Dalits or the untouchables in India, as the Hindu social order placed them in the category of outcastes or people with no caste have taken up Buddhism, Islam and Christianity in the long course of their history and emerged into multi-religious community. Their conversions into other religions have not delinked their low social status. Perhaps, in other religions, the degree of humiliation may not be as same as in their mother religion: Hinduism. Yet one cannot rule out that Muslim Christian and Sikh dalits are not victims of caste. Therefore, it would be a grave mistake to use the word dalits to refer to Hindu dalits alone. Untouchables across the religions are same and they are connected through their shared history, identity and discrimination. Caste based discrimination is, in fact, works as a common thread and is the reason for the emergence of the common narratives of discrimination. Their religions may be different but the attributes of Hinduism to their culture and social life have not changed. Perhaps, this is what connected them all together in times of crisis such as Una flogging, dilution of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Protection of Atrocities) Act, 1958 , reduction of reservations in the higher educational institutions, Bhim-Koregaon attacks and so on. Though they spread into different religions, source of their discrimination in their converted religions is Hinduism. Therefore, Hinduism as discriminating religion always haunts them wherever they go. It is commonality that let them to promote intra-religious dalit solidarity. If rightwing radicals are attacking a church, they are not attacking Christians but they are attacking dalit-Christians, if their followers are attacking Buddhists they are attacking Buddhist dalits, if they are conducting gharvapsi, they are not converting Muslims and Christians into Hinduism but they are relocating dalits into the same religion and its caste system which they left for human dignity. Therefore, educated conscious dalits would not see the attacks of the caste Hindus and communal Hindus within their religion on any of their sub-castes and on dalits of other religions in isolation. This means that there is inbuilt intra-religious dalit solidarity against the atrocities/attacks which are not properly understood. In all these cases, the solidarity is expressed in different ways. Dalits in different religions do have their organizational mechanisms to address their problems. Yet they get themselves into the dalit-network of solidarity as it addresses larger issues of discrimination nationally and globally. However, still, there huge dalit constituency (the urban and rural uneducated) is laying out this solidarity network which needed to be brought in. If Hinduism is sources of their discrimination and indignity, what explains their presence in radical Hindu rightwing organizations like Rastriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS) and its political offshoot Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP).
Why dalits are in RSS-BJP?
With such level of consciousness and solidarity on fighting against discrimination, exploitation and humiliation why there are dalits in RSS-BJP holding different positions at different levels when its ideology and actions are antithetical to dalits in every sense. We find that the most educated and rights conscious dalits or the dalits who were well-known activists and leaders in dalit movements finds shelter with visible levels of comfort under the Hindutvadi radical ideology. Despite being aware of the fact that Hinduism is reason for the low grade social position, compromising attitude of the conscious dalits with BJP-RSS ideology needed to be analyzed. First is the religious orthodoxy of dalit Hindus. There is a decent percentage of ‘orthodox Hindu dalit population’. They would not be interested in identifying with dalits who are critical of Hinduism and criticize such dalits as anti-Hindus. They are interested in being strict Hindus than on understanding the problems with the religion. However, they, in times, compromise with their religious orthodoxy when they are economically affected. It is these dalits who are heading Samajik Samrastra Sangh, the RSS dalit wing and BJP-SC/ST Cell. Their orthodoxy allows them to be used by the Hindu organizations to prove that they are not anti-dalit, they become the means and mechanisms to reconvert once converted (gharvapsi) and to spread radical Hinduism into the hearts of their own people who might become foot soldiers of rightwing organization to fight against their own people in caste of communal/caste riots. Their religious orthodoxy also allows them to develop ideological proximity with rightwing ideology. Perhaps, their proximity with the upper caste in Hindu organizations would make them feel that they are being respected which is out of reach if they are part of conscious/radical dalits. Second, there are ‘political dalits’ who would believe that like anyone else in politics it is unfair to expect political correctness and ideological commitment from them because they happened to be dalit politicians in BJP. Perhaps, they believe that dalits are not in power because of this sort of uncompromising and meaningless ideological commitments. Unfortunately for dalits, BJP, from being regional north Indian in 1984 with Lok Sabha seats has emerged into a strong national forming government at the centre and 21 out of 29 states as well. In such a situation, they would ask themselves, should keeping away from BJP because its ideology is anti-dalit does any better to dalits? Or is it because dalits who are holding positions at various levels in the party as well as in RSS as well, in actuality found that BJP is better than Congress, Left parties and regional parties in respecting and providing needed political space? Since most of these parties are dominated by the caste Hindus, lack of required respect and space has always been a problem. Yet, expect their caste; their ideologies of the most of the non-RSS-BJP political parties are not problematic. Therefore tt is difficult to justify this belief, if they believe that BJP is better than the rest. Constitution has allowed all political parties to accommodate dalits through the reservation of seats for parliament, legislative assemblies in states, municipalities, panchayats and so on. One or the other dalit has to contest on BJP ticket in a reserved constituency. Therefore, it is obvious though BJP is anti-dalit, dalits believe that they ought to contest on BJP seats to stay in politics and stay afloat in power whatever is coming in their way. They also believe that avoiding BJP is equal to avoiding political opportunities as it has been growing. Yet, this does not mean that a conscious dalit in BJP has to surrender his/her complete freedom, power and self-respect to the ideology of the party which in every sense is anti-dalit. Many dalit leaders in BJP showed their courage in questioning the inability of the party in controlling BJP leaders and party workers, RSS cadre, Bajaranga Dal, Gau Rakshaks and other such radical organizations threatening the life of dalits. Savitri Bai Phule, BJP Member of Parliament (MP) from Bahriach, Uttara Pradesh (UP), perhaps, first who has took on her party leadership and government for attacking reservation policy, for desecration of Ambedkar statue and raise in crimes against people from her community. Apart from her, Chhote Lal Kharwar from Robertsganj, Ashok Kumar Dohre from Etawah and Yashwant Singh from Nagina, all from UP–have alleged that pertinent issues such as the dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, the impression that the saffron party does not support the reservation policy and escalating police atrocities against Dalits have not been handled well by the party leadership. One of them also alleged that UP chief minister Adityanath did not treat them with respect when they tried to raise these issues with him. Savitri Bhai Phule conducted the Save Indian Constitution and Reservation Policy rally day before the powerful Bharat Bandh called by dalit organizations and stated that ‘she is India’s MP and it doesn’t matter if she remain MP or not, but she will not tolerate any changes to the constitution and reservation’.[i] Similarly, the rest have raised issues of discrimination of dalits within the party’s organizational setup and retaliatory attacks on dalits, false cases and humiliation they faced from Yogi Adithaynad, Chief Minister of UP. Quite contrast to these MPs within the party, we have ‘submissive dalit politicians’ like Udit Raj, Ramvilas Paswan, Jatinram Manjhi and Ramadas Atwale, the first one as MP of BJP and the rest as alliance partners of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed by BJP, are acting as spineless dalit leaders. Ramadas Atwale (Republican Party of India-A) and Ramvilas Paswan (Lok Janashakti Party) are worse with their ideological compromise. Despite being a dalit leader for long time and heading party for promoting his political career, he cannot even be compared with Savitri Bhai Phule who showed unbelievable courage in speaking and conducting a rally against her own party. These leaders ironically, unlike, the four rebel dalit BJP- MPs have been dalit activists and leaders of various movements for long time. They not only even feel guilty of their questionable alliance with an anti-dalit party but also keep mum when they suppose to be critical of BJP. Many a times, Atwale and Ramvilas Paswan backed BJP and offered suggestion on how it should accommodate dalits and Muslims into its fold instead of driving them away. Angry educated dalits are treating the earlier four dalit BJP MPs as ‘assertive dalit politicians’ and latter as ‘opportunist/submissive dalit politicians’ and even as traitors of dalits. Whatever may be the case, the presence of dalits in RSS-BJP, be as members and leaders or alliance partners cannot be justified unless their presence has served the larger purpose of dalits at large. They becoming ministers, MPs, MLAs and others does not serve any purpose as the very idea of they getting elected through reservation is to address larger issues faced by dalits. When they themselves were disrespected by the upper caste leaders in BJP, how can they contribute to dalits? Therefore, if a dalit elected leader in BJP is incapable of using their position to contribute something dalits overall development, then such a representation is meaningless. In other words, mere personal political advancement is not the purpose of the reservation. The last and the most important segment of dalits helping BJP to hang on to the power are the ‘urban and rural illiterate Hindu dalit masses’ that are largely outside the impact of Ambedkarism and dalit consciousness. One would wonder in a country where untouchability is practiced everywhere and almost all dalits knew that caste system which is dear and near for RSS-BJP is the reason for their low life, why dalit masses are voting for BJP. These poor, uneducated and helpless dalits who despite alternative religions have been offering space for them, stuck to Hinduism because they believe that it is essential as it their ‘original culture’. In actuality, it is not. It is with these people who are very strong actual voting popular RSS-BJP are approaching through religious and cultural sentiments, through ‘welfare programmes’ and dinning diplomacy. They, unfortunately, are incapable of understanding the danger. Perhaps, they, like their leaders, believe that non-BJP governments have been seeing them significant as voters but do not deserve to be treated equally on par with the rest of the caste Hindus. Even after being aware of the danger of BJP ideology, it is perhaps this realization pushing them to vote for BJP for a change or with some expectations. Their minority position in the villages too put them in a vulnerable position and force them vote for BJP out of fear. Above all, they would have understood that most of the mainstream political parties, be it BJP, Congress, Left and regional parities, most of them base their ideological foundations on caste identities. Therefore, BJP as a political party too is based on upper caste but with Brahmanic ideology. This did not make much different between BJP and the rest. The caste Hindu atrocities on dalits have been the same before Manuvadis form governments from 2000 in states of North India and at the centre in 2014. This, perhaps, did not allow dalits to differentiate between danger of RSS-BJP Manuvadi ideology and casteism of the congress, Left and others. Yet, all these reasons do not give us the impression that dalits are voting for BJP as it is a genuine choice for them. It is their vulnerable position as weak isolated social groups which forced them to vote for BJP. To counter this vulnerability, penetration of Ambedkarism into every nook and corner of the dalit habitation is essential. Dalit activism and organizations are ignoring the significance of bringing every dalit into the network of dalits. There should not be any village which is left out or who do not know who they were in the past, what they are in the present, how they have been treated and how they should counter what is happening to them now and what role they can play in building the future for dalits in the nation. If this is done, conscious dalits would increase exponentially and that would automatically works against anti-dalit ideologies and social forces.
Why dalits should not be in RSS-BJP
No matter what justifications one gives, no conscious dalit who understands their history, their position in Hindu society, their struggles for basic human rights denied by Hinduism, their continuous humiliation very cleverly normalized in Hinduism and ideological tenets of RSS-BJP, the moment a dalit subscribes to the ideology of the rightwing and become of RSS-BJP members or followers, he/she cease to be dalits. This on the ideology side but if we look the four years BJP rule at the centre and what it did to dalits, then it needs no elaboration to argue that RSS-BJP time and again proved that dalits enemies of for BJP. Perhaps, more than any other community, dalits are the first enemies of BJP as they, despite being Hindus, consistently criticize Manuvadi Hinduism, its spread and growth. The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha through BJP have been trying to realize an impossible dream i.e. transforming secular India into a Hindurastra. Foundations of such a state are to be laid down on santhana dhara, manu smrithi, vedic and puranic traditions of religious and cultural life and caste system. Dalits, on the other hand, have been fighting to annihilate caste, achieve historical, social and cultural equality by targeting Hinduism. From Jyotirao Phule in 19th century to the Indian Malcom X, Chandrasekar Azad ‘Ravan’, in the 21st century, the dalit-Bahujans fight was against caste system and its inbuilt features of excluding and humiliating dalits. If that is the case, how one could be comfortable with the RSS-BJP ideology that in every sense re-essentialises everything against which dalits and their leaders fought for one and half centuries. Hindurastra is a double danger for dalits; it replaces the reformed caste system with the ancient version and perhaps it further strengthen it and it also reverses all the achievements achieved through hard struggles of dalits. No matter what political opportunities they offer the presence of dalit in RSS-BJP nothing but accepting their ideology and working for the promotion of their ideology and realizing their objectives. Today’s Hinduism and the pre-colonial Hinduism are different in content and culture. The modern Hindu society would be much more interested in revitalizing the pre-colonial version. When even a reformed version of Hinduism is terribly failing to treat dalits with dignity, how dangerous it could be if the dalits allow the pre-colonial version to come back. Moreover, post-colonial RSS-BJP combine is not interested in the version of Hinduism that went through a century of reforms. They, in fact, argue that reforms, initiated by the Brahman reformers with the support of British were a British conspiracy to weaken Hinduism. It is this attitude and their very objectives positions dalits as an ideological enemy against BJP. RSS-BJP believes dalits would wholeheartedly ever support their ideology and similarly dalits would never believe that RSS-BJP would like their fight against Hinduism and caste system. Either of them giving such positive impression to each other is nothing but hypocrisy. In BJP ruled states according to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, in 2015, Gujarat reported the highest crime rate against Dalits, followed by Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. This clearly shows that BJP ruled states are not safe for dalits and the ideology of RSS-BJP brings in new variety of crimes against dalits. The difference on the kind of crimes against dalits in BJP and non-BJP rule became quite clear with the flogging of seven dalits for transporting cow skin tying to the truck they were transporting in pubic they were made half naked, tied to the truck and lynched with iron rods and sticks. On 11th July 2016, in Una, Gir Somanath District, Gujarat, the incident took place and from then on there has been continuous attacks on dalits. They were called as pigs by BJP leaders. Their leaders, dead or alive, were ill-treated and humiliated. Their constitutional safeguards are put at risk. Their funds were diverted. Their jobs are being reduced. All these are new and ‘never seen before kind’ and done with audacity drawn from BJP being a party of the Hindu majority. Dalits were attacked in the past. They were not better under congress and non-congress governments before 2014. Yet, most of those attacks were dalit-upper caste conflicts resulted out of assertiveness of dalits. They were retaliatory attacks for questioning the domination, discrimination and humiliation caused by the caste Hindus. Dalits, perhaps, were not attacked for doing their work such as skinning the dead cow and doing trade with hide. Under Hinduvta, dalits are qualified to be attacked even if they are not assertive. For Manuvadis, dalits are anti-Hindu, opposes Varna system, shames India by continuous and consistent campaigning against the social order and other forms of inequality at the national and international spheres, runs organized campaign against Hinduism, seeks equality in all spheres of life including in priesthood, produce anti-caste theories and narratives, admires anti-Hindu heroes like Ambedkar and supports democracy, secularism and rationalism as essential philosophies for dalits and for the nation as well. Such a community should not be spared as they are dangerous for RSS-BJP.
For Manuvadis, dalits in India are not just enemies of caste they are the enemies of religion, culture and nation as well. It is the Ambedkarism which is a big stumbling block for the realization of Hindurastra because Ambedkar beyond doubts has established the unsuitability of Hinduism for dalits if they wanted to lead dignified human life, converting to any other religion is the only ways. He showed the path by converting to Buddhism. Since Ambedkarism counters and dismisses Hinduism as anti-dalit and anti-human as well, it needed to be countered in every possible way. That countering was done in two ways; one is to bring dalits through force into the path of BJP and second the appropriation and saffronisation of dalit icons like Ambedkar and hinduisation of dalits. Some innocent dalits might have fallen for these tactics but for educated conscious dalits, these tactics are quite visible and easily detectable. The first method consisted of direct physical attacks, warning them of consequences, indirectly supporting anti-dalit caste Hindus, framing false charges on dalit leaders, misusing bureaucracy, police and judiciary in denying justice and encouraging its leaders to instigate their cadre to attack dalits. The second method consisted of appropriating dalit icons, claiming their legacy, misinterpreting their theories and ideas, making hypocritical efforts to create symbols of honoring of dalit leaders (erecting statues, naming schemes after dalit leasers and building memorials) and using methods of lunch and dinner diplomacy to create the impression of nearness. The hollowness of all these is immediately exposed by dalits every time the BJP came out with its gimmicks. Whenever, their radical elements attacked dalits, dalits responded with counter democratic justice seeking movements. Every time they came up with plans of appropriation, saffronisation of Ambedkar and hinduisation of dalits, their hypocrisy was immediately exposed. This two pronged approach of RSS-BJP did not work against conscious dalit. However, despite being exposed, they never accepted their guilt or never felt ashamed.
In the first two years, the BJP has focused, primarily, appropriation of Ambedkar though some of their regional leaders, foot soldiers of rightwing organizations, now and then, at work to expose the real character of BJP. While the national leadership employing methods of appropriation, the regional leadership is using fear psychosis. In the appropriation front, Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharastra used Ramdas Atwale to buy Ambedkar’s house London. In 2012, while it was the congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) which announced memorial for Ambedakar in Mumbai, the NDA government is claiming the credit. Narendra Modi who has nothing to do with Ambedkar has tried to present himself as a Sudra become Prime Minister because of Ambedkar. In a Bihar election campaign in 2015, countering criticism on his master Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on the necessity of reviewing reservations, Mr. Modi went to the extent of invoking Ambedkar to make an infamous statement i.e. “If Ambedkar had not been there, where this Modi would be”. But for this so called legacy carrier of Ambedkar, Rohit Vemula’s suicide and Una flogging meant nothing and when forced to speak on Rohit’s suicide he said “the reasons for his suicide and the politics over his suicide are a different issue. However, mother India has lost a son” and on Una flogging he said “if you have to shoot, shoot me, not my dalit brethren”. For an educated dalit, Prime Minister’s hypocrisy is easily detectable. Above all, Ambedkar who left Hinduism to Budhism, on 17th April 2017, on the 125th birthday of Ambedkar in the Organizer, the mouth piece of the RSS, published a special issue on its cover page it has called Ambedkar as the ‘ultimate unifier’. A radical Hindu organization which does everything against what Ambedkar did and said, it is quite surprising that does not realize that not only dalits but the entire nation would laugh at their cheap tricks of saffronisation of Ambedkar. Thus, there is a long list of strategies, tricks and plans of appropriation since 2014. Nothing so far worked as they expected.
While the appropriate dominated first two years of NDA governments rule, attacks on dalits became dominant feature of the rest of the two years. There are four major attacks on dalits, their history and on their constitutional guarantees: Una flogging, Bhim-Khoregoan attacks, dilution of SC/ST (PoA) Act, 1958 and the infamous March 5th 2018 MHRD circular on reducing reservations in universities/colleges. All these four were well thought-out attacks to show the power of caste Hindu rightwing forces to check the pulse of dalits and eventually to bring them to submission. To the surprise of the right-wingers, dalits countered all these four with mass democratic movements. The Una flogging has resulted in massive pan-Indian movement which has transformed into movement for rights led by Jignes Mevani. It became movement of demanding every possible right dalits ought to get. It has demanded to liberate them from jobs like disposing carcasses of dead cattle and manual scavenging, ensure land rights, alternative jobs and basic dignity of life.[ii] On 31st July 2016, at the Dalit Maha Sammelan in Ahemadabad, dalits have taken strong decision to stay away from manual scavenging and also formed Una Dalit Atyachar Ladayi Samiti to seek justice for Una victims. Mevani came with a new formation Ratstriya Dalit Adhikar Munch and contested in elections as an independent candidate and won. Attacks on Bhim Khoregoan 200 year’s celebrations on 1st January 2018 instigated by the Maratha leaders resulted in Marathas and police attacking dalits where one dalit was killed, many injured, houses burnt and property destroyed was another rightwing attack on dalits. This is perhaps, one of organized attacks by the caste Hindus right-wingers who even went to extent of murdering a dalit girl who happened to be victim of unfortunately witnessing crime and filing case. after Ambedkar paid visit, in 1925, the site has acquired historical and political significance which has become reminder of the valor and determination of the Mahars contingent under British East Indian company defeated Pheswa Baji Rao II army at this battle on 1st January 1818. For long dalits have been visiting the Vijaya Stambha erected by the Company at Bhim-Koregoan, never faced serious problems. It is for right-wingers, celebration of dalit history, pride and valor came in conflict with their idea of nation and nationalism. Dalit histories are being contested, designified and interpreted as anti-national. This was too met with state-wide bandh. On 4th January 2018, Prakash Ambedkar, grand-son of Ambedkar and the head of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a dalit party, called for peaceful Maharastra shutdown. Then ‘Bharat Bandh’ by dalits on April 2, 2018 was a never before kind of mind against a never before attack on the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1986 by the BJP government. The dilution in the Supreme Court judgment delivered on March 20, 2018 was attempt by the BJP government to dilute the stringency of the act so that the RSS-BJP cadre could allowed to kill, threaten, rape, murder, injure and humiliate any dalit on their will and wish as weapon of forcing dalits into submission.
The RSS has also targeted reservation. In 2015, Mohan Bhagavat, has demanded the review of reservation policy. M.G. Vaidhaya argued that caste based reservation is not needed as there is not backward castes in India. It could be continued for SC/STs to ten years and should abolish after that. Suresh Bhayaji Joshi though came out with clarification that reservation should be there as long as it needed, the mind set is exposed. Earlier the RSS has called for reviewing the reservation in 1981 at the Akhila Bharatiya Prathinithi Sabha and in 1985 at Akhila Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal.[iii] This is what their stand. Mohan Bhagawat’s statement represents the continuity in their stand and Vaidhay’s statement shows how fast they wanted to end it. Since their offshoot, BJP is in power, they are being forced change their stand. Not only this, there was anti-secularism, anti-constitution anti-Ambedkar rhetoric all around. Ravisahnkar Prasad, as a Union Law Minister, took opportunity to start discussion of changing the constitution, of course with relatively small problem: the word secular. For people with single aim creating Hindurastra the word secular would certainly be stumbling block. Though it was argued that the word secular was not inserted till 1976 into the preamble of the constitution because secularism is inbuilt in Hindu culture (not in Indian culture), the real intention of Ravi Shankar Prasad is to change the constitution with the inputs from the Hindu religious texts on law that would be suitable for Hindurastra. He also went to the extent of showing drawings drawn by Nandalal Bose of Santhiniketan for the various chapters of the constitution of India. Bose has borrowed concepts from all existing religions and cultures of India but Ravi Shankar pointed out drawings from Ramayana and Mahabharat alone to point out the there is nothing wrong if certain ancient Hindu treatises on law be added into constitution. These tricks are to pay the way for the saffronisation of the constitution which dalits would take very seriously as it an attack on the greatest achievement of Ambedkar. Thus within fours of their rule at the centre there is nothing that is related to dalits left untouched. These four years beyond doubts exposed the inbuilt danger of Hindutva rule to dalits in the country.
[i] Mahammad Fisal, ‘Why Dalit BJP MPs are Protesting Against Party Leadership’, The Wire, 7th Arpil 2018
[ii] Vijoo Krishanan, ‘The Una Dalit Struggles and what is Holds for the Future’, Peoples Democracy, Vol. XLII, No. 19. May 13, 2018
[iii] Syamala Yadva, ‘Why RSS Chnaged its Stand on Reservation’, The Indian Express, 3rd November 2015
Dr. Y.Srinivasa Rao, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu,