Rajasthan-based Bhanwar Meghwanshi is today a well known social activist. He shot to prominence with his book ‘Main Ek Karsewak Tha’ (I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS), which was a memoir of his time in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The book exposed casteist discrimination within the RSS. Recently, he held a Samajik Nyaya Yatra, and at its conclusion issued a charter of demands on behalf of the members of the Dalit community with whom he and his team held discussions during the yatra. Meghwanshi spoke with Nawal Kishore Kumar. This is the first part of the interview:
You and your associates took out a Samajik Nyaya Yatra in Rajasthan recently. Please tell us about it and also about the failures and successes.
The Samajik Nyaya Yatra lasted almost a month – from 19 August to 17 September 2023. During this period, we covered a distance of around 7,000 km. We interacted with people at 100 places in 50 districts. We took to the people an 80-point draft of issues that concern the Dalits. We talked with them on all the points. The main issue that emerged was of atrocities against and oppression of the Dalits. I believe that the issue which agitates and concerns the Dalits the most is the issue of respect and disrespect – in other words, injustice and atrocities.
That was the key issue. Everywhere we were told that the acts of oppression were growing, that new ways of committing atrocities against the Dalits were being crafted. Protests against them should be unrelenting. Secondly, we found that Dalits across party lines are coming together and organizing themselves on this issue. The first demand in our draft was withdrawal of all cases registered as a result of the Bharat Bandh on 2 April 2018. The present government has withdrawn all the cases, barring 11. A total of 262 cases were registered. The remaining cases should also be withdrawn. We want every single case withdrawn because those who had taken to the streets on 2 April did not have any personal motive. They were fighting for society. And those who fight for society, the society should fight for them. This is what we think. The second main demand was effective implementation of the SC-ST Atrocities Act. No matter which party is in power, the mindset of society, of the bureaucracy remains unchanged.
Those in the administration invariably try to prove that the cases registered under the Atrocities Act are false; they close the cases by filing final reports. As a result, the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) data says that most of the cases filed by the Dalits are false. But that is not so.
A Dalit needs to gather courage even to file a report. When they return to their village after filing the report, they have to face social boycott, physical attacks and on occasions, they are forced to withdraw by evening a case they had filed in the morning. Then, they are dependent on people from the other communities. The Dalits work in their farms, in their brick kilns, in their shops, they owe money to them. So, there are many kinds of economic compulsions. Even a promise of small personal enrichment or a little pressure is enough to make them withdraw the cases. These figures add up and then, the administration says, look, 50 per cent of the cases were fake.
Our demand during the yatra was that a sampling of cases that reached the final stage but did not lead to conviction and the cases that were withdrawn be brought before us. Launch a reinvestigation to find out how and why these cases turned out to be fake. If the Dalit complainants struck a compromise, why did they do so? And if any case was genuinely fake, then the complainants should be prosecuted.
Did any such case come to light?
No, none during our yatra. That is because if you investigate carefully, you will discover that the victims are dependent on the perpetrators for their livelihood. Sometimes, it has been found that by misusing the provisions of the Act, Dalits were used as a cat’s paw by non-Dalits to settle their personal scores. If any such thing has happened, then the Dalits who were used and those who used them, both should face consequences. They should be tried under the SC-ST Atrocities Act.
But it is also true that such narratives are often made up just to create a perception that the Dalits are getting false cases registered. And this is true of all victimized groups. If a woman fights for her rights, it is claimed that she has lodged a false complaint. If an OBC does it, it is said that he has registered a fake case. This same situation is faced by Dalits and Adivasis.
These allegations don’t hold water. I think that the Dalits have yet to muster enough courage to misuse the Atrocities Act. If, on the other hand, each of the 25 crore Dalits and Adivasis in the country uses the Act even once in their life, atrocities against the Dalits and the Adivasis will be slashed by half.
Then, there is also the issue of employment. What has happened is that 98 per cent of the job opportunities are now in the unorganized and the private sector, where there is no provision for reservations. Only two per cent of the jobs are in the public sector. And we are spending 100 per cent of our energies on those two per cent jobs. We are seeking reservations in two per cent of the jobs when 98 per cent of jobs are elsewhere. We want reservation in the organized private sector. Liquor shops, mining leases, plots in industrial areas – we want 18 per cent reservations in all of them. This is the percentage of Dalit population in the state and that should be their share. If government pleaders are appointed, 18 per cent of them should be Dalits. I demand that right from the assistant public prosecutors to the Advocate General, we should have 18 per cent share in all the posts. We should get 18 per cent of the liquor contracts. We should get 18 per cent representation in contractual jobs.
The number of state government employees in Rajasthan is around 20 lakh. Of them, 10 lakh are permanent and most of those who were from the reserved categories have retired. Now, appointments are being made on contractual basis, the work is outsourced to different agencies. There is no reservation here. And there are 10 lakh such jobs.
The basic issue is that they are not getting opportunities –neither Dalits, nor Adivasis, nor OBCs. Our demand is that even if there is a job for just five days, if it involves government funds, then the reservation norms should be followed. During our Samajik Nyaya Yatra, we discussed this issue with the people.
But there is also this view that there is no job security in the private sector. Do you think that a misconception is being spread that there are very few jobs in the public sector?
My argument is that even if all of the government jobs are reserved for us, that will still be only 2 per cent of the jobs available. We should get our share of the 98 per cent jobs that are in the unorganized and the private sectors. You see, the private sector is not entirely private. If someone sets up a factory, he gets land at concessional rates from the government, his power bill is subsidized, he gets machinery and raw material at discounted rates. The entrepreneurs get all sorts of tax rebates. So, what is private about them? Whatever there is belongs to society, to the country. So, when everything belongs to society and government, why should hurdles be created when one of us wants to become an entrepreneur? We are not only talking about reservations in jobs in factories. If non-Dalits are getting land, commercial plots at concessional rates and are setting up their factories, our people should also get these facilities. There should be reservations here, too.
You may recall that when the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] were in power, the government had announced that it would make a law providing for reservations in the private sector. At the time, Bajaj and many other industrialists had said that they would ask the reserved category employees to stay home and they would pay them salaries. They would not give them work because that would affect merit, that would affect quality, as if these people have a monopoly over merit. Our people are doing all sorts of work today. What is there we cannot do. Only academic merit is not merit. Merely scoring high marks in examinations is not merit. There is a community here called Kalbelia. They are also known as saperas. Now, even a five-year-old Kalbelia child can catch a snake. Is this not merit? If a snake sneaks into the home of a Paramveer Chakra awardee military officer – even if he fights the enemy on the borders – he calls a sapera to catch the snake. So the concept of merit needs a rethink.
What did you hear from Dalitbahujan youth during the yatra? What were their demands?
See, employment is the biggest issue for our youth. They are not getting placed anywhere, they are not getting any work. Secondly, respect, self-respect and dignity are still key issues. I think these were an issue during Babasaheb’s times and continue to be an issue. In Rajasthan, people are being killed for riding a horse, for sporting a moustache, for touching water, for being good at academics, for claiming right over their land. But now the youth are opposing all these things. They won’t give up or give in. They say that they will be visible everywhere. We will wear good clothes. We will work at good places. We will get good jobs. We will ride horses, we will play loud music, we will carve out a place for ourselves. So, the youth won’t take things lying down at any cost. No matter what they have to face. Even if they have to spend their life in jails, even if their life is ruined, whatever becomes of their future, they won’t be dominated. They will not allow anyone to suppress them, to do with them what was done with their ancestors. This was the major takeaway from the yatra.
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)
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