As the nation celebrates the 113th birth anniversary of Bhimrao Ambedkar his legacy has brought Dalits a paradox of hope and despair. Despair because 50 per cent Dalits are living under poverty line, approximately 70 per cent are still illiterate and about 80 per cent tied to agricultural activities. The spate of violence against them makes their reality painful. In 1999 alone the SC&ST commission registered 25093 cases of atrocities on the Dalits. During the same period one thousand Dalit women were raped, 506 Dalits were murdered and 3241 suffered grievous injury.
Further, the despair among Dalits exists because the provision of job opportunities for them through compensatory discrimination under Article 335 of the Indian Constitution in government departments, public, banking and insurance sectors is becoming redundant. It is so precisely for two reasons, one because of the onset of processes of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation and information revolution the state is rolling back and secondly the Dalits are not able to meet the demands of the contemporary job market. It is not that the Dalits do not have merit but they have been late starters in the field of education in general and technical education in particular, which the MNCs need for day-to-day functioning.
Today the Dalit movement has strengthened Indian democracy by its struggle to get their constitutional rights fulfilled, which were enshrined for them in the Constitution by Ambedkar. Though the Dalits movement has diversified its nature and scope with different types of discourses like Dalit literature, Dalit religion (Buddhism), Dalit Identity, Dalit Bureaucracy, Dalit Women, and Dalit Diaspora- Dalit Politics has taken precedence on all other discourses. This dominance of Dalits politics is so overpowering that it has become synonymous with the Dalit movement and that to with Bahujan Samaj Party.
A class of Dalit intellectuals is involved in the positive construction of much stigmatized and maligned image of the Dalits. In this regard the role played by the Dalit Diaspora has also been very significant.
However, an ugly aspect of Dalit assertion is that today Ambedkar has become a victim of reductionism where he is projected only as a Dalit leader or at the most a framer of the Constitution. His role in nation-building and social transformation based on universal principles of scientific rationality, equality, democracy, fraternity and social justice have been relegated to the periphery.
(The writer teaches sociology at JNU, New Delhi)