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Kanshi, not Maya, is the leader here

Six years ago, a nondescript village in Rajasthan hit the headlines. For, two Dalit boys took bath in a pond not meant for them. A trivial issue then, it later threatened to change the matrix of Dalit politics in the desert state, reports Srinand Jha.
By Srinand Jha | Hindustan Times, Jaipur
UPDATED ON OCT 23, 2008 12:08 AM IST

Hari Shankar Bairwa, a Dalit farmer, burnt his religious books, snapped his 50-year-old association with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and turned an atheist. That was 2002. Today, he has no regrets.

There is a growing realisation of how right Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram was. “He said caste prejudices among Hindus would never end. The way-out is not moderation, but confrontation,” says 64-year-old Bairwa. He lives in village Chakwara, 65 km off Jaipur.

Till September 2002, Chakwara was a nondescript village with a 2,500-odd population. The Jats (Other Backward Castes) dominated, while the Dalits (lower castes) were in a minority – barely 500 odd.

But thanks to Hari Shankar’s son Radhey Shyam and his buddy Babulal, the village hit the headlines. The two boys, both Bairwas (low-caste cobblers), defied the caste traditions and undertook what they called a ‘Dignity march’. They took a dip in the village pond, a prerogative of only the upper castes.

The Jat community went into a huddle. Their verdict: Teach the sinners a lesson. The Dalits were beaten black and blue, their homes ransacked, and a fine of Rs 51,000 slapped for defiance. By the time the police arrived, a caste war was on. Overnight, Chakwara became an international dateline.

The results of what Chakwara’s Bairwas called a ‘silent revolution’ are visible now. Says Babulal, “They (the Jats) disrupted our marriage processions routinely, ordering the bridegroom to dismount the horse. That has stopped.” As has a lot else. Even the pond, initially an upper caste domain, is now open to others too.

Post Chakwara, the Dalits in the neighbouring villages have started opposing caste domination. For starters, a bath in the village pond.

However, none of this has anything to do with Kanshi Ram’s protégé Mayawati. This is a belt where brand Maya doesn’t work. It’s only Kanshi Ram whose name still commands respect. “The seeds sown by him are bearing fruit now,” said P.L. Mimroth, an associate of Kanshi Ram. Mimroth said the BSP could gain on two counts. First, the Dalits will want one of theirs in power and the gratitude to Kanshi Ram. “Neither she, nor her politics, nor her branding works here,” Mimroth declared.

People in and around Chakwara delink politics with the Dalit’s fight for their rights. This is in contrast to others parts of the country where politicians consolidate the Dalits for electoral gains. In Chakwara, “we were subjugated for years. It is our fight, and ours alone. The politicians have no role to play” is what most people feel.

Add to that the perception that Mayawati has not even raised her voice for the Dalits. If statistics are anything to go by, cases of caste atrocities have increased. “During the battle for Chakwara Dalits, Mayawati and her party have been absent,” said the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties state secretary, Kavita Srivastava.

What also goes against her is her power politics and the desperation to become PM. Salim Engineer, member of Muslim Forum, said, “She can stoop to any level to gain power. She will partner with anyone to be Prime Minister.” Eid Mohammed, a shopkeeper, said, “Mayawati doesn’t matter here… nor does the BSP.” It seems what Mayawati and the BSP cannot take for granted are the Dalit votes – at least in and around Chakwara in Rajasthan.

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