The BJP may find it difficult to publicly acknowledge that Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula’s suicide inside the Hyderabad Central University’s (HCU’s) campus and the protests that followed at HCU and other campuses damaged the party’s image considerably, but it did.
The party is now doing its best to undo the damage, at least, to some extent. In April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address two rallies on BR Ambedkar, whose 125th birth anniversary is today, and highlight issues related to villages and farmers.
The BJP will also involve the national icon’s views on nationalism during the party’s three-day programme to observe the anniversary. It has also nudged the United Nations to observe the anniversary for the first time with a focus on combating inequalities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Other parties are not behind in the race to woo Dalit voters, especially in the poll-bound states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. On Wednesday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was in Barmer, Rajasthan, to meet the family of a 17-year-old Dalit girl who was raped and killed allegedly by her teacher. AAP, too, is planning to celebrate Ambedkar’s policies and showcase his work today in Delhi.
This celebration-for-votes is a sad commentary on how India treats a large section of its population. Take, for example, the crime statistics against scheduled castes (SCs). The National Crime Records Bureau 2014 data shows that 128 crimes were committed against SCs per day; 194 SC women were assaulted every month; and there was a 19% rise in crimes against SCs over 2013.
The Constitution makes strong commitments to overcome the entrenched socio-economic exploitation of SCs and to provide social justice. Special provisions were made to address discrimination and to improve the socio-economic status of the community. In order to further address these issues, Parliament legislated to create a National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in 1990 through the 65th constitutional amendment. Consequent to this, several state legislatures have also enacted conformity legislation to create State SC Commissions.
And yet, these panels hardly function. A report — Making Statutory Institutions Vibrant, Responsive And Accountable — says most of these panels hardly work. Even awareness about the existence of the SC Commission is rather low among the members of the SC community. In Bihar, less than half (48%) the respondents knew of its existence. Similarly, in MP, only 55% of the respondents were aware of the existence of the commission and the overall picture in UP is only 29%.