The Yogi government of Uttar Pradesh has decided to officially hold celebrations on the birth anniversary of Valmiki (October 31) in an apparent attempt to repair its image, which has been severely dented due to the Hathras incident. Chief Secretary R.K. Tiwari has directed all the divisional commissioners and district collectors to hold programmes at places associated with Valmiki, temples and so on. He said the programme should include lighting of earthen lamps, “deep daan”, nonstop recitation of the Ramayana for eight, 12 or 24 hours and singing of Bhajans.
This is a shrewd trick to woo the Valmikis and is aimed at killing two birds with one stone. The thinking behind the move seems to be that the Valmiki or the Mehtar community, primarily engaged in sanitation work, would be so elated by the government, no less, giving prominence to their god (of course, it is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the RSS, that has foisted Valmiki on the community) that they would forget that the same government had abolished the gazetted holiday on Valmiki Jayanti. The second objective is to associate the sanitation workers with the Hindutva of the RSS brand. The Ramayana is the tale of Ram and Ravan, which says that Lord Vishnu took on the incarnation of Ram to slay Ravan and the other demons who were anti-religion. The Valmikis will be told that their community is the protector of religion, society and the country. They will not be told that they, too, should become doctors, engineers and professors to join the mainstream, and for this, they need to give up the dirty profession they have been bound to and acquire education.
Yogi knows how dismal the educational status of the Valmiki community is. He also knows that they are employed only as sanitation workers in the municipal corporations. They have been tied to the broom. Is this their fate? Are they not entitled to higher education? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has earmarked a separate reservation quota for them to keep them away from the Ambedkarite Dalits so that they do not become Ambedkarites. But the government has done nothing to promote education among them. Of what use will the quota be for them when they won’t be educated?
What is the point in holding nonstop recitations of the Ramayana and singing Bhajans? Isn’t this the stratagem that the Brahmins had adopted in the decades following Independence to reinforce their brand of Hinduism? They would hold ‘kirtans’. I remember that kirtans were held at the place where we lived. I also liked the kirtans. Homes took turns to host the programme. I was 10-12 years old at that time – too young to understand the real motive behind the event. But I realized why the Brahmins had launched the programme when I read Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu’s book Ishwar Aur Unke Gudde in 1975. Rumblings of a revolution even in a small segment of the Dalits is enough to upset the Brahminvadis, who immediately launch a counter-revolution. At that time, the Brahmins feared that Ambedkarism might spark a revolution among the Backwards and the Dalits. To obviate such a possibility, they started this stunt of kirtans with the objective of drawing the Dalits into the Hindu fold. Jigyasu wrote: “The entire country is immersed in kirtans. From one corner of the country to the other corner, kirtan teams have been formed in all cities and localities. Even the government’s radio broadcasts kirtans … The idea is to strengthen the shaking roots of the brahmanical religious empire by making the people chant ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna’ and make them blind devotees of the gods, which are the pawns of the Brahmins.
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Many RSS-affiliated organizations like Bharatiya Valmiki Dharma Samaj and the Adi Dharma Samaj are constantly working towards getting the Valmiki community to embrace Hindutva. But some Ambedkarite organizations are also working among them. These organizations are urging the Valmikis to give up their dirty profession, educate their children and adopt the ideology of Dr Ambedkar. They are also telling the community that Maharshi Valmiki was a Brahmin and a feudal poet, who had nothing to do with the Mehtar community; that they won’t be able to grow and progress as long as they look to Valmiki as their god; and that they should shun Valmiki and embrace Ambedkar. Valmiki doesn’t want the community to get educated; he wants them to tread in the footsteps of Ram, who was a protector of only the Brahmins. Dr Ambedkar, on the other hand, wants them to acquire education, organize themselves and struggle to better their lot. This has created a parallel revolutionary stream of thinking in the community, which seeks to counter the so-called religion in the guise of Valmiki.
After the Hathras incident, the Ambedkarite stream managed to polarize the Mehtar community, rattling the RSS to no end, which has now decided to intensify its campaign to take Hindutva to the community. The government-funded Valmiki Jayanti programmes in Mehtar bastis and the nonstop recitation of the Ramayana are a part of that endeavour.
There can be no objection to the recitation of the works of Valmiki on his birth anniversary. But why only in the Mehtar localities? Why not in the localities where the upper castes live? Do only the Mehtars need to listen to the Ramayana? There are many Dalit castes but why has the RSS-BJP suddenly developed a great love for the Mehtars? Is it because other Dalits do not consider Valmiki as their god? Or is it because other castes are not engaged in sanitation work? The fact is that the savarnas need Mehtars to clean toilets, drains and roads. India is the only country in the world where sewers are cleaned manually – a hazardous work which has claimed the lives of hundreds of sanitation workers. In other countries, machines are used for the purpose. In India, men are used because they come cheap, while machines are costly. Moreover, the government won’t be held responsible even if the workers die in the process. Upper-caste Hindus have a vested interest in keeping the Mehtars illiterate and poor. If the Mehtars get educated, they may break free from the Hindu fold.
The Valmikis, especially the educated among them, should introspect whether they need to listen to the recitation of the Ramayana. Will this solve their socio-economic problems? How long will they continue to ignore their basic issues? Do they want to continue with the sanitation work generation after generation? What do they want – the broom or the schools? If they want to build a better future for themselves and for their coming generations, they should throw away the broom and pursue education. They should educate their children at any cost and should not initiate them into the dirty profession.
They also need to remember that the RSS is basically an anti-Dalit organization. It is against educating Dalits, it is against giving them reservations and it is against their economic upliftment. The Valmiki community will not be able to progress till it frees itself from the clutches of the RSS.
Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil