Two years' travel and Everest on my head
April 1999 to April 2001: That is the distance Dalit Diary has travelled. But the journey has not been very smooth. I have always felt the weight of an Everest on my head, coercing me to apply a certain amount of self-censorship on my views. The Pioneer has given me the space to tackle that huge weight. "Untouchability is a social evil," they say. "And the evil must be eradicated," they declare. That is how it is addressed. Remember Gandhiji's efforts in the same direction.
But I do not agree. I know untouchability is not a social phenomenon. It is political. It relates to the question of citizenship. Those outside the Chaturvarna order - untouchables and tribals, who come from one common ancestor, were not thought of as citizens. They didn't have any rights. They were officially prevented from accumulating sampatti, entering the world of shiksha and possessing shastra.
Untouchability was a doctrine of exclusion/segregation. The doctrine was accorded divine sanction. The practice of purity was a mere symptom. The modern Republic made everybody eligible to the rights of citizenship. The erstwhile excluded/segregated lot were to be represented in all walks of India's public life.
I studied in JNU. I can still recall the names of several dozen Dalits, who after completing their M.Phil/Ph.D courses, were refused lectureship positions reserved for them. This means JNU does not recognise its own degrees. What is the result? According to a recent report in the Dainik Hindustan, there are 69 SC/ST faculty positions vacant. Remember, JNU is thought to be a Left bastion.
If I wrote that Romila Thapar works for the RSS by proxy (she didn't allow a single Dalit to teach in JNU's history department), then I may have been accused of toeing the Sangh line. Or, if I wrote that the CSDS, founded by the great political scientist Prof Rajani Kothari, is an extended office of the Organiser, (CSDS defies the doctrine of reservation) then I may have been accused of maligning a renowned social justicist. Or, if I wrote that the famous journalist Prafulla Bidwai practises Hindutva (he writes for a magazine, which does not employ Dalits and is edited by a CPM sympathiser) then I may have been accused of maligning a wonderful champion of secularism.
Or, I if wrote that Outlook editor Vinod Mehta, does not, as matter of policy, think of any Dalit as "meritorious" enough to join his magazine, then I may have been accused of maligning an outstanding liberal of our times.
Why am I naming these people? The reason is simple. Every newspaper/ magazine/ TV channel in India, has a considerable number of Left/secular/social justicist/liberal staffer/columnists. But why don't they launch a campaign against the 75,000 vacant teaching posts in colleges/universities all over India? Especially when these are reserved for Dalits? Why don't these people ask why there are not even 20 Dalit journalists from a 20-crore strong community. Why don't these frequent-flyers to the West tell us that there is reservation in America's private sector?
It is this set of people who occupy the media and knowledge industry, but never speak up for our rights. And it is this set of people who intrude on our thinking process and manipulate our consciousness.
When I began writing for Dalit Diary, I was expected to launch an offensive against the BJP. I didn't do that. So, my integrity was questioned. To be a progressive, you had to criticise the BJP. And what happened before 1989, when the Congress fell from power? One had to criticise the Congress. The BJP was good until then. The Jan Sangh, with a contingent of some 80 MPs, was the largest constituent of the Janata Party. Think how dangerous the RSS was then?
And until 1947? One had to criticise the British empire! Didn't Dr Ambedkar suffer the humiliation of being branded an angrez sympathiser? What was our situation when the RSS/Jan Sangh/BJP were not formed? What if the BJP goes and the Congress makes a comeback? Will the BJP turn good again? Where is the Dalit agenda? Where are Dalit rights?
I am writing these lines with a heavy heart. For I know that the Left/Right divide is an artificial one. A Dvija is a Dvija, a Shudra stays just that, and a Dalit, Dalit. Shudras do not give us our minimum wages or land, Dvijas do not give us our share of capital, the knowledge industry or the media etc. It is as simple as this. In every Arun Shourie, there is a hidden Prafull Bidwai, and in every Prafull Bidwai, there is a hidden Arun Shourie. Dalits must think of their rights, and think independently.
For emancipation of the mind is an essential pre-requisite.