Dalit issues, ranging from atrocities to representation to empowerment, have strongly influenced the contemporary political narrative. However, social issues have often been obscured by passionate rhetoric and emotional platitudes. Let us try and understand the Dalit problem from a dispassionate perspective. A perspective that transcends vilification and vindications, and one which is based on sound data and logical arguments.
The assault on Dalit youths in Una by "cow protectors" has embarrassed India. It has for good reason put a question mark on the progressive and forward-looking trajectory of our nation. When incidents like this happen, it is difficult to believe that we are the same nation that sent a satellite to Mars. It is beyond doubt and accepted across the spectrum that the culprits need to be punished.
It is not a herculean task to find out that the problem of caste is more social than political in nature.
The problem occurs when motivated perspectives shadow socially sensitive issues like the present one. In the name of social justice or for that matter standing up for the cause of the subaltern, opinionated reportage and columns are building up a case against the government in power at the Centre. It is not a herculean task to find out that the problem of caste is more social than political in nature. Needless to say, politics does have a role since to effect a change you need resolute political will. However, I believe that depoliticizing the Dalit issue will prove to be more beneficial and more pragmatic.
Now, data from the National Crime Records Bureau clearly indicates that the number of registered cases of atrocities against Dalits have been embarrassingly higher under the Congress dispensation. This is unsurprising because the Congress has been in power more than any other political party in the entire administrative history of India. The data for the number of registered crimes in the category suggests that UP has topped the list with 8075 cases in the year 2014, followed by Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka with 7893, 4114, 2266 and 2138 cases respectively. The BJP is not in power in any of these states. The decadal data analysis is also important to be noted here. The number of crime recorded in this category during 1991-2001 was 17731, with an average of 1612 atrocities per year. The growing assertion of Dalits through affirmative action and opening up of markets resulted in drastic reduction of cases of atrocities in the following decade -- 14634 cases of atrocities were registered in the period 2002-2015 with an average of 1045 offences every year. If we delve deep into specific data such as the number of rapes, murders and other criminal offences against Scheduled Castes, one can infer that politics or the party in power has got little to do with cases of caste-related atrocities.
In Tamil Nadu, caste-related violence -- often involving OBCs attacking Dalits -- made the news a few months ago. Bihar is another example of violence by intermediate caste groups like the Yadavs and Kurmis against Dalits, spurred perhaps by their growing assertiveness.
As members of civil society, the least we can do is to avoid looking at cases like Una with prejudicial and ideological lenses.
Politics is a dirty game of construction and manipulation of identities -- especially social identities that are electorally advantageous and beneficial for political parties. As members of civil society, the least we can do is to avoid looking at cases like Una with prejudicial and ideological lenses. The central government which is just two-and-a-half years old has taken steps to integrate subaltern social groups into the mainstream. On 8 September, 2014, the government paid tribute to one of Kerala's visionary Dalit leaders, Mahatma Ayyankali. On the economic front, the government is working closely in cohesion with the Dalit Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) in order to promote entrepreneurship as a tool of emancipation. Towards this, Standup India was launched on the birth anniversary of Babu Jagjivan Ram, late deputy Prime Minister and great Dalit leader. In days to come we are likely to witness more positive stories of assertiveness and the emergence of Dalit-led empowerment. A case in point is the spirit in which Mr. Milind Kamble is steering DICCI. Last year on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of DICCI, more than 1000 Dalit entrepreneurs assembled in New Delhi and dared to proclaim that they are equal and relevant stakeholders in the growth story of India. In this meeting he had famously said that, "We don't want to be job seekers but job givers". This one line will serve as a definite tool of emancipation for those who have been marginalized for decades.
However, the situation demands that more needs to be done. A Prime Minister or a Chief Minister or an MLA or an MP cannot do this. It needs the intervention of several key stakeholders such as the media, civil society, judiciary, spiritual organizations and -- especially -- the younger generation of India.
The need of the hour is integration not confrontation; this is the key to social justice and the rise of the subaltern.
I am not arguing that the Dalit scenario is good; it is still far from that. But there is hope. The Dalit narrative is replete with agonies, victimhood and protest. Ignoring the positive side, and the accomplishments of those who are rising to the top echelons purely on the basis of effort and merit, would be a great disservice to the Dalit cause. What we forgot in the case of Una is that the enlightened citizenry of Una decried the attempts of the "vigilantes" and initiated a social boycott in clear terms that no social interaction (marriage etc.) would be done with the families of the accused.
As a proud citizen of India and a socially conscious Dalit youth, I'd like to urge opinion makers, thought leaders and the intelligentsia to not be swayed by opinions but to go on facts. The need of the hour, therefore, is integration not confrontation; this is the key to social justice and the rise of the subaltern.
This post first appeared here.