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Mayawati ushers in a new social revolution
Chandra Bhan Prasad
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May 14, 2007

In India's collective imagery, 'impure', 'polluting' -- the outcaste or the Dalit, in other words -- is to be subject forever.

India's caste order demands Dalits to be at its service forever.

India, however, began changing at a rather rapid speed since the Republic came into being in 1950.

Despite all the changes India underwent, Dalits still remained the 'other', at the service of Indian democracy and the larger other.

Affirmative action policies crafted by Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar made it mandatory that the State involve Dalits in all its political processes, including the system of governance.

But, limitations put up by the larger society would still make the task of the State difficult. Hence unless seats were reserved, Dalits would still not get elected to the legislative bodies.

In the process, however, the affirmative action regime -- in areas of government jobs and expansion of education -- made a Dalit middle class.

The rules of the game began changing. 

Now, in one stroke, history has re-evolved in the very heartland of Brahmin dominance.

Changing social equations are reflecting in changed social contradictions. The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party called upon Brahmins to partner in a new social agenda for the Gangetic belt.

There was a caveat: the Dalit-Brahman coalition will be led by Dalits. Predestined by their fate, Brahmins lapped up the opportunity.

The resultant political scenario signals a new history for India.

The larger society has by its own will chosen Mayawati to govern Uttar Pradesh, the cradle of the Varnashram social order.

Analysts will debate over the spectacular success of Mayawati's Dalit-Brahmin thesis, and make predictions on India's political equations.

But what we must ponder over is: what does this victory mean for the larger Dalit mass?

Critics will have their day. 'Few thousands Dalits will benefit individually, they will say. Many more Dalits will become ministers, Dalit bureaucrats and mid-level officers will get plum positions, and a host of new policy packages will be unleashed for Dalits,' they might sneer.

'Can State-engineered public policies reach each household in any society,' they will ask.

'At best, Dalits will have satisfaction that their own person is at the helm of affairs,' they will whisper.

Such possible criticisms deserve attention.

Fact: No State policy, howsoever big, can reach all citizens.

The Mayawati government too, therefore, cannot reach out to every Dalit household and uplift it. That is the truth. But, Mayawati's ascendancy to power can do much more than what we generally can comprehend.

Mayawati's victory has the potential to trigger a new social revolution in India. In fact, Mayawati's triumph is in itself a new social revolution. It will have a ripple effect on the entire Gangetic belt to begin with, and the entire country eventually.

But first, let us collectively agree to the fact that social taboos have been the Dalits' bane.

In parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, tea-stalls practise a two-tumbler system: one for the 'pure' and the other for the 'polluting'.

In north India, that horrible social system has rarely been in practice. But, there is no way Dalits in north India can succeed as tea, vegetable, paan or dairy products vendors, or as grocers and local level hoteliers.

Dalits cannot enter the arena of enterprise in the countryside. Most enterprise in the countryside relate to eatable items. As the experiences suggest, if one were to be socially unacceptable in enterprises relating to eatables, one is highly unlikely to graduate into cloth merchant, iron shop owner, contractor, and the entire service sector and trade.

In other words, Dalits are socially prevented from entering enterprise.

They are left with no option but to rely on affirmative action under the State or the private sector, or as daily wage earners. That is the plight of the Dalit -- social taboos prevent him from becoming a self-sustaining economic player.

How will that social taboo wither away?

Whether we like it or hate it, the Brahmin remains a 'positive point of social reference'. So, what if, for his own selfish reasons, the Brahmin begins eating in a Dalit house? Will the non-Brahmin begin boycotting that Dalit family?

If the answer is in the negative, then Mayawati has triggered a new social revolution in India.

While taking oath of office, each minister bowed down at Mayawatiji's feet in full public view -- including her Brahmin colleagues. The message is loud and clear.

If the Dalit is acceptable to the Brahmin, and the Brahmin is prepared to accept the Dalit as his leader, why can't we accept and celebrate the Dalit? The social taboos have thus been seriously injured in Mayawati's victory.

The Dalit will now grow in confidence and with the Brahmin as his new social friend, he can walk with his head held high. Other non-Brahmin castes will fall in line.

India is now headed for a new social order where the Dalit will call the shots.

For the first time, the larger Uttar Pradesh society has chosen a Dalit as its ruler. Isn't that good for India? Shouldn't we celebrate Mayawati as the great daughter of India's democracy?

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