Some important dalit issues to be addressed by all political parties in Punjab and beyondIn the run up to elections in February, 2022, all political parties are gearing themselves to enter the corridors of power in Chandigarh. Most of them are busy in finalizing their candidates, preparing their election manifestos, formulating their strategies and making promises to woo the voters, as usual in a democratic set up. Out of 117 total seats in the assembly, 34 are reserved for SCs who form more than 32 % of the population as per the 2011 census (actually and obviously it is more). There are several issues both real and emotive which would engage the political outfits and the people and
would determine and influence the results of elections on March 10 such as; unemployment, fallout of Covid pandemic, slowed economic recovery, health, education, corruption, civic amenities, farmers issues in the light of the Kisan Andolan among others, as real issues and emotive issues like, perceived nationalism, increasing chasm among the communities giving way to divisive tendencies and also short term and momentary issues like security (recent incident of PM’s security), fundamentalism in the wake of Khalistani agenda of some elements of the society, cross border nefarious designs to disturb peace, inter alia. Of course, all the people of Punjab are directly concerned with all this and would like the new dispensation to address these issues.
As a large chunk of the population belongs to SC communities, I would confine this, off the cuff, piece to some of the specific, both long and short term issues, concerning the SC communities of the state with a view to underline these for the information and benefit of the political parties and players who are falling on each other to woo dalit voters in one way or the other. The latest example of this is the request by all parties to change the date of elections from February 14 to February 20 in view of Guru Ravidass Gurupurab on February 16. It is a matter of satisfaction that Election Commission has taken an amicable decision in this regard. No political party objected to February 14 as the voting date till some of the dalit organizations registered their view point and wanted the date either be preponed or postponed. Some of these issues are:
Long Term issues:
i) Post-Matric Scholrships to SC students – Over the years, this issue has been a bone of contention among the students and educational institutions on one hand and educational
institutions and the governments, both the central and state, on the other. The ultimate sufferers are hapless SC students and their poor parents. An immediate attention is needed to settle this matter. This problem is not only irritating but also detrimental to the careers of young SC students. Political parties shall list it as a priority issue rather than paying lip service and shout from house tops that SC students should be helped in getting education and not reservations.
ii) Share in village common land (Shamlaat) – This issue has been hanging fire since long but dalits are yet to get their sue share in the pie. Political parties should take note of it and give a much needed attention and priority to address this long standing and important issue pertaining to economic empowerment of the weaker sections of the society.
Short Term issues pertaining to socio-cultural aspects –
i) Tughlakabad Guru Ravidass Dharamasthan - Majority of dalit population of Punjab are the followers of Guru Ravidass. The Central Governments indifference and DDA’s highhandedness in the matter – first destruction and desecration of Guru Ravidass Dharamasthan, a historic site which was gifted by the then ruler Sikander Lodhi to the great Guru in 15-16th
century, in 2018, in the wake of agitation by the followers of Guru Ravidass, Government agreed to give 400 sq. meter of land and building of the Dharamasthan in 2019 and now again DDA’s demand of 4.33 crorers of rupees and allotment of land only for 30 years n lease has again raised the hackles of the followers of Guru Ravidass particularly in Punjab and UP. All political parties should consider and raise this subject with concerned authorities in Delhi to assuage the ruffled sentiments of dalits of Punjab. It is surprising that all political parties and their leaders are calling on Dera Sachkhand Ballan of Jalandhar for getting their blessings in the elections but nobody is interested in addressing the subject. It may be mentioned that Sant Niranjan Dass ji Maharaj of Dera Sachkhand Ballan is the Chairperson of the Committee formed by the authorities and BJP to oversee the re-construction of the Tughlakabad Guru Ravidass Dharamasthan and in spite of their disagreement and objections to the new demands of DDA uder the administrative control of the Central Ministry of Urban Development in Delhi. Dalits are furious over the matter which must be addressed, the sooner the better. The followrs of Guru Ravidass silently watching the response of political outfits and would respond appropriately in the forthcoming electoral slugfest.
ii) April 14, birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar as International Day of Equality
April 14 was celebrated at the UN in New York in which an officially backed delegation headed by Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal participated and referred to, in his speech, the proposal on International Day of Equality and urged the GOI to take up the matter through proper diplomatic channels with the UN. Subsequently in May, 2016, on return from New Youk, Speaker Atwal submitted a report to PM Narendra Modi and requested him to consider and officially take up the matter with UN. Since then, we have been regularly reminding the GOI but the central government is blissfully silent on the subject. On this account, there is a considerable resentment and anguish in the community particularly among the followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar. It is a matter of gratification to note that in 2020, City of Burnaby in Canada declared April 14 as ‘Ambedkar Day of Equality’ again in 2021, the Province of British Columbia of Canda made a similar pronouncement. GOI is yet wake up though they profess to own the legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar. The comunity, I believe, is not oblivious of the action to be taken to awake the sleeping authorities. Perhaps the time has almost come. Since the matter falls in the preview of the Central Government, we expect the state governments to support the proposal and pass a resolution in the newly formed assemblies by the incoming state governments in this regard and forward it to Mahamahim Rashtrapati ji at the first instance. It will not only be a befitting tribute to the great leader, Babasaheb Ambedkar but also a good gesture to add to the emotional empowerment of dalits by way of cultural diplomacy like India’s initiatives in declaring International Day of Non-violence in2007-08 and International Yoga Day in 2014-15.
iii) Honouring of dalit iconic personalities of Punjab – Subsequent to the change of guard in Punjab in November, 2021, I wrote to Education Minister Pargat
Singh under intimation to CM Charanjit Channi to recognize and honour the founder of Ad-dharam Movement and a Gadri Baba, Babu Manguram Mugowalia of Hoshiarpur and a People’s poet and ideologue, Gurdas Ram Alam of Jalandhar by naming school/college in their respective areas after the names of these sons of the soil. Hon’ble Minister did not even care to acknowledge my submissions. Any political party, I believe as apolitical person, who would consider and promise to act, would stand to win the people and gain their support. Any positive decision in this regard would tend to strengthen the emotional wellbeing of dalit communities.
With these humble submissions, I take this opportunity to wish all the best to all political parties and players in the festival democracy, Elections, 2022. Dalits are no more interested in remain sitting at the fringes. Anybody trying to ignore and side track the matters of concern and interest to them may do so at one’s own peril.
इक तर्ज तग़ाफ़ुल है ; सो वो उनको मुबारक ,
इक अर्जे तमन्ना है वह हम करते रहेंगे।