Caste is a part of the Indian social systemí

The NDA government has appointed Sanghpriya Gautam, a party member of Rajya Sabha, as the Chairman of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes Commission. Gautam, who hails from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, traces his political origins to the Republican Party of India from the days of Dr Ambedkar. He is considered a champion of the Dalits and makes no bones about how he went against the then party president L K Advaniís wishes to offer the chief ministership to Mayawati. At one point of time Gautam even hoped to succeed Kalyan Singh as UP Chief Minister.

Excerpts from an interview:

What is your reaction to the move to refer the issue of caste discrimination and caste violence to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights violations?

Has there been such a move? I donít know about it. In fact, the United Nations has set up a committee under a lawyer of Sri Lankan origin to go into the question whether it is necessary to consider caste discrimination and caste violence as human rights violation. Of course, at this stage the question is still under consideration. But that is an issue raised by various Dalit organisations of India. To the best of my knowledge no political or social organisation of Dalits that has been working in the country for long towards the uplift of the Dalits has referred this matter to the United Nations. If at all, caste discrimination is to be taken in the list of human rights violations, then there may be so many professions on the basis of which the caste discrimination and rights are violated, and then this will not be valid because it is a part of social system.

So, in essence youíre saying that caste discrimination and caste violence do not amount to human rights violation?

Yes, to me, these are two different things.

So what would you consider human rights violation?

To me human rights consist of rozi, roti, kapda, makan, shiksha, dawa, suraksha, nyaya, samman and water. If these things are denied to any person in the name of caste or anything else, then it is violation of human rights.

Does that mean if there is a disagreement between a caste Hindu and a Dalit, and as a result of that a caste Hindu attacks a Dalit, then this is perfectly legitimate and will not constitute a human right violation?

Yes and no. What I say is if during a disagreement there is an exchange of hot words, violence takes place between father and son, between brother and brother, between husband and wife, would it amount to violation of human rights?

But do civilised societies even allow this kind of violence?

Civilised societies are committing rapes, civilised societies are committing murders, civilised societies are heading land mafias, drug mafias, arms mafias, civilised societies are destroying thousands of years old institutions. Civilised societies are running brothels. Are they not doing all this?

Okay. Let us restrict our talk to the violence against the Dalits.

The violence against the Dalits is not only because they are Dalits but also because they are socially, economically and politically backward. Till they are at par with other sections of the society, there cannot be any let up in violence against them. I nstead of talking about this caste violence and caste discrimination, the human rights commission must come forward for the empowerment of the weaker sections of the society in the economy of the country, in the administration of the country, in the governance of the country, in the industry of the country.

But you could say the same of the Blacks in America. They also suffered primarily because of their social, educational and economic backwardness. That is why the whole issue of racial discrimination came up. That is why the United Nations was asked to look into the question of racial discrimination. So the moot question is how is caste discrimination or violence any the different than racial discrimination?

You are 100 per cent correct. There was discrimination against the Blacks in America long, long ago. Now, they have the right to vote and have been empowered. They are in the administration. They are well placed in that country.

Similar change has happened in India also, where for about 200 years the Arya Samaji movement, the Brahmo Samaj movement, the Ramakrishna Mission, the Ramaswami Naicker movement, Dr Ambedkar, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Guru Nanak and many other reformists in this country, fought untouchability which resulted in this inequality.

So, in 1930, when Dr Ambedkar participated in the Round Table Conference, he fought for the human rights of the so-called Dalits. The law was enacted and certain rights were incorporated in the Government of India Act of 1935. And this reservation came into existence because of that Act in 1936. So now the Dalits of the country are sharing the governance, the administration and the judiciary.

The only problem is that whatever rights we have granted to them by the Constitution, they have not been implemented by any government in this country and had these been implemented the Dalit the others. You are saying that the Dalits have the right to universal suffrage; they have reservation and everything else. Does that mean that now the Dalits of this country are fully emancipated and empowered?

No. Iím not saying that. As I have said, the Constitutional guarantees have not been fulfilled. It is the obligation of the Government to do it. Apart from fundamental rights in the Constitution, there are directive principles of state policy. So directive principles of state policy have to be implemented and this happens only when there is a political will. And political will does not come from caste; it comes from a political party that governs the country.

But then what do you have to say about a former senior member of your party, the Himachal Pradesh governor, Suraj Bhanís complaint that the government, particularly in UP, where he was earlier the Governor, does precious little for the Dalits?

This particular governor mentioned by you, he was made MLA in Haryana, he was made leader of the Opposition in Haryana, he was made revenue minister in Haryana, and he was president of the Haryana State BJP party.

Then, he was made all-India general secretary of the BJP SC cell; he was made president of the Anusoochit Jati Morcha two-three times at the Centre. Then, he was four times Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, he was made Speaker, and then he was sent as a Governor.

So what the BJP could not give for upper classes, they gave to that Governor, thatís one. Secondly, he did not talk of the then government. He said all governments in Uttar Pradesh.

I have already said that the governments of this country, constituted by whichever party have not implemented the directive principles and the guarantees given by the Constitution.

The money allotted by the Planning Commission as per the population of scheduled castes has not been used by any government, be it Mulayam Singhís government or Mayawatiís government.

Where would you put your partyís attitude towards the Dalits?

My party, so to say, is better than any political party for the so-called Dalits in our Constitution. But it is on a reciprocal basis. If you want to take help from me and support me, then I will help you, support you. But if you criticise me, disassociate from me, donít support me, if you donít vote me and you want that I should do everything for you, I am not a saint. After all, I have to get the public support and without support, I cannot come to Parliament.

If that is the case, then why did your party MPs complain that Mr Bangaru Laxman was being made a scapegoat for being a Dalit?

You should understand that it was only that man who was shown to the people for months together taking money from an unknown person. Why it happened in his case only?

There may be thousands of people who may take money behind closed doors. But nobody has been shown this way. Even persons from the other parties and the minister mentioned in the tapes were not shown taking money.

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Referred by: Benjamin Paul
Published on: June 20, 2001
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