In the aftermath of the clashes between Dalits and right-wing groups on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, Dalit protesters virtually brought Mumbai to a halt. Dalit entrepreneur and commentator Chandra Bhan Prasad talks to Avijit Ghosh about how this week’s violence has ripped open the growing caste fissures in Maharashtra, and how the new assertive Dalit is challenging the caste system and rewriting today’s politics:
Why do you think two contested legacies – battle of Koregaon and the last rites of Sambhaji – spilled into violence this week, making Maratha-Dalit and Brahmin-Dalit fault lines sharply visible?
The Koregaon battle is a historic moment for Mahars. Why can’t the claimants of saffronised Hinduism acknowledge the battle triumph of a community that has been so ill-treated since times immemorial? Why is their new brand of Hinduism afraid of a historical event? Is it because this brand of Hinduism can’t accommodate Dalits as victors?
Similarly, history records show that braving the forces of Aurangzeb, a Dalit named Govind Gopal Mahar conducted the last rites of Sambhaji, son of Shivaji. When Govind was killed by the forces of Aurangzeb, the locals buried Govind near Sambhaji’s grave. Later both graves were converted into tombs. The two tombs are three kilometres away from the Bhima Koregaon battle monument.
The Maratha is a caste with feudal past. Marathas are also Hindus. But never before have pilgrims to Bhima Koregaon been threatened or attacked. Tombs of Sambhaji and Govind Mahar have coexisted for centuries. So why are we witnessing this violence now? Is it because Hindutva has captured political power and rules India. Is it because Hindutva is neither prepared to acknowledge Dalits’ valour as in Koregaon, nor Dalits’ benevolence as in the case of Sambhaji? The truth is that both Brahmins and Marathas are okay with a certain kind of submissive Dalit. But both communities are finding it difficult to adjust with the new assertive Dalit.
What is the larger political picture that emerges from these events?
January 1 saw the rise of saffron stone pelters. One wonders why the state government didn’t make arrangements to protect the unarmed, peaceful Dalit pilgrims despite being warned by local Hindutva groups. The attacks were not merely about Marathas or Brahmins. The saffron flags that the stone pelters flashed matched with the colour the Sangh relishes and which even the Peshwas’ army had: saffron.
Actually in a spate of incidents from Rohit Vemula to Una to Pune now, rising Hindutva is proving to be fearful of Dalits on the rise. This Hinduism seems to be tired, unprepared to adjust with modern times, seemingly falling apart at the idea of Dalits speaking up.
Now Dalit votes will consolidate against BJP. Neither BJP nor RSS leaders have condemned the violence against Dalits. They are only condemning the bandhs. In a way, BJP is endorsing the attack on Dalits. It is more Dalit vs BJP than Dalit vs Marathas or Brahmins. From these incidents, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar has emerged as a bigger leader than at any point in his political career.
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan has said that younger Dalits are ‘strong and know how to protect their self-respect’ and won’t accept harassment or discrimination. Your comment?
Paswan realises that his kind of politics is a thing of the past. His gentlemanly statement is an acceptance of the fact that his time is up and a new generation of political Dalits is taking over.
Young Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, also an MLA from Gujarat, has been active in this protest. Is he emerging as a pan-Indian Dalit political face?
Since the Una violence, India has seen the rise of a new Dalit icon in Mevani. He is young, articulate and courageous. In him, Dalits see hope and the future. He is a star in the making and can capture the imagination of Dalits nationally.
RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya has said that the ‘breaking India brigade’ that raised anti-national slogans at JNU in 2016 is now trying to divide the Hindu society …
JNU student politician Umar Khalid was also present at the January 1 Bhima Koregaon celebrations. Despite his undoubted potential to replace the ageing Dalit leaders, Mevani seems to have handicapped himself by tying up with Khalid, who is a communist deadweight. In his statement, Vaidya is probably referring to Khalid. Carrying Khalid along would mean having to defend his views and statements. As a result, Mevani could run out of steam. Khalid’s radical left politics doesn’t sit well with today’s Dalit politics. Dalits are living in a post-socialist mindset. Mevani should realise this.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
Source: Google news