The Rage against the Dalit Rage

In 1990, as the Mandal Comission Report (MCR) implementation was announced, I instinctively opposed it. Nurtured in the ideas of classical Marxism, I believed that caste consciousness was something that impeded the formation of class consciousness and hence the formation of a socialist/ revolutionary outlook.

My thought conformed, too, to the widely prevalent notions of the Nehruvian approach to the caste question- a belief that caste discrimination was a subjective issue, not an objective one (that is, mainly a question of consciousness and not based on reality.) Education was a major means of eliminating caste prejudice, while economic development would do away with the economic or objective basis of caste.

I even started writing an article on opposing the Mandal Commision Report.

Two things, however, changed my attitude towards the question of reservations but more particularly towards the caste question. By the time, I finished writing the article, I was supporting the MCR.

One was the hordes of “educated” upper caste young boys and girls coming out on the street and using the most offensive language against reservations and the beneficiaries. It destroyed my faith in the notion that mere education would eliminate caste discrimination. This was not the path that one had expected educated young people to take: strikes in colleges, bandhs, stopping of trains, burning of vehicles, self- immolation and slurs on our classmates who were believed to have benefited from reservations.

I also saw the silent anger that my Dalit classmates endured in the face of such humiliation. One of them remained inside his hostel for weeks, and rarely ventured out of his room. When I went to see him, I found a massive pencil sketch on the wall of his tiny hostel room: of people standing with their fists raised, of eyes that spoke of silent, simmering anger and my friend himself in a state of psychological collapse.

These incidents and observations led me to support both reservations and the struggle of the suppressed castes, the only bone of contention with my Marxist teacher.

I am reminded of this today when I read on various blogs people getting appalled at the riots in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra. I too dislike the burning of the trains and destruction of public property.

No one likes such violence on the streets of any town or city in the country

But I do not find myself raging against expression of this anger. The violence is bad, but it is the violence of the poor, of people who continue to be discriminated against- the riots come in the wake of a court order barring Dalits to enter a temple in Orissa. They also come in the backdrop of the Khairlanji incident and the recent commemoration of Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism.

Once again, it is the rage against the Dalit rage that makes me side with those who are at the receiving end of society. There are dozens of blog posts expressing anger against the riots, very few that introspect or distinguish between the violence of the powerful and the violence of the dispossessed.

The Dalit rage expressed in violence in Maharashtra is not just violence, it is the violence of the poor, the last resort of a silent, oppressed people.

All violence is not just violence.

10 thoughts on “The Rage against the Dalit Rage

  1. Bhupinder,

    While you are entitled to your views, i would just request you to be factually correct. The High Court has not barred the entry of Dalits, it has merely ordered that status quo be maintained and has barred the entry of everyone including non-Dalits. The news report which you link to makes it clear enough.


  2. Bhupinder,

    The MCR was not about the Dalits at all. Dalits had been entitled to reservation benefits for 45 years prior to Mandal, and there were no street protests.

    There is widespread consensus in India in support of reservation benefits for Dalits, and to a lesser extent to the Scheduled Tribes. Even today, in IIT and AIIMS, there is and there will probably never be any movement against the existing 22.5% quota for these two groups.

    The dynamics change completely when you bring in an ambigously defined group called the “socially and educationally backward”. A lot of students cannot stomach that who they thought as the most powerful communities economically and politically are sought to be given exclusive benefits.

    To add further confusion, the definition of OBCs itself varies as per the political climate in states. According to the NSSO 10th round (2005) 75% of Tamils are OBC while only 8% of Bengalis. Conversely, only 3.9% of Tamils compete in the open competition compared to 60% of bengalis.

    We cannot carry the OBC scheme forward without adequate statistical rigor and social basis. It may work for a short time, but it will collapse under the weight of its own anomalies. The worst part is it takes the focus off the Dalits, who even after 60 years are lacking primary and secondary education to even fill the reserved seats (A problem OBCs do not share).


  3. I quote from your post:

    “The Dalit rage expressed in violence in Maharashtra is not just violence, it is the violence of the poor, the last resort of a silent, oppressed people.”

    There is no proof of that this
    is `Dalit rage.’ It is well
    known that such orgies of
    violence are organized to
    divert attention from substantive
    issues. The atrocity at
    Khirlanji will soon be buried
    under the ashes of the Deccan
    Queen. It would be interesting
    to know precisely who are the
    organizers of this violence,
    and what is the objective they
    have met. It is, in fact,
    offensive to the millions of
    poor and dispossessed of our
    country who never carry out such
    acts of violence and wanton
    destruction. I would refrain
    from sprinkling sacred water
    of such specious moralizing
    over acts of such destruction.

  4. reality check,

    You, and others like you, make me understand much more clealy the ‘violence’ of the lower castes of India.

  5. rc: The MCR was not about Dalits, but they were the immediate target of the student protesters, being easily identifiable.
    Anant: I agree there is little to “prove” in such cases who the instigators were, but the correlation is difficult to miss- but either way, my point is that there is a difference between the violence of the dominant and the violence of the poor.
    >It is, in fact,
    offensive to the millions of
    poor and dispossessed of our
    country who never carry out such
    acts of violence and wanton

    I wouldn’t agree with this idealization of the poor.

  6. Very good piece Bhupinder. Your earlier views (and I’m glad they changed) remind me of the views that many of the privileged white radicals held during the San Francisco State University student strikes in 1968 which were put on by the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), which was set up by a group of Marxist and radical students of color and white students to demand an ethnic studies program (the first and only Ethnic Studies College in the United States). Many, if not all, of these white student protesters in the TWLF (many of them male) held the view that focusing on race and ethnicity detracted from proletarian class struggle and impeded class consciousness and that the “racism issue” was just a distraction from the “real” issues. This, obviously, caused many tensions within the TWLF (to top it off the FBI trade working out deals with the Black Student Union and other groups and also had agents infiltrate the TWLF). Their views couldn’t of been more wrong since America was and is a society based very much on race and race differences. Many of the white radicals saying that focusing on race was “ignoring the real issues” was essentially a statement on their own racial privilege and a deeper look into their own internal white supremacy. Race couldn’t be ignored because race was the issue in America at that time (and still is). Its seems to me that in India one could draw parallels with the Marxists and radicals there and the Marxists and radicals here. The caste issue appears to be one of the major issues in India and organizations and political parties that state that Dalits rights and caste issues are a distraction and not the “real issue” seem to be showing to their Mother India their own caste biases and caste privileges (or, if they are not of a higher caste, their own internalized oppression). I would also like to commend you on your differentiating between violence of the oppressed and violence of the oppressors. While not all violence by the oppressed is productive, since it is at times a sure reaction to the oppression they face everyday, those who continually condemn violence by the oppressed while not condemning state oppression and oppression by the dominant forces in society seem to either blinded to the true realities of the situation or support continued violence against those whom are oppressed. Very good post, I commend you on your insight.

  7. JackThe comparison with the race question in the US is very apt. In fact, the Dalit Panthers Movement in India took its name from the Black Panthers in the US.

    A key difference is that there has been nothing like the New Left in India, partly because the traditional Left has gained power in some states without shedding its dogmatism- and hence never had to question its key premises, unlike in the West where it posed fundamental questions.

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