If Hindu village is a symbol of Gram Swaraj, it is a Gram Swaraj of caste Hindus, by caste Hindus and for caste Hindus. Gram Swaraj empowers Caste Hindus to rule over the Dalits. It is a kind of
colonialism of the caste Hindus designed to exploit the Dalits.
Gram Swaraj means self-rule of village. It is independence to village. It is a social, economic and political freedom to village. It is an empowerment of village. It is a self-rule for self-sufficient village. The ideal meaning of Gram Swaraj is that recognizing the village as an autonomous administrative unit with its own legislature, executive and judiciary. Each village forming a little state in itself is Gram Swaraj. Is this the meaning of village republic (Gram Swaraj) or more than what meets to the eye? Whose Gram Swaraj it is? Who stays in the village? Do Dalits stay in the village?. What kind of village actually exists in India? Does it have the culture of social democracy? From the point of view of the Dalits, these are pertinent questions. To find answers, first let us examine typical village system existing in our country as analyzed by Dr.B.R.Ambedkar.
The village in India is not a single social unit. It consists of castes. However, the population in the village is broadly divided into two sections- (i). caste Hindu(savarna) and (ii) Dalits(avarna). The Caste Hindus are Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra(including OBC). OBC Shudras are economically and educationally backward in comparison to so called Upper caste Hindus. OBCs are the part of village system as they are not socially excluded. They don't have social stigma of untouchability. They are socially acceptable in the village culture. Where as Dalits and Adivasi are not parts of village system. Adivasi stay in hills and forests. Since they live far away from villages, they don't have any impact of Hindu village culture. Adivasi developed their own village system and culture entirely different from Hindu village system.
In the village system, the Caste Hindus (including OBC) are touchables and the Dalits are untouchables. Caste Hindus form the major community and the Dalits a minority community. Dalits are social minorities in village system. The Caste Hindus live inside the village and the Dalits live outside the village in separate quarters. Economically, the Caste Hindus form a strong and powerful community, while the Dalits are a poor and a dependent community. Socially, the Caste Hindus occupy the position of a ruling race, while the Dalits occupy the position of a subject race of hereditary bondsmen.
What are the terms of associated life on which the Caste Hindus and Dalits live in an Indian village? In every village the Caste Hindus have a code which the Dalits are required to follow. This code lays down the acts of omissions and commissions which the Caste Hindus treat as offences. The following is the list of such offences:
n The Dalits must live in separate quarters away from the habitation of the Hindus. It is an offence for the Dalits to break or evade the rule of segregation.
n The quarters of the Dalits must be located towards the South, since the South is the most inauspicious of the four directions. A breach of this rule shall be deemed to be an offence.
n The Dalits must observe the rule of distance or shadow of pollution. It is an offence to break the rule.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community to acquire wealth, such as land or cattle.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community to build a house with tiled roof.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community to put on a clean dress, wear shoes, put on a watch or gold ornaments.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community to give high sounding names to their children. Their names be such as to indicate contempt.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community to sit on a chair in the presence of a Hindu (including OBC Hindu).
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community to ride on a horse or a palanquin through the village.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community to take a procession of Dalits through the village.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community not to salute a Hindu.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community not to speak a cultured language.
n It is an offence for a member of the Dalit community, if he happens to come into the village on a sacred day which the Hindus treat as the day of fast and at or about the time of the breaking of fast, to go about speaking, on the ground that their breath is held to foul the air and the food of the Hindus.
n It is an offence for a Dalit to wear the outward marks of a Caste Hindu and pass himself as a Caste Hindu.
n A Dalit must confirm to the status of an inferior and he must wear the marks of his inferiority for the public to know and identify him such as-
a. Having a contemptible name.
b. Not wearing clean clothes.
c. Not having tiled roof.
d. Not wearing silver and gold ornaments.
A contravention of any of these rules is an offence. Every Hindu in the village regards himself as a superior person above the Dalits. As an overlord, he feels it absolutely essential to maintain his prestige. This prestige he cannot maintain unless he has at his command a retinue to dance attendance on him. It is in the Dalit that he finds a ready retinue which is at his command and for which he does not have to pay. The Dalits by reason of their helplessness cannot refuse to perform these duties and the Hindu villager does not hesitate to exact them since they are so essential to the maintenance of his prestige. A breach of any of the offences involves sure punishment for the Dalits. Another important thing to note is that the punishment for these offences is always collective. The whole community of Dalits is liable for punishment though the offence may have been committed by an individual.
The main source of living in India is agriculture. But this source of earning a living is generally not open to the Dalits. Hence, Dalits in the villages are agricultural landless labourers. In the first place purchase of land is beyond their means. Secondly, even if a Dalit has the money to purchase land he has no opportunity to do so. In most parts the Hindus would resent a Dalit coming forward to purchase land and thereby trying to become the equal of the Caste Hindus. Such act of daring on the part of a Dalit would not only be frowned upon but might easily invite punishment. The result is that in most part the Dalits are forced to be landless labourers. As labourers they cannot demand reasonable wages. They have to work for the Hindu farmer for such wages as their masters choose to give. On this issue the Hindu farmers can combine to keep the wages to the lowest level possible for it is to their interests to do so. On the other hand the Dalits have no holding power. They must earn or starve. Nor have they any bargaing power. They must submit to the rate fixed or suffer violence. When the agricultural season is over the Dalits have no employment and no means of earning a living. There is no trade in which they are engaged themselves as a means of earning a livelihood. They have not the capital for it and even if they had, no one would buy from them.
There is no social security, no economic security and no political security to Dalits in the villages. There is only one secure source of livelihood is to do menial jobs. Every village has its machinery of administration. The Dalits of the village are hereditary menials employed in the village administration. This is the Village Republic existing in our country. The position of Dalits in this Republic is that they are not merely the last but are also the least. Dalit is stamped as an inferior and is held down to that status by all ways and means which a majority can command.
This inferiority is the destiny not merely of an individual but of the whole class. All Dalits are inferior to all Caste Hindus irrespective of age or qualification. A Caste Hindu youth is above an aged Dalit and an educated Dalit must rank below an illiterate Caste Hindu.
The Dalits have no rights against the Caste Hindus. For them there is no equal right, no justice by which that which is due to the Dalits is allowed to them. Nothing is due to them except what the Caste Hindus are prepared to grant. The Dalits must not insist on rights. This is the destiny of Dalits in the village. This destiny has no relation to the merits of the individuals living under it. A Dalit however superior he may be mentally or morally, is below a Caste Hindu in rank, no matter how inferior he may be mentally or morally. A Caste Hindu however poor he may be, must always take rank above a Dalit, however rich he may be.
Such is the picture of the inside life in an Indian village. In this Gram Swaraj, there is no place for democracy. There is no room for equality. There is no room for liberty and there is no room for fraternity. The Gram Swaraj in Indian village is the very negation of a Republic.
If Hindu village is a symbol of Gram Swaraj, it is a Gram Swaraj of the Caste Hindus, by the Caste Hindus and for the Caste Hindus. Gram Swaraj empowers Caste Hindus to rule over the Dalits. It is a kind of colonialism of the Caste Hindus designed to exploit the Dalits.
The Dalits have no rights. They are there only to wait, serve and submit. They are there to do or to die. They have no rights because they are outside the Gram Swaraj as they live outside the village. This is a fact which cannot be gainsaid.
Thus, Gram Swaraj is Jati Swaraj(Rule of the Caste). It is the rule of dominant castes over hapless lower castes. Dr. Ambedkar felt that village in India is hell on the earth. To come out of the torment of this hell, he suggested two ways. One is Dalits to migrate from village to city. As Dalits are social aliens to the village, they have no right on the land, air and water of the village. By migrating to city, the Dalit has nothing to lose except Gram Swaraj of Caste Hindu. He will be getting independence from the rule of feudal village. Another remedy Dr.Ambedkar suggested is resettlements of Dalit villages. Dalit villages are sub-villages without any rights. Dr.Ambedkar wanted to physically relocate Dalit village away from the Hindu village. Resettlement of Dalit villages with full social, economic and political rights gives them Gram Swaraj. Without resettlement of Dalit village, Dalits will never get freedom from Caste Hindu hegemony. n
(Author is director of Baba Saheb Ambedkar Centre for Dalit and Tribal Studies, MGIH University, Wardha)