August 9 Bandh to be a Show of Dalit Assertion

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The immediate provocation for the Bharat Bandh is the reluctance of the government to listen to the Dalit protest against dilution of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act 1989, but it is also a call for the recognition of Dalit identity. A report, for Different Truths. 

After the April 2 showdown, the Dalit community is gearing up for a major face-off with the Narendra Modi government on August 9. The intensity and character of Dalit assertion could be gauged from the fact that even the Dalit faces of NDA and the Modi government have started cautioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Leaders like Ramvilas Paswan, Udit Raj, and Mayawati have become more vocal in a bid to snatch the initiative from the hands of a new youth Dalit leadership emerging fast at the national level. These leaders are aware that keeping away from the August 9 protest would prove to be disastrous. They had failed to take up the issues faced by the Dalit community.

The immediate provocation for the Bharat Bandh is the reluctance of the government to listen to the Dalit protest against dilution of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act 1989, but it is also a call for the recognition of Dalit identity. On March 20, the Supreme Court observed that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 was being used to “blackmail” innocent citizens and handed down guidelines to protect both public servants and private employees. However, the fact is that no one, not even government officials, underwent legal prosecution for committing atrocities on Dalits. In contrast, the Dalits were languishing in the jails on flimsy charges. The court expressed concern about the “innocent citizen”, but was not bothered about the Dalits.

Surprisingly, the Dalit leaders of NDA allies adopted a soft posture on the issue during the past four months. Now, with the 2019 general election knocking at the door, they have become conscious of their responsibility towards the Dalits. Lok Janshakti Party’s parliamentary party head Chirag Paswan said the apex court ruling took away the strongest instrument Dalits had. “We will be filing a review petition on our own. And we demand that the government too does that. The ruling makes the law completely ineffective and toothless.” Dalit organisations, including the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, and some political parties fear the dilution of the provisions might lead to an increase in violence against Dalits.

At least nine people were killed in April in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan as Dalit outfits allegedly turned violent in several parts of the country due to the outrage over the Supreme Court ruling, according to government officials. But senior Dalit activists like S R Darapuri vehemently deny the activists took to violence.

The Dalit leadership is said to be planning the bandh on a much wider scale. This would herald the emergence of the youth dalit leadership at the national level. The new leadership, which took birth in Gujarat, has already acquired a national dynamics. The upsurge began to acquire political shape post Una atrocities and flogging of the dalits. Dalits have realised that the problem is widespread and that has brought in a new sense of unity. After the incident, Mewani began the Asmita Yatra from Ahmedabad to Una. More than 20,000 joined him for the yatra.

Recently, several Dalit organisations and political leaders held a brainstorming session, which witnessed the birth of the Dalit Swabhiman Sangharsh Manch with Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar, taking the lead.

There is a widespread feeling among the Dalits that it is time for the 167 million dalits in India to get organised politically. They also have to come up with fresh ideas and a different narrative and get out of the typical rhetoric of bhramanvaad-murdaabad, and focus on real issues. The dalits have become victims of the material contradictions of globalization, resulting in clashes with the neo liberals. Mevani has rightly been emphasizing “Fascism is fascism. It will ruin our country if we stay silent any longer”.

This is a Manch opposed to the ideology of the RSS and committed to rights and justice. The Manch is planning to launch a nationwide movement on social issues. The Manch’s mission is to consolidate and unify the movement which is why it has been formed with political support. Those who have joined the new platform include Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, Akhil Bharatiya Khet Mazdoor Union, National Campaign Council for Protection of Dalit Rights, and the Bharatiya Khet Mazdoor Union. The focus, however, will remain on highlighting atrocities against the Dalits.

Only a fortnight ago, Ram Vilas Paswan held a meeting with the Dalit rights coalition All India Ambedkar Mahasabha at his residence. He also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister supporting the demand raised by the Dalit rights group for increasing their representation in the higher judiciary and also in the Supreme Court, which does not have a single dalit judge at the moment. Following the political line of BJP and Modi government, he also held the Collegium system of appointment of judges responsible for this omission. The letter demanded that Parliament bring a law to ensure reservation for SC, ST, OBC and women in the High Courts and the Supreme Court.

The Bharat Bandh is a strategic action plan to reach out to people and explore possible electoral alliances, evolved during a series of discussions between senior leaders of various Opposition parties in New Delhi over the past several days. Dalit MPs have also “expressed concern” over the “wrong message” sent by the appointment of Justice (retd) A K Goel as National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairman since he is “the judge who ruled against” the SC/ST Act. Manch leaders believe that the RSS is behind all this and consider the organised crime against Dalits is a part of their cultural nationalism.

Arun Srivastava

©IPA Service 

Photos from the Internet