A diverse nation must let Dalits celebrate their pride

Santanu Borah

The clash between Dalits and ostensibly the Marathas is not just a spontaneous thing. It has been seething for centuries now, right from the time when Dalits were humiliated in every manner possible by upper caste Hindus. The Peshwas, who were Brahmins, did a real good job of oppressing the Dalits as well.

It is almost certain now that Hinduvta groups were behind the flare-up and not the Marathas, and this has been echoed by Prakash Ambedkar, the Bharatiya Republican Party Bahujan Mahasangh president, who has alleged that Hindutva outfits egged on the rioters on Monday. He added that it was impossible that Marathas were involved because the event at Bhima-Koregaon could not have been organised without the help of the Maratha group, Sambhaji Brigade.

He categorically pointed out that Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan were behind the “pre-planned” unrest that spilled on to the streets in Mumbai as well. Even the Sambhaji Brigade said that right wingers orchestrated the riot to create trouble between Mahars and Marathas.

The needle of suspicion also points towards hardline Hindu groups because of the expected statements that have come from them. They believe that the Dalits celebrating the Bhima-Koregaon victory, in which the British with the help of untouchable soldiers defeated the Peshwa’s army, is “anti-national and casteist”.

A scene from Pune violence

There are many problems in such statements. Firstly, the kind of privation that Dalits had to go through at the hands of the Peshwas is enough to make them see the Peshwas, and not the British, as the enemy.

After all, the extreme forms of casteism at the time, when a Dalit had to tie a broom on his back so that the path he walked on was “cleansed”, can only be described as a legitimate cause for revolt. And to insinuate that Dalits are casteist and not the upper class Hindu, is a travesty of common sense.

The problem is also the word “anti-national”. In recent times, it has gained a violent currency, and seems to fuel the rage of Hinduvta outfits, whose forbears, ironically, did not take part in the Indian struggle for independence.

It probably is their great guilt. Instead of accepting it and moving on to make a better day (like the Germans did about Hitler and the holocaust), they wish to erase the history of their masters who dreamt of a Hindu nation first and rejected the secular ideal on which the fight for independence was based. They fail to see that Indian nationalism is a rainbow of varying opinions and cannot be contained in a homogenous box built by the hardline Hindu.

As we know, even Ambedkar opposed a freedom where a large swathe of India comprising Dalits would stay in chains because of the edifice of caste that had cast a shadow of violence and exploitation for centuries. Given the political climate of the time, there were a variety of views on independence. We need to understand that history does not function in black and white. It has many hues and will continue to function similarly for eternity.

So, what does it mean for us now?

Consider this: there are over 300 million Dalits in India. That is a really large populace, most of whom are even poorer than Muslims. Add the others like OBCs, SC, ST etc and that means only about 26% Hindus are from the upper caste. This means, if there is a full blown clash, the miniscule upper caste like Brahmins, who make up the top echelons of hardline Hindu organisations, really have no chance of controlling the have-nots like they did in the past. It simply could turn into a French Revolution kind of scenario, if things really turn south.

In fact, studies conducted by artificial intelligence (AI) in Silicon Valley have even predicted a civil war in India after a decade due to the severe inequities that exist in our society. While that may seem far-fetched at first, we already have a lot of friction coming from groups like the Maoists, which Manmohan Singh called India’s greatest internal security threat. Adding the Dalit discontent on top of a society already in an extreme state of flux is unwise for our survival as a diverse nation.

At the end of the day, just as Hindu hardliners are allowed to commemorate the death of Nathuram Godse, the Dalits should be left alone to celebrate an event that they see as their pride. It threatens nobody if you don’t meddle with it. Live and let live may be just a slogan, but it means much more than that. But who is going to explain that to the Manuvadis?

(Santanu Borah writes, paints and procrastinates at leisure. He can be reached at atmavan@gmail.com)

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