Saturday, March 02, 2013
Understanding 'Dalit Priest Project' of Narendra Modi in Gujarat
The Dalit priest theory of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is an aim to deflect the attention from the real issues of the Balmiki community which is isolated and face severe untouchability. Modi has rarely spoken against caste discrimination and the historical injustice done to Dalits hence it is nothing but plain hypocrisy to grab positive headlines.
Much has been written about shining Gujarat in the media and now it is time to unleash social ‘revolution’ hence the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ is on his mission to ‘train’ the dalits for performing ‘rituals’ like marriage, birth ceremony or in temples. His government has kept an amount of Rs 22.50 lakh for this purpose so that people particularly from the Valmiki community could be provided ‘knowledge’ of ‘Sanskrit’ so that they can do it independently. These students would be trained in performing rituals at two universities including Somnath Sanskrit Vidyapeeth. In the period of millions, a tiny sum kept for ‘social revolution’ shows the real intents of those behind it and how serious they are in their efforts. Is this effort aimed at bringing equality in the society or is it aimed to further co-opt the Balmikis or manual scavengers into the broader Hindu fold?
The step taken by Narendra Modi and his government are being projected by his ‘chums’ as ‘revolutionary’ and reformists. Some say, he is an OBC and hence it is a great effort to bring all the Dalits and OBCs into the Hindu fold with great respect and dignity. Addressing a meeting of Valmikis Narendra Modi actually termed them as the ‘priests’ of ‘our cities’. You keep our cities clean and hence you are no less than priests. Sound good words and Modi who is being touted as ‘future’ ‘prime minister’ of India is now on a ‘social reform’ mission. He did it with aadivasis with organizing ‘Sabari mela’ and now with this ‘Dalit priest’ theory he is again trying to coopt them into the Hindu fold and subside their anger against the government for its abject failure for addressing the issue of the Dalits particularly manual scavengers in Gujarat.
Since 1992, Gujarat government has declared that manual scavenging is absolutely abolished in the state. Ofcourse, caste system and untouchability are closely link and none can claim that Gujarat does not have a caste system or untouchability does not exist in Gujrat whether it is owned by Modi or Gandhi. In the din of Hindu Muslim affair, Gujarat successfully hid the dirtiest realities existing in its cities and towns. It was quietly forgotten that Gujarat’s caste society is still powerful and has successfully stalled the march for change among the Dalits and OBCs as whenever there are assertion for their rights and dignity among them, the caste Hindus even use all tactics including economic blockade of those people. The fact is that Modi’s Gujrat is only for the upper caste Hindus who have deep contempt for the Dalits, aadivasis and backward communities, apart from Muslims.
Questions may be posed to Modi and his government on the status of manual scavenging in Gujarat which he and his predecessors have denied having any presence. The fact is that there are numerous reports, videos, photographs that the dirty practice can be seen in Ahmedabad itself. It is shameful that people are still cleaning human excreta by hand and that in a state which claims to be a model state and whose chief minister is looking himself as the future prime minister of India. No problem in his thinking to be the prime minister of India but why does he want us to believe that Gujarat is a different state then rest of us. Yes, it is different because the forces of social change are not active and aggressive in Gujarat and have tamely succumbed to religious-capitalist upper caste groups in the state.
According to census 2011, Gujarat has over 2,500 households where manual scavenging is practiced. The number amuses me as it reflect a fact that Gujarat government does not have money to develop flushed toilets in these 2500 houses if that is the only case. The reality is more frightening actually. The same census survey reveals that out of 1.2 crore households in Gujarat, over 64 lakh do not have drainage facility. Actually, 52 lakh homes have no toilets at all and therefore they must either be defecating in open or using the public toilets. It is found that over 49 lakh people actually defecate in open in Gujarat which shows the standard of shining Gujarat. There are only 2 lakh public toilets in that state which is planning to give Indian ‘alternative’.
These data are easily countered by social activists and research institutions which have done their own surveys even when we can easily say that too have leakages and unsubstantiated figure like national average yet according to Tata Institute of Social Sciences study there are over 12,506 manual scavengers in Gujarat. According to a report published in the Indian Express, it says,’ study says a total of 2,456 households with 12,506 individuals in Gujarat are involved in manual scavenging. Of this, 4,333 (2,755 males, 1,578 females) persons are directly involved in the practice, the rest being children, women, old, unemployed and others. Region wise, Saurashtra leads with 928 households, followed by central Gujarat (569), north Gujarat (529), and south Gujarat (430). Over 50 per cent are involved in removing open defecation, mostly with bare hands’. The fact is that this study was conducted only in municipal corporation areas of over ten thousand population and therefore has left a huge number of smaller towns, villages which are outside the ambit of municipalities and where caste discrimination and untouchability are equally prevalent along with manual scavenging.
While we must appreciate the study, the fact is that Gujarat is a deeply hierarchical society and caste prejudices prevail in that society. The Dalits face more marginalization and even not allowed in the temple. Though, people like us believe that temple entry movements are not really to help the Dalits but to keep them subjugated under the brahmanical system and somehow stamp the ugly reality of caste prejudices.
Gujarat claim to have no dearth of money and Gujarat is shining economically then why such a huge number of Gujaratis are still defecating in open. Is not it a shame but the hidden reality behind this open defecation is the economic status of those who defecate in open. Yes, it is the state with very high number of children suffering from malnutrition and the chief minister mentioned that the girl eat less to look slim. The question is why has Gujarat government failed to eradicate manual scavenging in the state and where is the issue of caste discrimination and untouchability in the Hindutva scheme of things. If it is a model state of Hindutva then how do Balmikis and other dalits live in Gujarat? During a study on Indira Awas Yojna, several years back, I found, how the Balmikis were never really given houses along with other communities. In fact, to save the communities from mixing up, Modi and his protégé actually developed a Balmiki Awas Yojna and houses under this scheme were absolutely isolated and at the last point of a village. Can a Balmiki be allowed to enter in the house of a Patel or any Brahmin in Gujarat? Does Gujarat not have honor killings in the name of castes? Are all the temples open for Dalits?
The question is why does Modi want the Balmikis or Dalits to study Sanskrit? How many of Gujarati Brahmins are studying Sanskrit. Why not open a school for them. Modi want to the Balmikis to perform in the temples. A good idea would be to hand over the temples and their managements of temples such as Somnath, Ambaji and Akshar Dham to the Balmikis so that they have enough income to run their families and favor others. Dalits and any other community today need modern education, access to good universities and availability of jobs in the government as well as private sectors. It would be a great achievement if Modi’s enterprenual Gujarat can stop the caste discrimination within the campuses of Universities and colleges, in companies and factories?
These are desperate attempt to hide the real issues of untouchability and caste system. The caste forces will work over time to hide these realities and hence chose soft target. They know it well that even if Balmikis or Dalits become priests, it is not going to open ‘inter caste’ marriages for them or marriages ceremonies in general for them. Most of them will be confined to their own community and the other way round help the Brahmins who refuses to go there to perform these rituals. As far as temples are concern, there are hundreds of temples where nobody comes and the priests suffer as the powerful temples will always be in the hands of caste Hindus. Basically, Narendra Modi is trying to halt the march of dignity of Dalits through these cunning methods so that people do not question the historical injustice done to them. If he is concerned about Balmikis, has he ever spoken about the untouchability and caste discrimination that is the order of day in Gujarat?
The temple entry movement and putting people back to religious rituals are nothing but deeply flawed and cunning move by the power elite to hide the ugly reality which they have played and their inability to condemn the gross violation of human rights of Dalits through such practices. A few days back, another ‘revolutionary’ took the Balmiki women to Kumbha for a bathing in the Ganges. It was claimed that after bathing in the Ganga, they have challenged the status quo. The same champions did not bother to see the gross violation of basic dignity and human rights of over seven thousands Safai karmcharis during Kumbha fair. The issue of untouchability and caste discrimination cannot be solved by these juggleries and treacherous ways without questioning the authority of varnashram dharma and its divisive philosophy which is anti-human and anti-human rights.
Those who want to install the caste-ist vaidik values on us cannot really have love and respect for human rights and that way Gujarat government’s Dalit priest project is nothing but anti Dalit and full of hypocrisy as it want to keep them in the Hindu fold without demolishing the caste hierarchies and caste system. Is it possible to have an equality based human society without the demolition of caste system? Does Modi want to demolish caste system or he want to keep it further to perpetuate his agenda on everyone. Will he ever apologize to Balmikis and other dalits for years of discrimination and untouchability which has divine sanction as he claim to represent the saffron brigade and the ideology of Hindutva?