“The restiveness of Dalit communities across the country only reflects the failure of successive governments and the political mainstream in translating the vision in the statute books into everyday experience.” Critically examine the statement tracing the evolution of dalit movement and its limitations of being only a mass political mobilsation. (15 Marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/statue-vs-statute-5125393/
  • With the recent Supreme Court’s order on the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, and the ensuing Dalit protests, it becomes important to delve deep into the history of Dalit movements and contrast it with the nature of Dalit movement as it is currently. The current Dalit protests should be prepared from a GS 1 perspective.
  • The key focus of the question is on examining the opinion expressed in the statement that Dalit movements have merely remained tools of mass mobilization and manifestation of vote bank politics. This view is to examined by contrasting it with Dalit movements of the past.
  • The focus should be on providing arguments for and against the hypothesis that Dalit movements today are merely political mobilization tools. We can argue that the movement today is in sync with the objectives of the Dalit movements as envisaged by Ambedkar and as had happened in the 70s. On the contrary, the Dalit movement today can be seen as mass appeal of the social empowerment ideals and the efforts of the marginalized section to seize power in the game of political one-man upmanship.
  • In the introduction, write on the Dalit movements in India and the nature of the Dalit movement currently.
  • In the main body, first, give arguments for your thesis (whatever your view on the statement is). Thereafter, briefly give arguments on your antithesis.
  • In your conclusion give a balanced opinion on the status of Dalit movement in India currently.

Answer:

Dalits are one of the most oppressed communities in India who by and large have for thousands of years remained neglected and ignored in the social milieu. The Dalits have suffered cumulative domination, protested several sources of deprivation, political powerlessness, exploitation and poverty.

Dalit movement could be taken as the articulation phase of the numerous faceless struggles against the iniquitous socio-economic formation ordained by the caste system that has occupied vast spaces of Indian history. Ambedkar played a significant role in making people aware of the Dalit identity which was sustained by many organisations, for instance, Dalit panther in Maharashtra

Dalit movements are mostly about political mobilisation:

  • Dalit movement, like identity movements across the world, has really narrowed its focus to forms of oppression.
  • Most visible Dalit movements have been around issues like reservations and discrimination in colleges, and these are issues that affect only a small proportion of the Dalit population.
  • Also, the Dalit movement forsook mass struggles and adopted the electoral path to secure political power. This process, instead of strengthening Dalits, has in many cases emasculated them politically and caused the creation of a separate class of beneficiaries from amongst them, which if at all, had a very tenuous linkage with the Dalit masses. This class has completely distorted the ideology of Dalit liberation.
  • Worrisome feature in recourse to ‘alliance politics’ that overtly represents the myopic vision of the Dalit leadership which is strategizing mainly to remain visible in the political  
  • Consecutive governments have used Dalit leadership to gain the support of Dalits for gaining power but have not given a serious thought to their sufferings.
  • The dynamics in rural Dalit politics seems to have moved from challenging the upper castes to finding acceptance and becoming a part of the majoritarian polity that is under construction. 

Dalits are fighting beyond just political mobilisation:

  • What began as isolated struggle of the Dalits in obscure villages for land reclamation, dramatically gained a regional and national dimension
  • Champions of the Dalit cause, therefore, do not fail to indicate the right to equality both nationally and internationally
  • Dalit movement is the assertion of rights. That is exactly what Ambedkar and 1970’s Dalit movements asked for.
  • The scale of social mobilisation of Dalits in Gujarat and Maharashtra, and to some extent in other parts of the country, has not been seen in recent times. There is palpable anger in the community because of the sense of impunity with which they are being subjected to violence in certain parts of the country. 
  • Social hierarchy is challenged through everyday acts as due to reservation many Dalits have attained upward mobility.
  • Political power has helped, but younger Dalits are clear this is one part of a much wider movement.

Dalit movements should have a broader focus:-

  • The mobilisation of Dalit students and the increasing awareness of caste oppression were some positive outcomes amid the troubling instances of attack on dissent and democratic rights in India. Movements of the oppressed can be sustained and strengthened only if they take up issues of economic justice.
  • Any Dalit movement to address the needs of Dalits as a group has to see itself as part of a class-wide movement. The reason for that is the overwhelming majority of Dalits are wage labourers either in the rural areas or in the informal sector in the urban settings.
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