To my many critics, with all my love

Chandra Bhan Prasad

While writing Dalit Diary each week, I always think of Shri M Ratan. I read his regular "Letters To the Editor" with a great deal of seriousness. Over a period of time, I have grown to respect and become fond of him. Reasons? He very often responds to my views, he articulates the collective wisdom of the classical Varna order and he is very honest in what he says. I believe critics are great purifiers, they make one more responsible while theorising.

But certain fundamental questions remain unresolved. All that I have been arguing about in these last two years, can be summarised as: I strongly believe the Dalits' present state owes itself to the Chaturvarna doctrine of exclusion and segregation. In the classical order, untouchables and tribals, who come from common ancestors, didn't have citizenship rights, were treated as prisoners of war and even settled separately. The tasks the order assigned to them were only manual and menial.

Though the Varna order, today, does not exist in its classical form, its implications have the same sort of result for Dalits even now. Birth is thought to be a sort of "accident". And if this accident places a new born in the Dalit category, the child's status in society is predestined. Consider the following, as to how the order in its "paper back" edition still determines the lives of people living below the Indus: There are 7.46 crore landless agricultural labourers in India, of which 3.38 crore are Dalits. In other words, Dalits make up 45.30 per cent of this mass - about one-fourth of India's total population. What this means is that virtually every second Dalit is a landless agricultural labourer. Does the same hold true for the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Kayasthas, Vaishyas, Jats, Yadavas, Kurmies, Lodhs, Kammas, Reddies etc? Can anyone help me find one landless labourer from the above Varna communities, or one member from these many communities who clean dry latrines in order to earn a living? Those who can't, must join me.

Similarly, there are 1.26 crore SCs and 1.55 crore STs counted amongst cultivators but 75.73 per cent of SC and 64.8 per cent of ST land holdings fall in the marginal and small categories. About 20.70 per cent of ST land holdings are not irrigated, as against the all India average of 44.9 per cent agricultural holdings being irrigated. I am prepared to travel with kisan leaders, planners, newspaper editors, TV correspondents, development economists and anybody else to grain mandis all across the country to find out how many tractor trolleys, of every 100 driving into these mandis, belong to Dalit farmers? Those who can't, must join me!

I would like the Income Tax department to come out with a column, asking industrial/business houses whether even one Dalit pays more than Rs 1 crore as tax? Or, from a population of over 25 crore, can anyone help me find one Dalit whose assets are worth more than Rs 1 billion? Those who can't, must join me! And I would like a committee of senior citizens to be formed, to find out whether even one member of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), India International Centre (IIC) or the India Habitat Centre (IHC) is a Dalit. And I would like a committee to be formed, with a presidium consisting of the CPI(M)'s de-facto Chief Jyoti Basu, RSS' de jure Chief KS Sudarshan, my friend M Ratan, Vir Sanghvi, editor, Hindustan Times, socialite Suhel Seth - who all ascribe an inconsequential role to the Chaturvarna order - and myself, to study the following in West Bengal:

1. Why SC and STs are 15.49 and 29.92 percentage points less literate than the others in Bengal? 2. Why the proportion of landless agricultural labourers in the SC/ST work force is higher than that of non-Dalits by 25.57 and 33.30 percentage points? 3. Why the proportion of the SC/ST work force in the most lucrative tertiary sector is lower by 16.21 and 27.47 percentage points? 4. Why SC/STs, put together, comprise only 11.67 per cent of the total strength of school teachers, whereas their share in West Bengal's total population is as high as 28.91 per cent? Are these incidental or accidental?

My critics don't answer my questions but instead, accuse me of creating a Varna/caste divide. And when I say all ideological divisions, Left/Liberal/Secular/Right, are artificial and that this artificiality vanishes into thin air when faced with the Dalit question, they accuse me of being "ignorant". At a recent "knowledge party," hosted by a prominent historian, I underwent one such humiliating experience. A bearded Bihari Varna guest, with truck loads of Left-Secular pretensions, sarcastically asked me, "Are you enjoying the advantages?" Stunned as I was, I thought, "All our lives, we have been fighting only disadvantages and yet, these people cannot tolerate even one Dalit column?" I fear that if a Dalit becomes editor of a national daily, how many of these people will readily shave off their Left/secular masks and return to where they genuinely belong - their Ranvir Sena Roots?

Published on: April 30, 2001
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