With Dalits resisting gau rakshaks, India isn’t far from annihilation of caste

A significant feature of the current anti-caste struggle has been the near absence of demands for concessions.

It was VI Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, who famously said that the indication of a revolutionary situation is when the exploited and oppressed masses refuse to live in the old way and when the exploiters are unable to carry on and rule in the old way.

Anti-caste revolution in the making

A reminder of this came with the scenes of Dalit protests in Gujarat over the last few days against the public stripping and thrashing by gau rakshaks of seven Dalits, who were skinning a dead cow near the town of Una.

Thousands of Dalit protesters took to the streets throughout Gujarat to declare their refusal to silently continue the traditional caste tasks of handling and disposal of dead animals.

Also read: Why Dalits used carcasses of cows in Gujarat to protest

In a vividly inventive agitational move they brought truckloads of dead cattle and dumped them in the grounds and offices at the district headquarters and tehsil centres in various parts of the state. No other action could perhaps be a better assertion of their unwillingness to live and suffer in the old way that the caste laws had laid down.


As hundreds of carcasses lay rotting before government offices, houses of political leaders, on roads and other public places, upper caste organisations and the state machinery were left running helter-skelter in search of a solution.

As the Dalits demanded that those who considered the “gau” (cow) as their “mata” (mother) should undertake the task of performing the dead cows’ last rites, it became amply clear that there were no takers for this task.

Also read: Dalits are seething in Modi’s Gujarat and it will hurt BJP during polls

None of the gau rakshaks or any other of the activists of the Sangh Parivar were seen coming forward to perform this task. As putrefying cow carcasses were left to be torn apart by stray dogs while the upper castes watched helplessly, it seemed as if the oppressors had no means by which they could continue to enforce the law of Manu in the old way.

The events in Gujarat are not the first indicators of such an anti-caste revolution in the making.

Also read: Why caste will never be annihilated in India

The past several months have seen frequent instances of small and large-scale Dalit resistance to upper caste discrimination and oppression taking place in various parts of the country.

A large number of the confrontations have been around incidents of caste atrocities perpetrated by the dominant castes. But, as it has been argued, this rise in conflict is evidently as much about a greater Dalit readiness to resist as it is about an escalation in upper caste violence.


The Rohith Vemula incident

A nodal point seems to have been reached with a pan-India mobilisation around the suicide of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar of Hyderabad Central University (HCU). Vemula’s death, widely seen as a sacrifice, while proving a catalyst for the coming together of students across a very wide spectrum, also provided the rallying point for the numerous forces which have felt the need to stand up against the repressiveness of the current casteist and communal order.

While students were seen at the forefront, there have been a host of organisations belonging to the Dalit and other communities which have been galvanised into action.

BR Ambedkar’s revolutionary call for the annihilation of caste, long forgotten by the established Ambedkarite parties, has become the battle cry of this rebellion.

Joint action committees of students in various cities, formed initially for the purpose of justice for Rohith, soon transformed into joint action committees (of a variety of mass organisations) for social justice, with a definite caste annihilation agenda.

Even states where such committees did not emerge could not remain untouched by this anti-caste wave.

Its effects were wide enough to reactivate long dormant organisations formed during earlier periods of struggle. One such organisation was the Dalit Panthers of Gujarat, which gave a call for Gujarat bandh on July 20, 2016 to protest the Una atrocity.


Resistance with a difference

Some features stand out prominently in the present round of anti-caste struggles.

Very significant has been the near absence of demands for concessions. The subject of reservations, for example, which figured prominently in many earlier struggles has been near absent this time around.

Rather, a key anti-reservation campaigner – Prakash Ambedkar – has been seen at the helm of quite a few of the post- Rohith Vemula battles.

In fact, the agitations erupting independently in various corners of the country have had a distinct focus on issues related to an end to caste discrimination and oppression.

Another key point of departure from previous campaigns is the considerable mobilisation from non-Dalit sections in the present anti-caste struggles.

While Dalit contingents continue to constitute the vanguard, the present movement has seen a wide mobilisation from other castes, which have normally stood on the other side of the caste divide.

The other notable difference has been the conspicuous lack of dependence on assistance from the State apparatus.

Earlier movements have often devoted considerable energies to lobbying with ministers and other ruling class eminences to achieve their demands through administrative or judicial action.

But repeated blatant collusion by a casteist police and a near-zero conviction rate under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 have drastically downsized expectations. The present movement seems to be concentrating on mass mobilisation on the streets to achieve its goals.


But the most important feature perhaps is a near absence of established political parties and their mass organisations in the initiation and leadership of the resistance.

Disillusionment with a discredited political leadership – particularly Dalit party leaders – is widespread.

While many have later on tried to jump on to the bandwagon, some like Ramdas Athawale have even had to suffer the ignominy of being turned away by agitators. Students and youth and lower level activists have often been the ones to launch and lead the struggles. This has given this movement a level of spontaneity not seen before.

It is this spontaneity that is its strength, as well as its weakness. It is indicative of the wellspring of discontent that is feeding and will continue for some more time to feed this anti-caste upsurge.

It shows how wide the feeling among younger sections is that the time has come to topple the centuries-old edifice of discrimination and oppression.

A movement, however, needs to grow a leadership and organisation to take it ahead. Thus far the signs of this emerging are few and far between.

It will require to develop through a more conscious and consolidated process, if the present movement is to prove a great leap forward on the revolutionary road towards the demolition of the caste system.



by Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Damming Dalit dissent

Maharashtra police are once again playing the Naxal card to contain protests against upper-caste atrocities.

The growing number and increasing brutality of caste atrocities by upper castes on Dalits and tribals in Maharashtra in recent months has led to considerable disquiet in the affected communities throughout the state.  Discontent, particularly among Dalit youth, has been brewing, with social media like Facebook and WhatsApp generated platforms like “Facebook Ambedkarite Movement (A Non-Political Organisation)” and “Jatiya Atyachar Virodhi Kruti Samiti” being used to vent concern and coordinate action. With political bigwigs of the community busy in pre and post-election manoeuvrings, the movement has seen leadership emerging organically from youth involved in numerous online and offline actions and interactions.

Anger peaked at the particularly butcherous slaughter of three members of a Dalit family at Jawkheda in Ahmednagar district on the night of October 20 2014. The fact-finding report of the Dalit Atyachar Virodhi Kruti Samiti pointed out how the bodies were hacked into such tiny bits and dumped around that the police took all of two days to just locate the entire bodies. As protest meetings and demonstrations spread throughout the state, the politicos and most of the media took a stance of ignoring the issue. Even when almost 500 demonstrators were picked up on October 31 from Wankhede Stadium, the site of the swearing-in of the new CM Devendra Phadnavis, there was a near-total media blackout of the protest. It seemed as if the strategy of the powers that be was to wish away public anger by closing their eyes to it, hoping to wear out or win over those in the lead. Till date not one of the murderers has been arrested. But the police were only too eager to detain the protestors.


Deliberate Ploys

But as the protests spread and intensified, the state agencies promptly shifted to Plan B of raising a spectre of Naxalism. Ravindra Kadam, Special IG, Anti-Naxal Operations (ANO), told the press that the agitations were part of a conspiracy by Naxalites to create caste tensions and instigate riots in the state. Though Kadam had no substance in his allegations, some sections of the Marathi and English media unquestioningly publicised it, and the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, even chose to comment editorially on it.

The ploy of using the Naxal bogey to deal with movements against Dalit atrocities is not new. It was first used by Pankaj Gupta, the then incumbent of the post now held by Ravindra Kadam, during the agitations following the Khairlanji massacre. It was also voiced by RR Patil, the then Home Minister and his comments during Khairlanji found mention and an echo in the present Saamna editorial. It seems the police and politicos follow a pattern.

This ploy however serves many a purpose. Firstly it serves to belittle and discredit the protestors by making them seem to be the pawns of some “external” forces. It questions their sincerity and forces them to go on the defensive to prove their constitutional credentials. The police and government, who are under attack from the Dalit community for their inaction and even support to the upper caste forces perpetrating these atrocities, are thus able to not only deflect attention from their own neglect of their constitutional responsibilities, but are also able to make it seem that the other side is not genuine.


Implicit Threats

The other underlying rationale for branding the protestors as Naxalites is in the threat it implicitly holds of indiscriminately bringing down repression on them. Despite constitutional provisions guaranteeing free thought and expression, and the government has introduced laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act that criminalise thought and ban ideas, ideologies and the organisations professing them, by declaring them as “unlawful”. Though the Supreme Court has, in several judgments, held that action can only be taken on those who are involved in violence, the police often harass and arrest anyone they claim to have “links”. By linking the banned Maoists to the agitating Dalit organisations, the state agencies are in effect sending out a thinly veiled warning that all activists, if not all participants, in the protests may face the strong arm of the law. They are thus criminalising the ongoing democratic movement and, should it continue to strengthen and spread, they are preparing the grounds for crushing it.

This manoeuvre is however not peculiar to Maharashtra. It has in fact been seen time and again where legitimate struggles have remained resolute and not compromised. The Maruti workers struggle in Haryana was similarly branded as having a Maoist hand and 147 workers have been kept in jail for almost 16 months; the Kudankulam anti-nuclear plant struggle of Tamil Nadu was branded as being inspired by a foreign hand and over a thousand protesters had sedition charges clamped on them; many agitators in West Bengal including the struggling students of Jadavpur University have been accused by Mamata Banerjee of being Maoists and extremists.


The most convenient part of any such accusations and conspiracy theories is that there is no need and no intention to prove such accusations. Willing accomplices in the media repeat the conspiracy theories a hundred times over without any verification until they are believed to be true. The ANO knows that it will never be called upon to prove a Naxal conspiracy to fan caste tensions and cause riots. The same department had, at the time of my (Arun Ferreira’s) arrest in 2007, told the media that I was plotting to incite caste riots by bombing the Diksha Bhoomi memorial complex in Nagpur. There was however no mention whatsoever of such a plan in either the FIR, the charge-sheet or at any time during the trial. The false propaganda through the media had anyway served its purpose of discrediting me and my co-accused in the eyes of the common man.

This time too, the propaganda of the IG seems to be bringing him some results. Considerable energy of the activists has been diverted to countering the conspiracy theorists, to demonstrate at the newspaper office which propagated the bogus news and in taking the fight against them to court. The distractions and confusions could result in the democratic protests against caste atrocities losing some steam. Such an outcome would however be tragic and against the interests of democracy. A strong movement against caste atrocities is necessity if such incidents are to stop. The present movement has shown great promise and is one of many such movements that are a must along the long journey to achieving that most basic of our democratic tasks – the annihilation of caste. Its right to protest should be protected and upheld by all who dream of a more just and casteless society.

by Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves