India: Caste violence and the fight against it

B. Youvraj, New Socialist Alternative (CWI), Pune 11 July 2018

With the rise of the Barathia Janatha Party (BJP) to power in the 2014 general election, caste atrocities on Dalits and Tribals across India have risen dramatically. The BJP, the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is an extreme right wing political party that claims to base itself on so-called Hindu nationalism. With their Hinduist plank, the RSS rank and file have consistently attacked religious minorities, especially Muslims. However, as we have consistently pointed out, RSS Hindutva does not represent the Hindu masses but only the interests of the upper castes in society.

At the core of its ideology are orthodox Brahminical values which have upheld the exploitative hierarchical division of Hindu society for many centuries. No wonder then that, with the BJP now in power, along with Muslims it is the Dalits and Tribals who are at the receiving end of vicious attacks.

Maharashtra, a western state in India, has witnessed many such incidents. Recently, near Pune district, a family belonging to a scheduled tribe was subjected to such violence. We, in the Pune New Socialist Alternative, were approached and, along with other progressive organisations in the city, we are putting up a strong fight against it. The Manav family belongs to a ‘Kaikade’ caste. Historically, the caste hierarchy controlled the ownership over means of production and access to it. Those at the bottom of it were denied any such rights of ownership or access and hence were reduced to tasks of physical slavery. A few castes were condemned to doing menial jobs while others had to make a living by hunting, begging or even by resorting to theft and looting. The ‘Kaikade’ caste has been making a living by rearing pigs. The animal is considered filthy and the profession is a stigma. Nonetheless, that’s what they are condemned to by generations of caste hierarchy.

With gradual changes and the adoption of some limited progressive measures, after a bitter fight by Dalit and left forces against caste oppression, a few from such lower rungs of society now get the opportunity of a higher education.

The Manav family
Girish, the elder son of the Manav family, living at Narayangaon village around two and a half hours from Pune managed to move to the city and with his talent got a scholarship with financial aid and successfully completed an Engineering degree.

This education means a lot to people like the Manavs and inculcates a new sense of self-esteem and self-respect. But this very change can, however, significantly upset those upper caste feudal minds that see it as a disrespect to the established hierarchy, thus inviting their envy and wrath. This, along with a few other socio-economic reasons, led to the Sarpanch (Headman) of the village turning hostile against the family. On 23rd January, scores of pigs belonging to the family were poisoned by his henchmen, inflicting enormous financial damage on the family. It was not just the financial loss but a whole episode of terrorising the family.

Obviously, with the newly elected Sarpanch himself acting as mastermind, fellow villagers hesitated to extend help to the family because they were threatened not to. In a way the whole family was isolated. The police also turned a deaf ear initially and actively worked with Sarpanch, threating the victims themselves. The family was left in deep shock and isolation. Girish had the courage to pursue the matter and met few of the community leaders from Pune district.

All those efforts did not bear much fruit. Sarpanch - belonging to Shivsena, a ruling ally of the BJP - had greased the palms of the right authorities and exercised his political clout to completely paralyse any moves that could bring him to justice. The family was increasingly finding itself at a dead end in taking it any further.

New attack
Months passed, and on the surface the situation appeared to be cooling down. But on 13th June, Sarpanch again hit back. This time he was complaining that pigs were causing a menace to the whole village. His henchmen picked up 20 or so of the family’s pigs in broad daylight, despite the family protesting. His henchmen even pushed and abused women who were opposing them. Now the family was almost broken both financially and emotionally.

It was against this backdrop that Girish approached us and a few progressive organisations in the city. Considering the gravity of the matter, we decided to put up a struggle against it. On 24th June, we called a press conference taking the case to the media. At the conference we announced a protest march on 26th June against such behaviour and calling for the immediate arrest and removal of Sarpanch and for strict measures to be taken against such atrocities.

On the day of the protest, a crowd of around 200 assembled and walked to the District Collector’s office with leaflets and banners. After the walk, we assembled and submitted our demands. This was well covered by the media and the authorities assured us they would take action. Nonetheless, knowing the authorities well and their red-tapeism, the struggle is far from over. In fact it needs to be further intensified to bring it to a successful conclusion.

Notwithstanding the hollow claims of India’s growth story, the vast majority of the population is completely untouched and still condemned to live in a state of slavery and servitude. Pune, one of the most developed cities in western India. From a bourgeois perspective this means it has many tall, glossy buildings, more elite cars, more plush shopping malls and multiplex cinemas. For the working class it means unbearable vehicle traffic, extreme pollution, living in slums and with health and education services beyond reach. And this place has, just a few hours away from it, a family having to rear pigs to survive which is being openly robbed.

How to explain such stark differences? Trotsky’s law of combined and uneven development could only explain such a phenomenon. Capitalism, far from removing these disparities and these pre-capitalist modes of exploitation, has only strengthened them. Hence for us the fight against caste oppression becomes a significant part of the fight to replace capitalism with a socialist society.