Narendra Modi and the Dalits

Modi after garlanding Dr. B.R.Ambedkar's statue

I am willing to give Narendra Modi the benefit of doubt. I don’t see why his remarks have to “rock” the Rajya Sabha. He was not being politically correct; maybe he even meant what he said. But, is this an issue if we analyse it carefully?

Modi had said at the function on Monday that just as people give special treatment to mentally-retarded children when they visit their houses, the Dalits, too, ought to be treated the same way. He also called upon the people to change their mindset toward untouchability.

Recalling his speech during a function abroad, he said the Hindu society was one of its kind because it has always adapted to changes. He said untouchability is still an issue in the country despite several spiritual gurus campaigning to eradicate it.

There are mixed messages here and they do not make much sense. When something does not make sense, why react to it? I do not know of many people who give special treatment to mentally retarded children when they visit their homes for the simple reason that parents of mentally-retarded children will not take them anywhere, if they have not already put them in some institute. Dalits are not visitors or mentally-challenged children. They have special needs in terms of opportunities and social acceptance. Modi did allude to it when he mentioned the mindset should change.

What perturbs me more is that he has glorified spiritual gurus trying to eradicate untouchability. It wasn’t spiritual gurus but agents of change that have made attempts. That is why you have a class of people called Dalits in the first place. Hindu society may be adaptable, but clearly this is not one area it is willing to adapt to and with.

As happens often, it is not an issue about Dalits but politics. The Congress has accused Modi of catering to Dalit vote banks. I do not think Rahul Gandhi’s visits to Dalit homes was to taste their authentic cuisine.

And let us get over this who calls who what names. It is not right to demean a community or any section of society, but it is even worse when political correctness acts as a lid to cover inaction about why they can be called names at all.


  1. all the dalits need is a protection from state against persecution and retain the fruits of their labor. Case in point is what is going in Haryana in past few weeks.

    they are not dying to be accepted by the Indian upper classes. Once they are able to obtain the benefits of modern mobility, they have many places where they can pursue their life happily and free of discrimination.

    Although, British government specifically had to outlaw caste-based discrimination recently because of the various incidents of caste conflict in that country with only 4% Indian population.

    So, yes caste is endemic to Indian (this practice is popular across all religions in India). As regards to spiritual gurus, less said the better it is. The ultimate Godman of India; Gandhi forced a lousy bargain on Ambedkar with his usual antics that failed to impress Jinnah. So, here we are calling 1/4th of our citizenry mentally retarded children.

  2. Hitesh:

    Agree with you. Dalits need only that initial push but I don't think certain sections of society will let that happen. We suffer from a mai-baap syndrome and acceptance really means doing a favour.

    The regular cases of discrimination and abuse only mean that the people do not wish to change the status quo.

  3. Hitesh and Farzana,
    There are economic aspects as well that complement the manifest "social behavior". For instance, in places where the demand / supply ratio works in favour of farm labour (a section that more often than not happens to be mostly dalit) - resulting in better per day payments, the reaction from the landowners tends to get more casteistly shrill.

  4. Mahesh:

    I would agree, but isn't it the landowners who decide on how much to pay? Even if they don't, wouldn't the benefits accrue to them as well? Are we back to the argument that upward mobility of any kind is not looked upon well?


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