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There’s a new Shudra-Dalit unity in north Indian villages thanks to the farm protests

The unity programme initiated by farm leaders can take the shape of a cultural revolution in rural north India.

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One of the most significant developments in the ongoing protests against the Narendra Modi government’s three agricultural laws has been the decision of farmer leaders holding khap mahapanchayats in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and elsewhere. These rallying points have emerged as a great platform to unite the farmers, who are mostly Shudras, and the agrarian labourers, who are mostly Dalits. Although this unity between the historically divided Shudra-Dalit communities is primarily to fight against the three farm laws and the monopoly and capitalist control of agrarian markets, it will have a major transformative impact in India’s village economy by bringing about new societal relations.

In the agrarian sector, the cultivable land is largely in the hands of ‘higher’ Shudra farmers while most landless labourers come from Dalit families. There are several production-related tasks and a number of conflicting areas among Shudras and Dalits in the villages. But it is a truism that they worked together to sustain this nation in production fields. Their collective labour saved India during one of the most destructive pandemics of global magnitude.

It is true that the Dalits suffered atrocities and humiliations at the hands of the multi-layered Shudra civil society in the villages for millennia, even as the Shudra civil society faced discriminatory and humiliatory treatment by Dwijas above them in the hierarchical caste system. Unless the Shudra farmers realise that they must fight for equality with the Dwijas, including for their spiritual rights for priesthood and ritual training, and grant equality to the Dalits by overcoming the brutal practice of untouchability, real change will not take place.

Also read: Why the farmers’ protest is led by Sikhs of Punjab

What this unity can do

The new farmer-labourer collective movement for the survival of the Shudra and Dalit communities as well as for the future of their children will be of immense value to the whole nation. It’s a matter of grave shame that even after 75 years of our constitutional democracy, human untouchability and caste-cultural rapes and murders of Dalit women take place. This cannot be allowed to continue. The ongoing farmers’ movement has the potential to re-shape societal relations among people in the countryside. Once change occurs in the villages, the towns and cities would follow the way.

Historically, human untouchability and graded inequality is imposed by the Brahmanic Hindu Shastras. From temples to the agricultural fields, it is practised as per a layered caste consciousness by the Brahmanical Hindu society. Although the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine claim all caste communities as Hindus, they never talk about abolition of caste inequalities. But now the initiative has come from the Shudra farm leaders to unite with the Dalits in the villages, which can potentially initiate a new course of social reform.

If the farmers who employ Dalits as labourers in their fields decide to abandon untouchability, then Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s vision of annihilation of caste will begin to take shape at a practical level. One Dalit leader suggested that at the mahapanchayats, farmers and Dalit leaders must hold the portraits of Ambedkar and Shudra leaders like Mahatma Phule and Chaudhary Charan Singh — the first Shudra-farmer prime minister of India whose cremation ground is called Kisan Ghat — and show a new path to the rest of the Indians. Charan Singh was the first Shudra leader to organise farmers and establish a regional party, Lok Dal, for their well-being and self-respect in north India.

Along with the the peasant-Dalit unity, India’s education system should start reframing the curriculum. Lessons of dignity of labour with respect to leather work or soil work or kitchen work must be taught to children in village schools. The classroom learning and field work practice right from the school days make our rural education more creative compared to the urban education system.

Also read: Narendra Modi is not part of ‘us’, he isn’t a shudra OBC

Expand the base

Members of the minority communities like Muslims must be integrated into this larger unity agenda so that their future generation can become part of the larger village production culture. In the agrarian fields, men and women work together. The sexual division of labour is not very marked in the productive fields. Muslim women should become part of these productive fields along with Shudra-Dalit women so that their isolationalism can be done away with. In the backdrop of so-called ‘love jihad’ laws in states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, social interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims will get more and more restricted. This will also affect the production-related ties at the village level. The Shudra farmers and Dalit labourers’ unity is a perfect medium to draw the Muslim workforce into the production fields and build more integrated social relations.

The Hindutva ideology does not engage with production and labour issues. Their cultural nationalism mainly revolves around spiritual cultures. Temples, cow and ‘love jihad’ kind of issues do not improve production and India will face stagnation if they occupy the main space of discourse. The farmers’ agitation has, in a way, shifted discourse to the agrarian economy and the culture of people’s unity.

India’s productivity has faced stagnation because a large section of its population, Dalits, has been socially excluded due to the barbaric practice of human untouchability. The unity programme initiated by the farm leaders can take the shape of a cultural revolution in rural north India. This is definitely good news.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist. His latest book is The Shudras: Vision for a New Path, co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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  1. It is surprising The Print allows the publication of such third -rate article on its portal. Author seems to know nothing about Hinduism, Caste system , working of Village economies , relations between caste and class group in pre- and post Independent India. He is just a writer opposed to BJP and Modi . His narrative lacks any intellectual level surmises. Just writing , writing against Hinduism, Hindutva, One of the biggest surprise of today s political narrative is think or assume that ongoing Farmers agitation as a movement in the interest of small farmers , farm -laborers or for village economic life. It is purely Anti-BJP/Anti Modi stir with a intention to disrupt Indian economy so that when next election comes people are allured to bring back the corrupt forces like— which needs 100 crores a month .

  2. This is a one-sided and biased article. The author is force-fitting his views. He has presented neither a single data point to support his personal view, nor any references to support his argument. This is contrary to Print’s philosophy of unbiased and objective journalism. The print should review these types of articles before publishing. Disappointing!!

  3. Kanchi Iliah once had possibilities, I had read his earlier writings. Then he unfortunately fell into the clutches of leftist academia mafia and became embedded in it. That was the end of any creative thinking or actual leadership on his part. He now just parrots from a template.

  4. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd the legendary breaking India think tank and conversion mafia with money received from christian conversion industry is a shameless person. Ironically such lame ducks are given an opportunity in India to write an article to spread his hate propaganda against current regime and trying helplessly to fool already awakened Indians.

    • Well said Rajendra. Why blame politicians when actual caste politics is being played by the so called liberal intellectual media. Shame on Print for giving a platform to such cheap casteist authors

  5. Fake human rights activists or farmers activities financed by church through fake NGO’s are being held accountable for proselytizing activities instead of activities stated by them for receiving foreign funds.

    People who couldn’t be faithful to their earlier faith and have betrayed it for money are not trusted by their new faith and have to be more active in propagating anti HINDU vitriolic and abuse. Such PEOPLE are finding it difficult to vilify HINDUS who are coming together.

    Remember a lot of atrocities are being carried out on woman by this proselytizers but this thing are never reported in secular media.

  6. This Rice Bag Convert dreaming of converting India in to Islamic and Christian state, an angry Hindu will teach these kind of people a proper lesson and same treatment to people like Shekhar Guptha, who is providing platform to these kind of Anti Hindu agents.

    • Not just rice bags, They’ve provided a platform in the comments section for gasbags like you to flatulate as well. looking at the comments posted here, your smelly chaddi gang is all here. If The Print riles you up, stop reading it and since you guys love Gobar, kindly turn to Mann ki baat, Kangana and Republic they serve it fresh for you guys.

  7. Hate Modi campaign, wants the middlemen to get the farmers’ money, the fear is that if the last man in amongst the farmers gets the money in his account for his produce the stranglehold enjoyed by the better offs will be lost. The attempt is to instigate sections under the minority and Dalits against the Modi Government. Let us wait and see till the first set of payments go from FCI to the farmers’ accounts, to know, whether they want the money to come vis the middlemen.

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