Inside Parliament | The simmering Dalit anger

BJP MP Udit Raj. File

BJP MP Udit Raj. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

On July 24, during Zero Hour, Bharatiya Janata Party MP and Dalit leader Udit Raj surprised his colleagues in the Lok Sabha by expressing his dismay — and that of other Dalits — at the appointment of retired Supreme Court Justice A.K. Goel as National Green Tribunal chairman even as he repeated his demand for the release of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad from jail.

Justice Goel was on the Supreme Court bench that had read down Section 18 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 to allow accused persons under the Act to apply for anticipatory bail (Section 18 barred persons accused of causing casteist injury and insult to Dalits from seeking anticipatory bail); he had also justified his controversial March 20 verdict in his farewell speech on July 6.

The countrywide protests and ensuing violence in the wake of the judgement leading to several deaths had forced the Centre to return to the Supreme Court for a review. Rewarding Justice Goel with a post-retirement job was seen as offensive by the Dalit community.

What, however, made Mr. Raj’s statement in Parliament noteworthy is that his is not a lone voice in the BJP today. There is growing unease among Dalit MPs, both in the ruling BJP as well as among its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, with the growing anger in the wider community at the increasing number of cases of atrocities against its members during the tenure of this government. With elections less than a year away, many are afraid they may not get re-elected.

On July 23, after a dinner meeting of the NDA’s Dalit MPs that he had called at his residence, Lok Jan Shakti Party President and Union Minister Ramvilas Paswan told journalists that the government — of which he is a part — shouldn’t have appointed Justice Goel as the Chairman of the green body, citing his part in the dilution of some stringent provisions of the SC/ST Act. This appointment, he stressed, had sent a “wrong message” to the community, and he would, therefore, lead a delegation of MPs to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon to apprise him about the issues discussed in the meeting on July 23. Mr. Paswan’s son, Chirag Paswan, who is also a Lok Sabha MP, also supported the demand.

On July 18, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh — who heads the panel of Ministers looking into Dalit-related issues — assured the Rajya Sabha during Question Hour that the government will not allow any right or privilege enjoyed by Dalits to be snatched away from them. He did so after CPI MP D. Raja drew attention to the dilution of the SC/ST Act, and asked what had been the follow-up to the Supreme Court ruling. “Our government has not diluted the Act,” Mr. Singh said, stressing that “the NDA government has not only amended the Act but rules, too,…more crimes have been brought under its ambit. ” However, the amendments have yet to be brought to Parliament: there has also been talk of an ordinance.

So, even as the no-confidence motion, the controversial Rafale deal and the government’s desire to push through the Triple Talaq Bill without the amendments demanded of it have dominated headlines about this current session of Parliament, the simmering Dalit anger has not been given as much notice. Dalit activists have already announced a countrywide bandh on August 9, on the lines of the massive protest they had held on April 2. Will the government only take notice when goaded?

Indeed, BJP Dalit MPs Sadhvi Savitri Bai Phule, Yashwant Singh and Chote Lal Karwar have in recent months gone public with their unhappiness, writing directly to the PM on the government’s handling of Dalit issues.

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Printable version | Aug 16, 2020 2:16:34 AM |

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