Caste Oppression, Communalism


RSS cow vigilante groups are unleashing mayhem across the country. Their acts are not only criminal and heinous but they publicize their acts with impunity. They know that they are backed by the powers that be and the state machinery moves to protect these groups, or one may say that this vigilantism is state sponsored.

On July 11 in village Mota Samadhiyala near Una in Gujarat the RSS hoodlums beat up dalits for skinning a dead cow and posted this video. In Haryana these hoodlums had forced two alleged ‘beef smugglers’ to eat cow dung. In Karnataka, RSS’s Bajrang Dal activists have attacked dalits for a similar reason. Two Muslim women were beaten by RSS activists at a Railway Station in MP for half an hour on the suspicion of carrying beef. These incidents are neither isolated nor spontaneous. There is a systematic campaign unleashed by the RSS-BJP vigilante groups across the country particularly in the states ruled by the BJP. A number of such groups are functioning and coordinating their activities with local police. In Haryana, along the border with UP, a large number of such groups man the nakas on the roads. They beat up, even kill on the excuse of cows being taken across the border for sale. The police act as their cohorts, frame cases against the assaulted people. They beat up people in the presence of police or along with them before the police locking them up. These vigilante groups have not replaced the local police but have become part and parcel of this force for these actions. There are a number of such incidents in Yamunanagar Jagadhari belt where Muslims from Saharanpur district are targeted. In fact in Haryana, vigilante groups have sprung up along the border with other states- in Panipat bordering Shamli district of UP, in Kurukshetra bordering Patiala district of Punjab and in Ambala bordering Nahan district of Himachal Pradesh. A report in The Statesman has given graphic details of the activities of these groups and their working in collusion with the police. These groups target the routes which have been traditionally utilized for the transport of cattle. They put up barricades and seize the vehicles. Police is called to frame cases. Though the police says that such groups have no right to put up barricades or seize vehicles, no FIRs are filed against them, the question of arresting them does not arise though these groups put their activities with photos on the social media from which they can be easily traced.

The sprouting of these groups is no spontaneous phenomenon nor rooted in the sentiments of ‘backward’ peasantry as often alleged or in whose name these atrocious acts are being committed. The machinery of these vigilante groups is well financed and well equipped. According to a report in The Hindustan Times, “Engineers, realtors and private professionals are among the 10,000 self-styled cow protectors spread across Gujarat in 33 districts, who are just a WhatsApp message or phone call away for hunting down vehicles…” These groups operate under different names- Gau Raksha Dal, Akhil Bhartiya Navayug Sanstha, Akhil Bhartiya Sarvadaliya Gau Raksha Maha Abhiyan Samiti, etc. They work in close coordination with police, filing FIRs and also clashing with transporters from the minority community. Over 400 FIRs have been filed by these groups but there is not even a single FIR against attacks by these groups. Such groups have mushroomed in Rajasthan, Maharshtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgrah with the backing of RSS-BJP Govts. in these states. In all these states, there are ample reports that the activists of these vigilante groups work in close cooperation with the police in all these states. In brief, this is no spontaneous reaction but a well coordinated drive by the RSS-BJP which gets enough support from the police and administrative machinery. They obviously float a myriad of organizations in different names and RSS-BJP work to maintain ‘deniability’. But members of these vigilante groups are supporters of RSS-BJP and the protection and cooperation offered by the police and administration points to a scheme orchestrated from the top.

This campaign is also a money spinning device for the police and these vigilante groups. They extort money from cattle traders. According to the report in The Statesman referred above, going rate per vehicle in Haryana is Rs. 2000 to Rs. 3000 for police and Rs. 3000 to Rs. 4000 for the vigilante groups. The latter takes a good part as they do all the leg work and police comes to share the spoils. These extortion rackets with beatings of the people caught and even killing them, ensure that these ‘gau bhakts’ are self-sufficient and even have a good income. Obviously with police and Govt. support they even can extort even from those whom they donot apprehend transporting cattle. RSS-BJP have devised this plan to maintain their cadre base.

This cow vigilantism conforms to a longstanding project of Hindu communal groups. It has twin objects – consolidating Hindus against projected cow slaughterers i.e. Muslims and also dalits who skin dead cows for hide. In the frenzy created over the cow issue, even the latter are targeted for disrespecting cows, dead or live. The Cow was one of the main issue on which communal strife in India was orchestrated in 1920s which was then dubbed as the “cow music issue” the latter signifying the insistence of Hindu communal groups on playing music before the mosques at all times, particularly at the time of Namaz. The Cow issue has been repeatedly resurrected by the communal forces to divert the people from the real issues facing them besides augmenting the strength of communal forces. While a peasant may call cow “gau mata” for the myriad types of support extended to him and his family’s maintenance, these communal forces use this “mata” to strike others. Peasants have traditionally been worshipping many things including cows which have had played an important role in the past in the life of the community but without having any qualms about trading in cows, calves or bullocks and even wearing shoes made from the leather from the hide of milch and draught animals. One should obviously recall worshipping of agricultural implements and samples of crops like sugarcane also in the villages of UP during Goverdhan. This recognition of the role of cow and its progeny for the community had been catapulted by the communal forces into entirely regressive and anti-people agenda to suit their interests and those of their colonial masters in pre-1947 period. Interestingly, the issue, like that of Babri Masjid, had come to the fore in the period when British were trying to divide the people of the country on religious lines to extend their colonial rule in India by fomenting trouble between Hindus and Muslims. In fact a number of studies have pointed out that divisive and communal utilization by Hindu communal groups of several issues started only with the advent of British colonial rulers in India who sought to divide the people of this country in the interests of their colonial rule.

It is worthwhile to note that Vajpayee led NDA Govt. had tasked a Gandhian, Shri Dharam Pal, to prepare a paper on the history of cow slaughter in India. Shri Dharam Pal summarized his study in a book titled “The British Origin of Cow Slaughter in India.” On the cover of this book was published a letter by Queen Victoria to the then Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne, dated December 8, 1893. In the letter Queen Victoria wrote, “Though the Mohammedans’ cow killing is made the pretext of the agitation, it is in fact targeted against us, who kill far more cows for our Army, etc. than the Mohammedans.” This was on an agitation against cow killing which continued from 1880 to 1894. But the communal groups never targeted the British rulers on the issue.

The use of the cow was not only meant to target Muslims but also to mobilize the peasantry of the country on a divisive platform. Peasantry in India was groaning under the yoke of colonial exploitation and feudal oppression. But the communal groups, sponsored as they were by the colonial masters and patronized by feudal lords and princes, could not and did not take up those issues affecting the peasantry. Many of these groups were linked to important leaders of the Congress as well. However they needed these peasant masses for their power games and hence mobilized them on communally divisive issue. There have not been any reports nor reflections of this issue prior to advent of colonial rulers in India. But this aspect of the history is conveniently ignored.

Even today the cow slaughter issue is being taken up with zest when the Indian agriculture and even land owning peasantry is facing deep crisis. The share of agriculture in the national product has gone down much in excess to the proportion of the people dependent for their livelihood on agriculture. This is a result of the anti-peasant policies being pursued by the successive Govts. of the big capitalists and big landlords. The lot of the rural people has worsened over the decades relatively and in some cases even absolutely. This distress is being reflected by the rising agitations of the landowning peasantry in a number of states- Patels in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana, Marathas in Maharashtra and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh etc. These social groups are up in arms for reservation to secure Govt. jobs as the agricultural income has not kept pace or has declined due to rise in the prices of agricultural inputs and agricultural produce not keeping pace with it while the imperialist promoted agricultural model has demanded ever increasing investment in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, water etc. This has resulted in rising indebtedness of the peasantry on the one hand and decline in the fertility of the soil and the poisoning of land and underground water on the other. While addressing these questions is not on the agenda of the Govt. they are seeking to divert these peasant masses into the abyss of communal mobilization by throwing up issues like cow slaughter. The present phase of focusing on cow slaughter is definitely linked to the growing unrest among the peasant masses. RSS-BJP is trying to mobilize those communities which are rising in unrest e.g. Patels in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana etc. to divert them from agitation and for engaging their youth in these activities.

Hindutva is essentially upper caste chauvinism. It tries to rally all Hindus against religious minorities particularly Muslims. It also tries to target dalits and other oppressed castes. It disrupts the unity of the oppressed so essential for their struggle against oppression and exploitation, it atomizes this opposition. For Hindutva forces, cow issue has also two facets. While live cows are wielded as weapons against Muslims, the dead are used to terrorize Dalits. The Cow is only a pretext, the real issue is suppression of religious minorities and oppressed castes, the real issue is propagation of the domination of upper castes. The mayhem unleashed against Muslims and Dalits since RSS-BJP came to power bear ample testimony to their designs. They target minorities particularly Muslims to demarcate Hindu identity and they target Dalits to impose the old Hindu code on them. These attacks are two sides of the same coin of upper caste chauvinism.

Attacks on Dalits have increased since the advent of the RSS-BJP Govt. While caste oppression is a reality in India irrespective of the ruling class party in power, with RSS-BJP in power, the upper caste groups feel further emboldened to attack Dalits. After 2014, the year RSS-BJP came to power, there has been 40% increase in crimes against Dalits. According to National Commission for Scheduled Castes, in 2015 there has been higher rate of crimes against scheduled castes. The highest increase has been in RSS-BJP ruled states- Gujarat, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan. Among the states where such crimes increased sharply, Gujarat was on the top where 6,655 cases were reported. Rajasthan reported 8,028 cases while Chhatisgarh reported 3,008 cases. Crimes against Dalits continue to be high in the states of UP and Bihar with UP recording 8,946 cases and Bihar 7,141 cases. This data has been reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). From this it is clear that while crimes against Dalits are reported from all the states where different ruling class parties have their Govts. the number has risen sharply in BJP ruled states since the advent of RSS-BJP Govt. at the Centre. Crimes recorded against Scheduled castes (NCRB) increased from 39,408 in 2013 to 47,064 in 2014.

Corporate media had sold the Gujarat model to the people of the country before 2014 elections. This propaganda was baseless even then on every count. What really stands out for Gujarat is the suppression and crimes against Dalits. According to a report in BBC, though Dalits living in Gujarat are only 2.3% of the total Dalits in the country, crimes against Dalits are many times over (roughly 15% of the total crimes recorded against Dalits). Between 1990 to 2015, the period in which mostly BJP and that too, Narendra Modi Govt., was in power, 536 Dalits were murdered and 750 Dalit women were raped in Gujarat. Conviction rate in this state in the crimes against Dalits has been merely 4%. This did not find any mention in the corporate product “Gujarat Model” but is giving rise to a sharp uprise of Dalits across Gujarat.

Not only in increased crimes against Dalits in Gujarat under the watch of Narendra Modi and BJP, the discrimination against Dalits is reflected in many other spheres as well. Till 2015, 64,000 vacancies for Dalits in various Govt. jobs in this state had not been filled. BJP Govt. has also done nothing to give possession to Dalits over the land earmarked for them. In 1996, 250 villages were surveyed in 1996 in Surendranagar district. According to this Survey, a total of 6000 acres were set aside for Dalits in these villages but they were not given possession and landlords held the land. Throughout the country, Dalits did not get possession of the lands allotted to them. At many places they were not even informed. In a case in Punjab, Dalits came to know of such an allotment done in 1975, only four years back. When they approached the authorities, they said that the allotment has become outdated! For them, millennia old caste code is not outdated but allotment of a few decades back has become outdated. The struggle of Dalits in Punjab for their share of panchayat land is spreading. In Gujarat too, Dalit organizations are raising the demand for land which remains one of the main aspects of eliminating caste in the country.

This is no accident. Narendra Modi and RSS-BJP believe in a strict caste code for Dalits. Modi had written in Karmyog in 2007 that “the work of cleaning toilets must have been a strong spiritual experience for the Valimiki community.” By the same token, Modi might have seen a strong spiritual experience for Dalits in disposing off dead cattle and even in being subject to beating and extortion by RSS-BJP hoodlums. Only a trainee in the RSS school of caste arrogance and social ignorance, could so defend caste based professions and term the same as a spiritual experience. However, Dalits are fed up with this kind of spiritual experience and want to give it up. Dalits, particularly their educated youth, are not willing to tolerate any more this age old suppression, discrimination and violence. They are declaring that they would not henceforth dispose off dead cattle and are demanding land for their own sustenance. As several of them spell out, their parents and older generations have suffered caste ignominy, but they are not willing to suffer it any longer. They are rebelling across the country and it is a welcome rebellion. A growing section of educated young Dalits are questioning the very paradigm of ruling class policies and they are willing to stand up and be counted for their convictions. Students of IIT Chennai and Hyderabad Central University raised the issues concerning the whole society. They do not just want to get crumbs for themselves but are setting out to fight for a just and egalitarian society.

In perpetuating caste oppression, different wings of the state have lent a helping hand. Judiciary too has not been far behind. Its repeated exoneration of the culprits of violence and crimes against Dalits have emboldened the upper caste chauvinists who see that no price has to be paid for such crimes. This is where social reality trumps the formal legal equality. No social conscience, leave alone national conscience, demands that these criminals be brought to book. Tsunduru, Laxmanpur Bathe, Khairlanji, the examples are numerous but the malady singular i.e. domination of different wings of the state by the upper castes. Their meritocracy is deeply offended by reservation for oppressed but is comfortable with allotment for money. After all they alone have it!

It is quite obvious that this sinister design of RSS-BJP is being supported by the police and administrative machinery. It is there in those states also where RSS-BJP is not in power which only shows the deep communalization of the state machinery which is ‘tolerated’ and used by different ruling class parties and not objected to by any of them. Since the days of colonial rule over the country, communal violence and rioting has been encouraged by police and administration and the same continues. It is quite obvious from the Partition Papers dealing with documents relating to partition of India, how the colonial rulers helped in drowning the struggle of the people of this country in a blood bath of innocent people. They try to show these incidents as a madness overtaking the people to hide their own leading role in these violent attacks. There has been no attempt to fix the responsibility of preventing attacks against minorities and oppressed castes on the shoulders of police and administration who enjoy so much power in this country. Every attempt in this regard has been frustrated by the ruling class parties. Similarly, there is no provision to penalize the administrators who violate the constitutional norms against Scheduled Castes in different institutions. It only shows that all this is done with the connivance and approval of the ruling class parties.

Worse still, with the help of corporate media they are projecting all their idiosyncrasies as nationalism. How have Manu Smriti, Durga and the like become symbols of nationalism? Those questioning these and myths being projected as historical facts are being branded as anti-nationals. All the myths and fables of Aryan conquest over the native tribes are being shown as the symbols of national advance and national pride. For them caste system is not degradation but a very laudable contribution by Hindu society to social progress. It is this framework so assiduously preserved by upper caste chauvinists monopolizing power and discourse. It is this framework which needs to be questioned and demolished for social regeneration and progress.

The increased attacks on Muslims and Dalits by cow vigilante groups are part of the sinister design of the RSS-BJP and part of their Hindutva project. With the help of the state machinery and aided by the corporate media, they are diverting the attention of the people from the real causes of their poverty, misery and destitution. Their campaign based on ‘cow protection’ is a calculated attack on the oppressed sections of society and their tool for extortion. Is there any RSS campaign against malnutrition, hunger, begging or different forms of human degradation? While their policies are leading to greater privation and worse conditions for the broad masses, they are bound to intensify their conspiracies against the people. But the people are resisting and rising against these attacks. They are often able to beat back these attacks. But the need is to demolish this whole framework which is degrading to the large sections of the people and which is opposed to the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people. For this, revolutionaries should come forward to unite the people in class struggle and also build struggles against this unequitous society. Attacks against the minorities and oppressed castes must be resisted and defeated by mobilizing the people into struggle. Those behind the present campaign in the name of cow slaughter should be opposed and defeated.