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The Oppression of Shudras in India, Part III: Sections 4-6 of "Problem of Dalits"

Thursday, September 14, 2006

By the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

The views and opinions expressed in this essay do not neccessarily reflect those of the creator of this blog and are the sole responsibiliby of the author. Essays expressing opinions similar to and counter to those of the creator of this blog are strictly for diversity and to start thoughtful and meaningful discussion.

This essay is taken from sections four through six of Resolution Adopted at the All India Convention on Problems of Dalits by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in New Delhi, India on Feb. 22, 2006.


With the onset of the imperialist-dictated policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation by the ruling classes of our country during the last decade and a half, the problems of dalits, adivasis, other backward castes and the working people as a whole have greatly aggravated. The drive to privatise the public sector has directly hit reservations for the SC/STs. The closure of thousands of mills and factories have rendered lakhs jobless and this has also hit dalits and other backward castes. The ban on recruitment to government and semi-government jobs that has been imposed in several states has also had an adverse effect. The growing commercialisation of education and health has kept innumerable people from both socially and economically backward sections out of these vital sectors. In this background, reservation in private sector has become very important because the joblessness among the SC and STs has witnessed a steady increase in the recent period.

The most disastrous effects of these policies can be seen in the deep agrarian crisis that has afflicted the rural sector. Rural employment has sharply fallen and this has hit dalits, adivasis and women the most. Mechanisation of agriculture has further compounded the problem. The real wages of agricultural workers, of whom a large proportion are dalits, have fallen in many states. No efforts are made to implement minimum wage legislation even where it exists, and periodic revision of minimum wage is also conspicuous by its absence. The dismantling of the public distribution system has increased hunger to alarming proportions. An overwhelming proportion of the malnutrition-related deaths of thousands of children in several states is from dalit and adivasi families. Thus, the neo-liberal policies have accentuated both the economic as well as the social divide in the country.


There is no doubt that due to the whole range of alternative polcies pursued by the Left-led state governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, the position of dalits and adivasis have markedly improved in these states. But even before the Left came to power in these states, Communist leaders staunchly fought on the issues relating to caste oppression. In Kerala, in the pre-independence period, Communist leaders, while leading class struggles, also led temple entry satyagrahas for the dalits in the teeth of upper caste opposition. In West Bengal, the Communists made conscious attempts in practice to carry forward the rich legacy of the glorious social reform movement in the state. In Tripura, too, the Communists raised the issue of caste oppression as an integral part of the class struggle. In Tamilnadu in East Thanjavur area the struggle led by communists against the class and caste oppression of dalits formed the base for a strong kisan movement.

It was in the great anti-feudal peasant struggles led by the Communists in the 1940s that India for the first time got a glimpse of the possibility of the annihilation of caste and communalism once and for all. Historic struggles like Telangana, Tebhaga, Punnapara Vayalar and others squarely targeted landlordism and imperialism and in this process, they succeeded in forging the unprecedented unity of all toilers, cutting across caste and religious lines. The struggle reached its highest point in Telangana. Thousands of villages were liberated from landlord rule and actual land redistribution to the landless was carried out. A large number of the beneficiaries of this land reform were dalits and adivasis, who got possession of land for the first time. The remarkable class unity of the peasantry that was forged in this struggle struck the first blows at caste and communal ideology and practice.

In more recent times, the CPI(M) and the mass organisations in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere have been leading a concerted statewide campaign and struggle for the last few years on the issues of untouchability and caste oppression. This is meeting with encouraging public response, with dalits being attracted to the Left.


The first Communist ministry in Kerala, the Left Front governments in West Bengal and Tripura and the Left Democratic Front regimes in Kerala took up land reforms as their priority task. They combined this by strengthening panchayati raj.

In West Bengal, of the more than 13.81 lakh acres of agricultural land vested in the state, 10.69 lakh acres have been distributed among 26.43 lakh people. The significant feature is that 56 per cent of the beneficiaries belong to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. This is almost double their proportion in the population. Of the land distributed, 4.48 lakh pattas were issued jointly to men and women and 52,000 pattas were meant exclusively for women. It is a creditable record that 18 per cent of the total ceiling surplus land of the country and 20 per cent of the total distributed land of the country is in West Bengal alone.

Besides this, the rights of nearly 15 lakh sharecroppers have been recorded, covering 11.08 lakh acres of land, and 5.44 lakh poor families have been given homestead land. Over 42 per cent of the recorded sharecroppers belonged to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Now nearly 72 per cent of the land in West Bengal is managed by poor and marginal farmers. As a result of land reforms and other measures taken by the Left Front government, agricultural production has increased by 250 per cent and more. Landless agricultural labour has been guaranteed a minimum wage and is provided with work during lean months. A large proportion of the beneficiaries of these measures naturally belong to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In the three-tier panchayat system, the representation of SCs, STs and women is considerably higher than the reserved quotas in both West Bengal and Tripura. Panchayat Raj institutions in these states are largely controlled by poor peasants and agricultural labourers, unlike in most other parts of the country, where they are in the grip of landlords and rich peasants.

The West Bengal LF government has also initiated a large number of schemes to specifically support dalits and adivasis. Scholarships are provided to 1.1 lakh dalit students and 80,000 adivasi students. 240 hostels for primary and secondary students from the dalit and adivasi communities have been constructed. 32,000 dalit students and 28,000 adivasi students are provided with expenses for living in hostels at the pre-secondary level. An SC/ST Development and Finance Corporation has been established to support poor dalit and adivasi families by providing finance for household-based self-employment schemes. As against the poor national average that we saw above, 26 % of primary teachers and 29 % of secondary teachers in West Bengal come from the scheduled castes. For scheduled tribes, the percentage is 9 and 11 respectively.

The Tripura Left Front government also has a creditable record in the upliftment of the SCs and STs. In 1991, while the overall literacy was 60.44 %, the SC literacy was 56.66 %. The 2001 census figures of literacy are not yet available, but they are expected to show a considerable increase. Female SC literacy doubled from 23.24 % in 1981 to 45.45 % in 1991. A striking feature in the state is that SCs are not confined exclusively to ‘Paras’ or ‘Bastis’ like in some other parts of the country. They by and large live and intermingle with each other. There are no bonded labourers among SCs in the state. Provision of minimum wage to agricultural labourers, many of whom are SCs, is stringently implemented. SC families are legally protected against exploitation by money-lenders. Reservations in services, posts and educational institutions are strictly monitored and implemented. All scavengers engaged in carrying night soil by head load were liberated in 1991 itself and special schemes were undertaken for their rehabilitation. In the small state of Tripura, 40,000 SC students are being given pre-matric scholarships by the government. 2000 meritorious SC students are being given the Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Memorial Award each year. The sum of the award ranges from Rs. 400 to Rs. 1500 per annum. 30 hostels for SC boys and girls have been set up. Special schemes have been started for providing housing and medical assistance to SCs. Special development programmes for welfare of SCs are taken up and implemented every three years.

It is as a result of a long process of struggle combined with the above governmental measures, and an intensive ideological campaign by the Party and the Left that untouchability and caste oppression against dalits and adivasis have been reduced to a large extent in West Bengal and Tripura under Left Front rule. Atrocities against dalits and adivasis, which abound in many other parts of the country, are almost unheard of in these two states. Thus, in 2001, at the All India level, there were 33,503 cases of crimes committed against scheduled castes, of which 716 were murders, 1316 were rapes and 400 were abductions. In West Bengal that year, there were only 10 such crimes and in Tripura there were only 2 such crimes. In the same year, at the All India level, there were 6,217 cases of crimes committed against scheduled tribes, of which 167 were murders, 573 were rapes, and 67 were abductions. In West Bengal that year, there were only 2 such crimes and in Tripura there was not a single such crime. All this conclusively shows that it is only a Left alternative that can show the way to ending the age-old scourge of untouchability, caste oppression and social discrimination.


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