THOMAS C. MOUNTAIN
Dalits really, really distrust the Maoist movement of India and Nepal. As the Maoist movement begins to challenge for state power in Nepal and has struck a serious level of alarm in the ruling elite in India, this question has important ramifications for the future of south Asia.
The Dalit movement in India is the largest and fastest growing threat to the status quo, followed at some distance by the Maoists. Interestingly, almost all the Dalit leadership I know, mostly mid-level cadre in the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), India's third largest national party and main force in the Dalit liberation movement, are ex-Maoists.
When asked why they distrust the "Naxalites", the common term for the Maoist movement, they point out, to start with, that almost all the rank and file fighters in the Maoist movement are Dalits or tribals and almost all the leaders are "high caste". The Dalits I know have had firsthand experience with just how casteist the Naxalite/Maoist leadership is.
When delving into the "political line" put forth by the Maoist movement in India and Nepal, it is rare to find mention of caste/varna, let alone any attempt to address caste/varna (colour) in any sort of historical perspective. It would seem that the Maoist leaders would prefer to blend class with caste and avoid any dealing with such a potentially divisive question.
The Dalit movement exemplified by the BSP cadre I know is firmly rooted in organizing Dalits into community collectives and focused on mobilizing Dalits in exercising their voting rights. When it is pointed out that no ruling class has ever peacefully relinquished its privileges, i.e. through elections, my Dalit comrades point out that 85% of Indian Dalits still believe in the one, unifying tenet of Hinduism, varna/caste/colour. Simply put, most Dalits believe they are being punished by God for sins in a previous life and their lot as "untouchables", Dalits, is God’s will. If God willed your punishment today with the promise of a better rebirth in the next life , then trying to lift your and your children’s lot above that of cleaning communal toilets is going against Gods will. Sounds like a brilliant scheme for social control using a religion, in the opinion of all the Dalits I know.
Taking into consideration just how mentally enslaved most Dalits remain, moving the masses of Dalits from being so crushed and broken to real liberation might take a series of steps instead of one giant leap, or so my Dalit comrades seem to feel. Dalits may have to see for themselves that casting a vote is not going to midwife any real liberation for the rank and file. While acknowledging that a series of trials and errors may mark their struggle and that the Maoists scorn such an approach, Dalits feel that if the Maoist movement continues to ignore varna/caste while depending on Dalits to win power, Dalits are doomed to see their struggle for equal rights and justice betrayed by the new Brahmins, the leaders of today’s Maoist movement.
One fact remains utterly non-debatable and that is that India and Nepal remain overwhelmingly a society of villages. Equally non-debatable is that in Indian and Nepalese villages, caste rules. How the Maoist movement can hope to succeed without even addressing this issue in any real way bodes ill for any hopes that the Maoist movement offers solutions to the most barbaric, inhumane system of human oppression in the world, the Apartheid in India and Nepal.
In a previous incarnation, Thomas C. Mountain was the publisher of the Ambedkar Journal and a founding member of the Phoolan Devi International Defence Committee. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org