"Ruling elite and their political representatives want Dalits to be relegated down social ladder"

A critical factor in the disempowerment and disenfranchisement of the Dalit community is their economic condition of not owning assets and the status of women is also directly linked to the land question, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member Brinda Karat said in Madurai on Wednesday.

Delivering the special address at the Dalit Women’s Right to Land State-level conference, she said that there is a very shameful spectacle happening in what is called as the temple of democracy - the Parliament, where one of the arms of affirmative action of reservation in promotion of jobs is being stalled through some sort of “match-fixing”in which certain members raise protests to stall the proceedings.

"This means that the ruling elite and their political representatives want Dalits to be relegated down the social ladder and remain bonded in social and economic terms to do menial jobs. We condemn that attitude and demand that the Bill be passed without any impasse”, said Ms. Karat.

The veteran Marxist leader opined that there is a big lacuna in the legal framework where there is no reservation in promotion in government jobs. It was because of the struggles and demands of Dalits across the nation that the present government had to bring a constitutional amendment to ensure promotion among Dalits.

Pro-capitalist and neo-liberal policies are eliminating even the basic minimum rights secured by Dalits, she said adding that there is no reservation in private jobs and government jobs are being privatized every day and if this continues, jobs for the oppressed will remain unguaranteed. Private companies need to be coerced and forced to provide reservation, she added.

Pointing out that the present caste system not only undermines the idea of equality but is antithetical to the concept of Indian democracy, she said that it was not the benevolence of the state but the militant struggles of Dalits and other likeminded parties that resulted in abolition of practices of untouchability to a certain extent.

At a time when livelihood opportunities are dwindling we need to concentrate on land rights and Dalits, however under the neoliberal framework, the critical issue of land reforms and land distribution have been pushed to a corner. Land belonging to Dalits are being confiscated for Special Economic Zones and other transnational corporations.

Vested interests do not want the Dalits to own land and other assets as it would affect their production process where they will not be able to find labourers at cheap cost.

Citing the case of West Bengal, she said that when land reforms were implemented, 50 per cent of 13 lakh acres of land were given to Dalit families, out of which 37.5 per cent were given to either Dalit women or as joint ownership of pattas. Because of the right to land, women in Bengal were able to defy the patriarchal norms and boundaries and were able to enter public and political spheres.

Seven-time MLA A. S. Ponnammal was felicitated with an award. In her speech, she said that women should be encouraged to enter politics and shared her political experience and recollected some memorable moments in her career.

A. Kathir, executive director, Evidence, spoke about the objective of the conference where he mentioned how the Panchami lands meant for Dalits were still eluding them for almost a century.

C. Chellappan, former member, National SC/ST Commission and Advocate Ezhil Carolin, Dalit women activist also spoke.

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