On July 11, Shiv Sena members stripped four Dalit men, tied them to a car and thrashed them in a village of Gir-Somnath district in Gujarat for skinning dead cows. While such incidents should not happen in the first place, it is futile to totally wish them away because India still remains a feudal and casteist society. So what should be best way to respond to such incidents? Or, how can we end such violence against Dalits? Most of us would argue that proper implementation of the laws, quick police and legal action, and deep social changes could ensure that people don’t indulge in such mindless violence. The new junior social justice minister Ramdas Athawale, however, has some unusual thoughts on tackling such attacks.
In an interview to Hindustan Times, the minister, who is also a poet and a painter, reaffirmed his pitch to allow Dalits to keep weapons for their self-protection. This is the second time that the minister, once a firebrand activist who, under the banner of the Dalit Panthers (a revolutionary organisation inspired by the Black Panther Party in the US), joined causes that are dear to the Dalit constituency. Mr Athawale also had a remarkable explanation for why there is so much violence against Dalits. The main reason for atrocities , the popular Dalit leader said, is inter-caste love and marriage.
Mr Athawale’s demand for weapons for Dalits is not new. He made the same demand in January after Hyderabad University Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide. His argument: The Sikhs are allowed to keep arms and, so people are afraid to get into a fight with them, forgetting effortlessly that Article 25 of the Constitution deems the carrying of ‘kirpan’ to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.
While it is true that violence against Dalits has increased over the years — 47,064 cases of crimes against Dalits were registered in 2014, up from 39,408 in 2013 and 33,655 in 2012 — arming them is not the solution.
Moreover, if one community is allowed to keep weapons because they are feeling unsafe, it will open a floodgate of demands. Mr Athawale should take note how lax gun control laws are creating havoc in the US. In a country as diverse as India, can we afford to do such a thing? Even making such contentious ideas is wrong and dangerous.
And he as the social justice minister should be the last person proposing such a silly idea. His work is cut out: He is responsible for welfare, social justice, and empowerment of disadvantaged and marginalised sections of society. There are different ways of empowering a community, arms licenses for everyone is definitely not one of them.