Sanjeet Burman is a young Dalit social activist from Chhattisgarh. He is contesting the upcoming assembly elections as an independent candidate from the Lormi constituency and has been canvassing. Edited excerpts from his conversation with Forward Press:
What made you contest the elections?
I have been consistently fighting for the rights of the Dalits, the Adivasis and the OBCs in Chhattisgarh. While doing so, I have had to face oppression at the hands of the government and have been jailed on numerous occasions. When I was in jail, people from my community used to come to meet me. They would tell me, “You have been fighting so hard for us. You should be in the Vidhan Sabha so that you can be our voice there.” After I was released, the people from Lormi, which is an unreserved constituency where I live, held a meeting and invited me to attend. There they declared that I would be their unanimous candidate.
Generally, Adivasis and Dalits contest from reserved constituencies. But you have picked an unreserved constituency. Why?
It is clear that not only in Lormi but in the entire Chhattisgarh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress governments have only cheated the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. So, this is one issue. You are right when you say that the Dalits and the Adivasis generally contest from reserved constituencies. But what is painful to see is that despite being sent to the assembly from reserved constituencies, they don’t open their mouths in the assembly to protest against the excesses and the atrocities committed against the Dalits and the Adivasis. So, it makes no difference whether the constituency is reserved or not.
Lormi is a typical example of what has been happening in the state. Dalit voters number 70,000-75,000 in the constituency but for the past 20 years, an upper-caste person has been getting elected from here – this despite the fact that voters from his caste number not more than one thousand. Dalits here have been victims of many atrocities. I launched agitations and mobilized people against these atrocities. That is probably the reason Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs of Lormi have chosen me as their candidate.
Contesting elections has become a costly affair these days. How will you meet this challenge?
I am treading the path shown by Manyavar Kanshi Ram ji. His advice was to go among the people. I am going among the people and they are assuring me of their support. They are with me, they are ready to work for me, they are ready to help me financially. People are giving me money and are assuring me of their votes, too. So much so that people are making arrangements for my stay and food. They are even spending money from their pockets on my election offices, etc. I have no worries on that count.
What are the issues you are taking to the people?
Oppression of Dalits and Adivasis is the biggest issue in Chhattisgarh. That’s why I am asking the people to vote for me and telling them that I will raise their voice in the assembly against atrocities perpetrated against you and will fight to secure justice for you.
Is price rise and unemployment not an issue in Lormi?
It is, but casteist oppression is the biggest issue. Only today, I met people from the Devaar caste. Do you know about this caste? I will tell you. They earn their livelihood by entertaining people. The upper castes take the women from this caste to their homes during weddings and festivals to entertain them. When I met the people from this caste, a woman told me that at the government school, their children are kept away from the children of other castes and communities. Even during midday meals, they are made to sit separately. Even 75 years after Independence, caste discrimination prevails in this country. Then, there are the issues of OBC reservation, vacant seats and landlessness in Chhattisgarh. I have been fighting on all these issues and I am asking the people to vote for me so that I can take this struggle forward.
Last question. How do you see the social and political equations in Lormi?
You see, Kanshi Ram used to say that if you cannot occupy the seat of power, at least shake it. I am doing that. I am hopeful that the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs of Lormi will back me. I am confident that whether it is the Congress or the BJP, no party will be able to ignore the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs of Lormi any longer.
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)
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