Chandigarh, August 8: It was not a policy statement but perhaps more than that as it concerns the future of India itself that presently is the worst case of practicing caste apartheid. Prime Minister Narendra Modi positioned himself on two consecutive days on the issue of atrocities on dalits by the so called cow vigilante groups. However, he made his position belatedly clear at platforms outside the Parliament.
He had rubbed his forehead at the entrance of Parliament House when he first entered there as the Prime Minister. However, that reverence is not getting betrayed in practice as he is seen rarely in the House. He made the crucial warning statement on cow vigilantism for two days but outside. The statement made on the floor of the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha has its own sanctity, or at least this is the perception. This is all the more so when both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are in session. He should have addressed this sensitive issue from that platform.
He did not go into one important aspect as to why cow has suddenly come to occupy central space in country’s political discourse with such a force only after the saffron brigade has come into power at the centre. He should come out with a policy statement in Parliament to set at rest this controversy once and for all.
India is a great country with a great cultural legacy in which worst form of apartheid is practiced under the caste system in the Hindu society. This is true of Sikhs too. Sikhism evolved as casteless and classless society but Guru Nanak, in case he travels back in space and time incognito, perhaps would not even recognize his followers. The gurdwaras were the very foundations of this casteless and classless society but these shrines have turned caste-based. So are the cremation grounds. The dalits are now allowed to enter the temples at many places in the country, especially in the South.
In an agrarian society like Punjab, cow has been the revered animal for different reason but not as Gau Mata. However, the Gau Rakshaks have changed the situation. The cow has turned into a nuisance for the farmers. Dairy farmers have been affected the most. They just can’t trade animals outside Punjab. The goons in the name of Gau Rakshaks demand their share. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has allotted lands to gaushalas but has failed to redeem his promise of providing five marla plots to the dalits for constructing houses.
Although exact record is not available, Dr B R Ambedkar, in the pre-partition days, favoured dalits converting to Sikhism with the perception of the Sikhs being a casteless society. He did not get any enthusiastic response from the Sikh leadership.
Dalits have again threatened to convert. Perhaps this is the threat that has worked forcing Modi warn cow vigilantes. . Threat to convert goes against the Ghar Vaapsi campaign of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.
The reasons for conversions are elsewhere. It is apartheid. Hinduism does not treat man as a man but one is treated on the basis of his caste and this system is considered to be divine, not just Mannu made.
Not that Islam is free from such differentiations. Islam has sects antagonistic to each other like Shia and Sunni.
The dalits prefer converting to Buddhism. The dalits as a society would have to take the tough decision of making transitional change from such professions as skinning of animal carcasses.
Mother is taken care of by her children and so should be the Gau Mata. Let the high caste Hindus who treat cow as the Mother perform the last rites also. Gujarat is setting the example where the dalits have stopped lifting cow carcasses. They should seek employment in other avenues.
The Akali Dal at one time used to articulate the thesis of united front of minorities but the party subsequently forgot about it. This articulation needs to be revived by including dalits too in such a front.
Punjab is the only state in the country in which the dalit population is slightly more than 32 per cent. Doaba region in the state has been witnessing identity assertion by dalits. But then the dalits in Punjab are not barred from entering any Sikh shrine. The caste system is practiced at another level. This is what makes the difference in comparison.
The Gujarat dalit movement should be carried forward to the entire country to spearhead transformational change in the intolerant Indian society.