People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 11

March 12, 2006

Dalit Convention’s Resolution 
The All India Convention on the Problems of Dalits, organized by the Communist Party of India, at New Delhi, on February 22, 2006, adopted the following resolution.  
THE thoroughly reactionary varna and caste system has hounded Indian society for thousands of years. India is the only country in the world where such a system came into being and still exists. The varna and caste system was sanctified by Hindu religion and by Vedic scriptures. This was the main reason for its consolidation. The notorious text, Manusmriti, codified the then prevailing social norms and consigned the shudras, atishudras and women to a thoroughly unequal and miserable existence. The distinctiveness of the caste system was that it was hereditary, compulsory and endogamous. The worst affected by the caste system and its social oppression have been the dalits, or atishudras, or scheduled castes. Albeit in a different way, the adivasis or scheduled tribes in India have also faced social oppression over the ages. The stories of Shambuka in the Ramayana and of Ekalavya in the Mahabharata are classic testimonies of the non-egalitarian nature of Hindu society in ancient India.   
Along with the curse of untouchability, the dalits had no right to have any property. They had to eat the foulest food, including leftovers thrown away by the higher varnas; they were not allowed to draw water from the common well; they were prohibited from entering temples; they were barred from the right to education and knowledge; they had to perform menial jobs for the higher castes; they were not allowed to use the common burial ground; they were not allowed to live in the main village inhabited by the upper varnas; and they were deprived of ownership rights to land and property, leading to the lack of access to all sources of economic mobility. Thus, dalits were subjected to both social exclusion and economic discrimination over the centuries. In one form or the other, this continues even today in most parts of the country. 
As Comrade B T Ranadive pointed out, “the three powerful class interests, the imperialists, the landlords and bourgeois leadership were acting as the defenders of the caste system, by protecting the landlord and pre-capitalist land system.”  It will be seen from this that the interests of the bourgeois class rested in maintaining the status quo.  There has been no basic change in caste system after nearly 60 years of independence as the bourgeoisie compromised with landlordism and fostered caste prejudices. After independence also, the basic structure of land relations, an overhauling of which would have given a blow to untouchability and the caste system, has not been changed.  
 The 19 and 20 centuries saw great social reformers like Dr B R Ambedkar, Sri Narayan Guru, Jyothiba Phule, Periyar E V Ramaswamy Naickar and others.  These social reform movements conducted many struggles against the caste system, caste oppression and untouchability in many ways. But, despite the struggles against caste oppression, the social reform movement did not address the crucial issue of radical land reforms.  It got delinked from the anti-imperialist struggle. The Congress-led national movement on its part, failed to take up radical social reform measures as part of the freedom movement. 
Diametrically opposed to the progressive role of the reform movement was the thoroughly reactionary role on social issues that was played by the RSS and the Sangh Parivar ever since its inception. Apart from its rabid communal ideology, the RSS adopted a Brahmanical stance right from the beginning. With this understanding, the RSS opposed the amendments to the Hindu Code Bill after independence. The BJP’s opposition to the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations was also on this basis.  


Wherever the BJP is in power in the states, atrocities on Muslims, dalits and adivasis have increased markedly. At the same time in some areas, they sought to pit the poor people belonging to dalits and tribal community against Muslims and Christians. So, the fight against caste oppression and communalism are interlinked. 


The experience clearly shows the need to link the fight against caste oppression with the struggle against class exploitation. At the same time, the class struggle must include the struggle for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of social oppression. This is an important part of the democratic revolution.  
The CPI(M) Programme, updated in 2000, succinctly summarises the caste question as follows: “The bourgeois-landlord system has also failed to put an end to caste oppression. The worst sufferers are the scheduled castes. The dalits are subject to untouchability and other forms of discrimination despite these being declared unlawful. The growing consciousness among the dalits for emancipation is sought to be met with brutal oppression and atrocities. The assertion by the dalits has a democratic content reflecting the aspirations of the most oppressed sections of society. The backward castes have also asserted their rights in a caste-ridden society. 
“At the same time a purely caste appeal which seeks to perpetuate caste divisions for the narrow aim of consolidating vote banks and detaching these downtrodden sections from the common democratic movement has also been at work. Many caste leaders and certain leaders of bourgeois political parties seek to utilise the polarisation on caste lines for narrow electoral gains and are hostile to building up the common movement of the oppressed sections of all castes. They ignore the basic class issues of land, wages and fight against landlordism, which is the basis for overthrowing the old order. 


“The problem of caste oppression and discrimination has a long history and is deeply rooted in the pre-capitalist social system. The society under capitalist development has compromised with the existing caste system. The Indian bourgeoisie itself fosters caste prejudices. Working class unity presupposes unity against the caste system and the oppression of dalits, since the vast majority of dalits are part of the labouring classes. To fight for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of social oppression through a social reform movement is an important part of the democratic revolution. The fight against caste oppression is interlinked with the struggle against class exploitation.” 


The Political Resolution of the 18 Congress of the CPI(M) held in 2005 gives concrete guidance to the Party to take up caste and social issues. In the section titled “Caste Oppression and Dalits”, it says, “The caste system contains both social oppression and class exploitation. The dalits suffer from both types of exploitation in the worst form. 86.25 percent of the scheduled caste households are landless and 49 percent of the scheduled castes in the rural areas are agricultural workers. Communists who champion abolition of the caste system, eradication of untouchability and caste oppression have to be in the forefront in launching struggles against the denial of basic human rights. This struggle has to be combined with the struggle to end the landlord-dominated order which consigns the dalit rural masses to bondage. The issues of land, wages and employment must be taken up to unite different sections of the working people and the non-dalit rural poor must be made conscious of the evils of caste oppression and discrimination by a powerful democratic campaign. There are some dalit organisations and NGOs who seek to foster anti-communist feelings amongst the dalit masses and to detach them from the Left movement. Such sectarian and, in certain cases, foreign-funded activities must be countered and exposed by positively putting forth the Party’s stand on caste oppression and making special efforts to draw the dalit masses into common struggles.” 


In the section titled “Fight Caste Appeal”, the Political Resolution says, “The intensification of the caste appeal and fragmentation of the working people on caste lines is a serious challenge to the Left and democratic movement. Taking up caste oppression, forging the common movement of the oppressed of all castes and taking up class issues of common concern must be combined with a bold campaign to highlight the pernicious effects of caste-based politics. The Party should work out concrete tactics in different areas taking into account the caste and class configurations. Electoral exigencies should not come in the way of the Party’s independent campaign against caste-based politics. Reservation is no panacea for the problems of caste and class exploitation. But they provide some limited and necessary relief within the existing order. Reservation should be extended to dalit Christians. In the context of the privatisation drive and the shrinkage of jobs in the government and public sector, reservations in the private sector for scheduled castes and tribes should be worked out after wide consultations.” 


According to the 2001 census, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 percent of the total population of India, that is, they number over 17 crore. Scheduled tribes comprise 8.2 percent of the population, that is, they number over 8 crore. Both together constitute 24.4 percent of the Indian population, that is, they together number over 25 crore.  
The six states that have the highest percentage of scheduled caste population are Punjab (28.9), Himachal Pradesh (24.7), West Bengal (23.0), Uttar Pradesh (21.1), Haryana (19.3) and Tamil Nadu (19.0). The twelve states that have the largest number of  scheduled castes are Uttar Pradesh (351.5 lakhs), West Bengal (184.5 lakhs), Bihar (130.5 lakhs), Andhra Pradesh (123.4 lakhs), Tamil Nadu (118.6 lakhs), Maharashtra (98.8 lakhs), Rajasthan (96.9 lakhs), Madhya Pradesh (91.6 lakhs), Karnataka (85.6 lakhs), Punjab (70.3 lakhs), Orissa (60.8 lakhs) and Haryana (40.9 lakhs).  
Almost every socio-economic indicator shows that the position of scheduled caste families is awful. In many cases their plight is getting worse. Let us have a look at some of the major indicators.
LAND: In 1991, 70percent of the total SC households were landless or near landless (owning less than one acre). This increased to 75percent in 200. In 1991, 13percent of the rural SC households were landless. However, in 2000 this saw a decline and was 10percent. As per the Agricultural Census of 1995-96, the bottom 61.6percent of operational holdings accounted for only 17.2percent of the total operated land area. As against this, the top 7.3percent of operational holdings accounted for 40.1percent of the total operated area. This gives an indication of land concentration in the hands of a few. 
FIXED CAPITAL ASSETS: In 2000, about 28 percent of SC households in rural areas had acquired some access to fixed capital assets (agricultural land and non-land assets). This was only half compared to 56 percent for other non-SC/ST households who had some access to fixed capital assets. In the urban areas, the proportion was 27 percent for SCs and 35.5 percent for others. 
AGRICULTURAL LABOUR: In 2000, 49.06 percent of the working SC population were agricultural labourers, as compared to 32.69 percent for the STs and only 19.66 percent for the others. This shows the preponderance of dalits in agricultural labour. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of agricultural labourers in India increased from 7.46 crore to 10.74 crore, and a large proportion of them were dalits. On the other hand, the average number of workdays available to an agricultural labourer slumped from 123 in 1981 to 70 in 2005.
CHILD LABOUR: It is reported that out of the 60 million child labour in India, 40 percent come from SC families. Moreover, it is estimated that 80 percent of child labour engaged in carpet, matchstick and firecracker industries come from scheduled caste backgrounds. The tanning, colouring and leather processing, lifting dead animals, clearing human excreta, cleaning soiled clothes, collection of waste in slaughter houses and sale of toddy are some of the hereditary jobs generally pursued by dalit children.
PER CAPITA INCOME: In 2000, as against the national average of Rs. 4485, the per capita income of SCs was Rs. 3,237. The average weekly wage earning of an SC worker was Rs. 174.50 compared to Rs. 197.05 for other non- SC/ST workers.
POVERTY: In 2000, 35.4 percent of the SC population was below the poverty line in rural areas as against 21 percent among others (‘Others’ everywhere means non-SC/ST); in urban areas the gap was larger --- 39 percent of SC as against only 15 percent among others. The largest incidence of poverty in rural areas was among agricultural labour followed by non-agricultural labour, whereas in urban areas the largest incidence of poverty was among casual labour followed by self-employed households. The monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) for all household types was lower for SCs than others. 
EMPLOYMENT: In 2000, the unemployment rate based on current daily status was 5 percent for SCs as compared to 3.5 percent for others in rural and urban areas. The wage labour households accounted for 61.4 percent of all SC households in rural areas and 26 percent in urban areas, as compared to 25.5 percent and 7.45 percent for other households. 
RESERVATIONS: 15 percent and 7.5 percent of central government posts are reserved for SCs and STs respectively. For SCs, in Group A, only 10.15 percent posts were filled, in Group B it was 12.67 percent, in Group C it was 16.15 percent and in Group D it was 21.26 percent. The figures for STs were even lower, at 2.89 percent, 2.68 percent, 5.69 percent and 6.48 percent for the four groups respectively. Of the 544 judges in the High Courts, only 13 were SC and 4 were ST. Among school teachers all over the country, only 6.7 percent were SC/STs, while among college and university teachers, only 2.6 percent were SC/STs. 
EDUCATION: In 2001, the literacy rate among SCs was 54.7 percent and among STs it was 47.1 percent, as against 68.8 percent for others. Among women, the literacy rate for SCs was 41.9 percent, for STs it was 34.8 percent and for others it was 58.2 percent. School attendance was about 10 percent less among SC boys than other boys, and about 5 percent less among SC girls than other girls. Several studies have observed discrimination against SCs in schools in various forms. 
HEALTH: In 2000, the Infant Mortality Rate (child death before the age of 1) in SCs was 83 per 1000 live births as against 61.8 for the others, and the Child Mortality Rate (child death before the age of 5) was 119.3 for 1000 live births as against 82.6 for the others. These high rates among the SCs are closely linked with poverty, low educational status and discrimination in access to health services. In 1999, at least 75 percent of SC women suffered from anaemia and more than 70 percent SC womens’ deliveries took place at home. More than 75 percent of SC children were anaemic and more than 50 percent suffered from various degrees of malnutrition.   
WOMEN: While dalit women share common problems of gender discrimination with their high caste counterparts, they also suffer from problems specific to them. Dalit women are the worst affected and suffer the three forms oppression -- caste, class and gender. As some of the above figures show, these relate to extremely low literacy and education levels, heavy dependence on wage labour, discrimination in employment and wages, heavy concentration in unskilled, low-paid and hazardous manual jobs, violence and sexual exploitation, being the victims of various forms of superstitions (like the devadasi system) etc. 
SANITATION: Only 11 percent of SC households and 7 percent of ST households had access to sanitary facilities as against the national average of 29 percent. 
ELECTRICITY: Only 28 percent of the SC population and 22 percent of the ST population were users of electricity as against the national average of 48 percent. 
ATROCITIES, UNTOUCHABILITY AND DISCRIMINATION: During 16 years between 1981 to 2000 for which records are available, a total of 3,57,945 cases of crime and atrocities were committed against the SCs. This comes to an annual average of about 22,371 crimes and atrocities per year. The break-up of the atrocities and violence for the year 2000 is as follows: 486 cases of murder, 3298 grievous hurt, 260 of arson, 1034 cases of rape and 18,664 cases of other offences. The practice of untouchability and social discrimination in the matter of use of public water bodies, water taps, temples, tea stalls, restaurants, community bath, roads and other social services continues to be of high magnitude.


With the onset of the imperialist-dictated policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation by the ruling classes of our country during the last decade and a half, the problems of dalits, adivasis, other backward castes and the working people as a whole have greatly aggravated. The drive to privatise the public sector has directly hit reservations for the SC/STs. The closure of thousands of mills and factories have rendered lakhs jobless and this has also hit dalits and other backward castes. The ban on recruitment to government and semi-government jobs that has been imposed in several states has also had an adverse effect. The growing commercialisation of education and health has kept innumerable people from both socially and economically backward sections out of these vital sectors. In this background, reservation in private sector has become very important because the joblessness among the SC and STs has witnessed a steady increase in the recent period. 
The most disastrous effects of these policies can be seen in the deep agrarian crisis that has afflicted the rural sector. Rural employment has sharply fallen and this has hit dalits, adivasis and women the most. Mechanisation of agriculture has further compounded the problem. The real wages of agricultural workers, of whom a large proportion are dalits, have fallen in many states. No efforts are made to implement minimum wage legislation even where it exists, and periodic revision of minimum wage is also conspicuous by its absence. The dismantling of the public distribution system has increased hunger to alarming proportions. An overwhelming proportion of the malnutrition-related deaths of thousands of children in several states is from dalit and adivasi families. Thus, the neo-liberal policies have accentuated both the economic as well as the social divide in the country.  


There is no doubt that due to the whole range of alternative policies pursued by the Left-led state governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, the position of dalits and adivasis have markedly improved in these states. But even before the Left came to power in these states, Communist leaders staunchly fought on the issues relating to caste oppression. In Kerala, in the pre-independence period, Communist leaders, while leading class struggles, also led temple entry satyagrahas for the dalits in the teeth of upper caste opposition. In West Bengal, the Communists made conscious attempts in practice to carry forward the rich legacy of the glorious social reform movement in the state. In Tripura, too, the Communists raised the issue of caste oppression as an integral part of the class struggle.  In Tamilnadu in East Thanjavur area the struggle led by Communists against the class and caste oppression of dalits formed the base for a strong kisan movement.  
It was in the great anti-feudal peasant struggles led by the Communists in the 1940s that India for the first time got a glimpse of the possibility of the annihilation of caste and communalism once and for all. Historic struggles like Telangana, Tebhaga, Punnapara Vayalar and others squarely targeted landlordism and imperialism and, in this process, they succeeded in forging the unprecedented unity of all toilers, cutting across caste and religious lines. The struggle reached its highest point in Telangana. Thousands of villages were liberated from landlord rule and actual land redistribution to the landless was carried out. A large number of the beneficiaries of this land reform were dalits and adivasis, who got possession of land for the first time. The remarkable class unity of the peasantry that was forged in this struggle struck the first blows at caste and communal ideology and practice.  


In more recent times, the CPI(M) and the mass organisations in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere have been leading a concerted statewide campaign and struggle for the last few years on the issues of untouchability and caste oppression. This is meeting with encouraging public response, with dalits being attracted to the Left.  
  (To be continued)