Media took fancy to Dalit rights in the wake of suicide of a promising Dalit student of Hyderabad University. Yet, Dalits all over the country have been facing an unstated and seldom recognised siege all over the country through most of the times ever since independence. Former diplomat Surendra Kumar delves into the deep-seated apathy towards them
According to a recent article by Sagarika Ghosh in the Times of India, the Dalit leadership has failed young Ambedkarites like Rohith Vemula. She is right but only partially. This is so because the bitter reality which she has shied away from accepting is that all of us in India as a country whether in the ruling, or Opposition parties, academia, Civil Services, Media, think-tanks, Hindu society, Hindu religious leaders and prominent opinion makers have failed the Dalit. And, yet, there is sadly no expression of shame or remorse! Mere pious platitudes, empty rhetoric and words and ritualistic tokenism or symbolic Bhojan or breaking of bread with Dalits on election eve for publicity and votes is thought to be enough.
The Constitution abolished untouchability but it is still practiced with impunity in hundreds of villages. Child labour is banned and so is forced labour. Yet, India has over 3 million bonded labourers living the lives of slaves in the 21st century. Two years back, the CJI was constrained to comment that Dalit women are routinely molested and raped in rural India but there is no candle light vigil for them. Last year, a Khap Panchayat issued diktat against some young Dalit girls to be raped and paraded by naked; none from the Government came to their rescue; they fled to Delhi and sought protection from the Supreme Court. Same year, in UP, a number of Dalit girls were raped and hanged with mango trees. In Haryana, Dalit bride Grooms, in their own marriage procession, are asked to dismount or dragged down from horse or elephant while passing through Jat streets! Home Minister P Chidarambaram, had once admitted in the Lok Sabha that there were more than 13,500 officially registered cases of atrocities against Dalits in the previous year. As only one case out of five is registered, the actual number of such cases might have been 50,000, making the assertion by the Minister a gross understatement.
It happens because the concerned Government agencies seldom take much needed legal action; they rather turn a blind eye to such inhuman incidents. Why? They don’t have a heart to make sincere efforts to stop the wrong doings that often take place in front of their eyes. If they had, conditions of the Dalit would have been totally different. So, who has failed The Dalit?
No sensible person will support Mayawati’s penchant for pinks, diamond ear rings, multi-storeyed birth day cakes and projects installing her own statues along with her Mentor Kanshi Ram and other Dalit leaders in several memorials built in Lucknow and NOIDA at considerable cost to the tax payers. She is also not an angel in matters of nepotism and corruptions. But to say that she has failed the Dalits will be missing the real point. She was not catapulted into Chief Minister’s chair because of birth neither in a dynasty nor on account of support from an organisation with nationwide, ideologically charged and disciplined cadre. After Kanshi Ram’s death, she has made it by herself. To be a woman Chief Minister of the most populated, male dominated, caste ridden and feudalistic State like Uttar Pradesh four times is path breaking for any politician, especially for a Dalit Woman! What she has done for the Dalits can’t be quantified in statics or cold figures. Away from the TV arc lights, Dalit Government servants, doctors, engineers, teachers and others will sum up this in one word -- Swabhiman or self-respect. Her terms at the helm or in power have raised their sense of dignity, self-confidence and self-respect and instilled in them a fighting spirit. Yes, molestations, rapes and assaults on Dalits didn’t stop in UP during her reign but she filled the Dalits with courage to hit back and not swallow insults lying down. Is it a small metamorphosis for those who have been treated like virtual slaves for over 2000 years? Dalit civil servants will confide that the only time when they were perceived as capable, competent and efficient was when Mayawati served as the Chief Minster. They rose in their own self-esteem and felt they were as good as others. This psychological and emotional transformation in the mindset of the Dalit is the most significant contribution of Mayawati. Regrettably, mainstream media, both print media and electronic, never understood or highlighted this phenomenon. They project her obsessively as a corrupt, greedy, vain and ruthless politician who wastes public money on erecting statues. But why don’t they protest against use of funds to build the statue of Sardar Patel which will be higher than the famed Statue of Liberty?
If the English media folks visit the Dalit memorials in Lucknow and NOIDA on weekends and on Ambedkar’s anniversaries, the stream of Dalit men, women and children standing before these statues with folded hands and filled with awe and admiration will surprise them. So, there is a method and meaning in Maya’s madness.
Irrespective of what high castes of India think, the memorials built by Mayawati are becoming places of pilgrimage for millions of ordinary Dalits!
The late Jagjivan Ram who had the longest inning as a Central Cabinet Minister, at one time, enjoyed the support of 85 Dalit MPs but couldn’t use this clout for getting a better deal for Dalits; in the last Parliamentary election of his life, he won by a margin of less than 15000 votes. Ram Vilas Paswan, who set a world record for winning his Parliamentary seat in Bihar by the highest margin lost in 2009. Why? The Aam Aadmi of their constituencies felt that they had done very little for them! Meira Kumar and Kumari Selja have held important Ministerial posts; they are mere display models of Congress’ claim of Dalit and Women’s emancipation. Clearly, personal fortunes of politicians don’t necessarily raise the fortune of the people whom they represent.
Many TV Channels and national dailies host mega events annually, boastfully pronouncing what an ambitious agenda they were setting for discussing issues which mattered for the country. But have they ever organised any national level event to discuss continuation of untouchability, bonded labour, child labour, molestation, rapes and atrocities against Dalit women and discrimination in educational institutions and civil services? Why not? Are they not significant for the progress of India? May be, they aren’t sexy enough to get them large sponsorships! In a recent TV show discussing Reservation issue, they had four or five Dalits in the studio audience. Expectedly, when the anchor sought audience’s response they turned out to be a minuscule minority! Many believe, media is highly biased against the Dalits.
Discrimination in universities and colleges has been going on for decades. Those who deny this simply tell lies. Hasn’t, the academia failed the Dalit most?
Has the Hindu Society changed? Look at the matrimonial columns to know the truth. Why 70 years after independence, Dalit candidates can’t win Parliamentary or Legislative Assembly elections from general or unreserved seats? Who will vote for them? Have we become an inclusive society? Not yet.
Surendra Kumar is a former diplomat. He has served as Consul General of India in Chicago and High Commissioner to Kenya