An emotional blog post, "I'm A Dalit But I Think It's Wrong To Blame The BJP For The Una Assault" appeared recently in the Huffington Post. The article is replete with fallacies, some mischief hidden away among the sentiments expressed, and is also rife with imagined dichotomies that exist only in the domain of political propaganda. I feel compelled to call these out. Before proceeding, I reiterate that I am not a Dalit, nor do I pretend to understand Dalit reality beyond what human empathy allows. My views are my own.
Should the inability to check social evils not be counted and questioned as a failing of the government?
The arguments presented in apology for the BJP/Sangh Parivar are not new. They begin with generically explaining how atrocities against Dalits are commonplace, and therefore not the fault of the party. Thus, the parade of fallacies begins with a red herring. What does the number of such cases have to do with absolving the BJP for Una? And should their depressing prevalence dictate a fatalistic approach? Should the inability to check social evils not be counted and questioned as a failing of the government? These evils have indeed persisted across regimes, and each of them must shoulder the blame, including the Congress. Just because no one held them responsible then (the fallacy parade quickly moves on to Tu quoque here), does not mean I will relinquish my right to challenge the ruling party today, especially when they are guilty of much more than omission.
The piece claims that it is "pragmatic" to avoid blaming a political party – for the sake of integration. I reject that claim, especially since there is no reasoning offered for it. There is absolutely no connection between exonerating the BJP and social integration, unless the implication is that the BJP represents the upper castes and therefore the Dalits would be better advised to ignore a few atrocities to gain entry into their good graces. Even if that is the point, it is to be rejected outright.
[W]e are informed that the Gau Raksha Dal is not "formally associated" with any organization or ideology. One hasn't heard of many Marxist, Lohiaite, or neoliberal Gau Raksha Dals...
The next argument offered is that Dalits are making progress in India, another red herring. Three names of past Dalit leaders are offered, along with a promise of "scores" of others, who have reached positions of power. I like to call this the Noah's Ark Argument, or Manu's Ark if you prefer. It is only the creature who got a place on the ark who believes the species to have been saved, without a thought for the many others left behind to drown. It is unlikely that those who are drowning are grateful for the one who got away. For the "scores" of Dalits who have achieved emancipation, there are millions who live in abject poverty and inhuman conditions. One does not need Vedic maths to see that there is something wrong with this ratio. Any progress that is taking place is far too slow and unsteady. Bear in mind that none of this has anything to do with Una still.
The article then sets out to find examples of Dalit conservatives and identifies two whose names bring a smile to the face (the herrings are turning scarlet by now and the mischief evident). The first, Veda Vyasa, a mythological character of dubious historicity, who in any case was supposedly fathered by a Brahmin sage, possessed mystical powers and hobnobbed with gods and kings, was probably not a Dalit. The second man's name turns the smile rueful. Dr. Ambedkar is indeed an intellectual giant of whom India is proud, but to claim that our most radical iconoclast was a conservative is dishonest.
The actual charge against the BJP family is that they are wilfully fostering an atmosphere of retrogression and hatred.
After much ado, the argument finally arrives in Una. The defence used to absolve the BJP has three convoluted prongs. First, a subliminal softening is attempted by labelling the incident as vigilantism. In order for it to be vigilantism, would there not need to be a law that was broken by the victims? Which was this law? As far as I know, skinning dead cows is not unlawful.
After a brief interlude of mandatory condemnation, we are informed that the Gau Raksha Dal is not "formally associated" with any organization or ideology. One hasn't heard of many Marxist, Lohiaite, or neoliberal Gau Raksha Dals, and the ideology that demands cow protection, even at the cost of human life, is usually associated with one well known organization, even if only informally.
The third prong crosses the first two, and we are told that the accused were just workaday goondas. I have spoken to no one in Una, and have no reason to dispute this statement, but find it confusing. Were they goondas or vigilantes? If they were random miscreants, then what need to expressly disassociate them from any organization? What is the final argument -- that there were not gau rakshaks at all, or that they were gau rakshaks but had nothing to do with the Sangh Parivar? One also wonders what the defence would be in the Chikmagalur Dalit assault case, where those apprehended are reported to formally belong to the Parivar. The article of course pretends that no other such attacks have taken place.
The article... seeks to sell us a false dichotomy between development and social justice, and to conjure a contradiction between integration and confrontation of wrongs.
The thrust of the essay – that the BJP is not the originator of casteism -- suffers from the Strawman fallacy (number three in the list). No one ever argued that it was. We are all aware that caste-based discrimination, untouchability and violence against Dalits are intricate corruptions of the Brahminical religion, born long before the BJP was imagined. The refutation therefore is unsolicited, needless, and beside the point. The actual charge against the BJP family is that they are wilfully fostering an atmosphere of retrogression and hatred. This needs to be understood clearly. They are creating an enabling environment which gives common miscreants and political aspirants alike the flimsy but sufficient veneer of religiosity and supposed respectability for committing these heinous crimes.
Can we allow ourselves to ignore the fact that Una is not an isolated incident, and that Dalits are not the only or even the first targets of such attacks? A blunt weapon is being created by the BJP when it vehemently decries the alleged "pink revolution", or portrays opposition parties and certain communities as a threat to the entirely unconcerned cow, during election campaigns. This bludgeon, once tossed away, is picked up by all manners of people, and used for their own purposes. Just because they do not take written permission from the BJP before doing what they do, does not relieve the ruling party of all responsibility.
As important as it is to hold the BJP accountable for their dangerous politics of hatred, it is also necessary that we are clear about our own obligations. The article tries to offer us distraction under the guise of forbearance. It seeks to sell us a false dichotomy between development and social justice, and to conjure a contradiction between integration and confrontation of wrongs. I do not know Einstein's views on the subject (number 4: Appeal to authority), but it is our duty to confront this injustice, at least now. Meek acceptance of such deep-rooted inequity is not forbearance, but cravenness and compromise. Insistence on truth is not an impediment to social harmony, but the only way to attain it meaningfully. We all want a prosperous India, but not at the cost of our humanity. And to insinuate that we wish to be left alone to prosper while our countrymen suffer is inhuman.