Jawad Falak |
Ever since the rise of the Hindu nationalist thought, known as Hindutva, took power in India by the election of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the minorities of India have faced heightened oppression. There has been a multitude of horrifying attacks on Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs by emboldened Hindutva militants, otherwise known as Saffron terrorists. However, minorities within the Hindu religion itself have not been exempt from the wrath of their renegade co-religionists.
The public brutal beating of several Dalits by Gau Rakhaks in Una during the month of July 2016 unleashed massive Dalit protest movements.
But the rise of Hindutva vigilante is being resisted now. The Bhim Army is a Dalit activist organization that is striving for Dalit liberation via education. The Bhim Army was formed in 2015 by Vinay Ratna Singh & Chandrashekhar and it operates many free schools for Dalits in Western Uttar Pradesh. On May 22, over 10,000 Bhim Army members protested in New Delhi against the Anti-Dalit atrocity in Saharanpur and the Bhim Army is trying to register a pan-India presence. Its co-founder Chandrashekhar said in the rally that Bhim Army would protest against caste discrimination across the country.
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Persecution of the Dalits
With the ascendancy of Hindutva through the BJP, the scheduled castes known as Dalits have witnessed a storm of violence by Saffron terrorists who mostly belong to the upper castes. Recently, violence broke out during the procession of Rajput warrior-king Maharana Pratap in Saharanpur over loud music. In the violence one man was killed, 16 were injured and 25 Dalit houses were burned. The incident was connected to the ruling BJP MP from Saharanpur Raghav Lakhanpal. Before that, the public brutal beating of several Dalits by Gau Rakhaks in Una during the month of July 2016 unleashed massive Dalit protest movements. Several other cases of violence like lynching, rapes, arson etc against Dalits is commonplace throughout India
The Dalits, also known as the untouchables, are the lowest caste in the Hindu Varna system. The term Dalit, which means “oppressed” in Sanskrit, was coined by the great Dalit figure Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar in the 20th century.
While Hindutva leaders outwardly espouse anti-caste system views and call for Hindu unity, the reality has been quite the opposite.
It is noteworthy to mention that Hindutva was initiated by High caste Hindus in response to an assertion of rights by Lower caste Hindus. This is why many critics, mainly Dalit academics, term Hindutva to be an engine of Brahminist supremacy. Many Dalit activists view the Brahmin supremacy, called Brahminism, as their enemy and the Holy Text Manu Smriti as the religio-legal authority institutionalizing lower caste oppression. Dalit activism has been the most steadfast foe of Brahmin supremacy which has led them to a path of conflict with Hindutva itself.
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That can be asserted to be the reason behind the special focus of Saffron terrorists against Dalits. While Hindutva leaders outwardly espouse anti-caste system views and call for Hindu unity, the reality has been quite the opposite. Hindutva groups especially the RSS, has been instrumental in protecting atrocities against Dalits which is why few Dalits are found among the Sangh Parivar ranks.
The recent Hindutva domination of India has been met up with a backlash from the Dalit community. The Una incident unleashed a massive 10-day march from Ahmedabad to Una that challenged the ascendancy of the local Hindutva powers. Previously, the suicide of Dalit Ph.D. scholar Rohit Vemula over caste-based discrimination in Indian universities unleashed protests and outrage from across India and gained widespread media attention.
Once the days of the elections are over, the Dalits are relegated back into their untouchable status and out of the ‘Hindu fold’. They are denied access to common resources in the village and their lives are characterized by brutal everyday violence.
In 2014, the numbers of atrocity cases against Dalits were 39,000. In 2015-16, the figure had increased to 47,000, while the rate of conviction has come down. The recent Saharanpur riots have in turn seemed to unleash a new wave of Dalit activism. The most prominent manifestation of this Dalit resurgence has been the Bhim Army.
This Dalit resurgence is in part due to both discontents with Indian sociocultural life and the domination of the RSS brand of Hindutva. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) tries to produce a larger Hindu vote bank, by repeatedly trying to galvanize Dalits and other oppressed castes into a larger Hindu vote bank, pitting them against Muslims and other Non-Hindus. After the Gujarat riots of 2002, the most noticeable display of this tactic is now apparent in Uttar Pradesh. It has been a huge factor in the electoral success of the BJP.
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But once the days of the elections are over, the Dalits are relegated back into their untouchable status and out of the ‘Hindu fold’. They are denied access to common resources in the village and their lives are characterized by brutal everyday violence. The Dalits have started to coalesce to fight and defeat the RSS’s implementation of the Manu Smriti which employs political, economic, cultural, and militant tools to keep its foes in Indian society divided. Dalit activists, like the Bhim Army, are emerging as key players in this current battle against Hindutva and for a more just society in India.
Jawad Falak is a Research Associate at Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research, Islamabad. He is an M.Phil scholar at National Defence University, Islamabad and writes on events taking shape in the South Asian region. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.