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Interview With Kancha Iliaiah

Interview With Kancha Iliaiah

Indian society is being taken back to medieval and pre-medieval era BJP and RSS: Kancha Iliaiah

The latest incident of violence over inter-caste marriage in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar is a grim reminder that caste oppression and regressive feudal values remain a fact of life in India. The incident at Ahmednagar and a series of attacks on Dalits in southern states like Tamil Nadu and Telengana point to the fact that whatever limited economic advances may have been made in the country since Independence, social oppression continues.

23-year-old Mangesh Ransing, and his wife Rukmini (19), were doused in kerosene and set on fire in Ahmednagar’s Nighoj village by her father and two uncles on May 1. The couple got married six months ago against the wishes of the woman’s parents. Rukmini succumbed to her injuries soon after while Mangesh is in a critical condition. Rukmini was two months pregnant. Mangesh belongs to Lohar community, classified as a nomadic tribe in the state. Rukmini, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, belonged to a Scheduled Caste called Pashi.

According to dalit activists, attacks on dalits have risen after 2014 when the BJP came to power. To understand why attacks against dalits spiked in ‘Modi'fied India, Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to noted Dalit writer and social activist Kancha Ilaiah. He accused the BJP-RSS combine of promoting brahminical culture and spreading hatred against dalits, minorities and ethnic communities in the country. Ilaiah refers to himself symbolically as Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, as a reaffirmation of his family origin in the sheep-grazing community.

IC: What are your comments on the violence against 19 year old pregnant woman over inter-caste marriage?

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd: It is an unimaginable and dastardly incident. Caste system has become aggressive especially after 2014 when the BJP came to power. The BJP's ideology promotes caste aggression. Under the Congress regime or some other regime, there were laws in place. And the government's discourse was more like a secular life. After the BJP came to power, upper castes became more aggressive.

IC: You are alleging that those committing atrocities on dalits and weaker sections of society have got some sort of support from the party in power...

The police inaction against those committing atrocities against dalits was evident in 2014 after the BJP came to power. In cases of cow protection or beef related issue, the police quickly acted but not in case of atrocities against dalits. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that he would condemn all religion- based violence but added that people like Pragya Singh Thakur should not be treated as violent people. Such statements have emboldened the upper castes. People belonging to lower castes have lost the confidence in law of the land.

IC: In India, ticket distribution for elections is done on caste basis by political parties to woo voters. Then, how can you do away with division of castes?

Political parties like BJP and Congress do not give space to leaders belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe. However, without reservation, the SC/ST would not have got their share.  The OBCs became conscious after 1990 Mandal struggle.  The Shudra upper layer, Brahmins and Baniyas have got more than their share and they have the power. This has adversely affected the democratic system, and social behaviour.  It is returning to the olden days. It is ironic that the BJP has never publicly opposed the caste oppression because it always talks in terms of dharma and tradition. If a dalit girl marries an upper caste boy or vice versa, then it is termed as violation of tradition.  In case of any violence, RSS does not condemn it. Such language was opposed by people like Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule and Periyar E V Ramasamy.

IC: Is it true that attacks on dalits have risen under `Modi-fied' india?

In my book, Why I am not Hindu', I have been suggesting for a dalitisation which is nothing but democratisation. The dalitisation is dignity of labour, democratic marriages, no discrimination in culture etc. This is being opposed by the BJP-RSS openly. The BJP-RSS want brahminisation and hence oppose dalitisation and democratisation.

IC: Do you think the BJP is insensitive to dalits and their rights?

The BJP talks about varna dharma which is caste system. RSS head Mohan Bhagwat is following the same line. The abolition of caste is not in their agenda and that's why there is hardly any mention of dalits in the BJP's election manifesto.

IC: Do dalit voters matter to the BJP?

The BJP may appeal to dalits to vote for them but reality is that they are not against casteism. In religion, they aren't doing any reforms.

IC: In the education sector and especially in the higher educational institutions, dalits are being targeted. There is the Rohit Vemula incident. Even your books have been banned in higher educational institutions…

My books are titled Why I Am Not Hindu, From Shepherd Boy To An Internet Boy... When I talk about shepherd, I talk about milk and meat economy. In contrast, they talk in terms of dharma and guru shishya parampara which has destroyed the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that he is an OBC but he can't use the OBC status to win over OBC voters because of RSS. He has no control over them. As far as Congress is concerned, its leaders remain silent and manage banias and others. Ironically, the PM talks about his OBC caste while his party attacks the lower castes. I feel Indian society is being taken back to medieval and pre-medieval era by the BJP and RSS.

IC: Are you hopeful that conditions for Dalits will improve in the country?

If BJP comes to power again, the situation will become worse. If non- BJP alliance comes to power then lot of efforts will have to be made to make reforms. BJP has pulled back India by 20-25 years.

IC: How do you rate the state of human rights of dalits in India?

In caste system and varna dharma, the worst kind of violence will happen to the lower castes. That's because the BJP-RSS intellectuals do not use the language of human rights.

(Published on 13th May 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 20)