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Ambedkarisation and Assertion of Dalit Identity

Socio-Cultural Protest in Meerut District of

Western Uttar Pradesh
Jagpal Singh

The dalits of western Uttar Pradesh, particularly the jatavs, have resorted to diverse means to register
their protest and also achieve improvement in their living standards. Religious conversion, supporting
mainstream political parties or parties having dalit leadership and launching socio-cultural organisations
are some of the strategies adopted by the jatavs to redress their grievances. Though, currently, the Bahujan
Samaj Party commands the allegiance of a large number of jatavs, it should not be overlooked that the
roots of self-assertion of jatavs of western UP go back to the process of Ambedkarisation initiated by the
Republican Party of India in the 1960s.

THIS paper seeks to study the impact of dalits are dependent on the rural rich. The they are not provided with water from the
ideas and life of B R Ambedkar on jatavs relationships of dependence are of two tubewells of the rural rich [Singh 1992].
or chamars - politically most conscious and types: first, mutual, two-sided, and second, Even assertion of cultural or political
assertive among dalits - in Meerut district one-sided. In the mutual dependence the identity of dalits, which is expressed
of western Uttar Pradesh. It is primarily dalits and the rural rich depend on each through installation of Ambedkar's statues,
based on several trips which I took during other in particular processes or phenomena taking out processions to mark celebration
1992-94 to some villages of Meerut, espe- involving the relationships of dependence. of his birthday, etc, is met with opposition
cially Maithana Inder Singh, Khanauda, The existence of such relationships often resulting in caste clashes, leading to
Jalalabad URF (alias) Jalalpur, Palhera, depends on their mutual interests. In such imposition of sanctions against the dalits.
Ulakhpur and Nanglea Hareru, The first cases of dependence the dalits can bargain The harassment/oppression of rural dalits
four villages fall under Sardhana assembly with the rural rich. But in the case of one- gets minimised to a large extent in the
and Muzaffarnagar parliamentary consti- sided dependence on the rural rich - for villages where they have some alternative
tuencies and the rest two are located in cutting grass from the fields, defecating means of livelihood either because of the
Hastinapur assembly (reserved) and in the fields, passing through the bound- nearness to the main city or due to, the
Meerut-Mawana parliamentary constituen- aries of the fields, throwing garbage - the availability of some cottage industry at the
cies. These villages are of special dalits cannot bargain. The existence of village level. This is also true of those
significance from the point of view of dalit one-sided dependence depends on the villages, where they form a large section
protest and assertion of their political discretion of the rural rich. The relation- of population and have alternative means
identity.1 ships of dependence get reflected in social, of livelihood, and the villages which have
economic and political relations between the zamindari background. The presence
I the dalits and the rural rich. The former of these factors, however, does not
Dependency of Rural Dalits are not allowed to cast votes, their women eliminate the harassment/oppression of
are molested and raped, they are forced the dalits completely. Such alternatives
In Meerut jatavs form the most numerous to do begar, they are asked to behave do not eliminate all kinds of dependence.
section of the rural poor - wage labourers, 'properly'. In Meerut, like in many parts But the harassment/oppression/exploit-
poor and small peasants and milk sellers. of western UP and Haryana, the relation- ation of the dalits is more intense in the
The Census of India, 1931 returns jatavs ships of one-sided dependence play more villages which have the bhaichara
or chamars 12.67 per cent as the largest decisive role in determining the social, background.3
among the low castes in Meerut district. economic and political relations between
They equal jats, 12.13 per cent in the the rural rich and rural poor [Singh II
district - the largest among the dominant/ 1992:65-86]. Forms of Dalit Protest
high castes. A survey conducted in eight The dalits protest against the oppression/
villages of Meerut in 1984-85 show the exploitation through "every day forms of From the late 1970s, there has been a
scheduled castes of whom jatavs are the resistance', informally organised ways, tremendous growth in the consciousness
largest as 27.04 per cent, OBCs as 25.72 litigation or political intervention. The among the dalits about the ideas and life
per cent and jats as 16.49 per cent of the rural rich oppose the resistance/protest of of B R Ambedkar - a process which for
population [Singh 1992:14.46]. The socio- the dalits by imposing sanctions against the sake of brevity can be termed as
economic conditions of dalits in Meerut the latter: they are not allowed to defecate Ambedkarisation. In many villages,
are related to the nature of their relation- in the fields, to cut grass from their fields, committees, schools, libraries named after
ships with the rural rich-landlords, and are prevented from passing through the Ambedkar have been set up, and his statues
rich and middle peasants, who mostly boundaries of their fields, asked to pay the have been installed. April 14, Ambedkar's
belong to the high/middle/dominant debt then and there itself; and in case of birthday, is celebrated with fervour and
castes - jats, gujars, tyagis, rajputs, the small and poor peasants - they, are gaiety: plays exposing discriminatory caste
brahmans and Muslims high castes.2 The deprived of the basic agricultural amenities, system/Hindu religion/culture, are staged;

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998 2611

prabhat pheries and processions, in the ers in aided and unaided schools,5 poor Another Buddhist convert, a government
accompaniment of singing of songs and peasants and wage labourers. They get employee in the railways said:
slogans in praise of Ambedkar are taken support of all age groups in this socio-
On 6th December, 1956, when Ambedkar
out The processionists exhort dalits to economic movement. died; my father said "Dr Mar Gaye" (Dr
read Ambedkar literature, not to In the perception of many dalits is no more). He could not even pronounce
compromise on dignity, to greet each other Ambedkar was discriminated against by the name of Dr Ambedkar. I was in class
with 'Jai Bhim' rather than with 'Ram the leaders of the national movement, 1st at that time. Since thenIbecame curious
Ram' or 'Namaste'. Children who excel particularly M K Gandhi. Differences of to know about Dr Ambedkar - came to
in studies or sports are given prizes.4 Ambedkar and Gandhi over the Poona know about him, read about him. Since
This is the second phase of Amebedkar- pact, the latter's view on varna system are then I became admirer of Dr Ambedkar,
isation in which the second and third seen as an attempt to retain caste system, read his literature...converted (to Buddhism)
generations of dalits born after independ- and as a humiliation of Ambedkar by at the time of Ambedkar Jayanti in 1978.
ence play the leading role. The first phase Gandhi. Gandhi's coining of the term Although many of the dalits have not
was led by the first generation of dalits 'Harijan' is seen as derogatory. 6 The converted, they do not appreciate Hindu
under banner of the Republican Party of criticism of Gandhi by the BSP leader religion. Some express desire to convert
India in the 1960s. [For RPI movement Mayawati for using the term 'Harijan' or at an 'appropriate' time.
in UP see Duncan 1979; Lynch 1969: vandalism at Gandhi's samadhi in Delhi The dalit protest against the dominant
137-63]. With the prominent RPI leader a few years ago or the threat of a BSP culture can also be observed in their search
B P Maurya joining the Congress in 1971, leader from UP to boycott 125th Gandhi for an alternative mode of idol worship
the RPI movement petered out. Regarding birth anniversary need to be seen in this and construction of temples. Setting up
the adverse impact of Maurya's departure context. Some dalits even give credence their 'own' temples named after Valmiki,
to the Congress, one activist of Jatav to the rumour that Ambedkar was poisoned Ambedkar or Ravi Das by dalits is not
Mahasabha and active Janata Dal member by his brahmin wife. uncommon. Interestingly, as part of the
said, "Maurya Saheb destroyed the RPI Influenced by Ambedkarisation, the Ambedkarisation process, the first attempt
by joining the Congress. (He) deceived dalits question the Hindu caste system, in some villages has been to construct
the (dalit) society. (He) dissolved the party which they identify with Hindu religion. Ambedkar or Ravi Das temples. For
at his level". Some of them have converted to Buddhism, example in one village, first a temple in
However, some dalits who were inspired which they feel gives them dignity and the name of Ravi Das was constructed on
by the RPI, converted to Buddhism. Those equality. As the impact of Ambedkar's the premises of the house of a dalit, and
who became school teachers, lawyers, ideas continues to grow from the late 1950s, after some months Ambedkar's bust was
government employees or remained so does the process or need for conversion also placed there. Now there is an
landless workers continued to preach the to Buddhism.7 Affected by the powerful Ambedkar/Ravi Das temple in the village.
ideals of Ambedkar. For example, Master ideology of Ambedkarism, social discrimi- Construction of such temples by dalits and
Amar Singh of Nagla Hareru village, who nation at general level and personal ex- their observance of Hindu rituals in
converted to Buddhism as result of RPI perience of it prompt some of the dalits marriages, celebration of Holi or Diwali
movement in the 1960s, was posted as a to convert. Master Asha Ram of Maithana prompts some critics to point out that the
school teacher in village Khanauda in Inder Singh village, now in his 50s, is a protesting dalits are not different from
1978-80. After the school, he daily devoted Buddhist convert. He is also the election whom they criticise: that the dalits too
his time to spreading Ambedkar's ideas. commissioner of Akhil Bharatiya Baudha believe in temples and idol worship, and
He used to distribute Ambedkar's literature, Sabha. He narrated how his personal have not discarded Hindu rituals. Such
discuss the relevance of Ambedkar's ideas experience of humiliation in 1965 ulti- criticism takes Ambedkarisation or
and need to discard Hindu religion. He was mately led him to convert in 1989. Socio-cultural protest as an absolute
not supported by most dalits at that time. phenomenon, and not a process which is
In 1965,I was a teacher in a school of my
But today there is a statue of Ambedkar reflection of protest. In fact, the need to
village. The school teachers got the
in the village, there also exists an Ambedkar invitation to attend a marriage party in the construct alternative temples is reminiscent
committee, and Ambedkar's birth an- family of a high caste. After we finished of Adi Hindu and bhakti movements
niversary is observed in the village with eating, among all the staff members, only which took place in some districts of UP
fervour and gaiety. An Ambedkar Bhavan I was asked to lift my pattal (plate made or of tiyya's (low caste) movement to start
also is under construction in this village. of leaves). Being an educated person, I felt the community of Worshippers of equals
The second generation of dalits which insulted. Then I realised that the Hindu against Nayyar's (high caste) control over
joined the colleges and universities in the society (read religion) is plagued with the shrink worship in north Malabar in the
1970s learned more about Ambedkar's prejudice: a shudra, howsoever, educated late 19th and early 20th centuries [Guptoo
views. They worked to impart his ideas he may be, does not have dignity. On the
1993; Menon 1993]. There, however, does
contrary, a high caste person, who is
among the dalits of their villages. But not seem to be any obvious link between
uneducated, is respected, considered worth
many of them could not continue to work the search for alternative mode of worship
worshipping. Having realised, this, I read
in the villages, for they had to leave villages about Islam, did notfindequality in it; met of the present time in Meerut with that of
seeking jobs outside. However, their work a Giani Ji to know about Sikh religion. the early 20th century. They prefer to be
had some impact in giving rise to the third They (Sikhs) also have some, sort of referred to as 'jatvas' a more respectable
generation of Ambedkar's followers. This hierarchy. Taking inspiration from Master and acceptable term, rather than chamars
third generation includes students from Amar Singh, who converted to Buddhism [Singh 1993:326].
school to college levels, college and school sometime in the 1960s, I converted to Some dalits, however, despite their
drop-outs, government employees, teach- Buddhism in 1989. admiration for Ambedkar, consider the

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998

pacifism of Buddhism as a weakness. But Two points are noteworthy in this shaven off, he attributed it to his illness.
this does not dampen their urge to convert. context. First, the conversion to Sikh But some villagers told me that he was
Having rejected Buddhism as an alternative religion started in village Nagla Hareru, pressurised to do so by his brother, who
to Hinduism, some of them have converted a village where some dalits had converted is a government employee and who feared
to Sikhism. to Buddhism under the impact of RPI that after conversion his progeny would
While the conversion to Buddhism took movement of the 1950s and 1960s. lose the benefits jatavs (SCs) are entitled
place because of ideological reasons - Second, this village is dominated by to. Some ex-converts in Ulakhpur village
inspiration from the ideas of Ambedkar, Muslims and not by Hindu high castes. said that they had to get their hair and
and personal humiliation-proselytisation A conflict between the jatavs and Muslims beard cut due to the practical reasons; they
to Sikhism occurred because of security in the election of village pradhan in 1988 were criticised within their caste. Since
reasons. Security became the main concern provided the provocation and backdrop some of them happen to be poor peasants
of Jatvas against the attacks on them by for conversion. Incensed by the audacity and wage labourers, growing hair proved
the goons of Muslim landlords in village of jatavs to contest for the post of to be inconvenient. Some of them said
Nagla Hareru.8 Finding the pacifism of pradhan, the hired goons of Muslim that they were denied jobs in Meerut city,
Buddhism a hindrance to their security landlords let loose terror on the jatavs of being suspected as Sikh militants.
(which they could experience through the village. The incident took place when There is reconsideration on part of some
some Buddhist converts of their village), most of the jatav male members had gone Buddhist converts about the conversion.
the militancy of Sikhs at the time of Punjab to Mawana town to hear the counting of Regarding this some Buddhists said that
movement, encouraged many jatavs to election for village Pradhan. The goons following Buddhism was not easy; one
convert to Sikh religion in Nagla Hareru fired from the roof tops. Regarding the loses the status of scheduled caste for
in 1988-89. The news of conversion spread reasons of conversion and its impact on getting reservation and other concessions9
to other villages. This attracted a large their status, a Sikh convert from Sethawali and it is difficult to follow principles of
number of dalit onlookers to this village village said: Buddhism. One of them criticised some
from various villages as well as Sikh and Ambedkarites: "They follow Ambedkar
(prior to conversion), we were not
Hindu militants from outside. Shiv Sainiks respected: whoever wanted to beat us; of pre-1956 period". He opines that though
opposed the conversion. A situation of could do so. We would always weep conversion to Buddhism gives honour and
near confrontation between Sikhs and Shiv because of the atrocities of jats, One of dignity, if some reforms are introduced
Sainiks arose. Because of the efforts of the the youths recently murdered (by jats) within Hindu religion, there will not be
Sikhs, the onlookers were allowed to enter belonged to our village. Police dilly-dallies any need to renounce it. He said;
Nagla Hareru. As to how he converted to in apprehending the murderers...we If prejudices (rudhivadita) of Hindu
Sikh religion, one of the Sikh converts become victims of police atrocitie...we religion are removed, it can be reformed.
from Maithana Village on January 3,1994 thought there is only one way to be safe: Dalits can stop going to other religions;
said; convert to Sikhism (Sikh ban jao). Now there will not be any need for proselyti-
nobody will say that I am chamar. My sation, Hindu religion needs reformation.
On January 26, five years ago, I became status has been elevated in other's eyes. I have already changed my religion. Now
a Sikh. I went to see what was happening (Dusrron ki Nazron Mein Meri Izzat I cannot become Hindu again.
in Nagla Hareru... People from outside went Barh Gayi Hat) [Deep 1989; emphasis
to see conversion ceremony...I did not go It is noteworthy that both Buddhist and
there to become a Sikh, I saw Shiv Sainiks Sikh converts are critical of each other,
preventing people (dalit onlookers who Conversion to Sikh religion evoked a The former accuse the Sikh of being
had come from outside) from entering mixed reaction from the relatives, family influenced by militancy. The latter accuse
Nagla Hareru, Sikhs thwarted the attempts members and caste of the converts, and the Buddhists of being docile and pacifist.
of Shiv Sainiks, and they (onlookers) were from society and some dalit politicians. They also say that Buddhism is not a
allowed to enter the village. If was because Arya Samaj organised a three-day religion; it is politics.
of Sikhs that we were allowed to enter the shuddikaran (purification) in order to Even prior to, i e, Ambedkarisation and
village Nagla Hareru, Then I also decided reconvert 4neo-Sikhs' to Hindu religion. political assertion of dalits, from the, late
to become a Sikh. I became a Sikh (Amrit Piqued by the shuddikaran one Sikh 1970s to 1990s, there have been two types
convert remarked, "have we become of protests on issues relating to dalits in
Several dalits converted to Sikhism in impure by having become Sikhs?'' [Deep Meerut district in the post-independence
1988-89 in villages - Pabla, Chhota, 1989], Because of this pressure, some of period. First, dalits were mobilised by the
Mawana, Rahawati, NayaGaon, Kishorpur, them have reconverted to Hindu religion. professional politicians as a section of the
Khaladpur, Nagla Hareru and many other One Congress politician unsuccessfully rural poor, and not as an exclusive social
villages of Meerut, Ghaziabad, Bijnore and attempted to prevent the conversion of 29 group. The issues relating to dalits were
Muzaffarnagur districts of western UP. On dalits to Sikhism in one village; one convert part of their broad agendas. The non-
November 27, 1988, 50 jatavs and on told me that this politician warned that Congress Parties - socialists (SP, PSP,
January 26,1989,290jatavs converted to conversion would reduce the number of SSP) and CPI mobilised them through
Sikh religion in Nagla Hareru. On Apri1 29, dalits, and that he had even brought the hunger strikes, demonstrations or satya-
1989, foundation of a gurudwara was laid police to the village to thwart the plan of grahas on wide range of issues - distri-
by Akali Dal leader Lt Gen Jagjit Singh conversion. One convert in Maithana bution of gaon Samaj land, arrangement
Arora in this village [Deep 1989; 14-27]. Inder Singh village, who got his hair and of ration, abolition of begar, provision for
Most of these villages fall in Mawana beard shaven off still expressed his better wages, curb on inflation, protection
tehsil of Meerut district and Hastinapur adherence to faith in Sikh religion. When from the socio-economic harassment by
reserved assembly constituency. asked why he got his hair and beard the landowning classes, and problems

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998 2613

caused due to recurrent natural calamities neighbour's house. In my discussion with Though the need for formation of such
in period between 1957 and 1964, and villagers, they often referred to the TV organisations is ubiquitously felt, some-
1972; floods due to heavy rain, food news or the vernacular newspapers. For times certain incidents, like dispute
scarcity caused by the attacks of Pyrilla example, in Maithana Inder Singh village, between jatavs and dominant castes
and locusts. The late 1950s and 1960s also JD-turned BSP supporters referred to (mostly jats) which is a common feature
witnessed the mobilisation of dalits by the televised 'debate' between a BSP leader in the region, provide immediate reasons
RPI mainly on the issues of land to the and BJP leader when the assembly election for setting up the organisations. For
tiller and minimum statutory wages. The results of 1993 were being declared. example, the highhandedness of the
Congress on the other hand adopted three- They gloated over the fact that the BSP Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) supporters
fold policy regarding the dalits and rural leader's performance was better in the forcing dalits to join the BKU agitation
poor; (a) it cashed in on the embittered 'debate'. Similarly, the supporters and was an immediate reason for foundation
relations between the dalits and the opponents of Mandal Commission report of the BMU.10
landowning classes, (b) it propagated its followed the TV news in 1990s, or news The Jatav Mahasabha is also one such
policies and 'achievements' among them, about renaming of Marathwada University organisation. Founded in 1982,11 its
and (c) it dissuaded them from participating after the name of B R Ambedkar. There founder Jagdish Prasad claims that it has
in agitational politics [Singh 1992:93-95]. is also surprising rise in the readership of branches in Bulandshahr, Agra, Lucknow
The second type of protest took place vernacular newspapers and magazines, and some other districts of UP, Jagdish
at the initiative of the rural poor, including particularlyofDainikJagran, Amar Ujala Prasad was a Pradhan of his village when
the dalits or jatavs, though the outside and Maya, among the villagers. he was inspired to set up Jatav Mahasabha,
forces like politicians, activists and the III taking one from the Gujar Mahasabha
press got involved at a later stage. The which came to his notice when he visited
protest was against their social, economic Socio-Cultural Organisation a village near Shahadra. The Jatav
and political oppression and was expressed of Dalits Mahasabha became very active on the
through "every day forms of resistance". issue of Maithana episode.12 in 1984. The
This type of protest emanates from the Not only do the dalits now want a party Mahasabha held panchayats (meetings) in
nature of agrarian relations or from the based on dalit ideology, they also set up several villages. Its membership is open
relationships of dependence as alluded to cultural and social organisations, ie, Dalit only to jatavs. It is apolitical in that it does
in Section I. Jat-chamar clashes in western Sangharsh Vahini/Dalit Sena/Dalit not have any political affiliation, but its
UP owe a lot to the phenomena of depend- Sangharsh Samiti/Bharatiya Mazdoor membership is open to jatavs belonging
ence, resistance and sanctions at the Union (BMU)/Ambedkar Kalyan to different political parties, Rules and
village level. Such protest takes place Samittee/Ambedkar Committees/Jatav regulations of Jatav Mahasabha lay down
every day in one or another form since Mahasabha, etc. Some of these organi- that five jatavs from every village elect
oppression/exploitation takes place every sations have open or clandestine political their president; and each jatav house
day- affiliations (for example, Dalit Sena is donates one rupee. There is a mukhiya for
affiliated to Janata Dal and is patronised eight villages a president for a district, a
INCREASING MEDIA LITERACY chief to wook over 51 villages, and one
by Ram Vilas Paswan), while some claim
Apart from the legacy of the RPI to be 'apolitical'. Some of them exist for regional president (adhyaksha). The aims
movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, short period and then disappear to reappear of the Mahasabha are: protection of jatavs
media explosion into the rural areas in the under different name. Their social base is from the atrocities; removal of social evils,
1980s along with the rise of an educated same and even their membership overlaps. dowry, harassment of women, setting up
section among the dalits, though many of Whatever may be their differences in educational institutions and technical
them school and college drop-outs, has terms of party affiliations, or in loyalty service centres. To give an instance, the
contributed to their awareness about the to one or the other national level dalit leader, Mahasabha intervened in a case of one-
happenings in the country, about asserting modus operandi of raising dalit problems, sided divorce. The family of the groom
their identity and protecting their self- they share common concern: to raise the was penalised to pay Rs 20,000 to the
respect and dignity. These factors have issues related to socio-economic problems bride's family. The groom was socially
sharpened/moulded their perception vis- of dalits and their adoration for Ambedkar. boycotted. The groom abode by the
a-vis their social position, political It is noteworthy that except for a short decision of the Mahasabha, After a few
potential and 'others'. Up to the late 1970s period of RPI movement, as mentioned months, however, his social boycott was
and early 1980s radio was the main source earlier, the issues relating to dalits from lifted.
of information. But those possessing radio the 1950s to early 1970s were raised by Whenever necessary the office bearers
sets rarely listened to the news: their main the professional politicians generally of the Jatav Mahasabha hold a meeting,
i merest used to be to listen to entertainment belonging to non-dalits. The dalit issues and the decision is conveyed to dalits of
programmes and programmes for villagers. were part of their broad agendas. The all villages. Interestingly, even in the
The arrival of television in the 1980s situation assumed a different turn from the absence of any initiative from these
encouraged media explosion; telecast of late 1970s: now, the dalits took initiative organisations, jatavs hold meetings
'Ramayana' serial prompted many of them to raise their issues either through different through informal mobilisation. Such
to purchase TV sets. Now the villagers organisations or at individual level. They meetings discuss urgent matters relating
keep track of emotive and controversial seem to be exclusivist in nature. If at all to disputes over land, caste, harassment
issues. There are television sets almost in non-dalits or political forces intervene, of women, etc.13
every locality of villages: those who do they do so at the later stage. This was not The Dalit Sena, unlike the Jatav
not possess TV set, watch television in the the case till the mid-1970s. Mahasabha is not apolitical. It was set up

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998

in western UP in 1986-87. The need for A jatav BJP member of this village, who 'hegemony' in politics and administration,
it was felt when Ram Vilas Paswan unsuc- is a member of the municipal council of and empowerment of the 'bahujans'.
cessfully contested Bijnore parliamentary Meerut, claimed that Palhera has 50-60 Ambedkarism goes beyond that: it is
election. Although membership is open RSS members including some jatavs. ideological; it attempts to demolish Hindu
to all 'dalits' (OBCs, SCs and Muslims), Starting his political career as a 'social system and provide an alternative. The
it is by and large dominated by jatavs. worker', this jatav BJP member entered BSP can ally with any political party
Dalit Sena launched Dalit Siksha the BJP via Congress. He, however, wanted irrespective of its ideology including the
Andolan in September 1991 (The Times to join the BSP, Although he respects BJP for getting power. In this connection,
of India, February 1,1992) in eastern UP. Ambedkarism, he questions the honesty while studying the BSP in Jaunpur district
But no such attempt was made by it in of those who converted to Buddhism. of UP, one scholar quotes Kanshi Ram
western UP. When told about such He expressed his views about Ambedkar from one of his interviews:
movement in eastern UP, the Dalit Sena and Buddhist converts in the following I hate JD and regard V P Singh as the
general secretary and its activists of western way: greatest enemy of dalits. In fact, if it
UP pleaded ignorance. Their main concern comes to choice between JD and the
in western UP has been to take up the Babasaheb (Ambedkar) did not convert.
He only changed his sect (panth). He did BJP, I would prefer the latter. If I had
issues relating to the social harassment agreed to such a political pact, V P Singh
not adopt other religion, foreign religion,
of dalits, and prepare them for their would not have been occupying the centre
Babasaheb did not leave Hindu religion.
empowerment. stage [Lieten 1994:778-79; emphasis
Boddh religion is part of Hindu religion.
IV One does not know what were the
circumstances under which he (Ambedkar) The BSP has taken ambivalent stance
Competing for Dalit Vote Bank
converted. (He) did not live long after on the dalit-middle caste conflicts
Assertionofdalit identity is also reflected conversion. Had Babasaheb been alive depending on its political expedience. It
in their aspiration to rally behind a party now, perhaps he might have thought about has highlighted the harassment of dalits
of their own. From 1977 onwards dalits his conversion. as much as it has underplayed it. But it
have shifted from the Congress to JP, JD, The followers of Babasaheb did not adopt has shown no concern for the issues relat-
SP and BSP. In the 1960s they shifted to his views. The scheduled castes even today ing to land reforms [Mishra 1994a:723;
the RPI. In fact, even when they had formed follow Hindu customs and rituals. Where Lieten 1994:779]. It is mainly concerned
a part of the Congress' social base, they has all the talk of Buddhism gone? with the improvement of 'bahujan'. It can
had felt the need to have the party of their The believers of Buddhism are used to do so even at the cost of minority sentiments.
excessive intoxication. Babasaheb had
'own' Despite their appreciation for the Mayawati's reported statement that the
opposed intoxication.
Congress policies, a feeling grew among Muslims are traitors, and the BSFs pres-
them that the Congress was a party of high Having entered the electoral politics in surising the UP chief minister Mulayam
castes: it was using them as a vote bank, 1985 assembly elections with independent Singh Yadav to take action against ex-
A section of them had shifted to a party candidates and later in the parliamentary minister, Masood Ahmad, through the so-
which was led by the leader of their caste elections in Bijnore and Hardwar seats, called anti-defection rally of the BSP held
or was supported by national dalit leader. the BSP did not take much interest in in Lucknow on July 10, 1994, illustrate
But as soon as the new alternative dis- western UP. Before 1996 elections, jatavs this attitude.
satisfied them as when their leader joined also remained divided between the JD and It must be noted that when the BSP held
a mainstream political party and their the SP (BSP's ally in 1993 election. The anti-defection rally, the BJP adopted a
party ceased to exist, they swung back to BSP is adored by jatavs, a section of dalits. conciliatory stance towards the BSP, In
the Congress. When B P Maurya merged Its rise is different from that of RPI, JD a conciliatory tone Kalyan Singh, the
the RPI with the Congress or when the and alternatives to the Congress. The main present chief minister of UP, said: "We
Janata Party disintegrated in the late 1970s, concern of the RPI was ideological and have political differences with the BSP,
they had shifted back to the Congress political; it not only attacked the Hindu still in principle we support the cause for
[Singh 1992: chapter VI]. system and advocated conversion to which they are organising their July 10
The relatively better performance of the Buddhism, it also took up the issues relating rally in the State capital" (The Hindustan
BJP in western UP in 1993 election seemed to dalits' social and economic amelioration. Times, July 7, 1994). The BSP, however,
to have blurred the influence of JD, SP It combined social issues with economic did not respond to the BJP's conciliatory
and BSP. In fact, the performance of the radicalism [Duncan 1979:245-47,250-54]. stance. But it kept its option open. This
BJP should not lead one to lose sight of For the BSP, on the other hand, the main is in contrast to the ideology of the RPI
the parties which tend to mobilise the concern is empowerment of the (Ambedkarism) which might be averse to
dalits, No doubt, the BJP has fared better. 'bahujans'. 15 an alliance with the party aiming to work
But it has not penetrated all sections of Unlike the philosophy of Ambedkar, for Hindu religion.16
Hindus equally. And the jatavs have been the BSP does not provide a critique of The BSP not only reflects an ideology
the least affected by the BJP. 14 They hinduism. Nor does it provide an alternative to challenge the high caste domination, it
identify the BJP with Hindu religion, high to Hindu system through protest like also reflects the emergence of a politically
castes and party based on ideas which are conversion. It, however, does speak against ambitious section among dalits. While
contrary to Ambedkarism, However, in the caste system, but it does so only against everybody swears in the name of Ambedkar
some villages, a section of dalits has the casteism of high castes. Understandably and promises to get social justice to dalits,
become supporters and sympathisers of it does not speak against reverse casteism. there are many who would support/join
the BJP. In village Palhera, for example, Against this backdrop, the BSP can be any party provided they get some political
there is branch of the BJP and the RSS. content with the replacement of high caste mileage out of it. Their first option

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998 2615

obviously is to side with the party which It is worth emphasising that the To sum up, the socio-cultural protest of
apparently claims to espouse the cause of popularity of the BSP among the dalits did dalits and assertion of their political identity
dalits. Those denied entry by one party, not emerge out of its own efforts to work operates at various levels. At the village
would not have any compunction to switch among them. Unlike the RPI of the 1950s level' it finds expression in "everyday
over to any party even if its ideology is and 1960s, it did not take up the question forms of resistance", through informal
not in consonance with dalit issues. There- of land reforms. Nor did it take up the means, through litigation, etc. Politically,
fore, there exists political contradictions cultural issues such as reflected in the protest expresses itself in the form of
among the emergent dalit sections. Ambedkarism. In fact, it was much before search for an alternative: their own socio-
The BSP which did not take special the arrival of the BSP on the scene that cultural organisations, political parties or
interest in western UP after the elections the dalits started asserting in western UP leaders. In cultural field, it is expressed
of Bijnore and Hardwar, started doing so As mentioned earlier, they have been in through adherence to and emulation of
within a few months of forming the SP- search of a political alternative to the Ambedkarism, sometimes resulting in
BSP government in UP, It took note of Congress from the 1960s itself; in 1960s conversion; through setting up temples of
the process of Ambedkarisation that has they shifted their support to the RPI; in Ambedkar or Ravi Das. Some times, the
taken root in the region. It is in this context 1977 they voted for the Janata Party protest results in caste-clashes. The issues
that Mayawati's statements about Gandhi because the dalit leader Jagji van Ram had related to dalit protest and their identity
have to be viewed. Disputes over the instal- joined the party; in 1989 they shifted to sometimes are picked up by the dalit
lation of Ambedkar's statues, celebration Janata Dal. Now with the arrival of the organisations, individuals, and political
of his birth day are becoming quite BSP, they have rallied behind it. As soon parties and extended up to the district
common, The Shergarh incident of April as the alternative ceased to exist of the level.
1994, resulting in the scuffle between the dalits lost faith in it. the dalits fell back In the 1950s and 1960s, the dalits were
administration and dalits spurred dalits upon the Congress. Their support to the mainly mobilised by the non-Congress
leaders of various parties to cash on it. BSP had come at a time when the Congress parties. Issues relating to them were the
There seemed to be a competition among has almost completely disintegrated. It part of their broad agendas for the rural
the BSP, JD or Dalit Sena and BJP dalit will depend on future developments that poor or the weaker sections. Dalit issues
leaders to woo the dalits.17 The Hastinapur if the BSP fails to satisfy dalits, as to whom did not form a separate or specific part of
assembly by-election in May 1994, pro- will they align with: whether new political agenda. Even the RPI combined the social
vided impetus to these leaders to exploit groups will emerge or whether intra-dalit issues with economic radicalism. But
the Shergarh incident. politics will take some shape. during last one-and-a-half decade, the
Although the BSP did not fare well in Even as the dalits have been looking for issues relating to dalit protest and their
western UP in 1993 election, its per- alternative political parties, they have set identity have gained priority on the agendas
formance in the rest of UP, enabling it to up cultural and social organisations. These of dalit socio-cultural and political organi-
form coalition government with the SP in organisations are reflection of growing sations, intellectuals and some political
the SP-BSP in the state, endeared it to awareness among dalits, an impact of the parties like BSP and the Janata Dal. The
several dalits. Many of them expressed process of Ambedkarisation, What is BSP arrived at a time when the dalits were
dismay over the BSP's lack of interest in significant about these organisations, already affected by the process of
western UP in 1993 elections. One of its unlike the political parlies, is that while Ambedkarisation. It did not initiate any
sympathisers and Jatav Mahasabha activist the priority of the political party is to get cultural movement among them. Nor has
from Jalalpur village said; power, these social and cultural organi- it taken up the issues of land reforms. Its
sation fight against social, economic, priority is power, not the economic and
Perhaps there was some lacuna at the
political and cultural discrimination of cultural issues. For the sake of power it
political level. They (BSP leaders) did not
make any attempt (to seek the votes of dalits. can compromise with any political
dalits of Meerut or western UP). (They) The BSP did not start with any concern formulation irrespective of the ideology
did not take the (dalit) political people into for the cultural change, Ambedkarisation
confidence. (They) did not even send their started much before the arrival of the BSP, Notes
manifesto to us. The BSP has in fact appealed to these [This is a revised version of my paper presented
In fact, a group of Jatav Mahasabha dalits who were already asserting their at the twenty sixth All India Sociological
cultural identity. Since dalits were looking Conference held on December 19-21 1994 at the
activists who had supported the JD in
for an alternative, the BSP has provided Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School
1993 had shown, after the election, their of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
fondness to support the BSP in future. them one, much like the earlier alternatives
New Delhi. I express my gratitude to Owen M
They appreciated the BSP for its efforts of RPI, Janata Party and Janata Dal. But Lynch and Gopal Guru for their suggestions and
to empower dalits. Encouraged by the the longevity of the BSP's support base comments.]
performance and popularity of BSP in UP, will depend on whether it would be able
1 Mainthana Inder Singh and Khanauda villages
they said: to satisfy the dalits. Otherwise it too consist of more than 50-60percent households
would go the way RPI did in the 1960s. of jatavs. In the former jats and rajputs are
We want power, not reservation. The 1993 However, the BSP, during its tenures the dominant castes and in the latter jats are
elections have shown us as to where we in the governments, took up the cultural such a caste The conditions of jatavs are
should go. This election has proved that issues by organising Periyar mela in relatively better in these villages, Ambedkar's
the BSP works for the harijans. Eleven birth day is celebrated with enthusiasm there.
Lucknow in 1995, and renaming districts
harijans have been made ministers (in It was in Mainthana Inder Singh that the Jatav
the SP-BSP government). Kanshi Ram is and places after Gautam Buddha, Jyotiba
Mahasabha was set up in 1982. It was also
another Ambedkar. JD has kept Paswan Phule, Shahu Maharaj and Mahamaya in here as in some other villages that jatavs of
with it to garner the votes of harijans. 1997. Meerut held a panchayat (meeting) regarding

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998

Shergarhi episode of March-April 1994 - an agrarian systems which existed during the October 14, 1994 tried to allay such fear.
incident involving jatav-administration pre-independence period, i e, 'bhaiachara' They argued that during the President's Rule
clashes. As per the decision of the panchayat, and zamindari Their legacy has different in UP, a circular was issued by the government
the jatavs had gheraoed police stations, took socio-economic, political and psychological that dalits's conversion to Buddhism would
out processions, resorted to road blockades, implications for various,agrarian classes [for not deprive them to their right to reservation
wore black badges, courted arrest, burnt the a discussion on differences between these and other concessions (The Times of India,
effigies of district officials, etc, in different systems and their implications, see Singh October 8,1994). Some scheduled castes who
pans of Meerut [Dainik Jagran, April 12, 1992:10-14, 65-86]. participated in the conversion ceremony in
1994]. In village Khanauda, besides the 4 Celebration of Ambedkar's birth day on April India still list themselves as Hindus in order
retaliation of jatavs against the 'oppression' 14' 1978 in Agra city, included, among other that they can claim the concessions given to
by jats in the recent and distant past, a new activities, a seven hour long parade passing the scheduled castes [Zelloit 1992:145-46]
development took place in 1993 assembly through the streets of Agra, with an elephant 10 Euphoria created by the BKU agitation
election: earlier in some elections, jats would carrying the portrait of Ambedkar. The parade spearheaded by Mehendra Singh Tikait over-
create problems for jatavs in casting vote, but was opposed by the high castes, which resulted shadowed an equally important agitation of
in this election it was other way round. An in the caste riots [Lynch 1981], dalits under the aegis of the Bharatiya
independent Jatav candidate who hails from 5 There has been a mushrooming growth of the Mazdoor Union (BMU) led by Jaipal Singh
this village contested for the Sardhana unaided and unrecognised schools in the last Mitharia. Starting against the highhandedness
assembly constituency and no caste other one-and-a-half decades in many villages of of the BMU supporters against dalits, the
than the jatavs could exercise their franchise. western UP. In the absence of recorded figures, BKU agitation resulted in jat-chamar clashes.
Opposition to prevention of jats and others it is difficult to know the exact number of This agitation provides one of the most
from voting possibly might have resulted in such schools. Some of these schools have important example of dalit protest and
bloodshed [for a profile of this village, see been set up by Ambedkar committees/ assertion of their political identity in western
Baruah 19831. Ambedkar welfare committees, as a part of UP [for details of the BMU agitation, see
Even village Jalalpur Urf Jalalabad, where their agendas [Singh 1995], Singh 1992:102-09].
the number of jatav households is smaller, 6 Giving their 'construction' of the tenn 'harijan', 11 This Jatav Mahasabha is different from the
Ambedkar jayanti is celebrated with gaiety some jatav (unaided) school teachers con- Jatav Mahasabha which was set up in Aligarh
and fervour This village has seen the assertion sidered the term derogatory to dalits. They in 1928, The latter was successor to Jatav
of political identity of the OBCs (mainly said: Men's Association, an Agra based organisa-
Sainis) in last one decade through the process In south and Maharashtra the illegitimate tion of the 1920s, It was mainly a city based
of communalisation and hinduisation. They children are called harijans. The daughters organisation. It was concerned mainly with
have shifted their support to the BJP as they of devdasis are kept in temples, and their two issues: one, change of the name of caste
felt that the Congress which they had supported sons are left in streets to fend for themselves. chamar to jatav. and two, nomination of its
earlier did not recognise their social and These off-springs of devdasis are called founder-member Paras Ram (its another
political identity, and the BJP has done that harijans... Otherwise why are only some founder-member was Inder Man), to the
[Singh 1992: 180-81].'The shift of Saini's castes called harijans? district board [Duncan 1979:165].
support from Congress to BJP is pointer to In Agra, the jatavs felt the term connotes 12 A dispute which took place between jatavs
certain trends in the new social movements the idea of being bastard and patronising and jats in Mainthana Inder Singh village is
of dalits and OBCs. Some jatavs of Palhera and benevolent attitude of upper castes known as Mainthana Kand (episode) The
are staunch supporters of the BJP and RSS. [Lynch 1969:31]. jatavs claimed the jat pradhan of the village
One of them is member of municipal council, For a discussion and usage of different had grabbed the village panchayat land. The
as this village falls under the municipal terms for the same group - untouchables, jatavs wanted to construct a temple on this
council, Meerut, Their allegiance to BJP seems depressed classes, scheduled castes, land and they gave a memorandum to the
to be more because of the political reasons harijans by dalits affiliated to various government in the name of Akhil Bharatiya
- an indication of political assertion, than political ideologies [Zelliot 1992:146]. Ambedkar Committee. It led to the deploy-
because of ideological reasons. Nagla Hareru 7 Recent example of conversion to Buddhism ment of police in the village for some days.
assumes special significance because the was made by Ambedkar Mahasabha and Dalit Jatavs wanted to construct a temple on the
conversion to Sikhism in 1988-89 started in Vichar Manch in Lucknow on October 14, village panchayat land, and later on set up
this village, though a family of this village 1994. Despite the clashes between two factions a school at this place. Apart from the newly
had converted to Buddhism in the 1960s. of the Mahasabha one belonging to Chhedi constructed temple of the jatavs, the village
Ulakhpur village also saw the conversion of Lal Shathi and another to K C Das, and arrest has two more temple - one belonging to
some jatavs to Sikhism. of some persons including a deputy inspector banias and another to a rajput. However, there
2 There is no common definition of dalits. The general of police (technical services), S R were differences among the jatavs: some of
politicians and activists concerned with the Darapura and wife of a bureaucrat, about them wanted to make a Buddhist tomb instead
dalit issues include all 'oppressed' groups - 5.000 dalits and OBCs were reported to have of a temple.
scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs, converted to Buddhism (The Times of India, 13 I have already referred to such panachayat
minorities and women - in this category. October 11, 14 and 17, 1994). (meeting) in Maithona Inder Singh village
Some academicians confine it to the scheduled 8 While it was an attack on jatavs by the goons relating to Shergarh incident. Even on the eve
castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs, while still of Muslim landlords in Nagla Hareru, it was of 1993 assembly election, the jatavs of
others restrict the term to include both ex, the murder of three jatav journalists by jats Sardhana constituency held two panchayats
untouchables (SCs) and most backward castes in Sothawali near Hapur and panic created in Alipur village: once at the residence of the
(MBCs) only. Elsewhere [Singh 1992: among jatavs in another village by Rajputs, jatav village pradhan, and second time in the
chapter II] 1 have clubbed agrarian classes in which provoked them to look for security - Ambedkar Bhavan. Around 200 represent-
two groups; the rural rich and the rural poor. and they sought to find it in Sikh religion [for atives from 108 villages participated in the
Since the latter mainly belong to the low a detailed report see Deep 1989]. meetings, Three jatavs were interested in
castes - SCs and OBCs - for the sake of 9 There is apprehension on the part of many contesting the election as independent
analysis, I shall be referring to jatavs or jatavs that conversion to other religion would candidates. Since Sardhana constituency
chamars (SC) in this paper as dalits. The dalits result in their exclusion from the scheduled happens to be a general constituency, Alipur
will be used as a descriptive rather than an caste category, which might lead to denial panchayat was to decide as to whom the jatavs
analytical category. of the concessions given to the scheduled should vote, The panchayat set up a committee
3 A discussion on the assertion of dalit identity castes by the government. The leaders of of fifteen members belonging to different
in Meerut or western UP requires the Ambedkar Mahasabha who mobilised dalits socio-political organisations and parties. On
consideration of the differential impact of for conversion to Buddhism in Lucknow on the basis of majority decision, the committee

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998 2617

decided to support one candidate - Dinesh Sothawali Villages' in Dinman (Hindi), in Pater D Robb (ed). Dalit Movements and
Kumar of Khannuda village. But later it was July 31. Meanings of Labour in India, SOAs Studies
discovered by the jatavs that this candidate Ducan, R I (1979): 'Levels, the Communication on South Asia, Oxford University Press.
was clandestinely supported by the BJP of Programmes and Factional Strategies in Misra, Amaresh (1994a): ''Uttar Pradesh: Evading
candidate Jagdish Pundeer, which led to Indian Politics with Special Reference to the the Land Issue'. Economic and Political
resentment against Dinesh Kumar. However, Bharatiya Kranti Dal and Republican Party Weekly, Vol 29, No 13, March 26.
it did not deter many jatavs to vote a candidate of India in Uttar Pradesh and Aligarh District', (1994b):'Uttar Pradesh: Cracks in the Alliance',
of their 'own' caste. Although, Dinesh Kumar PhD Thesis, University of Sussex. Economic and Political Weekly' Vol XXIX,
could not win. he got more than 2,000 votes, Guptoo, Nandini (1993): 'Caste and Labour : No 30, July 23.
which cut into the base of JD to the advantage Untouchable Social Movements in Uttar Scott, James C (1985): Weapons of the Weak:
of the BJP. Pradesh in the Early Twentieth Century' in Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, Yale
14 Most backward castes (MBCs), such as Pater D Robbe'(ed), Dalit Movements and University Press, London.
dhiwars, barbers, jogis, potters, etc, are the Meanings of Labour in India, SOAs Studies Singh, Jagpal (1992): Capitalism and
most ardent supporters and jatavs the most on South Asia, Oxford University Press. Dependence: Agrarian Politics in Western
critical of the BJP in western UP. It is perhaps Guru, Gopal (1994): 'Politics of Culture in Uttar Pradesh. 1951-1991, Manohar
for the first time that the MBCs have found Maharashtra',Economic and Political Weekly, Publications, New Delhi.
a party (BJP) with which they can identify Vol XXIX, No 41, October 8. - (1995): 'Political Economy of Unaided and
ideologically. Congress' populism of anti- Kancha, Illaiah (1994): 'BSP and Caste Ideology', Unrecognised Schools; A Study of Meerut
poverty programmes could not keep them Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XXIX, District of Western Uttar Pradesh', project
satisfied any longer, like the scheduled castes, No12 report, National Institute of Educational
But unlike the scheduled castes, particularly Lieten, G K (1992): 'On Casteism, and Com- Planning and Administration, New Delhi.
jatavs, they did not have any alternative munalism in Uttar Pradesh', Economic and Singh, K S (1993): People of India, Vol II:
ideologies like Ambedkarism, to counter Political Weekly, Vol XXIX, No 14, April 2, The Scheduled Castes, Anthropological
hindutva. They also lacked any leader, party Lynch, Owen M (1969): The Politics of Survey of India, Oxford University Press,
or organisation which could affect the assertion Untouchability: Social Mobility and Social Delhi.
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Commission report also did not appeal to University Press, New York. Times of India, October 22,
them, untike the upper sections of the OBCs (1981); "Rioting as Rational Action: An Srinivaslu, K (1992): 'Andhra Pradesh: BSP and
like yadavs, gujars, lodhs, kurmis, etc. In such Interpretation of the April 1978 Riots in Agra', Caste Politics, Economic and Political
a situation, the BJP's strategy to make special Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XVI, Weekly, Vol XXIX, No 40.
efforts to approach different sections of Hindus No 48. pp 1951-56. Zelliot, Eleanor (1992): From Untouchable to
through the ideology of hindutva made the Menon, D M (1993): 'Implications of Equality: Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement,
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seems to have become the first party which
gave them a sense of separate cultural and
political identity.
15 BSP prefers 'Bahujan' to dalits. Kanshi Ram
likens 'Daliting with begging' [Illaiah
16 The political and ideological conflict between
the BSP and RPI (Prakash Ambedkar-led)
finds its reflection in Maharashtra also
[Guru 1994:2700].
17 One interesting example of such competition
was seen during the Bhopa agitations in
Muzaffarnagar district. (There were two
agitations at the same time: one which created
euphoria led by BKU of Tikait, and another
which did not catch the attention of many
observers was led by BMU. When a dalit
refers to the Bhopa agitation, he/she does it
about the latter, and when some observers or
BKU/jats refer to the Bhopa agitation, they
do so about the former [for details see Singh
1992:117. n 83].) Like other political
groups, the BSP also tried to cash in on the
Bhopa case (of the BMU, not of the BKU).
But Kanshi Ram was not allowed to share
the dias with BMU. and he had to erect a
separate dias to address dalits [Singh 1992:
122, n 123].


Anonymous (1994): ' Uttar Pradesh: Uncertain

Times'. Economic and Political Weekly,
Vol XXIX, No 28.
Baruah, Sanjib Kumar (1983): 'Getting A Fair
Share: Politics and Poor in Rural India', PhD
Thesis, Chicago University.
Deep, Titok (1989): 14-27: Report on Conversion
of Harijans to Sikhism in Nagla Hareru and

Economic and Political Weekly October 3, 1998