BJP must not ignore dalits

3e180f6-dalit People of dalit community holding a protest rally against the Una incident, in Bhuj | PTI

Hindutva politics have fuelled the Bharatiya Janata Party’s vote bank since its inception. The party tried to lure the Hindu majority to seize power, even going to the extent of using the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. While it failed to yield the anticipated result for the BJP, the 2002 riots post the Godhra incident worked for the party only in Gujarat.

In 2014, however, BJP seized power from a weakened Congress-led UPA, which had stayed at the helm for 10 years but had lost all its sheen in the eyes of the Indian populace by shifting its primary focus from Hindutva-oriented politics to the country's weak economy, prevalent social issues and corruption in politics.

BJP’s advent to power was supported by a portion of the dalit population that believed the BJP could secure the rights of the marginalised. This was evident from the overwhelming result of the 2014 elections. There was, however, a fear among minorities regarding the Hindutva angle of the party that was, undoubtedly, the foundation of the party. The past two years has seen an unprecedented rise in attacks and atrocities targeting the minorities in India. 2014 saw a 40 per cent increase in crime against dalits compared to 2011. This cannot be treated as coincidence. The attacks are not only physical, but also policy-oriented and culturally coloured.

SC/ST welfare programmes have seen a major decline in terms of budget allocation and so, marginalising the dalits in all sectors cannot be ignored. A lot of attention has to be paid to the Economic Survey, which contains the social and economic condition of the country and states, to formulate a budget. But, for the first time in history, Modi government removed those parts in the survey that deals with the social conditions and statistics of the SC/STs.

The sharp decline in allocation of funds to the SC/ST Sub-Plan is alarming. Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, the allocation saw the funds allocated being cut in half. With 16.6 per cent of the population in India belonging to scheduled castes, the allocation was to supposed to be Rs 77,236 crore, but only Rs 30,850 crore was allocated. Scheduled tribes, which constitute 8.6 per cent of the population, were allocated only Rs 19,980 crore of Rs 40,014 crore.

It is important to mention beef-ban and the attacks perpetrated on a Muslim family in Bahadurpura. Hindu extremists also targeted dalit youth in Gujarat who were merely skinning a dead cow to sell in a market. Five dalit youth were brutally beaten and paraded tied to a jeep, videos of which had circulated in social media. But, there were no comments from the party. This is not an isolated attack and, by all means, will see a repetition, as many leaders continue to propagate and promote cow-worship. There are Gau Rakshaks now who take it upon themselves to attack even those suspected of consuming or possessing beef.

A more appalling situation arose when CRPF jawan Vir Singh, from Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, died while fighting terrorists in Kashmir. His family was stopped from conducting his last rites in the village cemetery because he was a dalit. It took the intervention of the tehsildar for Singh to be given a 10 by 10-metre plot owned by the government to be cremated. The NDA government does more than necessary to promote patriotism but when it came to honouring the martyred dalit soldier, even providing a piece of land for cremation was difficult.

The BJP government has not only ignored the pleas of the dalit population but has also actively hindered the prospects of dalit youth in higher education. Rohith Vemula’s suicide at the University of Hyderabad was no accident. Being part of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) in the University, he was targeted by none other than Bandaru Dattatreya, who appealed to the HRD ministry to take to take criminal action against the ASA members. Some of these students had a scuffle with members of BJP's student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

The BJP-led government has either completely ignored the statements of its own leaders when they compared dalits to dogs (Union Minister Gen. V. K. Singh’s statement when questioned about the death of two dalit children burnt alive) or lightly reprimanded them (when UP BJP vice-president Dayashankar Singh compared Mayawati to a prostitute).

According to National Human Rights Commission report, a crime is committed against dalits every 18 minutes, three dalit women are raped each day, two dalits murdered and two dalit houses burnt. With the deliberate turning-a-blind-eye behaviour of the BJP and the rising atrocities, it can be seen that a vast number of voters from the minorities are now counting the days to the next election. It is clear that the Hindutva fold not only seeks to marginalise the non-Hindus but also upholds quite religiously the caste system and the evils it brings.

In an age where India successfully sends interplanetary space missions, menial jobs are still in the hands of dalits who not only endure the stink, muck and grime, but also suffer the violence and state-sponsored atrocities. You cannot help but question the BJP’s integrity when Narendra Modi celebrates Ambedkar Jayanti in great pomp and promises to declare his residence a historical location, but, at the same time, subjects the dalits and scheduled tribes to political, cultural and physical atrocities. BJP must understand that the SC/ST community comprises a quarter of the population and it is well within the power of the oppressed to overthrow the party, if it continues to tread this path.

Laxmaiah is a senior journalist and special officer with the Telangana government for Buddhavanam Project

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