After the unprecedented nationwide protests by Dalit community on 2 April over dilution of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched the ‘dinner-at-Dalit-house’ campaign to regain lost ground among the community.
But the hare-brained campaign has drawn criticism from the party’s own Dalit Members of Parliament, who termed the exercise “insulting” and that it made them feel “inferior”.
Controversy erupted after a BJP minister in Uttar Pradesh, Suresh Rana, was accused of bringing food from outside and eating at a Dalit home in Aligarh. This was followed by another BJP MLA from UP, Rajendra Pratap Singh, saying that Dalits feel emancipated when BJP leaders visit their homes and dine with them.
An Insulting Exercise
Launching a scathing attack on the exercise, BJP MP from Bahraich, Savitri Bai Phule, pointed out that the saffron party leaders were not doing Dalits any favours by eating at their houses. They still do not still consider Dalits as “human”.
“The leaders are getting their meals prepared by people from upper castes. They eat in new plates and drink mineral water. What are they trying to prove? These leaders should eat the food prepared and served by Dalits in their plates,” Phule was quoted as saying.
She said the entire exercise was being conducted so that BJP leaders could get their pictures clicked and share them on social media. She even questioned how many BJP leaders had invited Dalits at their own houses to dine with them.
Similarly, BJP MP from North-West Delhi, Udit Raj, said the exercise had only generated anger among Dalits.
“The section which is aware and is feeling disgruntled, they say that others (the leaders) visit their areas for dinner to make them feel that they were ‘neech’ (lower caste) and others were ‘oonch’ (upper caste). This is causing a reaction,” Raj was quoted as saying.
Need Education And Jobs, Not Drama
The exercise, aimed at bringing Dalits into saffron party’s fold before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, has worsened the anger among Dalits because the issues of education, jobs and reservations in private sector appears to be put on the back burner.
The mood of the community can be sensed in the statement made by BJP MP from Nagina Yashwant Singh who said the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi did nothing for 30 crore Dalits of the country in the past four years.
Singh added that the BJP came into power by promising filling up of backlog posts reserved for the members of the Scheduled Castes and ensuring reservations in private sector, but no promises had been kept.
Emphasising on the need for jobs, both MPs Savitribai Phule and Udit Raj said that the Dalits want jobs and not unwanted dinners at their houses.
“Had Dalit youths agitated in Bharat bandh on 2 April because they wanted others to visit their home for feast? They had agitated for their rights and protection of reservation,” Raj said.
“Social emancipation will come only when Dalits are provided education and jobs. Not by dining with them, taking a photograph and posting it on social media,” said Phule.
Worst Record On Education And Protection Of Rights
Even as the BJP leaders are busy dining at Dalit homes, the Modi government has taken measures to ensure that Dalits do not get their due in education.
A recent notification by the University Grants Commission (UGC), if implemented in its present form, will cut down the number of reserved faculty posts by 50% and 80% for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, respectively, in Banaras Hindu University. The collective impact is expected to be massive if all state and central universities implement it uniformly.
Similarly, the government also faired poorly on the protection of marginalised groups as the atrocities on Dalits rose sharply in states ruled by the BJP.
The NCRB showed that 4 out of 5 states which topped the ranking with the highest number of crimes against Dalits are being ruled by the BJP. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa, and Gujarat — all ruled by the saffron party — ranked as first, second, third, and fifth, respectively.
Madhya Pradesh, with 12.1% cases of the total crimes, registered 3,294 incidents of crime against Scheduled Castes in 2014, followed by 3,546 in 2015 and 4,922 in 2016. As for Rajasthan, ruled by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the state recorded 6,735 incidents of crime against Scheduled Castes in 2014, which plunged to 5,911 in 2015 and 5,136 in 2016.