In the month of 50th Death Anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar the nation is witnessing a sudden and sporadic militant protests of Dalits in Maharashtra. Firstly, they demonstrated their deep anger against the heinous killing of a Dalit Family in Khairlangi village, and, recently, on last Thursday the Dalits of Maharashtra again come out on the streets to protest against the felonious act of desecration of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s statue which took place at Kanpur. On both the events, the protests were spontaneous, unorganized and without any concrete political intervention. And on both the occasions, it has invoked divergent responses by Media, Intellectuals and the State. The need of the hour is to take a deep look into the churning of Dalit Movement in India , instead of focusing on mere sporadic events. Responding over the recent protest, the Maharashtra government portrayed the protest as a Naxalite design, thus enabling itself to use coercive force against Dalit Activits and social groups. Secondly, the media wanted to project both the protests as a deliberate political game in which the opposition only wanted to fuel this fire to capitalize the Dalit votes in forth coming elections. Further criticizing the people’s uproar, Media labeled them as lumpen elements whose only desire is to destruct the state property. Some observers criticized the Dalit political leadership of Maharashtra (especially Republican Party of India), arguing that it is their failure which is responsible for the decline of the Dalit movement and for such a degraded and chaotic situation in the state. Another aspect which is coming in picture is about the caste conflict among the high and low castes, arguing that Maharashtra is no different from any other state and caste atrocities and discrimination against Dalits has also become a norm here.
In all these observations there is no response to why then even in such adverse socio-political conditions and against a casteist and coercive State, Dalits throughout Maharashtra came out openly on streets and protested in such large numbers. Cases of rape, murder, discrimination and violation of human rights against Dalits are rampant and have become a norm in India. Why then such kinds of protests or demonstrations do not happen in other parts of the country where the political consciousness and Dalit leadership is comparatively better than Maharashtra? Why did only the Dalits in Maharashtra agitate with such fury and not in Uttar Pradesh or in Madhya Pradesh where the Dalit population is comparatively higher than that of Maharashtra? (The Dalit Population in Maharashtra is mere 10.2% compare to 24% in Uttar Pradesh) What is the difference between the Dalits of Maharashtra and the Dalits in the rest of the country? In Maharashtra the Dalits represent a robust socio-cultural identity and a relatively dignified social position which creates strong communitarian bond. They represent an uncompromising socio-political ideology and a social consciousness to build an ideal society because of which they are in the forefront of struggle against every kind of adversity against them.
The assertion of Dalits in every part of the country has to meet the castiest Brahmanical onslaught. The upper caste, even after fifty-six years of modern democracy, in India has failed to accept the fact that the Dalits are humans. Their mind is not ready to accept that the people who till yesterday were untouchables and their slaves, today are sharing corridors of power, are coming forward into the field of education and progressing equally with them. They see it as the breakdown of their age old caste superiority, rich tradition and attack over the Brahmanical social values. The only way to stop the progress of Dalits is perpetuating caste violence and naked atrocities against them. Considering them to be poor and in minority, they believe that the Dalits will never rise to avenge themselves and will desist to compare themselves with the upper castes. In the light of such observations, Maharashtra is no exception. The political, social, cultural and economic progress of the Dalits has witnessed a reactionary attack by the upper castes here as well. But here, against every act of injustice on caste lines, the Dalit masses react with a heroic militancy and show a strong and committed zeal to ensure justice against caste oppressions.
Firstly, in Maharashtra, the Dalits’ Conversion to Buddhism has created a unique psychological and cultural space for them on which an independent assertion of their moral and historic identity is under construction. Here the Dalits have produced a vibrant and cohesive social atmosphere by adopting Buddhist moral values, symbols and socio-cultural practices in their day-to-day life against unscientific and obscurantist Hindu rituals. Buddhist identity is not only helpful in creating an alternative culture but it has also provided a sense of moral community committed to the ethos of liberty, equality and fraternity. The recent celebration of Golden Jubilee of Buddhist conversion witnessed an assembly of more than fifteen lakh people at Nagpur in a single day. In all such gatherings, Dalits took initiatives voluntarily in organizing the events and has consciously rejected any politicization of their cultural symbols even by Dalit parties. Independently the Dalit masses have established an alternative social and culture ethos over the doctrine of Navayana Buddhism which is responsible for a proud and spirited identity among them.
Secondly, the socio-political ideology of Dalit Movement in Maharashtra is based on the teachings Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, which negates Brahmanical domination and proposes a revolutionary transformation of social order. The Dalits social, cultural and political groups are numerously scattered and there is no possibility of their unification on one platform but it has hardly affected over the commitment of the Dalit masses to the philosophical doctrine of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. They do not need any political patron to represent or to protect them. Here the Dalits without any political interest and plan are relentlessly fighting for their rights, dignity and self-respect and never allowed them to fall prey to the violent political designs of extremists (Naxalites), even at the heights of provocations. Their matured sensitivity and strong belief in constitutional set up gives them strength and courage to fight uncompromisingly against Brahmanical forces. Dalits here have also till date rejected the “Mission” of some professional politicians of the country, as these leaders are so much engulfed in the matrix of number games that the moral responsibility of political activism to fight Brahmanical casteism has died in favor of pragmatism and half hearted console to the victims of caste atrocities. The Dalits of course do not have any faith in the upper caste elite led political parties which, incident after incident of atrocities have only shown seer insensitivity towards the victims and always tried to protect the culprits. This autonomous and independent political assertion of the Maharashtra’s Dalits is significant because of their militant and non compromising attitude. This passionate zeal provides them an impetus to recognize their role not as an arbitrator in the field of power but as the vanguards of Ambedkarite mission.
Thirdly, in Maharashtra, Ambedkar and later Dalit Panther Movement have established certain basic principles, values and ideals which negate the narrow power centric opportunistic electoral arithmetic of popular caste politics and give a revolutionary élan for the total emancipation from every kind of social, economic, cultural and political oppressions. They understood that the goal of Dalit emancipation cannot be achieved with a narrow perspective of political maneuverings, but an organic total transformation of the society can be achieved only through relentless and militant struggles of the people to annihilate the caste system. The Dalit masses even in all the adverse conditions have candidly maintained their autonomous and independent position and upheld the ideological doctrines of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar to achieve their revolutionary goals.
Even in other parts of the country where because of strong identity politics, some Dalit political parties have played a significant role in developing the political consciousness of Dalit masses, they lack such cohesive and vibrant social churning which is evident among Dalits of Maharashtra. We believe that in Maharashtra, the main concern is not gaining political power but the idea of social revolution has dominant over the psyche of Dalit masses.
Under these concerns, the Dalits of Maharashtra has given a revolutionary elan arguing that achieving a vibrant social revolution through consistent struggle of people is inevitable to materialize the ideal goal of political revolution. The recent street protests in Maharashtra therefore should be seen under the larger perspective of growing Dalit consciousness, self-respect and commitment to revolutionary ideals and not only as a reaction to one or another incident of caste atrocities.
Harish S. Wankhede
Lecturer, Political Science
Ramlal Anand College (E), Delhi University, New Delhi