The New Opposition at the Barricades Challenges Manuvaad & the Market

Written by Umar Khalid | Published on: January 25, 2018

The present regime can be seen as an exemplar of these twin assaults of Manuvaad and the Market. The collective mobilisations of Dalits, OBCs and Muslims, as shown at the Elgar Parishad in Pune, challenges both


Umar Khalid
 
The attacks on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon by sections of dominant caste groups bearing saffron flags on January 1, only vindicated the message of the Elgar Parishad, a massive conference organised by 250 progressive groups of Maharashtra the previous day in Pune. The bicentenary celebrations of the Mahar victory in the Battle of Bhima Koregaon over the Peshwas, who practised the worst forms of caste oppression and untouchability, carried with it a very distinct message for the present this year.  
 
The Elgar Parishad, which was a culmination of a week-long yatra across different parts of Maharasthra, casted the BJP/RSS as the Peshwas of the present times calling upon people to defeat them, taking inspiration from the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. But this neo-Peshwahi, to borrow their term, is not simply a replica of the past. 
 
Two hundred years hence, the ideology of Manuwaad has neatly coalesced with the demands of the market. The latter far from eradicating caste has co-opted and reconfigured it to meet its own requirements of cheap labour, land and other resources. This has accentuated older fissures in society while at the same time adding new layers of marginalization, dehumanization and oppression. 
 
For example, the subordination and indignation of the Dalits in the countryside, reflected in their abysmal land-holdings, has only been compounded by the present agrarian crisis. Or if we were to turn our gaze to our cities, do the Dalit workers forced into inhuman jobs such as manual scavenging and cleaning sewages, where they die unacknowledged deaths amidst toxic gases, even have the option to opt out of their ‘jobs’ when there is hardly any creation of dignified jobs in our country today? 
 
Today in India, the agrarian crisis is at its peak, job creation is at its lowest in the recent past, employment is most informal and insecure than it has ever been, labour reforms have added to the precarity of jobs and fund cuts in education and health have increased with each passing year of the Modi regime. The promises of Vikas & Acche Din have turned out to be bitter and brutal lies and a handful of big corporations have enriched themselves at the cost of the vast majority. Policies such as demonetization and the GST have only added to the woes of the people. Far from the promise of 10 million jobs, the unemployment rate has oly increased to 5%. And for even the jobs that exist ,a whooping majority (71.2%) of workers are beyond the purview of any social security benefits.

On the other hand, the violent manifestation of the RSS’s cultural project of Hindu Rasthra can be seen on a routine basis in lynchings and attacks on minorities and Dalits, be it in Rajasmand, Alwar, Una or Saharanpur – the list is long. The deafening silence of the Prime Minister to most of these attacks, while simultaneous campaigns by the BJP/RSS against cow slaughter or love jihad that were used as a pretext for most of these attacks, exemplify that these attacks enjoy political patronage from the ruling party.

The present regime can be seen as an exemplar of these twin assaults of Manuvaad and the Market. Our Prime Minister is hardly interested in abolishing manual scavenging, for it is not only a source of cheap labour and cost cutting, but he also sees it as a ‘spiritual exercise’ going by the tenets of Brahmanism that RSS upholds!  

But here in also lies an internal contradiction within the Sangh project today. On the one hand, its cultural project seeks to deepen the existing hierarchies and polarise people on the basis of caste and religion. But on the other hand, its economic policies are simultaneously creating an ever expanding underclass of the excluded that cuts across caste and community. 
 
As long as the responses to attacks on minorities and Dalits remained atrocity based and compartmentalized to each community fighting their own battles, it was not being able to make much dent in the larger game-plan of the RSS/BJP. 



Of late however, the historically disadvantaged are not only coming out of their ghettoised existences in resisting the fascism of the Sangh Parivar but are also showing exemplary imagination in seeking to carve out newer alliances. In doing so, they are operationalising in practice Ambedkar’s message that both Brahmanism and capitalism are the enemies of the oppressed in our country. 

For example, the attacks on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon and subsequent protests in Maharashtra were largely portrayed as a caste clash between Dalits and Marathas. But contrary to these representations, both Dalit and Maratha organisations were present at Elgar Parishad in Pune which focussed, apart from other things, on the agrarian crisis, unemployment and famine like conditions in Maharashtra – of which both Dalits and Marathas are victims. Maharashtra accounts for the highest number of farmer suicides in the country. Prior to that in Una, the struggle against lynching of Dalits not only joined hands with the Muslims in their shared oppression, but also sought to raise the question of material dispossession by raising the demand for land for the landless dalits.

The same cross-sectional alliance, hitting out at this internal contradiction of the sangh project, was also visible in the Yuva Hunkar rally which sought to unite a diverse section of students and youth along with minority and dalit organisations. The demand for justice for the persecuted minorities and Dalits was weaved into a larger demand of economic and social justice of all the oppressed. 

A new alignment is emerging on the ground – where the historically oppressed, marginalised and the persecuted along with the students and youth are coming together to take on the sangh. This alignment is still in its nascent stages, and faces enormous challenges.  But if it succeeds in bringing together diverse movements for people’s rights, the Sangh Parivar has much to worry about.
 
(The writer is a research scholar at JNU, member of Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students’ Organisation and was one of the invited speakers at the Elgar Parishad in Pune on the eve of the bicentenary celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon)

Images Courtesy: Mid-Day and Hindustan Times