An open letter to Hon’ble Minister Mr. Ramdas Athawale

 

Raju Chalwadi

raju chalwadi 1This letter has been written in keeping with the philosophy that critical self-evaluation and accountability of the movement and leaders itself is necessary and a pre-condition for it to succeed.

 Dalit politics has reached a critical stage; the decline of BSP and co-optation of prominent Dalit leaders by the current establishment has put the entire project of Social Justice in limbo.

I hope the readers while reading this letter would consider me as someone who is concerned with the current stage of Ambedkarite politics and not as someone who is anti-reservationist or anti-Dalit leaders.

An open letter to Hon'ble Minister Mr. Ramdas Athawale

Respected Sir,

I am writing this letter to express my concern with regards to the situation of Dalits in "New India." This letter is specifically written to you because as you have been the only person in the current right wing establishment who has come from an 'Ambedkarite' tradition. A tradition which strongly resists discrimination in any forms. You not only represent a section of radical and educated Ambedkarite masses but also the Republican Party of India (a faction) which was envisaged by Dr. BR Ambedkar. How important the dream was for him to establish the RPI can be ascertained from the fact that despite being ill in his final stages of life he was busy in arranging meetings with leaders to finalize the structure of RPI. He wrote a letter to Ram Manohar Lohia on 24th Nov 1956 for the meet but Lohia responded to him by asking Ambedkar to focus on his health instead. But, he was not concerned about his health; he wrote two more letters on the night of 5th December 1956 just a few hours before his death; one to SM Joshi and another to Acharya Atre regarding the RPI. Such was his eagerness to establish the party which he thought would fight for the masses.

The Republican Party of India did come up after his death but remained short-lived. Power politics and leadership issues destroyed Ambedkar's dream of creating a mass based party. A party that would uphold democratic values. 

Had he been alive, he would never have joined the current ideology at 'any cost.' You have, but the experience of Dalits in past three years has been terrible: the beating up of Dalits in the name of the holy cow, the ritual purification of Dalits in the name of 'ghar wapsi,' the glorification of the past with special mention of ancient texts which glorify upper castes and demoralizes lower castes, reduction in budget allocated for Dalits and the unprecedented increase in hatred among citizens of the country has made Dalits more vulnerable in recent years.

Though you joined the current ideology with an argument that it will help raise Dalits' voices, you never aggressively questioned the government on matters related to the attacks and vulnerability of Dalits, and instead of resisting against the government's and its allies attempt to Hinduise Ambedkar you have restricted your vision and demands in the past few years to some unrelated issues. Some of the demands raised by you in recent times which came into the media spotlight have again created an environment of equating Dalit politics with demands for reservations only.

Whether it was a demand for reservations for Dalits in cricket team in line with the South African experience, or recent demand for reservation in army recruitment. These demands are unlikely to make any changes in the life of vulnerable masses who reside in the countryside. The gruesomeness and number of atrocities committed against Dalits with societal sanction continue even after 70 years of Independence. The economic condition is still vulnerable with the majority of them depending on dominant castes for their livelihood. They face discrimination at its extreme in the form of violence (soft and hard) which is further aggravated by their vulnerable economic conditions. In your home state of Maharashtra, the percentage of landless Dalit households is 63.3, lowest among all social groups.

The current regime came to power on the 'development' plank but now the real project has been uncovered: the project of Hinduisation of India. The biggest losers in this project are Dalits, as the social status of Dalits in part also depends on the Hinduisation of the environment. As a member of the rational Ambedkarite tradition you have in the past years never challenged the establishment in any of their attempts to Hinduise (purify) the environment. Apart from these cultural issues, you never took a radical stand on the Rohith Vemula issue, Una issue or on the recent Saharanpur riots.

The failure of the current regime while dealing with economic issues in the last couple of years followed by aggressive social restructuring has made the Dalits the most vulnerable group in current times. If any strong stance is not taken now then the project of internalizing the unequal social structure in the mind of individuals, especially Dalits, will succeed. This internalization among Dalits would reverse any progress that has happened till now.

The contemporary problems which haunt Dalits are: withdrawal of the state from public employment and educations, challenges of globalization in the form of high demand of skilled labor and rising inequality, lack of jobs and social security and high cost of living in general among others, apart from their age old problems of discrimination and humiliation in day to day life. These are the issues which you must strive to solve instead of just time and again raising the questions of reservation. This is not to argue that reservation has not benefitted this group but there is a need to widen the basket of solutions. You must use the platform to raise the above-mentioned concerns of the oppressed class which has believed you. Instead, you again went on to demand 25% reservations a month back for the economically backward among the upper castes.

You and others from the fractioned RPI must also take a lead in uniting the numerous RPIs by sidelining personal grudges for the welfare of the masses. By looking into the current juncture of Dalit politics, I am forced to remind you of a part of a speech which BR Ambedkar gave at Agra on 18th March 1956; he said "If somebody calls you to his palace, you are free to go. But do not set your hut on fire........ I have no danger from others but I feel endangered from my own people."

Further, he knew that there was no one who could take his caravan of social justice further. In this same speech, he said "Today I am just like a pole which is supporting huge tents. I am worried about the moment when this pole will not be in place...... If some young man comes forward to take this responsibility I will die in peace." Till date, unfortunately, we have not been able to create that individual who could support this huge tent. The masses residing in the hinterland are waiting for another "Babasaheb" who could raise their voices.

A further failure of Dalit politics (after the decline of BSP and co-option of prominent Dalit leaders) would mean an end to the question of representation, equality, and rationality. The Dalit masses residing in the hinterland are gullible, they vote if somebody assures them safety, opportunity, and equality. The appropriation of Ambedkar by the current ideology has played a crucial role in favor of the right wing. Let's not destroy the dream of 'Annihilation of caste' by just becoming a spectacle.

BR Ambedkar till his last breath worked for the community, let's not stop the caravan of providing social justice to this oppressed masses by restricting their rights and by equating Dalit politics with demands for reservations only.

Yours sincerely,
Raju Chalwadi

 ~~~

 

Raju Chalwadi is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department, IIT-Bombay. He also holds a Master's degree in Development Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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