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Dalits have rights to live in dignity as equal citizens 

By Ajaya Kumar Singh

April 14 is the birthday of B. R. Ambedkar, who gave us the Constitution to guide the nation.

He is a sign and symbol of those on the margins; the vulnerable sections: Dalit, Adivasi and the women in India. He stood for equality, freedom, justice, human rights and human dignity of everyone irrespective caste, creed and gender.

He was a visionary and revolutionary, who dared to dream and gave directions to his fellow citizens to reclaim their equal citizenship and rights. He was a pioneer in giving space and affirmative action in the constitutions. It is befitting to remember the great man and his ideas for a just, dignified and equal state without any discrimination of any sort.

Dalits and Adivasi have always been used as vote banks as they constitute of one-fourth of India’s populations. In 2014, Narendra Modi formed his government with 31 percent of the votes. It does show that the Dalit/Adivasi could break or build the government.

The sheer number could be either threat or opportunity. Hence for the political parties, there is no alternative but to bring to their fold. The right-wing parties that have been accused of suppressing the rights of Dalit/Adivasi could ill afford to do that. It did manage to woo them in the last elections in great numbers despite it refused to give space in its leadership.

As there increasing attacks on them by its own ruling groups in different parts of the country, the ruling party tries to project that it does care about it. It is said, ‘if you cannot crush it, you co-opt it’.

This has been strategy followed by political parties. Dalit falling for co-option would destroy the Dalit as they are being used not given equal status, scope and leadership in the decision-making process; but reduced as beneficiaries.

The co-option is a ploy to dis-rob or invalidates the Dalits as being equal stakeholders and in the long run; it would not only harm the Dalit but the nation itself.

It needs to respect and give the rights, space and scope that have denied for centuries if Dalit empowerment becomes reality. Co-option is a temporary solution but has negative consequences in the society seeing Dalit as second class.

Situations are getting worse for Dalits. The nation is denial mode. Since Independence, only five Dalit Adivasi could make it to Supreme Court. The conviction rate against atrocities committed against Dalit and Adivasi are quite dismal and low as 5%.

There are increasing attacks on Dalits. Instead of looking into low conviction rate, there was a Supreme Court ruling that has diluted the Prevention of Atrocities against Dalit and Adivasi. Worse still, there is a clamor for replacing present Constitution of India with Manusmriti that does not treat Dalit as equal citizens.

Today, Dalits are in dark time with anti-Dalit forces gaining grounds and seizing powers. Hence, challenges are multiple; yet we live in hope that there would be a time when society would realize that Dalits too are human beings and that they have rights to live in dignity as equal citizens.

We need to work toward that goal.

(Ajaya Kumar Singh is the director of Odisha Forum for Social Action, Bhubaneswar, India)

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