'The Constitution, which talks about democracy and equality, is something that will be applied in this country, and not Manusmriti in which the RSS believes.'
IMAGE: Dalits protest during the Maharashtra bandh on Wednesday, January 3, in Dharavi, Mumbai. Photograph: Sahil Salvi
As violence in Pune spread to other parts of Maharashtra on Tuesday, January 2, the Pune police said it had received a complaint against Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and student leader Umar Khalid for 'provocative' speeches at an event in Pune on December 31.
Mevani and Khalid had attended the Elgar Parishad, an event organised to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, at Shaniwar Wada in Pune.
Khalid, who left Pune a day before violence broke out, spoke to Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf about Dalit politics in India.
Tell us about the meeting you attended in Pune on December 31.
The meeting was about the celebration of the battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818.
This year, around 250 organisations in Maharashtra -- Ambedkarite organisations, Left organisations, women's organisations, minority organisations, workers organisations -- came together to take out a yatra from December 24 through Marathwada and other places in Maharashtra which have been hit by the agrarian crisis and caste oppression.
This yatra culminated in Pune on December 31 and at Bhima Koregaon on January 1.
I left on December 31. The next day, people paid tributes at Bhima Koregaon.
This (programme) happens every year.
This year, the yatra was attacked. In that attack, one person died.
It is very clear who was behind this attack.
Earlier, right-wing groups had tried to cancel the permission given to this programme.
If the programme happens every year, why it was targetted this year?
Clearly, it was a pre-planned attack from the right-wing groups on the Dalits.
The organisers -- who included Prakash Ambedkar (Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader and Dr B R Ambedkar's grandson) -- spoke to the opposing parties and they promised there would be no problems.
But after the programme (at Bhima Koregaon), the attack started.
The unity that was seen this time around by Dalits, Muslims, Marathas, distressed farmers and women across different groups, they (right-wing organisations) did not like it.
They wanted to change the narrative, which is why this attack happened.
Also, you must understand we are in 2018 and we are one year away from a general election.
Prime Minister (Narendra D) Modi made big talk about vikas (development), which did not happen. Therefore, we are going to see these kind of attacks repeatedly in the future to create polarisation.
The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) says Opposition parties are trying to divide Hindus by playing casteist politics with the Dalits.
Dalit groups have their own organisations.
This statement shows the BJP's Brahminical mindset.
It (the attack in Pune on January 1) was not a caste clash.
It was a planned attack by right-wing organisations. The police have registered an FIR (First Information Report) against them.
Do you know that an FIR has been filed against you in Pune?
I heard there has been a complaint against me.
I don't know whether it has been converted into an FIR.
It is a continuation of the attack on Dalits and us.
It is the usual strategy of the Sangh Parivar.
They intimidate you this way, suppress you for speaking out.
You were celebrating the British victory over Indians in Pune.
This is complete misinformation.
No one was celebrating a British victory.
We were celebrating the end of the Peshwa regime which did not treat Dalits as worthy human beings.
As far as the British are concerned our understanding is that the British did not end caste. In fact, the British aligned with Brahminical forces.
Brahminism and capitalism are enemies of the suppressed people and we are against both.
It looks like a narrative is being set up in the country against Brahminism.
It is very clear if you look at the BJP and RSS ideology.
The ideology that they follow is of Manusmriti and Manuvad.
Just look at the statement of Anant Kumar Hegde, a minister in the Modi government.
'We should not look ourselves as secular,' Hegde said, 'but identify ourselves with caste and religion.'
Hegde said we should change the Constitution.
Take UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. His officials sent soap and shampoo to Dalit villagers before he visited them so that they were clean.
Two years since the Rohith Vemula incident, we have seen what kind of Dalit discrimination is happening.
Chandrashekhar Azad, the Dalit leader from UP, is in jail even now.
The Constitution, which talks about democracy and equality, is something that will be applied in this country, and not Manusmriti in which the RSS believes.
But Dalits voted for the BJP in large numbers.
This kind of Hindutva project brings different castes and lower castes together only in opposition to Muslims.
We see how Muslims become the others, how Dalits are used to attack Muslims.
We have seen this in Gujarat and UP.
The BJP wants Dalits in its fold, but in the secondary position.
When the attacks on Muslims end, Dalits are not given any dignity.
Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad said very aptly: 'Dalits are Hindus before the elections. After elections they become untouchables.'
This is what was exposed in Pune that day.
The BJP won the Gujarat election in the wake of Mani Shankar Aiyar's neech remark against Modi.
I think the way Modi responded to that (Aiyar's remark) exposes his government's gameplan.
Modi was desperate to win the election as he had nothing to show.
How did he portray that statement?
He said Aiyar's statement was Mughlai soch (thinking) of the Congress party.
You tell me: Did the Mughals bring caste into this country? Or Manuvadis?
Modi kept saying: 'Mughlai, Mughlai, Mughlai.'
Something which is an ugly part of Indian society, which Dr Ambedkar fought throughout his life, is now being shrewdly used by the RSS-BJP combine to perpetuate inequality, to further their agenda.
There are so many atrocities against SCs/STs, there is an SC/ST Atrocities Act in Maharashtra, but in reality, that Act is hardly being used.
There is negligible conviction under the SC/ST Act.
Yesterday (Tuesday, January 2), when attacks happened in Mumbai, the media woke up.
As long as attacks happen in a village in Ahmednagar or Khairlanji no one seems to notice.
You can bring your rage in your villages, but not to our cities.
Our cities are upper caste, Brahminical, and if you bring your Dalit problem here, then we have a problem.
So much oppression is happening across the country against the Dalits, and one day it will come out in the cities.
As responsible people, we have to analyse this kind of repression against oppressed people.
What is the BJP doing?
The BJP is using this rage for a very different agenda, which we saw in Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh.
But Dalits get reservations in education and jobs. So why is there Dalit anger?
Reservation was not a gift from the system.
It was Ambedkar who fought for it and got it.
Even today, caste oppression exists in our society.
Even today, an extreme form of untouchability exists in our society.
Even today, opportunities are denied to Dalits in villages and everywhere.
When you say Dalits are getting everything, it is a wrong thing to say.
The point is that they are getting what they deserve.
They are getting reservation because they have been historically disadvantaged and they are in a disadvantageous position even today.
Just check the national crime records and you will find that every hour there is a crime against Dalits in India.
Look at the landholding they have. They hardly own any land.
Even in the media, there are hardly any Dalits.
But merit counts in the media. How can you talk about reservations in the media?
You go to any posh locality in New Delhi and check out the nameplates.
You will understand how merit works in India.
Merit works only if you have economic capital.
If you come from Ahmednagar, Una, Khairlanji or Saharanpur, you will understand that you do not get any opportunity from childhood. The entire logic of merit collapses.
Do you think the era of caste will ever end in India?
Of course, it will end.
We are fighting for the vision of Dr Ambedkar.
We are fighting for the annihilation of caste.
We are fighting to remove caste-based oppression work like manual scavenging.
Manual scavenging was abolished in India in 1993. But even today, the task of cleaning public toilets, railway toilets and manual scavenging, only Dalits do it.
In August 2016, 10 Dalit workers died while cleaning gutters.
We talk of the nuclear bomb and big technologies in our country, but we do not have the technology to clean gutters.
Why do we let Dalits do it?
When Dalits refuse to do such things, we see incidents like Una where Dalits are beaten up.
Even today look at how many Dalits are killed for inter-caste marriages.
Even if a Dalit is financially privileged, he is killed by the upper castes for inter-caste marriage.
Just like Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in the BJP does not make it a communal party. The same way by appointing a Dalit President, it does not mean that the BJP has given up its Brahminical vision for India.