Despite atrocities against Dalits – ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults to murders and rapes – becoming routine in our country, some incidents force this otherwise-unconcerned nation to sit up and take notice. One such incident took place in Una town of Somnath district, Gujarat, where four Dalits were beaten black and blue with iron rods and sticks for the “crime” of skinning a dead cow. They were tied to a car and dragged all the way to the police station. Ever since the Hindutvavadis taking over the governance of the country, many such incidents have taken place but unfortunately for the “gau rakshaks” who committed the heinous crime at Una, they, like the terrorists of IS, made a video of their “valiant act” and posted it on social media, perhaps to boost the morale of other protectors of the Gau Mata. However, as the video went viral, the country was stunned and Dalits exploded in anger.
Mayawati’s speech breathes new life into the protests
The Bahujans active on social media ensured that the incident got nationwide publicity but the mainstream media continued to snore and the politicians maintained a stoic silence. In the meantime, the Dalits of Gujarat started uniting. In view of the seriousness of the situation, the BJP government of the state suspended some policemen. But things took a new turn when, a week later, on 18 July – the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament – BSP supremo Mayawati aggressively raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha. She said that anti-social elements and musclemen had barbarically attacked men who skinned dead animals for a living. She accused the Gujarat government of dragging its feet on taking action against the perpetrators of the crime. She said that the BJP was anti-Dalit and since its coming to power, atrocities against Dalits had increased. As she was speaking, BSP members started raising anti-government slogans. The din that followed forced the speaker to adjourn the House briefly.
It is difficult to say whether it was a coincidence but immediately after Mayawati’s speech, the protests of Dalits in Gujarat took an aggressive turn. Angry Dalits set two government buses afire in Dhoraji town of Rajkot district. They burnt another bus in Dharol, Jamnagar, and blocked the NH-27 connecting Rajkot with Porbandar. The protestors began a sit-in outside the office of the collector of Rajkot and warned that they would convert to some other religion. More than a dozen Dalits tried to commit suicide by consuming phenyl and insecticides, and one of them died. During the daylong protests, some Dalits brought two truckloads of dead cows and dumped them outside the collector’s office in Surendranagar. Violence broke out in Jamnagar, Porbandar, Amreli, Rajkot and other cities of Saurashtra. Incidents of arson were reported and many key highways were blocked. On 20 July, a call for Gujarat bandh was issued to protest the Una incident. During the bandh, trains and buses were stopped all over the state. Violent mobs damaged government property, clashed with the police and indulged in arson. Some Dalits also attempted self-immolation.
Dead animals used in non-violent protest in Surendranagar
What followed the Una incident was nothing new. At many other places in the country too, angry and sometimes violent protests have followed similar incidents. But two things have made the protest of Dalits in Gujarat historic. The first is the dumping of dead cattle outside the office of the collector of Surendranagar and the second, 200 Dalits applying for gun licences in Morvi district. The Surendranagar incident drew the attention of the country as never before. Social media was chock-a-block with pictures of dead animals lying on the road. The Dalits, of course, supported the protest in full measure but even a section of enlightened non-Dalits expressed their solidarity with the protestors. Some Dalit intellectuals even compared the Surendranagar protest with the non-cooperation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi, which proved a milestone in India’s freedom struggle. The protestors have afforded the Dalits a unique non-violent weapon of protest that, if used effectively, can bring the barbaric Hindus on their knees.
Dalits want guns
While the “non-violent weapon” used by the Dalits of Surendranagar drew nationwide attention, the news of Dalits in Morvi applying for gun licences did not evoke as much interest. But given its potential of freeing the Dalits from oppression, the move should have triggered a debate. Morvi’s Dalits, by demanding firearms, have sought to break new ground. To understand why, let us go back to Dr Ambedkar.
Dr Ambedkar’s views on atrocities against Dalits
Years ago, talking about atrocities against Dalits, Dr Ambedkar had said, “This is not a feud between two rival men. This is a matter of class struggle. It is a struggle between caste Hindus and the untouchables. This is not a matter of doing injustice against one man. This is a matter of injustice being done by one class against another. This class struggle has its relation with the social status. This struggle indicates how one class should keep its relations with the other class. How should we survive through this struggle? For me, it is not difficult to answer this question. Those who have assembled here will have to agree that in any struggle, one who holds strength becomes the victor. One who has no strength need not expect success. This has been proved by experience, and I do not need to cite examples to prove it.”
Dalits lack all three strengths
He further said, “Three types of strength are known to man: (1) manpower; (2) finance; and (3) mental strength. Which of these do you think that you possess? So far as manpower is concerned, it is clear that you are in a minority – and that too, an unorganised minority. Financial strength is also just the same. It is an undisputed fact that you have a little bit of manpower; but finances you have none [according to government statistics, 95 per cent of the 55 per cent BPL families in the country are Dalits]. As regards mental strength, the condition is still worse. The tolerance of insults and tyranny without grudge and complaint has killed the sense of retort and revolt in you. Confidence, vigour and ambition have completely vanished from you. All of you have become helpless, unenergetic and pale. Everywhere, there is an atmosphere of defeatism and pessimism. Even the slight idea that you can do something cannot penetrate into your minds.”
Of the three types of strengths Babasaheb had urged Dalits to equip themselves with, Dalit organizations have, to some extent, united them, thus giving them manpower while different government schemes have lent some money power to them but absolutely nothing has been done to give mental strength to them. If the innumerable social organizations, political outfits and governments, who beat their chests over atrocities against Dalits, had understood the importance of mental strength, they would have definitely made efforts to arm these downtrodden people.
The problem of mental strength
Whether or not any other society in the world understands the role of weapons in making one mentally strong, at least Indians can understand it easily, as in Indian society, arms and ammunition were the only source of mental strength of a particular caste. Yes, I am talking of the Kshatriyas. Thousands of years ago, when the Aryan thinkers propounded the Varna system to divide the sources of power (economic, political, educational, religious) between the various varnas, they allotted religious and intellectual work to Brahmins, animal rearing and business and commerce to Vaishyas, and running the state and a career in the military to the Kshatriyas. While reserving military service for them, the Kshatriyas were given a special privilege – a privilege that translated into other castes turning cowards.
Monopoly over weapons: source of mental strength of Kshatriyas
Only Kshatriyas were allowed to carry and use arms and weapons for thousands of years. That gave them the status of lions in the jungle of men. As Brahmins, by declaring themselves gods on Earth, forced even 70-year-old Kshatriyas to touch the feet of a 10-year-old Brahmin child, this did not affect their mental strength but all other castes were reduced to the status of lambs before lions – so much so that even though equipped with money power, the Vaishyas were always keen to win the patronage of Kshatriyas. That is why, even today, in eastern UP it is said that “Bania ka jiyu dhaniya barabar” (Banias are fainthearted). Thanks to their centuries-old monopoly over carrying and using weapons, the morale of Kshatriyas is so high that even now, if a lone Kshatriya boy armed with only a lathi reaches a Bahujan settlement, everyone starts cowering. Guru Govind Singh was probably the first to understand this secret of the mental strength of the Kshatriyas and that is why he made it mandatory for all Sikh men and women to carry kirpans. This made the Sikhs one of the strongest communities in the world.
Role of weapons in boosting morale of Dalits ignored
As far as the Dalits are concerned, they, like the Shudras, were deprived of all sources of power, including weapons. But the mental strength of Dalits was even lower than that of the Shudras, as the Hindu religious scriptures did not give them even the status of human beings. Even the Shudras – themselves devoid of any rights and lacking mental strength – hated them. Lacking access to weapons and considered sub-human, the Dalits silently endured the atrocities of caste Hindus. As they were kept away from arms and weapons for hundreds of years, even in this 21st century, the Dalits lack mental strength. Some Dalit castes like the Dusadhs and the Mahars are somewhat better off in this respect. But that is not so because their bodies are made of some other material or they are physically strong but because, owing to various reasons, about 200-250 years ago, the British allowed them to hold weapons by recruiting them as soldiers, watchmen, etc. Who can deny that possession of weapons can free one from the fear of the strongest of men? Had the Indian social workers, intellectuals and political leaders kept this universal truth in mind, they would have tried to equip the Dalits with weapons. But they kept their eyes shut to this bitter reality. Had Dalits been armed with weapons, their Hindu haters could never have perpetrated horrendous atrocities like Kumher, Chakwada, Eklera, Nawalpur, Pintri Deshmukh, Seekhra, Belchi, Pipra, Laxmanpur Bathe, Bhagana, Dangawas or the latest Una and established the image of India as a nation of barbarians.
Bhopal declaration: Call for arming Dalits
In independent India, it was the Bhopal Declaration, issued at the end of a two-day conference organized by Digvijay Singh, that for the first time talked about the importance of weapons in combating atrocities against Dalits. Around 200-250 Dalit intellectuals discussed the educational-economic and social problems of Dalits for two days (12-13 January 2002) under the leadership of Chandrabhan Prasad. The historic Bhopal Declaration, which was the gist of the conclusions of the discussions, was issued on the evening of 13 January. The Bhopal Declaration, for the first time, going beyond the talk of providing jobs to the Dalits, advocated that they should be given a share in contracts, dealerships and other economic activities. It also suggested a novel means to boost their morale.
Point number 16 of the Declaration said, “The State must assume sole responsibility in protecting the SCs and STs. The State must identify atrocity-prone areas and deploy forces. In addition, provide arms licences to the SCs and STs as stipulated in the Atrocities Act for self-defence purposes, make the setting up of Dalit self-defence groups from village onwards mandatory, and specially train Dalit women to handle weapons in self-defence against the perpetrators of crimes and atrocities.”
The concrete suggestion made in the Bhopal Declaration for giving them a share in sources of power and to free them from the atrocities of Hindus were a milestone. It was the Bhopal Declaration that prompted Dalit organizations to think beyond government jobs and demand a share in government contracts and dealerships. The governments have partly given in to this demand and some of them have tried in their own way to give reservations to the deprived-Dalit communities in contracts, etc. The present Union government is also taking steps to promote entrepreneurship among the Dalits. Drawing inspiration from the Bhopal Declaration, some steps have been taken to financially empower Dalits but almost nothing is being done in terms of enhancing their mental strength. The fact is that if the state and society decide so, they can equip Dalits with weapons much faster than they can make them financially strong.
Need for diversity in guns shops, licences
It is true that Dalits have as much right to get gun licences as members of any other community but just as in other fields, here too, it is the powerful communities that have managed to corner most of the licences. For various reasons, it is difficult for Dalits to fulfil the mandatory conditions for obtaining gun licences. Hence, the conditions should be relaxed for them and they should be provided subsidy for purchasing firearms. Only then can their mental strength be boosted. This can be done by governments and the governments alone. If the governments provide guns to Dalits, this will also send a strong signal to the anti-Dalits. The Dalit organizations will have to bring pressure to bear upon the governments to make them do so. Just as they are raising the demand for diversity in contracts, dealerships, etc, they should also demand diversity in the holders of gun licences. In this respect, a caste-wise breakup of holders of gun licences would help put things in perspective.
Let us remember that in the US, there are 112.7 guns for every 100 persons and that we Indians blindly ape the films, technology, fashion and lifestyle of that country. Next comes Serbia, where there are 75 guns per 100 persons. In this respect, India holds the 107th rank with only 4.3 guns per 100 persons. Our neighbour Pakistan has the 55th rank. As for social diversity among holders of gun licences, given that SCs and STs together form 22.5 per cent of the country’s population, one of every 100 persons of these communities should possess a licensed firearm. But just as 10-15 per cent privileged people control 80-85 per cent of the sources of power, we can be sure that the situation is be the same with respect to gun licences. The government should take positive steps to ensure that one of every 100 Dalits possesses a licensed gun. This would protect them from atrocities to a great extent. It is a known fact that when non-Dalits target a Dalit, they rarely attack him individually. The entire settlement of Dalits is attacked. Now, if in a settlement of 200-300 population, even if two or three persons possess guns, committing massacres won’t not be easy. It is heartening to note that Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale, while talking on a TV channel, recently supported the idea of providing firearms to Dalits for their protection. If, besides gun licences, diversity is made a requirement in allotment of shops selling firearms too, the outcome will be astonishing.
Gun shops in most cities are owned by the privileged class. Just the names of the shops in Delhi and Lucknow will reveal how lop-sided the allotment has been. Some prominent gun shops of Delhi include Mohanlal and Co, Pandit Arms Store, Pandit Narsingh Das, S. Kohli & Sons, Shamshuddin Gun House, Shikhar Enterprises, Singh and Singh Arms Corporation, Singh Arms House, Singh Gun House, Mrs Usha Singh Arms Store and Garg Arms House. Similarly, the leading gun shops of Lucknow are Shukla Gun House, Singh Gun House, Capital Gun House, etc. Surnames like Pandit, Shukla, Singh and Garg in the names of shops boost the morale of the dominant class and lowers that of the Dalits and other deprived classes. Anyone can imagine what a great thing it would be for the deprived classes if interspersed among the gun sellers were Dusadh, Jatav and Murmur Gun Shops.