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Cow vigilantes, tool to silent democratic dissent: Have we entered lawless state?

By Martin Macwan*
The year 2016 brought new perpetrators for Dalits—the cow vigilantes. Absence of preventive measures to curb such violence by the state has been the gauge of its complicity. Unfortunately, such violence in the silent presence of the law and order machinery has not yet been the subject of suo motu judicial purview. It is apparent that the trained and organised cadres of cow vigilantes are rising in number. Is this a political tool tested to silence civil and democratic dissent? Or, have we entered a lawless state? Is it a part of conspiracy to strengthen Hindu nationalism by perpetuating caste, and belittle the fabric of diversity interwoven by the Constitution? Such groups have not swelled overnight, nor is there lack of political patronage. These are disturbing questions that will haunt our minds until 2019.
Violence on Dalits is not new. What is new is the response. There seems to be a shift from judicial approach to punish the perpetrator, to replying in the very language of the perpetrator. In both the approaches, the underlying vocabulary remains the same—invocation of Dr Ambedkar’s message, to “Organise”. The only exception to this is the “reserved” political leadership of Dalits who have been organised to remain silent, cutting across the ruling and the opposition. The worst defeat of Dr Ambedkar’s clarion call, the annihilation of caste, is the result of the new approach, the manifestation of society further divided by caste and strengthening of the caste itself.
The victims of the cow vigilante violence have brought forth, lest we decide to ignore, the glaring inequalities within Dalits on two counts—lack of education and dependence on caste-based occupations. The latter is perceived as both economic and social security. The approach of organizations serving the Dalit cause has also shifted, from strengthening the educational and economic lives of the masses to lobbying. There have been some successful lobbying interventions in the past but their success can doubtless be attributed to the strong presence of civil society groups at the grassroots.
Today, thanks to technology and powerful legal tools such as RTI, we as organisations are better equipped with evidence of the state and its discriminatory policies. Whether these are manifested through non-expenditure on committed financial resources, or through non-performance on statutory obligations, we lack the fuel to move forward that could create an impact. Is it due to the slow decline of our much-required presence with the people who need us most? For them the battle of the day to be equal starts with discrimination at mid-day meals at school? We are approaching an unproclaimed Emergency.

*Human rights activist from Gujarat, since the 1980s has been working to address the issue of caste discrimination. Awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award by the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, works with youth and writes books for children, was the chair of Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS), research institutes in India focused specifically on the development concerns of marginalized groups and socially excluded communities. Source: Citizens’ Report on Third year of the NDA Government -2017 – Promises and Reality, Civil Society Initiative, coordinated by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan

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