The Wire visited Mathura and adjoining villages to gauge the political mood of Dalit youth and what they think of the growing unrest within the community in Gujarat
Mathura: The Bharatiya Janata Party has increasingly been at the receiving end of Dalit anger in several parts of the country. The savage beating of four young Dalit men in Gujarat’s Una, the demolition of the historically significant Ambedkar Bhawan in Mumbai, and Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Dayashankar Singh’s disparaging remarks against Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati have triggered an unparalleled and unprecedented Dalit movement against BJP-led governments across the country.
An intensification of the caste-based discrimination that Dalits have historically faced, combined with the rising cost of living and lack of employment opportunities, has precipitated a movement within the community that directly targets the BJP dispensation at the Centre. The party’s backing to various gau rakshak dals across the country has gone against the interests of a large section of Dalits, especially those engaged in menial jobs like cattle skinning.
As polls in UP and Punjab loom, the Dalit consolidation against the BJP may cause great harm to its electoral prospects. Dalits form almost 21% of UP’s population and at 32%, Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalits among all states.
In the past two years, the BJP has left no stone unturned to attract Dalits to its Hindutva agenda. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often invoked Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar in public meetings nationally and internationally. Meanwhile, BJP president Amit Shah has been trying hard to create sustainable support among Dalits in UP ahead of the elections.
Yet, on the ground, violence against Dalits over the past few years has risen dramatically, the trend beginning during the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government’s days and continuing to the present. The National Crime Records Bureau reports a 44% increase in cases related to caste-based atrocities – up from 32,712 in 2010 to 47,064 crimes in 2014. Reports also claim that 30% of these crimes in 2014 were committed in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh – all BJP-ruled states.
Clearly, Dalits are feeling the pinch much more than before. Most hold the Modi government and its patronage of upper caste Hindutva militant groups responsible. In the last two months, Dalit youth leaders have emerged as torchbearers of various anti-establishment protest movements, pointing towards a non-conformist attitude among the community’s young members.
In the backdrop of this socio-political churning, The Wire visited Mathura and adjoining villages to gauge the political mood of Dalit youth and what they think of the growing unrest within the community, sitting far-away from the scenes of action.