In the wake of Dalit youth getting beaten up in Una, Gujarat, by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes, the ‘Hindutva’ bastion and India saw an unprecedented protest campaign from the Dalit activists across the country.
Activists began throwing carcasses in front of municipal and administrative offices, challenging the caste hierarchy that has kept them subjugated to lowly paid jobs such as cow skinning, leather tanning and manual scavenging since centuries.
Dalits took to the streets and demanded strict action against the self-proclaimed cow vigilantes who have been unleashing terror in states such as Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
While speaking exclusively to NEWSD, Indian academic and prominent Dalit activist Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd explained the sudden rise in the cases of Dalit atrocity. (Interestingly, Ilaiah changed his surname to “Shepherd” as he believes the term highlights his caste’s productive capability as a shepherd – and meanwhile also breaks away from the oppressiveness of caste-based hierarchies.).
He accused the media for being biased and pointed fingers at the Congress party for passing the cow protection law when they were in power.
Newsd: After the Una incident where Dalit youth were thrashed by cow vigilantes, the state of Gujarat has seen a phenomenal experiment carried out by the Dalit community as they decided to throw carcasses in front of municipality offices and temples, uprooting a hierarchy that is centuries old. Your take on that.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd: Gujarat incident has proved that the upper caste of India under the leadership of BJP, RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, have come to a conclusion that Dalit life is not equivalent to a cow. If one cow is skinned, that too a dead cow, they are willing to skin human beings. Today, it came out in newspapers that the cow was killed by a lion. So that is the RSS ideology and they have trained their cadre like that and today again they brutally flogged a Muslim woman in Madhya Pradesh for the same, and earlier also they have killed people in different parts of the country. So their target are not Muslims as they (Muslims) have international support from organization in other countries. But their target are Dalits.
Now the time has come for Dalits to stop removing dead carcasses. They have to shift their economy to different things. They have to declare their identities in English and put their end names as cobblers, scientists etc., and give up the basic old name structures. So their identity will be known to the world. But the Hindutva forces don’t want them to survive. So that has to be told to the whole world. This should be an international agenda like the blacks issue. That this kind of barbarity is happening after the BJP has come to power. Human beings cannot survive if they are killed like animals if a dead animal is skinned. And they (BJP) are not sorry about it. They are very proud about it. That has to be told to the whole world then only will they think about it.
Newsd: On the day, 1 lakh Ambedkarites gathered in Mumbai to protest against the demolition of Baba Saheb’s building and the Dalit uprising began in Gujarat, the mainstream media largely avoided giving them coverage. Your take on role of media in covering cases of Dalit atrocity and cases of uprising.
Shepherd: Media sympathy is with Hindutva brigade and cow protection squads. They want it to be an upper caste democracy where elitists rule the nation. They (media) highlight those particular incidents where they think may hit back at BJP. In Maharashtra, a typical Brahmin Chief Minister is ruling the state they want to protect him. Whereas in Gujarat they are not as sympathetic to Anandiben Patel as they are to Devendra Fadnavis. The ownership (of media houses) is ‘baniya’ and anchors are upper caste. There are hardly any Dalit anchors in the mainstream media. That’s where things need to be changed there have to be more Dalit anchors such as blacks in America. At least in America when black President Obama addresses the crowd he is applauded by everyone. Whereas in our country if a Dalit is not allowed to rise or speak. Things are horrendous here that is the reason media is selective in what to cover and not.
Newsd: What do you think of the self appointed ‘gau rakshaks’, ban on cow slaughter has been prevalent in many states since years. Why is it that the vigilantism has spurted out now? Is it politics or contempt towards the minorities or there is actual bovine love in the hearts of the Hindutva activists.
Shepherd: Cow vigilantism was started by RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Their main slogan is not ‘manav rakshan’ (Human protection) they harp on three mottos— ‘gau rakshan’ (cow protection), ‘desh rakshan’ (nation protection) and ‘jati rakshan’ (‘varn rakshan’- caste protection). These three are brainwashing points. And nobody follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas. Like Islamic State is deploying educated people same way RSS also has an army (cow vigilantes) who become part of these squads. These people are from backward classes and not the ‘Brahmins’ and ‘Baniyas’. They don’t understand philosophy of life which may transcend and make them question Brahminical ideology. The only drawback Dalits suffer is that they are not given English education. Like I have given myself a new surname, Kancha Illaiah Shepherd, all the other backward communities such as Jats, Gujjars, Patels and Reddys should read the philosophical discourse. They (OBCs) need to understand until Shudras don’t adapt philosophical dimension they cannot overturn Brahminism. Shudras, OBCs and Muslims are part of the same squad.
Newsd: Since the BJP stormed into power in 2014, it has been time and again accused of being anti-Dalit and anti-minority. Do you believe the current government is taking the bullet for previous governments’ acts as well?
Shepherd: Cow protection laws were brought by Congress. Under pressure from RSS and BJP, they (Congress) passed the cow protection law. But they did not implement it as it was part of integral food chain of Dalits. In 1990, when BJP first came into power they implemented the private army of cow vigilantes. Now, BJP is again in power. Before elections Narendra Modi promised that he will focus on development. He called himself an OBC and said BJP’s motto will be progress and development. But now it is clear he has nothing in his hands. It was believed that he won’t allow RSS and Hindutva ideology to rule.
If the masses comprising Dalits, Scheduled tribes, OBCs and Muslims come onto streets as what happened during ‘Nirbhaya case’… maybe things might change. All these cow protection laws should be taken back. Let democracy prevail in the country where people who wish to worship (a cow) can do so and those who want to use it for economy can use it. This is what world democracy does. These cow protection laws give more importance to the cow than human beings. This does not happen anywhere in the world. Congress is of course responsible for the current situation. It (Congress) has to demand to repeal the law. Congress and other regional parties should demand the Centre to do away with the law. All these private armies (cow vigilantes) should be disbanded. In all states, this law should be repealed.