India: Dalit Politics At Crossroads? – Analysis

Results of the 2014 general election and the subsequent Assembly elections clearly established that Dalit politics is undergoing a change.

The Presidential election on 17 July is like a watershed moment of Indian political and social consciousness. It is a contest between two Dalit candidates, the BJP-led NDA candidate Ramnath Kovind, who was the Governor of Bihar till recently, and the UPA’s nominee Meira Kumar, the daughter of Dalit legend Babu Jagjivan Ram.

In ordinary times, this would have carried not much political significance. But Dalit politics in the country has come under sharper focus since the assumption of throne by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi in 2014 and coming to power of the BJP in 22 states and some violent incidents across the country.

The issue has come under lot of debate in the national as well as international media. The fact that not only has the ruling coalition went for a Dalit candidate to extend its political support base among the Dalit population that according to 2011 census stood at 201.4 million, even the opposition opted for a candidate of the same denomination speaks volumes on the current state of  politics in the country.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP swept to power winning 71 out of total 80 Lok Sabha seats from the biggest state of Uttar Pradesh. All the 17 reserved Scheduled Caste seats went to the BJP. It clearly meant that a sizable portion of Dalit votes went to the BJP account and indicated that there was a division among SC voters.

Analysts were of the view that non-Jatav votes went to the BJP.

The results of the 2014 general election and the subsequent Assembly elections clearly established that Dalit politics is undergoing a change. Whether the symbolism of making a Dalit reach the highest constitutional post of the country will help the BJP to consolidate its political base among the SC community and spread it further needs to be examined carefully, particularly in the background of growing social tensions between Dalits and the upper castes, particularly the Rajputs or Thakurs. Rising incidents of violence and maltreatment of Dalits by several BJP ruled states and the Centre itself are a manifestation of the trend.

Politics of “Hinduatva”, revolving around issues of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, cow vigilantism around the issue of beef ban and other similar issues, is sharpening existing tensions among higher castes and Dalits.

Latest of the series of incidents has been the outlawing of a convention in Lucknow on July 3 to discuss the state of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh by the BJP ruled government. Thirty-one activists were arrested while about 50 Dalits, coming from Gujarat, were sent back by the State Police. The State Administration did not permit them to proceed to Lucknow to mark a symbolic protest.

Earlier in May this year, cutting of the internet services to control social media in caste violence hit district of Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh was a very ominous sign of the state of affairs in country’s biggest state. Violent clashes had erupted in Saharanpur on 5 May when Dalits objected to the taking out of a strident procession by Thakurs to commemorate the birth anniversary of the medieval Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap. The Dalits stalled the procession as it entered their area and the confrontation escalated from stone pelting from both the sides. Thakurs did not take the Dalit’s opposition kindly and went into rampage leading to the burning down of about 40 Dalit houses and shops. A mob of Thakurs also indulged in desecration of Dalit iconography and shrines. A Thakur youth died, while many more were injured from both the communities. Dalits abandoned the village apprehending further violence

The atmosphere of confrontation had started building up since a BJP government was installed in the state on 19 March and Yogi Adityanath — a Thakur by birth — became the UP’s 21st chief minister.

The first skirmish had taken place in Shabbirpur village on 20 April 20 — within 45 days of the new BJP government in Lucknow — when the Jatav-Dalits of the village were about to erect a statue of B.R. Ambedkar to celebrate the Ambedkar Jayanti and Thakurs objected to it, citing lack of administrative permission for the celebrations.

About a month-long tension between the two communities in the communally sensitive district of Saharanpur cannot be merely a law and order problem. It seems to be an abject failure of the state administration to understand the real causes of the problem and treating the issue in a routine fashion.

Violence in Saharanpur was the latest manifestation of the politics that has been pursued by political parties for the last few years in western UP through ‘love jihad’, cow protection and Muslim appeasement.

In 2013, there were communal riots after clashes broke out between Jats and Muslims. Recently held assembly elections in the state further sharpened the fault lines.

The breaking up of Jat-Muslim understanding paid rich electoral dividends in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the BJP won all seats in the region and the same was followed in the state elections.

After the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations in early 1990s of the last century, backward and Dalit castes felt empowered and higher caste, particularly the Thakurs, no more had a clout like before when they used to call shots in the state resulting in their perceived humiliation.

But Dalits of the region, notably Jatavs who have been ardent supporters of the BSP and its leader Mayawati, have become much more politically conscious and are therefore not ready to accept upper caste assertion.

The role of the Bheem Army Bharat Ekta Mission, founded by a young lawyer Chandrashekhar Azad, came to the forefront during the Saharanpur clashes as it protested against the caste-based violence and the state administration’s apathy towards them.

The fact that it has come to prominence by organising a massive rally at Jantar Mantar in the union capital on 21 May to protest against the Saharanpur violence cannot either be ignored or brushed under the carpet.

Organisations like the Bheem Army are drawing their strengths from the treatment and injustice meted out to Dalit research scholar like Rohith Vemula of the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide in January 2016.

Dalits have been the integral part of the traditional agrarian economy where milching animals have played a leading role.  Strict enforcement of cow slaughter, the livelihood of Dalits, is directly affected. There have been violent incidents in UP, MP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and other states where Dalits have come under attack of groups of cow vigilantes.

The statement of Bheem Army founder that “for elections, we are Hindus and after that we are Dalits” is a clear reminder to the RSS-BJP brand of politics for making timely corrections failing which it may take an ugly turn. The subsequent arrest of Chandrashekhar Azad by the State Police and the treatment meted out to him is sharpening the existing fault lines in the caste hierarchical system in society.

Dalit consciousness has been rising steadily. A feeling is growing within the community that crimes against them are not seriously pursued and not thoroughly investigated by a caste-biased administration. A growing perception is that guilty are either not adequately punished or manage to go unpunished.

While political parties are playing their short-term game of dividing society on caste, sub-castes and religious lines, emerging Dalit consciousness resulting in assertiveness is sure to influence politics in a decisive manner in the times to come.

It is time that discerning political thinkers and leaders found ways to address the rising phenomenon and take steps to address the issue in a reconciliatory manner instead of embarking on a confrontationist path.

Dalit politics, indeed, seems to be standing at a crucial crossroad.

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By puclmangalore Posted in Dalits

Women’s organisations demand 50% reservation in LS, assemblies

NEW DELHI: A women’s collective, comprising more than 1,600 organizations, today pitched for the passage of the “long pending” Women’s Reservation Bill in the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament which commences on July 17.

With the slogan “Ab 33 per cent nahi 50 per cent”, the National Alliance for Women’s Reservation Bill has demanded 50 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies instead of 33 per cent. “The Prime Minister had congratulated African countries for women’s majority in their parliament.

But when it came to his country, he never said a single word about this Bill,” general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, Annie Raja, said. “This is the time to act so that women are able to contest a maximum number of seats in the next election,” she said.

In India, women hold a mere 12 per cent of the seats in Parliament and nine per cent in state assemblies, Director of Centre for Social Research, Ranjana Kumari, said. “Unless there are more women in politics, their concerns cannot be addressed effectively,” she said.

Director of the Joint Women’s Programme, Jyotsna Chatterjee, said that the BJP had “committed” support to the women’s reservation bill in its 2014 election manifesto, and now it was time for the party to stand by it. “It is high time to prove what they had declared in their election manifesto. The government says ‘beti bachao beti padhao’, but what about her political rights,” she said.

By puclmangalore Posted in Women

30,000 women pushed into sex slavery every year, conference in Mumbai to find ways to tackle it

Around 100 delegates from more than 20 countries are expected to participate in Mumbai

More than 30,000 women are pushed into sex slavery through trafficking every year in the country. To fight the menace, the Maharashtra State Commission for Women (MSCW) plans to form an international forum and hold a two-day conference in Mumbai on July 27 and 28.

Around 100 delegates from more than 20 countries are expected to participate.

MSCW chairperson Vijaya Rahatkar said, “We will form an international forum to create more awareness.”

The topics of discussion include women trafficking, its impact, victims and their rehabilitation, how to deal with the issue, best practices worldwide and need of stringent laws, among others.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, union surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari, Goa governor Mridula Sinha, Maharashtra DGP Satish Mathur, Goa DGP Muktesh Chander, Mumbai Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar are expected to attend the event.

100 Applications Received: For transgenders, IGNOU fee waiver gives new hope

Almost a month ago, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) decided to waive off tuition fees of transgender students, in an attempt to make higher education more accessible to them. Since then, the university has received at least 100 applications from transgender students — several for the Bachelor Preparatory Programme (BPP). The course is designed to help students who haven’t completed their 10+2 and want to do their graduation from IGNOU. The Indian Express spoke to three transgender students who have taken admission in various courses in IGNOU about their lives before this historic change in admission procedure and how they think their lives will change.

Course: MA in Gender and Development Studies

Riya was in Class X when her sexuality started becoming a problem for her family. Born as Rahul Sharma in Raghubir Nagar, her “feminine” mannerisms were fast becoming unacceptable for her father, a carpenter.

“My younger brother would tease me about the way I walked and my father tortured me a lot. When I completed Class XII, he threw me out of the house, calling me ‘Hijra’ and ‘chhakka’,” she says.

For a brief period, she stayed at the office of Mitr Trust — an NGO she’s still working with but when, in 2013, her father vandalised the office blaming them for making her a “Hijra”, she ran away to Mewat in Haryana to join a Hijra troupe for “toil badhai” – collecting money by giving blessings to newlyweds and newborns. However, her interest in education led her to enroll for BA Programme from the School of Open Learning (SOL) in DU, but as a man.

Studying about Gender, says Riya, is natural for her. “Had it not been for the fee waiver (Rs 9,000) I couldn’t have studied. I don’t make enough and my father wouldn’t give me a rupee. I want to become a teacher at a government school or college, and sensitise children about gender issues,” she says.

Course: MA, Political Science

Bebo, as she is known among friends, has not told her parents about her sexuality yet. “My parents don’t know about my sexuality, although they have problems with my feminine behavior. I want to become a makeup artist, but they want me to be “manly” and join the Army. I can’t tell them, because I’m scared,” says the Kareena Kapoor fan from Rohini. At home, she dresses in ‘men’s’ clothes, and even refrains from watching soaps on TV for fear of being tagged ‘gay’. But with her friends around, she feels comfortable and dresses in women’s clothes, dances and celebrates her real self.

“I studied in a government school, where not only students called me names, but even the teachers troubled me. They would ask me to explain homosexuality and everyone laughed. I had no friends,” she says. Similar experiences plagued her when she was doing her BA Programme from SOL, and frustrated, she stopped attending classes. She also worked at a call centre for Bikano, but regular taunts forced her to quit. IGNOU, she says, has given her a new lease of life. “I want to be a makeup artist, but I think it’s very important to be educated. I’m interested in doing an MPhil and PhD after this. The fee waiver really helps. I hope my identity card doesn’t mention my gender,” says Bebo.

Course: BA, Tourism Studies

Born as Nitesh Kumar in Janakpuri to parents who are government servants, Neetu works as a counsellor in Mitr Trust and has helped many parents, including her own, to accept and understand their child’s sexuality. But the road has not been easy — she had to leave her education and was put under house arrest. “I was in a co-ed private school till Class V but my father thought my ‘girly’ mannerisms were because I was hanging out with girls, so they shifted me to a government school. It was hell. “I had enrolled for BCom Programme in SOL, but during my second year, when I came out to my parents, they put me under house arrest,” she says. As time passed, her parents accepted her and even encouraged her to study. “When I got this opportunity from IGNOU, I grabbed it. I want to set an example for others from my community; I want them to know it’s important to be educated,” says Neetu.

Reality Check Of Madhya Pradesh Schools, At Top Of National Shame List

Bhopal: The Internet can’t agree if it was Irish poet WB Yeats who said education was lighting a fire and not filling a bucket. But for lakhs of students in Madhya Pradesh, this conundrum is thoroughly worthless.

These students go to schools where there is literally no light. In a reply to the Madhya Pradesh assembly last year, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government admitted that 70 years after independence, while the central government brags about electrifying more villages than any previous regime, there are still more than one lakh schools in the BJP-ruled state that do not have power.

Despicable scenes welcomed an NDTV team that visited the government schools in Madhya Pradesh’s Shajapur, Aagar-Malwa, Shyopur districts. Dilapidated buildings, leaky roofs and dingy rooms see dozens of eager students huddled on mats in front a patchy chalkboard flanked by a single teacher. Computer rooms and laboratories lie locked up and gathering dust.

There are more than 17,000 schools in Madhya Pradesh that have only one teacher. Accounting for one-sixth of “single-teacher” schools in India, the state tops a disgraceful list, showed a report tabled in the parliament last year. More than 50,000 teaching positions are still lying vacant across the state.

Amna Sultan, a primary teacher from Ukawata village, said, “I am posted here as Urdu teacher. But since we don’t have as many teachers, I have to teach English and Hindi also. We don’t have anyone for maths and science. We don’t have electricity, so we can’t operate computers.”

Manoj Sagar, an assistant teacher at the Bijanagri Secondary School, said, “We don’t have electricity for the past four-five years. We have written letters to authorities but nothing has been done so far.”

The students said they cannot study properly. Most have never seen computers in school. Despite the state government advertising its ‘Headstart’ programme launched in 2003 to prioritise computer education, students are yet to learn the basics of computers because of the lack of electricity.

To counter the dearth of regular teachers, the state government used to fill the gap by recruiting guest teachers but in this academic session even that system has been put on hold.

Madhya Pradesh education minister Vijay Shah said the state government will take a decision regarding the recruitment of guest teachers by October – six months into the ongoing academic year. “There are around 1.5 lakh schools, we have limited resources,” he said.