By Pallavi Ghosh:
Reports of violence against Dalits flood the media. However, despite the presence of such violence, one might argue that there is a pressing need to develop the Dalit discourse beyond the limited concerns of violence and suppression. This can be done by tracing points of assertion and achievements in the past as well as the present. In other words, the history of Dalits should not be limited to a series of narratives of oppression simply because it is not the complete reality.
Statistically, the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) records reveal an annual increase in the incidences of crime against the Scheduled Castes. Between 2012 and 2013, there were 6000 more cases against SCs with an almost 18 percent increase in registered cases. The crime rate has likewise witnessed almost a 3 percent jump from 2012 to 2013. Considering the total increase in criminal cases within a year – 59,8819, crimes against Dalits (39,408) constitute 6.5 percent of the total number of increased cases in 2013.
It is no surprise, thus, that a bulk of media reports on Dalits have indeed been crime reports. While these have been important to gauge the level of injustice against individuals and communities, they tend to freeze the image and identity of a Dalit in terms of a constantly victimised individual. These narratives, thus portrays the Dalit in a constant position of lack and suppression.
In the words of Ankit Gautam, a student at JNU, “The way media depicts Dalits has indeed been very stigmatizing, sensationalizing and criminalizing. In cases where crime has taken place, it has tended to expose the Dalit identity of the victim by marking them out with their lower caste.”
There are hardly any reports that deal with the Dalit struggles and achievements in contemporary times. We are simply faced with a blank slate with regard to Dalit cultures, their history, their leaders, activists and entrepreneurs, and the political mobilisation amongst them. To give an example of our ignorance, here is a question- who is the first Dalit president of India?
However, this void is partially filled by an existing and simultaneously growing practice of Dalit literature carried out by non-governmental organisations and academics. The book ‘Defying The Odds: The Rise Of Dalit Entrepreneurs’, lists 21 Dalit entrepreneurs. It is worth pondering that while the Ambanis and Jindals are busy waving off the media buzz, why there is not a single story or interview on even one of those 21 Dalit entrepreneurs?
The Dalit History Month, which is a radical history project to present a holistic, descriptive and comprehensive view of Dalit history and experience, seems to combine narrations of assertion and victimisation over the centuries. The project involves a reconstruction of history from a string of mythologies establishing caste relations, to struggles and movements, political advocacy, leaders, as well stories of discrimination.
Nevertheless, much like their academic counterparts, doubts hover around the reach and scope of an online project. The persisting concern over the disconnect of academic research with ground reality, specially in terms of the circulation of data among closed academic circles, keeps the visibility of such projects low. Therefore, with a greater mass circulation of media, the emergent dominant image of the Dalit is that of constant, hapless victim.
The lack of self-affirming stories has the same damaging effect as caste-based violence has on its sufferers, i.e., damaging the dignity, sense of self worth and identity of a Dalit.