In April, after nine people were killed in clashes sparked by a Supreme Court order to regulate the use of the SC/ST Act, three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Dalit MPs from Uttar Pradesh wrote letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing a host of grievances about the community being targeted and mistreated after the protests. Another held a rally to protest against those in the party who were opposing reservations. It was immediately termed a rebellion within the party.
On 6 August, the Lok Sabha passed an amendment bill to overturn the court’s order.
This week, HuffPost India called the four MPs to ask if and how the government had responded to their appeals. While Chhote Lal Karwar, the MP from UP’s tribal belt Robertsganj, told HuffPost India that “all Dalits are happy”, Savitri Bai Phule, the Bahraich MP who had taken out the rally, refused to speak after hearing the question. The secretary of Ashok Dohrey, the BJP MP from Etawah, took HuffPost India‘s call and said “action was taken” and promised to connect to the MP later. Several calls to Phule and Dohrey over the day went unanswered after that. Yashwant Singh, who has been elected from Nagina, said he had been misquoted by newspapers at the time.
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Chhote Lal Karwar, the MP from UP’s tribal belt Robertsganj, told HuffPost India that “all Dalits are happy”.
Citing the arrests of several lawyers and activists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on Tuesday, Dalit activists from Uttar Pradesh said that ‘protests’ by the BJP MPs following the April clashes were just a smokescreen to avoid facing Dalit anger.
Karwar had written a letter to Modi alleging that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s government was discriminating against him for being a Dalit; BJP functionaries had colluded to remove his brother as the party’s block president in Naugarh; and that Adityanath had ‘scolded’ him and shooed him away when he complained. When HuffPost India asked Kharwar on Monday about his letter, he said it was an “old” issue and not worth talking about, even though it has only been a few months since he wrote to the PM.
Asked about the prime minister and government’s response to his letter, he said, “Koi matlab nahin, sab ho gaya (No point asking, everything has been done).”
On being told that Dalits in UP are still facing persecution, he said, “Hamare saath toh nahin, hamare janta, sab theek ho gaya hai, koi dikkat nahin, sab pradhan mantri theek kar diya hai (Not with us, not with the people in my constituency, there’s no problem, the PM has fixed everything).”
He added that he isn’t aware of what is happening in other constituencies.
When HuffPost India brought up the issue of activists alleging that Dalits and minorities are being targeted under the National Security Act (NSA), he said, “Sab theek ho jaega (everything will be fine).”
“BJP has co-opted many Dalit voices who are in the party for their personal gains.”
SR Darapuri, a Dalit activist who had contested and lost from Karwar’s constituency in 2014, said that the BJP MPs wrote those letters to save their skin. “BJP has co-opted many Dalit voices who are in the party for their personal gains,” he said.
Dohrey had alleged in his letter that Dalits were being pulled out of their homes and thrashed by police after the protests in April. “Casteist comments were being hurled at them,” he added. When we called Dohrey, his personal assistant said that the prime minister had taken action on the MP’s request but refused to give more details. He added that Dohrey would be able to explain more, but at least a dozen calls made to him after that were unanswered.
Nagina MP Singh was quoted by newspapers as having written to Modi that “even after four years, nothing has been done by your government to actively benefit around 30 crore Dalits of the country”. Singh, however, told HuffPost India that he had been misquoted and that his letter had said “nothing important” had been done. He said he had demanded that the government doesn’t scrap reservations for promotion in government jobs. “The government issued orders saying as long as the court doesn’t rule on that, it should continue,” he said. The government has also argued in the Supreme Court that the reservations should remain. He said that he had written the letter because in April, “his people were lathi-charged for no reason”.
This is an organised and arranged drama.
Dalit activist Ram Kumar said that the spate of arrests over Bhima Koregaon and of ordinary civilians was proof that the BJP Dalit MPs’ ‘rebellion’ was a strategy by the party itself to allay Dalit anger. “The party headquarters must have decided that writing a letter is a good way to pay lip service to the protests happening across the country without doing much damage to the party,” he said. “This is an organised and arranged drama,” he said, adding, “If they were not speaking on party lines, they would speak on a host of issues plaguing the community. Why are they not speaking? Not against the atrocities happening everywhere, against women being harassed.”
Bahraich MP Phule, who had garnered media attention for organising a protest rally in Lucknow answered HuffPost India‘s call, listened to the question and requested this writer to call back after a few minutes. Following that, she did not answer any of HuffPost India‘s calls.
Shortly after the protest meet, she had told The Print, “Did I take name of any party or any leader? This is something all the parties should come together on.”