People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 11, 2007
Successful Agitation For Dalit Rights
B V Raghavulu along with other KVPS leaders greeting the crowd on the inaugural day of the indefinite fast
THE KVPS (Struggle Committee Against Caste Discrimination) agitation seeking the Andhra Pradesh government’s active intervention for propagating and enforcing dalit rights in the state was a huge success. A team of 25 KVPS leaders from various parts of the state went on an indefinite hunger strike under the leadership of KVPS vice president and CPI(M) state secretary B V Raghavulu in Hyderabad. The kind of pressure generated by this agitation forced the chief minister to concede – on the floor of the state assembly – the three main demands of the struggle thus leading to its withdrawal. All efforts to intimidate the agitators through use of police failed miserably. The success of this agitation has enthused all forces fighting for social justice in the state.
K G Kannabhiran, veteran civil rights activist, inaugurated the hunger strike camp at Indira Park on February 23 amidst hundreds of activists and dalits. He underscored the importance of continuing militant struggles for complete integration of dalits in the society. He bemoaned the fact that despite strong legislation for protection of dalits, atrocities are committed on them across the country. Only a social revolution would deliver justice to dalits, he said. An exhibition depicting the present status of dalits and their problems was inaugurated by Justice Punnaiah. KVPS general secretary John Wesley presided over the meeting.
Speaking on the occasion of beginning of the fast, B V Raghavulu outlined the main demands of this phase of agitation for dalit rights. One of the key demands was formulation of a sub-plan for allocation of funds in the budget in proportion to their population. The creation of a nodal agency to ensure proper spending of funds allocated for dalits was underlined. Raghavulu pointed out that though dalits constitute 16 per cent of the state population, allocations for them never exceeded 5 per cent. And due to lack of a nodal agency even these allocations were not being fully spent or being diverted for other purposes. He therefore demanded that all fund allocations for dalits must be brought under one head whose spending must be overseen by a nodal agency.
The other demand was that the chief minister must hold a “dalita baata’ (dalit tour) for raising the consciousness of people about the civil rights of dalits. Although KVPS and certain NGOs were working on this front, it was insufficient and there is a need for the state government to take up the responsibility, stressed Raghavulu. He said the chief minister has been undertaking nagara baata (urban tour) and palle baata (village tour) and also been conducting vigorous campaign on AIDS. But there has been no effort to conduct a campaign against caste discrimination and untouchability while it is the need of the hour to combat these centuries-old vicious practices. He pointed out that AP is in the third place in the number of atrocities committed against the dalits in the country whereas in the Left-ruled states the atrocities are negligible. Raghavulu demanded that vigorous campaigns must be undertaken against these practices by government and social organisations for a period of one week at least thrice a year. He stressed that all elected representatives, including the chief minister and ministers, must participate in this campaign, which must be called dalita baata.
The third main demand of the agitation was the filling up of vacancies in the SC/ST Commission, including that of chairman post. It may be recalled that the KVPS immediately after its formation in 1998 undertook an extensive survey on the status of dalits in the state. Ten thousand volunteers in 3000 teams found that there were 56 kinds of discrimination being practiced against dalits. KVPS conducted a big agitation on this and held a march of thousands to state assembly on March 22, 1999. The marchers were brutally attacked by police using water cannons, lathis and tear gas. After huge furore – both inside and outside assembly – the state government came down and appointed a single member commission under the chairmanship of Justice Punnaiah. The commission validated the findings of the KVPS survey about caste discrimination after a thorough study of the situation. Accepting the vociferous demand, the government constituted SC/ST Commission and appointed Justice Punnaiah as chairman and few others as members. The commission extensively toured the state and prepared a detailed report on the status of dalits. However in the recent past the commission has been undermined by removing the chairman and many members. For the last 8 months, it has been languishing without chairman, secretary and most of the members. Therefore the demand for immediate filling up of vacancies was a crucial one in this agitation.
As the hunger strike entered the second day, support from various quarters began to pour in. All political parties excepting Congress supported the agitation. Prominent among those who visited the camp and expressed support were TDP president and leader of opposition N Chandrababu Naidu, former ministers Devender Goud and K Srihari, CPI national secretary S Sudhakar Reddy, state secretary Narayana and floor leader C Venkat Reddy, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leaders N Narsimha Reddy and Prakash, BJP state president Bandaru Dattatreya, Majlis Ittehadul Musalmeen (MIM) leader Akbaruddin Owaisi and CPI(ML) New Democracy MLA G Narsayya, MCPI leader B N Reddy and CPI(ML) Liberation leader Subhash.
Dalit organisations, SC/ST employees associations, civil liberties organisations and prominent intellectuals from different fields also came out in support of the KVPS agitation. Many of their leaders including Centre for Dalit Studies leader Mallepalli Lakshmaiah, Dalit Bahujan Front president, MRPS president, Mala Mahanadu president, Mahajana Party leaders, Ambedkar Sangham president and leaders of many other organisations visited the hunger strike camp and expressed solidarity.
From the second day onwards, relay fasts were organised at the camp itself by different mass organisations everyday in support of the agitation. In the districts also solidarity programmes and actions were organised which included relay fasts, rasta rokos etc
The demands of the KVPS agitation found a powerful echo in the assembly session with all major parties giving adjournment motions on the issue. The House was stalled repeatedly on February 26 and 27 with members demanding from the government immediate steps on the issues raised by the agitation. This was a reflection on the strength of the movement being conducted by KVPS.
As the fast entered fifth day and the government remained adamant about the demands, thousands of dalits marched into Hyderabad to express solidarity and to resent the government’s negative attitude. The police created problems by resorting to arrests and tried to prevent them from reaching the hunger strike camp. Overcoming these hurdles, thousands marched to the state assembly. Even as the rally was being held came the news about the chief minister’s statement on the floor of the House conceding the three main demands –– constituting a nodal agency for overseeing utilisation of budget funds for dalits, holding dalita baata and filling up the vacancies in SC/ST Commission.
State social welfare minister Reddya Naik, TDP leader Devender Goud, CPI(M) floor leader Narsimhaiah and CPI(ML) New Democracy MLA G Narsayya came to the hunger strike camp and conveyed the assurances given by the chief minister in the assembly. They offered lime juice to Raghavulu and 25 other KVPS leaders who broke their fast. The march to assembly turned into a victory meeting. It was clear three things contributed to the success of this agitation –– the continuing fasts, the united opposition pressure on the government in the assembly and the resoluteness of dalits who defiantly conducted a march to assembly. This victory is set to boost the coming campaigns and agitations of the KVPS, said Raghavulu while addressing the victory rally. KVPS is conducting statewide social awakening cycle yatras from April 5-14. There would also be land struggles in the coming period.
This struggle would be a memorable chapter in the KVPS movement against caste discrimination and in its movement for self-respect and equality for dalits. And coming at a time when efforts are on to split the dalit community, this victory is sure to boost the confidence of dalits in the state to carry on the fight unitedly.