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'Want to Reclaim our Dignity': Dalit Protesters Demand Caste Census, Reservation in Private Sector

The Dalit activists disagree with the argument that reservation in the private sector will compromise quality and see it as a casteist notion.
'Want to Reclaim our Dignity': Dalit Protesters Demand Caste Census, Reservation in Private Sector

Screenshot From youTube

Delhi: “You made profits out of our labour. It is our labour that built this Parliament. We built these roads, buildings, and railway networks. You derive power because of our labour. Now, when we are demanding our share in it, you are questioning our quality. We reject it,” said veteran Dalit activist Nathu Prasad who was part of a protest in Delhi demanding reservation in jobs for Dalit communities in the private sector and the earliest conduct of the Caste Census. 

The protesters at Delhi’s Janata Mantar, under the banner of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch (DSMM), held blue and red placards and raised slogans such as “Manuvad Down Down”, “Save Constitution, Save Nation,” among others. 

The unusual part of the protest was the participation of women, who outnumbered the men and put their demands forward for jobs, education, and most importantly, dignity.

Dalip Singh, a National Executive Member of the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, stated that conducting a Caste Census in India is crucial for carrying out an analytical study of the castes, particularly their socio-economic profiles. He said such a study will help determine if any progress has been made since the country’s independence. “Our observations suggest that they are yet to get into positions of power like civil services and judiciary,” Singh said.

He further said, “The Caste Census will tell us our exact number and how different castes have fared in progress reports. Our biggest concern is the absolute control of Brahminical forces over institutions, be it the police, judiciary or educational institutions. Whenever you notice a caste atrocity, you find this unholy nexus swiftly in action. In Hathras, a young Dalit girl was cremated in the night even after it was quite evident that she was raped and murdered. Her parents were not allowed in her last rituals. Our children are killed for touching water pots in Rajasthan. When forces like these occupy the seats of power, they build an unequal society. They bring inequality in all spheres, be it political, economic or social.”

Singh also disagrees with the argument that reservation in the private sector will compromise quality. “I am a railway employee and I can tell you with evidence that Babu Jagjivan Ram brought significant changes to railways, which completely turned the scenario in its favour. He introduced the highest standards of work efficiency in its structure, be it administration or operations. Why could others not do it?” he asked.

Usha Siroha, who travelled from Gurgaon to be a part of the protest, said that she came along with other participants to show her anguish over the cut in allocation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Union Budget. She said that the organisation is protesting across all capitals in the states. 

Activists argue that NREGA, which has been giving employment to agricultural workers, including Dalits and tribals, saw cuts and was allocated Rs 60,000 crore, whereas the revised estimate in the current financial year was Rs 89,400 crore. The activists maintain that the central government should have allocated Rs 2.72 lakh crore to provide jobseekers 100 days of work in the current financial year.

When asked about the placard she was holding, which said “Save Constitution, Save Nation,” Siroha stated, “You [the government] are ignoring the sections that the Constitution mandated should be protected and empowered. There is a cut in scholarships for our students, but above all, it is our dignity that we wish to reclaim. Dalit families in Haryana were beaten because a dog cared for by them barked in the upper caste community’s housing complex. Ultimately, they had to leave the village to settle in another village.”

An analysis by National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights suggests that the Centre failed to meet the constitutional obligation of allocating Rs 7,000 crore towards post-matric scholarships for marginal students. It is still stuck at Rs 5,660 crore for SCs and Rs 3,416 crore for STs. Similarly, the allocation for Job creation too reduced from Rs 170.96 crore to Rs 22.97 crore.

Elizabeth Alexander, a PhD scholar at Ambedkar University Delhi, who joined the protest, said that the agitation was called with a larger spectrum of demands, including reinstating the Caste Census and reservation in the private sector. She maintained that there was a bid by the Sangh Parivar to declare all Dalits as a homogeneous group within the Hindu fold. The caste census is a necessary step in locating the progress of these groups. She said, “The Caste Census is the first step towards empowerment, but the protest has been called against the increasing number of caste atrocities facilitated by the government. We are also protesting against the New Education Policy, which forces Dalit students out of higher education.”

The doctoral student said, “As far as the question of reservations in private sector is concerned, it is true that there is resistance from private employers over the ‘quality of work’. I think it is an extremely casteist notion that the inclusion of workers from Dalit communities will compromise the quality of work and it goes against the idea of merit. We know that the employers come from a certain caste and class.” 

Alexander added, “The number of jobs in the public sector is dwindling because the vacancies are not being filled, and rampant privatisation is wiping out public sector undertakings (PSUs). Reservations in the private sector must be implemented to ensure that these socially backward castes also have a fair chance at equality. If it is not done, we will wage a stronger movement across the country.”

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