By Ravikiran Shinde
18 April, 2008
Jat leader Mahendra Singh Tikait finally surrendered meekly before the court after resisting arrest by UP Police. The dust has finally settled two weeks after his castiest remarks but it has raised a serious question. How ‘normal’ is the casteist abuse in day to day life of Dalits? If a chief minister can be abused publicly, what does it speak of common Dalits?
Here’s the UP recap. A 73-year old farmers’ leader Tikait stuns everyone when he abuses UP chief minister Mayawati by her caste in a public rally and attracts punishment under the SC/ST (prevention) Act. All Political parties barring CPM’s Brinda Karat either keep mum or support Tikait. Home minister of State Jaiswal supports Tikait on this issue. No condemnation of Tikait comes from Congress or the BJP.
The stage was set for the UP CM to act vengeance treating this as a personal matter. But she did not do a Jayalalitha to handcuff the ageing leader from his home in the wee hours. Instead, she followed the shrewd strategy. When BKU leader defied arrest in Sisauli, she surrounded the village with police. Faced with a pressure cooker situation, Mr. Tikait apologized for his comments calling Mayawati ‘child-like’ before surrendering.
Mayawati finally prevailed by sending right message across but what about the common Dalits who face overt and covert abuse day in and day out? Whether it is in the movies, literature, TV serials or friends circle?
Let me keep the violence and rapes on the lower castes out of the scope of this article and focus on the “soft” abuse. Ask a Dalit and he/she will tell you how prevalent it is. Scheduled castes’ names are still referred as a symbol of evil. The insult is often a sugar coated bitter pill and is so subtle, only a lower caste person will be able to identify it. The Marathi movies and plays regularly use a dialogue “Chandal-chaukadi” to denote group of four bad guys. Chambhar chaukashya (ill inquiries) is prevalent in Marathi conversation. “Mahar-wada” - the outskirts where Mahars still live - is used by the middle and upper castes to imply filthy conditions.
And then there is palpable abuse. The entire ‘elite class’ of India invariably uses words like Chandal, Bhangi, Chamar to indicate anything that is evil, unpleasant or waste. Most of them are unaware their act might result in arrest. I recall one of my well educated friends using the word “Bhangi” to tease and vex his upper-caste Hindu friend for being useless. When I confronted him on the usage of the word, he felt apologetic. But not all abusers are apologetic. The abusers have become smarter. Instead of hurling abuse straight at someone of lower caste, they use lower caste names to denote platitudes for a third person who is normally not in the conversation. But a modern India also witnessed a castiest Manager M.K Hathi of Air India abusing the aspiring hostess from Scheduled castes and tribes by commenting that untouchable’s girls were unsuitable to become air hostesses (Indian Express, 19th Feb 2004).
Students in top institutions admitted under reservation are referred by an abusive word “scheddu” (short form of Scheduled Caste) in top educational institutions in India. Those in the Government jobs are privately pronounced as “son-in-laws” of the Government. In a shocking report submitted to the union government on caste apartheid in AIIMS- India’s premier institute, the Sukhdeo Thorat committee has found that each and every Dalit student in the institute has been a victim of caste-based ragging, abuse and isolation (The Telegraph, 7th May 2007).
Worst of all these, in villages, the abuse is blunt, straight forward and directed at Dalits in full public view and often resulting in physical assault. This is precisely what Tikait calls “just a normal village-talk” while defending his abusive hurls. The famous Kherlanji Dalit massacre is a perfect case.
Shame, our education does not teach the social necessities of respecting every human being – particularly the lower caste who had faced discrimination for centuries. Ironically, it is the professionals – the higher echelon of the society – who are the leading culprits hurling caste abuses that seem to come natural to them.
‘Harijan’ which is considered by Dalits as an insulting connotation is now banned by government of UP and Orissa. The Indian constitution recognizes SC and ST and not harijan and yet the government documents, police reports and even News media reports use this word adding insult to the injury.
It is about time we closely look at not just the law and its strict enforcement but the general awareness about caste abuse. More such high profile Tikaits’ getting ‘treated’ will really help this cause.
14th April 2008 was the 117th Birth Anniversary of Bhimrao Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. The day is celebrated as ‘Muktiparva’ (festival of liberation) by Dalits all over the country and elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of Dalits spontaneously assemble at the Parliament House in New Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur and elsewhere to pay their tributes to Dr. Ambedkar, who championed the cause of Dalits and the marginalized. As the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of Indian Constitution, entrusted with the task of drafting the Constitution of free India, he ensured that the constitution guarantees equality to each citizen of India and abolished untouchability. This made social equality a fundamental right, which was denied to Dalits since centuries.
Dalits understand the importance of the Constitution and each year on this day, they have been converging in huge numbers at the Parliament since the last over half a century. However, the event goes by and large un-noticed and un-reported by the National media, both government owned and privately run. This includes newspapers and the electronic media. While there are huge full page advertisements regarding the programme issued by the government in National dailies, the reporting if at all there is; regarding the event, are a measly couple of lines. These reports mainly talk about the commemoration paid to Dr. Ambedkar by the Prime Minister and other VIPs. There is an absolute blackout of the peoples’ event that goes on concurrently at the Parliament House and its vicinity.
The convergence of the huge mass of humanity is spontaneous. Hundreds of thousands of Dalits reach the Parliament, by their own efforts. No one tells them to come nor sponsors their travel etc. to reach the venue. This kind of spontaneous expression of solidarity, reverence and oneness is not witnessed for any other mass leader in India. Parliament Street in New Delhi resembles a ‘mela’ venue on the 14th of April each year. It is also an occasion for Dalits, activists, writers and others to meet, express solidarity, have cultural programmes, buy Dalit memorabilia and literature.
The National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) presents the first ever video report on the event, giving glimpses of the event. This is what the media should have presented before you, but the ‘free’ Indian media remains shackled by corporate interests and sees no ‘news value’ of an event of celebration of liberation of the oppressed.
In the evening, NACDOR organized ‘1000 Lights of Dignity’ at the National Memorial of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, at 26 Alipur Road, Civil Lines, Delhi. Dr. Ambedkar breathed his last here and after a long struggle by Dalit groups, the Government established the memorial at this venue, after acquiring the same from a prominent corporate house paying a hefty compensation in cash and real estate.
The video report on both the events can be seen at: