[ Source: Mainstream, 8 Feb 2003 ]

Inverting Dalit Consciousness:
Hindutvaising the Dalits, Communalizing the Movement

by Subhash Gatade

..Here on the slopes of the hills,
Facing the dusk and canon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows
We do what prisoners do
We cultivate hope
- Mahmoud Darwish, famous Palestinian Poet


Gujarat Genocide 2002 - The 'successful experiment' led and conducted by the saffrons as a sequel to the tragic Godhra massacre has already seen thousands of deaths, lakhs of people uprooted from their homes, millions of people losing hope for a just and peaceful life and a majority of more than billion plus population of the country getting a shock of their life . And now with a highly emboldened 'lunatic fringe' of the saffrons itching for a similar showdown in other parts of the country and with the growing commualisation of the civil society serving as a backdrop and the limitations of the secular intervention already visible neither can it be said to be the last 'experiment' of its kind.

Definitely this 'first' televised 'riot' (if one goes by the popular parlance otherwise essentially it was a genocide) has many other 'firsts' to its credit. It has not only helped erase the fictitious line which allegedly separated the 'lunatic fringe' and the 'moderate' elements within the Parivar, it also demonstrated a clear 'method in madness' an art 1which these zealots have perfected over the years through many such not so glorious experiences. The only factor which can be construed as a bit of consolation was that this planned and wellorganized violence against the minorities ,by and large, remaining restricted to the model state of the Parivar proving once again that the state government connived and colluded with the marauders.

Even if the embers might have seemingly died down, the fire still smoulders. With a friendly government in power and the Ayodhya time-bomb ticking away ominously many more "Gujarats" are going to recur every now and then to ensure that this highly unpopular regime can go in for polarization of 'Hindu" votes and sentiments to reap the benefit in the elections.

In Search of Answers ....

There can be no two opinions over the fact that the developments in Gujarat in since the end of February 2002 have largely taken us unawares. All of us who swore by the common heritage of the different religious communities in this country, who upheld the secular traditions of the people, who till the other day maintained that riots were just misdeeds perpetrated by a gang of criminals only serving some unscrupulous politicians in league with some stray fanatical religious groups have a Pandora's box opened before us.. It is a fact that neither did we foresee how the communal, fascist elements could 'perfect' and 'plan' the art and science of making a riot nor the massive participation of people from all walks and strata of life in this bloody pogrom against the hapless minorities. Our failure appears all the more poignant when we look towards the fact that before 'Gujarat' happened similar frenzy was witnessed when Indira Gandhi was killed and again when Babri Mosque was demolished. The entire nation plunged in the worst communal riots of its kind. It is all the more stark if we just looked back to see how 'Sikhs' were demonised as the 'enemies of the people' in the early eighties and how very glibly and subtly 'Muslims' substituted "Sikhs".in the nineties.

Of course there are many a related questions. How did the 'land of Gandhi' metamorphose itself into a 'land of Godse' and how could Gujarat became a successful laboratory of the Sangh Parivar for their very own experiments in 'social engineering' ? Why is it that despite a plethora of religious saints and mutts ranging from Swadhyaya Andolan to the Murari Bapus' hegemonising the spiritual realm of the people' a significant chunk of the Hindu population corroborated in some way or the other with the marauders? How is it that a large section of the middle class not only supported the storm troopers of the Parivar when they had descended on the innocent Muslims and had no qualms in participating in the loot and pluder of establishments owned by them ? What prompted the women to participate in the pogrom at many levels and in myriad forms ? Why it is that the more prosperous regions in Gujarat witnessed more violence whereas a relatively backward area like Saurashtra and one of BJP's strongholds at that were comparatively calm ? What has been the role of the NRI Gujarati communities in the way the events unfolded in their 'mother' country ? Of course the most surprising and disturbing phenomenon in this entire episode has been the large scale participation of Dalits and Tribals in many areas in this 'retribution campaign against the Muslims'.

While appreciating the fact that quite a few academicians as well as activists simultaneously trying to come to grips with many of these questions, a point worth underlining in that in theses endeavors is that somehow the whole phenomenon of the participation of the 'subalterns' in this pogrom did not receive the attention it deserves. Barring a few execeptions2 and some stray journalistic writings neither the participation of the Dalits nor the silence maintained by a few Dalit networks over this phenomenon has caused any significant ripples in the intelligentsia.

There could be many reasons behind it . It is just possible that the horrific nature of the unfolding tragedy has kept a large body of the intelligentsia hooked to the overtly communal politics being played out by the Parivar and its social ramifications. Another possible reason could be that many of the committed intellectuals might have looked at the whole phenomenon in purely economic terms as is their wont and could have arrived at some simplistic conclusions not worthy of further debate and discussion. A third possible reason could be the 'absence' of the Dalits as a category in many of the analysts theoretical frameworks.3

It is not that there has been lack of information on this score which might have sort of made their participation invisible. Right from the controversial interview of the state chief of VHP Mr Kashiram Shastri, a well known Gujarati litterateur to the cyber mag Rediff.com to the many reports filed by various media persons revealed the role of the dalits and the tribals in this mayhem at many places.4

The way the dalits and tribals were used by the Sangh Parivar people also comes out in the reports brought out by democratic minded citizens or organizations5 on the Gujarat situation. These reports underline the fact that in many a case where FIRs have been filed for the carnage the poor dalits and tribals have been made a scapegoat by including their names in the cases although they were not the only one who participated in the riots. The local leaders of the Sangh Parivar or other local elite have seen to it that the names of the upper caste-class supporters are excluded from the reports so that they can be saved from getting implicated in the court cases .

Ofcourse before elaborating on the negative role of the dalits and the tribals in this bloody developments in Gujarat some points need to be underlined to get a balanced picture .First and foremost is that their role in the genocide was not an all Gujarat phenomenon and was confined to a few districts only. There have many instances showing that they risked their lives to save their Muslim neighbours from the hands of the marauders.6Rather they played a key role in maintaining a semblance of sanity in the otherwise gloomy atmospehere which prevailed when the Hindutva storm troopers descended on the streets and created a helllike situation for the Muslim community. RamRahim nagar a large jhuggi cluster in Ahmedabad which is inhabitated mostly by poor dalits and Muslims stand as a towering testimony to the spirit of communal harmony which they precariously maintained despite agents provocateurss from both sides .Secondly , apart from the Muslims it is the dalits who, as a community, suffered most casualities and loss of property in this tragic aftermath.

It has also been reported that in the tribal dominated districts like Sabarkantha, Dahod, Chhota Udeypur which witnessed many a gruesome massacres of innocent Muslims, the tribals though were instigated to 'teach the Muslims a lesson' by and large abstained themselves from sexual assaults against their womenfolk.

Despite these 'silver linings' the question naturally arises as to what prompted them to join the band of the rioters ? A report filed by the Outlook reporter (Date: 1/7/2002) "Poisoned Edge: The Sangh exploits Dalit and tribal frustration to recruit soldiers for Hindutva's 'war' " rightly raises the question : Of all the disturbing facts that emerged from the post-mortem of the communal carnage in Gujarat, the most baffling and alarming is the large-scale participation of Dalits and tribals in the rioting. Independent observers, researchers and social activists are agreed that their involvement was unprecedented. Never before was the divide between the Dalits and Muslims so pronounced and so violent. Even more shocking: tribals, who have little in common with mainstream Hinduism, brandished weapons, looted and killed as they violently avenged the 'attack on Hindus'."

Neo-militants ? : Dissecting the Dalit Psyche

There have been basically three types of reactions which have to be looked into for understanding and comprehending the participation of the 'subaltern classes' in this genocide. The first and foremost reaction is on classical lines where the dalits are said to have been lured by money, liquor and political prospects and were used like jehadis by the Hindutva forces. There have also been reports that rumours were propagated that government itself has sent orders so that the Muslims are taught a lesson and thus the illiterate and innocent tribals were instigated and provoked to participate in the genocide .The images on the television which showed police connivance in the whole pogrom added fuel to the fire. It is clear that this whole 'understanding' about their participation smacks of the inherent biases which the non dalits entertain about the 'incapability of the subalterns to exercise wisdom' which in turn further strenghtens the well entrenched stereotypes.

The second focusses on economic factors which helped deteriorate the harmonious relations between the dalits and the Muslims. In an article written in Frontline (12 May 2002) Dione Bunsha while discussing Hindutva's growing base dwells upon what labour researcher Jan Bremen has to say on this " ..who attributes it to globalisation and the manner in which capitalism has grown in the State. The informalisation of Ahmedabad's workforce following the closure of its textile mills resulted in the pauperisation of the workers. Sections among these marginalised workers, mainly Dalits, are part of the Sangh Parivar's lumpen elements.7A discussion with a famous trade union leader from Ahmedabad Mr DwarakaNath Rath also makes the point clear.8

An altogether different type of reaction to the entire gory episode is provided by the likes of Kancha Illiah, a dalit-bahujan scholar .While acknowledging that a gap does exists between the dalits and Muslims in many parts of the state he indirectly blames the Muslim elite for this state of affairs and asks them to make special efforts to bridge the gap. In his article 'Dalit, OBC and Muslim relations ( The Hindu 29 May 2002) he has put forward this position in no uncertain terms. According to him "The Muslim intelligentsia failed to establish a rapport with the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the OBCs at the ground level." He adds "..The Muslim intelligentsia must also be held responsible for showing indifference to the issues of caste and untouchability. ..In the case of Islam there is not only no investigative tradition, there is no social service tradition with a sense of social interaction before someone embraces Islam. Muslim intellectuals must learn from Christian missionaries and work among Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs so that a relationship of trust is established. All oppressed must learn to work for each other's liberation and build social bondages among them. That is the best way to prevent another Gujarat. "

It is true that all these explanations while trying to depict reality as they perceive are not able to unravel the complex and complicated phenomenon of neomilitancy among the 'subalterns' which prompted them to join the marauders of the Sangh Parivar.

It still does not explain what sort of real/imaginary interests of the subalterns were served during the unfolding dynamic of the riot like situation despite the fact that the fifty plus years of independence has not been able to deliver them from the life of poverty and ignorance ,a life full of insult and humiliation, a life of exploitation and oppression for a majority of them. Is it not surprising that during all these fifty plus years of history of the state the Dalits never once launched a similar militant struggle and on the same scale to fight their subhuman condition ? How is it that the same dalits who were at the target of all the casteist especially the Hindutva forces way back in early eighties during the anti reservation riots have slowly found a common cause with them ?

Empowerment of a different kind ?..

It is clear that the recent developments in Gujarat is a classic case of the submergence of the Dalit identity in the 'larger canopy' of Hindu identity as defined by the Sangh Parivar. It is worth noting that this phenomenon of 'Dalit empowerment of a different kind' or the confluence of Dalit identity with the Hindu identity has uncanny similarity with the aftermath of Babri Mosque demolition which witnessed large scale participation of women especially Hindu women in the riots and which posed quite a few uncomfortable questions before the women's movement. To quote Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia "..Politically and methodologically this assertive participation of women in right wing campaigns, pulled down many of our assumptions in a state of crisis for we have always seen women as victims of violence rather than its perpetrators ..."( Women and the Hindu Right : Ed.Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia, Kali forWomen 1995, Page 3). Any sympathetic observer of the phenomenon of Dalit assertion which in the late 80s and early 90s to some extent at least acted as a countervailing force to the growing communalisation of the state machinery and civil society is similarly baffleld now..

On a survey of the chequered history of Gujarat for last 100-odd years spanning both the pre-indepndence and post-independence era throw out a couple of facts which can be said to be symptomatic of Gujarat.. The first and foremost of these is the relative absence of any significant social or cultural movement and the continuing dominance of the conservative wing in the struggle for independence. Prior to October 1960 Gujrat was part of a bilingual state, the Bombay Province. The two parts were separated after a prolonged agitation for the reorganisation of states on linquistic basis.. Compared with the 'Maharashtra' experience the 'Gujarat' part of the then B'bay province neither could have a strong trade union movement nor a well entrenched social cultural movement.( A notable exception could be said to be the work of Swami Dayanand Saraswati , the founder of Arya Samaj, who was born in Gujarat .Ofcourse one should not fail to underline the controversial role Arya Samaj played in its attempts at 'reforming' hindu society. No sane person can condone the strong anti -minority overtones in its work and the essentially revivalist nature of this movement.It is another matter that such a movement also did not have any support base in Gujarat.) Definitely there are historical reasons behind this state of affairs but it is high time the role played by the different actors and players is also put under a microscope. The way leadership of Gandhi influenced Gujarati life was noticeable.He had a multidimensional impact on the polity and the social setup in the state. History is witness to the fact how his intervention nipped in bud the possibility of a militant labour movement when the historic strike of the Ahmedabad textile mill workers was on. The formation of 'Mazoor Mahajan' based on his trusteeship principle proved to be deathknell for the nascent militant workers' movement.

While starting from the one led by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule in 1840s culminating in the emergence of the greatest leader of the dalits Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, taking up issues of caste annihilation to the liberation of women these social-cultural movements helped accelerate the process of rejuvenation and reinvigoration of the Marathi society from within whereas the 'Gujarat'experience did not show any such turmoil on that scale. A cumulative impact of all these factors resulted in the task of restructuring of the Gujarati society from within remaining unaddressed leading to growing dominance of different socially conservative forces maintaining their stranglehold over the civil society. Thus with the marginalizing of the radical or socially progressive forces the situation became quite conducive for all sorts of status quoist forces to take roots and branch out in different walks of life.

Of course this does not mean that there was no churning within the Gujarati society and it did not exhibit any dynamism in their confrontation with the British rule .It would be more opportune to say that it had its own specificities which gave its dynamism a different tone and tenor. A close analysis of the Gujarati society reveals the uniquely enterprising and the industrious nature of the Gujarati elite evident also in pre- British times. Surat and a few other ports had carved a niche for themselves as leading trading centres even during the Mughal period. The arrival of the British gave a new fillip to this enterprenuership.It is not for nothing that one still notices a significant presence of the Gujarati emigres in the commonwealth countries in general and the United Kingdom in particular.9

Even with the departure of the British and ushering in the era of independence Gujrat could not make a decisive break with the unfolding dynamic. The early seventies did witness a strong student youth 'Navnirman movement' against corruption and nepotism which compelled the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Mr Chimanbhai Patel to resign However, that was almost the 'end' of the broad movement for 'secular' aims as far as the state was concerned. The status quoist and opportunist policies of the Congress which unfolded itself in the formation of a 'KHAM' alliance (Kshatrya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) coupled with the counter mobilisation of the other upper castes and upper classes by the Sangh Parivar outfits in the state resulted in the first anti- reservation riots of their kind in the state in early 80s. The anti-reservation riots were of such vast magnitude that dalits were targeted in 18 of the 19 districts in the mayhem. It need be underlined that the Sangh outfits were involved in this targetting of the dalits. Dionne Bunsha in her article 'The Hindutva Experiment' (Frontline ) rightly notes "..However, by the mid-1980s, the BJP changed its stand towards Dalits in a bid to co-opt them. Realising the largeness of the number of Dalits and Scheduled Tribe and OBC persons in the State, who together account for 75 per cent of the population, the BJP started attempts to unite all castes under the Hindutva plank. It corrected its anti-reservation stand and was able to reap the gains of this move. When riots broke out in 1986 during Ahmedabad's annual Jagannath rath yatra, the BJP managed to garner the support of the OBCs and Dalits. This marked a shift in its support base."

It is interesting to note that the absence of a strong dalit movement in the state (which in neighbouring Maharashtra had carved out a niche for itself in the form of Dalit Panthers and a plethora of Dalit writers ) made the task easier for the Hindutva forces who were making shrewd moves to coopt the Dalits in their fold. While Gujarat did witness the formation of Dalit Panthers much on the lines of neighbouring Maharashtra the 'panther experience' did not strike root there because of lack of conducive environment While there the Dalits in Maharashtra, especially its radical sections, had intensified their struggles against Brahminism and had been able to influence the social-political mileu in a significant manner here in Gujarat the search for an alternate identity was on the way of getting coopted in the Hindutva identity.

Similar parallel processes could be seen unfolding in the tribal dominated areas and districts of the state .In these areas the Vanavasi Kalyan Samiti, one of the organisations belonging to the Sangh Pariva has been active for quite some time .K. Balagopal, famous Civil Rights activist in his much discussed piece " Reflections on 'Gujarat Pradesh' of 'Hindu Rashtra' (EPW- June 1,2002) rightly points out the way in which the activists of the Samiti are engaged in 'hinduising' the tribals and slowly and silently becoming successful in directing their wrath against the Christians and the Muslims .Here also one notices the search of an alternate identity among the tribals getting coopted in the 'Hindu' identity as defined by the Sangh Parivar "in the specific hate- filled sense in which that term is understood by the Sangh Parivar" A Congress adivasi MLA is quoted as having said ,": The search for an identity that has accompanied the growth of education among the adivasis has been filled by the Sangh Parivar".A (Muslim) Principal of a College explained the ferociousness of the tribals in these terms : " The new convert to Islam is always more ferocious in defending the religion than the traditional Muslim, and the same could be happening to the adivasis."( both the references EPW June 1.2002)

'Conflation of Identity : Enter the Hindutvaised Dalit'

It is a contrast of epic proportions that whereas the phenomenon of Dalit assertion was making its presence felt in the national politics and had become one of the defining features of the polity of the nineties, the politics of 'hindutva' was worming its way in the oppressed sections of Gujarat. The submergence of this subversive identity in the cesspool of Varnashram could be considered a slap in the face of the struggle for Dalit emancipation.

Whereas the new grammar of Indian politics was getting redefined by the contours of the aspirations of the Dalits and the other oppressed sections the Hindutva forces were successful in not only skirting the real issues of social justice but also assimilating the emergent rebellious voices in their 'war cries' against the 'demons' at least in their' model' state. The decade which witnessed the emergence of a party representing Dalit assertion sharing power on equal terms in the biggest state in India had as a countervailing feature the participation of a significant sections of the Dalits in the project led by the same fascist -Brahminical forces .Analysts have noted with concern the participation of the Dalits from Gujarat in the Ram Janambhoomi movement including their joining hands in the operation of demolition of Babri Mosque.

A question naturally arises as to why those deprived and depressed sections of Indian especially Hindu society who are condemned to live a life of subhuman existence wanted to imitate their social oppressors and wanted to prove that they should also be seen in the same image like them .The process of Sanskritisation elaborated by the famous sociologist M.N. Srinivas partially explains the dalits penchant for becoming a 'hindu'.

The caste system as is widely known is basically a system of social hierarchy based on the twin concepts of purity and pollution which is sanctified and legitimised by religion. Looking at the whole process of social mobility there are only two options open before the lower castes. They can either reject or renounce the whole edifice of religion which sanctifies this system and strive for an alternate identity or they can strive to climb the social hierarchy by imitating the way of life and ritual of the dominant castes .Mr M.N. Srinivas rightly explains : "The caste system is far from a rigid system in which the position of each component caste is fixed for all time. Movement has always been possible and especially so in the middle regions of the hierarchy. A low caste was able in a generation or two, to rise to a higher position in a hierarchy by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism and by sanskritising its ritual and pantheon. In short, it took over, as far as possible, the customs, rites, and beliefs of brahminism, and the adoption of the brahminic way of life by a low caste seems to have been frequent though theoretically forbidden.10 Of course the attempts by the lower castes to Sanskritise themselves have never been peaceful and there were often clashes between the upper and lower castes if the lower castes tried to sanskritise themselves.

As we already explained the entry of the British and the changes they wrought in and the consequent fifty plus year history of independent India did open up the possibility of challenging the Brahminical system based on Varnashram Dharma. But as regards Gujarat and looking at its peculiar trajectory and the overall dominance of conservative forces in the political as well as social-cultural spheres it becomes clear that the possibility of revolt or rebellion against the Brahminical system to strive for an alternate identity was already foreclosed for the dalits and the other oppressed sections.

Looking at the strict hierarchy in the Congress and its paternalistic approach towards the Dalits the aspirations of the newly educated Dalit youth could find less takers in them. And as opposed to Congress the Sangh Parivar with plethora of organisations and a politics of Hindutva which suited their quest for an identity proved an ideal bet .And so when there was a churning in the various stratas of oppressed sections the absence of a strong democratic movement coupled with the near total absence of a transformatory social cultural movement facilitated the communal forces to make inroads in the dalit- tribal psyche.

The growing dominance of the highly regressive and reactionary Hindutva politics appears more striking if we consider the simple fact that Gujarat is supposed to be a 'advanced state' in the comity of the states of the Indian union for its progress in the economic spheres. It has a well developed middle class. As far as foreign direct investment is concerned it stands at number two in being able to attract foreign investment. The enterprising nature of the Gujarati elite is also noticeable that many of the noveau riches from the farming sector have made inroads in the urban sector. The dividing line between the industrial elite and the farm elite is getting blurred day by day.

Ofcourse this elaboration of the dynamic Gujarati society would be incomplete if we do not focus on the 'other' Gujarat which exhibits the underlying social tensions which are not normally visible .Apart from the overt visible violence the invisible violence takes up myriad forms.The 2001 Census reveals that the latest sex ratio in urban Gujarat is 879 females per 1000 males, the lowest figure in the last hundred years.It is evident that in the private sphere, violence is being perpetrated within one's own family in the form of foeticide and infanticide. If one considers the sex ratio in the population category of 0-6 years here also the state of Gujarat has fared badly as this ratio has decreased from 928 in 1991 to only 878 in 2001.

Politics of Hindutva & Dalits : The National Context

It is true that the post Godhra 'neo-militancy' witnessed in a significant section of the Dalits and the tribals was quite unique and had its genesis in specific circumstances which obtained in Gujarat. It has even been reported that a few dalit networks active in Gujarat did not even find it fit to even condemn the participation of the dalits in the pogrom against Muslims.11But can it be said that the 'communalization of the dalit-tribal consciousness' or the channelizing of the Dalit assertion for the Brahminicanl- Fascist project of the Parivar is Gujarat specific only ? Sadly it has to be said that the answer is a big 'no'.

Ranging from the 'clean chit' given by Ms Mayawati to the politics of retribution experimented by Narendra Modi to her providing helping hand to the Advani and Co to save them from the Babri Mosque demolition case to the exercise in cohabitation engaged in by the likes of Ramvilas Paswan till the other day one comes across numerous examples wherein one notices the unleashing of the Dalit assertion being tied to.the project of the Hindutva as a mark of political expediency. Hardly very many people know that Namdeo Dhasal, a leading Dalit poet and one of the pioneers of the Dalit Panther movement in the early seventies ,who even led the revolt of the Dalit youth against the compromising leadership of the Republican Party of India in its post Ambedkar phase is these days a leading light of the Shiv Sena. The activities of the likes of Hindu Munnani in the Dalit bastis of Chennai and the brutalisation of the Khatik community in Kanpur under some Kala Baccha (since killed) for use in the communal conflagrations during the Ram Janambhoomi movement are also part of the same process..

One could even say that the nineties which started with a bang wherein the whole phenomenon of Dalit- Backward assertion helped check the growth of communal fascism at various levels ended in a whimper with a significant part of the Dalit-Backward swell submerging itself into the 'kamandal' politics.This despite the bitter fact that the Sangh Parivar, the fountainhead of BJP, had never deprecated the Chaturvarna system largely responsible for the plight of the Dalits nor apologised ,nor have missed any opportunity to castigate Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar for his alleged 'pro-British' opinions or oppose the policy of reservations under one or the other pretext.

It would be opportune to look at the post Ambedar Dalit movement and do a stock taking of the changes within the Dalit politics to understand the phenomenon.. The ups and downs through which the Dalit politics passed through after the death of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar can be broadly divided into three phases - Rise and Fall of the Republican Party, emergence of the Dalit Panthers and thirdly the growing assertion of Dalits for political power and their consequent refusal to remain satisfied merely with education and job opportunities arising out of the policy of reservation.

There is no need to underline the immense potentialities in the phenomenon of Dalit assertion in today's caste ridden polity. There is no denying the fact that it is a step ahead in the real democratisation of the Indian society and the polity dominated by Brahminical values and traditions despite fifty plus year experiment in electoral democracy. The impressive intervention of BSP under Kanshiram in the national politics underlines this third stage. It is noteworthy that while in the earlier two stages in the post Ambedkar Dalit movement ,the unfolding Dalit politics in Maharashtra guided its orientation ,its role has been increasingly marginalised in the third stage. The success achieved by BSP has certainly encouraged emergence of similar experiments in different parts of the country.

It is noteworthy that at this stage there is an another apparent groudswell in various Dalit castes also. These are organizing themselves under the banners of their respective caste and sub-caste for achieving their rights. Consequently their guns are trained besides the Varna system also on the so-called rich Dalit castes or the creamy layer in them which they feel have monopolised a large part of the reserved posts. The Mahar/neo-Buddhists vs. Matang and charmakar debate in Maharashtra, Mala vs. Madiga in Andhra Pradesh are symptomatic of this rising trend.. So much so that in Andhra Pradesh the dispute between Malas and Madigas, both of them coming under scheduled category, gave rise to a militant agitation of the Madigas. The Madigas under the banner of Madiga Reservation Porata Samity launched a statewide militant mass movement for castewise categorisation of reserved seats in educational institutions and jobs etc so that extremely depressed castes which could not avail of the quota for historical reasons could avail of it now.

It is indeed ironical that at a time when the issue of Dalit assertion has got acceptance even in the mainstream polity in the 90s a counter tendency has emerged which seem to fracture the new found identity. One could also perceive the whole process as an explosion of identities hitherto suppressed by the hegemonic caste and class structure. In the beginning of the 70s the term dalit denoted a broad, homogenous fraternity. This is no more the case. If you just say Dalit you are making an incomplete statement. It would be necessary to also specify whether he is a Mala or a Madiga or a Matang or a Charmakar. This process has thrown up new 'icons' from among the different castes and the subcastes as well. There is also a danger of the old leaders who earlier claimed pan Dalit status being reduced to their 'own' caste leaders. The emergence of Avantikabai Pasi in UP or of the famous author Annabhau Sathe in Maharashtra as new leaders of the Matangs underlines this ground reality. Incidently it is interesting to note that Mr. Sathe remained a Communist Party worker all his life and was a leading light of the progressive writers movement. Nobody would have imagined in his lifetime that one day he would be projected as the leader of 'his caste' and a saffron alliance in power would present his selected writings before the people.

It is worth noting that within the Dalit movement especially among its intelligentsia there are three sets of opinions as far as alliance with the saffrons is concerned. Whereas one stream of opinion advocates such an alliance on tactical grounds and says that such temporary unity would be beneficial in the longer run. Essentially its argument revolves round the inherent contradictions between the upwardly mobile backward caste people and the dalits especially in the coutryside. They feel that at the turn of the 2oth century Dalits are more oppressed by these new kulaks largely coming from the backward castes and that their alliance with upper caste party like the BJP can save them from their onslaught. They clearly say that 'social fascism'( as represented by the emergent Kulak leadership) is more dangerous than communal fascism. They even belch out statistics to show the number. of dalits killed at the hands of the Kulaks in different parts of the country.

The other stream while categorically opposing any type of alliance with the saffrons even for a shorter period advocates that the dalits should search for their natural allies which according to them can only be the leftists of various hues? According to them the fascist project is essentially aimed at the restoration of the Brahminical order and nothing should be done to sanctify such a medieval project.

The third stream advocates equidistance from both the opponents of 'communal fascism' or adversaries of 'social fascism'. It talks of developing a strong dalit movement on its own strength and then only become a key player in the polity.

What Next ?

As already explained the 'successful experiment' in Gujarat has posed an open challenge to all those who still believe in and practice secularism and are fighting for a more humane and just society at various levels.

The weaknesses of the left and other secular forces are evident and there need not be much burning of midnight oil trying to fix responsibility on individuals or formations. The progressive forces have to acknowledge that their weaknesses and failures have led us to this situation wherein a significant section of the real, would- be leaders of 'revolution' as perceived by them has joined ranks of forces which are their real enemies. But this is not for the first time that this type of thing have happened.

We need to undertake a few important things if we want to avoid any such recurrence in the near future.First and foremost is a thorough review of the way we understood secularism and the way we practise it to widen the secular space in our society which is not only a multi-religious but multi-caste and multi-racial society. Nobody can deny that right from the beginning all of us right from the liberal intellectuals to the ultra-left radicals have basically focussed attention on the state which had guranteed us a 'secular governance. All our efforts hinged excluively on the state and we depended entirely on the administrative machinery for enhancement of secularism.. Mr Sumantt Banerjee in one of his execellent articles titled"When the 'Silent Majority Backs a Violent Minority" (EPW March 30,2002) written in the midst of the ongoing genocide in Gujarat rightly points out : ".. There is a growing tendency among the left and secular parties to depend on the state administration, instead of mass education and mobilisation, to resist communalism. Such an abdication of the responsibility of political education along secular lines, can only sacrifice the 'silent majority' to the political indoctrination of the religious fundamentalists - whether of the Hindu or the Muslim variety. "It is clear that we only left the vast social space or the civil society space for the reactionary or conservative formations in the society including the RSS or the Jamat people." Achin Vanaik, a leading radical scholar of our time in his monograph written in the mid- nineties asks the secular forces to distinguish clearly between secular state and the task of secularisation of our society. It should be clearly understood that the real meaning of secularism is not only that religion be ousted from the functioning of the state but also it is separated from the normal functioning of social life of the broad masses of people.

Secondly, we should strike a proper balance between the political-economic work and the social-cultural work. A cursory glance at the routine practices of various left or secular political formations in this country makes it abundantly clear that while enough emphasis is given to the political-economic work but by and large the task of social-cultural intervention is left unattended. In a backward society like India this imbalance in the approach results in the various regressive and conservative forces gaining strength.

Thirdly, as a major component of this social, cultural work we should strive to launch mass movements for doing away with caste based discrimination leading ultimately to annihilation of caste or for the destruction of patriarchy. Mass campaigns also need to be launched for doing away with different regressive institutions and practices which are prevalent in our society.

Fourthly, as a part of strategic preparations for the radical transformation of our state and society we should build parallel institutions of people on various issues of daily concern which can act as rudimentary centres of parallel power. In a country like India which is basically a limited democratic state these type of parallel institutions carry special significance.

Definitely all these proposals do not purport to be a comprehensive list of the do's and don'ts to enhance and enrich the secular intervention in this country and ultimately strengthen the cause of the broad masses of the people in the long run.

We also need to understand that if we rectify our mistaken understanding and correct our practice the anti- human, fascist political project of the Hindutva Brigade would meet the same fate which visited on their predecessors. Of course we will have to bear in mind that it is going to be a long battle and we should not expect immediate victories.

(Subhash Gatade, Sector 15, B2/51, Rohini, Delhi )

( Subhash Gatade has done his M.Tech in Mech Engg from Banaras Hindu University in 1981. Working as a freelance journalist and social activist.He regularly writes for Hindi (Jansatta, Rashtriya Sahara, Hindustan, Prabhat Khabar etc.) ,English (Deccan Chronicle, Newstime, The Pioneer, Mainstream, Frontier, Himal and Economic & Political Weekly etc) and Marathi ( Sadhana weekly) newspapers and magazines. At present edits a Hindi Journal 'Sandhan')


1.With the confessions of the few Parivar senior leaders of the Parivar coming out in open giving details of the preparedness which existed prior to the way 'Gujarat' unfolded it has been proved beyond doubt that how the 'spontaneous reaction' to the heinous Godhra killings was enginereed by the higher ups in the parivar. It need be noted that Professor Keshavram Kashiram Shastri, 96 year old Chairman of the Gujarat unit of the VHP told the rediff.com that the list of shops owned by Muslims in Ahmedabad was prepared on the morning of February 28 itself -Quoted in Mainstream March 16 2002.Even Nanaji Deshmukh, a man belonging to the Parivar had the gumption to say that the post Godhra killings were orchestrated.

2.Notable among them is ' Reflections on 'Gujarat Pradesh' of 'Hindu Rashtra' K. Balagopal, Economic and Political Weekly June 1,2002

3.Urvashi Butalia the famous feminist scholar put it quite aptly in one of the meetings in Delhi organised around the issue of inclusion of caste discrimination in the Durban conference. While discussing her book on partition she said that in her painstaking work it even did not occur to her that she should explore the status of the Dalits .

4.Outlook (Date: 1/7/2002) "Poisoned Edge: The Sangh exploits Dalit and tribal frustration to recruit soldiers for Hindutva's 'war'

5.Act Two, People's Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi,2002

6.Outlook (Date 1/ 7/ 2002)..Activists like 64-year-old Anand Parmar was at the receiving end when he tried to dissuade a Dalit mob from rioting in Ahmedabad. Stones were pelted at his office and he was threatened with dire consequences. But undaunted, he has once again resumed his work. Says he: "Our fight is against unemployment, illiteracy and poverty. We have no business rioting."

7.Frontline (Cont.) Dione Bunsha, Bremen says in a recent essay: "Gujarat could be understood as an experiment for trying out what will happen to state and society under a policy regime which does not attempt to harness the most brutal consequences of a market-led mode of capitalist production. The total eclipse of Gandhian values... has also led to the shrinking of social space. The disappearance of a climate leaning towards social democracy and tolerance has been accompanied by an increase in communal hate politics." Tracing the roots of ghettoisation, Bremen says it accelerated after the decline of the Mazdoor Mahajan Sangh founded by Mahatma Gandhi. ...He likens the economic boycott and targeting of Muslims to the initial phase of the Nazi regime.

8.According to Dwarakanath Rath, a left activist and trade union leader, in 'old' Ahmedabad there are quite a few bastis where Dalits and Muslims have been living together for decades many of whom worked in the sprawling textile industry in Ahmedabad. With the gradual slump in the textile industry the world over and the technological changes which occured at the shop floor more than 90 thousand workers have lost their jobs in the last twenty years and at present less than 20-25000 workers are employed there. Growing insecurities in the lives of the unemployed who are engaged in some odd jobs and the lack of any alternative arrangement to help them accompanied by the loosening of the bonds of solidarity which existed between the poor of both the communities when they were working together have provided a fertile ground for all sorts of real or virtual identity based organisations to flourish among them.

8. For more on this see 'The Pathology of Gujarat', Achyut Yagnik, Seminar 2002.


10.Srinivas, Social Change in Modern India, (Orient Longman: Hyderabad, 1996)

11. Outlook (1/7/2002)"Poisoned Edge: The Sangh exploits Dalit and tribal frustration to recruit soldiers for Hindutva's 'war' The role of NGOs working with tribals and Dalits has also come under the scanner after the riots. Interestingly, Gujarat-based NGOs working under the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) boasted of being the biggest and the most influential contingent at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban last September. But all through the communal violence, their silence has been rather inexplicable...many have been pointing an accusing finger at organisations like the NCDHR. Says human rights activist and Jesuit priest Cedric Prakash: "The organisations that boast of championing the cause of Dalits and tribals failed to even condemn the riots. Their moral stand is weakened in places like Gujarat where the Dalits have turned perpetrators of violence against Muslims.")

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