Somehow the Dalit question has come to occupy centre stage of political discourse these days, particularly given the narrative that became fashionable following the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, which witnessed, ostensibly, the unlikely coming together of Muslims and Dalits as a force opposing the prevailing order.
It is good as one can truly witness the linear transfer of power in the social pyramid from top to bottom. Dalits, somehow, were not able to carve a distinct niche for themselves nationally after Babasaheb Ambedkar. The community tried to assert its collectivism in form of Kanshiram at a later stage and through Babu Jagjivan Ram immediately after independence.
The 90s witnessed the phenomena many call mandalisation of Indian politics which largely meant OBC-ification of party politics in domestic context. Dalits were a mere symbolic presence both in an institutional mainstream like Congress and sideways with regional satraps like Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party.
Doing the round these days is a speculative alliance between Dalits and Muslims to counter the Prime Minister Narendra Modi juggernaut in 2019. The experiment failed in the Uttar Pradesh election where Bahujan Samaj Party fielded record number of Muslim candidates in the hope to galvanise both communities.
Kanshiram, who in his lifetime created opportunities to unite Dalits through social and cultural initiatives essentially premised on Hindu culture, must have turned in his grave. He was against the idea of conversion throughout his life because it was not inconsequential for the community. Apart from Ambedkar, no politically successful Dalit leader has even remotely toyed with the idea of conversion.
Ambedkar wrote and spoke extensively on Islam: "Hinduism is said to divide people and in contrast Islam is said to bind people together. This is only a half-truth. For Islam divides as inexorably as it binds. Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity..."
Babu Jagjivan Ram can easily be considered as the most important Dalit leader India had after Ambedkar. He has a surprising distinction of never losing an election. One of the longest serving parliamentarians in the history of modern India, he also went on to become the only Dalit deputy prime minister and one of the most astute defence ministers: India won the 1971 war under his stewardship. Noted author Gary Bass calls him, “the most hawkish defence minister India ever had”. He was a devout Hindu throughout his life.
This much talked about social alliance is untenable and beyond reasonable comprehension. One represents the centuries of structural oppression and other represents power through external invasion since the 11th Century.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath recently made a pertinent observation. He said, “When Banaras Hindu University can provide reservation for Dalits then why not AMU?” The flag bearers of Dalit-Muslim alliance must mull over the question of allowing Dalits access to the hallowed precincts of minority institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia University. We must understand that apart from Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis are also minorities. However, since the inception of Ministry of Minority Affairs in the Government of India in 2006, it has only seen a Muslim at its helm.
Representation for Dalit students in AMU and Jamia is a long-standing demand of the community. There is no need of an expert jurisprudential analysis but a simple constitutional understanding will elucidate that both AMU and Jamia — by the virtue of being a central university — must provide preferential treatment for students from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe category.
A young Dalit assistant professor in Jamia, speaking on condition of anonymity admitted, “Minorityism has led to ghettoisation of the institution. Muslims students coming from surrounding Batla house areas are unwilling to mix with others. They are more comfortable with those from their own religion. Nobody has questioned the admission under the category of Muslim (Scheduled Castes) that is an aberration. Removal of minority status will be in the interest of university.”
Prominent Dalit thinker professor Vivek Kumar said, “Universities are generally established through an act of Parliament and only an act of Parliament can change the institutional nature of the university. Minimal representation of Dalits in teaching position both in Jamia and AMU must be looked into.”
Like many other Dalit issues in the recent past, I am afraid this issue will also lose steam with time. Time is appropriate to confront ourselves with these questions as the next generation of Dalit struggle will demand representation in key decision making positions. Academia today must have Dalits as professors and vice-chancellors. Blocking access to Dalits in the name of minorityism is unconstitutional.
The author is a fellow at India Foundation and assistant professor in Patna University.
Updated Date: Jul 05, 2018 20:43 PM