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India: Hindutva Attack on Dalit Assertions

Thursday 11 February 2016, by siawi3

Source: New Socialist Initiative Feb 10, 2016

New socialist Initiative (NSI)

invites you to a public meeting on

Hindutva Assault on Dalit Assertions

Amrapali Basumatary (Kirori Mal College / NSI)

Prof. Vivek Kumar (JNU)
Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi (M.P, Patiala, Punjab)
Subhash Gatade (Activist & Author / NSI)
Nakul Sawhney (Activist & Filmmaker)

Gandhi Peace foundation, near ITO. 5 pm, 13th February

Background Note:

The important facts about the sequence of events leading to suicide by Rohith Vemula are well known. Ambedkar Students Association at Hyderabad Central University, of which Rohith was a leading member, organises a discussion against ban on a documentary critical of the role of Hindutva organisations in Muzaffarnagar riots. ABVP, the student wing of RSS, opposes the discussion. A confrontation takes place between ABVP and ASA, which is given the colour of physical assault in police complaint against ASA.

The first internal inquiry at HCU does not endorse the claim of physical assault, but by then the wheels of state power wielded by the BJP at center also start moving. The local MP, who is also a minister in central government, writes a letter to the HRD minister, accusing ASA of ’casteism, extremism and anti national activities’.
The HRD ministry unleashes a barrage of letters to the HCU administration. The pliant university administration does volteface, suspends active members of ASA from hostels, cafeteria and other places of social interaction.
Students start a protest staying in tents outside administrative building in biting Deccani cold. University administration adopts the classic stonewalling tactic against the protest; no consideration of students’ demands and hardships; a cold and calculated brutal in-difference typical of Indian bureaucracy.
Rohith commits suicide, leaving behind incisive question marks over not only the petty bureaucrats running the HCU, and arrogant and ill informed Hindutva zealots running the central government, but on the very foundations of caste based Hindu society, and its institutionalised manifestation in higher education.

Except the tragic and decisive step taken by Rohith, the sequence of events has an uncanny similarity to events at Madras IIT in April last year. There too a Dalit based organisation, Ambedakar Periyar Study Circle was derecognised by the administration after an anonymous letter to the central government, accusing APSC of anti-national activities on campus, had become the tool for hyper activism of the HRD ministry.

The use of state power by the BJP against Dalit student organisations is also underlined by the fact that even while a number of Dalit students in institutions of higher learning have committed suicide in the recent past, Rohith’s suicide is the first one in which Central government is directly involved.
And now, when protests against the HCU and the central Govt ministers are taking the form of a national movement, Hindutva leaders are going to town with claims that Rohith was actually not a Dalit, because his father belonged to a backward community. Why are Hindutva forces so scared of, and hence are attacking enlightened Dalit organisations with such vicious ferocity?

The electoral victory of Mr Narendra Modi has emboldened Hindutva groups, and all forms of aggression, from use of state agencies, naked street power to targeted violence have been used against RSS’s ideological and political adversaries. Minorities have been attacked through the politics of ghar vapisi and beef ban, false proceedings have been started against activists who have stood against Hindutva’s communal violence, anyone criticising the jingoism and violence of Hindutva functionaries is labeled anti-national. Hindutva organisations are on an all out attack against all communities, organisations and ideologies standing in their path to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. However, it is of utmost importance to recognise the specific bases of their attacks on enlightened Dalit groups, because nothing else exposes their moral bankruptcy, diabolical plans and their soft underbelly as clearly as these attacks.

In many ways the radical Dalit politics espoused by groups like the ASA is direct opposite of Hindutva. Nothing else punctures the pompous claims about Hindu civilisation, culture and rashtra, as effectively as the radical Dalit politics. Ever since Phule, the radical Dalit discourse has pointedly questioned the very existence of a Hindu society, culture and civilisation. Against tall claims of Brahminical spirituality this discourse has laid bare the inhumanity of Vedas and Smiritis in justifying and establishing the system of caste brutality. Against claims of a unified Hindu world existing through millennia, this discourse has highlighted continuing opposition to Brahmanism in Buddhism, Sramanic traditions and radical sections of the Bhakti movement. Unlike in the case of their liberal and left adversaries, Hindutva forces can not accuse radical Dalit politics of being a conspiracy of a Westernised elite, or de-classed intellectuals. It is organically Indian, and is a result of the real life experiences of one sixth of the most marginalised and poor Indians.

The radical Dalit discourse has also rejected patronising overtures of reformist caste Hindus, like Gandhi rechristening erstwhile untouchables as Harijans, or the more recent claim of Mr. Modi in a 2007 book Karmayogi that cleaning garbage is a spiritual experience for scavenger castes. Ambedkar’s announcement that ’it was his misfortune to be born a Hindu, but he will not die a Hindu’, encapsulates the relationship of radical Dalit consciousness to Hindu religion. The hegemony of upper caste Hindus over Indian society in modern times grew out of the failure of Ambedkarite radical separatism in the face of Gandhian blackmail that led to the 1932 Poona Pact. While there indeed is a generalised hostility towards everything Dalit among caste Hindus, the contradiction of radical Dalit consciousness is sharpest with Brahmanical Hindutva. The former in its Ambdekarite form stands for rational humanism and liberation of all irrespective of caste, gender and ethnicity, the latter’s motivating force is communal hatred, and its organising principle is religion based, patriarchal and violent nationalism.

It is clear that without fighting Hindutva ideologically and politically, the legacy of Rohith Vemula can not be carried forward. Ending discrimination against Dalits in institutions of higher learning is the immediate arena of struggle. Its larger challenge lies in envisioning and making a programme for a caste free society. It is essential to have a clear understanding of current predicaments like Rohith showed in his writings, including his suicide note. Indian constitution has tried internal reform of Hinduism, outlawing untouchability but not caste. Its half way measures have failed to stop caste brutality against Dalits; killers of Shankar Bigha, Batahni Tola and many other massacres have been let off by the criminal justice system of the country. In the meanwhile caste domination has acquired newer forms in the seemingly modern institutions of market, bureaucracy, schools and universities. The political successes of Hindutva are growing out of the castiesm, patriarchy, insecurities and superstitions of the generalised Hindu common sense. It is high time social forces fighting against Hindutva realise its casteist core, and understand the nature of its assault on radical Dalit politics. Also, the specific form of Dalit oppression in modern India needs to be confronted head on. For instance, why so many brilliant and sensitive young men like Rohith who undergo the acute experience of Dalit oppression and understand its reasons has committed suicide? It is not defeatism, frustration or only a matter of lack of choice. The final cause for their drastic step lies in the nature of injuries caste system inflicts on sensitive spirits. The big challenge for any liberatory movement is to shatter the vice like grip of caste on Indian society.