Valmiki Politics: Outrage over Hathras Gangrape May Affect BJP and Sangh's Hindutva Project
A 19-year-old Dalit girl from a village near Hathras was brutally raped by four young men belonging to a locally dominant upper caste few days ago.
According to the victim’s family members, police burnt her body forcefully at 3am and did not allow them to take part in the final rituals. As various readings of this act continue to appear in the media, here, we will focus on how the incident is going to affect the prospects of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of country.
The cruelty and brutality of this act are being criticised by almost all sections of society. It certainly broke the heart of people across castes and communities.
The incident has created an opinion against police and administration which ultimately produced a sharp criticism against the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh. All such acts, in fact, affect the image of the ruling party anywhere but this act bears special political meanings for the BJP.
According to media report, the gang-rape victim belonged to Valmiki caste. People from the Valmiki caste are coming on the roads across the country to protest against the incident.
The Valmiki (Balimiki) caste is a political aware, opinion maker Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of India. Though it is not as big a caste as the Jatavs in UP, they are mostly urban based, educated and have influenced political parties through their different kinds of democratic assertions.
According to the 2011 Census, the population of Valmikis in UP is around 13, 19,241. In Delhi and NCR region, they appear as an effective Dalit political community and in Punjab, it is the second-largest Dalit community.
After Independence, the community largely voted for the Congress in several elections at the Centre and states. Around 70s, the RSS started its ‘sewa karya’ among them and expanded its base slowly.
With this, Hindutva politics slowly started growing among the Valmikies. As the Congress weakened in the Hindi-speaking states, a large section of Valmikies emerged as the Dalit vote base for the BJP. During the the Samrasata project, the Sangh laid emphasis on non-Jatav Dalit groups and the Valmikis evolved as leading Dalit community for Hindutva politics.
The Sangh tried to define the Valmikis’ identity as a dignified Hindu community who were compelled to do such menial work by Muslim rulers in the medieval period. Through a reinterpretation of their history, the Sangh tried to provide them dignity and comfort in the Hindutva scheme of social mobilisation.
Due to the Sangh’s hard work, followed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and BJP, Valmikis voted for the saffron camp in a number of elections in the past in several states.
In Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab, the Valmiki community contributed significantly as the electoral support base for the BJP.
If the Hathras rape incident produces a political massage and disseminates among the communities in these states, it may harm the prospects of the BJP during the coming elections. As we know, this is the era of social media and cyber-dominated public sphere, this incident may emerge as a mobilising issue against the BJP. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, mobile SMSes are full of stories and opinions against the episode. People from Dalit communities, especially Valmikis, are launching processions and dharnas over it.
The Valmiki diaspora is very assertive and active in countries like the UK, US and Netherlands. The diaspora is also raising its voice on the issue and mobilising public opinion to create pressure on the government. Political parties like the Congress and Bhim Army are also trying hard to reframe Dalit public opinion in the context of the incident. Priyanka, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and the UP Congress are speaking and protesting against the government.
If the BJP and Adityanath do not succeed in containing public anger, especially the Dalits, it may be harmful not just for the BJP, but for the entire Hindutva political project in country.