Recently, Dalits across the country has started various movements against caste oppression . What is the current status of this movement? How it is going to change mainstream politics in India?
It is a very important development that Dalits have started mobilising themselves. At the same time a lot of churning is also taking place within the Ambedkarite movements. Youths are getting attracted to movement in a big way. Especially after Rohit Vemula, incidents in JNU and FTII. All this for good. But to a great extent it is limited to campuses. Of course there are a lot of Dalit protest happening around the country. But my opinion is that these movements till now are taking up all the right kind of political issues. See the prevailing atmosphere demands that youth needs to be politicised in a big way. The threat of fascism is looming large.
What do you think are the issues that the Dalit movements need to take up now?
See, there are many political issues that we are encountering now. You have to face them politically. How the workers are targeted by the policies of the government. Farmers are pushed to commit suicide due to the insensitive policies of the government. These issues the Dalit movement need to address. Then only it will become a big political movement.
Earlier also you have mentioned about the limitations of the identity politics. Do you think that Dalit movements are largely constrained by identity politics ?
The issues of caste are very important. Especially when hindutva movement getting stronger by day. But the issue is not just limited to identity only. In fact the Dalits in India are victims of the caste and caste oppression. If you want to annihilate caste you need to address the issue of not just caste but the class also. In the last two decades after the India started pursuing liberalisation and globalisation policies the condition of the working class has deteriorated. In fact Dalits are most affected by the policies of globalisation. So ignoring class is detrimental to the cause of the Dalit emancipation. The limitation of the identity politics lies here. They are ignoring this aspect altogether. Stressing too much on identity would not help to annihilate caste, rather it would strengthen that identity. Identity politics has sidelined class issues. At the same time there are cultural issues that also need to be addressed comprehensively in our fight against the caste system. Both the fight should be carried out together. Merely chanting the slogan of Manuvad moordabad will not be enough. When Hindutva forces are attacking the Muslims and Dalits like never before the need to have a correct political approach is vital for the survival of democracy
In today’s India, when one talk about fighting Hindutva, many people points the need to have a Dalit -Muslim alliance. How you view this. Is this alliance shaping up?
There is no doubt that Dalit-Muslim alliance is required if one has to resist the onslaught of Dalit-Muslim alliance. There are many existential similarities between the Dalits and the Muslims. Both are the victims of hindutva politics. Hindutva targets Muslims, and the caste system on which the hindutva is based is a system that questions the existence of Dalits as humans. Muslims in many parts of the country are forced to live in ghettos. The same is the case with Dalits. As a community they are generally forced to live in the outskirts of villages. But Dalit-Muslim alliance now is more at the level of rhetoric. The political effort has to be seriously undertaken to make this a political reality. Only by accomplishing this, the fight against hindutva can be carried out systematically.
Do you see any issues in realising this?
What I am trying to do now is to unite all the marginalised sections of the society, the Tribals, Dalits, Muslims etc. Only this will create a genuine people’s movement. This can’t be seen as an electoral alliance.
BSP is one political party which raises Dalit issues consistently. And their influence in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country is because of this. Do you think BSP can address the issues that the marginalised sections are facing. You were telling that emphasising solely on caste issues won’t be enough?
See defeating BJP in Uttar Pradesh is very important. Because if they win, the Indian democracy will be gone. So for the future of this country, BJP’s defeat in the UP election is most important. thing. Then if BSP is very serious about Dalit issues they have to undertake land reforms in Uttar Pradesh if they come to power. This is of vital importance. Then they need to address the issues of sanitary workers and Dalit women. If you are not addressing the issue of sanitation workers then you are not dealing with the issue of caste within the Dalit community. These things have not happened in BSP so far. But I wish they take up these things immediately.
The issue of left Dalit alliance is a contentious one. Do you see a chance for left Dalit alliance?
The left in the country has made historical blunders in addressing the issue of caste. They did not give any representation to Dalits in their leadership. This forced many to call them as the brahmanical left. Till the radical Dalit activist connected with the left movement in India initiated discussion on left’s approach towards caste, mainstream left parties did not even care to discuss that matter. Indian left was in the clutches of their mechanical understanding of Indian situation. On the other hand the Dalit movement also had its own problems. They completely avoided class issues altogether. So now there is a scope for greater cooperation with Dalit movement and Indian left.
That means that the Dalit movement will have a political alliance with mainstream left?
No, I don’t see any chance of aligning with parties like CPI(M). What I have said is cooperating with other left groups which are not in the mainstream and with left intellectuals who are critical of the mainstream left. As far the CPI(M) is concerned they are trying to woo the Dalits for electoral purposes, When we started Una movement some comrades from CPI(M) came in support for us. They were chanting slogans along with us demanding land rights. But the same party whose leaders talk about giving land rights to Dalits in Gujarat and elsewhere, is denying land rights to Dalits in Kerala. This is what the CPI (M) is doing. In Kerala the Dalits are going to undertake huge strike for land rights in the coming months. I think that strike will expose the CPI(M). After Una and Udupi, there is going to Thiruvananthapuram march.
There are a lot of protests that is happening in the Kashmir, North eastern India, questioning the narrative of nationalism propagated by the ruling class. What do you think should be the approach of the Dalit parties towards these protests?
Dalit movement should include all progressive groups fighting for their rights. Till now Dalit groups are not concerned with this. I think it should be in solidarity with the movement in North east India, the struggle by the widows of Kashmir, etc. The whole of idea of Ambedkar was questioning the notion of Hindu rastra. So their narrative of nationalism also is opposed by the Dalit groups. For that they have to identify themselves with various groups struggling for their survival.
Will your movement take the form of a political party?
I am not thinking in terms of electoral terms. Though the issues we are taking up is highly political. I would be very happy if we could force the government to carry out land reforms than I or some other leaders of the movement becoming an MP or a minister. I am not against electoral politics. I think if we persist with our struggle then the political parties will be forced to include our demands in their programmes. This is more important. Now we are planning to have a national front of Dalit Muslims, and other weaker sections. Through that we will expose all political parties including the so-called Dalit parties. This will make everyone understand where the political parties stand when it comes to Dalit causes. Aligning with any political parties is out of the question for us. By no means no alliances with political parties including the CPI(M) and CPI.
When discussing Dalit emancipation you were stressing the importance of a class issue. At the same time you are critical of mainstream communist parties. But do you think that Dalit movement can engage with Marxism?
Yes of course, they will have to engage with Marxism. Sooner or later for the emancipation of Dalit they will have to develop a kind of Marxian approach. For Dalits, as Ambedkar has pointed out capitalism and brahmanism are the two enemies. If the Dalit movements are genuine then you will have to understand how classes came into being. How it survived etc. For this you need a Marxist framework.Marxian method of analysing society helps to understand a lot of things.