The times we live in are different. Increasingly, there’s a looming suspense, a growing uncomfortable feeling. There’s a sense that one cannot speak freely or express everything; but there isn’t any threat which explicitly decrees that one cannot do this or that. But there is an undercurrent which subtly ensures that we internalise the censorship; we have tuned ourselves to speak only certain things and avoid the others. It is this gnawing fear which is dangerous for any democratic society.
This process began in the last 10-20 years. Everyone might want to say something and then there’s a voice within which will pipe up saying that ‘you shouldn’t say this. If you do, you may be held up as a ‘deshdrohi’. The term deshdrohi might have been in common parlance only during the last couple of years, but the tune has been set for more than 10 years.
It began with the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Most people believed such an incident could never happen in secular India. But when the whole structure collapsed, that was the beginning of the crumbling of our ideology.
Our freedom struggle gave everyone the space to express himself, so that each one feels that this country is ours. That is why we came together. But with that demolition, it was implicitly stated that ‘we are above you. We will say what will happen and what will not’.
When atrocities come to light, there is general outrage, but when these happen against Dalits, even the most proactive activists maintain silence. Then they ask Dalits to speak and voice their concerns about it. The problem here is that the ones who are persecuting the Dalits are not Dalits, but those from the so-called upper classes. Those who practice untouchability will never speak on the matter.
If one were to speak of caste and untouchability, we don’t know who is the enemy. In case of a master-slave situation, we know who is the enemy. We can’t say for sure who is practising untouchability or where it is, but the untouchables feel the discrimination. They feel it in all aspects of their life. That is the atmosphere that still exists in the Indian society even after 5,000 years. But, the problem is that since it has been internalised, even the untouchables have got used to live with the discrimination.
Dalits are both vegetarians and non-vegetarians because we eat both vegetables and meat. I can eat whatever I like, but those who segregate based on eating habits do not have that capability. My digestive system is capable and strong enough to digest it all, but yours isn’t, so there should be a word for your inability, not my capability to eat all kinds of things.
Slowly, in the process of purification, vegetarian restaurants have come up, then ‘pure vegetarian’ is the rage now. It says clearly who the restaurant would like as their clientele. One doesn’t see tasty, non-vegetarian food on restaurant boards. Now, we have reached the stage when we have Jain sambar too. Jains aren’t even 0.02 per cent of the population but there’s a belief that food items are prepared carefully. So, even non-Jains seek out ‘Jain Sambar’.
The government knows what it wants to promote. Now, such propaganda has reached the cow. What is a cow? It is just another animal, which provided things for our lives. First, they say, cow milk is the best, then they go on to say buffalo milk is better and now the rage is donkey’s milk.
They made Brahmins the superior caste. How did that happen? If they don’t eat meat, then how does it make them great ? If someone can eat all kinds of things, isn’t that the greater point? It is said that Brahmins have all the knowledge, but everyone has knowledge. These are not claims that can be proved, but if you go ask anyone, including Dalits, they will also say, ‘this fellow is talking like a Brahmin’. So, everyone has internalised that Brahmins are superior. This supremacy is placed on one caste and the whole country has been led to believe it. This practice still continues. It is completely irrational and illogical.
Common Dining is hailed as a great thing. Some political leaders are also seen having food at ‘ Dalit homes’. But what is so great about human beings sitting and eating together?
But this is hailed as a revolutionary step. It is a joke. How can human beings sitting and eating together be a major reform? How can the man be considered a social reformer for this? We first created segregation and then we removed the segregation in the name of reforms.
Scientific temperament has given way to irrationality. If a so-called untouchable were to touch something, then there are purification ceremonies and in some cases, it ends up in violence. Even if the person is beaten up or killed, no one is questioned.
The wold has recognised India for non-violence, but look at what is happening. We talk about the Vedas and our great history, but when someone has consumed some meat, of whatever animal, there is killing. Can this happen in any civilised society? Can other human beings simply accept this and keep quiet?
We have an Attorney General who says that citizens do not have the right to their own bodies. For Dalits, who never had any control of their own bodies, it was not news. Those in the so-called upper castes do not understand this. It is similar to how women have now started reiterating that their body is their own and nobody else can take their bodies for granted. But men do not understand this.
Ambedkar has given a mandate that should be followed, but, the problem here is that Ambedkar is also being elevated to the status of a ‘bhagwan’. One of the reasons why Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism was because he did not want a bhagwan; he didn’t want hierarchies. Then the Prime Minister goes ahead and calls himself an Ambedkar bhakt. He is appropriating Ambedkar in a way that creates hierarchies. It is impossible for him to think on terms of equality.
When Dalits were being chased and beaten, the PM said, ‘don’t beat them, beat me’. But he has never stated that killing is bad; that one human being cannot kill another in an independent, democratic society where there is rule of law. He hasn’t ever mentioned any punishment to be given in such cases. He forgets that he is the Prime Minister of a country and that he too has to follow the rule of law.
The Prime Minister knows that no one will kill him despite making such a statement. For the poor vulnerable people living in villages, how can these words help ?
Even in case of the Bhim application, what is the connection to Ambedkar? The Prime Minister popularises it in order to appropriate Ambedkar. As an elected representative of the country, he is safeguarding those who are bent upon creating divisions in the society. That is the only reason why I mention him frequently. His attitude has been anti-poor, anti-Dalit and anti-women, yet there aren’t many raising their voice. No one has the courage to speak; the space for such open criticisms is disappearing.
Fascism will take away the consciousness of people. So, there is no rationale to what one says.
As told to Ashlin Mathew