National

Plight of Dalits in India worsened under Modi

On 11 July, seven Dalit men were beaten mercilessly in Una, Gujarat, by cow vigilantes. Four of them were tied to a vehicle, stripped and flogged for skinning dead cows. The attackers were from the local cow protection group, Gau Rakshak Samiti. A video of this crime went viral on social media and sparked an outrage resulting in protests all across Gujarat and beyond.

More than a dozen young Dalits attempted suicide and a series of protests were held in Gujarat including in Modi’s hometown, Vadnagar. Many dalits vowed never to touch cow carcasses and threatened to convert from Hinduism if assaults on dalits did not stop. Images showed protesters dumping carcasses outside government offices.

In the wake of frequent attacks and caste discrimination, 250 Dalit families in Tamil Nadu want to embrace Islam. Dalits were denied to perform rituals in the temples and even the temples built by them were occupied by caste Hindus. According to a Muslim organization, Tamil Nadu Towheedi Jamaat (TNTJ), Dalits approached them but only six of them got converted.

“The Hindutva ideology of the attackers is shared by the BJP and Modi. This ideology has ruined Gujarat. Now that they have broken the morale of the Muslims, they are coming after Dalits,” said Shankarbhai, a protester.

Atrocities against Dalits are not new in India or Gujarat and large numbers of cases of violence against Dalits are filed against upper caste people in the state. A Dalit is an outcast in traditional Hindu caste system. They are referred to as Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST).

Dalits are meant for all menial jobs in the society. Skinning of dead cows is one of their traditional jobs. Most Dalits are involved in working for leather industry and carry out the work of disposing off dead cattle. Such open attacks were not common earlier as there was no open political support to the cow protection groups. But after BJP came to power at the Centre two years ago, cow protection became most important RSS-agenda.

BJP-ruled state governments even formed new ministries for cow welfare. Gaushalas (cow care centres) were organized by cabinet ministers and demand of banning beef increased. BJP-RSS backed cow-brigade became so influential that the traditional leather industry is feeling the pinch.

Fifty Dalit families in Sehore in Madhya Pradesh demanded permission for euthanasia from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, alleging that the land granted to them fifteen years ago by government is occupied by rich and powerful people and they are deprived of means to sustain livelihood.

There is a rise in rape cases against Dalits since 2014 and the current scenario is very disturbing. A 20-year old Dalit girl of Rohtak was gangraped by five men belonging to upper castes on 13 July, 2016. The girl was gangraped by the same group two years ago in 2013 in Bhiwani. As the accused got bail, they again committed the heinous crime to take revenge from her for not withdrawing charges against them in exchange for some money.

On 25 July, 2016, a 14-year old Dalit girl succumbed to death after getting raped frequently by a man who allegedly tortured her and compelled her to drink some corrosive substance. She was tortured for two months but the accused people have not been arrested yet.

Dalit oppression

Prejudices are common in India against Dalits as well as Muslims. RSS had refused to accept the Constitution of India drafted by a Dalit scholar, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Though now they apparently hail Ambedkar but actually they hate his ideology and policies.

On 25 December 1927, Manusmriti (old caste-system upholding legal text of Hinduism) was publicly burned by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Manusmriti laws were against Dalits, minorities and women. On the contrary, RSS holds Manusmriti as sacred text.

There are contradictions in RSS stand.Now it is wooing Dalits by calling Ambedkar a ‘National Icon’. Ambedkar had left Hinduism and died a Buddhist. He was against the caste system and all other social and religious evils that are part of Hinduism. He strongly opposed the Hindu nationalist movement.

The current tokenism used by BJP and RSS is deceptive and Dalit activists realise this. Kancha Ilaiah said, “RSS wants one temple, one well, one crematorium for all Hindus. But will they let a Dalit be head priest of Vaishno Devi? Ambedkar was a Buddhist, so how can they convert a person 60 years after his death?”

Hasan Zia Rizvi

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2016 on page no. 9

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