Dalit protests: Both perception and devious politics are responsible

There are two aspects to the evident unrest among the Scheduled Castes community in the country. The first is the perception created that the Modi government had failed to protect the interests of its people. The second is the politics that is being played out by the opposition to discredit both the central regime as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The perception has taken root because of a handful of unfortunate incidents, such as that of Una in Gujarat and Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra. Members of the SC community have had to also face public humiliation over minor things such as taking out a marriage procession in a high-caste dominated locality or even the sporting of a moustache.

In Gujarat, the Dalit community supported in substantial numbers Jignesh Mevani’s drive against the BJP and Prime Minister Modi. Dalit leaders across the country too have been speaking out against the BJP and New Delhi over what they see as rising anger in their community. Indeed, even some Dalit leaders of the BJP as well as its allies have cautioned BJP Governments at the Centre and in the States to quickly address grievances or be prepared to face the consequences.

This perception can be partly met by facts: It is the Modi regime which had strengthened the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by making provisions for completing investigations within a time-frame. It is also this Government which has initiated schemes such as Mudra and Skill India, giving special emphasis on the empowerment of the Dalit sections of society.

Its Ujjwala scheme of providing free cooking gas to the needy in rural India has also substantially benefitted the Scheduled Castes. It is now for the party and the Government to deploy credible voices, including those of its Dalit leaders, to launch a campaign to dispel the negative impression. The second issue is that of politics. The Congress and the rest of the opposition has been adding fuel to fire by instigating the Scheduled Castes to revolt against the Modi Government and the BJP, and they have even resorted to lies to do so.

Recently Congress president Rahul Gandhi claimed that the Centre was demolishing the SC/ST Act when he was actually referring to a Supreme Court directive that sought to ensure that the law was not wrongly used. The nationwide Dalit protest movement claimed nearly a dozen lives across the country, and led to the destruction of public and private property as the agitation turned violent. These protests were directly or indirectly supported by the opposition parties. So, while there is need to address the genuine grievances of the Dalit community, inflammatory politics can only worsen the cause.