Bharat Bandh: The Real Test For Modi

Posted by Neha Saigal in Caste, Politics
April 12, 2018

The Prime Minister has never shied away from using his humble background as a response to almost any problem that the country is facing. The fact that he belongs to the other backward class (OBC), and that he was born to a poor mother, are all noteworthy. But at a time when the country is burning for solutions, especially for those that are the most vulnerable, Modi ji must let filmi dialogues take a back seat.

The “Bharat Bandh” on April 2 saw protests by members of the Scheduled Caste (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribe (Adivasi) communities, across the country. If anyone was surprised to hear it in the news or even witness it, they shouldn’t. The Dalits and Adivasis make up 20% of our population which is significant; yet they have been vulnerable for decades, and their development has not been in sync with India’s booming social and economic status in the global scenario. The Bharat Bandh was called by Dalit leaders across the country as a response to the Supreme Court order on March 20, 2018. The order barred the immediate arrest of those accused of violence against the SCs and STs, such that no one can misuse the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

While the Supreme Court might have its reasons for the order, but the data shows otherwise. Between 2010 and 2016, there has been a decline in the number of convictions and cases that completed trial under this act. The National Crime Records Bureau data shows an increased crime rate against members from SC communities with a 10% increase and 6% in the case of ST communities. In my opinion, the vulnerability of these communities have not reduced over the years. In fact, it has possibly increased, and a dilution of the act is just not warranted.

While I was following the news around the Bharat Bandh, I noted that the protest was non-violent, but members of the extreme right-wing groups incited violence. There was also this viral video of a certain Raja Chouhan, opening fire at Dalit protesters in Gwalior, leaving three dead. Ever since the Modi government has come to power, right-wing groups have felt a sense of entitlement to abuse and mistreat anyone who does not agree with their ideology. The SC and ST communities have often been at the receiving end. The Human Rights Watch Report (2018), stated that there had been at least 38 attacks on underprivileged communities over cow slaughter and trade by right-wing groups in 2017 alone. A good question to ponder on is how many of these individuals and groups have been convicted, even before anyone can possibly think that the SC & ST Act will be misused.

The ruling party, which has links to the RSS (now led by Mohan Bhagwat), has been and is against reservation – even though the duo of Modi-Shah pacifies and reassures the rest of the nation that they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Dalit community and will not interfere with the subject of reservations. Who do we believe?

The RSS’ objective is to make India a ‘Hindu rashtra‘, which is as homogeneous as it can get and does not allow space for diversity. So where is the space for people belonging to the SCs and STs and many other groups that don’t live the ‘Hindu way’ as prescribed by the RSS?

The protests by SC and ST communities cannot be seen as an isolated event that is a reaction to the Supreme Court. It needs to be seen as the buildup of frustration and anger against the current government that has not shown any intention to protect and promote this community. Building a centre for BR Ambedkar means nothing if your CM in UP decides to add Ramji to Ambedkar’s name. Modi ji can continue to assure his MPs that all is well – but by not taking the events of April 2 seriously, and instead maintaining silence when the atrocities of right-wing groups (in some way associated to the Sangh Parivar) against SC and ST communities continue, I would say that the cat is now out of the bag. It is going to take much more than just hollow promises to rebuild the faith of a community that has had enough. I am not sure if our filmi PM has it in him, but again with the elections around the corner, there is enough motivation to turn things around or at least make it seem so.

The author is a development consultant and social activist.