Dalits and Adivasis must come together for a common struggle
The Supreme Court ruling on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention) of Atrocities Act 1989 has provided the Dalits and Adivasis an opportunity to come together for a common struggle
Dalit- and Adivasi-dominated areas saw marked protests during the Bharat Bandh on April 2, in protest against the dilution of certain stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention) of Atrocities Act 1989 by a Supreme Court judgment. The ruling has provided the Dalits and Adivasis an opportunity to come together for a common struggle.
Though the protest was widespread in Mahar- and Jatav (Ravidas)-dominated pockets of India, the uneasiness, and at some places anger, have spread to other educationally backward and economically empowered Dalits too. In Bihar, they have been given the name of Mahadalits by the Nitish Kumar government.
The tribal dominated areas of Jharkhand too witnessed the impact of the April 2 shutdown, yet no major incident of violence broke out there, nor in the ST dominated pockets of Odisha, MP and Chhattisgarh. In Punjab, UP, Bihar and Haryana there is huge SC population but the presence of tribals is negligible.
As the social ostracisation of Dalits is more pronounced––for obvious religious and historical reasons––and the number of cases of atrocities against them are much higher than STs, it was natural for them to react sharply after the apex court ruling.
At this point it needs to be mentioned that the other influential castes did not sit idle when the Dalits took to streets. At many places, especially in Madhya Pradesh, they did try to counter the Dalits, and in some cases allegedly with firepower. The fact is six of the seven people killed in clashes in this state on April 2 were Dalits, mostly of gunshot wounds. However, in Bihar, several social activists and politicians belonging to upper and backward castes supported them.
As the social ostracisation of Dalits is more pronounced––for obvious religious and historical reasons––and the number of cases of atrocities against them are much higher than STs, it was natural for them to react sharply after the apex court ruling
The nature of exploitation of Adivasis is somewhat different. Thus it is not that there is no resentment among them. With 16.6 and 8.6%, SCs and STs form more than one-fourth of India’s population. If the agriculturally rich Punjab has highest percentage of Dalit population (31.9%), the tribals live in the mineral-rich pockets of central and eastern India––besides in North East and elsewhere. Though the SCs and STs are the most exploited lot in the country, they have perhaps never jointly taken part in any mass movement for their rights.
Jharkhand has 26.3% ST and 11.8% SC population. Similarly, neighbouring Odisha has 22.2% ST and 16.2% SC population. These two states have the highest concentration of combined population of SCs and STs and are very rich in mineral and forest resources yet they are among the poorest states of the country and Dalits and Adivasis are as weak as elsewhere.
Jharkhand was after all created in November 2000 in the name of tribals and always used to have an Adivasi chief minister. But with the BJP coming to power in the state, after Narendra Modi’s victory in Delhi in 2014, even this tradition has been disrupted. This development coincided with the marginalisation of the biggest Dalit political outfit, Bahujan Samaj Party, in Uttar Pradesh.
Though the shutdown call was given in protest against the Supreme Court ruling, yet the street protests have made it amply clear that the ruling BJP can not take the SCs and STs for granted. After all they have hardly ever protested jointly on any one issue at the all India level.
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