In August 2013, Kaafi, our sister from Jind Haryana was on her way to write her final exams and qualify to be a teacher. She was kidnapped, raped and murdered. Her dream to be a teacher and her aspirations to contribute to her family, her community and to this nation were shattered.
We did not have the ‘privilege’ to even mourn her loss as we continued to protest and demand for justice. She became a source of strength to the many young activists who are taking forward the caravan for annihilation of caste.
Today, as I sat amongst the crowds at Jantar Mantar, I remembered Kaafi and Rohith, both young Dalit students who lost their lives in tragic circumstances. To me, they will always remain stars who will be the guiding light in the anti-caste struggle. They are not mere icons, but a significant part of our history of resilience against the monster of caste. Our children will read about them as their ancestors who inspired the movement to keep growing and challenging the caste hegemony in this country.
But, today, I am once again gripped with fear.
Because our history is being distorted even before it is fully formed. Right before our eyes. Anti-caste slogans are being merged with or replaced with slogans for right to dissent, free speech and everything else! Rohith and scores of our young people are being projected as icons for some other larger (mysterious) cause. Our fight is against caste which Dr. Ambedkar termed as anti-national. How is it possible to create a discourse on nationalism when we are a people deeply divided on the basis of caste?
I was dumbstruck and horrified as I sat and listened to several savarna speakers at the Delhi Chalo Protest at Jantar Mantar. One of the savarna leftist madam, referred to Rohith’s amma as the true ‘Bharat Mata’! She further went on to say that all the Dalit mothers in this country are the true mothers of this nation. The amazing ease with which she wielded her caste privilege to make such a statement was amusing to say the least. How conveniently she forgot the centuries of privilege that her community have maintained by safeguarding their bloodline, their knowledge and assets.
My jaw dropped several times as I heard loud Jai Bhim slogans from savarna speakers who repeatedly kept using the term ‘Hindustan’ during their speeches! They are exposing their foolishness and insulting the name of Babasaheb Ambedkar.
We heard several critiques of Modi-model of development and RSS bashing without a real analysis of the savarna castes consolidation that happened across the globe; without which this Government would never be a reality for us today. Caste privilege offers an easy and seamless way to project oneself as ‘progressive’ without acknowledging the historical wrongs committed against those oppressed by caste.
Another savarna speaker expressed her amazement at the beautiful multi-coloured flags visible at the protest. It seems her heart was filled with joy and she hoped that this will signify a new tri-colour for this nation! I wondered if her caste privilege ever allowed her to think about the fact that discrimination, untouchability, caste atrocities and exclusion makes us writhe with agony. Thinking of a new tri-colour for this country which was never ours … is perhaps not something that communities denied of agency are thinking of at the moment!
Aahh .. the politics of colour and again I’m so thankful that I love blue!
Speeches also included apologies to Rohith’s amma. It seemed like they were invoking a collective apology from everybody and I sat there thinking about her very noble intention. How do they plan to apologise for the hundreds of my people who are brutally attacked, raped and butchered every day in this country? Is it possible to un-pack centuries of privilege enjoyed by their ancestors at the cost of the lives of my people?
Clarion calls for a revolution were made by speaker after speaker from the dais today. It reminded me of the words of Babasaheb Ambedkar - whether before or after the revolution, the question of caste needs to be grappled with. In other words, he clearly said, turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.
Without the doubt the movement needs solidarity. But blatant manipulative appropriation in the name of solidarity needs to be exposed and challenged. Its time to create innovative counter models of real transformation for the community.
In conclusion, an excerpt from Dr. Ambedkar’s seminal text - Annihilation of Caste -
“. . . But they are not to be found even as camp-followers in the army raised to break down the barricades of Caste. Is there any hope of the Brahmins ever taking up a lead in the future in this matter? I say no.”
Decades later . . . don't we all still say no?
Asha Kowtal is the General Secretary of the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch. (AIDMAM).