People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 30, 2007
Need For A Multi-Pronged Fight
Against Caste Discrimination
THE Centre for Dalit and Minority Studies of the Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi organised a seminar on ‘Caste Discrimination and Forms of Untouchability’ on December 20, 2007. B V Raghavulu, Polit Bureau member of CPI(M) was the main speaker. Welcoming B V Raghavulu and other participants to the seminar, Prof Mujtaba Khan, director of the Centre called Raghavulu as a crusader against caste discrimination.
Sharing the experiences of the struggle against caste discrimination in Andhra Pradesh, Raghavulu said the atrocities on dalits are worst in AP and it ranks second in discrimination all over India. Even after sixty years of Independence, the conditions have not improved for dalits socially and economically. Congress party ruled continuously for 35 years in the state, but did not effect changes in the conditions of dalits, who were its major supporters. When Indira Gandhi was defeated elsewhere in the country, she was elected with a thumping majority in the state due to the support of the dalits. Raghavulu said during the freedom movement many Congress leaders in Andhra Pradesh initiated social reforms in dalit colonies. They built schools and hospitals for the dalits. These leaders later joined the Communist movement.
Raghavulu said that in 1998, the CPI(M) in Andhra Pradesh formed an organisation to fight caste discrimination, which is called as Struggle Committee against Caste Discrimination. Since the last decade, this organisation has launched direct action to assert the rights of the dalits besides organising education and propaganda programmes for them. He maintained that the Struggle Committee against Caste Discrimination works continuously and launches action to enable the dalits to experience and enjoy the rights given by the constitution, unlike the caste based dalit organisations which only react when any incident takes place. The Struggle Committee attempts for a broad based mobilisation, involving people from all castes to fight for dalit’s causes, whereas the caste organisations mobilise only dalits on their issues.
Raghavulu said there is a debate going on in Andhra Pradesh that questions the elimination of caste discrimination without annihilating caste itself which is possible only when Hinduism is done away with, thus focusing on the caste aspect alone and not on the discrimination. He stressed that at least in the near future we can eliminate the degraded forms of caste discrimination through struggle, rather than wait for the annihilation of caste, without doing anything. Exhorting the audience to bring the issue of caste discrimination into the political agenda, Raghavulu said we must pressurise the government to act on the issues concerning the dalits and expose their attitude. The Party in Andhra Pradesh used the floor of the Assembly and in every session it raised the issues facing dalits and intervened to draw the attention of the government towards their problems.
There was a widespread prevalence of a notion among the intelligentsia that there is no caste discrimination in Andhra Pradesh. To prove this wrong, in 1998, the Struggle Committee against Caste Discrimination undertook a survey in 10,000 villages all over the state. In Chittoor district alone, 460 villages were surveyed. It was found that in 252 villages there was no temple entry, in 92 villages there was two glass system, in 175 villages there was no burial ground for dalits, in 175 villages dalits were denied drawing water from the common tanks, in 33 villages there was wage discrimination, in 220 villages there was no hair dressing service for dalits, in 290 villages no washing service was there, in 219 villages dalits were not allowed to stand in the bus shelter, in 22 villages dalits had to carry chappals in their hands while walking, in 139 villages dalits were abused by caste names, in many villages marriage processions of the dalits were not allowed to pass through the upper caste colonies. The survey all over the state revealed that 56 types of discrimination forms exist in the state. The Committee observed that dalit children are served mid day meals in verandahs; upper caste children do not eat the food cooked by the dalit women. The upper caste children leave the plates unwashed whereas the dalit children are forced to wash the plates after eating. During the Ganesh festival, dalits are prevented from immersing the idols at the common place and they cannot pray at the village temple.
When the results of the survey were published and brought to light, people and intellectuals realised the seriousness of the problem and we were able to build a common opinion with them regarding the caste discrimination, said Raghavulu. Later we demanded the state government to undertake this exercise and appoint a commission to study the caste discrimination all over the state, he said. In 1998, a huge rally was held with this demand and it was raised in the Assembly. As a result of the struggle, Justice Punnaiah Commission was formed by the government to look into this issue. The Commission toured for one year all the districts of the state and held public hearings and interviews. It came out with a very descriptive and analytical report on the findings. This is a very important report on the issue of caste discrimination, said Raghavulu. In the next step, demand for a permanent commission was raised and a SC, ST Commission was formed in the state.
Maintaining that the government cares little and allocates a paltry amount for dalits, Raghavulu said, dalits comprise 18 percent of the population in the state, but the government allocates only 9 percent for the sub plan for the dalits and when it comes to the actual expenditure it only spends 4 percent. And that too, it is shown in the irrigation projects, where dalits actually do not own any land. He said the Party has demanded the government to pool all the resources and hand it over to the Social Welfare ministry which will formulate a plan for allocating the resources. Raghavulu said a hunger strike was launched led by him on this demand and as a result a nodal agency for social welfare department has been appointed.
Informing that from 1999 onwards every year direct action is launched from April 2-14, Raghavulu said this activity has helped the dalits in asserting their constitutionally guaranteed rights. In 2005, a cycle yatra was organised for 13 days, led by Raghavulu in which 23 activists participated. As a part of this yatra when dalits drew water from a tank, the upper caste people poured poison into the tank; when dalits entered into a temple, the upper caste people purified it by performing rituals. Such is the stiff resistance from the upper castes to the struggle for eliminating the caste discrimination.
Raghavulu stressed that a multi-pronged attack involving political, social, legal and direct action measures needs to be launched to fight caste discrimination. He said no political party will openly oppose the fight against caste discrimination, but everybody will try their best to sabotage and weaken the fight saying that these people are creating disunity in an otherwise peaceful village atmosphere. Such people want the status quo to continue forever. Raghavulu said that the fight against caste discrimination could unite the divided sections within the dalits, and it would help in reducing the animosity between these sections.
The issues of land, public distribution system and health are the major issues concerning dalits. Raghavulu emphasised that simultaneous work synchronising the fight against these issues along with the fight on caste discrimination is the need of the hour. He said since last five months land struggle is going on in Andhra Pradesh and in the future, struggle on health related issues would be organised. 75 percent of health care in Andhra Pradesh is provided by the private sector which is predominantly dominated by the corporate hospitals. The worst sufferers of the privatisation of health care are dalits. Raghavulu said the struggle against caste discrimination and on the issues concerning dalits is a long drawn one, and hoped wide support would pour in for the struggle. He expressed confidence that the struggle will emerge victorious.
Paturu Ramayya, central committee member of CPI(M) addressing the gathering said the caste discrimination in society is a deep rooted one and dates back to the days of Manu Dharma. He said all sections of the society should be mobilised to fight caste discrimination and end this inhuman practice.
P Madhu, central committee member of CPI(M) and MP also was present in the seminar.