The Precariat Strikes

Published on Economic and Political Weekly, by Anand Teltumbde, January 04, 2012.

… Some 700 youth belonging to a little known Republican Sena led by Anandraj Ambedkar, the youngest grand­son of Babasaheb Ambedkar, broke the police barricade, gatecrashed into the National Textile Corporation’s (NTC) Indu Mills and forcibly occupied it by constructing a makeshift Buddha Vihar there.  

They have since declared that they will not leave until convincing steps are taken by the government towards building memorial for B R Ambedkar on the land. This is a demand that has been pending for nearly two decades. For the dalits, mired in constitutionalism, the act portends a radical shift in their politics and, con­sequently, new possibilities of change in the country.

Memorial Imbroglio:

Babasaheb Ambedkar is a veritable pheno­menon. His popularity and appeal have been increasing every year since he passed away on 6 December 1956. No other person anywhere is commemorated by millions of people voluntarily congregating at his shrine to pay homage on his death anniversary and a few other dates connected with his life. Besides, given his contri­butions, he deserves to be ranked among the founding fathers of the Indian republic. This – in the light of literal neglect by the ruling establishment for years until it realised his electoral importance as the icon of nearly one-fourth of the population – makes him unique in the annals of history. That there has not been a mentionable memorial (except for the ones built by Mayawati) in his honour in a land where the State voluntarily builds and maintains grand memorials for even petty politicians is indeed surprising. Mumbai, where he lived in a chawl from his school days until he shifted to Rajgruha, the majestic house he built in Hindu ­colony in 1931, and from where he began his movement, would be the natural place to have such a memorial. The issue of converting Rajgruha into a national memorial has been skilfully mani­pulated by the likes of Sharad Pawar to play one dalit ­faction against the other and ­eventually decimate the dalit movement in the State … //

… Prowess of the ‘Precariat’

The only dark lining on an otherwise inspiring act is the issue itself, which is rooted in identity and emotions around Ambedkar as a demigod. The State is adept at manipulating both to neutralise dalit anger and pave the way for their further dispossession. As a strategy, it may be alright to mobilise around the issue of the memorial to start with but it should soon be extended to tackle the material deprivation of dalits. The Republican Sena should not squander the gains of this ­agitation and lose its new-found direction.

Dalits have been victims of their poor self-image induced by the caste system and caricatured by others. They have overcome it to some extent through their struggles. Capitalist development has thrust them into the ranks of the proletariat and the current phase of neo-­liberal globalisation has reduced them to a “precariat”, to use economist Guy Standing’s term – a neo­logism derived from merging precarious with pro­letariat, referring to people with no job security, or no prospect of employment. This very status makes them potentially dangerous. The precariat must realise that they really have the potential to change the world. The strategies for future struggles must be conceived from this position of strength. Today it is Indu Mills; tomorrow it could be India!

(On 22 December, the Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court that it would try and settle the issue within a week. The high court had castigated the government for allowing “blatant illegality”. The matter has been adjourned to 4 January 2012). (full long text).

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