(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Exam: Polity, Governance and Social Justice: Dalit empowerment through consensus not conflict, dialogue not dominance

(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Examination

Polity, Governance and Social Justice: Dalit empowerment through consensus not conflict, dialogue not dominance

The makers of our Constitution were men and women of great vision and foresight. A subaltern leader who voiced the concerns of the depressed classes chaired the drafting committee of the Constitution: Babasaheb Ambedkar stood for the empowerment of the socially and politically deprived segment of the society. His vision drives the battle for Dalit dignity today.

Untouchability is still rampant in different forms. My years in politics — I started in the student wing of a naxalite organisation and have been with the BJP for the past three decades — have convinced me that the panacea for social ills lie in dialogue, discussion and debate. As a politician and a teacher, I have tried to engage with the stakeholders of the Dalit discourse, even at the cost of facing barbs from friends and foes.

In this context, I want to speak about a recent incident in Lucknow, where I was invited to speak at the “Diversity” day celebration. The organiser, H.L. Dusadh, has been working tirelessly to advance the cause of Dalit representation in key sectors through his writings and literary interventions in the past two decades. His idea of “diversity” is inspired by the US model of affirmative action and protective discrimination for ensuring justice and equality in public spheres. “Diversity” in the Indian context is social diversity. This means women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are adequately represented in decision-making bodies.

Guests, speakers and delegates from across the ideological spectrum had been invited to the event. Former governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Mata Prasad, Ashok Bharti of the Republican Party of India, Radhika Vemula, mother of the late Rohith Vemula, Jignesh Mevani from Ahmedabad and I were to speak at the event. Invitations were circulated and the event gained traction on social media. Then, to my surprise, I was told that Mevani and Radhika Vemula backed out because of my presence. I was taken aback. Soon after the unfortunate death of Rohith Vemula, I had expressed my angst on twitter at the cost of antagonising my party. I had also met Radhika Vemula at a press conference in New Delhi.

To label us khaki-nikkerwala and disengage with us is antithetical to the larger Dalit cause. Evading debate indicates lack of faith and confidence in one’s ideology. Is this a devious attempt to keep out other views and thereby demoralise the BJP and the BSP? If so, how feasible is it? Why should it not be denounced as an exclusionary approach impervious to core democratic values such as dissent, free speech and constructive engagement between contrasting viewpoints?

The Congress-Left-Socialist nexus ruled the nation for six decades and robbed the Dalit community of opportunities. The Congress, which perpetuated the interests of one family, commoditised the Dalits and saw them as a “vote bank”. The new Dalit aspiration transcends petty politics; we want to be perceived as a “thought bank”.

The current prime minister comes from a humble background. He is aware of the pain, agony, challenges, deprivations and everyday threat a socially disadvantaged person faces in the rural set-up. Under his leadership, Parliament discussed the life and works of Ambedkar. The Jan Dhan Yojana has ended financial untouchability to a large extent. The BJP currently has the highest number of Dalit parliamentarians.

The next stage of Dalit empowerment will encompass representation, which would be made possible through integration and not confrontation. Any strategy of Dalit empowerment could emerge through consensus and not conflict, through dialogue and not dominance. The present need is to depoliticise the Dalit discourse and strive towards an independent, objective, dispassionate and solution-centric Dalit narrative.

What isn’t sedition

In a wonderfully minimalist case of dental surgery, the Supreme Court has defanged governments and administrations which have been wielding Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code to throttle speech and cow down vocal critics. It has done this simply by refusing to lay down the law — reminding everyone that it was laid down a generation ago, in 1962. It has clarified that mere criticism of the government does not constitute sedition and that, in fact, it should not even attract a defamation charge. This observation should act as a restraining order on governments — particularly the Central government — which have been using the colonial curb of the sedition law as a blunt instrument to bludgeon critics with. The principle invoked was articulated in the landmark case of Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar, in which the apex court had upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A, but had disabused the government of the politically convenient notion that the draconian law could be applied to words, deeds or actions “intended to or… likely to incite public disorder” or violence. The court had insisted on the centrality of intention, since likelihood is a subjective notion which could invite unconstitutional behaviour from the authorities. Which is precisely what has been seen in recent months — unseemly campaigns to restrain those perceived to be political embarrassments like Hardik Patel and Kanhaiya Kumar, apart from sundry writers, performers, cartoonists.

Now, in a public interest litigation filed by Common Cause, the Supreme Court has recalled the necessity to establish intention. The NGO had argued that ignorance of the law is causing the police to arbitrarily arrest critics of government, and had pleaded for guidelines requiring the clearance of a senior police official before Section 124A could be imposed. The court has declined to intervene in sedition cases past and future, and only required officers of the law to follow the principle of the ruling set down in 1962. Following a basic tenet of criminal jurisprudence, it has elaborated that the merit of a sedition charge must be appraised from case to case.
The law of sedition was designed by a colonial power to prevent fractious citizens from overthrowing it by force. In the way it is used, it is anachronistic in a democracy where governments rule at the pleasure of the people, who are entitled to democratic protest and public criticism to force governments to acknowledge their concerns and opinions. To wilfully misrepresent protest as sedition is an egregious error on the part of government. It has been happening far too often and reflects an ugly paradox — democratically elected governments find democratic protest intolerable.

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