Two powerful speakers , Kavita Krishnan of the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and former Joint Secretary JNU Students Union and Sat Pal Muman the Chairperson of CasteWatch UK discussed the struggles against caste discrimination in India and Britain at a panel discussion in SOAS, University of London organised by South Asia Solidarity Group, CasteWatch UK and SOAS South Asian Diaspora Society, to coincide with the day of action in solidarity with students in India on 2 March.
Sat Pal Muman described the shocking ground reality for Dalits in the UK. There is, he said, a ‘hidden apartheid’ in Hindu and Sikh communities. Questions of caste are raised on the factory floor where drinking fountains are segregated, in schools where children are bullied, in shops where, for example, cashiers refuse to take change from oppressed caste people, and in places of employment where promotion or even jobs are denied on the basis of caste. He went on to describe the struggle to get a law against Caste-based discrimination passed. This had now happened and Anti- Caste Discrimination is now part of Section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010 but the Hindu right in UK have sabotaged its implementation. They have even targeted the MPs who support the implementation of the legislation while manipulating others who are afraid of losing votes among Hindus and Sikhs if they support the law. ‘Our war on Caste has brought these reactionaries together who want to continue to discriminate’ he said. ‘I find it difficult to understand why Hindus, Sikhs and Jains in the guise of Dharmic comunities are opposing our call to implement caste discrimination legislation’. He quoted a speaker at a recent conference on the legislation who had declared that the Hindu groups would oppose the legislation ‘to the last drop of our blood’. The struggle, he said, continues.
Kavita Krishnan, in a wide ranging speech, examined the Justice for Rohith Vemula movement, the current situation in JNU and its significance. The death of Rohith Vemula, she said, has exposed the systematic and institutionalised attempts to crush Dalit students. This assault has been intensified under the BJP government using groups like the ABVP. She described the attempts to muzzle and annihilate the movement launched by JNU students as part of the same pattern which began with the banning of Ambedkarite students organisations, pointing out also that JNU has a large number of Dalit students from very poor backgrounds. She said the movement has now got a new energy and gone beyond being a student movement. It has also led to an inspiring coming together of mutiple Ambedkarite and left perspectives. What we are witnessing now, she said, is an ‘all out attack on the Constitution and an attempt to appropriate Ambedkar’. She spoke about an article by Narendra Modi about Golwalkar in which he listed ‘some great men of India’, among them Ambedkar, described as a ‘modern Manu’ , despite the fact that Ambedkar had recommended burning the Manusmriti. The CPI(ML), Kavita said, saw caste as central to any analysis of Indian society and went on to speak about the massacres of Dalits who had been demanding their rights under the banner of CPI(ML) by the Landlord army, the Ranvir Sena, in Bathani Tola and other places in Bihar. At JNU, the establishment had tried divisive tactics but, she said ‘ We will not let them divide us into ‘good Left’ and ‘bad Left’, ‘nationalists’ and ‘anti-nationals’.
The meeting ended with people from the packed hall moving to the front, to stand together in solidarity with the day of action for JNU with placards demanding the dropping of all sedition and other motivated charges, the scrapping of the colonial sedition law and the enactment of a Rohith Act to protect Dalit students.