Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Dalit Convention’s Resolution - II
THE POSITION OF DALITS IN LEFT-RULED STATES
THE first Communist ministry in Kerala, the Left Front governments in West Bengal and Tripura and the Left Democratic Front regimes in Kerala took up land reforms as their priority task. They combined this by strengthening panchayati
In West Bengal, of the more than 13.81 lakh acres of agricultural land vested in the state, 10.69 lakh acres have been distributed among 26.43 lakh people. The significant feature is that 56 percent of the beneficiaries belong to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. This is almost double their proportion in the population. Of the land distributed, 4.48 lakh pattas were issued jointly to men and women and 52,000 pattas were meant exclusively for women. It is a creditable record that 18 percent of the total ceiling surplus land of the country and 20 percent of the total distributed land of the country is in West Bengal alone.
Besides this, the rights of nearly 15 lakh sharecroppers have been recorded, covering 11.08 lakh acres of land, and 5.44 lakh poor families have been given homestead land. Over 42 percent of the recorded sharecroppers belonged to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Now nearly 72 percent of the land in West Bengal is managed by poor and marginal farmers. As a result of land reforms and other measures taken by the Left Front government, agricultural production has increased by 250 percent and more. Landless agricultural labour has been guaranteed a minimum wage and is provided with work during lean months. A large proportion of the beneficiaries of these measures naturally belong to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In the three-tier panchayat system, the representation of SCs, STs and women is considerably higher than the reserved quotas in both West Bengal and Tripura. Panchayat raj institutions in these states are largely controlled by poor peasants and agricultural labourers, unlike in most other parts of the country, where they are in the grip of landlords and rich peasants.
The West Bengal Left Front government has also initiated a large number of schemes to specifically support dalits and adivasis. Scholarships are provided to 1.1 lakh dalit students and 80,000 adivasi students. 240 hostels for primary and secondary students from the dalit and adivasi communities have been constructed. 32,000 dalit students and 28,000 adivasi students are provided with expenses for living in hostels at the pre-secondary level. An SC/ST Development and Finance Corporation has been established to support poor dalit and adivasi families by providing finance for household-based self-employment schemes. As against the poor national average that we saw above, 26 percent of primary teachers and 29 percent of secondary teachers in West Bengal come from the scheduled castes. For scheduled tribes, the percentage is 9 and 11 respectively.
The Tripura Left Front government also has a creditable record in the upliftment of the SCs and STs. In 1991, while the overall literacy was 60.44 percent, the SC literacy was 56.66 percent. The 2001 census figures of literacy are not yet available, but they are expected to show a considerable increase. Female SC literacy doubled from 23.24 percent in 1981 to 45.45 percent in 1991. A striking feature in the state is that SCs are not confined exclusively to ‘Paras’ or ‘Bastis’ like in some other parts of the country. They by and large live and intermingle with each other. There are no bonded labourers among SCs in the state. Provision of minimum wage to agricultural labourers, many of whom are SCs, is stringently implemented. SC families are legally protected against exploitation by money-lenders. Reservations in services, posts and educational institutions are strictly monitored and implemented. All scavengers engaged in carrying night soil by head load were liberated in 1991 itself and special schemes were undertaken for their rehabilitation. In the small state of Tripura, 40,000 SC students are being given pre-matric scholarships by the government. 2000 meritorious SC students are being given the Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Memorial Award each year. The sum of the award ranges from Rs. 400 to Rs. 1500 per annum. 30 hostels for SC boys and girls have been set up. Special schemes have been started for providing housing and medical assistance to SCs. Special development programmes for welfare of SCs are taken up and implemented every three years.
It is as a result of a long process of struggle combined with the above governmental measures, and an intensive ideological campaign by the Party and the Left that untouchability and caste oppression against dalits and adivasis have been reduced to a large extent in West Bengal and Tripura under Left Front rule. Atrocities against dalits and adivasis, which abound in many other parts of the country, are almost unheard of in these two states. Thus, in 2001, at the All India level, there were 33,503 cases of crimes committed against scheduled castes, of which 716 were murders, 1316 were rapes and 400 were abductions. In West Bengal that year, there were only 10 such crimes and in Tripura there were only 2 such crimes. In the same year, at the All India level, there were 6,217 cases of crimes committed against scheduled tribes, of which 167 were murders, 573 were rapes, and 67 were abductions. In West Bengal that year, there were only 2 such crimes and in Tripura there was not a single such crime. All this conclusively shows that it is only a Left alternative that can show the way to ending the age-old scourge of untouchability, caste oppression and social discrimination.
Taking into account the severity of the caste problem, Comrade E M S Namboodiripad wrote in 1979, “One has to realise that the building of India on modern democratic and secular lines requires an uncompromising struggle against the caste-based Hindu society and its culture. There is no question of secular democracy, not to speak of socialism, unless the very citadel of India’s ‘age-old’ civilisation and culture --- the division of society into a hierarchy of castes – is broken. In other words, the struggle for radical democracy and socialism cannot be separated from the struggle against caste society.”
On the basis of above understanding the convention calls upon all the units of the Party to take up the social issues as an important task of the Party. Party units should study the position of social oppression in their area and work out the concrete demands to organise campaign and struggles. The mass organisations should take up the specific problems of dalits and organise special campaigns and struggles to achieve their demands.
CHARTER OF DEMANDS
This convention sets out the following charter of demands to ensure a better life for the crores of dalits in our country and it calls upon them to join the common movement of all toiling, oppressed and exploited sections of our country to win these demands and also to effect a radical social, economic and political transformation of our country.
The central and state governments must immediately set in motion a process of land reforms whereby land will be redistributed to the landless agricultural labourers and poor peasants gratis. All loopholes in the present laws must be plugged. All schemes to reverse land reform legislation and give away land to multinational corporations and big business houses should be scrapped forthwith.
All the backlogs in reserved seats and posts and in promotions for SCs, STs and OBCs must be filled forthwith with special recruitment drives. The three Constitutional amendments made to correct the three OMs issued in97 diluting reservations for SCs and STs should be implemented. The pre-1997 vacancies based roster should be restored. A comprehensive legislation covering all aspects of reservation for SCs/STs in employment and education both public and private institutions should be enacted.
SPECIAL COMPONENT PLAN: Special Component Plan should be properly implemented in all the states with proper allotment of funds according to the population of dalits. A National Commission should be set up to assess the real position of dalits including reservation. The state level commissions should be set up to oversee the implementation of all schemes connected with the SCs including reservation.
INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT: Infrastructure development in the scheduled caste areas like road, water, health, culture and other needs has to be given proper importance. When allotting fund for infrastructure development, a separate allotment for scheduled caste areas should be provided.
A comprehensive National Programme of Minor Irrigation for all irrigable but unirrigated lands of SCs and STs through wells, community wells, bore-wells, community bore-wells and tube-wells, bandheras, check-dams, lift, etc., should be immediately undertaken and implemented.
ROOTING OUT UNTOUCHABILITY:
All forms of untouchability must be rooted out of the country by strengthening the relevant laws, ensuring their strict implementation and most importantly, by launching a mass movement of the people.
PROTECTION FROM ATROCITIES:
The central government should amend and strengthen the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, providing for special courts with judges, investigating officers and public prosecutors unburdened by any other work. Social and economic boycott and blackmail should be included as substantive crimes. Full economic rehabilitation of victims and their survivors must be ensured.
EMPLOYMENT: The privatisation drive should be stopped as it leads to loot of national assets, greater unemployment, a curtailment of reservations and also a spurt in corruption. The central government should enact a bill to provide reservations in the private sector, which has been a long-standing demand of SCs and STs. Special schemes to provide self-employment to SC youth should be started. The Right to Work should be incorporated as a fundamental right in the Constitution.
The commercialisation of education should be stopped since the massive fee and donation structure of private educational managements is something that socially and economically backward students cannot afford. For this, the central government must increase its own outlay on education to 6 percent of the GDP. SC/ST students should be given special scholarships to pursue their studies. The stipends in social welfare hostels should be raised and the quality of these hostels improved. Steps should be taken to universalise primary education and expand secondary education. Special measures to curb the drop-out rate among SCs should be undertaken.
The Minimum Wages Act for agricultural workers must be stringently implemented throughout the country. A comprehensive bill for agricultural workers is another long-standing demand and it must be enacted without delay. Homestead land must be provided for SCs, STs and agricultural workers.
RURAL EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE SCHEME:
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act must be strictly implemented all over the country by involving the people, their mass organisations and the panchayati raj institutions. It should be extended to all districts and also to urban areas of the country.
PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM:
The public distribution system must be universalised to ensure food to all. Until this is done, BPL ration cards must be issued to all poor families, many of whom are from SCs and STs. The grain under the BPL scheme should be made available at Antyodaya prices.
Agricultural credit to peasants and agricultural workers must be made available at 4 percent rate of interest. For SCs and STs in both rural and urban areas, credit facilities should be expanded and the credit given at concessional interest rates.
BONDED LABOUR AND CHILD LABOUR:
The total liberation and full rehabilitation of bonded labourers must be ensured. The pernicious practice of child labour must be abolished and children properly rehabilitated and educated. Similarly, total liberation and full rehabilitation must be ensured for Safaqi Karmacharis who are engaged in scavenging.
SCAVENGERS: Ensure total liberation and full rehabilitation for scavengers (safai karamcharis), ban engagement of contract labour in safai services and other services where SC and ST numerically predominate and instead introduce necessary improvements by involving such Karamcharis; and reactivate the Central Monitoring Committee for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Safai Karamcharis and State, Municipal and District Level communities.
INTERCASTE MARRIAGES: Intercaste marriages should be encouraged by giving special subsidized housing and other facilities to married couples immediately after their marriage. We should consciously try to uphold such inter-caste marriages and make them an event of big social participation and sanction.