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Politics of Dalitism: creating Dalits among Dalits
By R.Upadhyay

The attempt of some of activists of Dalit movement in India to internationalise the issue in World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) concluded in the first week of September and follow up actions have created an impression that there is something basically wrong in the ideological orientation of the movement.  The word Dalit was coined in post-colonial India by the disciples of Ambedkar.   They did not accept the word Harijan (Men of God) used by Gandhi for the untouchables in Hindu social order because of their aversion against him.  The word Dalit therefore, became the vernacular terminology for the oppressed classes, with a wider connotation for electoral sociology in the democratic polity of the country.    

Mahatma Gandhi & Dr. Ambedkar: If we look to the history of Dalit movement, it is as old as the birth of the concept of untouchability, which was the darkest spot in Hindu social structure.   Though, Hindu reformists tried their best to fight against this social evil right from the days untouchability was born, the real concern over it came to surface during the freedom struggle, when Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R.Ambedkar fought against it in their own way.  While Gandhi wanted complete eradication of untouchability for emotional integration of Hindu society, Ambedkar was for abolition of Varnashram structure of the Hindu social order.    

The conceptual difference between the two messiahs of untouchables continues to affect the Dalit movement even after their death.  While the disciples rejected Mahatma Gandhi for the sake of power and fulfillment of their personal ambitions, Ambedkar became a symbol of Dalit movement.   A clue to understanding Ambedkar lies in his hatred of Gandhi.  The activists of Dalit movement adopted the same philosophy against the upper castes and are still found boiling in the anger generated by their messiah Ambedkar.   Taking advantage of the violent landscape, which started emerging since the closing decades of twentieth century, the followers of Ambedkar adopted the sole agenda to create social disorder and capture power.   In both the situations, the process of social transformation in Hindu society, which took off in positive direction just after independence got disturbed.  

To understand the multi dimensional direction of the Dalit movement, we may briefly look into the difference between Gandhi and Ambedkar on this issue.  During the first Round Table Conference, when Ambedkar favoured the move of the British Government to provide separate electorate for the oppressed classes, Gandhi strongly opposed it on the plea that the move would disintegrate the Hindu society.   He went for an indefinite hunger strike from September 20, 1932 against the decision of the then British Prime Minister J.Ramsay MacDonald granting communal award to the depressed classes in the constitution for governance of British India.   

In view of the mass upsurge generated in the country to save the life of Gandhi, Ambedkar was compelled to soften his stand.  A compromise between the leaders of caste Hindu and the depressed classes was reached on September 24,1932, popularly known as Poona Pact.  The resolution announced in a public meeting on September 25 in Bombay confirmed -" henceforth, amongst Hindus no one shall be regarded as an untouchable by reason of his birth and they will have the same rights in all the social institutions as the other Hindus have".  This landmark resolution in the history of the Dalit movement in India subsequently formed the basis for giving due share to Dalits in the political empowerment of Indian people in a democratic Indian polity.     

Even though Ambedkar was a party to Poona Pact, he was never reconciled to it.  His contempt against Gandhi, which continued even after his assassination on January 30,1948.  On the death of Gandhi he expressed, "My real enemy has gone, thank goodness the eclipse is over".  He equated the assassination of Gandhi with that of Caesar and the remark of Cicero to the messenger - "Tell the Romans, your hour of liberty has come".  He further remarked, "While one regrets the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, one cannot help finding in his heart the echo of the sentiments expressed by Cicero on the assassination of Caesar".   Considering Gandhi as a "positive danger to this country", he quoted from Bible that "sometime good cometh out of evil, so also I think good will come out of the death of Mr. Gandhi" ( Gandhi and Ambedkar - Saviours of Untouchables by Sheshrao Chavan.  Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan publication 2001, page 263-64).   

The reaction of Ambedkar over the death of Gandhi may be viewed as a politics of negation for vengeance against the caste Hindus and also for political power for Dalits.  He felt, "the problem of depressed classes will never be solved unless they get political power in their own hand" (Thus spoke Ambedkar by Bhagwan Das).  He however, did not clarify as to how in a democratic polity of pluralistic society, Dalits would be the sole custodians of power.   

Post Ambedkar Dalit Movement:  The post-Gandhian and post-Ambedkar Dalit activists re-invented the direction of their movement, which was by and large focussed towards developing the negative ideas in a dark room.   They are yet to take the next step to focus their negatives in light for positive prints.  In the absence of a scientific endeavour their movement lags in its march towards social reform, as it has more or less become a platform for the political empowerment of some individuals for their personal ambitions and vested interests.  This is not only against the concept of equalitarian Hindu sociology of Vedic India but also against the concept of democracy.    

The present clash for Dalit leadership has confirmed the theory of C.Rajagopalachari that many Dalit leaders are interested for continuance of the undesirable status of Dalits for the fulfillment of their personal ambitions.  Disagreeing with Ambedkar on Dalits issue he said, "… This is material explanation for the violent dislike of Gandhiji exhibited by Dr. Ambedkar, who looks upon this great and inspired reformer as the enemy of the untouchables, meaning thereby of the educated and ambitious among them who find that the depressed status furnishes short cut to position ".( "Ambedkar Refuted"page 33, Hind Kitab Publishers: Bombay 1946) 

 It may be partially true that political empowerment is key to social and economic empowerment as suggested by Ambedkar but this cannot be the sole criteria for the social equality of Dalits.  The representatives (122 -76 SC and 46 ST in parliament against its strength of 543 and 1085 -556 SC and 529 ST in state assemblies against their strength of 4370) of Dalits in parliament and state assemblies in sizeable strength have been sharing political power for last fifty years.   But if they have failed to bring a desired social change and economic upliftment of Dalits, there is something wrong in the movement, which is yet to be identified.  The students of the constituting history have therefore, a right to know from Dalit activists the reason behind the failure of their representatives sharing political power. 

One may be amused to understand that how only160 Dalit delegates under the umbrella of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights in WCAR would have fought for the cause of Dalits in India if the representatives of Dalits sharing political power could not assert and agitate for the cause of their community? An objective analysis of the prevailing social condition and sentiments in India may corroborate the theory of C.Rajagopalachari that Dalit movement has become a vehicle to promote the personal interest of some individuals or groups. 

The Dalits despite empowerment are not a political force – why?:  In the absence of an All India mind with a cohesive and unified perspective, Dalit movement has also failed to emerge as a strong political force.   Dalits are divided into hundreds of castes and sub-castes.  About 56 percent of Dalit population belong to about 20 dominant castes among them.  These dominant castes are presently grabbing all the privileges provided to the Dalits constitutionally.   Even Dr.Ambedkar failed to give an intellectual explanation to unify them together, as a result, his political influence during his life time also remained confined to only Mahar caste of his community in the Maharashtra region. 

Dalit activists, due to lack of actual ideological direction are not clear whether they are interested to ensure the material prosperity of Dalits or equal status in Hindu social order.   Untouchability has almost disappeared, as touch of Dalit is no more considered to have any polluting affect on caste Hindus.  However, so long the Dalits enjoy the benefits of reservation in Government jobs and admission in academic institutions, they may have to bear the stigma of being considered unequal in merit to the caste Hindus.   The objective of Dalit movements should be therefore, to erase such stigma, which is possible only if Dalits get a chance for their proper education befitting to the standard required for competitions.  

Vested interests in Command:  Contrary to the objective of the movement discussed above, the managers of Dalit movement due to their vested interest do not want their people to be cleansed from the stigma of reservation and the agony of their past humiliation of being treated as untouchables.   In stead of fighting for transformation of the Hindu social order, they are found more interested to promote themselves as Esperanto of United Nations politics.   With weapon of hate, they are neither able to fight against the social inequality and injustice effectively nor in a position to contribute any significant social change.    

In stead of looking on the growing consciousness among the educated caste Hindus against the social evil of caste discrimination against Dalits and appreciating this positive change, the Dalit activists ignore and understate the development.   Their sole aim is now pointed towards personal ambitions at the cost of their community.  This has created a new class of Brahmins among the Dalits, who are now exploiting the actual Dalits by grabbing the benefits meant for the latter.   This may look like a paradox, but it is the hard reality. 

The on going Dalit movement is gradually losing its track.  Its multi-dimensional character based on the philosophy of love and hate is unfortunately turned into political theocracy, which is contrary to the basic concept of the total transformation of Hindu social order.   Inciting the Dalits against the caste Hindus for historical agony without any honest effort for their emotional integration with rest of the Hindu social order is neither in the interest of this disadvantaged section of population nor in the interest of the nation. 

The shrinking influence of the so called Brahminsm in electoral politics, social transformation, spiritual movement, or even other public affairs are enough indications of gradual changes in Hindu sociology.   Dalit movements with a view to create social disorder by promoting caste hatred against the upper castes of ancient Varnashram system will simply halt the process of the on going social transformation.   With their political empowerment by occupying the post of President, Union Cabinet ministers, Chief ministers, and bureaucrats, Dalits are gradually getting more opportunities for achieving social empowerment under democratic process.   By gaining more confidence, Dalits are now found to be quite assertive of their rights.  This however, does not mean that they have been acceptable in community dining or inter-caste marriage, which is not even prevalent within the various Dalit castes.    

The objective of any social reform movement is to ensure a peaceful, decent and dignified life for every body without any social confrontation.  But, unfortunately the Dalit activists are so obsessed and possessive in their approach towards the historical agony of their community that they have made the latter as prisoners of Dalitism, which hardly has any constructive plan for creation of a just social order.   Their slogan for abolition of Varnashram (professional units) system and total abolition of caste is an utopian concept, which will never take root in the diverse and pluralistic Indian society. 

Casteism is the bane of Indian society but the Indian people accept caste as a hard reality.  Even the Christians and Muslims boast themselves of their upper caste heritage.   In South India even Christians are maintaining visible distance from the Dalit Chritians as the latter continue to have separate church, separate burial ground and even separate places for social interactions.   Similarly, even Muslims in India and Pakistan there is no inter- caste marriage among the Sheiks, Syed, Paithan and others because of their upper caste heritage before conversion. 

The three Dalits groups and their separate agenda:  As far as the present Dalit movement is concerned, it is in the hands of three vested interest groups of Dalit politicians, Dalt writers and Chrisian missionaries.   Dalit political leaders like Kansi Ram and Ms Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party and Ram Vilas Paswan of Lok Jana Shakti are having their influence exclusively among the members of their own community.  They can never come to power on their own due to their limited influence among the voters.  For coming to power they are compelled to join some other parties dominated by caste Hindus.  They are therefore, hardly in a position to bring any social change. 

The second group, which claims to be the champion for the cause of Dalits is of Dalit writers.  Their personal ambition and ego have kept them away from the common Dalits, who are illiterate and poor.   They are more interested in their self-promotion than serving the cause of their community.  Their possessiveness is often mistaken as love for Dalits.  Since they do not get enough space in media to spit venom against the caste Hindus and are hardly in a position to play an effective role in electoral politics, they are always in search of the forces through which they could get national and international recognition.   They have therefore, joined hand with forces (third group) determined to disintegrate the Hindu society. 

The interest of the third group in Dalit movement is to de-Hinduise the Dalits and promote their proselytisational endeavour.  The argument of this group that Christian society does not have any caste discrimination is not based on ground reality.  The Dalit Christians are facing the problem of caste discrimination even in Christian society.   Such discrimination is prevalent in Kerala even after the death of Dalit Christians, whose corpses do not find any place in the cemetery meant for upper caste convert Christians. T.V.Rajshekhar, a Dalit writer, while speaking in a seminar (Church and Dalit) organised by Christian leaders in Madras on June 14, 1986 said that Dalit Christians form about 80 percent Christian population in India but contrary to what Jesus Christ preached, the Dalit Christians are also the victim of caste discrimination as they have separate burial ground, separate churches and separate dwelling places. 

Ever since the promulgation of presidential order No 19 of 1950 debarring the Dalits of non-Hindu and non-Sikh community to be included in the list of Scheduled castes, the Christian missionaries have been facing difficulty in alluring the Hindu Dalits for their conversion.   For this they have already launched a movement for constitutional privileges for Dalit Christians.  If they succeed in alienating the Dalits from Hindu social order, the entire Dalit community will get the benefit of constitutional provisions and it will help them in their mission for proselytisation.    

Indian Social Institute(ISI), a Roman Catholic Mission outfit organised a meeting on "Durban and Dalit Discourse: Post Durban Scenario" on September 20.  The meeting was organised with a view to forming a "broad alliance of disadvantaged section of society to battle the status quo that would prefer to keep them on the periphery of the country's social structure" (Hindu dated September 24).   The move of the institute is to internationalise the issue.  Had it not been so, it should first cleanse the Christian society in Kerala.  In fact the Christian missionaries are also facing a dilemma of the isolation of Dalits from the affluent sections of the community.   Dr. Prakash Luis, Executive Director of ISI said, "There is a sense of vertical divide within the community between the socially mobile 'Brahmanical Dalits' and the real Dalits among Dalits".  

Conclusion: In the backdrop of the dialectics of Dalit movements, it appears that the Dalits have now become the victims of the politics of Dalitism being played by various groups.   Instead of fighting the evils of caste discrimination in Hindu society, the Dalit movement has given birth to neo Dalitism, which hardly has any difference with the polluted Brahmanism. 

The movement, which does not have the ingredients to bring about reconciliation among conflicting social groups and fails to accelerate the process of social harmony and human dignity, is bound to lose real direction.  Dalits should therefore be very careful about the politics of Dalitism being played by vested interests not only at the cost of the disadvantaged community but also at the cost of social harmony, which is more dangerous for the nation. 

(The analysis in the paper is based on the personal perception of the writer.  E-mail: 




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