Narendra Modi govt's targeting of Dalit leaders a betrayal of Ambedkar's legacy, an abdication of PM's constitutional duties

I am hoping this article will make clear something that should be obvious in 2019: jailing Dalit leaders will not help the BJP win elections.

Since the BJP took power in 2014, there has been an unprecedented targetting of Dalit students, organisations, leaders, and advocates. From the attack on Rohith Vemula, Chandrashekhar Azad of Bhim Army, to the current faux conspiracy designed to target Anand Teltumbde, the criminalisation of Dalit assertion has become the core strategy of the BJP. These casteist tactics run counter to the glitzy marketing slogans of the BJP being the party of development. But I am sure that in almost all common understanding of development, it does not ever include the erosion of human rights and the rule of law.

Narendra Modi govts targeting of Dalit leaders a betrayal of Ambedkars legacy, an abdication of PMs constitutional duties

File image of Dr BR Ambedkar. News18

And frankly we are all just tired of it.

Indians and the NRIs who love India should not have to resort to tweetstorms, public statements, and placards to ensure our people are safe. That is the job of the government. But on the contrary, this government has continued to allow the weaponisation of the State against Dalits and oppressed communities whose constitutional rights allow freedom of expression and assembly. So we have to ask, why is the BJP-governed State so afraid of Dalit assertion that instead of looking at the issues of caste equity as a fundamental issue we can address through investment and equitable development, the party would rather remove our leaders voices completely?

With the Lok Sabha elections looming, the time has come for this government to take a position once and for all on the Koregaon nine and Anand Teltumbde.

Is the PM anti-Dalit or not?

From the Bahujan perspective, we will not remember the speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or believe any of the fancy WhatsApp memes being pushed into our communities. We will remember instead the deafening silence of this government’s collusion with the terror that has been unleashed against our communities.

We will remember that journalist Gauri Lankesh was murdered in front of her home and that instead of supporting the investigations against the Hindu terrorist front that murdered her, there was a new hashtag called Urban Naxal that was developed by the BJP in its many IT cells.

As the horror of Urban Naxal unfolded, we will remember that this government never countered the inflammatory, casteist and anti-tribal language of police officials like Jayant Umranikar, a former director general of Maharashtra Police, when he justified the arrest of the Koregaon nine saying, “These minds sit at home, [on] the sofa, sip coffee and instigate young minds to wage war against the government machinery, and this is more harmful.”

This was said by Indian police officials on record and this government said nothing.

The government was also were quiet when the Pune Police ransacked professor Satyanarayana’s EFLU residence and the police asked questions like:

“Why are there so many books in your house?”
“Why do you read so many books?”
“Why are you reading books on Mao & Marx?”
“Why are there photos of Phule and Ambedkar in your house but no photos of gods?”

Dear PM, since when has reading books and honouring Jyotirao Phule and BR Ambedkar been a crime?

Modi has had many photo ops in front of Ambedkar statue and his books. Yet, he fails as a prime minister in his greatest responsibility in protecting the Constitution. By allowing our leaders to be so shamefully treated, this government has betrayed Ambedkar’s legacy to us all. So let me ask another question, what exactly is an Urban Naxal under this administration?

I would argue it looks suspiciously at any one who is Ambedkarite, a believer of secular politics, and anyone who advocates for a human rights centered vision of development. I would also argue it looks like with these qualifications that our leaders are most definitely not enemies of the State. They are instead lovers of India who oppose what Hindu and caste fascism is doing to our democracy. And the courage of Dalit leaders who are standing up to the terror in our communities should be applauded not criminalised.

So let me remind the ruling government the names of all the targeted leaders in this faux conspiracy:

Varavara Rao is a poet.
Surendra Gadling, Sudha Bharadwaj and Vernon Gonsalves are lawyers.
Shoma Sen is a professor.
Sudhir Dhawale is an editor.
Arun Ferreira is a writer.
Rona Wilson is an activist.
Mahesh Raut and Anand Teltumbde are scholars.

Take a good look at the list of these leaders. I would encourage this government to commit them to memory because Dalit and oppressed communities all around the world have done so already. We will say their names as we speak out about the repression of our people and we will hold them in our hearts as our people begin to vote. If this government has any shred of self-reflection and compassion, they would drop the charges against Anand and the Koregaon nine. Every day these leaders are under attack, the longer their shadow stains this government’s already dubious record.

Make no mistake: Dalits and oppressed communities are not going back. We are calling out the cowardly tactics of the right-wing that is increasingly trying to criminalise anything that is rooted in an anti-caste social justice politics. By trying to make an example of these 10 leaders, this government will not silence our communities rather it will only galvanise our resistance. For it is our communities that have defended the Constitution even when caste Hindus have undermined it with their lawlessness. We will not allow the targetting of our leaders and the erosion of the Constitution. And in the wake of this government’s inaction we will take our heartbreak, our grief and resistance to the polls.

The choice now is up to the prime minister.

Is he anti-Dalit or not?

The author is an artist, technologist, and founder of Equality Labs, a human rights group fighting caste and religious intolerance

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Updated Date: Feb 13, 2019 18:26:14 IST

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