Indra Meghwal, a nine-year-old school student of Surana village in Jalore district of Rajasthan, belongs to so called ‘low caste’ or dalit. Being thirsty, he drank water from the pitcher reserved for upper caste students and teachers to drink from. His upper caste teacher got angry and beat him mercilessly for the ‘‘offence’’. Critically injured, Indra was taken from one hospital to another by his family. But he was not treated anywhere. Finally, when he was admitted to the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, he succumbed to his injury on 14 August, just before the 75th anniversary of Independence Day. Just two days after that, on 16 August, thirteen-year-old Brijesh Kumar, a third-grade school student of Pandit Brahmapootra Higher Secondary School in Uttar Pradesh, lost his life after being beaten up by an upper-caste teacher because he could not pay the monthly fee of Rs. 250. Two tribals, Sampatlal Vatti and Dhansai Vatti, were allegedly lynched to death by Bajrang Dal ruffians in Madhya Pradesh in May last on suspicion that they were storing cow meat. Not only Indra or Brijesh or Samatlal or Dhansai, when we open the pages of daily newspaper, we more often than not find incidents of persecution, murder and gang rapes of the so called dalits or tribals, two extremely backward and abjectly poverty-stricken communities who continue to languish in a virtually sub-human life condition. Violence against the dalits and tribals and their exclusion on social and economic lines have been continuing in a harsh and pitiless manner. No amount of sophistry by the BJP-government can sideline the brutality of caste discrimination and violence against the dalits or the tribals.
Who are called dalits and tribals
When people hear the phrase ‘‘caste system’’ in India, they often think of what they believe to be now defunct practices of economic, social, ethnic, and religious hierarchy or discrimination among extinct civilizations. What most do not realize is that there are still millions who continue to suffer under the caste system even today. It was not long ago that the dalits used to be labelled as the ‘‘lowest caste’’ in India. Worse is that they still are stigmatized as ‘‘untouchables’’. The word dalit means ‘‘oppressed’’ or ‘‘those who have been broken’’. These individuals are not only excluded but also placed at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy and are viewed by some as tainted. While dalits form an inextricable element of Indian society, the tribals live on the margins of civilization. The two groups probably share a common origin, and both are branded by their low status relative to the dominant Hindu society and hence are equally oppressed and maltreated.
Dalits and Tribals are subjected to inhuman treatment
The ghastly crimes against the dalits and tribals who are somehow eking out a living, range from brutal murders, burning alive, loot and arson, rape and gang rape of the girls and hacking to death on flimsy pretext by the goons basking under the shelter of social-high ups connected with the ruling dispensation. Some dalits have been killed for the ‘crime’ of riding a horse, some for having a moustache, some for sitting on their feet. The dalit women cannot dip their vessels in the wells earmarked for so called upper castes and elites to draw water. If any of them touches some other woman belonging to non-dalit community by mistake, she faces harsh comments and is even manhandled. Dalit women have to take their own glasses for tea as no tea stall or roadside eateries will offer them theirs. If any dalit family refuses to skin dead animals, they face the wrath of the local elites and village heads. Yet, if they perform the skinning, they face the brutality of the cow vigilantes. Of late, the law of the country is being revised to allow monopolist tycoons take over the jungle lands where the tribal people have been residing. Instances of eviction of theirs are galore. In 2020 alone, more than 50,000 complaints of violence against the dalits were filed by the henchmen of the quarters of vested interest but the perpetrators of heinous crime against the dalits are generally spared of any conviction whatsoever. In fact, because of their haplessness and virtual alienation from the mainstream of the society, they are soft targets of being subjected to all sorts of maltreatment, humiliation and physical assault. The stealthy humiliation they face every day forces the dalits to live constantly in an atmosphere of fear.
Likewise, notwithstanding the legal recognition of the tribals or Adivasis as Scheduled Tribes (STs), the tribal community still suffers from enormous violence, deprivation and discrimination across India. Since the tribals or Adivasis are situated at the margins of society; any kind of systemic violence they face arises from the everyday socio-economic processes of Indian society. The National Crime Records Bureau [NCRB] reports show that in the past ten years (2011-20), 76,899 crimes have been reported to have been committed against the STs. In Madhya Pradesh, the prostitution rings exploit the tribals while in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, counter-insurgency operations against so called Maoists regularly victimize the tribals living there. In May 2019, women belonging to de-notified tribes testified that they were tortured and raped almost every day. De-notified tribes are not scheduled, so they lack legislative protection, making them even more vulnerable. The dalits in India have been segregated socially and ritually and from upper caste groups, whereas the tribals have mostly remained in distant proximity from the mainlanders that makes them prone to physical and social exclusion. But both are equally marginal, prone to all kinds of assaults and subjected to inhuman treatment.
In BJP rule, crime against dalits and tribals have increased significantly
A sudden spurt in atrocities against the dalit community is evident in a period when the arch Hindu communal BJP who openly flaunts its support to ‘Brahminism’ (i.e., supremacy of the Brahmins who rank at the top of social stratification) has assumed power. So, when the frenzied assailants target a particular kind of victims, the trigger often is, alongside plain and simple communal hatred against the religious minorities, highhanded casteist attitude of the powerful among the higher castes towards the dalits or tribals. Retired General VK Singh, the country’s former BJP Defence Minister, while commenting on the uproar over the burning of two dalit children in Haryana a few years back, said: ‘‘What is there to shout about two puppies dying!’’ Being denied justice at every step, hapless dalits or tribals tend to ask the society and even themselves: ‘Are we not human beings like everyone else and do we not have the same human blood flowing in our veins? Are we born to be tortured, highly discriminated against, relentlessly persecuted and even socially ostracized at places by the quarters of power and vested interest?’
Anti-tribal crimes are no less in number compared to atrocities against the dalits. Tribal women are much more prone to sexual violence as they are considered ‘less than human’ by the majority of Indians. In June last year, a teenage tribal girl in Chhattisgarh was allegedly raped and killed in a staged encounter by the members of security forces. As per media report, a large chunk of the rising crimes against the tribals has happened during the BJP rule.
Why these tortures on and humiliation of the dalits and tribals
Obvious question is why these growing atrocities and crimes against the dalits and tribals virtually the poorest, yet inalienable part of downtrodden people? When the 75th year of independence is being celebrated with pomp and grandeur by the ruling party and its government to flaunt their ‘nationalism and patriotism’, the country is not only witness to these ugly deprivation, discrimination and oppression of the dalits, tribals and other sections of toiling masses, but is fast sliding down to lower and lower depths. A deeper probe into the cause of such inhumanity would reveal that the root of all these evils, vices, maladies and aberrations is the prevailing worn-out, utterly corrupt and crisis-ridden capitalist system. More the market crisis of the ruling capitalism aggravates, more pronounced and accentuated is the attack on the oppressed masses in all spheres. The untold misery and penury of the dalits and tribals is also a part of that.
BJP leaders weaving ploys to deceive the persecuted dalits and tribals
As faithful servant of ruling monopolists of the country, the BJP leadership is well aware of this stark reality. It is also well conversant with the fact that lest this truth stated above should unfold before the dalits and tribals as well as other under-privileged sections, the ruling class cunningly tries to woo a tiny aspirant group within them with undue privileges, lure of lucre and power. Thus, a small fraction, hardly 3%, of the dalits and tribals, usurping all opportunities and benefits offered to them by the ruling class and its political managers, has emerged as a ‘creamy layer’, a diminutive group of affluent ‘elites’ enjoying all privileges and clout as part of the handful of dominating super-rich in the society and the reactionary ruling quarters, being totally callous and indifferent to the rapid degeneration of the livelihood of the backward caste and community populace. Thus, this privileged group has practically become an appendage to the ruling bourgeoisie and is found to indulge in all kinds of unlawful and corrupt activities as is common with any other bootlicker of oppressive capitalism. In a crafty move, the ruling class has carved out this privileged group from the most oppressed section of the masses to be pliable to its class interest and projected as proof of prosperity (!) of the dalit and tribal populace. Emergence of this privileged section within the dalits and tribals clearly attests to the fact that in dying capitalism, class division is becoming sharper every moment; the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots is making social stratification more pronounced and vivid.
It is in this backdrop that in order to befool the people, the BJP is playing various tricks of which one is to choose a candidate from among the dalit or tribal community, for some key positions including that of the country’s President. By doing this, they want to showcase how the dalits and tribals are progressing and featuring in the mainstream of the society. In keeping with that motive, Ram Nath Kovind, who was born in a dalit family, was chosen as the President in 2017. This time, Draupadi Murmu, a tribal by birth, has been sworn in as the 14th President of India. As usual, the bourgeois media is abuzz with the promotion of a tribal woman occupying the highest office in a country of 1.4 billion people. Even social media is filled with line after line of vivid accounts of how she was neglected during her education and other fields of activities. It is no wonder that the monopoly-controlled media would embellish such deceptive moves of the ruling party as signature of dalit or tribal empowerment. So, while singing the glory of the ‘great’ democracy of this ‘great’ country, it is stated that ‘when Draupadi Murmu has become the President, the tribals and dalits would live with honour. Their heyday has come!’ What can be more deceptive than this?
Neither Kovind nor Murmu protested growing crimes against dalits or tribals
Pertinent to mention here is that former President Ram Nath Kovind was the president of the BJP Dalit Morcha between 1998 and 2002 and served as the national spokesperson of the party. He donated his ancestral home in Paraunkh to the RSS. He was twice elected to the Rajya Sabha on BJP ticket and served as governor of Bihar as well. But he did never utter a single word in condemnation of the shocking incidents like diabolic rape and murder of dalit girls which took place in Unnao, Hathras, Chitrakut in UP and Delhi or when a dalit man and two of his cousins were severely injured by 17 men in Mirkan village of Hisar district in Haryana by upper caste criminals or a 30-year-old dalit youth, lone earner of his family of eight, was lynched by 11 people who suspected him of theft. Where then was his dalit conscience? Draupadi Murmu, too, was a member of the BJP cabinet in Jharkhand. When she was a minister, a law was passed in the Jharkhand Assembly to evict the tribals from the forest areas inextricably linked to them. But Draupadi Murmu did not protest. When four dalit youths were brutally assaulted by a bunch of self-proclaimed cow-vigilantes in Una town of Gir Somnath district in Gujarat, neither Ram Nath Kovind nor Draupadi Murmu even condemned the incident. When five dalits were attacked by armed Bajrang Dal members at Shantipura village in Karnataka for allegedly stealing a cow and slaughtering it, Draupadi Murmu was mum. When Rohit Vemulaa brilliant dalit PhD student of Hyderabad University had been suspended in an unjust manner after a complaint by the local unit of the ABVP, the student wing of the BJP, and later committed suicide, no one heard either Draupadi Murmu or Ram Nath Kovind to protest. They did not utter a single word when Rohith Vemula’s searing letter, which is in the public domain, as an indictment of social prejudices. A week back, another minor dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped and set on fire by two men in Pilibhit, UP, and is now in a ‘‘serious condition’’. No reaction from either Ram Nath Kovind or President Draupadi Murmu had been received. 3 hours after Draupadi Murmu took oath as the first tribal President of India, acute distress drove hundreds of women, mostly by women of tribal communities and other Backward Classes in Purulia District of West Bengal to come out in open protest for non-payment of wages for work done under MNREGA since 21 December last. In March 2022, three men were arrested on the charge of sexually harassing a tribal woman in Alirajpur district, in the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh (MP). The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989 is considered one of the most prominent laws to prevent offences against people of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In spite of the many deterrent provisions of the act, offences and atrocities against the community have been on the rise with higher acquittal rates and lower conviction rates. With rise in such crimes, the tribals secluse themselves more and more from the rest of the civilized society.
So, in which way does their placement on this high pedestal serve the interest of downtrodden dalits or tribals? Clearly bourgeois politicians subservient to the class interest of ruling capitalism are in truth merely making use of their dalit or tribal tag as a ploy to deceive the downtrodden dalit and tribal masses as well as other sections of the toiling people.
Not casteist feuds but accentuation of class struggle can serve dalit and tribal cause
In decadent moribund capitalist society of our country in which democratization has remained truncated due to definite socio-historic reasons, the outdated casteist system not only remained intact but being used by all parliamentary parties to strengthen their vote bank has become even more deeply entrenched. And with growing all round social-cultural degradation and criminalization of parliamentary politics, crime, violence, rape, gang-rape, discrimination, and injustice-such atrocities against and maltreatment of the dalits and tribals are on the rise too, perpetrated in most of the cases by the upper caste people who are controlling capitalist rural economy and by virtue of that are also calling the shots in socio-cultural affairs. So, the dream of a better life and some relief from the ongoing torture and discrimination would continue to elude dalit and tribal populace.
So, when the bourgeois politicians or pseudo-Marxists who are now fully anchored to bourgeois vote-politics talk of dalit and tribal interest or make show of dalit or tribal movements, their objective is to reap benefits in vote politics and hence keep such movements strictly confined within the bounds of bourgeois parliamentarism. The unfortunate part of the situation is that this sinister design is getting good dividend in absence of desired powerful united democratic movement which was and is needed by exploited people as the only way to pave the road for ultimate emancipation from capitalist exploitation. Since the desired democratic movements of oppressed people are either weak or absent, the ruling capitalist class with a sizeable section of rich privileged upper castes in its camp and fold, use this abhorrent caste-system and accompanying categorization of various sections of exploited people like the dalit or tribal categorization.
So, at many places and on many occasions, out-and-out bourgeois-petty-bourgeois parties have sprung up for the purpose of rising to power through vote playing upon dalit or tribal problems and exploiting the abject plight and penury of the dalit and tribal people. After riding to power, they, however, make a volte face and enthusiastically serve the rich, the capitalists and become cog and screw of the oppressive capitalist machine sparing none including dalits for whom they shed so much of crocodile tears. Let the oppressed dalit and tribal masses harbour no illusion about such self-styled pro-dalit pro-tribal outfits often propped up by ruling capitalism from behind to serve its vested class interest. Their experience would prove how these so called dalit outfits or casteist parties as well as the self-proclaimed tribal parties had more often than not betrayed their cause which is inseparably linked with the cause of all oppressed people. Have they not seen dalit or tribal leaders sharing power with declared upper caste parties and thereby make fortunes like any other bourgeois leaders? Have not some of the leaders of such self-proclaimed dalit or tribal outfits become MLAs, MPs, ministers and even chief minister in alliance with or being backed by mainstream bourgeois parties? Are not eyebrows raised when a band of politicians who customarily flaunt their dalit or tribal credential to endear themselves to the dalit or tribal electorates, are found sitting on heaps of wealth, indulging in all kinds of misdeeds for self-aggrandizement and adopting all foul means to ride to power? Has electing self-styled messiahs of dalits or tribals to legislature or nominating self-proclaimed dalit or tribal candidates to occupy the chair of the country’s President brought any succour to the immense suffering of dalit or tribal communities? Some dalits have also left the ambit of Hindu religious community and adopted neo-Buddhism as new religious identity. Has that alleviated their poverty or hardship? In the past also, many dalit people embraced Christianity or Islam (this was stated by Vivekananda himself) to save themselves from the oppression of the caste-based Hindu society. Has that mitigated their hardship?
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that serves as the BJP’s ideological fountainhead, has been engaged in the process of Hinduizing the tribals in central and north-eastern India. The smaller business communities are usually mobilized by the RSS under the umbrella term ‘Vananchal’, which then exploit the converted tribal groups to counter Christian adivasis. The BJP has reportedly benefitted from this precipitated division among the tribals as a large number of RSS-backed tribal welfare organizations helped the BJP consolidate its vote bank by communalizing issues. This trend has moved eastwards till Nagaland and Assam too. These are the questions oppressed dalit and tribal brethren and honest sympathizers to their cause should seriously think over.
Emancipation lies in overthrowing capitalism by revolution
It needs to be made clear to the oppressed masses that apparent upper caste exploitation is actually a manifestation of ruthless capitalist exploitation in the typicality of the Indian society and setting one caste against the other is only aimed at orchestrating fratricidal bloodbath and internecine conflicts which work in favour of sustaining this oppressive capitalist system and keep the inevitable anti-capitalist revolution at bay as long as possible. Division, it needs to be clearly understood, is between two classes-the exploiter and the exploited—and not along casteist, religious or ethnic lines. So, what is needed to be strengthened is class struggle of the oppressed millions rising above caste, creed, ethnicity, region or religion, against the ruling capitalist class based on correct revolutionary ideology, higher proletarian culture and ethics and under correct revolutionary leadership. Then and then only the road would be paved for desired emancipation of all oppressed masses including the dalits from the clutches of capitalist oppression.
Once this movement surges forth and picks up steam, under correct revolutionary leadership, necessary political consciousness would dawn upon the exploited masses including the dalits and the tribals who would then be able to understand the trickeries of the bourgeois rulers to mislead them. It would then be clear to them that those who with a dalit or tribal stamp are saddled in the key posts of governance are neither true representative of dalits or tribals nor able in the least to advance their cause, even if had a desire to do so. Hence, Ram Nath Kovind or Draupadi Murmu may be the President of the country, but it will not change the miseries of life of dalits, tribals and other so called lower caste people