Caste And Democracy In India

Published on Countercurrents.org, by Vidya Bhushan Rawat, 13 June, 2009.

At the outset of my presentation, I would like to congratulate International Humanist and Ethical Union and fellow humanists for taking initiative to address the issue of untouchability from a non religious view point.

I always believed that the emancipation and liberation of humanity is not in the so-called liberation theologies but liberation of minds of human being. When we talk about India and see its diversity, we will find that most of the revolt movements in India spoke against the hegemony of a particular caste and the systematization of rituals and imposition of farcical values in the name of divinity.

India became a nation under the British regime. 400 years of Mughal rule and then British Raj, brought a lot of changes in India, whether administrative reforms or institutionalization of democratic process yet one thing that remained unchanged was the caste discrimination. Prior to British, the stream of Sufi saints rejected the brahmanical system and injustice meted to Dalits but their focus was more making people aware of themselves and tried to take shelter in a seemingly egalitarian religion by terming God does not discriminate, he is one and omnipresent and omnipotent …

… The continuous assertion and democratization process in India will continue. Every community which has been left in the race want political representation and can not be satisfied with our romantification of a broad Dalit-Bahujan concept to give a few elite to capture power in their name and become dictator and use state tools as a fancy for their personal wills. People will question leaders and thrash them if they fail to deliver. India’s transition to democracy is still in process and the Dalits and other marginalized communities its biggest asset. The democratization process will bring new leaders from the marginalized communities. One phase where the middleman masquerading politicians came to power structure in the name of identity but mere identity does not work. People want to development, people want their voices… and they are not ready that some one in the name of their identity, grab power structure and use it for his/her personal gains which was widely perceived. The political leaders will have to democratize themselves and address the basic issues the community. India has one of the best constitutions but it is rarely implemented fully. Dalit-Bahujan power polity need to first stick to its basic preambles and lead from the personal example. How can they ignore the rich legacy of Ambedkar-Phule and Periyar, each one of them person of high integrity and deeply committed to the cause of oppressed communities? It is time that this legacy is carried forward by the current leadership with basic principals by becoming modern, democratize yourself and with a humanist perspective. Dalit Bahujan politics can not be exclusive in nature but more broad, open minded and inclusive and should provide an idea which did not exist in the brahmanical mind set, the idea of freedom and humanism its basic tenants, as it lead those communities which were victim of the caste system in India. The Dalit movement can not be a movement of caste identities but beyond that providing alternative political theory in India. May be the beginning could be made with giving representation to different marginalized communities with in the power structure of the political parties that they care for the numerically lesser communities who do not matter much in terms of vote or who can not become vote bank. Our current parliamentary system does not do justice to these most marginalized communities and hence Dalit empowerment will only be of a particular individual with political heritage of the family. It results in hegemony of one family or individual by destructing the monopoly of others. Idea of governance remain a far cry in this entire scheme as the entire focus revolve around identity turning the entire community as apolitical and making leaders much bigger then the political parties and movement. Such a situation is dangerous for the communities. But fortunately, the current Lok Sabha election while springing some surprises also sends a stern message to these political parties that they can not take people for granted in the name of identity… now time is to deliver to them. You can not have an identity without good education, economic conditions and social change for equality. Unfortunately, those who harp more on caste have lost their idea of how to annihilate it.

Caste can not be simply strengthened to market a few individual and their megalomaniac vision about themselves. The issue of caste and Dalits is actually need to be addressed as the civil rights movement in the United States. It is important that it is not become a few seats in parliament and empowerment of the elite leaders in the name of communities. It has to be broad movement for human rights and human dignity. It has to be a movement against the religious rituals and holy texts which kept them subjugated for centuries and enslaved their minds. Humanists have that capacity to deliver it as they believe in that today’s dalits have the capacity and democracy has provided them alternative. Only a modern democratic theory with republican ideas as envisioned by Dr Ambedkar can be their true emancipator otherwise, caste based identities are threatening basic Dalit unity in the country and it is fast becoming a self defeating exercise. (full long text).

(Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a secular humanist based in Delhi and working with Social Development Foundation, Delhi. His writings can be accessed at Manuski: Humanism for All and he can be contacted by e-mail).

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