Rajshri Mehta, DNAINDIA.COM
Sunday, December 03, 2006
The widespread Dalit outburst seen across India, including in Maharashtra, is a release of their pent-up fury against the upper cast hegemony, feel social activists and sociologists.
According to Achyut Yagnik, political analyst and and co-author of the book Creating a Nationality: Ramjanambhoomi Movement and the Fear of the Self, the angry outburst was their way to assert themselves against the uneven social structure.
“There was anger at their God-like Ambedkar being insulted. But, the anger was more because Dalits, who over a period of time have improved their economic condition, are finding it hard to gain acceptability in society,” said Yagnik.
Yagnik could not be more right. The proportion of Dalits living under the poverty line has fallen from nearly 50 per cent in 1993-94 to 37 per cent in 1999-2000, according to the National Sample Survey.
Dalit households with electricity grew from 29 per cent in 1991 to 44 per cent in 2001, according to two Censuses.
But caste discrimination did not change, he said.
About 80 per cent still live in rural areas where caste discrimination reigns and Dalits live in separate enclaves. Those who challenge power structures — such as by contesting elections in councils — have been threatened or beaten up, a study by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights in New Delhi said.
They found 142 incidents of poll violence during an 11-month period till July. There were even instances where Dalits were prevented from voting, they said.
“It is a natural reaction,” said Irfan Engineer, Director at Centre for Study in Secularism and Society in Santacruz.
“Why talk of only Dalits. Every community will get sensitive when their icon is threatened.”
“There is also a psychological reaction. The Dalits wanted to be assertive,” said Sukla Sen, state incharge of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.
“This is not the first time Dalits feel ostracised,” said a professor of sociology from the Indian Institute of Technology, on condition of anonymity.