is no realisation on their part that they can compete in the open as well and give up entering competition with their own weak dalit members.

Deserving left out
Also there is no rule as to the question of 'who should really share how much' of the benefit of reservation amongst the various competing classes within the dalit community. As a result, the really deserving and the poor among the dalits have been badly eliminated in the competition to have a share in the quota of reservation. The state should have developed some legal mechanism to ensure reservation of jobs and seats in professional courses to the poor dalits as well. In the absence of such arrangement only the well-off among the dalits have derived the maximum benefit. Boys and girls educated in rural areas in ill-equipped government schools cannot be expected to compete with the urban rich dalits educated in better-equipped donation-based schools.

The urban slum dalits also suffer the same fate like their rural ones. Hence, free competition among different classes of dalits has cost the poorest among them very dearly. If the quota system is introduced for different competing classes, say, based on a criteria of income or the number of times that a particular family has utilised the benefit of reservation, may be that the poor among dalits might also get their due share.

Like in the matters relating to job reservation, the deprivation as such is occurring in political reservation also. There are some politicians among dalits who have been contesting from reserved constituencies and getting elected incessantly for decades on end as if the whole policy measure of political reservation is meant only for them.

Shamelessly, national political parties seem to prefer only such persons all the time without giving any chance to new dalit candidates. There is no clear-cut policy as to the issue of how many times a person can enjoy the political benefit of reservation. Of course in the present political system there is no bar for any dalit to contest elections any number of times. But it is useless if he cannot win even once through reservation.

Dalit differences dwarf growth

The present political system has simply promoted dalit elite class interest in the name of reservation. And also has given rise to political puppetry and slavery on the part of dalit politicians who for their political survival depend only upon the mercy of the upper caste politicians. Under such circumstances, dalit politicians have failed to pay due attention to the upliftment concerns of their community. Their over-dependence upon upper caste votes as well as politicians makes them to be indifferent towards the interest of their community. But still the question is: Don't they have a responsibility?

The State should also examine whether the present form of the policy of political reservation has proved to be meaningful from the point of view of protecting the interest of the larger dalit community. It should see whether it can fix up definite terms to enjoy the provisions of political reservation so that it becomes more effective. Even if it were to be carried out through an amendment to the Constitution, it should be thought of seriously. If a person knows that he has only one or two terms of opportunity of enjoying political reservation, he may not run behind the upper caste politicians to seek their mercy.

Puppet politicians

A person aspiring to contest an election from a reserved constituency should also be qualified enough to bring meaning to his position when elected. He should not prove to be a duffer when it comes to the question of protecting the interest of his community, which he represents. Presently, it often happens that, lest a dalit politician should rise above the height of his position by voicing concern for his people, upper caste politicians handpick such dalits for elections who are illiterate and ignorant and remain puppets in their hands.

If this has been the state of dalit politicians, the so called non-political leaders of dalit community seem to have slipped into a different state of diminution. Each leader operating whether at a local, state or national level feels that there is no leader so greater than himself. He is the only stalwart and that others should simply follow him in whatever way he leads them. In the process there have emerged a number of leaders with their own warring groups at all levels. Several organisations are functioning in each state. But each one of them has split into many rival factions operating in almost opposite directions. The entry of lumpen elements into these organisations has further aggravated the situation. A sort of nexus is also building up between bureaucrats, politicians and these non-political leaders.

No thanks for support

It is the poor masses among the dalits who have kept the fire of protest ever burning. It is they who consciously supply manpower in every context of protest led by their leaders. They have been the backbone of the support base of all the dalit movements. Yet they have never got any real benefit from these movements. The rich among the dalits have been only “'free riders”. They have got maximum benefit from such struggles of the poor at no personal cost. And over a course of time they have distanced themselves from the masses. After having come up to a certain level of social acceptance they have cut off their roots and started identifying themselves as social superiors. In certain extreme cases, a few of them have even disowned their own kith and kin.

Of late, the entire dalit world seems to have been stricken by some new convulsive trends. The elite belonging to different sub-castes within dalit community have become busy invoking communal consciousness of their respective sub-castes. The rival sub divisions such as Mahar/Mang in Maharashtra, Jatav/Pasi in UP, Mala/Madiga in AP and AK/AD in Karnataka are the most commonly known. Ambedkar, while fighting for their human rights, attempted to give a unified pan Indian identity to these communities. Only those untouchable castes who came under his direct influence were more awakened to quickly gain from his movement. Thus the untouchable castes having status alliance across regions with the Jatavs of Uttar Pradesh or the Mahars of Maharashtra have been the most assertive in using Ambedkar ideology at the same time cornering all the benefits of Ambedkarite movement which they spearhead. This has created an unbearable gulf, giving rise to an atmosphere of mutual prejudice and hatred, between the various sub-castes. Now will the elite take lead to save the dalit community from this destructive trend? The sooner they come together the better it is for them as well.