His name is Ram Nath Kovind and he’s Dalit (formerly known as untouchable). You may read that he’s Dalit, viewing his election as a great sign of progress against caste oppression. Here, you say, is an example of someone from the bottom of India’s development ladder. Now, he’s the President of the world’s largest democracy.
His election is important, but it’s definitely not a sign of less caste discrimination or violence.
Here are some quick thoughts about what this means for India and Dalits.
The Indian media made a big deal about him as a Dalit. It’s true he was raised in impoverished circumstances. He mentioned his humble beginnings during his acceptance speech, but he’s quite far from that life today. Prior to his election, he was in India’s Upper House of Parliament.
While he may rightly call himself a ‘Dalit,’ he’s not a suffering Dalit, as many are. Rather he’s an educated and savvy political operator. Don’t count on him to rebuke casteism and discrimination. He’s far removed from that world.
India’s ruling party, the ultra-nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister shrewdly put forth Kovind as a presidential candidate. With him as President, Hindutva’s (hardline Hindu mindset) government influence, increasingly strong, won’t receive opposition from the President’s office.
The BJP party brilliantly choose this man to be the President because though he’s a Dalit, he’s well indoctrinated in Hindutva’s mindsets and approaches. He espouses them himself.
But, and this is important, the BJP needs the voting block of Indian Dalits.
Their votes are especially crucial in its poorest states, like Bihar (where Kovind hails from) to continue their onslaught against religious pluralism, while enshrining Hinduism as the state religion.
Since he’s a Dalit, Dalits are reticent to fight against one of their own, even if they aren’t always of the same mind ideologically. They’ll spar in private, but are historically too downtrodden to turn against one another, denigrating someone from their sub-caste in public.
The spokesman for the BJP, Amit Shah, and Modi know this. They can rely on Kovind’s tacit ‘blessing’ of their machinations, bringing Dalit votes for BJP candidates throughout India.
Modi essentially ‘bought’ himself a large new constituency of the electorate. Even if what Hindutva stands for (Brahmin elites, anti-Muslim, anti-beef, against caste integration, etc.), starkly contrasts with many Dalit tenets, they are loath to reject him or his platform as President.
The Dalit community does not speak with a unified voice. But, Modi’s preaching on financial improvement plays well to educated, middle-class Dalits. They overlook his nationalistic rhetoric because he’s selling economic improvement of their lives.
The dynamic is similar to the conservative right in the US. They tolerated Donald Trump, despite his jingoistic drivel, leading to his presidency.
Unfortunately, Kovind’s election as President signals more rubber stamping of the BJP’s dangerous views about who is a real Indian, and what that means. Meanwhile, secularism’s death spiral continues.
Perhaps, but they should look internally as well, realizing they bear plenty of responsibility for their underdevelopment.
In mid-July 2015, MP Shashi Tharoor gave an impassioned plea for Indian reparations after more than 200 years of British colonialism. You can watch the 15-minute clip below.
Many Indians, both in the country and abroad lauded his words.
Prime Minister Modi, even endorsed Tharoor’s sentiments saying ‘Tharoor’s speech reflected the feelings of patriotic Indians on the issue and showed what impression one can leave with effective arguments by saying the right things at the right place.’
I agree with most he said.
I disagree with his point about India and the railways. Yes, Britain originally built them to bring Indian goods to the British market. Thereby bypassing the Indian market. But when the British ‘quit’ India in 1947, they didn’t pack up the trains and millions of miles of track and take that them with them.
The railroads played a prominent role in India’s development. It connects India in ways few other countries can match.
Beyond that one issue, I think his other points were valid.
Without doing hours of additional research, they probably were correct. However, after listening to his speech at Oxford I had the following thoughts: read more …
1.3 million Indians clean shit off the street…with their hands.
Of that total, 97% are women. They know no other life. To visualize that number, picture a city like Dallas, Texas, Montreal, Canada or Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Now imagine if every single person in those cities, cleaned toilets by hand. That would equal the approximate number of Indian manual scavengers in 2013.
Are you shocked?
“Manual scavenging,” requires human beings to clean dry latrines unconnected to a watered sewer system. Usually they clean with rudimentary tools, such as small brooms, pieces of wood or tin plates. They put the refuse, both animal and human in baskets, carrying them on top of their heads.
India is a land that is really thousands of diverse countries under one flag. Different religions, varying tongues, a myriad of food options, dissimilar dressing styles, sundry climates, a plethora of political affiliations and parties etc… I could go on ad-nauseam. But there is one thing unites this vast nation unlike anything else — cricket.
Through interacting with a number of adopted friends over the years, it is clear that many of us are involved in social work or have social justice passions and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence. I think that for some of us what we experienced growing up, feeling “different,” and not “fitting in” gave us a real insight into those in our society who suffer in the same manner and are in pain. I know I feel that way.