The statue of Dr B R Ambedkar was defaced at Kanpur on November 29 and the police had a tough time in dealing with law and order arising out of the protests against this incident. There were widespread protests in Maharashtra. On November 30, besides burning buses and trains in Mumbai, Nashik, Thane, Ulhasnagar, Aurangabad, Hingoli and Osmanabad, there were road blockages and extensive damage to public property.
It forced intellectuals to think if it was a deliberate and planned attempt and that it was due to lack of Dalit leadership in Maharashtra that no control could be exercised over the infuriated crowds. In fact, this is misplaced middle-class thinking about the sentiments of the oppressed and rural people. One reason for such a mind-set is that these middle-class people look at issues from an urban angle and the other is that because of their social background. A pre-conceived mind-set is the major reason for this attitude.
Dr Ambedkar's statue has been defaced on so many occasions in the past for the simple reason that whenever Dalits organise any function or meeting in honour of any of their prominent leaders, casteist forces cannot stand it.
This is the fourth incident of Dr Ambedkar statue's desecration in Kanpur in a span of 4 to 5 years. The situation erupted in Maharashtra because Dalits have been struggling for the dignity of Dr Ambedkar and for their own self-respect for a long time. Secondly they are emotionally attached to Dr Ambedkar and respect him more at a social level rather than at a political level.
The widespread indignation among Dalits about the Khairlanji murders is also responsible for riots in different parts of Maharashtra. In the initial stages, suitable steps were not taken to book the culprits and when the media gave wide coverage to this ghastly incident and certain other organisations started protesting, the administration woke up. Still, there was no proper response and the riots spread over large areas of Maharashtra, and the government was forced to take effective measures.
There is always a lackadaisical approach on the part of the government machinery in the implementation of the various schemes meant for the welfare of Dalits due to which there is always unrest and resentment. For example when the United progressive Alliance government under Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh came to power, some schemes for the welfare of Dalits were included in their Common Minimum Programme. These included filling up of backlog of jobs for SC/STs, bringing out a Reservation Act and reservation in the private sector. Even after two and a half years, most of these promises have not been fulfilled. Under such circumstances, it is but natural for Dalits to get restless and agitated.
The UPA government considers the introduction and implementation of the Right to Information Act as one of its major achievements but when the concerned departments like Prime Minister's Office or the Department of Personnel and Training who are directly responsible for the implementation of the Act, are asked to give information about the number of posts that have been filled up and how many posts are lying vacant, we were told that this information was not available. The UPA government has issued any number of advertisements for filling up vacant posts but actually there has been no recruitment. Lack of implementation of welfare schemes for Dalits has a bearing on the recent flare-up.
With the gradual increase in the awareness among Dalits, even small issues concerning them could trigger off the situation like the one we witnessed in Maharashtra. The fact is that the problems of Dalits have social implications more than economic. Human rights activists, people with liberal views, political leaders, writers and media persons, all claim to be fighting against poverty. But whenever this issue is debated with them, they also assert very emphatically that they are fighting for the rights of the poor and Dalits. It is clear from such reactions that they do not realise the difference between social depravation and economic depravation. On two occasions, I have written letters to the industrialists for their cooperation in the welfare of Dalits and got a patent reply that they have launched so many schemes for the welfare of the poor. Even today, more than ten lakh Dalits carry night soil on their heads. The situation is desperate. Caste-based discrimination is still rampant in our country.
Recently Dalit temples were extensively damaged in Karnal in Haryana and when Dalits asked for justice, the administration did not pay any heed to their demand. At Jhajjar, when five Dalits were killed just for the sake of a cow, a senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader said in a statement, that according to the Hindu texts, the cow had more importance than Dalits. If the society has really to be transformed, political parties will have to take active part in social reform along with political activism. Dalit leaders like Mayawati are no less responsible for such a pathetic scenario.
For the empowerment of Dalits what is needed is reservation in the private sector, filling up backlog posts, enacting the Reservation Act, land reforms, reservation in judiciary and the armed forces, funds allocated under the Special Component Plant meant for Dalits to be spent on them, unbridled increase in privatisation of education which leads to lowering of standards in the government schools and social and cultural transformation.
Dalits are particularly emotional and they remain loyal to their leader even if he or she is misleading them. The All India Confederation of SC/ST Employees and the Indian Justice Party have been struggling for these causes but because of the lack of emotional and provocative tactics, the process of Dalits coming to our fold is slow. Somehow our society is such that emotionalism has a quicker and greater impact.
It is the need of the hour that the entire society and particularly the intellectuals among the so-called upper caste, middle-class, writers, media persons realise that Dalits are not discriminated and deprived economically but socially also. It is only then they will be able to appreciate the problem Dalits face and how they should be tackled. If we do not take up the problems of Dalits on these lines, whatever prosperity, economic development, human welfare that we achieve will not bring about the desired results. On the surface, it is easy to conclude that the Kanpur incident triggered off the Maharashtra flare-up and that there is a deep-rooted conspiracy but when we try to go to the depth of the matter, we will be able to know the real causes.
We cannot cure a disease till we diagnose it correctly.
Dr Udit Raj is national chairman, All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations and Indian Justice Party