Gail Omvedt & Bharat Patankar
[First published in February 1979. This is the first part of a pathbreaking article on the Dalit movement in the mainstream media. It was pathbreaking because mainstream discourse had until then consistently denied or tried to studiously ignore the existence of the Dalit movement and its vital role in Indian politics before independence and later- Round Table India]
This paper attempts to survey the history of dalit struggles in relation to the national movement and the communist movement, and to bring to the fore the important role the dalit movement has played in the democratic movement of the country and is going to play in the new democratic struggles in the future.
Communists have to think seriously about the theoretical basis for an immediate practical solution to the problem of caste oppression. This issue is emerging on a national scale today and is taking new forms, where the masses of caste Hindu poor peasants and even agricultural labourers are participating in attacks on dalits under the leadership of rich farmers.
The problem is one of posing a real programme for agrarian revolution; for, what the rich fanners are proposing today (and what constitutes an important basis of their appeal to poor and middle peasants) is their own solution to the agrarian problem and unemployment — a capitalist solution of giving land to the (landed) tiller and employing the rest as agricultural labourers and in small industries.
A concrete alternative has, therefore, to be put forward — a programme which does more than simply ameliorate the condition of dalits as proletarianised agricultural labourers or give them 'waste' surplus land which keeps in view the specific nature of caste relations in the rural area and the need for building a revolutionary unity between dalits and caste Hindu toilers, between agricultural labourers and poor and middle peasants.