Saharanpur clashes between Dalits, Thakurs put spanner in RSS efforts to reach out to 'lower' castes
While many Dalits in Uttar Pradesh continue to hold a negative perception about RSS, the saffron organisation is putting in efforts to dispel this image.
Editor's note: The BJP, its ideological lodestar RSS, and even the BSP, a party with moorings in Dalit identity, have, in recent months, outdone themselves to court the Dalit constituency. The community itself has found new ways to assert its leverage over Indian political parties and reinforce its place in society. Firstpost will travel across Uttar Pradesh, the test bed of India's Dalit politics, to record how these changes have altered life in its villages, towns and cities.
There is a general perception that Dalits can never pledge their support to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Whenever doubts have arisen over the Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation’s anti-Dalit attitude, it has claimed that it doesn’t endorse casteism. Prior to the 2015 Bihar elections, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat called for a review of reservation policies and in 2017, a similar statement that was perceived as reflective of the Sangh’s Brahminical mindset, was made by the RSS publicity chief Manmohan Vaidya. He had said: “Reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were introduced in a different context. They were included in the Constitution to remedy the historical injustice done to them. It was our responsibility. So, reservation for them has been there since the inception (of the Constitution). But, even Ambedkar has said its continuance in perpetuity is not good. There should be a time limit to it.”
Owing to this, a glint of resentment exists among the Dalits towards the RSS. To find out the level of outreach the RSS has made towards the Dalits and their view of the RSS, Firstpost reached Muzaffarnagar. Sewadas is the zilla karyavah or the district convener of the RSS in Meerut and holds responsibility for the workings of the RSS in the district. Speaking to Firstpost on the Dalit-RSS ties, he reveals that he too comes from a Dalit family and that the ideology of the Sangh is free from caste divisions. He says what matters is that we’re all Hindus. He narrates a story of how he joined the Sangh in 1987 when he was influenced by caste politics and had dreams of forming an organisation for Dalits. At that time, he used to organise agitations on issues that concern the backward castes. He adds that caste discrimination in India is a reality and the only way to set things straight is by working together. Before joining the Hindu organisation that was founded in 1925 by Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, Sewadas says people tried to dissuade him from joining the RSS by calling it a Brahmin organisation and suggesting that he’d only be used for Dalit tokenism.
After the Dalit-Thakur clashes in Saharanpur last year, and the rise of an independent Dalit force in the shape of the Bhim army, the acceptance of the RSS’ egalitarianism has shrunk. While interacting with families from Dalit settlements and in Bahujan Samaj Party dominated areas like Deoband, Shamli, Kairana and Muzaffarnagar, one can notice a growing disenchantment towards the Sangh. This sentiment intensified after allegations that the Centre had diluted The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The sewa vibhaag of the Sangh is reportedly chalking out a long-term plan to woo the Dalits in the area through Hindu saints who organise breakfast, lunch and dinner for the Dalits. The sadbhav yatra is designed to promote social equality and peace. During a three-day coordination meeting of the Sangh Parivar in Vrindavan which BJP president Amit Shah, President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was also in attendance, this yatra was discussed.
Ajay Mittal, the campaign head for the programme at Meerut, says such events are routinely organised and the Sewa Bharti and Samajik Suraksha Manch are doing their bit to erase social inequalities by ensuring people eat together and there’s an air of brotherhood. Mittal says Ravidas was a devotee of Lord Ram and that’s why the Sangh has a good hold over the community but also accepts that the hold over Jatavs is weak. The RSS hosted a program on Babasaheb’s Jayanti on 14 April. Efforts like kanya poojan, the worship of Dalit girls during Navratri, and Valmiki Jayanti celebrations in December will strengthen the outreach towards the community, feels Mittal. He says that he had organised an RSS programme in Muzaffarnagar where out of 10,000 volunteers, nearly 3,000 were Dalits.
At present, in the Muzaffarnagar district, there are 315 shakhas of the Sangh. Sumit Bhanwar, who is a Sangh swayamsevak from the district, believes even Dalits need to bring about changes in their lifestyles. For instance, he says that if he dresses neatly and uses decent language, then people would not misbehave with him. He feels people need to be educated on how to improve their lifestyle.
However, the Dalits don’t think highly of the Sangh at this point. In 2025 the RSS is going to celebrate its centenary. By this year, the aim of the Sangh is to reach every village. It hopes that by then, there will be a comprehensive change in the view of Dalits towards its ideologies and purpose.
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