The biggest strength of the dalit community is its numerical strength.
Come election time, leading politicians compete with each other in hailing Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar as one of the greatest builders of India. They showcase their love for dalits by squatting on the ground and eating in Harijan bastis in front of TV cameras.
Alas, away from these photo ops, untouchability is still alive and kicking in thousands of villages and murders, rapes and public humiliation of dalit youth such as in Una happen. Over 47,000 cases of attacks against the Dalits in 2017 officially registered by the National Crime Records Bureau (Uttar Pradesh alone accounted for 11,440 of these) don’t shame us. The entire blame for incompetence, inefficiency and lack of delivery in government services is routinely laid at the reservation policy’s door.
Isn’t it time we have an honest and dispassionate debate on these issues that hang over any public discourse like thick fog in the Delhi winters?
An objective assessment of the graph of dalits’ progress since Independence indicates a slow upward trend, notwithstanding continuing prejudice and negative discrimination. But the gradient would have been sharper had various welfare policies announced by successive governments been implemented in full and in a timely way. While the major share of the blame for this lies with the government, the elected representatives of these castes also cannot absolve themselves — for not putting adequate political pressure on the governments.
The biggest strength of the dalit community is its numerical strength. It can be a potent tool for social change. But it is most often frittered away in infighting and ego fights and for lack of an inspiring vision.
Regrettably, most Dalit leaders have reduced themselves to promoting tokenism of their political parties, lapping at the ministerial crumbs that are thrown at them.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that without the provision of reservation of seats in Parliament and the various legislatures there would have been no Mayawatis or Ram Vilas Paswans. And without reservation in services, there won’t be a good sprinkling of dalit officers among the ranks nor the conditions for a Tina Dabi to top the civil services. Evidently, both quotas and affirmative action have helped and deserve to be continued, if in an amended form, in the foreseeable future.
For one would be dishonest if one doesn’t admit that the reservation policy has generated considerable anger and bitterness against the dalits. And to top that, self-proclaimed champions of meritocracy in the intelligentsia, academia, media and India Inc. shout from the rooftops, sans support of a study, they claim that the reservation policy is the only stumbling block in the way of India becoming a five trillion dollar economy. So how come Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have witnessed extensive reservations for decades, are better administered than Bihar and Uttar Pradesh?
Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes candidates who join the IAS/IFS/IPS/Central services through reservation and are later able to send their kids to public schools with no known discrimination. They are the ones who should encourage their next generations to compete without the crutches of the reservation. It will go a long way in reducing the bitterness against the reservation policy.
Education is the best tool for empowerment, so reservation of seats in educational institutes must be continued. There should be exemplary punishment against the heads of institutions where dalit students are subjected to discrimination. Infrastructure and teaching facilities should be drastically upgraded with the provision for computers, hygienic environment, and facilities for sports and, of course, qualified and trained teachers. Based on the annual income of parents, education of dalit students till 22 years should be totally free.
A white paper must be brought out by the government giving verifiable information about the seats reserved for SC/ST candidates in services, universities and colleges since Independence and how many of these lie unfilled. Vacancies lying unfilled for long should be filled via emergency recruitments.
This paper must put on record officially registered cases of assault and attacks on dalits in the last 30 years. Suspension of district officials is not a deterrent punishment. If atrocities against dalits are committed in the tenure of an IAS/IPS officer twice, they must be dismissed from service.
If the government sincerely wants people to transform themselves into job generators rather than job-seekers, it must make credits and loans available to dalit youth who want to migrate from their traditional occupations to start medium and small scale industries. Can’t MPs be asked to use 25 per cent of their constituency development grants to encourage these endeavours? Can’t big business do the same under corporate social responsibility?
Usually, out of around 43 secretaries at the Centre, there is rarely more than one secretary from the SC/ST. Why? Thanks to continuing prejudices, very few SC/ST officers rise to secretary rank. There is no dearth of competent officers only if the seniors could shed their casteist prejudices.
The establishment of a well equipped “Centre for Social Transformation”, fully funded by the central government, headed by an experienced, energetic and empathetic serving or retired person of the rank of secretary could be a one-point data bank on the SC/ST. It should have reliable statistics about Dalit communities in various states. This centre should periodically organise mega-events to publicise achievements of members of the community and flag issues confronting them. This will help dispel widespread and deep-rooted negative perception about SC/ST. The head of this centre should have the authority to travel to spots where atrocities against the SC/ ST have been committed with two colleagues at government cost. They should submit a report after conversation with the survivors post-visit so that the efforts of the local authorities to brush the issues under the carpet are foiled.
While celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of M.K. Gandhi, why shouldn’t the central government take a pledge to eradicate untouchability, bonded labour, child labour and atrocities against dalits in the next five years?
The writer is a retired Indian diplomat