India: Intense Revolutionary Struggles for Liberation from the Intense Oppression of Dalits

No revolution without the annihilation of caste, no annihilation of caste without revolution!! The only way of paying true homage to Babasaheb Ambedkar is to fight back the caste atrocities and caste oppression!

by Democratic Students’ Union (DSU), Jawaharlal Nehru University, 18 April 2013
Last week in the Bulandshahr district of UP, a 10 year old Dalit girl who had gone to the fields was raped by a man belonging to the dominant caste. The mother of the girl, waiting for her return, ultimately went searching and found her lying there unconscious in a critical condition. When the family of the girl decided to lodge a police complaint, they were threatened by the dominant caste section of the village of dire consequences. The family, as is usually the case, was bluntly asked to forget the incident. However, determined to take the fight for justice, the mother of the girl refused to yield to these threats and approached the local police station. But justice for dalits and other oppressed people remains a far cry within the current system! Refusing to lodge any complaint, the police rather kept the girl locked up in custody for the entire night while her mother helplessly waited outside the station. She was only released the next morning when the locals, hearing of the incident, started protesting in front of the police station. In another part of the country in Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, over 300 dalit families have been facing a complete social and economic boycott by the dominant castes for the past few months. The ‘crime’ being that a dalit man had fallen in love with a woman belonging to the dominant caste. Fearing violent attaack, like the one that happened in Dharmapuri last year, the parents of the boy have already sent back the girl to her parents – something that the police of this self-proclaimed ‘largest democracy of the world’ facilitated. Ever since a khap panchayat ordered this decision, dalits of the area are facing a complete boycott. They have been banned from working on the fields or even in the brick kilns and other such small industries.These incidents are neither an aberration nor an anomaly, but merely reflect the systemic oppression of the dalits. While we are constantly fed by the ruling class about the rising GDP and how India is fast becoming a ‘global superpower’, what we are not told are the growing atrocities on the dalits. For example in the state of Tamil Nadu in the last 15 years, 5,58,103 cases of Dalit atrocities have been reported. And we should always remember that the number of reported atrocities merely reflect the tip of the ice-berg. With the active complicity of the police and the local administration in most of the caste atrocities, the people hardly even approach the police. Even in the media, it is only when they take the most grotesque forms that they are even reported. But even then what is blanked out is the long and bitter struggle that Dalits and other oppressed castes have to wage to even receive simple compensation or resettlement, let alone justice. The reality of the Dalit and oppressed castes in our society is one of invisibility and systemic oppression. With the normalization of everyday caste violence, what also goes unnoticed are facts such as the lakhs who are forced to carry on the duty of manual scavenging in our country come only from the dalit communities. The oppression, exploitation and subjugation of the oppressed castes by the so called upper castes that Ambedkar fought against in his lifetime, both during the colonial period as well as after the transfer of power, remains a glaring reality even now. In a prophetic assertion, Ambedkar had rightly pointed out that ‘freedom’ was going to be a phony one if the Indian ruling classes and political elites fell anywhere short of annihilating caste.

Recently on his 122nd birth anniversary Ambedkar was paid homage by all parliamentary political parties – from the fascist BJP and Congress, to the parliamentary pseudo-left CPM/Liberation as well as other parties that claim to represent the dalits and other oppressed people within the foray of the parliament. But all of them, some by being direct perpetrators and others through their silences and opportunism, have been complicit in the atrocities on dalits. Be it Khairlanji, the firing at the dalits in Ramabai Colony in Mumbai, massacres of dalits in Jehanabad, Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Baithe in Bihar, Paramakudi, Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu or Bolangir in Orrisa all parliamentary parties have carried out massacres of dalits or have patronized and protected the killers. Committed to an inherently Brahmanical and feudal social order, many of them have nurtured and supported dominant caste militias like the Ranveer Sena. The other social base of these political parties, the comprador industrialists have also been all too candid in their support of caste institutions such as the khap panchayats. On the other hand, certain parliamentary parties claiming the mantle of the fight against caste within the parliamentary framework have also shown the worst kind of opportunism. Not only have they remained silent on many atrocities on dalits and other oppressed people, but have even supported the Indian state’s war and the witch-hunt of dalits and adivasis. In the rat-race of electoral politics, they have not even even shied away from aligning with right-wing BJP or Congress. They convienently gloss over the fact that these are the same forces that thwarted almost every progressive initiative of Ambedakar, and are today perpetuating the worst forms of reactionary caste violence in various parts of the country.

The history of the parliamentary left is not any different. While paying lip-service to Ambedkar’s legacy of fighting caste and Barhminism, the pseudo-left in each instance has stood with the ruling classes and strengthened the semi-feudal structure of the country. As Anand Teltumbde reminds us, in Nandigram in West Bengal, it was not just farmers who were killed by the social-fascist CPM. Rather, it was precisely landless peasantry from oppressed castes who were killed in the hands of harmad vahini and police in a feudal violence, which can also be termed as caste atrocities. And CPM has nurtured its own vigilante gang – the Harmad Vahini, much like the Ranveer Sena. The much touted land reforms in West Bengal have only benefitted the middle and landed peasantry from the dominant castes while the dalits and other oppressed castes continue to live at subsistence level. When CPM sees no problem in allying with the reactionary casteist AIADMK as per its electoral calculations, it merely reveals its hollow claims of fighting against caste. Some others, even those claiming for themselves the appellation of Marxism-Leninism and the legacy of Naxalbari have also not been left too far behind. From allying with CPM to Nitish Kumar, to going into peace deals with Ranveer Sena, CPI(ML) Liberation has also revealed itself as a completely opportunist force committed to blunting the anger of the people against this Brahmanical and feudal system. Liberation’s peace deals with the Ranveer Sena and leaving the dalit masses unarmed to face the wrath of the Ranveer Sena when it was carrying out massacres of hundreds of dalits in Bihar perfectly exemplifies how it has betrayed the fight against caste oppression and feudalism. That on-ground and militant struggle to annihilate caste and smash feudalism after all does not fit into its electoral scheme of things.

Despite the best of attempts of all parliamentary parties of rendering him into a harmless icon, to be merely remembered and garlanded every 14th April, Ambedkar’s legacy continues to threaten this state, as it did Hindu Brahminical order and Gandhis and Nehrus in his days. In many parts of the country, the mere possession of Ambedkar’s works have come to constitute sedition and war against the state! We may all recall the arrests of Dalit activists in Maharashtra like Sudir Dawale for possessing books of Ambedkar or more recently the witch hunting of the members of Kabir Kala Manch. Why is it that the Indian fears the words of Ambedkar – someone who in fact wrote the constitution? This witch-hunt is only explained by the fact that Ambedkar’s uncompromising commitment to the annihilation of caste will always remain a threat to the ruling classes of this country, as it inspires many a struggle which cannot always be neatly co-opted into the quagmire of parliamentary politics. Ambedkar’s insistence on seeing the material reality of caste, as he pointed out in his famous statement that caste is not merely a division of labourers but also a division of labourers, as well as the ideological aspect of it as he pointed out how that the level of consciousness remains largely a caste consciousness in India reflects an extremely nuanced understanding of the caste question, something that the pseudo left fails to see even today. A fight against the prevailing exploitative social relationship therefore cannot be delinked with the struggle to smash caste as principle of social relations as well as caste as consciousness and Brahmanical ideology. So while he relentlessly tried organizing workers, participated in labour movements, drew up alternative plans of progressive land distribution, he equally laid stress on channelizing such struggle against the caste system and untouchability. The pseudo-left of his time betrayed him unabashedly to become a hunting-dog for Nehrus and Gandhis. One may recall historic strike of mill workers in Bombay, when Ambedkar proposal of passing a resolution against untouchability and caste division was rejected by the CPI on the pretext that it would divide the workers. They failed to see that in the social reality of India, the oppressed masses are already divided and a true solidarity can only be built on the basis of all forms of equality, be it class or caste.

The anti-caste and anti-untouchability movements have seen various phases of vibrancy since the transfer of power, despite the parliamentary left’s betrayal. Unfortunately, the Dalit movement has also fallen prey to the Indian state’s various strategies to divert the attention of the Dalit masses away from questioning the very roots of caste oppression. While on the one hand, the Indian state has co-opted a section of dalit leadership, on the other parliamentary left’s betrayal of the fight against caste has also led to suspicion of Marxism amongst dalit groups. However, it is important to re-iterate that the two cannot and should not be seen as exclusive of each other. To annihilate caste we must struck at the root of semi-feudal relations that prevails in the society. The revolutionary experience in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, and now in Maharasthra and many other parts of the country shows that this fight can only be fought by allying with all other oppressed groups against the dominant caste/feudal landed sections, as well as the forces of imperialist capital that is strengthening and fortifying feudalism and caste oppression, along with simultaneously fighting against the Brahmanical ideology, which leases caste an autonomous existence. And all these struggles are enriched and strengthened by the vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar. DSU firmly believes that only true homage to Ambedkar on his birth anniversary is to acknowledge the political goal of annihilating caste as the only way to democratize this feudal caste society and infuse new life in anti-caste movement linking it with all other progressive, democratic and revolutionary movements going on in the Indian sub-continent.

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