They 'the people,' we 'the untouchables'
It can happen only in India. In the US or South Africa, it will be beyond anybody's imagination to indulge in any race-related discourse without involving Blacks. Last Sunday, Star News organised a debate on caste in We The People, hosted by Barkha Dutt, otherwise a fairly "secular" person by persuasion and self-consciously a liberal. There were three panellists and about two dozen other participants. The award-winning journalist did not find it necessary to invite at least a Dalit. And yet this community forms over a fourth of India's population.
I was not anguished at the denial of rights to Dalits to represent their viewpoint. Dalits are rarely required in academic or media discourses. Mr Prannoy Roy, owner of NDTV which makes programmes for Star News, is under no legal obligation to democratise his workforce or the social composition of his discussants. Similarly, Ms Dutt, too, is under no legal or social obligation to ensure Dalits' participation in a discussion on caste as victims are often viewed with suspicion - "Look at him speaking, only anger, no substance, no reasoning in his reflections".
The Durban move has opened up a new chapter and the new Dalit should not only become master of his own consciousness, but also master the non-Dalit consciousness. Post-Ambedkar, Dalits have lived lives of unexplained contradictions. Why did the community not produce one scholar with an all-India appeal? Or, why after Ambedkar's writings, has not a single book authored by a Dalit got an all-India recognition? Of course, hurdles are there, but were Dr Ambedkar's hurdles any less?
First the brain-drain-articulate, better educated Dalits had no option but to join services under the State. Society outside the State offers no space to the community. In the form of government jobs, Dalits got a launching pad from where they can now launch a fresh onslaught on the attitude of Varna intelligentsia. Ambedkar's success owes not only to his genius, commitment and sacrifices, but also his choice of targets. He first targetted the intelligentsia of his time, scored points over them and tamed many. The post-Ambedkar Dalit, too, must make a similar choice or a breakthrough will continue to elude him.
Fresh questions are to be raised. For instance, can a Varna University Vice-Chancellor, who refuses to appoint Dalits against reserved vacancies, be considered a Dalit's friend just because he professes to be a "secular, left or liberal?" Can a Varna editor/anchor/columnist, who in his entire lifetime did not provide any space to a Dalit, be considered a friend just because he/she professes to be "ideologically progressive?" Or, can an actor/actress be trusted, who in his/her entire lifetime didn't raise the question of Dalits' exclusion from the film industry just because he/she professes to be "progressive?" Or can a Varna-intellectual, who had supported HD Devegowda and had tried to reverse Karnataka's Land Ceiling Legislation, be considered Dalits' friend just because he/she professes to be "progressive?" Or, can a columnist, who has never bothered to explore why there is not a single Dalit member in the Confederation of Indian Industries [CII], be trusted? Did he ever devote one article exclusively on the system of Annual Confidential Reports [ACR], which leaves most Dalit offices/employees bleeding in their career?
New Dalits must realise that the Varna-Avarna divide is a fundamental one. Those within the order have a prejudiced frame of mind against those outside it. Dalits are presumed to be "incompetent" unless proven otherwise and Varnas are presumed to be "competent" unless proven otherwise. Varnas have a natural sense of solidarity despite several sub-divisions amongst themselves, and in most normal situations, approach Dalits with hostile attitude.
"We, The People Of India" is the opening sentence of the Constitution, which seeks to build "one-people-one-nation." But, Varnas are yet to reconcile with that verdict. It is this frame of mind which allows an editor or anchor, who has never given any space to any Dalit ever, deliver an hour-long lecture in favour of Dalits' Durban move.
The new Dalit has a historic role to play today. Every editor, every columnist is a netizen. Then, why are self-confessed "progressives" refusing to write on diversity in the US, a wonderful doctrine which seeks Black representation even in film and creative art. The new Dalit must ask for his pound of flesh.
Those Varna intellectuals, who are in positions of power and claim "progressive-secular-left" space, must accord Dalits their due space. If we don't manage to play out our responsibilities, "People" will perpetuate our exclusion, defeat the Constitutional mandate and continue to encroach progressive space!