'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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.