The coming of the second empire

Chandrabhan Prasad

Will lifting quantitative restrictions on 715 consumer items herald the second empire? What impact will it have on Dalits?

When Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to trade with India on December 31, 1600, neither she nor her traders had foreseen Plassey in 1757, or its hero Robert Clive. Neither had they thought Shah Alam would grant Diwani to the East India Company in 1765. Then came the British empire.

It brought with it Western education. The foundation of a modern Republic was laid, citizenship became an issue. The Varna elite learnt how to dress, walk and communicate with the civilised world. Science cleaned the minds of monkey-worshippers. Dalits got a breathing space, as they were otherwise pre-destined to exclusion.

In pre-British India, Dalits had only duties, no rights. While there was very little to learn from the indigenous system of education, there was censorship on Dalits' entry. Sir Munro, in his report of 1822, wrote there was no student belonging to the Depressed Classes in the indigenous system. Sir Elphinstone corroborates this in his report of 1823.

On May 20, 1857, the education department stipulated that "no boy should be refused admission to a government college or school merely on the ground of caste." Why were Dalit villages burnt, riots stoked and six large schools deserted in Kaira district of Bombay Presidency. Because untouchable children had dared to enroll in common schools.

Why did the Hunter Commission recommend in 1882 that "the establishment of special schools or classes for children of low castes be liberally encouraged?" The commission identified 16 separate schools for Depressed Classes in Bombay Presidency and four in the Central Provinces. By the end of the 19th Century, separate schools for Dalits became a phenomenon. A thousand such schools are functional even today. The present columnist is the product of one such separate school in Azamgarh.

Intellectually incoherent Varna historians like the Vipins and Sarkars will not tell the truth, lest the Empire's liberating role gets legitimacy! The battle the Empire fought with the Varnas during 1854-1883 was not over territory but over democratising education.

Needless to add, it was the launch pad painfully constructed by the Empire which allowed a messiah like Dr Ambedkar to emerge and challenge the decadent Chaturvarna order.

Dalits have seen Varna rulers since 1947 - the task they were supposed to have accomplished within a decade, remains incomplete even today. But will the second coming of the empire turn in the Dalits' favour?

Three major streams are opposed to economic liberalisation and globalisation: Ambedkarites, Left and RSS. While Ambedkarites are concerned that globalisation will inevitably lead to privatisation and damage Dalits' interests, the Left and the RSS belong to the same Varna order. Logically, they have the same logic: farmers will perish, industrialists will be unable to compete and the nation's wealth plundered.

From the Dalit viewpoint, let every farmer (or landlord) in India perish. It is this section which commits atrocities, refuses to pay minimum wages and challenges Dalit democratic rights. Let every industrialist and bania suffer as the money they plunder serves no Dalit purpose. Has any industrial house ever spent a rupee on Dalit welfare? Rather, their money is often used against Dalits!

Privatisation is an attendant phenomenon of globalisation. But the private sector offers no space to Dalits. No country can escape from globalisation. Further, Dalit movements in general, and Dalit political leadership in particular, are in no position to prevent it. Dalits should not forget that both the Left and RSS are united in opposing American entry. Both cursed the British empire!

Since most American companies implement the diversity policy, share wealth, institutions and the knowledge industry with Blacks, Dalits have hope. In my assessment, if the diversity policy is ever introduced in India's private sector, the first company to do so will be an American! After all, it is easier to negotiate with Bill Gates than a Birla, it will still be easier to negotiate with George Bush than Atal Bihari Vajpayee! Can Dalits turn the disadvantage of globalisation to their advantage?

Referred by:Sashi Kanth
Published on: May 1, 2001
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