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A statement of self-confidence

The Dalit masses are organising themselves to not only combat caste atrocities and a globalised economy, but also attempts by communal forces to make use of their vulnerability. For this, new strategies of self help and partnership with non-dalits are being evolved. MEENA RADHAKRISHNA writes on recent proceedings of the NacDor, which coordinates over 150 Dalit organisations in 15 States.



Expressing an identity ... a Jan panchayat.

"STOP being obsessed with reservations, and holding up a begging bowl in front of the government. Stop lingering over the details of beastly atrocities on Dalits. Stop abusing rascal politicians, or governments of scoundrels, who we all know have repeatedly let us down. We have very few resources, including time, and we just cannot afford to waste them on tearful, emotional appeals for justice. Let us, instead, begin sensitisation of non-Dalits on a massive scale. A globalised economy is wreaking havoc in our society. Communal forces are prowling in our backyards. Let us start work to face the challenges of the future. Let us launch a Self Help Movement". This, in sum, was the message of the leadership to the Dalit community, as National Conference of Dalit Organisations (NacDor) began its recent regional proceedings on an assertive note in Rampur (Uttar Pradesh).

It is called the Self Help Movement, but that should not be construed to mean that reservations are not regarded as a hard won, treasured right, or that the administration will be allowed to get away with indifference, or with blatantly anti-Dalit acts of omission and commission. The point is about the shift in emphasis. "Dalits should not pin all their hopes on reservations or on the government. Institutions meant for the welfare of the SC/STs, the law and order machinery, the bureaucracy, the courts, the police, the planners — no one would be allowed to shrug off their responsibility to Dalits. We intend stepping up the pressure on all arms of the government to force it to deliver. But, simultaneously, Dalits must initiate a mass movement of their own." The conference has multiple concerns, but one of the most serious of them is the devastating impact of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation on the Dalit community. These must be opposed vigorously. But first, their manifestations must be clearly understood: The Government is adopting economic policies which will lead to a shrinking of employment opportunities for Dalits in all sectors.

Eighty per cent of the Dalit population is connected with land, and so the agricultural policy of the Government is critical. The intended "agricultural reforms" are a farce: what the Dalits require all over rural India is land reforms. Agricultural reforms would mean consolidation of small plots of land into larger ones, allowing private entrepreneurs to enter agriculture, and mechanisation of all agricultural operations. Dalits, when they own any land at all, is in small plots, and these units will become uneconomical to sustain, leading to forcible selling out. Mechanisation will mean a large scale loss of work to Dalits currently employed as agricultural workers.

Disinvestment policies of the Government are going to result in a loss of reservation quotas in the public sector. This will take away existing jobs, and close an important avenue of employment for Dalits in the future.

Dalits working in the ever expanding private sector have become more vulnerable to exploitative labour practices, and are increasingly losing the protection of existing labour laws.

In the name of development, large scale displacement of Dalits is taking place, without their consent, and without any plans for their rehabilitation.

Privatisation of educational institutions has led to further exclusion of Dalits, who are unable to pay the high fees at either the school or education at the higher level.

It was within this broad framework that job reservations in the private sector, distribution of "ceiling land" to the landless Dalits, quotas for technical education, etc. are being demanded. However, the recommended self help measures go much further:

Do not wait for the Government to open schools, or to reserve seats. Every Dalit child or adult, if she/he has passed the sixth standard, is fit to educate unlettered Dalits.



The Dalit women's movement is to work with women from other vulnerable sections.

A globalised economy is going to demand a different order of technological, professional and managerial skills. Open coaching centres yourselves to train the younger generation.

Do a comprehensive community-wise analysis of current socio-economic plans and policies, and make the government accountable for its performance. (The Ninth Five Year Plan spent less than two per cent of its budget on SC/STs, whereas they form more than 22 per cent of the total population. The gap between the literacy of Dalits and non-dalits, which was 16.89 per cent in 1961, had increased to 20.28 per cent in 1991).

Record every single case of atrocity, discrimination or violation of Dalit human rights, and NacDor will make sure that the guilty are punished according to law.

Critique the educational system, including the curriculum, to make the pedagogic and delivery mechanisms unbiased and Dalit friendly.

Dalit women's movement will not rely on Dalit men, or on the mainstream women's movement. It will actively support and work with women from other vulnerable sections, like nomadic and denotified tribes.

An alternative press will publish and disseminate Dalit related contemporary and historical material. A Centre for Alternative Dalit Media (CADAM) has been set up for this purpose.

As the conference progressed, another serious discussion under the designation of "communalism, Dalit and culture" threw up new definitions. "For a Dalit, the meaning of communalism does not start or end with the relationship between religious communities; religion forms just a small part of any culture. Communalism originates in the conviction that one group of people is superior to another. Thus we believe that violence not just on minorities, but on Dalits and women is also communal in nature." But, on the ground, what is the Dalit position on the violence in Gujarat? Are Dalits for the temple in Ayodhya? Are Dalits part of the Hindu Samaj? The answers come in matter of fact, but passionate, statements by Dalit women leaders:

"When we were incited to burn the Muslim basties, we were told to act as Hindus. Later, it was publicised by the same people that it was the Dalits who did it. The ambivalence is on the part of the Hindus, not Dalits. We know perfectly well that we do not belong to the Hindu culture." And further, "What about the janambhoomi birthplace — of our children? We are not concerned whether a temple is constructed over some god's birthplace or not. It is our children who are sacred to us, and they do not have a roof over their heads. We demand construction of a proper home — not a temple — over the janambhoomi of each Dalit child". The considered position of the conference on this issue is thus unambiguous: "The Dalit samaj does not belong to any mainstream religion, and has a rational, non-believing cultural ethos of its own. In fact, for this very reason, it is the responsibility of the Dalits to see that a collective, national, secular culture is evolved and established, distilled out of all religions and cultures of our society." But how will the mass movement of the future emerge and sustain itself? Can Dalits fight for systemic changes on their own? "No, we do not wish to be an exclusive club, for this is a programme for overhauling of the entire system. We have to build bridges wherever we can". And so, The definition of a "Dalit" has been expanded. It will include not just SCs, but also STs, nomadic and denotified tribes and other deprived sections. Non-dalit women are considered part of this Dalit movement. A dialogue between various strata, castes and tribes within the Dalit community has been initiated. Existing hierarchies within the Dalit community are seen to be a reflection of prevailing inequalities in the society at large.

The communication gap between Dalit intellectuals and Dalit grassroot workers is being consciously narrowed. The dialogue between non-dalit intellectuals and Dalit intelligentsia is critically important. The onus for initiating this particular intercommunity communication is on Dalits. Not surprisingly, among those invited as honoured guests and speakers, there was a fair sprinkling of non-dalit men and women. There were other striking components of this particular Dalit agenda, which point to the certainty of future success: a spirit of self criticism, theoretical discussion of social and economic processes, careful analysis of official facts and figures, systematic planning for the imminent challenges of a fast changing economy, and, most importantly, a desire to keep the entry points open. Reaching out to a much larger "community" of likeminded people, the conference concluded with a call for partners: "We call on all progressive individuals to join us, regardless of their caste, community or social class. We promise that we, in turn, will support every single forward-looking cause that they champion. A small bowlful of curd can turn a whole pitcher of milk into curd. Come, together let us transform this world!"

* * *

The NacDor version

OUR investigation shows that it was not a mob of infuriated people, but the police who killed the five Dalits. These Dalits were traders in hides, and were as usual carrying cow hides. They were stopped by the police, and when the traders refused to pay the bribe demanded, were taken to the police station. Here they were brutally beaten to death by the enraged policemen. The theory of mob lynching has been manufactured to hide the facts of this gruesome incident. We wish to place on record the fact that Haryana, contrary to its reputation as a peaceful state, is one of the worst States as far as atrocities on Dalits are concerned. The police is drawn from the landowning sections, whose vile attitudes towards Dalits as agricultural workers are legendary. In this case they have simply carried across to the police station their usual brutality in the fields towards Dalits, with naked power multiplied many times over. It is a malicious lie that the Dalits were found skinning a live cow. Any one who knows anything about this trade will confirm this, as a live cow cannot be skinned for very practical reasons. Moreover, Dalits have respect for a live cow as they have respect for all life, and they will never torture an animal in this fashion. Apart from demanding the severest and exemplary punishment to the policemen concerned, we demand the prosecution of Giriraj Kishore, Vishwa Hindu Parishad spokesperson, who defended these ghastly killings. To us, this is another instance of the mounting fascism of Hindutva forces. We condemn and vow to end a system which values the life of a cow more than that of five human beings.

Meena Radhakrishna is a sociologist, and author of Dishonoured by History: Criminal Tribes and British Colonial Policy. E-mail her at meena.rkna@vsnl.com

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