What Dalits want
Dalits have been the biggest sufferers of caste system. Ambedkar proposed annihilation of caste for emancipation of Dalits. They are still facing atrocities, poverty and discrimination
In Uttar Pradesh, there are around 65 Dalit castes who fall under the Scheduled Caste (SC) category. In the districts of eastern UP, their population varies between 16% and 40% of the total SC population. In every district of UP, at least 20 Dalit castes can be found. Among them, the Jatavs are the largest social group who constitute more than half of the Dalit population in eastern UP. Pasees are second largest community in the villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
In spite of their numbers, most Dalits here are still landless. The desire for a piece of land is central to Dalit psyche in Uttar Pradesh. One can find similar desire among Dalits in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and other parts of India too. The Congress, during the days of Indira Gandhi, had promised to provide land to Dalits. It was a part of the famous 20-points programme but this promise has yet to be fulfilled.
The second key desire of Dalits is to get out of their critical condition and secure their livelihood. Most Dalits communities have harnessed their own traditional caste based occupational skills. The Bansores were skilled in bamboo work, Mushhars know how to make beautiful pattal from mahua leaves.
These communities drew their sustenance from their artistic skills which were the source of their livelihood in the traditional society. Due to modernity, their traditional occupations are on the verge of extinction. In the new market economy, they have been pushed to the periphery to become mere physical labourers in infrastructure and other sectors. There is a deep urge amongst many Dalit communities for the revival of their traditional artisanal occupations in modern form.
The Khadi Bhandar model may be one way for the revival and reorganisation of their artisanal occupations. Dalit communities remained the biggest sufferers of the caste system of the Indian society since time immemorial. Babasaheb Ambedkar proposed annihilation of caste for emancipation of Dalits. He also proposed promotion of inter-caste marriage as one way to remove caste system from the Indian society. Many literate and urban Dalits think that the government should promote and encourage inter-caste marriages in the Indian society. Indeed ‘beti–roti’ relations have to be remapped with establishment of inter-caste marriages and inter-caste dining relations for eradication of caste inequality from Indian society.
Dalits, especially the educated ones, are very protective about the Indian Constitution. They feel an emotional tie with it because it was formed and evolved by Babasaheb Ambedkar. Secondly, the Indian Constitution provides them relief from atrocities and oppression. It also provides them the promise of equality. They see the Indian constitution as an instrument of Dalit emancipation from oppression and atrocities.
The demand for proper religious space and religious equality is also there among the Dalits. If someone visits Dalit hamlets in interior UP and other parts of the Hindi heartland, one can find local Dalit deities worshipped under the pipal or neem tree. They desire for a temple, a defined space for their own deities
That is why many educated Dalit hope that the new government, voted to power in 2019, will make public reading of the Preamble of Indian Constitution mandatory in schools. They, off course, do not want any dilution in the provision of reservation. A section of Dalits shows its aggressive complaint of growing atrocities on Dalits by upper and middle castes in various states. They want strong state intervention against such cases atrocities. Many Dalits desire that states and the new government at the Centre should ensure quick justice. As we know, the marginalised, poor and weaker section of the Dalits face inordinate delay in courts while seeking justice. And they see justice delayed as justice denied. So, they want this to change.
In UP, there are more than 40 Dalit communities who have not yet able to produce their community leaders. These communities have not had any political participation. They don’t have their own MPs, MLAs, etc. Many of them do not even have village pradhans from their own caste. So, no one facilitates dissemination of democratic fruits to such communities. Mushhars, Haris, Beldars, Kuch Badhiyas, Nais, etc. among Hindus and Rangrejs, Nais, Jogis, Dafalies, etc among Muslims fall in this bracket.
These communities want space in democratic political domain. It will be interesting to know that many of these communities don’t vote for Mayawati and the BSP. Even, the BSP has not reached out to them. Many of them voted in the 2014 parliamentary election and in the 2017 state Assembly election for BJP candidates in different parts of Uttar Pradesh. Now, many of them are not satisfied with the BJP and are looking for political alternatives.
One can call them invisible and most marginalised Dalit communities. Such communities are present in other states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc. The demand for proper religious space and religious equality is also there among the Dalits. If someone visits Dalit hamlets in interior UP and other parts of the Hindi heartland, one can find local Dalit deities worshipped under the pipal or neem tree. They desire for a temple, a defined space for their own deities. The temple space for them is not only a religious space but also a space for social gatherings, a space which gives them a sense of identity. Dalits also want to be able to enter the temples of mainstream Hindu deities. Any religious exclusion hurts them.
The desire to emerge out of poverty and the need for supportive governmental schemes like pension yojana are constant demands of the larger section of Dalit communities. These points should be noted by political parties while drawing up their election manifestos. They should be included in the election agenda
(The writer is a scholar)