On 16th September, Delhi’s Parliament Street echoed with slogans of ‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Lal Salaam’. The occasion was a massive Dalit Swabhiman Sangharsh Rally, held to protest recent incidents of violence against dalits across the country, which witnessed the coming together of people from marginalized caste and class groups. The rally, attended by thousands, affirmed that the unity of these two struggles holds the potential to change India’s political and social landscape. The rally was addressed by activists as well as leaders from different mass movements and political parties. The participants included students from Himachal Pradesh, and workers from Haryana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and other parts of India. Speakers Prakash Ambedkar, Sitaram Yechury, Jignesh Mewani, Radhika Vemula, D. Raja, Vimal Thorat, Paul Diwakar, Bezwada Wilson and others condemned the callous attitude of the BJP government at the Centre towards caste atrocities in the country.
Commenting on the recent dalit rights movement in Gujarat, dalit activist Jignesh Mewani said, “This movement was a declaration on the part of dalits that they will no more tolerate the Gujarat model and Hindutva agenda.” Mewani recalled dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s struggle, adding, “He will live on in our struggles. We will continue his fight.”
In her address to the rally, women’s rights activist and former MP Subhashini Ali stated, “This Manuvadi government’s countdown has started. The unification of the red and the blue flag should be seen as a warning for Manuvad.” She castigated the government for its anti-people policies, and insisted that they decide “whether they are on the side of the Manusmriti or the Constitution.”
People from different regions explained how under the current regime, attacks on dalits and on people from other marginalized communities has increased. The entire beef row and the debate around nationalism were widely seen as moves to divert attention from core issues of employment, price rise and poverty. Common problems narrated by people at the rally included untimely payment of wages, high prices of essential commodities, growing unemployment and the constant fear of being targeted by Right-wing cadres.
CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “red and blue are colours of the rainbow; they are primary colours, and together they will change society for the better.” Explaining the true meaning of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, he said, “it indicates a society where one person cannot oppress another. It is a society of equality.” He demanded that “the Prime minister should assure the whole country that if anyone breaks the law, they will face proper consequences.”
The public rally ended with the adoption of a resolution by the participants, whose major demands include: