(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 16, 2008
Ten Years Of Organised Struggle Against Caste Discrimination
Kulavivaksha Vyatireka Porata Sangham (KVPS -- Struggle Committee Against Caste Discrimination) in Andhra Pradesh recently completed 10 years of its existence. Although the organisation has many struggles and achievements to its credit during this period, it is fully aware that given the fact of thousands of years of continued oppression and atrocities on dalits, what has been achieved is very little. Much more needs to be done through united movements of dalits and progressive forces to put an end to this inhuman oppression and discrimination.
Marking this occasion, a convention was held at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, Hyderabad on ‘Problems Facing Dalits and their Solutions’. The main speaker was P Sampath, convenor of Anti-Untouchability Front in Tamilnadu. KVPS vice president and CPI(M) state secretary B V Raghavulu was the other speaker in this convention which was attended by KVPS cadre from all over the state and others.
Raghavulu said this is an occasion for KVPS to take stock of its activities, its achievements, and weaknesses and on that basis plan future struggles to achieve more victories in the fight against oppression and discrimination against dalits. The lives of dalits would improve only when land is distributed to them. Dalits are backward in all regions of the state and only when their conditions improve would the state achieve real growth, he felt. But the ruling classes who are utilising the existing caste divisions to perpetuate their exploitative system are hardly interested in this. Therefore there is an urgent need to fight for ending the caste system. Dalits along with those willing to join them should wage militant struggles to smash the continuing untouchability and discrimination against them. They should organise into a strong force.
Raghavulu demanded from the state government provision of basic amenities of water, electricity, drainage, roads, schools etc in the 28,000 odd dalit settlements. House sites must be given and pucca houses built. He sought a special scheme with adequate allotment of funds from the government to develop these dalit settlements in the state. As for spending for development works in the “role model villages”, he felt that first priority must be given for dalit settlements in such villages, second to weaker sections colonies and only then to areas where upper caste people live. He lamented that even after 61 years of Independence there is no land available for dalits to cremate their dead.
Raghavulu demanded that the state government must confer judicial powers on the state SC/ST commission in order to get the legal and constitutional rights of dalits implemented properly. The policies being pursued by successive governments are resulting in non-implementation of reservations for dalits. He sought implementation of reservations for dalits in the private sector, both in regular and contract jobs. He lauded the relentless struggles conducted by KVPS which resulted in the state government conceding its demand for allotment of funds to dalits in the budget commensurate to its proportion in the population i.e. 16.2 per cent. The creation of a separate SC/ST nodal agency was also a result of the struggle waged by KVPS. He demanded that the government must allot the funds in the budget to these nodal agencies and get the works implemented. Raghavulu concluded by asserting that the problems faced by dalits in the state would be made an important issue in the coming elections to the state assembly.
P Sampath in his address recounted the experiences of struggles against untouchability in Tamilnadu. He acknowledged that the Anti-Untouchability Forum in Tamilnadu was established after being inspired by the work of KVPS in Andhra Pradesh. Since then many struggles have been waged and quite a few of them were successful. In this connection he recounted the experience in Utthapuram where the upper caste people had erected a ten feet high wall in the village to prevent dalits from entering their areas. The Forum took up the issue of dismantling of this wall of untouchability in a big manner in the state. When CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat announced his intention of directly participating in the destruction of the wall, the state government woke up and ordered its destruction. This was one of the biggest achievements of the Forum in the recent past. It has also taken up the demand for a sub-quota in the budget allotments for Arundhatiyars, the most backward among dalits in the state.
ACHIEVEMENTS OF KVPS
One of the major achievements of the KVPS in the state has been bringing to the forefront the issue of caste discrimination prevalent in the state in various forms. Many people used to think that untouchability had ended long back and that there is no discrimination. The KVPS conducted extensive surveys in 11,000 villages on the various forms of caste discrimination against dalits still prevalent. The shocking results were detailed to the government and put to discussion publicly opening many people’s eyes to the reality. A massive march was taken to the state assembly under the aegis of the KVPS demanding from the government constitution of a special commission to assess the problems being faced by the dalits. This rally was met with brutal police repression and many cadre of KVPS shed blood. But the government was forced to appoint a judicial commission headed by Justice Punnaiah. Similar struggles resulted in the government issuing 17 special government orders (GOs) relating to dalit issues. Only after bitter struggles, the government agreed to constitute a permanent SC/ST commission and after further agitation only it nominated a chairman and members for this commission.
The organisation conducted many padayatras, social awareness cycle jathas in order to organise and motivate dalits into resistance struggles. With such effort dalits in many villages participated in resistance activity by breaking glasses in hotels practicing two glass system; by fetching water from wells hitherto inaccessible for them; by sitting in village centres along with upper caste people; forcibly getting their haircuts done along with rest of people; and making forcible entry into temples which earlier had prevented them from entering. The KVPS forced the government to take up programmes against caste discrimination in its official programmes like Janmabhoomi or Pallebaata. The organisation stood by the victims of caste oppression, attacks and atrocities perpetrated on dalits by upper caste people. It struggled to get the guilty punished.
Another high point in this decade long journey of struggles has been the mass indefinite hunger strike by 25 leaders of organisation, including B V Raghavulu demanding allotment of funds in the budget as per the proportion of dalits in the population. The government was forced to agree to this demand. Getting the electricity arrears and loans to dalits waived off was also an achievement. As for solidarity with dalits across the country, the KVPS stood in the forefront. It held statewide protests against killings in Jhajjar and Khairlanji. It conducts activities commemorating the anniversaries of Ambedkar and Jyotibha Phule. It ensures through various means (struggles to force government, petitions to opposition parties etc) that every sitting of the state assembly would take up discussion on issues relating to dalits.
Although relatively speaking there has been progress in the struggle against caste discrimination in the state of Andhra Pradesh, much more needs to be done to end the thousands of years old oppression, exploitation and discrimination against dalits. On this occasion, the KVPS rededicates itself to this important task