Yoginder Sikand, December 07, 2006
Media coverage of the recent Dalit violence has been somewhat discomfiting for me (not the first time, I might add). Not because of a "pro-" or "anti-" this or that stance, but because of the media's relentless focus on how the violence constitutes a protest against (multiple) desecration(s) of statues of Ambedkar. In the mainstream media account, and distressingly in much of the Indian blogosphere as well, the violence has no history, and there is no context it need be placed in. A statue was desecrated, the narrative goes, and the Dalits are protesting.
The framing of such events, more accurately the politics that underly them, and is encoded in, the way in which Dalit rage is framed, deserves serious consideration. Let's not kid ourselves: if the debate is framed in terms of what Dalits have or have not done in response to vandalism of Ambedkar statues, the game is automatically rigged in favor of a finding that the "response" is out of proportion, and insanely so. The wider stakes are lost from view.
The necessity of attempting to understand stressed above is not to be confused with patronising "what else can they do" hand-wringing also in evidence from some in the media punditclass. Dalits are not animals, destined to react in this manner if the stimulus is the right one, and supposed "well wishers" should stop acting as if they are.
The question I keep coming back to is not what "they" are doing but what "we" have done such that this sort of violence seems like the only way Dalit "issues" can get on our (increasingly celebrity obsessed) front pages. And what is done here includes the configuration of a national polity in which certain demographics get to be "we", and others must peer from the outside in, needing to fight for every last scrap and seat at the table.
Amidst the general bankruptcy, Outlook carried a good piece on the violence. Although I don't endorse everything here (would be nice to get one piece about caste violence that does not mention "varna"), the author's approach is welcome, her tone searing and polemical — as it should be.