September 13, 2015

Movement for Special Session of Parliament on Dalit Issues

V Srinivasa Rao

THE 125th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar is being celebrated throughout this year. The Modi-led NDA government, even as it garlands the statues of Ambedkar, is fully engaged in negating the ideals of Babasaheb. The conditions of SC, ST and BCs have worsened with the onset of no-liberal economic policies. They lag far behind in terms of human development indicators when compared with national averages. Problems faced by dalits are kept pending for many years. Dwelling places of dalits and tribals are still undeveloped. There is growing migration among these sections due to lack of employment. With the collapse of public sector as an employment source, educated dalit and tribal youths are languishing as unemployed. They are unable to compete in the private sector and are forced to fall back. We are witnessing a growth in atrocities on dalits, especially dalit women. Upper caste khap panchayats are killing those who dare to marry outside their caste. Recent incident in Uttar Pradesh exposed the existence of caste oppression and brought out the truth of its manifestation in a crude manner. Two sisters of a dalit family were intimidated and warned of rape if they failed to produce their brother who married an upper caste girl. Untouchability is a scourge that still continues in various forms.

Parliament, which is a forum for discussing various issues facing the nation, has no time to take up the problems of dalits. Their problems cannot be solved unless Parliament takes them up and enacts new legislations or reviews the implementation of existing laws related to their development. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attitude, the intent seems to engage in mere talk and hollow promises. No one can compete with him in the saga of making promises. From the evidence of his tenure so far, his mantra is that of ‘empty promises to the poor and concrete actions for the rich’. The government is considering holding a special session of Parliament to get the GST Bill passed. Why is it not contemplating the same on the problems of dalits? Modi tours every other country in the name of attracting and securing investments and made it his routine of kneeling before capitalists, but he has not found time to meet representatives of dalits, tribals, workers, etc even for once. He has not discussed with them about their problems and how to solve them. The national convention of Dalit Soshan Mukti Manch (DSMM), held in November 2014, first demanded holding of a special session of Parliament to discuss their problems. It wrote letters to various MPs and political parties seeking their support to this demand. Activists and leaders of DSMM personally met and submitted memorandum to MPs in their constituencies. Responding to this appeal, CPI(M) adopted a resolution in its 21st Party Congress. The Modi government’s silence showed where it stands on this demand. DSMM has decided to build a nationwide movement on this demand. It is going to conduct a Dalit Parliament in the open place near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on September 20 to gather wider support. A national seminar will be held a day prior to this on the problems faced by Dalits in the country.


Legislation for Sub Plans

There has been systematic effort for the last 20 years to undermine social justice. Market oriented policies have replaced welfare measures. Services that were free of charge have been made paid services. Instead of land reforms for the poor, land is being bestowed to corporate entities. Even land that has been distributed to dalits is being snatched away and handed over to the corporate sector in the name of development. Land being cultivated by tribals is also snatched away. The government, which is handing over lakhs of acres of land to corporates in the name of SEZ and development, is refusing to give 100 square yards of land to dalits for their dwelling purposes. On the contrary, they are evicting them wherever they have put up huts on vacant government lands! In such a situation, two to three families are living in severely cramped conditions under one roof. The dwelling areas of dalits are lagging far behind when compared to development in those villages. Dalit residents are frequently falling ill due to unhygienic living conditions with drains blocked and mosquitoes swarming. Roads are sub standard and waste is lying all around in these areas. Dalits constitute the majority of students in government schools which are very sub standard and being run by one or two teachers. Entire time of the teachers is taken up to mobilise the students of all classes and adjust them into one class. So, we can’t expect imparting of quality education to the children. Recent studies highlighted about school drop-outs which are mainly dalits, tribals and girls. Special funds have to be allotted for improvement of the situation in dalit-dominated areas. Funds have to be devolved in proportion to the dalit population as per the mandate of the SC Sub Plan brought out in 1980. But that is not being done. Never before, budgetary allotments of funds were more than 50 per cent of the requirement. And even this meager amount has been diverted to other areas instead of being spent for dalits. Only by bringing in a separate legislation for SC Sub Plan, this tardy implementation can be prevented. Such a legislation was enacted in then united state of Andhra Pradesh after a protracted struggle. There is need to bring in such legislations in other states as well.


Reservation in Private Sector

Employment opportunities for SC and ST youths have fallen drastically with the expansion of private sector. Even in public sector, jobs are no longer of permanent nature as more and more are taken on temporary and contract basis. Reservations are not implemented for such jobs. As a result, almost all employment opportunities for these sections have fallen by half. When the issue of reservations in private institutions came up in 2006 (through 93rd constitutional amendment), the corporate sector opposed it saying that they would instead opt for ‘affirmative action’ to provide employment to SC and ST youths. Even the Manmohan Singh government supported the corporate sector’s view. But the experience of last 10 years shows that not a single step in that direction has been taken. Now Modi is saying ‘Start-up, Stand-up’, calling upon SC and ST youths to become industrialists. This is nothing but to create fresh illusions amongst these sections.

Renewed opposition to reservations has begun with the agitation by Patels demanding their inclusion in OBC category. Their slogan is “either give us also reservations or scrap reservations entirely”. One of the key factors driving the mobilisation of Patel youths around the demand for reservations is the high levels of unemployment in their community. If this is the situation in one of the most developed communities in the country, one can well imagine the plight of dalits. Therefore, without implementation of reservations in private sector, the educated dalit youth cannot find employment.

The government, which has utterly failed in generating employment, is busy provoking enmity among different castes. It intends to shield itself from the anger of the unemployed youth by diverting it towards caste fights. Already we are seeing how upper caste unemployed youths instead of questioning the government for jobs is pouring scorn on fellow unemployed lower caste youths asking “how long these reservations?” Saying there are rich among dalits and poor among the upper castes, they are demanding reservations on the basis of economic criteria. Social backwardness is the basis for giving reservations. Even the educated among dalits are subjected to untouchability. Employees and well-off sections are also subjected to discrimination. Reservations have to continue as long as such social inequalities remain in our society.

Those who are raising questions of “how long these reservations” must first question “how long this discrimination and social inequality”. If the youth among upper castes stands up against the caste discrimination on dalits in villages, then this problem can be solved speedily. Feudal elements in upper castes express their intolerance even if an educated dalit boy marries a poor upper caste girl. They are brutally killing the couple in the name of honour killings. Those who are seeking economic criteria as the basis for reservations must first support such inter-caste marriages and then talk about economic criteria which will be justified. To achieve reservations for the economically backward, one should support reservations in general. Otherwise, the entire system for social justice itself will collapse. Some others are arguing that reservations are affecting merit adversely. But with privatisation of the education sector, seats are being given out on the basis of money, not merit. So, those who are bemoaning about merit must first oppose privatisation of education. If they really feel that their brothers in upper caste are fallen injustice, why not rich in upper caste sacrifice by offering their seats and jobs without which they can survive. Actually those who are raising such issues about reservations are doing so not because they feel they are getting left behind. They are opposing because they are afraid of lower caste people raising their heads in front of them. The progressive youth among upper castes must come forward to fight against such tendencies.


Atrocities and Attacks

Attacks on dalits have increased in the recent past. Every day, over 100 incidents of various atrocities are being reported in the country. Atrocities on dalit women are on the rise too. The administrative machinery and the government which are supposed to protect the dalits are supporting the aggressors. There is a need to amend the SC and the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to arrest this trend of increasing attacks. Some are campaigning that this Act is being misused. While this Act is hardly put to use, where does the question of misuse arise? It is not proper to protect the criminals by citing misuse of the Act. For example, if the conviction rate of accused in criminal cases under IPC is 38 per cent, for those booked under the PoA Act, it is just 23 per cent. Even those are being overturned during appeal stages. Some cases are being dismissed by the courts on purely technical grounds. The previous UPA government bowing to the pressure of feudal elements brought amendments to the Act in the last minute in the form of an ordinance. The Modi government has relegated this issue to back burner. This is in stark contrast to its over-eagerness to appease the corporate sector for whose sake it amended the Land Acquisition Act by issuing ordinances thrice in a row despite opposition from all quarters. It lobbied hard with all parties to get the amendment legislation passed in Parliament. The same BJP is neglecting to get the amendments to the PoA Act passed in Parliament. It has not introduced the Bill in Rajya Sabha after passing it in Lok Sabha. Although the amendments are not comprehensive, they need to be immediately passed to improve the situation.


Continuing Untouchability

For a government that has so pompously launched publicity campaign on Swachh Bharat, it did not strike that there is a need to also campaign for ending social discrimination prevalent so widely in our society. Dalits face this discrimination in various forms at every step in every day of their lives. The slogan of Swachh Bharat is futile as long as we don’t have a society that treats a human being as a human being. A real Swachh Bharat can be unveiled only when untouchability is eradicated from our society.

The government has not revealed the caste data from the Socio-Economic and Caste Census of 2011 because the BJP and RSS are afraid that revelations of caste inequalities in data form would impede their Hindutva communal project. They are more interested in raking up communal passions instead of resolving caste problems. They are carrying out attacks on dalits and tribals in the name of ‘ghar wapsi’ programmes. The selected release of religious data from Census 2011 without contextualising such data was also a part of this exercise. Social justice cannot be achieved without defeating the communal agenda of BJP-RSS.

The holding of Dalit Parliament is for demanding solution to the problems facing dalits after comprehensive discussions about them. This is just the beginning of the movement. This needs to be continued in multifarious forms under a broad platform to gather wider support. That would be paying genuine tribute to Dr. Ambedkar. (END)