September 24, 2012 marked the 80th anniversary of the Poona Pact

The question of separate electorate for Dalits is more relevant today than it was in September 1932 when it became a flashpoint between Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, according to Dalit leaders who participated in a seminar on Monday.

Organised by the Karnataka Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Ambedkar Wada), the seminar was organised to mark the 80th anniversary of the Poona Pact between Ambedkar and Gandhi. The organisers of the event observed the anniversary as a ‘Black Day’ for the oppressed in India.

Background

It was on this day that B.R. Ambedkar gave in to Mahatma Gandhi, dropping his demand for separate electorate for Dalits. They signed a pact and agreed instead to having reserved seats for Dalits.

While in the present electoral system, everybody votes to select a leader even in a reserved constituency, the system of separate electorates would have allowed Dalits and other marginalised communities to become a separate constituency of voters.

Significance

DSS State secretary Mavalli Shankar said, “The issue of separate electorates grows in relevance with each scam. It becomes relevant every time a leader from the oppressed classes lets his people down.”

Pointing to leaders from marginalised sections such as minorities, Dalits and women, he said that these elected leaders might be a Muslim or a Dalit or a woman, but they are not representatives of these groups. They are just minions of the political party to which they belong. “When the Kambalapalli Dalit atrocity occurred, the Home Minister and the Additional Director-General of Police (Law and Order), the jurisdictional Police Inspector and Sub-Inspector were all Dalits, but they sold out to the dominant castes,” he pointed out.

Who decides

Rudrappa Annegowadi, former KAS officer and president of the Dalit Writers’ and Artists Association, said, “Even in reserved constituencies, dominant castes decide which Dalit should be given ticket. The Dalit leader most subservient to the “caste” Hindus are invariably chosen over the radical ones.”

Grassroots movement

Mr. Shankar, in fact, claimed that there is a grassroots movement across the country to renew the demand for separate electorates. “The oppressed sections are very angry and disillusioned with the present parliamentary system. In the last five years, I have noticed a lot of interest in the issue of separate electorates.”

‘More power to voter’

He added, “I am an advocate of separate electorate for women and minorities too and not just for Dalits. By giving more power in the hands of the voter, this system will bring about more democracy.”