Modi's Two Years and the Plight of Dalits
Narendra Modi, the self proclaimed Ambedkar-bhakt recently completed two years of his boastful rule. Babasaheb Ambedkar, an iconoclast par excellence, was loath having bhakts around but might have relented and been pleased to have a prime minister as his bhakt, with his characteristic pragmatic approach. He had modestly demanded dalit representation in the state structure so that they would safeguard dalit interests from the casteist majority of the caste Hindus. He experienced in his own life time that it did not work. Here he gets an all powerful prime minister, with a dash as his bhakt! A modicum of expectation he would have from Modi is to turn around the country in the direction he prescribed and of course, some concern for the deteriorating condition of dalit masses. It is well known that Ambedkar had warned the new rulers to bring in social and economic democracy at the earliest possible time. He had provided a vehicle to reach there in the form of the Directive Principles for the State Policy. Although not justiciable, they were to be the fundamental principles for governance of the country but were totally ignored in the sixty years of the Congress rule. An Ambedkar bhakt was expected to get them back into focus. So was he expected to stop the worsening trend in condition of dalits. Two years may not be a long time to show visible results but certainly enough to mark a directional change. Do Modi's two years show it?
Rhetoric and Reality
On the eve of the last elections the BJP had a coup over the Congress in buying off all the prominent brokers of dalit votes. This investment paid it rich dividend. Enthused by this win, it went full blast in appropriating Ambedkar by propaganda blitzkrieg and grabbing all possible places where his memorials could be erected. Modi hasn't left a stone unturned in paying acclamations to Ambedkar, taking it as proxy for the concern for dalits. Paradoxically, whatever Ambedkar stood for was being trampled upon with impunity. There was harassment and brutalities unleashed on dalit students in higher education, who Ambedkar believed would truly represent him. The deliberate delay in scholarships to dalits students, institutional attempts to smother voices of radicals among them, their willful humiliation went on all over, which was eventually exposed by a bright research scholar Rohith Vemula, with the cost of his own life. As such, discriminatory treatments have not been new to dalits but the institutional manner in which they happened during the past two years was certainly conspicuous. Even now, despite countrywide outrage and struggles for justice to Rohith, Modi continues to back his killers.
Modi repeatedly swore by the Constitution as his sacred text but in actual conduct he trashed it to the dustbin. He not only continued with the ignorance and neglect of the Directive Principles but also did not hesitate to mutilate them. Leave apart the spirit of the Constitution, its words like secularism, equality, liberty, etc. stand slandered in his rule. The basic principle of 'equality before law' in the Constitution, which is the single biggest constitutional solace for the poor and marginalized itself is nearly dismantled as shown in the shocking 'clean chit' for to the Hindutva criminals in Malegaon blast case. Ban on beef eating, Ghar Wapasi, saffronization of education, jingoist promotion of nationalism/patriotism and irrationality are directly detrimental to the dalit interests. Dalits are thwarted in their realization of the sinister import of these subtle shifts of the BJP by their identitarian blinkers but they are the effective reversals of all their gains earned during the last century.
Deprivation of Dalits
For want of space, we will see how deprivation of dalits has gone up during Modi's rule just with the budget allocations on two schemes: One, their overall development vide Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) and, two, on the Safai Karmachari-related schemes.
The Constitution of India explicitly recognized the need to close the socio-economic gap between these communities and the rest of the Indian population and mandated special protection and provisions for SCs and STs. It was actualized but in prospective terms only in 1974-75 in the Fifth Five Year Plan period by the policy of the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) and later in 1979-80 in the sixth plan period by the Special Component Plan (SCP), later christened as SCSP. They were the statutory allocations to be made in every budget, central as well as state, to be spent on these communities, respectively, and were mandated to be budgeted plan outlays in proportion to their population. As in any scheme for dalits, the government never kept its promise and blatantly stole their share right from the beginning in the budget itself. Even most of these funds were diverted to unrelated activities and even then the actual spend was far less than the budget. Even with this misdoing, the allocations by the previous regimes might look better than the two budgets (2014-15 being the interim budget) Modi presented. As Table 1 shows, for the year 2015-16 the ratio of the SCSP allocation to total plan outlay worked out to just 6.62 %, by far the lowest since 2007-08 and that for the TSP at 4.29 %, lowest since 2011-12. These ratios should have been 16.62 and 8.6, respectively, as per their population. Although, in view of the important state elections following the budget, these ratios are slightly improved in the current budget to 7.06 and 4.36, respectively, they still remain lower than the earlier ratios. It will show that within these two years Modi has deprived of dalits and Tribals of Rs 13,370,127 crores and 5,689,940 crores from their legitimate share.
Table 1: SCSP and TSP Allocations in Rs. crores [If the Table does not fit, you could delete first four years]
Source: Union Budgets 2007-08 to 2016-17.
Table 2: Outlays for Safai Karmachari-related Schemes (Rupees crores)
Self-Employment Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers
Pre-Matric Scholarship for children of those engaged in "unclean" occupations
Source: Union Budget for respective years.
Safai Karmacharis, or manual scavengers accounting for about 10% of the total dalit (SC) population, are the dalit among dalits. (See last Margin Speak in EPW, 7 May 2016). An Act was passed in 1993, namely, the Employment of Manual Scavengers & Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, which was substituted by another and stronger Act, namely, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. But despite persistent agitation of these hapless people nothing is done. Even with such a backdrop, Modi's concern for these people is evidenced by the drop in the allocation for 'Self-Employment and Rehabilitation scheme' from Rs 557 crores in the last two budgets (as Table 2 shows) to Rs 439.04 crores and Rs 470.19 crores, which were further slashed to a token entry of Rs 10 crores. The allocation for 'Pre-Matric Scholarship for children of manual scavengers' shows still more dismal picture: While the budget allocation was marginally raised to Rs 10 crores from the earlier 9.5 crores, it was slashed to 2 crores in the last budget.
Spurt in Caste Atrocities
While the BJP desperately depends upon dalit votes, it's win in the last elections getting it clear majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time, coupled with the overbearing style of Modi has bolstered the entire Sangh Pariwar. Its aggressive hindutva rhetoric generally emboldened the feudal forces and lumpen elements in rural areas to suppress assertive instincts of dalits, which are associated with their aspiration of liberation. Not all of them internalize the tactical need of the BJP to woo dalits. This dynamics has aggravated the caste contradictions in villages which often manifests into gory atrocities. While the atrocity graph has always scaled skywards right since the economic reforms were instituted, the rise during the Modi's rule appears spectacular. The National Crime Research Bureau has only the 2014 atrocity figures, but they might be enough to reflect the nature of this dynamics. The Table 3 gives a glimpse of the atrocity scene of dalits, which shows an alarming increase of over 19 percent from the incidental peak previous year.
Table 3: Atrocity on dalits from 2010 to 2015
Source: NCRB, 'Crime in India' for various years.
* Break-up computed from the figures in Table 7.2, Crime of India 2014.
These figures are police figures, which are a function of the degree of independence of police from the political formation. The nakedness with which the BJP is using police for promotion of its agenda, the pressure on these figures needs to be understood.
In sum, the two years of Modi has been grossly devastating to dalits in short term and utterly ruinous in the long term. Dalits had better realized that the Sangh Pariwar's dream of establishing Hindu Raj, a curious cross of the Hitlarite Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer and Manu's Brahmanism, is a deadly antithesis of Ambedkar.