Who is a Dalit? What exactly does the term mean? The word ‘Dalit’ means ‘divided’. This is the self-chosen political name of castes in India which are ‘untouchable’. Though this name has been in existence since the nineteenth century, Dr BR Ambedkar popularized the term.
There was a time when dalits were treated very shabbily by the so-called upper castes by denying them basic rights like healthcare and education. Today in 2016, society has reformed to a large extent and we see various dalits shining in different fields. The 1989 Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA) is an acknowledgement by the Indian government that caste relations are defined by violence. The Act denoted specific crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as “atrocities” and created corresponding punishments. Its purpose was to curb and punish violence against Dalits. The list of atrocities included humiliations such as the forced consumption of noxious substances. Other atrocities included forced labour, denial of access to water and other public amenities, and sexual abuse. The Act permitted Special Courts to try POA cases. The Act called on states with high levels of caste violence (said to be “atrocity-prone”) to appoint qualified officers to monitor and maintain law and order.
Despite this, one cannot deny that there are still instances of violence and discrimination against dalits. These instances are more in rural India than in urban India. We have recently seen the inhuman act in Una, Gujarat where seven members of a dalit family were beaten up by a group of gau rakshaks for skinning a dead cow. Irrespective of political affiliations and the religion one follows, it must be agreed that this was an extremely shameful and inhuman act and the self-proclaimed gau rakshaks must be punished severely. In the name of protection of cow and Hinduism, these are the people who indulge in violence and take law into their own hands. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself mentioned that these people are anti-social elements and has urged the states to act tough against such perpetrators.
Among the political parties, the Congress and the other secular liberal parties project themselves as protector of dalits and the other backward classes while projecting the BJP as a party of upper class people who encourage atrocities against the lower classes. These parties have pounced on the central government on numerous occasions and to a large extent, they have succeeded in projecting the BJP as an anti-dalit party. Journalists like Sagarika Ghose and Barkha Dutt have played a large part in spreading this misinformation.
In the Lok Sabha last week, the Congress targeted the BJP and the RSS over the Una incident saying the Hindutva organizations were working for a dalit-mukth Bharat and these attacks were sponsored by and had the tacit approval of the BJP. Responding to these allegations, Home Minister Rajnath Singh categorically stated that these attacks were performed by anti-social elements and the respective state governments must take strict action against them. Responding to an allegation that the instances of violence against dalits have increased during the NDA regime, Rajnath Singh said that the number of registered cases against dalits were 39,346 in 2013, they went up to 40,300 in 2014 and has reduced to 38,564 in 2015. What these numbers reflect is that while the instances of violence against dalits are high, there is absolutely no proof to show that the cases have spiked when one party is in power. Rajnath Singh, in his response, also praised the work of Sangh affiliates like Sewa Bharti and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram for working for the cause of Dalits and adivasis. Suggesting that Dr BR Ambedkar and RSS founder Keshav Hedgewar were contemporaries, he said that while Ambedkar fought for socially deprived classes, the RSS founder worked for national renaissance.
Some of the worst communal riots have occurred during the time Congress was in power. It is unfortunate that the Congress is using Dalits (like Muslims) as mere vote-banks instead of actually working towards their empowerment. When Rohith Vemula committed suicide in Hyderabad, we had Rahul Gandhi and Arvind kejriwal visiting the campus and politicizing the issue as if he had been murdered by Modi and Smriti Irani.
But what does the Congress have to say about a Dalit student being brutally raped and murdered at Perumbavoor in Kerala just before the state elections when their own UDF government was in power? No action was initiated by the Congress government till there was an outcry.
The Aam Aadmi Party, in a short while since its inception, has even overtaken the Congress when it comes to politicizing such unfortunate attacks for electoral gains and dividing society. What was the need to have a separate manifesto in Punjab for dalits? Why do they want to further divide the society in the name of caste and religion? For all its tall claims of being a clean party and a crusader against corruption, the various stands taken by them have been very divisive and distasteful.
To conclude, in spite of being a proponent of Hindutva, I say it loud and clear that the self-proclaimed gau rakshaks are a blot on Hindus and must be dealt with in the strictest possible way. Dalits are also Indians like us and they must not be discriminated against. The Congress and the other like-minded parties are using such incidents to portray the central government and the RSS in bad light to help their cause. It is unfortunate that dalits have been reduced to mere vote banks by these parties and dalits must realize that these parties never cared for them and they were used only for electoral purposes.
After 70 years of independence, it is unfortunate that everything in India is based on caste and it is high time that we Indians rise beyond caste and religion and have one common identity: that of an INDIAN.