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Dalit movement to emerge from Dark Web?

Security agencies see rise in number of websites promoting the cause, warn of an uprising ahead of 2019 polls

mumbai Updated: Jun 09, 2018 00:59 IST
Megha Sood
Megha Sood
Hindustan Times
Dalit movement,Dalit uprising,Elgar Parishad
Minister of state for social justice and empowerment Ramdas Athawale with his RPI party members during a protest rally following the Bhima-Koregaon violence at Bandra in Mumbai on May 2, 2018.(HT Photo)

The Dalit movement in the country has gained momentum, this time thanks to the Internet.

The Maharashtra state cyber security, which tracks websites that operate secretly or the ‘Dark Web’, has come across a host of websites trying to promote the Dalit cause. More than 50 organisations from various countries, primarily from America and India, are involved in mobilising activists from the community, said sources from the cyber security cell.

The effects are for all so to see – the Bhima-Koregaon violence in January, farmers’ rally in Mumbai in March, protests in Phagwara in Punjab in March and later in April that forced mobile Internet services to be blocked for 20 hours in four districts. Another case in point could be a call for protest in Hindaun city of Rajasthan, where a message to Dalits to change their WhatsApp display picture to that of a bandh poster for 24 hours took a violent turn (see box).

In the recent past
  • MAHARASHTRA — A conference, Elgar Parishad was held at Bhima-Koregaon on December 31, 2017. A day later, a large number of Dalits gathered to commemorate the 200th anniversary of a battle they won while fighting alongside the British against the Peshwas (upper caste rulers). Violence erupted between the two groups leading to the death of a 28-year-old man. On Wednesday, five alleged Maoist sympathisers were arrested for inciting people during the Parishad.
  • PUNJAB — A local Dalit leader gave a call for bandh in Punjab’s Phagwara town on March 27. A clash between Dalits and Hindu right-wing groups left the activist, Yashwant alias Bobby, 19, with a bullet injury on his head. On April 13, the communities clashed again, this time on the issue of renaming a chowk as Sambhidhan Chowk. Mobile internet services were blocked for 20 hours in four districts. Nine people were killed and many injured.
  • RAJASTHAN — In April, a message exhorted Dalits to change their WhatsApp display pictures to that of a bandh poster for 24 hours. The mobilisation in Hindaun– a place with little history of Ambedkarite politics – was so successful the organisers were unable to control the crowd. The protest descended into casteclashes, in which the houses of two Dalit leaders, including the sitting legislator, were burnt down.

“There is a marked change in the way people are being mobilised for protests. Earlier, people used to go door-to-door, hold meetings or organise events to mobilise people. Now, various digital platforms and social media networks give privacy and anonymity to mobilise people. This is being termed digital activism,” said Balsingh Rajput, superintendent of police, Maharashtra cyber security office. “Along with websites and pages on the dark web, applications such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Facebook messengers among others are being used to spread the word to rural villages.”

The police can take action only if they receive a specific complaint or if the channels are misused for anti-national activities. “Without a complaint, we can’t act against digital activism. It is considered illegal only if it is used to create enmity between two groups or communities or for terrorism,” said Rajput.

With the growing influence of the web, security agencies fear the revival of organisations such as the Dalit Panthers, which was formed in Mumbai in 1972, and the backdoor entry of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) into the movement.

The recent arrests of Maoist sympathisers in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence are an indication of their link to the Dalit movement, claim experts. “There are groups that have called for much larger protests before the 2019 elections. This can be a cause for concern,” said a senior IPS officer, requesting anonymity.

“The Dalit Panthers was the only organisation responsible for violence in Maharashtra in 1974. Their revival, coupled with mobilisation of CPI (Maoists), could create a significant law and order problem,” said a senior IPS officer, who has been tracking the CPI (Maoists) closely.

Bapusaheb Bhosle, chairman of the Dalit Panthers of India and whose father co-founded the organisation, said his organisation was at the core of Dalit movements across the globe. “There are several Dalit organisations in the United States of America and across the world. They follow Buddhism, or agree with Ambedkar’s ideology. They communicate with us using the Internet. Advocates, doctors, engineers and others use this platform to spread their ideas,” said Bhosle.

Bhosle, however, has a word of caution. “Everybody has a right to social equality. Facing constant injustice, Dalits are even ready to die. If caste cruelty and the politics of pleasing the upper caste does not stop, there will an uprising soon.”

First Published: Jun 09, 2018 00:59 IST