The hartal organised by the Dalit outfits in Kerala, for the first time in the history of the state, on Monday brought normal life to a halt to a great extent.
While the statewide dawn-to-dusk hartal was total in some parts, it was partial in other parts of the state. The hartal which was held without the active participation of any mainstream political parties was generally peaceful except for some isolated incidents. It was the Supreme Court verdict on March 20 this year which drove the Dalits into a unified protest, above divisiveness and sectarianism.
The latest verdict of the apex court dilutes or defuses the 1989 law which ensures stringent punishment for the atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC-ST). It was after an assessment that the rampant misuse of the law leads to the abuse and punishment of innocents, that the Supreme Court directed that the accused should be arrested only if evidence was found in the preliminary enquiries, that if the accused is a public servant, he could only be arrested with the permission of the appointing authority and that only police officers above the rank of the DYSP should probe the case. The Dalit organisations had called for Bharat Bandh citing that this verdict would pave way for more abuse of the already abused Dalits. The bandh turned violent leading to the death of 11 people. Over 5000 protestors were arrested in one district alone in UP. The hartal in Kerala took place even before its ripples had died down. The remarks of senior Congress leader A K Antony - that a hartal if called by the Dalits should not be allowed, was unacceptable - is relevant in this context. The protest by the Dalit outfits against the SC verdict is justifiable. And the hartal called to express that protest also has enough justifications.
It is true that Narendra Modi government had filed a review petition before the Supreme Court succumbing to pressures and fearing the consequences of Dalit resurrection. But they should not forget the reality that the Hindutva brigade came to power in India in the 2014 elections with a huge majority by bagging the votes of 38.7 per cent of the tribal sections and 24.5 per cent of the Dalit community. NDA campaigns propagated that Modi who belongs to the backward class has emerged as the saviour of Scheduled Castes-Scheduled Tribes as well as the OBC and that ‘achche din’ (good days) would come for everybody from now onwards. Given that only one year remains for his tenure to end, the backward communities are compelled to assess how things are going. The Sachar Committee report had found that the state of the country’s largest religious minority is more pathetic than that of the Dalits. That community might not expect any ‘good days’ from the BJP which had rejected outright the Sachar Committee report.
But that is not the case of the Dalits. Sangh Parivar usually underline that the Dalit and tribal communities that are undoubtedly Indians, are an inevitable part of the Hindu society. But then, it was not the Opposition party leaders or spokespersons but the BJP MPs, who openly stated that the Sangh Parivar which ruled the Centre and majority of the states for four years on to its own and ignoring the other parties, failed to do anything for the Scheduled Castes. Savitribai Phule, Chotalal Garvar, Ashok Kumar Dohrey and Yashwant Singh sharply question the negligence they experience, in the letter they wrote to Prime Minister Modi.
They demonstrate that except for enjoying places via reservation, SC/ST sections do not receive any consideration. What else to expect from a staunchly pro-upper caste ruler Yogi Adityanath? Not stopping with coating government offices, schools with saffron, the care with which they paint even Ambedkar statue in saffron is noticeable; had even a tenth of the same care been given to the uplift of SC/ST, things would not have been this bad. Leave alone the fact that no effective program was implemented anywhere in the country to alleviate poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, they even used the first opportunity that came their way to close down butcheries, beef trade and the leather industry which formed the livelihood of Dalits and minorities. Everywhere, the police followed a policy of protecting the cow vigilantes who lynched the innocents in gangs. Further, authorities looked the other way when khap panchayats formed by caste fanatics imposed harsh punishments on Dalits. In short, it is a combination of such broken promises and grave neglect that led the Dalits to Bharat bandh and vigorous agitations.
What can happen if the Dalhi-backwards and religious minorities unite, was hammered home to the Modi-Amit Shah combine by the bypoll results in UP and Bihar. Thus with the general elections getting closer, the Sangh Parivar leadership is all in jitters. Hence the decision to call an urgent meeting of Dalit leaders. The saffron clique is also gripped by the fear of defection of those like Ram Vilas Paswan. The hope of holding on for ever with false propaganda by buying up the media, and without basically recognizing the fundamental right of citizens from all sections to equal citizenship, and equal justice, may be an over-ambition, if not downright day-dream.