Vol. XL No. 31 July 31, 2016

Modi Govt Opened Up New Avenues For Attacks on Dalits, says Yechury

Below are the edited excerpts of CPI(M) general secretary and MP Sitaram Yechury’s speech in Rajya Sabha during a short-duration discussion on ‘recent incidents of atrocities on Dalits in various parts of the country’ on July 21. The discussion was held following reports that some dalit youths, who were skinning a dead cow, were beaten up by cow vigilantes in Gujarat’s Una town.

THIS discussion is being held today. There was immediate provocation. Then, the kinds of words that have been used against Mayawati, we all disapprove that. We need to understand the mindset which is behind all such incidents. Since this government has come to office in 2014, new avenues have been opened up for attacks on dalits. One of these new avenues, which everybody has dealt with, is the entire question of cow protection.  Cow is a venerated animal in our country. But, they are making it an issue for such attacks and all of us know the absurd charges that were made against the people who skinned the dead cow for professional reasons. They have been attacked...this is a new factor for attacking dalits which has come into existence. Secondly, since this government has come, there is a new attack on the academia. We have seen what happened to the universities. We have seen what happened to Rohith Vemula... Out of the 25 students who committed suicide last year, 23 were dalits... Now, again, this opens up a new avenue of persecution and repression against dalits who are reaching positions of excellence. This is a new feature that has been happening since 2014. Another thing is the comments that are being made. A minister of this government – he is still a minister –compared Dalits to dogs. Then, the RSS chief called for a review of the reservation policy. A mindset is being created which is important to look at. The statistics between 2013 and 2014 say there has been an increase of 19 percent in the attacks on dalits that the National Crime Records Bureau has registered. The figures of 2015 have not come yet. In 2014, there were 47,064 crimes against the dalits – an increase of 19 percent. A total of 1,27,341 such cases are under trial. The conviction rate is less than five percent at 5,102. This has never happened.

The prime minister talked very eloquently about Dalit entrepreneurs, about giving funds to dalits to excel in industry, for coming into industry. The Sub-plan for SCs has been reduced by 38 percent in this one year. If the population wise percentage is seen, it has dropped from 20 percent to 16.6 percent. In Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, all BJP-ruled states, the incidents of these attacks are growing... But there is a shocking thing from the Gujarat government’s report concerning the SC Sub-plan. It says: “It was very difficult to take up area-based development exclusively for Scheduled Castes.” Shocking! You can never have a state government to actually say that they cannot take this up. The SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act says that there should be vigilance and monitoring. The chief minister should chair the meeting twice a year, once every six months. It has never happened in Gujarat and there is no panel of lawyers assigned for dalits in the case of these attacks, so that they can call on them to defend them. The only state where there is no panel of lawyers. This is what is happening.

The question of mindset is very, very important – during the last two years, what has been bolstered in our country is, in a sense, obscurantism, where you are reaffirming once again to them that the status that you have in society today is because of the sins of your past birth, that unless you go through that today, you cannot correct yourself and be reborn in a better caste for the next ‘janam’ (birth). This is number one. That is the theological, philosophical, ideological obscurantism which is going on. Second, that you will prevent any inter-caste exchanges or marriages with the khap panchayats and all that you have, that you would prevent any sort of a cross-mobility between these castes and treat them as four separate compartments. That is what the RSS always talked of, the varna vyavastha – ‘The four-fold arrangement of the Hindu society’. ‘The four- fold arrangement of the Hindu society’ is the ideological backdrop that is creating this mindset.

The third point is that there is no upward mobility in terms of profession. Manual scavengers will remain manual scavengers. They cannot move on to any other profession. Therefore, if anybody is educated, as a dalit student, if they reach something higher, that has to be prevented and hence, the attacks on dalit students in universities and educational centres. So these three put together, you have a theological, philosophical mindset of a question of birth-rebirth, which is depended on the sins of the past, and therefore, to atone the sins in the present, you will have to go through the status of being the ‘shudra’. Secondly, you will say about the four-fold order, the arrangement of the Hindu society, you cannot move from one to the other. You cannot gain any knowledge whereby you will go back to mythology and go back to all the stories in mythology where Eklavya’s thumb will be cut. You will have Shambhuk; because he is a dalit, he will be cursed. And go back to that mythological trading, this is the mindset. This is the ideological backdrop that is encouraging these attacks on the dalits today. And this is what needs to be confronted and fought. And this, if we do not, then your khap panchayats will grow; your upward mobility, in terms of profession, will not be allowed; your inter-caste marriages will be stopped – already there is a big ban on it, or, a movement against it, and you will have all these campaigns like ‘Love Jihad’ and all these things will be raked up, and this is what is creating the mindset.

What is the action that should follow? If the conviction rate has dropped, if the pendency rate is growing, what is the action that the government proposes? And the only one who can correct it in practice is the government, through actions, in terms of practical terms of convictions, of prosecution of crimes, of the Sub-plan that has to be implemented for the development, of protecting dalit students and intellectuals who are coming to the levels of an upward mobility, instead of attacking them. All these need to be done, along with giving the protection to people on the ground. Worst atrocities are being committed against them on the basis of allegations and rumours. This has to be stopped.

What is required is not a change of heart. Mahatma Gandhi gave us the slogan of ‘Harijan’. Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj, Babasaheb Ambedkar. We had all these very, very big leaders, who continue to evoke sympathy and empathy amongst the people, where crores of people can be mobilised on their names. But why is the situation not changing on the ground? There, what is required is the economic empowerment of dalits. Unless you economically empower dalits, mere change of heart is not going to help. A change of heart can help one generation maybe, but for the next generation the same thing will happen. Therefore, my appeal to the government is that apart from taking firm action against the perpetrators of these crimes, apart from improving the rate of conviction, apart from setting up all the legal mechanisms that have been mandated by the cConstitution and the laws that we have passed in this house, apart from sticking to the Sub-plan in terms of the dalit population, apart from all these things, to also come back to the question of what the donstitution enjoins all of us to encourage, the spirit of scientific temper... As parliamentarians, it is our duty to ensure that. It is the duty of the government to implement that, and that scientific temper needs to be brought into place, and the economic empowerment of the dalits has to be brought into place. Otherwise, such atrocities will continue because they are emboldened by this mindset. These people are being emboldened by this mindset to say such things (demeaning comments on Mayawati) which were unheard of even a couple of years ago. That mindset has to change. For that, I am urging upon the government to take action on all these aspects, and come back to the question of encouraging the scientific temper.