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From victims to equals - The Economic Times

Diwakar ()
9 February 1997

Title : From victims to equals
Author : Diwakar
Publication : The Economic Times
Date : February 9, 1997

The Unrelenting competition for power and societal resources and,
above all, the unhappiness of individuals and classes with their
present lot, is proving to he a major catalyst for re-evaluating
the role of heroes, and for re-appraising the relevance of ideas
and ideologies. The knocking down of statues of Marx and Lenin from
their lofty pedestals in the once-heartland of Socialism is ample
proof of the changes that can be wrought by the discontented in the
status of the revered and venerated.

The dynamics of the no-holds-barred race for power, the acute sense
of dissatisfaction of the average individual have been such as to
warrant changes, also, in the perception about 'victim' - either an
individual or an entire class. The example that straightaway comes
to mind is that of Subhash Chandra Bose. Public opinion in West
Bengal, which views Netaji as a victim of not only the British but
that of the wily manipulations of Gandhiji, has forced the Leftists
to discover revolutionary virtues in the man whom they had dubbed
and derided as a dog sitting in the lap of the Fascists.

That aside, Mulayam Singh Yadav has set off a process which may
well result into the transformation of the perception about yet
another victim, the Dalits. Unlike Netaji who has gone up in the
esteem of the Marxists, Yadav has pioneered a trend which, when it
fully crystalises, will take away from the tendency to regard the
Dalits as victims in all the cases of their dispute with others.
Addressing public meetings to canvass support for his candidates in
the Uttar Pradesh by-elections as well as addressing the workers of
his Samajwadi Party, the Union defence minister spoke about the
misuse of the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes Act
for political purposes. More importantly, he stressed that while
he was all for protection of the rights of the Dalits that does not
mean that their interests should take precedence over others'
rights.

It does not need great perspicacity to understand the reason that
could have prompted Yadav to say what he said. His utterances can
be put down to the widening chasm between him and Bahujan Samaj
Party and the latter's leaders, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Ibis
remarks can also be interpreted as containing hints that Yadav's
focus, from now onwards, will be more on expanding his support base
among the backwards and a sprinkling of upper castes rather than
chasing the mirage of OBC-Dalit unity. By now it is fairly obvious
that the political tussle between Yadav and his principal rival,
the BJP, has come to centre on how to expand their respective
support among the non-Yadav OBCs.

However, Yadav, even if only for sheer political compulsions, has
set into motion a trend which can have repercussions not just for
one political leader or one political party. He is the first
leader to pull away from the prevalent tendency to sympathise with
Dalits, to treat them as under-dogs worthy of compassion and
sympathy, and to give them the benefit of doubt. This was seen as
a way of atoning for the atrocities that the Dalits were subjected
to for centuries. The 'on-the-record political opinion viewed
Dalits as incapable of doing anything wrong. Certainly, not all who
publicly adhered to this idea of conferring 'victim-hood' on the
Dalits were sincere. Politicians, even in this age of empowerment,
not only find it difficult to antagonise, but willingly court the
entrenched interests in the countryside who perpetrate worst forms
of atrocities on the Dalits. That most of the schemes for Dalits
and tribals remain on paper hardly requires any reiteration. Yet,
none of the politicians would dare openly support any anti-Dalit
action, be it a pogrom or any proposal to curtail any benefits
provided to them under the Constitution. Efforts to prevent the
Dalits from getting their rights were aplenty, but they were made
on the sly and in a conspiratorial manner.

The hypocrisy which, quite naturally, failed to impress the
articulate among the Dalits can be equated with the latest
manifestation of inconsistencies in the approach of the American
establishment towards the Blacks. Just when there are clear signs
to indicate the growing resistance from the WASP set-up to
affirmative action, some of the Americans who have plans to produce
a serial based on Barry Unsworth's novel, The Sacred Hunger, have
struck a different note. They are sore with Sir Peter Hall, the
director of the serial, for resisting their demand to change a
portion of the script which deals with a black man engaged in
selling slaves to white traders.

What Unsworth has said is proved by independent researches too.
Yet, the producers would not budge since they fear such a
politically incorrect theme would not be acceptable to the
potential black viewer of the serial, and, that going ahead with it
could mean a loss of their 'politically correct' credentials.

For all its flaws, however, the idea of 'victimhood' ensured that
anyone who thought that the Dalits were not all that innocent
remained consigned to the margins. The significance of Yadav's
observations lies in that they pull against this 'politically
correct' trend. It cannot be anyone's case that Yadav is the only
politician to realise that the Prevention of Atrocities Act is
liable to be misused for political purpose. Nor is it the only
piece of legislation which runs such a risk. Yet, no one having
views similar to those of Yadav was ready to share them with us.

If he persists with his line, it is more than likely that Yadav
will come under sharp attack not only from his rivals, but also
from his friends. There may even be valid reasons for doing that.
Dalits' status is hardly such as to justify any suggestion that
they are being pampered. Many leaders and bureaucrats drawn from
among them may not he exceptions to the general rule of diminishing
probity. Yet, few can dispute the fact that they continue to be
subjected to all sorts of atrocities and indignities.

This, however, does not mean that Yadav's observations are
insignificant, or, that they should be dismissed as merely
reflecting only the personal pique of an individual politician. For
all his faults, real and alleged, Yadav is a shrewd politician who
would not indulge in political incorrectness just for the sake of
it, without feeling assured that it will not entail him any
penalty. Yadav is, in fact, only articulating the growing sense of
resentment among the backwards against the tendency to invariably
regard the Dalits as the victims and the idea that that they would
not do any wrong. The feeling is by no means confined only to the
backward castes. If a backward politician like Yadav has chosen to
be the first among the 'mainstream' politicians to openly
articulate this view, it is only because the backwards who have
just got empowered are more zealous in guarding their turf than the
upper castes who are getting reconciled to their new status of
'erstwhile elites'.

That reservations have helped the Dalits garner a larger share in
bureaucracy than them, must be galling more to the backwards than
to the upper castes who still account for the single largest block
among officials. Such a backdrop helps us understand why the
backward leaders of the BJP, like Kalyan Singh, should share the
aversion of Yadav towards BSP or, why, the OBCs promise to match
the track record of the upper castes so far as committing
atrocities on the Dalits are concerned.

The developing trend is only par for the course which has already
resulted in attacks on other Holy Cows, such as 'secularism' and
'socialism'. To the Founding Fathers, the concept of 'secularism'
represented 'moral politics' which justified 'aberrations' like
refusal to enact a Uniform Civil Code. But to the supporters of
the BJP it represents just a political arrangement which is heavily
loaded in favour of, and is meant for pampering, the minority
community. The concept of Socialism with the attendant emphasis on
the welfare of the workers and the primacy of the public sector at
all costs too has come under attack. It was not for nothing that
obituaries of Datta Samant were not in line with the esteem in
which the slain labour leader is held by his supporters.

Hence, the beginning of the erosion of consensus about the
victimhood of Dalits is only in keeping with the trend which has
resulted in the weakening of similar consensus over secularism and
socialism. To the extent it rules out the forging of the rainbow
coalition of the backwards, Dalits and Muslims, it can benefit the
upper castes by considerably reducing the threat of their
marginalisation. But it can help the Dalits as well by driving home
to them the point that they cannot take the professed compassion
for them on face value. The realisation that empowerment does not
come free can only be of benefit to them in so far as their
ambition to be treated as equals is concerned. It may even help
them get rid of their corrupt politicians who have made their
version of grievance politics a tool for self-aggrandisement. As a
matter of fact, it can help the polity as a whole by checking a
politics which allows corrupt and criminal elements to get away
with murder just because they claim to be 'victims'. A Mulayam
Singh Yadav who argues against special treatment for Dalits is
hardly on a safewicket if he demands that law should not take its
course against Phoolan Devi on the ground that she is a victim - a
woman and a backward.



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