The Great Dalit Defiance

A spectre is haunting Gujarat and India. The spectre of a mass Dalit uprising. Indeed, after the nightmare and the farce of ‘acche din’, this is a sign of hope, writes Amit Sengupta.

What is however truly unprecedented is the mass Dalit uprising across several districts and talukas of Gujarat which has shaken the BJP and the thick-skinned ruling regime in Delhi. This follows the ideologically regressive and ambivalent Patidar agitation which was crushed, subverted and appropriated, but which still remains simmering across the Patel strongholds in Gujarat. The Patels were once the BJP’s taken-for-granted support base in Gujarat. The Patels have been influential in their economic and political prowess, even as NRIs, but still aspired for much higher stakes in the power-pudding. A section of the Patels, especially the educated young, are also afflicted with unemployment, with no opportunities being provided by the Gujarat government. The Patidar agitation also reflects the fragmentation in the pseudo hype that was created around the alleged ‘Gujarat Model’-shallow and fake by the standards of many, manufactured by Modi’s smooth propaganda machine and sections of the sycophantic Indian media, especially before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The cracks in the unilaterally pro-corporate Gujarat Model is now for all to see, with the Dalit agitation showing all their wounds as a public spectacle, still trapped in the condemned fringes.

Besides, all the India projects – ‘Stand Up India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Start-Up India’, ‘Make-in-India’ and ‘Digital India’ — have turned out to be utterly fake, and not even Modi’s PR machinery can help restore the discredited promises. The cow carcass movement and the issue of manual scavengers in Namoh Ganga have also proved that the Swachch Bharat hype is as fake as the Gujarat Model.


However, with the resignation of the Gujarat chief minister, there seems to be a quick paradigm shift when it comes to high-handedness, arrogance and rigidity, especially when a mass political and social upheaval seems to have shaken their very scaffolding. This will certainly have immense political impact in other states too, especially those witnessing elections, as in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, with a huge Dalit population. Punjab has the highest Dalit population in India, mostly landless and oppressed, concentrating in the Malwa region, which has been tapped by both Marxists and  Kanshi Ram, the iconic founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The great movement around Dalit icon and singer Bant Singh, a member of the CPI-ML(Liberation) a decade ago, whose hands and legs had to be amputated after a deadly, murderous attack by upper caste landlords, still reverberates in Mansa, his homeland and in Sangrur. He was a rebel who ritualistically defied the diktats of the landlords, crossed new thresholds of struggle and mobilisation, and took the fight to the other camp, when his daughter was allegedly assaulted. As a singer and balladeer, Bant Singh, without his legs and hands, travelled across the hinterland and sang songs of resistance and struggle. This reporter met him several times in Mansa and Delhi, and was a witness not only to his infinite resilience and courage but also the great folk and revolutionary music he created and spread across the rural interiors of Punjab, especially among Dalits. Truly, Bant Singh is a Dalit legend in Punjab.


However, in case of Gujarat, why did a regime which did not care to move an inch after a hard and long 139 day peaceful strike by FTII students against a C-grade TV actor called Gajendra Chauhan, a prolonged and protracted struggle by JNU students and teachers against sedition, false charges, the destruction of the university’s autonomy and intellectual freedom, and the dogged fight undertaken by RohithVemula, his friends and the students and teachers of the Hyderabad Central University, suddenly felt so compelled to get its chief minister to resign in Gujarat, and so suddenly?

For a regime which remained untouched by Rohith’s suicide, and which continued to follow its crude and repressive policies under an arrogant Smriti Irani in the HRD ministry, how come its conscience has suddenly been aroused?


Indeed, they have realised that all their sectarian and polarising cards have failed, and are failing rapidly, and there is mass disgust, unhappiness and anger sweeping across India, especially among Dalits, the minorities, students, intelligentsia and secular citizens.  The ‘acche din’ propaganda has turned out to be a terrible damp squib and no one is listening to the moronic ‘Mann ki Baat’ monologue anymore. Even the apolitical Bollywood film industry seems to have chosen to be up-in-arms after the Udta Punjab fiasco, a controversy created by yet another Sangh Parivar mediocrity – Pahlaj Nihalani, who exemplifies the stark raving mediocrities appointed by this regime.


The ugly and crude monsters and lynch-mobs they have raised across India-all aligned to VHP-Bajrang Dal, RSS and Shiv Sena, like the saffron Gau Rakshaks – who actually represent the deepest incestuous political and cultural subconscious of the highest functionaries and ideologues in the BJP and RSS, have led to a political fiasco which might turn out to be a grassroots apocalypse in the days to come. Indeed, it is these monsters that are truly speaking their ‘Mann ki Baat’ across the damned landscape where they have unleashed their vicious vigilantism.

From Dadri to Kairana to Latehar to Mandsaur, to the mindless beef bans, to a fake frenzy about ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai and pseudo nationalism, all their xenophobic cards have collapsed one after another.

Kashmir is bleeding and the blood will not dry in the days to come. The mourning will continue for the dead, especially the young, and those blinded by pellets will still grope in the darkness of despair and suffering. The death-count is increasing everyday in Kashmir. Across the nation’s landscape, a vicious current and undercurrent has been unleashed by the violent vigilant vanguards of the SanghParivar, with tacit or covert support from the police and administration, with Modi and his best pal playing Nero, even while the country seethes with anger, angst and disgust.


What is unprecedented in the entire history of caste oppression of Dalits in India is the stunning mass assertion in Gujarat, which has spread its wings in UP, Maharashtra and Punjab. The truckloads of cow carcasses thrown across the offices of district collectors in Gujarat is not only an unique and revolutionary expression of political protest, it has turned all nuances of sociological studies on the question of Dalit uprisings upside down. Never before in the history of Dalit movements, even post-Ambedkar, have such a novel and direct form of protest been unleashed by Dalits. Indeed, not only carcasses, they have now refused to do the dirty, humiliating and unhygienic job of skinning dead cows, or cleaning sewers, among other sub-human and dehumanizing work ‘allotted’ to Dalits for centuries by the upper caste hierarchy and the Brahminical code of conduct. They have also demanded fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution, which has been willfully denied, to them for years under all regimes.


In many parts of Gujarat the dead bodies of cows are lying unattended, creating an epidemic of sorts, with Dalits refusing to touch them, and the upper castes and the administration unable to even bury the dead cows.

Indeed, in a sick society, where the pseudo cow worshippers have turned the cow into a fetish, the Dalits have pointed out as to how thousands of cows die in pain eating plastic, glass, wrappers, paper, junk, rotten food and meat from open garbage and stations across the towns of India.

They are often left to die in the open. Besides, the cow in Una was killed by a lion.


Across Maharashtra, there are reports that the beef ban has hit both Hindu and Muslim farmers and traders below the belt, and so badly, that many of them have been reduced to acute deprivation and destitution. Most don’t know what to do with their old and dying cows, even while they don’t have money to collect fodder for them. Cattle traders are refusing to buy cows, even from across the borders, even while the Gau Rakshak vigilantes, raid and attack all and sundry, as and when they want. There are reports that traders who lose their cows to such mobs, never get them back, even with a court order. The latest NDTV report quotes a trader that more than 25,000 such cows have disappeared, even while one of the kingpins of this cow protection campaign has hundreds of ‘confiscated cows’ in his backyard. That he is a committed RSS worker proves the shady point behind this shady racket. Indeed, in a state, which has suffered the worst drought and farmer suicides, RSS-BJP’s cow politics continues to the rural economy.


Another significant factor is the sudden assembly of thousands of Dalits in Lucknow and across UP after an upper caste BJP leader public used vile and abusive language against Mayawati. For a party which rarely comes out on the streets, and which has rarely protested publicly even after terrible atrocities inflicted on Dalits, this was an unprecedented show of political power by the BSP–pointing to shifting sands in the caste-quagmire of UP politics.

All ground reports state that the communal polarisation in UP, with Muzaffarnagar as a bloody catalyst, which helped BJP in collecting the Dalit vote in 2014, is not working anymore, despite Amit Shah’s diabolical efforts. There seems to be a consolidation in support of BSP at the grassroots level, and the manufactured Modi magic is all but over.


On July 30, there was a massive protest in Ahmedabad with Dalits defying all odds. This follows mass protests across the Gujarat landscape, including the villages. The village, where the Dalits were lynched and the video recording of which triggered the uprising, has become a Dalit pilgrimage and revolutionary centre with Dalits from across Gujarat travelling long distances to offer solidarity and support. Almost 20 Dalits tried to commit suicide in protest; one has died. This is bound to have major repercussions in the days to come.

A spectre is haunting Gujarat and India. The spectre of a mass Dalit uprising. Indeed, after the nightmare and the farce of ‘acche din’, this is a sign of hope.

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students' Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people's movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. Till recently he has been a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

Be first to comment