Editor's note: Elections to the Karnataka Assembly are scheduled for 12 May and they come at a time when caste is a major topic of debate across the country. The following is the second of a five-part series on prominent Dalit activists who have a deep influence on the politics of the state. Click to read Part 1, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of the series.
BR Bhaskar Prasad, a prominent Dalit activist, who is contesting the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) from Mahadevapura, feels the BJP and the Congress are two heads of one snake.
He told this reporter how the issue of Dalit rights and the Supreme Court's decision to dilute the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act will impact the Karnataka polls and why the state is yet to see a strong Dalit movement. Edited excerpts follow:
Why do we not see a strong Dalit movement in Karnataka, like in the states in north India?
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. People respond to discrimination depending on the intensity of cases. In the north (India), instances of atrocities committed against minority communities are much more than it is in the south (India). Besides, here we do not want the BJP to take advantage of our protests against the present Congress government. However, it doesn't mean that we are supporting the Congress; it's just that we do not want the BJP to use the issue to gain more votes.
Is there a particular party that Dalits in Karnataka would identify themselves with?
When we are not identified as human beings and when we are treated like that, then how can we identify ourselves with any party? While the Ahinda movement was strong in the state and brought Siddaramaiah to power, what has changed in the lives of Dalits in the last five years? The Ahinda movement started because of us (Dalits); it was we who took to the streets and supported it.
The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was enacted in 1989 and the rules were notified in 1995. How effectively do you think it has been implemented since then?
Not even one percent of the total cases registered have ended in conviction. And now the recent (SC) ruling has made the Act so weak that there is no avenue for the Dalit community to seek justice.
Do you think the Supreme Court ruling limits the Act in meting out justice for minority communities?
Yes, because the cases registered will be dropped with excuses like the lack of evidence or witnesses. As the conviction rate under the Act is low, the Supreme Court came up with the idea that the Act is being misused.
The SC ruling was made to avoid misuse of the Act. Do you feel the Act can be misused? Is the ruling justified?
There is no law in this country which is not misused. The judges who made the ruling are people who believe in religious discrimination. If they are accusing the community of misusing it then they should give us the number (of instances). Police do not investigate such incidents properly and hence a conviction doesn't happen, and then they say we are misusing the Act.
The Centre has asked the SC to review its ruling in a recent petition. But the SC has turned down the government appeal. How do you plan to approach the judiciary on the matter?
Until and unless we have political power, we cannot do anything. We won't be able to raise our voices or seek justice because our voices won't be heard by people sitting at the top. Our lawyers argue for five-six hours with 20-page documents but nothing happens. The government lawyer speaks for five minutes without any documents or statistics and the case is ruled in their favour. What can we do in such a society? The only way we can seek justice is by having political power.
Would the ruling party prevent people from approaching authorities to seek justice?
When people from minority communities know that authorities are not going to register their complaint or even listen to what we have to say then why should we go? Every time a person from a minority community sees a police station, he will run away because he knows that even though it's not his fault, he will still be tortured for his caste.
Where do you locate the Dalit community in terms of democratic representation in the country?
We are just creating a vote bank and nothing else. A BJP MP had once said, "The people who used to sew our chappals earlier are now sitting next to us because of the Constitution." If people in the system say like this then what can we possibly do?
What other constitutional mechanisms protect the rights of minority communities?
BR Ambedkar once said, "If the Constitution is implemented properly, then within 20 years we will be the most powerful country in the world." Only 25 percent of the Constitution is implemented, that too, only for the use and profit of the government (in power). The Constitution is not bad, the people who decided what to implement and what not to implement are bad.
Do you feel the SC verdict will impact the Karnataka elections in any way?
It should affect them because the Karnataka government failed in this context. If they cannot handle it then why should they be elected?
Will political parties bring up the issue to gather votes?
BJP and Congress are two heads of a single snake. BJP had an opportunity to take advantage of the situation to gain votes but they did not because they are the ones who implemented the rule in the first place.
Over a thousand cases of atrocities against Dalits have been recorded in the state in the last few years. Do you think there is a void in implementing policies in the state?
Because the rules and regulations are mentioned in the Constitution, only the Centre has the power to make decisions. The state cannot take decisions but they can always recommend, propose and try pushing the demands (of minority communities) at the Centre.
Several BJP MPs are expressing unhappiness with the Centre's take on minority rights. What are your views about it?
Ananth Kumar Hegde said, "Dalit leaders are barking dogs". When do they make such statements; it shows how unhappy they are. The BJP is the main reason behind this whole Supreme Court ruling and we know that for a fact.
The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.
Updated Date: Apr 28, 2018 16:35 PM