A public meeting held in London on the eve of Independence Day organized by South Asia Solidarity Group discussed the Indian state’s current offensive in Kashmir and its history, the Dalit Asmita Yatra in Gujarat, the background to the rise of Hindutva and other key issues.
Academic, novelist and activist Nitasha Kaul addressed the meeting, titled ‘Democracy? Whose Democracy? India on the 69th Anniversary of Independence’. She said that Kashmiris are facing an existential crisis under Indian army occupation: ‘It is as though there is a hierarchy of lives – for some, many more have to be lost, before people listen’.
She said India’s relationship with Kashmir—the humiliating attitude towards Kashmiris, the killing, injuring and blinding of innocent people including children, intimidating of journalists, and clamping down on the media and shutting down internet and mobile communication – a form of collective punishment — was like Britain’s relationship with India under colonial rule.
Dr Kaul said that the uprising of Kashmiri people has nothing to do either with religion or with Pakistan. Kashmir happens to be a Muslim majority territory and India is using it as a pretext to demonise a people’s uprising as terrorist. In today’s Islamophobic environment it fits well with the broader narrative, she said.
She spoke of India’s oft repeated claim that Kashmir is an ‘integral part of India’ and called it a very ‘imperial’ attitude. ‘Why do you have to keep on repeating it? And why do you have to kill people to keep it integral?’ She said that Kashmir is not like any other Indian state. It has its own history. She stressed that until 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested by Jawaharlal Nehru, Kashmir had its own flag and own Prime Minister, not a Chief Minister.
Also speaking at the meeting was the editor of Urdu Media Monitor M. Ghazali Khan. He said that every controversy being used and exploited by the BJP, for example the Babri Mosque, Muslim Personal Law, Urdu and the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University, was created by the Congress. During its tenure Congress engineered anti-Muslim riots. The BJP developed and systematized communal violence which is integral to its Hindutva ideology, leading to the “Gujarat Experiment” and adopting new elements such as “Love Jihad”, “Ghar wapsi” and “Gau Raksha” as the situation requires.
Mr Khan added, ‘Soon after the partition a totally false and mischievous premise was created in India that Muslims alone were responsible for that historic blunder and was used and continues to be used as a weapon to victimize them. However, the publication between 1970 and 1983 of secret and official documents (Transfer of Power 1942-47) present a different picture of that period: Gandhi, Nehru and particularly Patel appear to be as much responsible for the partition as was Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan.’ Mr Khan stressed the importance of an alliance between Dalits, Muslims and all other secular forces in India.
Dalit activist and Chair of CasteWatch UK Satpal Muman who was also due to speak could not personally attend the seminar but sent a written speech that was read out by at the meeting. In his message Mr Muman sent his solidarity with the hugely inspiring and significant Dalit Asmita march taking place across Gujarat, to culminate in a mass rally on Independence Day at Una, the scene of the recent brutal attack on Dalits by self-styled Gau Rakshaks which sparked the movement. He added that the “stinking caste system” had followed Indians to the UK and the current British government was acting undemocratically by ignoring legislation passed by parliament safeguarding Dalits from discrimination in the UK.
Kalpana Wilson, chairing the meeting on behalf of South Asia Solidarity Group, also expressed her solidarity with the Dalit movement in India. She said this was a hugely significant moment with the Dalit movement putting forward the agenda of land redistribution as one of its key demands. As one of the leaders of the movement Jignesh Mevani has said, this hits at the base of Hindutva economic policy of unscrupulously handing over land to corporates like Ambani and Adani. She also highlighted the initiatives for unity between Dalits and Muslims which are being taken by the movement, which is taking place in Gujarat, till now known as the ‘laboratory’ for the Hindu right, where the genocidal attacks on the Muslim community had taken place in 2002.
The seminar also heard a powerful narrative on Dalit lives inspired by the Una incident ‘Black and Blue’ written and read out by actor and story writer, Saunvedan Aparanti.
As representatives of Dalit and South Asian organisations in the UK we send warmest solidarity greetings to our Dalit brothers and sisters in struggle in India as they march from Ahmedabad to Una in the ‘Azaadi Kooch’ (Freedom March), reaching on Independence Day to hoist the Indian flag at the place of the Una atrocity.
As India enters its 70th year of independence, the country is in turmoil as never before. The Hindu supremacist BJP government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has been in power since May 2014, together with the numerous Hindutva killer gangs who stand behind it, has unleashed an increasingly violent reign of terror and repression on Dalits, Muslims and other minorities.
Dominant castes, who in rural India are the landowners, perpetrate the most heinous crimes of rape, arson, and murder of Dalits, specifically targeting women and children. Dalit women are forced to parade naked sometimes for the most minor of disagreements, or else even for ‘not showing respect’. There is also a propensity by the ruling elites to dismiss atrocities as ‘law and order’ issues. Studies show, however, that Dalits are specifically targeted because of the resentment felt by upper-castes, particularly when Dalits try to rise above the down-trodden status ascribed to them, or when they try to assert their human rights.
This appalling state of affairs has got far worse in the last two years, deteriorating first during Modi’s election campaign in 2013, and then deteriorating, even more acutely, since he has come to power in 2014. The primary reason for this is the BJP’s polarising upper-caste Hindu supremacist ideology
As official figures show there has been a 44 percent increase in violence against Dalits in 2014 as compared to 2010, with 30 percent of the 47,064 crimes in 2014 committed in four BJP-ruled states -- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh.
In the last few months ‘Gau Rakshaks’ or Cow protection vigilantes have become the latest face of Hindutva’s killer gangs. They roam the countryside attacking and killing Muslims and Dalits whom they accuse of cow slaughter, or of consuming or intending to consume beef.
Gujarat has been seen as a ‘laboratory’ by the Hindu right since the genocidal attacks on Muslims in 2002 and on 11 July this year, in Una, Gujarat, the Cow goons launched a horrific attack on four Dalit men, tying them to a car and beating them brutally with sticks and iron pipes. They accused them of cow slaughter, although in reality, they were skinning a dead cow as part of their work – since this unpleasant task, like that of getting rid of dead animals carcasses, is still regarded as work suitable only and exclusively for Dalits. They filmed the attack (which took place with the collusion of the Gujarat police) and circulated it widely on social media. The aim was clearly to cause intense humiliation and to intimidate the community.
As we now know the video of the attack, which went viral, had a very different effect. It acted as a spark which ignited the already simmering anger and resistance of Dalits in Gujarat and other parts of India giving rise to a massive Dalit uprising. Dalits refused to clear cow carcasses, and they were left rotting all over towns in Gujarat. Already the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, has been forced to resign. The movement has continued to grow and is spreading all over India. Muslim organisations have joined Dalits in solidarity and so have Left and progressive organisations.
We will urge the Indian Government to meet the demands of the movement:
• Withdraw cases filed against Dalits during recent protests and launch an immediate investigation into the 2012 police firing in Thangadh, Gujarat in which 3 Dalits were killed.
• Immediately ban the murderous Gau Raksha Samitis (Cow Protection Vigilante Groups)
• Impose exemplary punishment to perpetrators of caste violence with national media coverage to act as a deterrent.
• Set up Special Courts for offences under the Atrocities Act, as required by the law.
• Make the jobs of Safai Kamdars, or sanitation workers, (all exclusively Dalits) secure, by making them permanent posts paid according to the regulations of the 6th Pay Commission.
• Allocate Five Acre Plots of land to Dalits forthwith as is required under Section 3(1)(f) of the Atrocities Act.
• Immediately enact a Reservation Act in Gujarat (All reservations/affirmative actions in Gujarat are currently at the discretion of the Executive and are initiated or effected only through a government resolution).
• Provide housing units to Dalits in urban areas because they continue to be socially boycotted, discriminated against and exploited socially, economically and sexually in villages.
• Use budgetary allocations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) exclusively for these sections and not divert them elsewhere.
• The Gujarat Government must apologise publicly to Dalits for withdrawing and pulping the book on Dr Babsaheb Ambedkar which described his radical thoughts on Hindusim and the 22 point oath he took to convert to Buddhism in 1956.
South Asia Solidarity Group
Ambedkar International Mission, London
Dr Ambedkar Buddhist Action Group Birmingham
Dr Ambedkar Buddhist Organisation
Central Valmik Sabha
Shri Guru Ravidass Cultural Association,
Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha , Manor Park, London
Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, Wolverhampton
Dr Ambedkar Memorial Committee Great Britain
Voice of Dalit International UK
International Asian Christian Front
South Asian Alliance