Chandigarh, August 16: It is cry for liberation from thousands of years of oppression of the worst kind. The dalits have finally come together to raise their voice against the historical injustice inflicted upon them by the Hindu dominated society perpetuating the caste system. This is the kind of apartheid practiced by the so called upper castes against which there has been no united struggle. This ostracism is at every level-social, economic and religious. It is the fight for human dignity.
One significant aspect of this struggle is that the Muslims have come out in support of the dalit cause. It is their socio-economic subjugation that has been the main cause of the dalits converting to Islam or Christianity. They are considered even worse than the animals in some parts of the country as they are not allowed to enter even the places of worship or draw water from the same well or hand pump. In Punjab, the utensils in which the land owners serve food to their dalit workers are kept separately which they wash themselves.
The movement has started from Una, the very place where four dalits were flogged in public by the so called gau rakshaks for skinning dead animals alleging it to be cow slaughter.
The social model of Gujarat is perhaps amongst the worst in the country due to its exclusivity. The economic model for which Narendra Modi used to take credit as the Chief Minister also stands exposed. It was the public flogging of the dalits that has triggered the liberation movement. A beginning has been made.
Their big gathering at Una yesterday culminated in taking a pledge administered by their young and energetic leader Jignesh Mewani. Also present were Jawaharlal Nehru University students leader Kanhaiya Kumar and Radhika Vemula, mother of Hyderabad university scholar Rohith Vemula who was forced to commit suicide by the circumstances created by the authorities.
They were administered oath by their leader Mewani with a clinched fist. They would not lift animal carcasses or skin them. They would not clean the sewers. They demanded five acres of land per family from the government as alternative source of livelihood. They agenda is revolutionary in itself but the dalits would have to stick to it. They might have to face social boycott in the villages from the upper castes but they would have to confront this situation unitedly and boldly. They have taken the first step.
An important aspect of the gathering was that the political leaders were kept at a distance and rightly so. The Bahujan Samaj Party swept to power in Uttar Pradesh but there is little qualitative change in the lives of the dalits. Capturing power in itself should not be the goal.
The Gujarat leaders, after consolidating their struggle in that state touted as the model of development, should involve their brethren in other states. Rather the move should be initiated to have a joint front of minorities and dalits. The participation of Muslims in the Una convention is an important milestone. The Muslims in Gujarat continue to be alienated since 2002 violence.
Punjab is the state with the highest concentration of dalits at 32 per cent in the country and the Sikhs are the political force. The social barriers have not been that strong here in view of the Sikh religion that was the created as a casteless and classless society at the doctrinal level. However, the Sikhs, like Muslims, fell back in the same rut of casteism, thereby violating the basic teachings of the founder of the faith, Guru Nanak Dev.
However, dalits especially in the Doaba belt in the state are economically strong and this region has seen their identity assertion during the last some years. However, it has remained an unorganised localised movement.
The segregation in Punjab became pronounced when the Akali Dal after coming to power in 1977 came out with the scheme of separate dharamsalas for dalits. It finally led to separate gurdwaras and separate cremation grounds. The government was then headed by Parkash Singh Badal. The government should have introduced schemes inclusive in nature.
The Akali Dal otherwise at one time was for uniting minorities on a common platform. However, Badal opted for political alliance with the Hindu Right party that is the BJP after one time alliance with the BSP.
Gujarat dalit leadership should focus on Punjab. The dalits in this border state are leaderless but economically better off as compared to Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh and thus in a position to add impetus.