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'The dalit reawakening will be a violent one -- they want an eye for an eye'

Arun Mhatre, the wellknown Marathi poet, explains the reasons for the dalit fury in Maharashtra this week.

I am not scared for myself. I am scared about what will happen now. There is something ominous about the Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar colony today. Ever since that firing took place, not a single chula has been lit in the whole colony.

residents of the affected area The people are angry. And they are waiting. And planning. For a retribution that they feel is justifiably theirs. They refuse to trust anyone, including their own leaders, any more. They have been betrayed too many times for that.

For more than 24 hours after the incident took place, not a single Republican Party of India leader bothered to visit the colony. Raja Dhale stays at Vikhroli, which is only one station away. He should have been the first leader to reach the place; he has still not bothered to visit the colony till date.

Leaders like Ramdas Athavle, R S Gawai and Prakash Ambekar ostensibly came there for the funeral. Ambedkar came at about the same time that the ambulances, carrying the dead bodies, drove in. No one noticed him, everyone rushed towards the ambulance. He slipped into the clinic, which is very close to the Babasaheb Ambedkar statue which had been desecrated. The other leaders, too, directly made their way to the clinic.

None of them bothered to go and pay their respects to the dead, or even console the bereaved relatives. Instead, they were all at the clinic, busy giving interviews to the television crews -- Star News, BBC, Zee and the others.

Athavle running from an angry mob Naturally, the people were resentful. And all their anger came out in the form of violence. Athavle was the first one to come out, so he bore the brunt of the violence. They tried to attack Gawai, but he was luckier. Ambedkar, too, would not have escaped. There was a large crowd waiting for the leaders to come out, to trash them for their selfish behaviour. In fact, some of them even told the State Reserve Police personnel, "Tumhi amhala mara, pun amhi tyala sodnar nahi (You can beat us if you want, but we will not spare them)."

When Ambedkar heard that the crowd was manhandling Athavle, he refused to come out of the clinic. He hid inside for more than an hour, while an angry crowd waited outside. The people were so angry, they preferred to wait and teach their erring leaders a lesson rather than accompany the funeral procession.

At first, even I thought that they were angry at their leaders's callousness. But then, as I walked along the funeral procession, I heard a lot of people repeat the same thing again and again -- "The government is responsible for the deaths of our people. But they are not the only ones. Our spineless leaders are at fault too. If they were united, such a thing could not have happened."

I have been involved in the dalit movement for a long time. I wanted to be part of the procession. It was my way of sharing in their grief. I thought I would recite some poems or sing some of Baba's songs. But the people were in no mood to listen. They walked along grimly; only wanting retribution.

They had no one to guide them; otherwise they might have gained something positive from this whole incident. They could have got some benefits for themselves; they could have asked for more security, something good would have come out of the whole thing. But since that option was not there, they used the only vent that was available for their frustration -- they turned to violence. They smashed vehicles, burnt buses, stalled traffic, disrupted the public transport system, flung stones, hit people.

The dalit protests were highlighted by sporadic violence A Gujarati couple were driving in their car at the time of the funeral. That was provocation enough. For the mourners, it was a case of -- "10 of our people have died. How can you go out and enjoy yourself as if nothing has happened? Could you not have stayed at home at this day at least?" The angry mourners pulled them out of the car, beat them and smashed the car to bits.

Can you really blame them? For the last two years, there has been no provision of employment for dalit youth. They can see everyone around them moving ahead -- they see people driving around in the latest cars, flashing mobile phones, gold jewellery. While they themselves struggle to eke out a livelihood. They don't have jobs, no source of livelihood and live in utter poverty. The dalits who have made it big ignore their own people. In fact, they have reached a stage where they are ashamed to be known as dalits.

Person injured in firing The poorer dalits, on the other hand, the dalits who are trying to create a space for themselves, flaunt the fact that they belong to this community. They want the benefits of reservation, they want to move up in life. Which is one reason why they will take the compensation that has been offered to them by the government. But that is not going to heal their wounds; it is not going to wipe away the heart-rendering sorrow of a family that has just lost a young son for no reason at all.

They are very clear that they have nothing to gain from this system, this society, this government. If they want anything for themselves, they will have to snatch it. And that anger at all they have had to suffer has spilled out against the richer classes of society, at the people who they think have benefitted at their cost.

Friday's incident was not just the death of 10 people in police firing. It is an incident that will mark the resurgence of the dalit movement. But the reawakening will be a violent one -- they are no longer satisfied with promises, they want to see results. And they want an eye for an eye.

They are planning a meeting in the colony -- that meeting will decide their future course of action. But they will not allow any outsider to participate. And that includes their own leaders.

Friday's incident will mark the rebirth of the dalit movement. A movement that will be led by new leaders -- leaders who are able to deliver a lot more besides empty promises, leaders who are able to deliver what the people want, who are able to speak the language of the people.

That's another thing that is annoying the dalits -- their leaders have become so elitist that they no longer speak the same language that the dalits do; they don't even understand what the dalits want. The dalits now want leaders who can identify with them completely.

The funeral procession I don't know who these leaders will be. But there were some people who spoke arrogantly at the funeral procession. There was this young lad from Nashik who was raising violent slogans. There was another boy from the Ambedkar colony. I was watching them both; they could be the new leaders. I don't know. Even the women were up in arms, even they were speaking in tones raised high in anger.

Please don't misunderstand the situation. It's not that these boys are uneducated. They are graduates. There is this misconception that most of the dalits are uneducated. This is not true. Dalits lay great emphasis on education. That, after all, was the advice Babasabeb gave them -- he taught them the importance of getting an education.

The Ambedkar statue which was garlanded with footwear on Friday But these educated dalits still have their roots in the soil, unlike their leaders. Some people feel that Prakash Ambedkar will emerge as the leader. The older generation, the people who have seen his grandfather, may have some sympathy for Ambedkar. But the younger generation has no such feeling. They have not seen Babasaheb Ambedkar and, right now, all they want is the fullfilment of their demands. Anyone who can do that is welcome to be their leader.

In fact, some of the youth were promoting Arun Gawli of the Akhil Bharatiya Sena. As they reasoned -- "none of our leaders have been able to give us what they want. They have just been obsessed with power politics. But Gawli is a terrorist. He has weapons. He can deliver. He can give us what we want. So why not him? When no one else can give us what we want."

You can be sure of one thing. This is not the end of the story; this is only the beginning. And anyone who has crossed the path of the dalits since Friday is now going to have to have to pay for it.

Watch out for those two newspapers -- Vartahar and Tarun Bharat. Vartahar reported that the dalits themselves had garlanded Ambedkar's statue with chappals for their own vested interests. Tarun Bharat reported something that was not true.

The dalits are not going to issue any clarifications. But, in the next few days, something will happen to both these newspapers. Even on Sunday, in the midst of the funerals, people were searching for the Vartahar reporter who had written that story. They are also looking out for the inspector who first gave the order to shoot. They are angry and, right now, the only outlet for their anger is violence.

What is happening today is the result of years of economic and social neglect. The dalits have been beaten and abused for a long time -- by the system, by the government, by the courts, by Bal Thackeray. Now, they have had enough. They have decided that they no longer want to remain downtrodden. They know that no one is going to help them, so they are going to help themselves. By fair means or foul.

As told to Savera R Someshwar. Photographs by Jewella C Miranda.

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