Bahujans must come to power: Chandrashekhar Azad

first_imgChandrashekhar Azad, the fiery Dalit activist from Uttar Pradesh shot to prominence in 2017 when he was jailed for over a year for a Thakur-Dalit clash in Saharanpur. Called ‘Ravan’ by his followers, in a subaltern challenge to BJP’s Ram, Azad famously put up a signboard in his village that read, ‘The Great Chamars of Dhadkhauli Welcome You’.The 32-year-old, who leads the Bhim Army, is seen as one of the faces of an emerging radical Bahujan movement. With his twirled moustache, iconic dark blue scarf, and Enfield Bullet, Azad makes a statement wherever he goes, and it’s obvious he was the inspiration behind the character of Nishad in the recent Bollywood film, Article 15.He is in jail again, this time in Delhi, over protests against the demolition of Ravidas Mandir, a temple for poet-saint Ravidas of the 16th century who has a large Dalit following. He met The Hindu when he was in Karnataka a few days before his arrest. Excerpts:The demolition of the Ravidas Mandir has created a new flashpoint between Dalits and the Centre. But the government says it was the Supreme Court that ordered the demolition for violating zoning norms?It was the Delhi Development Authority that sought to demolish the temple, not the Supreme Court. The government used the court to achieve its end. The issue finally boils down to respecting Bahujan cultural symbols. PM Narendra Modi visited Ravidas Mandir in Varanasi earlier this year and said he was a devotee of Sant Ravidas. Now he must take the lead in restoring the temple or his hypocrisy will be exposed. We will launch a nationwide protest demanding its restoration on the same spot.The recent Bollywood film, Article 15, had a character modelled on you. Did you see the film? There has been criticism that instead of telling the story of caste oppression from the perspective of the Dalit, the movie did it from the perspective of a Brahmin officer. What is your take on this?I have not seen the film. But the opposition to the film by the upper castes and the right wing is telling of how the entire system works against Dalits. Maybe it is not time to tell the story from a Dalit perspective in the mainstream. Maybe the film wouldn’t have released at all if that were the case. But I have heard of recent films in the South with Dalit protagonists. I feel the progressives among the upper castes need to come forward to question caste hierarchy. But it is time we lead our struggles and tell our stories and those from other castes need to support us.Many are critical of the style of Bhim Army, though not its substance. They argue that violence only begets more violence. What is your take?We have the right to fight for our rights and don’t have to tolerate any oppression. It is time our voices rang louder on the streets. Bhim Army is Ambedkarite in its outlook — Educate, Organise and Agitate. We believe nothing comes without struggle and we are ready for any sacrifice. We are not attacking anyone, but if someone comes into our homes and hits us, we will not hesitate to retaliate in self-defence. When the system is so geared up against us, what else can we do? I was blamed for the violence in Saharanpur and arrested, but nobody speaks of the violence wrecked on us. The state brands Dalits who raise their voice as Naxals, as we have seen in Bhima Koregaon, and Muslims as terrorists.Does the rise of radical Dalit leaders and their large followings among the youth indicate the failure of mainstream Dalit politics?Mainstream Dalit parties have failed repeatedly. A student who has all the resources but fails exams repeatedly cannot claim to be a brilliant student. Most of our politicians today are crorepatis; they come from dynasties that don’t know our problems. We cannot let their failure fail the movement. These parties are severely compromised on the ideological front, including in allying with a brahminical party like the BJP. As these leaders remain stuck in AC rooms, the youngsters fight on the streets, giving rise to new leaders and a militant movement.The BJP now seeks to claim the legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, even to defend the revoking of Article 370 in J&K. The BSP has supported the move. How do you view the government’s handling of Dalit issues?Brahminism is in the DNA of the BJP and its ideological mentor, the RSS. This seeks to impose the Manusmriti, which doesn’t allot any power to Shudras and Dalits. While we can become the President of India, we still cannot enter a temple. The social forces that this regime has emboldened, giving them impunity, have translated into increased atrocities against minorities, Dalits and tribals. Dalits are the biggest targets of lynchings, even more than Muslims.On Kashmir, the future of Dalits cannot be seen in isolation. It is linked with the aspirations of Kashmiris. It is better if BJP stops trying to appropriate Ambedkar as it is a legacy they can never claim and it only exposes their hypocrisy.RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has called for an open debate on reservations.The RSS-BJP has always been anti-reservation and their agenda is to subvert reservation. By giving reservation to the poor among upper castes, they have done exactly that. Reservation has always been about correcting social and educational backwardness, not economic. This government has been keen on disinvestment of PSUs, which essentially hits Dalits, as there is no reservation in the private sector. Mohan Bhagwat’s statement only reflects the anti-Dalit mindset of the RSS-BJP. We are ready for a debate on reservation with Mohan Bhagwat. Let us debate on what we have really got from reservation in the last seven decades. Even today 54% of Dalits don’t own any land. We will tell what we have gained and what we have lost because of caste in this society.The Opposition has failed to defeat BJP electorally, despite the Mahagathbandhan of the SP-BSP in UP. How can you counter the BJP, even as many aspirational Shudra and Dalit classes cosy up to the party?The only way to fight BJP is to take to the streets. They may have a majority in Parliament but we [Bahujans] have a majority on the streets. All pro-Constitution forces need to unite for this fight. Though we may have failed once, that should not deter us. More than political alliances between parties, we need to mobilise people on the ground. Any truck with the BJP is against the interests of the Bahujan community. We need to expose this and convince people.Was the SP-BSP alliance fraught with contradictions, as in the villages it is the OBCs and Dalits who are often in confrontation with each other? Is an OBC-Dalit alliance practical?We in the Bhim Army believe the Bahujan community includes all oppressed classes — Dalits, Adivasis, Shudras and minorities — and we will work towards bringing these classes together in the villages at a social level. Bahujan unity is the key to countering the larger Manuvad [parties] ruling us today.There has been an argument that the Left and Dalit movements must unite. Do you feel synergising these two mass movements is the way ahead?Bahujan politics is the politics of kamzor log (the weak) and we are ready to support anyone participating in these politics, in a pro-Constitution manner. I believe, while there may be several organisations working independently, we need to come together to fight on common issues, be it various Dalit organisations or even the Left. But enough of us voting others to make them leaders, now we want others to vote for our leadership. Historically, it is time this happened.Bhim Army is in expansion mode. Your success in UP has been organic. Can you replicate it elsewhere?Our success in UP is largely due to the Bhim Shaalas we run, evening and holiday schools in villages and slums where we educate Bahujan youth in English, help them with studies and impart political education to help them cultivate a Bahujan consciousness. Bhim Army runs 1,700 such schools in UP, which has given us a committed cadre. We will soon begin Bhim Shaalas across the country. India is a diverse land and we will factor that in. Bhim Army will be the loudest voice on the streets for Bahujans everywhere.Is Bhim Army on its way to becoming a political party or are you caught between remaining a social movement and entering electoral politics?Bhim Army is not averse to electoral politics, but it is not an organisation that is only political. We will always remain part of the larger Bahujan movement; electoral politics is only one of the means to further the cause. We follow both Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram and believe the Bahujan community, which has a majority in society, must come to power.You had dropped ‘Ravan’ from your name but now it is back?It is the people who lovingly called me Ravan for taking on the BJP. But I realised BJP was trying to polarise the people as supporters of Ram and Ravan in Varanasi when I announced I would contest against Narendra Modi. So, I announced I was dropping Ravan from my name. But now that the elections are over and people like calling me Ravan, it is back.adhitya.bharadwaj@thehindu.co.inlast_img read more

A woman accused of abusing her 14monthold until

first_imgA woman accused of abusing her 14-month-old until he wound up in the hospital with severe head trauma and died was indicted by the Tuscaloosa County Grand Jury on aggravated child abuse and murder charges Wednesday.The incident happened Dec. 18, 2018, when Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit investigators visited Children’s Hospital in Birmingham after a report of the child named Tedarrius Ryce was brought into the hospital suffering severe head trauma.Doctors said the baby had no brain activity, and the baby’s injuries were consistent with trauma and shaken baby syndrome. Doctors placed the baby on life support, and he died Dec. 20.In April, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences medical examiner ruled the baby’s death as a homicide, and the Tuscaloosa Grand Jury indicted his mother, 30-year-old Temika Carter on aggravated child abuse and murder charges.Carter was placed in the Tuscaloosa County Jail Wednesday pending a $30,000 bond.last_img read more