One more party for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 4, 2011

By Arpit Parashar

The political development of the last week have thrown a new, surprise candidate in the power equation of caste politics. Former bureaucrat Udit Raj, the man at the forefront of the campaign to push for OBC and SC/ST reservations in the private sector, has formed a new socio-political front called the Upekshit Dalit Mahapanchayat in Uttar Pradesh.

Though politicians have heard of Raj's efforts, most of them have not taken notice of the development. A senior BJP politician, speaking to the media “off the record” after a press conference, laughingly dismissed the “concept” of upekshit (marginalised) Dalits as imaginary.

However, one must not forget that the initial reaction of the mainstream parties to the formation of now-successful Dalit parties, like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), was one of dismissal. The Congress often ridiculed the rise of Mayawati’s BSP two decades back. It seemed to tell the BSP, “Align with a mainstream party, or you will lose relevance.”

Ironically, in the case of Uttar Pradesh, the BSP has become the mainstream party and the Congress a marginal player.

The Mayawati brand of politics and the successful assertion movement led by the Kanshi Ram’s Backward and Minority Communities Employees’ Federation (BAMCEF) has translated into successful electoral campaigns and subsequent victories for the BSP over the years. She is presently serving her fourth term as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, after having served three short terms between 1995 and 2003.

And, she won in Uttar Pradesh on her own by engineering a major social change last time around. She came to power without any support from the Congress, the BJP, or the Samajwadi Party in 2007.

Why then has Raj formed a front that will only weaken a successful movement of the country’s most underprivileged and oppressed castes? Observers believe that Raj’s movement is an attempt at addressing the problems that the Dalits face under Mayawati. They point out that power, as is always the case in Uttar Pradesh, benefitted a particular caste group.

“The question is not what Mayawati can do to [Dalits], but what we can do to us,” writer and journalist Chittibabu Padavala wrote about the meaning of Mayawati’s victory in 2007 in The Economic and Political Weekly.

The Dalits have definitely benefited, not just by their own assertion but with consistent efforts of the state government too. Caste atrocities have reduced, affirmative action has been taken and they are much better represented in the administrative and political structures now. But, looking deeper, one finds it is only the Jatavs, who are reaping benefits this time.

Raj says, “Only Jatavs!” And, why is it so? “Because Mayawati is a Jatav too,” says Raj.

Politicians and observers say that while power has changed hands and the traditional ruling castes are no longer the ones in power, the state has seen the emergence of a new feudal system with Jatavs as the dominant caste.

Jatavs make up nearly 57 percent of the Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, and eight to nine per cent of its total population, almost same as that of the Yadavs. The BSP broke the backbone of Samajwadi Party’s successful Yadav-Thakur voter base, using its stronghold among the Jatavs in 2007.

Jatavs are now emerging as an assertive caste in the state, especially with their numbers in the administration growing rapidly in the past decade. “A simple analysis of the data on recent appointments in the police and the administration shows a 30 to 35 per cent increase in the number of appointments of Jatavs,” a senior BSP minister told Tehelka on the condition of anonymity.

Many top postings are recommended from Lucknow. Many other happen almost by default when the candidate is Jatav. It is considered a safe bet to have a senior Jatav officer in any district administration.

The Jatavs have been politically conscious and involved since the time of Babu Jagjivan Ram of the Congress in the 1960s. Then when Kanshi Ram and Mayawati came together, Jatavs took the BAMCEF’s assertion movement forward. And they still do: they form a large chunk of the BSP cadre.

“This constant hammering of her caste’s identity has made them politically forward looking,” Raj says.

The other castes among the Dalits, on the other hand, are still underrepresented in the state government jobs, making up barely five to eight per cent of the force in the administration and the police in the state, that too only on lower posts. Off the record, senior officials in Uttar Pradesh say that most of the housing schemes for Dalits in the state have benefited Jatavs more than any other caste.

“Fruits of governance have gone to just one caste. There is no difference between this regime and the other regimes in the past. Rather, the discrimination is much more open under Mayawati’s rule,” Raj alleges.

The socioeconomic rise of the Jatavs has on the one hand made them confident, and they have stood up to the higher castes in the state, while on the other hand they have also fallen prey to the feudal practices alien to the Jatav society.

They are traditionally a more equal caste and not patriarchal. But, that has changed over the past decade and has often resulted in crimes against lower Dalit castes.

The number of rape cases involving Jatav men has seen a constant rise in western Uttar Pradesh, a phenomenon, senior police officials say, has not been noticed before. Jatavs are often caught in cases of atrocities against other lower Dalit castes as well as the higher castes.

In the Jewar village in Greater Noida near Delhi, where an international airport and India’s first F1 racing track will come up soon, a minor girl from the Valmiki community was raped by a Jatav man in 2008.

Her ordeal did not end there. She was married off to the man who raped her within a few days. The villagepanchayat consulted both the families in the presence of the police and elders made the decisions. The girl now has two children and is not allowed to even step outside the house.

This is not the only such case. There have been many similar cases across western Uttar Pradesh involving Jatavs, information on which is regularly fudged to keep the official counts down.

While Mayawati represents the political force that has consolidated the Dalit vote, Raj partly represents the Dalit movement outside of electoral political framework working towards a caste-less society. He has led campaigns across the country as head of various Dalit unity groups to open up the communities to conversion to other religions. Thousands of Dalits have embraced Buddhism, Islam and Christianity and snubbed the Hindutva forces, irking the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and similar groups repeatedly.

Raj has also challenged Mayawati many a time over the past decade to embrace Buddhism and put an end to the casteist politics altogether. “The objective is the revival of Buddhism to create a caste-less society, so that the decadent social structure can be changed,” he says.

But, Mayawati has consistently attacked him and leaders from all other lower Dalit castes in a derogatory way, he alleges. “Mayawati has been repeatedly pointing out who belongs to which caste. She called Ram Vilas Paswan a Dusadh, pointed out that Bangaru Laxman is a Valmiki, and called me a Khatik,” he said.

“And then in 2008 she announced that her successor will only be a chamar. She has discriminated within the party and openly too. But, you cannot, in India, in a democracy, say who will be your successor and treat the voter base like it is your kingdom. Why preach about the Bahujan samaj when you openly discriminate and say only a chamar will be the successor? Why not any Ambedkarite, irrespective of the caste?” he questions.

Raj formed the Indian Justice Party in 2003, after quitting a government job in 2001. He had ideas very different from that of the BSP. He wanted to push for an equal education system, job reservations for Dalits in the private sector and unite the voters on those lines.

But, now he says it is not the way to go forward. A sense of disillusionment over the four years of Mayawati’s present rule has changed his approach. “I have realised that ideology, development and even honesty do not play a very important role in Uttar Pradesh. Caste configurations and equations do,” he says.

The main agendas of his party have not attracted the communities or the voters. Hence, the new front with a different approach, he says.

Dalit leaders from other parties have joined him too. Ram Nihore Rakesh from the Congress convinced him to form the Upeskshit Dalit Mahapanchayat to fight the rights of castes lower in hierarchy, like Pasi, Dhobi, Kori and Khatik.

“These castes are not aware, educated and conscious of participation in the government and about their rights in governance,” Raj says.

He realises that the caste system cannot be rooted out so easily; it will exist; people in Uttar Pradesh will vote along caste lines.

He now plans to unite leaders representing the marginalised sections from all parties and bring them together. He also wants to collaborate with other parties representing marginalised groups, like the Peace Party, which represents the Muslims in the state.

Jats found the Rashtriya Lok Dal, Yadavs and Gurjjars found Mulayam Singh Yadav, Thakurs found Amar Singh and Jatavs found Mayawati. Maybe it is time for another ignored section of Uttar Pradesh to find representation in the state, where caste loyalties run deep.

Whether Udit Raj succeeds and his ideas translate into votes and electoral success in the 2012 assembly elections or not, he can still play a very important role in bringing debate to the Dalit discourse and push the political system a step closer towards the marginalised within the Dalits.

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