What Andhra Dalits must do
Chandra Bhan Prasad
It all started 82 years ago in Maharashtra. Dr Ambedkar appeared before Lord Southborough, Chairman of the Franchise Committee on January 27, 1919. He submitted a written statement, thought to be his first political writing.
Dr Ambedkar sowed the seed of the organised Dalit movement when he argued before the committee that untouchables were a separate element in India's social life. The distinction between "untouchables" and "touchables" was more pronounced than the distinction between religious communities such as the Hindus, Muslims, Parsis etc. On this ground of "division," Dr Ambedkar, for the first time, raised the question of communal representation for Dalits.
That seed was to later bloom into a full-blown national movement, resulting in the Dalits' right of representation in legislative bodies, jobs in the government and certain facilities in education. Thus, it was Maharashtra which laid the foundations of the Dalit movement and consciousness.
After Ambedkar's death in 1956, instead of defining and carrying forward his mission and providing leadership to the Dalits of India, the Marathi Dalit leaders lost their touch. It even shrunk in the process. The leadership political, social, cultural and literary alike, began to look for salvation for itself, leaving the masses to fend for themselves. The leadership however, before degenerating, did lay another foundation the BAMCEF in 1978. Kanshi Ram brought that movement from Pune to the Hindi heartland.
The formation of the BSP was a "rupture", giving the Dalits a new hope and a political platform. Then came the day of judgement, the acid-test of Dalit politics when one of the community's most wonderful leaders, popularly called bahen Mayawatiji, risked her life on June 2, 1995, but ultimately survived to write a new chapter in the history of the Dalit movement. She became Chief Minister the next day. Her ascendancy to the chief ministerial post was the first negotiated political settlement in post-Ambedkar times. The Dalits' political genius reached new heights when Kanshi Ram, easily described as the second Ambedkar, used his "skills" to give the Dalits a whiff of power. He proved that even while being a social minority, the Dalits could create a situation where the sharing of power (with them) became a reality. That movement has sustained itself, and is maturing. But it still remains confined to the north the den of Varna civilisation. In a way, the Dalit movement is being pushed forward on a one-wheeled bicycle. Ideally, the Dalit movement should run on four wheels, the other three coming from the South, the West and the East.
The Dalits of Andhra have a great responsibility to shoulder. After Maharashtra and UP, it is their turn to buoy up the movement, lest the North collapse under the weight of economic liberalisation. The AP Dalits are in a position to fill in the blanks, they are even in a position to re-define the very agenda of the Dalit movement. This, I say on the following grounds:
Dalits in Andhra are numerically well placed, the SC and STs together make up 22.24 per cent of the total population, 0.90 percentage points more than the proportion of Dalit population in UP. Of all the Dalit students at the graduate level in India, 13.22 per cent are from Andhra. This shows that the Andhra Dalits are miles ahead when it comes to education, a necessary element in awareness building. Of all the Dalit students enrolled in medical and engineering courses, 18.86 per cent are Andhra Dalits, doctors and engineers who can greatly contribute to the movement.
It is an accepted fact that a large number of all-India service jobs go to Andhra Dalits, hinting at the evolution of a middle class amongst the Dalits there a class which turns out to be a most reliable "vehicle" for new ideas. Andhra society has witnessed the rise of "upper" shudras (Kammas, Reddys, etc) as the new ruling caste. This means the Andhra Dalits cannot be fooled just by slogans of Bahujanbad. Contradictions in Andhra society are much sharper than elsewhere in India. While at the all India level, of every 100 SCs and STs, 49 and 32.69 respectively are landless agricultural labourers, in Andhra the proportion is as high as 72.05 for SCs and 46.57 for STs. This means that the agenda of land reform has to evolve from Andhra as the fundamental question of the Dalit movement. The process of economic liberalisation has been a lot faster in Andhra. It also has a legacy of a radical left movement. Thus, a Dalit movement in Andhra can expect better support.
Andhra Dalits are poised at a crucial point in their history. They must realise their potential and re-define the Dalit agenda. They must bring the entire South into the midst of the Dalit movement. In other words, they must shoulder the responsibility history has thrust upon them.