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To those ranting "Anti-national" jibes on Social media about Phd Scholar, ‪#‎RohithVemula‬ from the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide last Sunday evening, let us try and understand what Rohith Vemula stood for:

1. We may disagree with Rohith's protest against Yakub Memon's hanging, but here's the thing:

Remember that whether a democratic nation can carry out "Capital Punishment" is already a Global debate. More than 100 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. . He says on Yakub Memon hanging," If death penalty is the only punishment we can offer to the convicted people, we must stop calling OUR NATION democratic. So, Rohith just stood towards 'that' side of the debate on 'Capital Punishments'

His 'Anti-Terrorism' credentials are very much evident through his FB posts where he vehemently criticizes ISIS, Patriarchy in Saudi Arabia or where he expresses strong grief and solidarity towards the Indian Jawans martyred in 2008 Mumbai Blasts or more recently in Pathankot. His words, "26th November marks the 7th Anniversary for the grisly attacks on Mumbai killing 173 people. The terrorist attacks motivated by extremist religious ideology left the nation in huge shock and it questioned our basic understanding of combating terrorism. The attacks were a demonstration of how dangerous the mix of chauvinistic nationalism and religious bigotry could be. On this day it is important for everyone of us to resolve against any extremist ideology, illogical hatred and depending upon religion to make our daily choices."

2. We may disagree with his support to Beef-Festival, but here's the thing (In his own words from his FB post):

" First of all, I am not one of those who think beef eating is eternally emancipatory. And I am not also a cultural apologist.Something is a psuedo-scientific thing, I would not wish it to be continued on the name of cultural tradition. Coming to the core aspect of my ranting, beef eating in public is not an act of reclaiming something from the history. It was to show resistance for those contemporary forces in today's India (Well, must be said the Always' India, no?) who think that they can control the others' way of life. Beef eating is an element of culture of resistance which must concern everyone rather than an exclusive Dalit resistance culture.
Eating beef and celebrating beef eating is an act of solidarity with all those who are getting murdered on this reason nation wide. If we fail to see the fact that the BJP-RSS-VHP scheme of anti-beef campaign is essentially a tool to persecute Muslim minorities in this country, we would regret for being the mute spectators of another mass unrest in OUR COUNTRY. The whole cow myth is less anti-Dalit today and more of anti-Muslim propaganda."

3. You may disagree with the initial Inquiry Committee's report which said:

"The Board could not get any hard evidence of beating of Susheel Kumar either from Krishna Chaitanya or from the reports submitted by Dr.Anupama. Dr.Anupama's reports also could not link or suggest the surgery of the Susheel Kumar is the direct result of the beating."

The above matter though is being currently investigated, therefore we must wait till the facts are completely established on this.

Finally, you may disagree with his various viewpoints, but let us hold-on and understand what Rohith stood for throughout his short life. Rohith's ultimate 'struggle' through all his actions as an activist of ASA was to use his own words from his suicide note and another post was for:

a) "The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living".

b) "The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move into building a new future on the basis of more humane, more inclusive society".

.. and many more of his posts only reveal that he always dreamt to work for an INCLUSIVE, IDENTITY-LESS society which Babasaheb Ambedkar always aspired. Rohith had his own brand/idea of Nation & Nationalism which Babasaheb explains as below:

Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of nation is not only of a political or geographical entity, having a map and a flag. He didn’t subscribe to the popular definition of nation something as “large group of people living in one area with their own government, language, traditions, etc. (Cambridge Dictionary).” For him idea of nation has to have a philosophical and spiritual connotation with welfare, equity and fraternity as central themes. While explaining his idea of nation he had quoted French philosopher Ernest Renan saying that “A nation is a living soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute the soul, this spiritual principle. The actual consent, the desire to live together."

Therefore, before we brand Rohith as "Anti-National" etc, let us introspect whether are we not guilty of being intolerant towards a viewpoint or action which does not go well with our understanding of Nation or Nationalism or Humanity?

We may say that Rohith committed suicide because of the events, the Social Boycott through the external influences and the might of political powers viz: MLC, MP, Union Ministers etc that followed in the campus. However, the fact is that he took such a step for more "FUNDAMENTAL" reason, principles and concerns about the society around, quite evident through his letter. How the VALUE OF MAN who deserves to be TREATED AS A MIND and a glorious thing made up of star dust has been reduced to some IMMEDIATE IDENTITY throughout his various lifetime experiences. We must admit that there has to be something wrong with the campuses and society around when we have the alarming figures available on Dalit students committing suicides due to PREJUDICE around. By the way, Rohith wasn't a mere student but a Phd Scholar who achieved the Phd seat without using his SC status. So the 'incompetence', 'reservations' argument for suicides does not hold in case of Rohith but only the argument of Prejudice he faced does. This is evident when he suggests to VC for a Rope, Sodium Azide, Euthanasia to Dalit students "With a dire, to use If they feel like reading Ambedkar". Clearly, he appears disturbed with a fact that one cannot survive (due to caste-prejudice) with Liberty in the University if one asserts the views of Ambedkar in open. Rohith finally lost the hope about the fundamental ideas of human life and the world which he aspired for. This is evident from below words in his suicide note:

"I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art"

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"Not speaking about caste cannot eradicate the caste.... It just makes the discrimination nameless!!! And our activisms are not Identity politics, they are struggles for recognition." -  Rohith Vemula
Expelled_students_forced_to_vacate_hostels
Rohith proudly carrying the "dangerous substance" while he was expelled (socially boycotted) from the hostel.

 

As they say, Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. While quitting from this world, Rohith manifests that he was a Great mind, one, by NOT blaming "PEOPLE" (even enemies) and two, NOT any EVENTS but three, purely his IDEAS about the human life & his world-view behind his decision to depart from his life.

People (driven by some ideologies around) who in a way are celebrating Rohith's death, the only thought which comes to mind is "Maut bhi jinki aanko me ashk nahi laati, kaise maan le ye insan ki aulaade hain". However, poetic response to radical jibes is less engaging hence less democratic approach towards dissent, hence the above piece..

The students from all social backgrounds have stood-up now, for this is not an issue of one caste, one person, and one incidence. This is the issue of Human rights and about Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice.

Let's hope and wish we 'Understand' (if not agree with) Rohith apart from the ideological debates around, at least after he is gone, to use his words again.."in search of another world from the shadows towards the stars, HAPPY DEAD THAN BEING ALIVE".

 

By Pratik Tembhurne

One Last time,

JAI BHEEM, Rohith !

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Dhammachakra Pravartan Din at Deekshabhoomi

"I have no Motherland' Ambedkar once said to Gandhi, in frustration following the treatment dalits received in 20th Century. However, even if today an educated chunk belonging to Scheduled caste group get similar feeling of whether this is really "My Motherland", then the status quo of the Indian society and the treatment its people receive has to be intriguing.

Stall selling calenders and books of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
Stall selling calenders and books of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

In 1935 at Nasik district, Maharashtra, Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar had declared his firm resolve to change his religion. He famously said, "The object of our movement is to achieve social freedom. It is equally true that this freedom cannot be secured without conversion". On October 14, 1956, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and lakhs of his followers converted to Buddhism at a place in Nagpur which is now called Deeksha Bhoomi.  The day of Vijayadashmi Dussehra, for on this day in 1956, millions of Dalits “broke the shackles of Hindu religion and converted to Buddhism,” according to him.

Just as every year, lakhs of people from Scheduled caste and many progressive groups across India gather in Nagpur to remember this day, to celebrate the Dhammachakra Pravartan Din. Whole city of Nagpur is seen with people from across the country visiting to pay homage to their leader and witness this event of their Liberty. Every nook and corner across Nagpur is seen with people greeting each other. Various Books written by Ambedkar and other progressive writers are sold on a ground near Deekshabhoomi. People rejoice to the rebellious songs singing the story of their liberation and rebel.  Music, Speeches, Books, Reverence, Self-respect, Organisation, Citizenship rights, people resolve to abide by Ambedkar's message of "Educate, Organize and Agitate" and lot more can be observed as key-features of this gathering to any witness present there. Book selling crosses record numbers in mere 2 days.  The ambience is much similar, even grand compared to what we witness on 6th December in Dadar in Mumbai when people come to pay homage to Ambedkar on his Death Anniversary.

dalits posing in front of Deeksha Bhoomi on Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din
Deeksha bhoomi continues to call lakhs every year, six decades after Ambedkar's demise
Book stall selling Ambedkar's works
Book stall selling Ambedkar's works

I had no expectation personally that this event could get any air-time in the mainstream media, and I was quite not outraged though not OK with the "black-out" of this event in the media. The outrage arose when since morning I have been watching a Mohan Bhagwat speech atttended by a very tiny crowd being aired on all channels held at Reshim Baugh which is hardly few kilometers away from Deekshabhoomi. I mean, the attitude of "ignorance towards a group existence"  of the media is quite evident when their cameras and vans easily navigate through hundreds of people celebrating all around the city but cover a speech of RSS chief.

Followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Deeksha Bhoomi
Followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Deeksha Bhoomi

If media is the fourth pillar of Democracy, the role of Media towards the society and its citizenry has to be extremely responsible. Such ignorance of an outright apparent grand event and cover another speech is a matter of great introspection for us as a society. Such acts clearly gives a group a feeling of being unimportant in the national arena. While the media keeps harping about Secularism, such navigation of their cameras clearly reveal their biased approach of ignorance and selective importance towards the citizens of a same country. Media attitude in this case is "Philosophy of Silence and Killing by ignorance". Such occasions clearly expose the double-standards media practices about Secularism. Secularism discourse in India has been narrowed down to mere Hindu-Muslims binary. When Secularism in its broader sense has to be in treating each citizen of the State without any prejudice arising out of caste, creed, religion etc. Such occasions definitely create a feeling of alienation among the minorities (Scheduled castes in this context). I do not know whether the camera ignorance/affinity of media in this case is just about the indifference or subtle upper-caste prejudice/arrogance. I am not a journalism expert, but I'm sure journalism cannot be just about the TRPs or the choices of the editors, what to air and what not.

- An outraged Citizen of India (Pratik Tembhurne)

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Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar converted to Buddhism on 15 October 1956 at Deeksha Bhoomi, in Nagpur. Around 8 lakh followers converted in his steps. At this time he took 22 vows, more like open declarations. These are a rejection of Hinduism as unequal and something that the upper dominant public "memory" rarely remembers. We'd like to begin and end Ambedkar with the constitution and a few photos.

has now withdrawn a book about Dr Ambedkar from school syllabus, because it contained this "objectionable" content against Hinduism. The publisher had added them in the blank space left after the content of the book - not entirely an inappropriate choice given that these are perhaps 's most influential words ever as a part of the 's largest religious conversion.

So much for the claims of Buddhism being "a part of" Hinduism. Unless their Brahmanical symbols are respected, they will not allow the words. So this Brahmin publishes them with pride on my blog and states that there are still Brahmins who manage to be human beyond indoctrinated prejudices of birth. And there must be more.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's contribution to the deprived classes of has given him the status of a God among them. Over half a century after his , people come from all over the nation in his memory by the lakhs - something no politician alive has managed beyond rigging up paid crowds and transporting them by bus.

I say his words have legitimacy and deserve to be read. Here are his 22 vows.

  1. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh nor shall I worship them.
  2. I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be incarnation of God nor shall I worship them.
  3. I shall have no faith in ‘Gauri’, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus nor shall I worship them.
  4. I do not believe in the incarnation of God.
  5. I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda.
  6. I shall not perform ‘Shraddha’ nor shall I give ‘pind-dan’.
  7. I shall not act in a manner violating the principles and teachings of the Buddha.
  8. I shall not allow any ceremonies to be performed by Brahmins.
  9. I shall believe in the of man.
  10. I shall endeavour to establish equality.
  11. I shall follow the ‘noble eightfold path’ of the Buddha.
  12. I shall follow the ‘paramitas’ prescribed by the Buddha.
  13. I shall have compassion and loving kindness for all living beings and protect them.
  14. I shall not steal.
  15. I shall not tell lies.
  16. I shall not commit carnal sins.
  17. I shall not take intoxicants like liquor, drugs etc.
  18. I shall endeavour to follow the noble eightfold path and practise compassion and loving kindness in every day life.
  19. I renounce Hinduism which is harmful for humanity and impedes the advancement and development of humanity because it is based on inequality, and adopt Buddhism as my .
  20. I firmly believe the Dhamma of the Buddha is the only true religion.
  21. I believe that I am having a re-birth.
  22. I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha and his Dhamma.

High time India knew more about Dr. Ambedkar than the carefully controlled "wrote the Indian constitution" which is about the limit of what our upper caste dominated public space has carefully caged him in.

For the curious, Google up why Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet. Spend some time thinking about it, and what it means for concerns we face today. A great leader doesn't deserve to be shoved into a closet of cliches.

Making of the Constitution of India - A vision document.

  • The Constituent Assembly took 2 years, 11 months and 17 days to prepare the Constitution of India. Constitution of America was prepared in 4 months and that of South Africa in 1 year.
  • 296 Representatives including Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendraprasad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Alladi krishnaswamy , Nazuruddin Ahmed, Thakurdas Bhargava, Hridaynath Kunzru, Pattabhi Sitaramaya discussed and adopted the Constitution. These were people of intelligence, eminence and learned scholars of Constitutional law. These people were devoid of any partisan motives.
  • Total 7635 amendments were tabled while 2473 amendments were actually moved to make changes in the draft Constitution in Constituent Assembly.
  • There are 5 volumes of the Constituent Assembly debate each one of more than a thousand pages.
  • This proves that the Constitution was made by a very rigorous thought process and a thorough consideration of democratic and constitutional principles.

What has the Constitution given to people of India which never before we relished during Vedic, Puranic, Mughal or British India?

  • The Constitution of India gave the below to all Indians –
  1.     Total Independence from the British Rule
  2. India became a Sovereign, Republic and Democratic country.
  3.     Modern vision and commitment of India of ensuring the principles of Equality, Liberty, Fraternity and Justice to each citizen in every walks of  Life.
  4.     Affirming to the Fundamental rights - Freedon of speech, Freedom of practice and Propagation of Religion, Right against exploitation etal. -  Part 3 (Articles 12 to 21).
  5. Parliament, Judiciary, Executive became the pillars of Democracy under the Constitution as Supreme Law. With Judiciary keeping check on the acts passed by the parliament whether affirming under the ambit of the articles and basic principles of the Constitution.
  6.      Ensuring equal rights and safeguards to women unlike during any previous rulings in India.
  7.     Idea of glorification of Multi-culturalism under the spirit of National unity and oneness.
  8.     Single-citizenship which enables and safegurds individuals from various states to pursue the opportunities in any part of the country.
  9.     Right of Writ under Article 226 and 32
  10.      Notion of The Rule of Law
  11. Principle of One Man, One vote hence One Vote, One value empowering each citizen with equal basic value, eradicating  the previous   monopoly of power through caste order
  12.    Right to amend the Constitution under Article 368
  13. Federal Structure under normal conditions but Unitary in emergency.

Condemning the Constitution: A Treacherous act and a conspiracy of the Communal forces

  • It is a habit in this country to blame and condemn the Constitution of India for every failure in this country. People usually say that since our laws are weak and have so many loopholes that is why the guilty are not brought to justice. This however is quite far from the truth.
  • The Law in this country is based on the universally accepted principle of natural justice that even if thousand criminals are set free but the innocent should never be punished.
  • If the criminals are not brought to justice it is not because the Law is weak but that the government’s machinery i.e. the CBI, CID, police etc has failed to produce the essential evidences, proofs before the court so as to book the guilty. If sufficient proofs are brought before the judiciary the laws are so strong that there is no way that the guilty can walk free.
  • Also, people generally mistake Acts (Laws) like the Indian Penal Code, Civil Procedure Code etc as the Constitution and hence they blame the Constitution. But there is a difference between the Acts made by the Parliament and the Constitution of India.
  • Some are ignorant and therefore they blame the Constitution. But some ingenious people are deliberately with full knowledge misleading the ignorant masses trying to inflate their minds with the feeling of hatred and disrespect for the Constitution of India.
  • Condemning the Constitution and showing disrespect to it is an act of treachery.
  • It is the worst kind of conspiracy of the Communal forces disguised in the Hindutva i.e. Hindu nationality movement. It is a conspiracy to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra and make India lose its secular character and democratic system.

Constitution day recalls its Chief Architect, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar categorically pointing out that Indians lack this kind of Constitutional morality in the below words:

“Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people (Indians) have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.”

Oh Indian! Pledge to save the Basic Structure of the Constitution of India!!! Pledge to diffuse in us the Constitutional Morality!!!

Happy Constitution Day!

Guest post by Sumedh Ukey and Pratik Tembhurne.

Sumedh Ukey has done Mtech from IIT Delhi, LLB from Mumbai university and now pursuing M.A. in political science from Mumbai university. He also conducts classes on Ambedkar writings called 'India needs Ambedkar' in Kalyan, East.

Pratik Tembhurne has a B.E in Electronics from Mumbai university. He is currently working for a pvt firm. Politics watcher and constitutionalist.

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Babasaheb Ambedkar is an enigma to most Indians. While we all claim to respect him for writing India's Constitution, there is little we know about who Dr Ambedkar was or why "Jai Bhim" is a salutation to many and used as a casteist sneer by others. With the loving honorific "Babasaheb" neatly sliding in before the Ambedkar, many of our citizens who claim to respect him for the constitution and know little else about him also don't realize that they don't know his first name.

Who was Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, beloved to many as Babasaheb? The dalits have written tomes that remain read by them alone. Leftist writers write glowing commentaries and nostalgic regrets about the vast body of his work that lies ignored. But perhaps here is a point that more can relate with, a starting point for curiosity. Why is this man inspiring nationwide journeys of lakhs of people half a century after his death without advertising or doles?

Here is an article P Sainath had written on his 50th Death Anniversary. Read it, because it shares something vital about how we see Dr. Ambedkar, how selectively we adopt his visions and how we betray those he cared for the most.

The 50th death anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is a time to remember that the larger society ignores or distorts the Dalits' struggle for their rights at its own risk.

"GET READY for a siege." Follow this guide "to escape possible chaos." Even Dalits are joining the "EXODUS." And "You thought Tuesday was bad? It will only get worse today." There is a "nightmare" — a threat of violence. And the poor "Mumbai police will have to bear the brunt of it all."

These were just a few of the headlines (some of them front page, first lead) in the press and on television channels. And they were about the lakhs of Dalits gathered in Mumbai to observe the 50th death anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. That is, on December 6. There were, of course, fine exceptions. But mostly, media coverage of the run-up to the event was much like the coverage of post-Khairlanji protests in Maharashtra.

This is not the first observance of the great man's anniversary. Lakhs visit the "chaitya bhoomi" in Mumbai each year on this day. As they did this year, too, with high discipline. And without that hell foreseen in the headlines. (After the huge build-up, the issue has faded from the news. Alas, no mayhem.) Then why the hysteria? Is it because the state saw some violence after the Khairlanji murders? Now, every issue stamped 'Dalit' gets slotted into: "Will there be disorder and chaos?"

And so a decades-old event was cast in a frame never imposed on other annual festivals. Some of those, like the Ganesh utsav, go on for 10 days in the city. And have a massive impact on traffic. But they do not get covered this way. And the more dismal display has come from the English media. The Marathi press — at least on December 6 — did better. There were essays on the man, his legacy, his relevance.

In the English media — with rare exceptions — the Ambedkar anniversary rated at best as a traffic problem. At worst, as a potential nightmare. There was not even a pretence of interest in the person whose 50th death anniversary it was. A giant who was no `Dalit leader' but a national one with a global message. Dr. Ambedkar was not just the prime architect of the Constitution. This was a man who resigned from the Nehru Cabinet — he was the nation's first Law Minister — on issues linked to women's rights. He stepped down when the Cabinet dragged its feet on the Hindu Code Bill that would have advanced the rights of millions of women.

Few in the media asked why so many — sometimes up to a million — human beings come to observe his death anniversary each year. Is there one other leader across the world who draws that number 50 years after his death? To an event that speaks to the hearts of people? To a function not owned or organised by any political party or forum? There was no effort to look at why it is the poor and the dispossessed who come here. No mention that this was a man with a Ph.D from Columbia University who returned to lead what is today the greatest battle for human dignity on planet earth.

There was little journalistic curiosity over what brings 85-year-olds with just two rotis in their hands all the way from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh to Dadar in Mumbai. People for whom the journey means both hardship and hunger. Musicians and poets who perform through the day for nothing. Hard-up authors who print books and pamphlets at their own cost for their fellows. And yet make the trip — driven by their hearts and drawn by the hope of a noble vision as yet unfulfilled. A casteless world.

Which other national leader commands this respect 50 years after his death? Let alone when alive? Why are there more statues of Ambedkar in India's villages than those of any other leader the country has ever seen? His statues are not government installed — unlike those of many others. The poor put them up at their own expense. Whether in Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra or Orissa, see whose portraits can be found in the humblest of huts. It's worth trying to understand why.

The 50th anniversary is being held in the context of Dalit unrest in Maharashtra. But it is being used to take Khairlanji out of its larger context. Crimes against Dalits in Maharashtra have risen steadily through the 1980s and 1990s. There were 604 cases of rape of Dalit women recorded in 1981. That number was 885 by 1990. And rose to 1,034 by 2000. That's based on very biased official data. The real figures would be much higher. And things have gotten worse since then.

There is one exception. Crimes under the Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act do show a big dip in the 1990s. But only because the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party Government arbitrarily dropped thousands of these cases at one go.

As the Dalit voice in organised politics has declined, the number of caste attacks on Dalits in Maharashtra has increased. Earlier, their political strength was their best shield. For decades, they had repelled the worst excesses of landlord cruelty. Untouchability did not vanish. But they did fight it stoutly. This culture of resistance rested on strong political movements. So, though less than 11 per cent of Maharashtra's population, Dalits had begun to stand tall.

But the Republican Party of India splintered and many of its leaders were co-opted by mainline parties. The Dalit Panthers, once a key source of inspiration and strength, went almost extinct. The results of the decline showed up soon. There was no struggle against the dropping of those thousands of cases under the PoA Act. Electoral opportunism saw the RPI factions crumble further. The 2004 polls saw them put up their worst show ever.

You can see it in battles over water as in Jalna, labour boycotts in Raigad or wage battles elsewhere. Attacks on Dalits have risen across Maharashtra. Just a year ago, more than 20 Dalit houses were torched in Belkhed village in Akola district. Akola was once a centre of Dalit political strength. In the 1960s, RPI candidates used to get 40 per cent of the votes in the Lok Sabha seat here.

Hindutva's rise from the late 1980s saw the RPI fracture further. Too many leaders were swallowed by the Congress and later the Nationalist Congress Party. Dalit unity lost ground. These setbacks were to reflect in every sphere. The shrinking of public sector and government jobs in the reform years hit Dalits badly. Even existing jobs lie vacant. A Times of Indiareport reckons that more than 1.3 lakh government posts in reserved categories in Maharashtra have not been filled up for years.

Meanwhile, the protests after Khairlanji have had an ugly companion. The growing display of caste prejudice in the media. The claims were sick. Khairlanji had nothing to do with caste. The woman who was raped and murdered was of loose morals. There were no "upper castes" in the village. (That last had to come from an English-language journalist unaware that the dominant caste in a given village might not be an "upper caste" at all.) Dalits were holding the state "to ransom." Wicked `politicians' were behind what was going on. The protests were Naxal-driven.

As always, there were brilliant exceptions. (Even on television.) They did not, though, define the main trend. The same media treat anti-quota activists as heroes. (No matter how much damage they inflict or how close to racist their rhetoric gets.)

Interviews in the run-up to the Ambedkar anniversary were mostly with people whining that Shivaji Park had been turned into a toilet. Or who spoke only about pollution and traffic jams.

It would be startling if political groups did not enter the protests. Corporation and panchayat elections are due in February. And parties won't ignore that. But they did not set off this process, even if they sought to engage with or exploit it. Ordinary Dalits were on the streets long before Dalit party leaders were. Khairlanji was the fuse. An already deep disquiet, the bomb. Many of these protests have taken place outside traditional political frameworks. On the streets were salaried employees and full time workers. People with no firm party links. There were salespersons and teachers, hawkers, and vendors. Landless and jobless. They, not `vested interests,' were the key to what happened.

The police still plug the `Naxal' angle. The Maoists just do not have the power to stage State-wide actions. Any political group, though, would be thrilled to get the credit for having launched protests it did not even foresee. It builds its appeal. Note that many Dalit party leaders joined the protests days after they began. Attempts to brand the protests as `Naxal-led' are poor escapism.

This is a State witnessing the highest numbers of farm suicides in the country. The conditions of the poor are dismal. For thousands, their anger and despair has turned inwards, within and upon themselves. Hence the suicides. With Dalits, that anger is being expressed. Outwards and openly. The larger society ignores or distorts their struggle for their rights at its own risk.

In the end it is more than a fear of violence that annoys elite society and its media. It is a fear of the mass. A worry that these people no longer know their place. A fear of the assertion of their rights and the loss of our privileges. A fear, in short, of democracy.

 Originally published in The Hindu