The Future of Dalit Movements

Dalit Movements

Why do some movements succeed while others fail to achieve their desired objective ?

Studying or analyzing revolutions has always been a favorite subject for historians. The extent of curiosity or fascination that revolutions or peoples’ movements evoke in public minds is unimaginable. Why did some of them flourished while others have been suppressed, often with impunity, have been the constant question, whose probably the most convincing answer is propounded by none other than the greatest proponent of revolution – Karl Marx, himself.

According to Karl Marx, for any movement or organization to be successful i.e. for it achieve the desired goal, it is required to fulfill two criterion.

The first criteria is that of ‘objective experience’, which basically refers to the “Reason” why people join a particular movement. Movements where an overwhelming majority (if not all) of the participating members have a shared reason to join have a greater chance of being successful than those where people’s objective experience is either vague or altogether missing. For example, both Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar organized and led Dalit movements, but with varying degrees of success.

When Gandhi launched a movement for Harijans/Dalits, people could not relate to him as they failed to understand why he, being an upper caste man by birth, was fighting for the cause of liberating Dalits from the clutches of caste oppression. Whereas when Ambedkar called the same people to action, they responded with greater enthusiasm, knowing that they have a leader who knows what it “feels like to be a Dalit”. Similarly, in the US, the Black movement remained more successful under Martin Luther than Abraham Lincoln. Objective experience could however be criticized on the grounds that it legitimizes identity politics and fosters divisions within a society.

Here, it must be reiterated that the question under consideration is assessing the reasons for the success and failure of movements and not politics in general.

The second proposed condition is the degree of ‘subjective realization’, which refers to the “Aim” that the movement or organization sought to achieve. Movements where the understanding of the final aim is vague or incomplete generally tend to fail. For instance, the 1857 revolt in India failed even though most of the people shared a common experience of oppression under the British rule, because they were not clear about what they wanted to achieve in the end– Soldiers wanted better working conditions and equal treatment; farmers wanted less revenue demanded; but no one wanted self-rule.

In this backdrop, whether it is Dalit movement in India, or movement for secession by Catalonia in Spain, one gets to empirically analyze and test the theory propounded by Marx.

From Una to Bhima Koregaon

Independence brought hope that with changes in economic relations brought about by urbanization, class will prevail but caste will lose its relevance. Ambedkar believed that Urbanization will act as an antidote to caste discrimination. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

Caste violence and discrimination in India has not yet diluted. The latest NCRB figures for 2016 show that the rate of violence against Dalits in urban India has not come down, but has increased over the year.

Caste and class, along with gender, have overlapped, leading to even greater exploitation of some groups. For example, a Dalit woman is much more vulnerable to oppression than a Dalit man. Similarly, a tribal woman is a lot more susceptible to violence than an educated women. What all this does it that, it reduces the ability of people to subjectively realise the collective aim. Cross-cultural and cross-community formations become almost impossible to fructify. Instead, counter movements and counter revolutions emerge.

For instance, rising dalit assertion in India has been countered by a counter-assertion by upper castes. The recent clash between Mahars and Marathas in Maharashtra is a classic example of the same. Earlier, violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district was also one such example. The majority community is now happily playing the victim card. To sum up, taking the complexities of the present Indian society and politics into account it could be safely asserted that the future of Dalit movement in India depends not only on the fulfillment of the criterion laid down by Marx, but also equally on how the political leadership at the top shape electoral politics in India.

-Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh

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