“I am the person who organised Bharat bandh.” This is how Ashok Bharti introduces himself.
Bharti, a Dalit born in Rajaram Basti near Jama Masjid in old Delhi, was one among seven children of a father who worked as a tailor and mother who used to sew bags to make ends meet. He went on to study in Australia on Ambedkar National Overseas fellowship, became a fellow at Ashoka University and left his job in 2007 to take up Dalit activism full-time.
He is now planning another round of protests on August 15, about which he doesn’t say much except that the protests during Bharat bandh “will pale in comparison to what we’re planning this time.”
Bharti’s role as the head of National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) in organising the April 2 protests was recently discussed at Multi Agency Centre (MAC) — the hub of the country’s various intelligence communities, a report published in Firstpost.com said.
Speaking to News18.com, he challenged the government to “implement reservation in private sector by August 15 or prepare for unprecedented Dalit anger”. He also had a message for BSP chief Mayawati. “This is not Mayawati’s preserve anymore. She better fall in line.”
What was it about the March 20 Supreme Court order — which banned immediate arrest of a person under SC/ST Act — which infuriated Dalits across the country?
The judicial system in this country has failed Dalits and Adivasis time and again. In this case, the fundamental principle of justice is that unless you hear the affected party, you cannot decide on its fate. Right from 1990s, the higher judiciary has been deciding and affecting the life and livelihoods of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes without hearing their perspective and without consulting even National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
The two-member bench of the Supreme Court on March 20 passed an order that directly affected the lives of 30 crore people. Did the SCs and STs not have a right to present their views on the subject? According to the principles of natural justice, the answer is yes.
Another fact that has antagonised Dalits is the exclusive nature of India’s judiciary. There are historical reasons for Dalit anger spilling over. There are hardly any SC/ST judges in the Supreme Court. The apex court has just one female judge right now, and the representation of minority communities is also scarce in the highest court of India. Our top-most court has mostly upper caste, upper class judges.
The government must now act to ensure representation of SC/STs in judiciary. Since judiciary is not reforming and we can’t wait for reforms in judiciary for the next 100 years, Parliament should enforce our representation through a bill in the Monsoon Session.
If you indeed organised the ‘Bharat Bandh’ protests, how were you able to mobilise so many people in such a short time?
I can’t tell you much except that the Dalits were ready to come out and express themselves and I just facilitated them. But let me add here that no political party in this country, BJP or Congress or BSP, has the slightest clue about the sort of resentment brewing among Dalits in the country right now.
A new crop of grounded, firebrand leaders have just taken over the Dalit community. This is not Mayawati’s preserve anymore. She and the rest better fall in line or fall out of our way.
Are you planning any protests on April 14 or beyond?
There is massive insecurity among Dalits in India after the March 20 Supreme Court order. We believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking at an unprecedented situation as far as Dalit anger in India is concerned.
We have made certain demands and if they’re not met by August 15, when PM Modi usually makes new policy announcements, we will start a countrywide agitation which will pale even ‘Bharat Bandh’ protests.
So what are the demands?
We want the government to withdraw all cases against Dalits which were lodged against them for expressing their anger through democratic means. Thousands of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and in other states have been implicated in false cases. These cases need to be withdrawn and prosecution stopped against them immediately. If state governments can withdraw cases of rape and rioting against their MLAs, they can certainly withdraw false cases against us.
Secondly, we have requested the government to resolve all pending issues on welfare of tribals, SCs and STs on or before August 15. The government needs to implement reservation in private sector, reservation in judiciary, ensure our inclusion in army, greater representation in police and ensure proportionate allocation of Budget as per the population of SCs and STs. The government also needs to withdraw its UGC order immediately.
Reservation in private sector has been quite a controversial issue in India...
It is not us but India’s private industries that promised to take steps in this direction. In 2006, the Confederation of Indian Industry came out with a report promising “affirmative action” as far as the representation of SCs and STs is concerned. More than a decade has passed since. The government needs to find out why no steps have been taken so far on this.