Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine
A Journey for Liberty
‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Azadi, Azadi’ are the two signature slogans of the Dalit
Asmita Yatra from Ahmedabad to Una that culminated in a massive rally on August
There were several unique features of this yatra. It was
spontaneous, with a publicly stated non-violent approach. It had no political
affiliation. Ordinary people supported it in large numbers, with meetings held
in villages en route where local participation was spontaneous. There were no
celebrity leaders or speakers. Undertaken on a shoestring budget, it had several
groups coming together — trade unions, Dalit Sangharsh Samitis, workers’ unions,
youth groups and individuals. Participants came from all over India and Dalit
leaders from Punjab, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana joined in.
The yatra was an immediate response to recent repeated
attacks on Dalits. In Rajula, a Dalit man and his non-Dalit wife were killed. In
another village, a Dalit boy was burnt alive. On July 11, four Dalit youth were
stripped, tied to a car and beaten for hours in public in front of the Una
police chowki for allegedly skinning a cow. The public outrage ultimately led to
a rare speech by the Prime Minister on the issue. Over 30 Dalits either
committed suicide or attempted it. Buses were stoned and the Gujarat State Road
Transport Corporation cancelled services to the region.
On the revolutionary road
The government did not leave anything to chance. A couple of
buses with State Reserve Police personnel accompanied the yatra from Ahmedabad.
The yatris were well received in every village by local people. The speeches
were remarkably sober with no rabble-rousing. Each meeting had a public pledge
that no one would henceforth skin dead cows or other animals. There was a demand
for land from the government. A procession was taken around each village. People
of other castes watched the yatra with curiosity. The group solidarity was an
enormous confidence-booster for the local Dalits. The peaceful, non-violent yatra was
all the more remarkable given the background of inhuman and humiliating
However, another set of discussions took place in private
without the mike. The women complained of daily humiliation. They have to take
their own glasses for tea as no dhaba will offer them theirs. They cannot dip
their vessels in the wells to draw water. If some other woman touches them by
mistake, she washes her hands. If their family refuses to skin dead animals,
they face the wrath of the local elites. If they perform the skinning, they face
the brutality of the gau rakshaks. They live in an atmosphere of fear, they
said. They want to be free of discrimination. Are we not human beings like
everyone else and doesn’t the same blood flow in our veins, they asked. What
stood out was the steady voice they spoke in without anger or resentment. They
want simple justice, not revenge.
The younger men are keen to get jobs as many are now educated
at least up to high school. The older men want land which not only provides
agricultural income but is the one asset that confers social status. None
brought up the topic of the atrocities they suffer. They said they do not want
to fight with anybody. There was fear among the locals about what would happen
after the yatra. Would there be a backlash?
The well-educated leaders of the yatra do not hold the same
opinion. They quote Babasaheb Ambedkar and discuss the roots and nuances of
the caste system. They want a complete change and say so openly. They don’t
agree with Mahatma Gandhi or the communists or the well-meaning urban liberals.
However, these are intellectual disagreements and no barrier to working
together. The severe exclusion practised against Dalits by Hinduism convinces
them that there is no good in the religion. The ordinary Hindu, who may even
sympathise with the cause, feels a bit of reform is enough. But the Dalit cannot
imagine any good coming from Hinduism. Our society has to find a way of bridging
this gulf, the deepest in India, without being patronising. Public apology by
the gurus and custodians of Hinduism and a clear denunciation of discrimination,
saying it is anti-Hindu, may be a good beginning.
Towards meaningful change
The Dalit leaders of the yatra understand that the so-called
ordinary rural local Dalit is not ready for a fight. But they talk of the myriad
day-to-day experiences of exclusion and discrimination they live through. One of
them challenged an upper-caste man to change his last name to a Dalit one for
six months and live in a rural or working class setting. “The expression on the
other person’s face changes when you mention your very name. Live with a name
like that and then you will understand what it means to be a Dalit.”
In the leaders’ view, change requires a multi-pronged
approach that includes material, social and psychological progress. While the
first two are heard about, it is revealing to hear of the ‘superiority complex’
of the upper castes that is reflected in the feelings of inferiority among the
Dalits. If society looks down on you all the time you cannot develop to your
full human potential, they said. They asked a simple question to the
well-meaning outsiders: “You come here and give advice that Dalits should be
clean, well behaved, study hard and so on. Are Dalits mere objects for reform?
But who will clean the prejudice from the minds of the upper castes?”
The atmosphere during the course of the yatra was charged but in a silent way.
Once, false rumours spread at night that the yatris were insulting other people.
Some roads to Una were blocked. Police intervention was required.
Some important questions remain. Will this Dalit Asmita Yatra mark the
beginning of a new set of social changes? Will it spread to other States? Will
there be new alignments and a lasting political fallout?
The region in Gujarat from Rajula to Una is isolated. Beyond
that you see factories, highway restaurants, elite schools, the ubiquitous cows
on excellent highways, and several huge 30-foot trucks transporting industrial
goods. But in this stretch you see terrible roads, poor communications, and very
little signs of luxury or even prosperity. Locals say feudalism is strong here.
The progressive movements in the country and the government will closely watch
the developments over the next few months. If the movement generated by the yatra does
liberate Dalits in the region and also provides meaningful jobs, there will be a
silent bloodless revolution. Success will depend on the long-term staying power
of the movement. It needs to remain true to its real purpose of materially,
socially and psychologically liberating society from all forms of overt and
covert discrimination. The feudal and conservative backlash is likely to be
reined in due to electoral politics. Any such backlash will cost the party in
power dearly. So the government is likely to do something to prevent it. If the
government goes further and gives in to the Dalit demands, the movement will not
only succeed but spread to other parts of the country. Real Independence needs
all Indians to be truly liberated. How can India be free if Indians are not
this magazine (Current Public Administration) free if you purchase our any of
the below courses: