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 second part of the interview:
Continued from here
During the Nyaya Yatra, did the Dalit community spell out their expectations from the political parties?
Of course. They did. In fact, the people were emphatic about the expectations they have from the political parties. It is for the first time that the people of Rajasthan are saying in unison that they are not concerned about those who are not concerned about them. They are saying that their support to a political party will be proportionate to the space their concerns find in its manifesto. People are saying that if any of the parties field those who commit atrocities against them, they won’t let such candidates enter the Vidhan Sabha. A major takeaway from the yatra is that just like the parties select their candidates after screening out others, the people will also pick the right person to vote for on the basis of their commitment to social justice. We have formed a screening committee for conducting a social audit of the candidates and that committee has sprung into action. It is looking into how the individuals whom the parties are nominating as their candidates have been behaving with us. What has been their position when atrocities take place – whether they stand with us or with the oppressors? Whom do they stand with when we are deprived of our lands? Who are they with when our sisters and daughters are subjected to sexual violence or even raped? Similarly, we are looking at their contribution to developmental programmes and whether their behaviour has been discriminatory. This is happening for the first time and it is a great thing and should be replicated all over the country.
Another observation from the Samajik Nyaya Yatra is that the people are not stuck with emotive issues but are talking about real issues. Secondly, they are saying that someone may be nominated from Delhi as a candidate, but it is they who will decide his fate. And our seal of approval will depend on where they were when we needed them. Importantly, it was not as if these utterances were limited to a place or two. People raised these issues in all the 50 districts of the state.
On 28 September 2023, we held a Jan Manch – an event where a manifesto of the Dalit community, based on the issues raised during the yatra, was dedicated to the public. We invited representatives of different political parties to the event. Our manifesto committee first explained to them the methodology we used for drafting our manifesto. Then, it was dedicated to the people by a group of women. A woman chaired the event and the women conducted the proceedings.
Attempts are being made to make Hindutva the key issue of the poll campaign. And this is happening in Rajasthan, too. What was your impression from the yatra on this?
At every stop during the yatra, we resolved to oppose those who are anti-democracy and anti-Constitution, even if they adopt our manifesto in its entirety.
But that is your decision. What do the people say?
This is what the people said. They are ones who resolved to do this. Wherever we went and held interactions, the people were telling us that the Prime Minister’s economic adviser is saying that the Constitution has turned stale and that we should have a new one. It is as if the objective of promoting equity, liberty, brotherhood and justice, that we had set in 1950, was meant for then only. Former Law Minister Kiren Rijiju is saying that there is nothing like the basic structure of the Constitution. The Vice-President of India is saying the same thing, so is a former Chief Justice of India, who is now a Rajya Sabha member. You see, the people have come to realize that the RSS-BJP are delivering debilitating blows on the Constitution. They are realizing that India is gradually sliding towards totalitarianism and that if we don’t wake up now, we will end up being big losers. During the Samajik Nyaya Yatra, people stood up and boldly said that Babasaheb gave us this Constitution and we should be ashamed of ourselves, we should kick ourselves, if we are not able to protect it. This is the opinion of the people at large. You can take it as a given that the people will stand by the Constitution and that they will reject those who reject the Constitution.
We often talk of Dalitbahujan unity. Did this sentiment resonate during the yatra?
You see, we will start by setting our own house in order. Once the Dalits are united, we will try to unite all the oppressed communities. We are trying to take the Adivasis along, we are trying to take the EBCs along and also, all those who are on the same page with us with regard to the ideology of social justice. We will also bring the minority communities onboard. This was the sentiment that emerged during the yatra. The day we organized the Jan Manch, activists of Samyukta Kisan Morcha joined us to express their support. Lohiavadis came there to support us. Even Gandhians came. Members of civil society organizations came. So, what we are doing – the seeds we are sowing – is influencing other communities, too. A message also went out to the OBCs that the Dalits are doing their bit, they also have to follow suit and stand with them.
The thing is that you can unite others only when you yourselves are united. We should first put our house in order. This is exactly what we did this time. This initiative, which began in Rajasthan, is on the way to becoming an all-India phenomenon. Recently, we organized the national convention of All India Independent Scheduled Castes Association in Nagpur. There too, we said that we would first unite our people and then we would unite the entire Bahujan community. All said and done, Dalits can’t achieve much on their own. Whether it is electoral politics or anything else, we can’t do anything on our own; we will have to build a wider unity and that cannot become possible without the unity of Dalitbahujan and Adivasis. So, we are not getting entrapped in any theory. We are just talking about the unity of the oppressed, unity of the exploited, unity of the productive masses and when you build such a unity, it is not an alliance of castes but an alliance that is sustained by class consciousness. The OBCs, of course, will be a part of this alliance. The day the OBCs will let go of the communal forces, that would be the end of these forces. Today, the communal forces do have the backing of a section of the OBCs. They have been misled in the name of Hindutva. But the day the OBCs start associating themselves with Phule, Lalai Singh and Arjak Singh, the day they adopt Periyar as their icon, the OBC community will change and the communal forces will bite the dust. The Dalits have already embraced this thinking. You will find pictures of Kabir, Periyar, Raidas and Lalai Singh in their homes. Most of the Dalits believe that without the Phule couple, their movement would have no foundation. So, believe me, the day the OBCs imbibe what the Dalits have imbibed, no one will be able to stop the Bahujan from uniting. But this will need a major movement. That is because the interests of some OBC castes and Dalit castes clash. Dalits who are farm labourers or even marginal farmers face oppression and discrimination.
The Congress government of Rajasthan has decided to undertake a caste census. Of course, nothing can be said about who will form the government in the state and what will happen thereafter. But what is your first reaction?
Whether caste census will have an immediate impact on politics is not my concern. Whether it will have any impact at all is also not my concern. But I feel that caste census is mandatory for social justice and I back the decision of Ashok Gehlot ji. Better late than never. But what is clear is that he didn’t only issue a formal order. The Social Justice and Empowerment Department has been made the nodal agency for conducting the caste census and orders have been issued right from the secretary to the lowest levels. So, once orders have been issued, no matter which party’s government comes to power, it will have to carry out a caste census. Once society awakens, you can rest assured that no matter who forms the government in Rajasthan, caste census will have to be conducted. And that is true of the entire nation. No one will be able to brush this issue under the carpet any longer. The backward communities have freed themselves from the spell of Kamandal and are again marching towards social justice. The Rajasthan government’s decision will have a far-reaching impact. I feel that caste census will be key to keeping the INDIA alliance united.
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)
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