On the 1 May, 2017, the Maharashtra Sanakritik ani Rannaniti Adhyayan Samiti & Working group on Alternative Strategies organized a discussion at the India International Centre, Lodhi Estate. Suhas Borker from Citizens First TV inaugurated the event and paid tribute to the recent topper in the IIT-JEE Mains Examination, Kalpit Veerwal from Udaipur who is from the Scheduled Caste category.
Among the issues discussed were Dalit politics, the contribution of Dalit women to the movement, and institutional prejudices and discrimination, faced by them.
Dr. Srinivasu Bathula, Associate Professor for Department of Economics, Jamia Millia Islamia, alleged that 7 decades of freedom has not resulted in better conditions for the Dalits. He alluded to Boker’s earlier comment about the successes of a few Dalits and said that it obscures the fact that a staggering proportion of Dalits are not even at the level playing field for achieving such feats. He talked about the evolution of the political consciousness of Dalits, the effects of privatization after liberalization, the erosion of the state’s role in ensuring protection as well equality of access, and the abysmal state of representation by Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribe in government and non-governmental organizations.
On the confluence between Caste and Capitalism, Dr. Pradeep Shinde, Assistant Professor, Centre for Informal Sector & Labour Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that caste has maintained its appeal among the people despite the adoption of modern institutions. So the discrepancy in terms of equality, representation, and empowerment can be understood from this premise. He stated that the Welfare state which have looked after the interests of the marginalized, and which allowed for the Dalit middle class to become a reality, have largely been dismantled after the liberalization period in the 1990s. The term ‘Dalit Entrepreneurs’ which he regards as an oxymoron, has misled a section of the dalit community into believing that they can be part of the job creation process. Shinde echoed Bathula’s concerns with Privatization- stating that the so called Dalit Capitalists haven’t benefited from it; and that the state has relinquished its protectionist role towards the Dalits, owing to the embedded values of caste at the institutional level.
What role did women play in the Dalit Movement? Dr. Smita M. Patil, an Assistant Professor from IGNOU and the only woman speaker in the panel, delved into these concerns. She touched upon the feminist angle of the Dalit movement as well as Ambedkar’s contribution which have not been given their due attention even within Indian feminist circles. Having stated that Brahmanism and Capitalism are the adversaries in this struggle, she talked about Dalit Women’s engagement in the struggle, taking the examples of issues such as high incidence of Dalit women engaged in sex work and surrogacy. She emphasized the need for better land reforms as she briefly narrates the land struggle in Govindpur, a village in Punjab where women played a vital role in the resistance.
Asking how we can assess the status of our development, Dr. Y. S. Alone from the School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, laid down four benchmarks (Sanitation, Health, Education, and position of women) whose indices generally indicate the level of progress of any nation. As far as the role of the state is concerned, equality of access above all else can bring about social transformation. In spite of every citizen having equal rights ideally speaking, entrepreneurship is conceivable only to the ones with political leverage. A vicious cycle is established where this access to political power feeds the embedded class and caste values which further entrenches the former. This has been backed by the Sengupta Committee report. Embedded hate and anger coupled with the apathy from the people in power has become a day-to-day affair, the biggest stumbling block in the progress of the nation. This atmosphere has allowed for the kind of Nationalism that we see being played out, dictated by Brahmanical ideology. He further adds that Labour has not been considered as a contributing factor to the economy. The access of Dalits to the organized labour sector has been mostly through reservations. The unorganized sector is yet to be taken as a serious contribution to the economy.
The respondents to the points raised by the speakers were strong and varied, with opinions ranging from the uselessness of the constant ‘harping’ about the ineffectiveness and indifference of the state, to the emphasis that the Dalit’s movement had on the fight for dignity (rather than a fight against discrimination). One respondent even mentioned that Dalits need to shed their perception as being Dalits once they have gained access into institutions since they are going to compete as equals with the ‘meritorious’ lot. Another lamented that the reason they are unable to change their status is due to the lack of effective organization to capture political power.
Dr. Alone stated that the sympathetic imagination and the one-size-fits-for-all attitude will not alter anything. That without the nurturing of a Phule-Ambedkarite consciousness among the concerned people, no amount of political power will uproot the problem. With all the ongoing madness meted out to the Dalits, not by the law, but by society; Alone asks if Dalits would reciprocate in kind towards the caste hindus as well? This is not the case as it has always been a non-violent struggle. The appeal has always been to change the consciousness dictated by violence and subjugation to that dictated by respect and dignity for all.