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The ‘Dalit’ Bharat Bandh: ‘Democratic’ Distractions that are Destined to Perish

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The March 20th order of the Supreme Court defanging the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA) of some of its draconian provisions supposedly gave rise to a violent Bharat Bandh by Dalit groups recently. By all accounts it now appears clear that the violence during the bandh was a deliberate ploy to tarnish the government and the ruling party and sow the seeds of religious and national division in the country – specially to put a brake on the nation-wide consolidation that is taking place in the Hindu community. It can best be summed up as an ‘agitation’ by a coterie of commercial, sold-out interests who didn’t even know what they were agitating against but were simply out there since they had been paid to disrupt law and order by political string-pullers who have mastered the art of managing democracy in today’s era.

And, what passes off as democracy stands completely exposed today, as we can see in a majority of issues, in both domestic and international developments. Anyone who has the money or is adept at using “protests” and other forms of blackmail (like identity politics) to achieve their purpose, becomes the flag-bearer of ‘democracy’. It doesn’t matter that the majority of what pass off as “protests” are devoid of any reason or substance or truth – the louder, more ‘revolutionary’ (read: violent) and numerically stronger the protest, the greater its chances of ‘success’. Of course, if you are a minority, such forms of collective blackmail, no matter how irrational, will be guaranteed success. It doesn’t even matter that the rest of community may be sitting dormant and unaware of what is happening in their name – democracy has given the power to some self-appointed representatives paid-off by political-string pullers to manage the whole system.

This was the character of the so-called ‘Dalit’ protests that took place recently. The protests took place against a law (The SC/ST Atrocities Act) which had been around for the last three decades and from which the majority of poor Dalits had never benefitted. It had certainly advanced the professions and personal wealth accumulation and flourishing of those who had the cunning and the commercial mentality and the money to actually use the law to blackmail their political or business rivals.

The law itself represented a sham in this country. Say anything to those who knew how to wield power and immediately get booked under PoA without any chance of investigation or defending yourself or getting a bail. But majority of Dalits continued to be victims of oppression mainly at the hands of their own community’s sub-castes or at the hands of other backward castes, who have been the real monsters created by such draconian laws.

That is why the entire episode of Bharat bandh was anything but an assertion of ‘rights’ and was based on completely irrational foundations – a Supreme Court order that had not in the least whittled down the PoA Act and was only trying to curb its misuse.

And, ‘misuse’ of the law does not only mean the Dalits misusing the Atrocities Act to file false cases and settle personal scores. In this case, it also means that the law is not being utilized for the people and for the ends for which it was created in the first place. It was created to prevent atrocities against poor Dalits who have historically been victims of caste-based discrimination. But then, poor Dalits hardly have either the awareness, wherewithal or the capacity to file a case and fight the legal battle.

In the aftermath of the SC order, numerous datasets are being bandied about to show that the low conviction rates under the Atrocities Act and the rise of crimes against the Dalits indicate that the PoA was anyways not being misused. This is a completely bogus analysis of the Act, which has been divorced from its actual social context. Anyone who has read the entire judgement – and not simply the one-sided partisan commentaries – would know that the Act was being misused to settle personal and political scores. As poor Dalits have neither the awareness nor the money to fight the legal battles, the Act was misused as a tool for the powerful sections to shut up their political opponents, especially in local-level elections, and to settle scores over property disputes.

So, low conviction rates does not mean that Dalit voices are not being heard, but that they were not even being raised, despite the three decades of functioning of this so-called law.

Because protests have become an everyday norm and an unquestionable hallmark of ‘democracy’, one may have forgotten the massive – much more than the Bharat Bandh of April 2nd – protests that had taken place across Maharashtra in 2016. In those protests, Marathas were protesting precisely against the PoA and demanding that it be diluted if not entirely repealed. The media has a short memory or may have conveniently forgotten that this has been a long-standing demand of the Marathas for several years, since the common man as well as small politicians at the local levels in rural areas have borne the negative fallout of this Act and all of it has been politically motivated. At the same time, atrocities against poor Dalits in Maharashtra continue, despite this perverted and toothless Act. If the Act worked against Marathas and did not save the weaker Dalits, who did it actually benefit is the question that should confront the conscience of those protesting.

The general perception is that you cannot even say anything to a ‘Dalit’ – whatever the term signifies, since there are many caste, community and regional divisions within the Dalits themselves – since even the task of verbally fighting back makes you culpable under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. Even a social media tweet or post can land you in jail with no way to get bail under the current provisions of this Act.

So, by seeking to protect the innocent, the court had done nothing wrong. What do we mean by ‘dilution’ of the law? Was the definition of atrocity altered or diluted or was the punishment altered? Nothing of the kind. The provision of anticipatory bail was introduced and the cross-checking of the arrest warrant was mandated – which is not only reasonable, but even necessary.

Since the law was already not working – majority of poor Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes (who everyone has forgotten in this debate and who have suffered genuine atrocities) were not benefitting by a mere law when the legal system itself remained unchanged – why allow it to be exploited by the sections who can access and misuse it? Forget about the legal system, the majority of Dalits do not even understand that such a law is in place to protect them and many of those who were exhorted or paid to participate in Bharat bandh did not even know why they were out on the streets!

How many people or ‘Dalits’ who joined the April 2nd protest actually knew what they were protesting about? In many places in Madhya Pradesh, – which, along with Rajasthan, was where the protests turned violent – it has emerged that labourers were paid money to participate in protests – some daily wage workers admitted that they were paid more money elsewhere and so did not turn up for the protests. In some other areas, they were misled and told that reservations were being scrapped (Swarajya, 2018). In Uttar Pradesh, inquiries are finding that political leaders in opposition incited violence in western UP, while, in many places, liquor and other forms of bribes were given and protests taken over by anti-social elements.

People who are mounting vicious protests in the name of the community are not doing the latter any favours either. The self-proclaimed activists and representatives of the community like to say that Dalits only want recognition and self-respect, – ideological promises that go back to the Dravidian and other movements from few decades ago – not realizing that Dalits, especially in North India, have become amongst the most conservative and least revolutionary communities, and want social and economic stability. One doesn’t even expect them to realize the reality, since these representatives are mere commercialized stooges of their political masters.

In South India, it is rich for states like Tamil Nadu to file a petition on reviewing the recent PoA judgement. What point will such posturing serve, when Dalits in Tamil Nadu themselves are divided into ‘touchable Dalits’ ad ‘Untouchable Dalits’ and one has currently built a wall against the other to restrict access to a temple? In southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala – which proudly claim patent over Dalit politics – not a single Dalit forms a part of the Cabinet and no Dalits have share in political power. Just like in northern states, in the south too, they are oppressed by the other backward and intermediate castes.

Not just oppression by intermediate castes, but also there is no uniformity amongst Dalits themselves. In Uttar Pradesh alone, there are at least 50 smaller sub-castes of Dalits and they have no voice in ‘bahujan’ politics, as it is only the numerically larger Dalit sub-castes that dominate (Narayan, 2017). In Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the Dalits are similarly divided into sub-castes, with at least two big sub-castes from each state rivalling each other for power grabbing.

Given the current complex social ground realities and division among hundreds of Dalit ‘jatis’, ‘Dalit politics’ should rightly be about aiding efforts at the consolidation of the Hindu religion to which they all belong, and fighting against the commercial, sold-out political puppets who seek to make Dalits convenient fodder for revolutions, without the Dalits even realizing it. By periodically talking and mounting social protests by framing illegitimate alliances between BSP-SP, Dalit-communists or Dalit-Muslims, the self-proclaimed activists sitting at the top are ignoring the ground realities, where Dalits have neither benefitted from the SC/ST PoA nor gained a share in power which should have been proportional to decades of ‘bahujan’ politics.

Not that the people fermenting unrest care about such realities. A Hindu consolidation will rupture their vote-banks and destroy their political careers (as has already happened with the Congress, BSP and SP in UP). Thanks to ‘liberal empowerment’, they are convinced that they can use ‘Dalit issue’ as and when they wish. But this does not work anymore. Dalits were already very devout Hindus and the gaps of political fragmentation are being bridged by the BJP. The Bharat bandh came and went. Despite full media spotlight, it did not leave much of an impact. That is the characteristic of today’s superfluous movements – the more loud and shrill they are, the more quickly they fizzle out.

Politics in the name of ‘Dalits’ is also fast reaching its precipitation. In fact, as ground realities show, the so-called ‘Dalit issue’ has become only about politics and little else. With such vacuousness, the community risks being obliterated further. The masses who come out on the street and play out this drama and farce represent the worst forms of national degeneration. It will never dent the country or divide the Hindu society, despite the best efforts of commercial and politically-soulless interests. For, what is sustaining the country and has begun to actively drive its fortunes is our own collective psychic awakening, which defies the established, ‘rationalized’ political trends of the last so many decades. When the time of an idea has come, even the best calculations and machinations fail and whatever happens rarely conforms to the general cultivated collective wisdom.

The irony of the present national degeneration as seen in the nature of our politics is that it represents the last vestiges of gross utilitarianism struggling to hold on to its relevance in rapidly changing times – and failing miserably at it. Just like everything else in this era of shortcut science and dangerous technology, even these political dramas, often orchestrated in such a harmful environment, have lost their relevance. They did not even have to be slayed. Containing the seed of their own destruction, they appear and vanish leaving no memory behind.

They also serve as a rude reminder that we are no longer in the decadent liberal era of 1990s, where all kinds of falsehoods ruled the roost and things were cumbersomely slow to change. Today, with the destiny of mankind at cross-roads with the rapid advancement of science, we are at a stage where result and retribution is immediate as there is no time left – the psychic movement is growing to save us from the destruction staring at humanity. With the psychic so active everywhere, there is no chance that such irrelevant and petty dramas can thrive for more than a day or two, and, will also have to bear the universal consequences and perish for being unnecessary distractions and disruptors.

Bibliography

Narayan, Badri. 2017. Swarajya. September 1. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://swarajyamag.com/politics/dalit-politics-in-india-in-2017-the-sum-and-parts-of-it.

Swarajya. 2018. Swarajya. April 12. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://swarajyamag.com/insta/madhya-pradesh-police-find-labourers-paid-rs-200-rs-500-for-violence-during-dalit-bharat-bandh.

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