In one of his famous speeches, jurist, politician and social reformer BR Ambedkar had said that as long as India does not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is accorded to its citizens by the law will be of no use.
This holds true even in the 70th year of the Independence, and no one knows this better than the marginalised communities like Dalits and tribals — and women. These communities have several legal shields in India but they often fail to benefit from them because of lack of, what Ambedkar called “social liberty”.
For example, look at how Dalits are viewed before any state or national election. Other than promising the moon to the community, one of the usual ploys, which is not only insulting but also reveals the mindset of caste-conscious India politicians, is the drama of eating in Dalit homes. All political parties follow that trend because they feel such actions — farcical as they are — will show them in good light and garner some votes. Such acts — rather the thought process — is condescending to say the least.
In an article in a national daily, Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan and winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, wrote: “Politicians who make a show of dining with Dalits give away their mindset. Why do they make such a big deal of dining with fellow humans? If you think you are doing something special by flaunting your benevolent side in eating a meal at a Dalit’s house, then something is wrong with your mind.”
Now with the Uttar Pradesh elections early next year, the BJP and other parties are formulating plans to reach the marginalised community and sure enough, several ‘eat with Dalits’ programmes will figure on the agenda of all parties.
As Mr Wilson says, this practice of eating with Dalits is belittling for the community. This shows that Dalits need this validation to show that they are equals.
Some could argue that such actions are necessary to make a larger point to society. Such shows of camaraderie will not change anything if parties don’t come out with a blueprint delineating measures to improve the lot of the community by ensuring that they have full access to healthcare, education and, more importantly, the justice system.
The political class cannot allow a Una/Khairlanji/Laxmanpur-Bathe and then shed crocodile tears sitting in the homes of Dalits. And since all eyes will now be on UP, political leaders will do well to remember this when they enter Dalit homes: Official data shows that the state tops the table in the number of cases registered of crimes against scheduled castes.