Dalit Monuments for Diversity

The Goths were an East Germanic Tribe who became an important contributor to the fall of the Roman Empire. Their battles with Roman Emperors devastated the Balkan region for almost a century. Their religion, their language and their art are the only things what’s left of them. Moreover, most of their history is folklore and their existence supported only through the monuments and ruins they left. No one surely knows where they came from; they never left a written document.

Some call them vandals and others call them warriors. Their history is based on legends but we know for a fact that they were there. Their ancient ruins and art-work have left their mark. But not all tribes and clans are that lucky to survive history. Many have vanished without leaving traces.

In India, a land of Diverse, different castes and tribes need ways to be remembered. Indian history before British is filled with names of Kings and Priests, the upper-castes of Hindu Society. It’s almost like the other castes never existed or had any role in development of India. The potters, the artisans, the sculptors, all belonged to these other castes and have virtually no mention in Indian history. I remember my History book and the first Dalit personality I was introduced to was Dr. Ambedkar.

Still we don’t know the name of an influential Indian who belonged to a Scheduled Tribe. Even for the Dalit personalities, the names are countable. And if Dalit leaders want people to know more about them, what’s the harm. Surely, there are other ways of promotion but in India, pomp and show is the only norm to catch the eye. Mayawati had to spend Rs. 685 crore on the Dali Prerna Sthal to prop the dalit leaders into public imagination.

Gandhi’s name in India is alive and kicking even after decades of Gandhiji’s death. Not because of his ideals or his teaching; it’s because of public imagination being hijacked by Gandhi-Nehru family. When Kalyan Singh was in power, he vowed to help Gandhi statues outnumber Ambedkar statues 2 to 1. One goes to a small village in India and they know the name Gandhi. Much rumoured is the fact that Indira Gandhi married Feroz Gandhi to catch the “Gandhi” surname.

What is not a rumour is how Teen Murthy Bhawan, seat for Prime Minister of India, was declared a memorial for Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. The declaration didn’t come from Parliament or people; it was Indira Gandhi who personally called for it while she was not even the Prime Minister. National Awards, National Schemes, National Stadiums, Nation Airports, all bear names of Gandhi family. It’s almost like the name “Gandhi” is shoved down our throats and we swallow it gleefully.

But when Mayawati does the same, it’s called a waste, a shameful act, etc. etc. Personally, I am not an ardent supporter of hers. She is not being Pro-Dalit but Anti-Other-Castes. She is a corrupt leader with extreme paranoia. But her monument creation is a way to make public perception diverse.

Public needs to know more about other leaders of India. We need to know more about Ch. Charan Singh, Tau Devilal, NT Rama Rao, etc. All of them were great leaders with tremendous Leadership and Management skills. Another such name is Late Mahendra Singh Tikait, the true and sole leader of farmers of U.P. But all of them were regional big-wigs but are just side notes in Indian History.

India is surely a diverse nation but the media and public imagination is stuck at Gandhi-Nehru family. The ongoing campaign for U.P elections is the classic case of diverting attention. Citizens of U.P know that Congress is not a potent force in U.P and only thing that can counter BSP is Mulayam Singh Yadav. But Mayawati, being a shrewd politician, is diverting attention of public towards a non-winner. She is using public and media’s
fascination with the enigma called Rahul Gandhi, to win U.P again. In India, Gandhi sells and through the currency note, it’s literally true.

Mayawati is not alone is this diversification of imagination. Andhra Pradesh Open University has been renamed to B. R. Ambedkar University. Former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, was the poster-boy for Dalits in Tamil Nadu. Everyone is doing it, but Mayawati’s larger-than-life persona is what makes her the target. Also, building her own statues and her parent’s embosses just shows her self-centred approach. But the fundamental idea needs to be remembered. She is starting a counter-culture in India. She expressing and bringing to life the idols of Dalits.

Economic costs behind it can be debated and reduced, but need to diversify public imagination must be promoted. If today the Indian Peninsula submerges into the sea and gets discovered by later humans, we don’t want them to think that Gandhi-Nehru family was the only glue that held India together. After all, the only thing that can be found everywhere in India is the name “Gandhi”.

Abhay Nidhi