People's Democracy

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


No. 33

August 24 , 2008



Yet Another Milestone in Dalit Movement

K V Sudhakaran

AUGUST 16, 2008 made another landmark in the history of the dalit movement in Kerala. It was on this day that over one lakh people belonging to scheduled castes from all over the state assembled at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium at Kaloor in Kochi and made a historic proclamation to fight for their social security and development in all social spheres. A 15-point charter of demands specifying their urgent needs in social, educational, economic and cultural spheres, was also adopted at the mammoth convention organised by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The all Kerala convention of the Scheduled castes also made a strong assertion of their right to land and jobs and a just reservation in private sector enterprises. The convention was attended by all the stalwarts of the CPI(M) like Prakash Karat, V S Achuthanandan, Pinarayi Vijayan, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, great social activist like Justice V R Krishna Iyer and a host of MPs and MLAs.

The CPI(M) in Kerala has to its credit of being the vanguard that always stood for the cause of the dalits and agricultural workers who belong to the lower strata of the society. Social injustice and oppression in the name of caste was a shark reality to which the dalits were subjected to for decades. They were socially segregated, economically and culturally oppressed. They were deprived of their land. They were brutally exploited in all walks of life by the landlords and the bourgeoisie class on one side and the ruling class on the other side. The great agitations led by social reformists like Sree Narayana Guru, Sahodaran Ayyappan, Ayyankali, Pandit Karuppan and later on by the progressive and democratic forces and finally by the Communist Party under the leadership of comrades P Krishna Pillai and A K Gopalan helped them break the chains. The legislative measures like land reforms and educational reforms effected by the first elected Communist government in Kerala led by Comrade E M S Namboodiripad paved a new era in the history of the dalits and the poor people in the state. Irrespective of caste, creed and religion, every family got ownership of land and right to education was made democratic and universal. These activities helped to a great extent in highlighting the social status of the dalits and the poor.

But now the world has changed a lot. The period of globalisation in which, as Noam Chomsky has rightly said, only those who have got the capacity to buy something or sell something can survive, the life of the dalits and the downtrodden has become more deplorable. The dalits and the working class seemed to be more affected with the sheer exploitation imposed by globalisation in all the spheres of life. Even though there is no naked caste oppression, the dalits are deprived of their rights to land, job and education. A kind of tacit discrimination is increasing day by day as far as the dalits are concerned. In this socio- economic milieu, the CPI(M) thinks that special attention is to be given to the needs and necessities of the dalits. It is out of this realisation that the CPI(M) has declared to organise an exclusive convention of the scheduled caste families as a part of the decision of the 19th Party Congress to effectively address the dalit issues. Of course, the dalits face the same issues that prevail in the society. But along with these common issues, there are certain particular issues which are exclusively faced by the dalits. Hence special attention is needed for tackling those issues, the Party felt. And August 16 has shown that the response to the call by the CPI(M) in the state was good.

It is in this backdrop, the state convention of Scheduled castes was organised by the state committee of the CPI(M). As a preparatory measure for the state meet, hundreds of houses - assemblies were conducted at local levels in all the 14 districts of the state. Hundreds of dalit families cutting across political affiliations actively took part in those conventions. In these conventions, open discussions were held with regard to their needs and demands. The participation of the dalit families was actually far beyond the expectation of the organising committee.

The convention at the Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet Nagar was inaugurated by Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M). He said that the CPI(M) would fight against caste-based discrimination and against all atrocities on dalits. He drew attention to the caste segregation in a village in Uthapuram in Madurai district of Tamilnadu and said that the intervention of the CPI(M) had helped in breaking the nine-foot wall that had cut off dalits' access to a part of the village.

A study conducted by the Party had shown that acute forms of discrimination prevailed in many villages in Tamilnadu. The Party has been championing the cause of dalits and fighting untouchability in Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu. Such issues are being taken up in other states too. It is in this context that the CPI(M) gave utmost priority to mobilise the dalits, keeping in mind also the decision of the 19th Party Congress.

Prakash Karat said that the dalits were the worst affected by the policies of globalisation and liberalisation. Millions of traditional workers like weavers and fishermen had been deprived of their livelihood. In this connection he said that employment reservation for the dalits in private sector also should be made mandatory. A certain percentage of seats in private higher educational institutions also should be ear-marked for SCs and STs.

Karat said that since many private units were heavily subsidised in the form of cheap power, tax holidays and infrastructural assistance, the state has a claim on them. Considering this, the government should ensure that these firms complied with the statutory SC/ST reservation.

He also emphasised that reservation could only be a temporary relief. Basic social transformation was essential for a permanent solution to the caste discrimination.

In Kerala, the situation is quite different. Here the dalits are not subjected to atrocities. The first Communist government in 1957 promulgated the law of land reforms with the realisation that caste system can be wiped off only if feudalism was done away with. But the SC-ST people were not able to enjoy the full fruits of these reforms. So at this juncture, said Karat, it is most desirable that the government give special attention in taking over the excess land and distribute them among the SCs and STs.

Pinarayi Vijayan, state secretary of the CPI(M) who presided over the function, exhorted the people not to be swayed away by the intentional propaganda of certain left extremists and naxalite outfits regarding the second landreforms. He said that such slogans are aimed at only creating anarchy in the society.

The naxalites and the left extremists say that land from those who are not directly cultivating should be confiscated. This is a planned propaganda to draw attention away from the pro-people programmes carried out by the LDF government. The naxalites are trying to create confusion by saying that land from those having less than an acre should be taken over by the government if they are not directly cultivating them. Denying land to lakhs of people in this category cannot be entertained at any cost, Pinaray said.

V S Achuthanandan in his key-note address said that the Communist Party struggled not only for the cause of the working class but also against the caste discrimination. The present LDF government in Kerala is doing all it can so that the working class and the dalits and the downtrodden are able to lead a decent life. He also warned against the growth of land mafia in the state which proves to be a serious threat to the interests of the common man.

The CPI(M) Politbureau member and minister for Home Affairs, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that it is undesirable to form organisation for the dalits to solve their problems. Rather, struggles should be conducted in such a way so that the dalits are brought to the mainstream. He said, in this respect, the state convention of the SCs would prove to be a milestone.

Justice V R Krishna Iyer congratulated the CPI(M) for organising such a historic assembly of the SCs in the state. He said that it is a reminder to everybody that the SCs and the dalits have got equal and just right to enjoy all the things all the others enjoy in our life.

A K Balan, minister for the development of SCs and STs, presented a 15 point charter of demands that includes distribution of excess land to agricultural workers, formation of labour societies at panchayath levels for agricultural workers, formation of labour societies for SCs, reservation of employment in private sector, social security programme for the aged people in SCs, strengthening of SC-ST co-operative societies, implementation of special housing schemes by the central government for the SCs and STs, promulgation of a central law so as to enable the inter-caste married couples to enjoy the fruits of reservation, creation of basic infra-structure facilities etc. He announced that the government will pass an executive order to ensure that children of a dalit woman who marries a non-dalit man will be given scheduled caste status. As per a court judgement only if the father is dalit are such children given scheduled caste status.

Gopi Kottamurikkal, convenor of the organising committee welcomed the gathering and B Raghavan proposed a vote of thanks.