With the unfortunate suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University, there has been a build-up of a national-level narrative that the government at the Centre is lopsided in its approach towards the issues and concerns of the Dalit community. Politics, as they say, is an art of constructing and manipulating identities for short-term electoral benefits and long-term ideological advantages.
History is witness to the slow but steady progress that Dalits have made... Sometimes, critics ignore this perspective, preferring to focus on Dalits as victims.
I claim no legitimacy whatsoever to speak on the behalf of the Dalit community and the issues concerning the deprived segment at large. But as a Dalit youth myself, I do wish to share a perspective resonating from my day to day experiences. First off, the stigma of caste is difficult to erase and we have a long way to go even though benefits from affirmative action in the Constitution have lifted thousands of families from penury to a dignified life. According to a report published by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2010 on the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, "a crime is committed against a Dalit once in every 18 minutes. Every day, on average, three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits murdered, and two Dalit houses burnt." This is a comprehensive report compiled by the NHRC, which further details categories of exclusion and different forms of discrimination. The report also highlights the fact that Dalits do not have access to community sources of water and other public services on account of the scourge of "untouchability" that persists in society despite the fact that it was abolished in 1956 and is unlawful today.
However, it is important to remember that such atrocities are not new. They have existed across different political regimes. The Indian National Congress, for example, will have no place to hide if a post-independence analysis on atrocities on Dalits is done. Therefore, a pragmatic approach to integration lies in divorcing the atrocities committed against Dalits with the rule of any particular political party.
I too was disturbed after witnessing the violence and hatred in the [Una] video. Yet, I don't want to succumb to hate and distrust myself.
History is witness to the slow but steady progress that Dalits have made in various spheres of life. Sometimes, critics ignore this perspective, preferring to focus on Dalits as victims. The nation has seen a Dalit President (KR Narayanan), a Dalit Deputy Prime Minister (Babu Jagjivan Ram), a Dalit Lok Sabha speaker (G.M.C Balyogi) and scores of Dalit vice-chancellors, professors, thinkers, bureaucrats, leaders and intellectuals. If we delve deeper, we will find that our great history is filled with examples of heroes from disadvantaged backgrounds pivoting the course of time to preserve and perpetuate our civilizational core. Dalit saint Veda Vyasa (who belonged to the "lowly" fisherman caste) and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, for instance, were two intellectual giants who produced documents that would guide the future of our civilization in the form of Mahabharata and the Constitution of India respectively.
Now to Una, Gujarat, where some Dalit youth were publicly stripped and beaten, allegedly for skinning a cow. This act of vigilantism is an unhealthy indicator for an effective parliamentary democracy like ours. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands. The fact that the entire incident was recorded reflects the audacity of the perpetrators of violence. It needs to be widely condemned and discouraged in strictest of terms.
I have spoken to people on the ground in Gujarat. They insist that the "Gau Raksha Dal" that perpetrated the attack has no formal association with any other organization or ideology. Instead, they are just a group of miscreants notorious for extortion and creating public disorder. The authorities have acted and put those responsible behind bars. The people living in and around Una have initiated a social boycott of the men involved. Cutting across caste lines, people are happy on the action being taken by the administration against the accused.
As a Dalit youth today, I want a prosperous nation, an assertive India in the global landscape. That is possible only through integration and not confrontation. Period.
There is always an alternate perspective to anything and everything in life. I too was disturbed after witnessing the inhumane degree of violence and hatred in the video. Yet, I don't want to succumb to hate and distrust myself. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, peace is not merely absence of violence but presence of justice. And I see hope, I sense optimism. I see opportunity when I see Dalits arming themselves with education and seeking representation in industry, politics, academics, theatre and other important areas. For me, Milind Kamble who fought social barriers and created DICCI (Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), a platform for cultivating Dalit entrepreneurs is an inspiration. I take inspiration from Arjun Meghwal who rose from being a telephone operator to a minister of finance in the union cabinet. I take inspiration from Tina Dabi, the first Dalit woman to top the UPSC examination. I take inspiration from moviemakers such as Pa. Ranjith who use movies such as Kabali as a vehicle to convey the socio-political message of Dalit-led empowerment. Trust me, as a Dalit youth today, I want a prosperous nation, an assertive India in the global landscape. That is possible only through integration and not confrontation. Period.