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 first of a five-part series on prominent Dalit activists who have a deep influence on the politics of the state. Click to read Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of the series.
Narasimha Murthy, a prominent human rights activist from Karnataka, has always championed the rights of Dalits and other religious minorities.
With the Karnataka Assembly elections around the corner, he pins his expectation on the Siddaramaiah-led government as a better choice for the people of the state. However, he does not step back from vehemently opposing the void of effective laws to protect the community.
He spoke to Firstpost about the upliftment of Dalits, the Supreme Court's dilution of the SC/ST Act and the crucial Karnataka polls. Edited excerpts follow:
What is your role when it comes to the upliftment of Dalits and what do you think about their current condition in the state (Karnataka) and in India?
Politicians are only using Dalits for political gains. Even after 70 years of Independence, there has been no change in their condition. There is not one party that is an exception. I am not part of any Dalit group but, I voluntarily extend support to resolving their issues and doing whatever little I can for them.
With the recent Supreme Court verdict diluting the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act – protecting public servants and individuals from immediate arrest under it – what effect do you think this will have on the community as a whole?
The condition of Dalits has not improved much since Independence. Even today, if you go to the police station to lodge a complaint about a crime committed against the community, officials are reluctant to register it. It is very rare and only about two percent honest officers actually register cases of atrocities being committed against the community.
The Centre did not take any steps initially to intervene in the Supreme Court proceedings and rather filed a review petition in the case only after being approached by several Dalit leaders of the party, who urged them to take action. What does this speak about the government's intent?
Let me make a small correction here. Even leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan, Ramdas Athwale and Udit Raj initially kept mum when the Supreme Court verdict was announced. It was only after protests escalated that these leaders approached the Centre. I lost 12 comrades in the protest which followed the verdict. Only after that did these Dalit leaders speak up.
Not just the Centre but, even in Karnataka, all parties have made Dalits their election agenda, who are otherwise ignored. Has the state government done anything for the upliftment of Dalits?
I do not think that. Only expecting that a state's chief minister can do anything big for the community is not possible. The Siddaramaiah-government alone cannot do anything as he is under the influence and watch of other people. But, if I have to mention two things his government has done, which has benefitted Dalits, it would be the distribution of rice grains to the community and opening of Indira canteens.
This election, no political party has left a stone unturned to woo the community, but, according to you, what are the actual expectations of the Dalits?
Dr BR Ambedkar said that every ballot cast becomes a bullet. That's how powerful the choice we make is. How many Dalit leaders have made the community aware of the importance of voting? In fact, according to the census, they (Dalits) are one of the largest communities. Naturally, every political party wants to be in their favour. In terms of expectations, the Dalits favour the Congress and right from the beginning a majority of them have joined the party. This has been the trend since Indira Gandhi was elected from Chikmagalur in 1977.
What impact will the apex court verdict have on the violation of Dalit rights?
The last resort to get justice for the Dalits in the country is the court. But, see what is happening today. The Justice J Chelameswar case has come to the streets, faith in the judiciary has been lost. On the other hand, leaders like Anant Kumar Hegde want to change the Constitution and they will.
They want to bring back the 'Manu' system, where Dalits are considered to have originated from the feet (of Brahma). The government wants to turn a blind eye to the ideals of figures like Periyar, Jyotirao Phule and Ambedkar, who championed the cause and fought for Dalits.
In his recent visit to Karnataka BJP President Amit Shah alleged that crime rate against Dalits in the state is the highest under Congress rule. Has any party been any different and addressed the community problems?
Compared to BJP-ruled states, what is happening in Karnataka is nothing. Yogi Adityanath has given direct orders to the Uttar Pradesh Police to shoot criminals. I have read a little about the law which states that assault on a person amounts to an assault on the State. This means that if a person assaults me, it is my duty to go to the police station and lodge a complaint against that person. If this is this case then how does Aditynath dare to give such orders?
Do you think there is a strong Dalit movement in Karnataka? Will we witness an uprising similar to that in Maharashtra and Haryana?
It is very unfortunate. Karnataka was the state that brought out the issue in the country. This was during B Krishnappa's (social activist) time, who is the pioneer of the Dalit literary movement in Karnataka. There were three (major) movements: 'Dalit Chaluvali', ‘Raitha Chaluvali' and 'Kannada Chaluvali'. But sadly, people from these groups have joined different political parties and cannot speak on every issue. If this was not the case, Karnataka would have been the actual champion of the Dalit movement in the country.
Which political ideology do you associate with? Who do you think the Dalits and minorities can benefit from?
In the last three elections, I have cast my vote for NOTA. This time, I will vote for a non-BJP candidate. I feel Dalits should vote for Siddaramiah's party because if he wins this election, he can use the power of his party MPs. Also, Siddaramaiah is very accessible to people. I remember I had run behind his car once to speak to him; he stopped his car and we discussed issues regarding human rights.
The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.
Updated Date: Apr 28, 2018 16:35 PM