Whither Dalit Liberation???
M C Raj
Is the Una event an eye opener? There is nothing in the rhetoric of the Una struggle. However, it is a pointer to the recent awakening and upsurge of Dalit energy in the country. It is no big event to gloat about by Adijans (Dalits) across the country. Jignesh Mevani is taking recourse to a beaten track and offers only a nuisance value to the ruling caste. His approach will propel him as a new Adijan leader, and the story will end there. He will become part of the galaxy of Dalit leaders who have disappeared in the same speed that they appeared. We have seen it happening repeatedly. Much of his public statements have only the traditional rhetoric value and do not bear any substantial forays into a new arena of building up people.
Having said this, I must appreciate the new spirit of resistance that has emerged in Una and the strength of the resistance that people have manifested. It’s inevitable that one or other leader appears in such a situation. The funny thing is that Dalit leaders all over the country also indulge in such usual rhetoric and are not serious about the future of Adijan liberation. It is sad. The new spirit of resistance that has emerged in the recent past needs to take care of a few fundamental realities in Dalit liberation.
Dalit oppression in India is too long in history. Historians date it back to 3000-4000 years. It’s going to be a Himalayan task for any leader to converge a people by presenting a history of this long duration. Not only people’s memory is short but also given the ban on education for Dalits they will not even grasp the enormity of the oppression. A new method of educating the Adijans on their history is of paramount importance. It cannot be done through the formal education institutions that are entirely controlled by caste forces. Intensive community education has to be initiated and implemented through a voluntary force. Groups of committed young people have to be identified and trained intensively on Adijan history. Such a history lays buried in the history of Hinduism, in its scriptures, and within the oral traditions of the Adijan communities. They need to be unearthed by Adijan scholars, and new interpretative literature has to be created at the earliest.
Dalit oppression is systemic and structural. It is not whimsical. It is an irony that Adijan leadership operates within the parameters of the same caste system that oppresses them. The solution has to be outside of the system that oppresses them and not within the system. Any struggle within the system will only lead to compromise at different levels. If demands are made for better rights within the system, marginal benefits will surely accrue. The caste system will happily indulge in tinkering with the system to blunt resistance. Adijans must ever be alert on this shenanigan. A systemic and structural oppression cannot be tackled with mere rhetoric from the Adijan leadership.
If caste system and its offspring have to be dealt with appropriately, there needs to be an alternative system that can effectively take it on. Such systems and structures are a far cry in the Adijan communities because of millennia old co-option technology unleashed on them by the caste forces. Such technology has been so successful that even educated Adijan leaders don’t give a damn for regenerating the latent internal governance systems of the communities. It’s a tragedy that the leadership does not recognize the existence of the community’s inner strength based on its cultural values.
I must add that the Adijan culture is loaded with multiple values. It is not uniform nor is it uni-focal. It is the beauty of the Adijan culture that it is open to differences and is very inclusive. The caste system is inherently exclusive. Adijan system is inherently inclusive. The difference is that caste forces have developed discourses of inclusiveness to camouflage their exclusive system effectively. To take the Adijan system to the mainstream, the Adijan leadership should immediately give it formal structures that can stand above oppressive systems and structures.
The development of Adijan systems and structures cannot immediately be started at the national level. It has to start at the level of the community with mechanisms of internal governance. For example, promotion of Adijan festivals to replace some festivals of Hinduism that are direct insults on the Adijan ancestors can be a starting point. The Adijan leadership should also provide alternative festival to the community so that they are not left empty without anything to fall back. Such festivals should revive the celebratory dimension of the Adijan community.
Conflict resolution can quickly become an internal affair of Adijan leadership instead of running to the caste leadership for resolution of even family disputes. Selection of beneficiaries under various development schemes of the governments can be made at the level of the community instead of the caste forces selecting their Adijan agents as beneficiaries.
During panchayat elections, the community must be enabled to choose their contesting candidates. Mechanisms of preventing the caste forces having a field day in the selection of SC/ST candidates as contestants must be ingrained in the community ethos. A certain level of discipline must be enforced within the community so that egotistic individuals may abide by the decision of the community. Such disciplinary measures will be required in the beginning stages of internal governance.
Measures of internal governance of Adijan communities with its systems and structures will aim at strengthening the community for effective and impactful participation in the instruments and mechanisms of national governance. Such participation will prove to the rulers that Adijan community aims at inclusion and equality based on the Constitution of India. For Adijans and minorities, the constitution is the ultimate refuge, provided it is implemented both in letter and spirit.
Constitution is a structural mechanism that has virtually become the handmaid of caste forces, and if it has to be made impactful for all citizens, all oppressed communities must pool their resources and work for its effective implementation. Indulging in egocentric rhetoric will not take the Adijans anywhere near liberation. If the constitution has to work for the excluded individuals and communities in India, Adijan inner strength has to be consolidated through internal governance structures.
None of the suggestions mentioned above will work if there is no concerted and disciplined intellectual development in the Adijan leadership. Such a development will not come merely through reservation and demanding benefits from the government.