New Delhi, April 14: This year, India is celebrating the birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, in the backdrop of rising Dalit anger and protests. If he would have been alive today he would have turned 127 years old on Saturday. In a way it is good that Babasaheb Ambedkar, as he is popularly known as, is not with us today. India's Dalit icon, whose efforts to eradicate untouchability and the caste system were phenomenal, would have been shell-shocked to see the never-ending agonies of Dalits and rising politics over them by almost all political parties.
India is marking his birth anniversary when his statues have been vandalised in several parts of the country in the last few weeks. On Friday, hours before politicians of all hues and colours were busy paying tributes to the Dalit icon on his birth anniversary to lure Dalit vote bank, reports stated that one more statue of Ambedkar was vandalised in Gajna village of Uttar Pradesh.
If that was not enough Congress workers in Aligarh, again in Uttar Pradesh, on Friday washed a statue of Ambedkar with milk in a park named, Ambedkar Park, after BJP leader Satish Gautam sat there on a fast on Thursday. A Congress worker told ANI, "The statue and the atmosphere in the park had turned polluted after BJP Satish Gautam sat here on a hunger strike yesterday. So this had to be done".
Incidents like the one in Aligarh reaffirm the sad reality of India that untouchability (be it social or political) is still practiced in the country and at times in the name of Ambedkar, who spent his entire life denouncing the custom.
While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is infamous for its anti-Dalit and pro-upper caste stand, the Congress too has equally failed Dalits since the times of Ambedkar. Recently, we have seen massive protests by Dalits in six different states over the alleged dilution of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The impromptu protests headed by no political or social organisation saw Dalits coming out in the open protesting against the ruling regime for a decision taken by the Supreme Court.
The protests which turned violent saw the deaths of 11 men. There have been reports that anti-social elements and goons of the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) entered the people's rallies and fired gun shots resulting in the unfortunate deaths. There are also allegations that police firing killed people, who were mostly Dalits, especially in Madhya Pradesh.
The angst of the Dalits against the BJP regime came out in the open in 2016 after the suicide of Hyderabad-based research scholar Rohith Vemula. Rohith committed suicide as he allegedly faced discrimination at the hands of authorities in his university for being a Dalit. Vemula's sad demise saw massive protests across the country.
Unfortunately, till date the authorities accused of being behind his death are scot-free. Close on the heels of Rohith's suicide, four Dalit men were publicly flogged by upper caste men in July 2016 in Una, Gujarat for skinning the carcasses of dead cows. The video of the men being beaten mercilessly went viral resulting in massive protests.
A lot of Dalits along with Muslims were allegedly beaten by cow vigilantes in the last two years. Under the current regime, Dalits have been regularly lodging their protests against discrimination in various spheres of life. Instead of listening to the issues of Dalit men and women, the Modi government is trying its best to appropriate Ambedkar.
On Friday, during the inauguration of BR Ambedkar memorial in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while asserting that his government was working for Dalits did not stop from launching a no-holds-barred attack on the Congress.
The PM said his government will not let the law to prevent atrocities on SCs and STs to be diluted after the Supreme Court laid down new guidelines to prevent its misuse. "I want to assure the nation that the law which has been made stringent by us will not be allowed to be affected (by the SC order)... Do not get trapped by the Congress and those parties who have surrendered to the Congress culture," he said.
It is astonishing to see leaders like Modi again and again politicising Ambedkar and Dalit angst for electoral gain. As per the 2011 Census, the country's Dalit population is around 300 million and thus form a huge chunk of the vote bank. As the all-important Lok Sabha elections are scheduled next year and the Karnataka Assembly elections will take place on May 12, Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi can't take the risk of losing Dalit votes.
Both the parties are fighting hard to own the legacy of Ambedkar because netas like Mayawati from the community have been politically relegated to the background. It is this "appropriation" of Ambedkar that needs to be stopped to help Dalits overcome ages of discrimination, poverty and illiteracy. Is this not what Ambedkar dreamt about all his life?