15/05/2017 3:50 PM IST | Updated 15/05/2017 3:51 PM IST

Adityanath's Govt Wants Ghar Wapsi, But It First Needs To Curb Violence Against Dalits

The state government would be ignoring the signs at a grave peril.

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dalits in Uttar Pradesh have an ultimatum for the state government — curb anti-caste violence and intimidation or else face the music. Emboldened by the reaction of the Bheem Army Ekta Mission to the outbreak of a caste feud in Saharanpur district of western UP on 5 May, a group of Dalits in Moradabad said they would convert to another religion, since Hinduism is unable to guarantee them any dignity or protection.

Reports are unclear whether 50 families or individuals have already converted or threatened to do so. It's also not apparent if they have chosen to follow Islam, though some reports claim that is indeed the case. But, after announcing their intention, the Dalits carried idols of Hindu deities and immersed them in River Ramganga in a symbolic act of protest. About 26% of Shaharanpur's population are Dalits and 41% Muslims.

Irrespective of the exact circumstances of the case, one thing is abundantly clear: Dalits are refusing to remain sitting ducks oppressed by upper caste Hindus in UP.

A major reason for the lower-caste communities' increasing self-assertion is believed to be a 30-year-old lawyer called Chandrasekhar Azad, who founded the Bheem Army. Since the Saharanpur incident, he has been accused of mobilising the crowds against the police and booked for violence. Currently he is on the run.

READ: Babasaheb Ambedkar's Private Habits Come Alive In This Intimate Portrait

According to Chandrasekhar's family, the case against him is unfounded. Saharanpur is in such an explosive mood not because of his son's activities but because the Dalits are refusing to stay silent any longer against their tormentors, Chandrasekhar's mother said.

Relations between the castes, always fragile, have been on the boil for the last few weeks in the state. On BR Ambedkar's birth anniversary in April, the Dalits wanted to have a statue of their leader erected on the premises of Ravidas temple in Shabbirpur village in Shaharanpur. They were allegedly charged at by a mob of 3,000 Thakurs, carrying swords and torches, for not seeking permission to build such a statue.

The fire that was simmering didn't take long to turn into a full-blown conflagration.

A few days later, on 5 May, Dalit youths retaliated by allegedly throwing stones at a group of Thakur men on their way to garland a statue of Maharana Pratap. In the ensuing clash, a 35-year-old Thakur man died.

The fire that was simmering didn't take long to turn into a full-blown conflagration.

On 9 May, Dalit homes in the village were torched. While some claimed the culprits were outsiders, the provocation behind the arson couldn't be treated as a matter of speculation.

That the incident has now triggered a response in Dalits of another part of the state shows the solidarity that is growing among the lower castes. Following the great Dalit leader Ambedkar's call, they seem to be acting in unison against the upper castes and their injustices.

READ: Four Men Allegedly Thrashed A Dalit Groom In MP Because He 'Dared' To Ride A Decorated Car

Apart from igniting a spirit of rebellion among the ranks, Ambedkar had told the Dalits to "Stop eating the flesh of dead cattle to quiet the fire in your stomach. Stop cleaning the dirt of the village...For so long we have cleared the dirt, now let the one creates the dirt learn to clean it."

A united stance against the upper castes was the only way to overcome their misrule, Ambedkar believed. It had to be taken in the greater common good of the community, overcoming individual or local interests. One of the ways in which he demonstrated it was by rejecting Hinduism and embracing Buddhism in 1956. His decision inspired masses of Dalits to convert as well.

In choosing to act for Dalits at large rather than the following the compulsions of their own communities, the Dalits of Moradabad have sent out a strong message to the state government.

Ahead of the assembly elections earlier this year, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power with a thumping majority, the BJP had given tickets to 80 Dalit candidates to counter the Yadav politics of the outgoing Akhilesh Yadav government as well as its other contender Mayawati's caste-based vote bank.

The UP government, headed by Hindu firebrand Yogi Adityanath, has strongly invested in a programme of ghar wapsi — to convert (or reconvert, as the case may be) members of other religions into Hinduism. It's election manifesto loudly proclaimed governance and development for all.

Now, thanks to its continued failure to protect a section of the Hindus, the state government runs the risk of alienating a significant electorate — a mistake that may prove to be rather costly for it in the future.

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