Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dalit violence

An update appears at the end.

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I have to say I'm surprised by the tone of Swaminathan Aiyar's column:

It is no accident that the Dalit mobs targeted the Deccan Queen — the train was a symbol of upper-caste domination, no less than Dr Ambedkar's statues were symbols of Dalit self-respect.

Is Naipaul right in thinking that these are the million mutinies that will ultimately give India justice and good governance, despite their short-term mayhem? I am agnostic on this: only time will tell.

In a thoughtful post, Bhupinder explains why it's difficult for him to react with rage against expression of Dalits' anger. Yes, he's saddened by all the violence; but, he seeks to understand too. As he puts it:

There are dozens of blog posts expressing anger against the riots, very few that introspect or distinguish between the violence of the powerful and the violence of the dispossessed.

The Dalit rage expressed in violence in Maharashtra is not just violence, it is the violence of the poor, the last resort of a silent, oppressed people.

All violence is not just violence.

Some links:

Kalpana Sharma's column.

Bhalchandra Mungekar's column.

ToI editorial.

It's this effort to understand that's missing when some people (jerks!) start finding moral parity between violence unleashed by Dalits and that unleashed routinely and often by a majoritarian and openly militant political party that shared power in the State and Central governments. Why do they forget -- or, do they wish to hide -- the fact that the right lens for viewing the current violence in Maharashtra is the long history of atrocities against Dalits? Is it so easy to forget -- or hide -- Keezhavenmani, Manjolai (and many others in Dravidian Land), Gohana, Kherlanji, Kadkol, Pipariya ...?

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Update: While my post did not mention his post specifically, Confused steps up to the plate to offer a response, whose high point, to me at least, is his concession that "Dalit anger in the post Kherlanji environment was somewhat understandable." I really have nothing to add here except to ask you check out some of the most delicious comments there ;-).


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    From Mungekar's column:
    "Second, he (Ambedkar) maintained that caste system did not create more inequality, but graded inequality. This gave every caste a sense of superiority as it found some other caste below it, which makes the fight against caste system difficult."
    I wonder whether this is what gives some stability to caste.

  2. barbarindian said...

    As they say, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

  3. Boskoe said...

    So, the oppressed have the right to unleash violence on people and property that have nothing to do with their opression in the first place. Who decides who these oppressed are? Who decides what is the extent of oppression which is the tipping point, after which it is alright to indulge in violence? Aren't we keeping double standards here?

  4. Anonymous said...

    I agree with boskoe that these are double standards. Giving them a free pass is a dishonest position.
    The violence was about the desecration of a statue in another state. Also this violence hurts the same oppressed and marginal communities the most, both economically and physically. So "understanding" the reasons behind such violence, is legitimizing the criminal and political elements who do instigate this violence and who are the primary (and probably only) beneficiaries.

    I did not see the same outrage over a far more important and egregious act of violence against Dalits in Maharashtra sometime back, in some distance from Bombay. Surely there is something wrong when a statue desecration sparks off outrage and violence, while an actual crime (murder and rape in broad daylight) against dalits passes off with relatively little comment.

    Also, using oppression to accomodate acts of public violence is a dangerous and lazy argument. Are the people who are actually oppressed perpetrating the violence or is it a bunch of criminals who are taking advantage and posing as the oppressed? Also, if this sort of activity can be "understood", how can the rationale used by people who foment communal riots be attacked? At least some of the local elements who begin a riot could claim this to be a response to a previous cycle of rioting. Also, note that very similar arguments of oppression are used by criminals and terrorists everywhere to justify their acts (the Maoists, Kashmiri LeT types etc). Admittedly these are somewhat extreme examples, but they are precisely the end in the logical chain of argument that Bhupinder claims to "understand".

  5. Abi said...

    Swarup: Absolutely. Mungekar too goes on to say that this factor ('gradation') is also the reason why the caste system is so durable.

    Boscoe, K: I appreciate being pointed out that I have condoned or encouraged violence in this post. Thank you for missing the point.

  6. Boskoe said...


    Please tell me how I have missed the point here!

    You have mentioned that the violence unleashed by the dalits is at a different moral level as compared to the violence unleashed by the militant political party. Your point is that this is because the dalits have been oppressed for a long period of time.

    So, in other words - the violence unleashed by the dalits "need to be viewed from that perspective". I am sure, there would be people who can provide enough justifications and logic to explain the injustice meted out to the followers of the militant party, when they went on a rampage. some of these arguments might sound extremely convincing too!

    I am not saying here that no injustice has been done to Dalits. I fully agree with you and understand the reasons for their anguish.

    However, let us not try to provide excuses for the violence - aren't we, thereby, setting an example that violence is OK, if you are oppressed by a certain amount for a sufficiently long period of time?

  7. Anonymous said...

    Abi, that name is Bhalchandra, not Balachandra. North-South divide, I suppose!