The last five years have been relentless: lynch mobs, murder, incarceration and intimidation of dissenting voices, a struggling economy, unemployment, agrarian crises – farmers crushed by debt and dying, institutions that ought to be independent and above reproach, painfully compromised. So, how does a nation take stock of all this and decide to vote?
A very certain future stretches before us: more deaths, more fear, more coercion, more intimidation, larger echo chambers and more thunderous sycophancy. The weeks leading upto this day have been bloody already. Just yesterday, Rajesh Sondarva, a 20-year-old dalit was beaten to death in Rajkot, Gujarat, by upper caste men. On May 7, in Gujarat’s Mehsana district, following the wedding procession of a dalit man who dared to ride a horse, the village sarpanch issued a diktat that dalits in the community must face social boycott from the villagers. At the birthplace of Ambedkar, Mhow Tehsil, Madhya Pradesh, a dalit groom was attacked for riding a horse on his wedding day and for bursting crackers. On April 26, a 21-year-old dalit man was beaten for the “offence” of sitting on a chair at a wedding, to eat. He died of his injuries in a few days.
Oppressed groups and minorities in India have always fought tooth and nail for the right to exist. The Modi government of 2014 made it a near impossible fight, attacking them with impunity. Today’s electoral verdict has proven them right – there really are those who have seen these atrocities and decided to look the other way. This too is complicity. Given the BJP’s track record, we can expect more atrocities in the coming years. Every voter who chose to hand back the nation to the BJP is, arguably, no less accountable than the perpetrators of these indignities.
We spoke to writers, academics and activists, who have been fierce representative voices for some of the country’s most marginlised, asking them what they have to say about today’s verdict. Their responses make for a bleak picture:
Writer and teacher Bama said: “I can barely respond to this today. I don’t know how and why people voted for this government. I feel fear, disappointment and anxiety. Fear of what will happen to us, to dalits, to adivasis, to minorities, to the farmers. There is pain. My heart is heavy. One thing is certain — multiple attacks will happen, more than there have been, in the name of the cow, in the name of religion, in the name of language. I belong to this country, but I feel like I am in a foreign land, worrying about how to survive. This is not a country for the marginlised and the poor, it belongs to the industrialists and the crorepatis. This land is lost. It brings to mind the Tamil saying, “korangu kayil poo malai koduthamaathri” (giving a monkey a garland of flowers). The monkey had five years to shred it to pieces, now it will destroy whatever is left of it. Our democracy has become a farce. A lie. It’s nothing of that sort. There will certainly be attempts to take revenge on those who spoke out before the elections, urging people to not vote for Modi. There is no protection for us.”
Poet and activist, Huchangi Prasad told us: "The election results make me wonder if the lotus is set to bloom in the blood of dalits in this country. The Sondarva killing is shocking. This reminds us that this is the country where the lives of dalits have less value. The election results show that worse is in store for dalits, minorities and progressive thinkers. It is going to ensure impunity for the Hindutva forces."
Historian Raosaheb Kasbe: Attacks on dalits are the historical truth of this country. And the kind of people we are getting to see in the seat of power are those who don't care for democracy and democratic institutions. I am concerned about what the country and the society is heading towards. Due to the last five years of the government of divisive forces, I see polarisation in the name of caste, class, gender and religion. These polarising issues along with Modi vs. Not Modi became the base of this election, while one would have expected economy and people’s issues to be important. I am worried that all the democratic institutions will collapse.
Sociologist Ghanshyam Shah told us: The primary responsibility of the government is to protect and defend citizens. But, they talk about it and they certainly don't care about dalits. It's a simple law and order problem. If somebody is doing these things, strict action should have been taken earlier. This is not the only case; there are many different cases of atrocities against dalits. From a dalit perspective would be that the govenement belongs to the Gujarati upper caste, including the middle class. They can do anything and get away with it. Things will be worse for dalits in Gujarat in the coming years.