Muslims must reach out to Dalits, other communities

Syed Aijaz Zaka

Syed Aijaz Zaka

By : Syed Aijaz Zaka

The Dalits or low-caste Hindus have struggled on the margins of Indian society, suffering in silence, for thousands of years. Being born at the bottom of the caste hierarchy is the ultimate sin in the ancient land. This is an issue that is as old as Mahabharata. The earliest voice of protest raised against the social and caste order of Hindu society had been that of Buddha. But even the Wise One did not have much success against the forces of status quo.

Successive Hindu reformers, from Raja Rammohan Roy to Vivekananda to Gandhi, all did their best to fight untouchability and discrimination sanctioned by caste. The Mahatma was perhaps the first leader to realize that without the involvement of all sections of Hindu society, nothing could be achieved — especially freedom.

Gandhi went out of his way to rope in Dalits, making them part of the independence movement and the national mainstream. To change the whole social perception and discourse about the Dalits, he insisted on calling them Harijan — God’s people. Gandhi did not entirely succeed in his attempts though. As some stoical Indians would explain, you cannot escape your birth however you try. The Shudras may now be called Dalits or Harijan and may have massive state support in affirmative action or reservations. But little has changed for the Dalits in terms of respect and societal acceptance, even under powerful Dalit parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Untouchability and discrimination remain a fact of life. Recently, when the Dalit chief minister of Bihar, one of India’s most populous states, visited a temple, it was followed by a thorough washing and “purification” of the shrine with special rites.

Despite all the talk of national integration and pontification against discrimination and untouchability, the sharp dividing line that separates the noble, upper caste Hindus from the wretched of the earth remains as powerful and forbidding as ever.

This shows itself from time to time and at every stage, including during elections. Since the dawn of the Mandal revolution and rise of caste-inspired parties like the BSP, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, they have largely voted according to their sectarian loyalties.

This is why it is truly extraordinary what Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party have managed to accomplish in the 2014 elections and the state polls that followed. The strategic role that Dalits and other backward communities have played in the spectacular success of the BJP in the general elections and state polls is the critical footnote that most commentators have ignored.

The so-called social engineering project that the Parivar has been meticulously working on for decades delivered a windfall in 2014 when the Dalits and other backward groups en masse deserted the Congress, BSP and SP to vote for Modi. The Hindutva social engineering got a huge boost in Gujarat under Modi and was put to use with deadly efficacy in the 2002 pogrom.

Senior Hindutva leaders and BJP ministers may have choreographed the Muslim massacre that went on for months. But it was mostly the Dalits and other marginalized groups, who have historically shared good relations with Muslims and saw each other as friends and allies, who did the real work. They are the ones who were used as the cannon fodder and attack dogs of Hindutva carrying out killings, rapes and looting across Muslim neighborhoods. The Muzaffarnagar riots last year that drove thousands of Muslims from their homes after their Jat neighbors, again a community historically close to Muslims, turned on them were part of the same “social engineering” process.

Indeed, 2014 saw the peaking and most successful demonstration of the Gujarat experiment. For the first time in India’s history, lower caste communities which saw the BJP as a party of the rich, upper caste Hindus, voted for the Hindutva party in such overwhelming numbers, largely thanks to the orchestrated Modi wave and the magnetism of his machismo politics.

But give the devil his due. Instead of being brought down by his toxic past and the slur of a “chaiwala,” Modi brilliantly used the brazen, bloodletting of Muslims to burnish the image of a tough, Hindutva superhero with working class roots who could also “deal” with Muslims.

Ordinary Hindus, including the Dalits and backward classes, found it hard not to identify with him and his message of a “strong, clean, prosperous India.” In any case, with an ostrich-like Congress in total meltdown and the rest of opposition clueless, it wasn’t too difficult to connect with a disenchanted, corruption-weary voter.

So much so Mayawati’s BSP has been totally wiped out in Uttar Pradesh where it ruled until recently. The BJP has even captured Maharashtra and Haryana on its own, wrestling the former from its own ally, Shiv Sena, the more lumpen and brazen Hindutva cousin. More important, the much-trumpeted Muslim vote has been rendered totally redundant and irrelevant. BJP candidates comfortably won even from Muslim-concentrated constituencies.

The Parivar has finally managed to “unite” the extended Hindu family — against the enemy. After long years of indoctrination, brazen lies and continuous hate propaganda targeting Muslims, not to mention the ongoing canard of “love jihad,” large sections of the Dalits and backward communities have turned against an already demonized and marginalized minority.

This is the most disturbing and defining outcome of the 2014 polls. Something Muslims and other minorities would ignore at their own peril. The alienation of Dalits and other marginalized communities not just means Muslims are left totally friendless and without allies in this vast and complex melting pot of a country; things could get even worse now that their votes are seen as totally worthless.

The sooner Muslims wake up to the new political realities of India the better for them. Else they wouldn’t even have time to repent. It is time for the community to urgently think of effective ways and means of ending their isolation. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and further withdrawing into its shell, they must close their ranks and reach out to make new friends and win allies.

Moreover, they must ask themselves what has gone wrong in their equation with Dalits and other communities and what they could do to mend fences. We also need to build bridges with other minorities such as Christians and Sikhs. This is not possible without sincere and bold steps. For far too long, we have remained too self-absorbed and wrapped up in our own world and its daily battles of survivals to look around and care for fellow travelers. We must speak out more and stand up for others, just as we expect others to share our pain and concerns. There was a time when Dalits and other communities looked to Muslims for guidance. How are we to provide leadership when we are totally clueless ourselves? God help us when we have worthies like Bukharis pretending to be our answer to leadership!

What in God’s name has gone wrong with us? We have had such a rich and proud past in this country. Where did we lose ourselves? It’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions. It’s about time we rediscovered ourselves and our sense of direction and purpose as a community.


Aijaz Z. Syed is a Gulf based commentator.



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