From INDIA THIS WEEK of April 6,2018


Anadi Naik

Members of the Dalit community of India in ten different states have chosen a path of uprising to claim what they think is their right. Their frustration comes from the fact that in the current government in New Delhi led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi they do not have much say. The ruling Party is dominated by the people from the land-owning upper castes and business owners. Most of the power in Government and businesses rests in their hands. During the British period the people of the upper caste got the lions' share of privileges through education, jobs and proximity to power. By exercising all of that they were able to push those of the lowest in the caste hierarchy further down. Since Independence some changes have taken place through laws and regulations. But this has not gone well with privileged groups of the past. In Independent India, under pressure, they were going along grudgingly. Now, under the BJP government they see an opening. They demand as citizens to get the same level of assistance that the government hands out to the Dalit community.

The BJP wants to bring back the old glories of India. To its followers the country exuded power and strength when it was a Hindu country ruled by the likes of Vikramaditya, Chandra Gupta and the Ranas. Vikramaditya and Chandra Gupta ruled India 2500 years ago. And the Ranas ruled 500 years years ago. In the intervening years a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Rabindranath's famous song "Bharata Tirtha " - in which he says India stands at the shore of an ocean of humanity that consists of the likes of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Huns.Mughal and British - says it all. In free India, the glory can only return when all of the components of the republic work together. The government at various levels, citizenry and institutions are each a part. In order for the glory to return an atmosphere must be created.

The problem is that in Indian society too many people, for too long have been pushed down. At some point they have to rise up. Now, they have. Governments at different states have to deal with this issue with prudence and a sense of fairness. Sadly, there have been lives lost. In a civilized democracy like India there is no place for firing on civilian demonstrators. The Parliamentary election is around the corner. Political Parties are getting ready for it. Some politicians may be using the Dalit-demands for their own benefits. In India's modern history this is nothing new.

Aggrieved groups - be they students, labor union members, mining workers, school teachers or transgender citizens- have come out to protest against unfair treatment. Demands made by Dalits at different states last week should be seen in that light. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. The BJP agenda is to transform India into a Hindu state. Toward that goal it wants to change laws, make new regulations and control the judiciary to interpret the law to its liking.

Naturally, the government's action faces push back. The problem is that the government wants Dalits to be peaceful and orderly. However, expectation of a victim to maintain good manners so that peace would not be disturbed is too much to expect. Dalits are the victims in the present circumstance and blaming them for breaking the peace is counterproductive. Recently, revolting against the atrocities of the higher castes, a Dalit community in the Kendrapara district of Odisha converted to Christianity. Since proselytization is not allowed, the authorities were notified. An enquiry took place. It was found that the oppressed Dalits wanted to change religion because they wanted to get respite from oppression, social and economic. No Missionary was involved.

With back handed support from the current government some religious groups are converting tribal folks and others into Hinduism. But what kind of Hindu would they be? Lower caste or upper caste? Both the citizens and the government have a lot to do about it. Rules and regulations already in the book are being subverted on a regular basis. Many still carry a ruling class mentality. While dispensing public goods and services to the public many bureaucrats still think that they are doing a favor. All of this incongruity has to stop. Government, whatever may be its color, must help the poor and dispossessed.

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