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Jun 21, 2007 at 08:34am IST

A new dawn for Dalit movement

Mumbai: The recent violence in Maharashtra may have taken the state government by surprise, but students leading the Dalit movement say given the increasing militant nature of the Dalit movement post the Ambedkar era, the attacks were just a matter of time.

Khandala: Bhai Vivek Chavan leads a double life, juggling between being a practicing advocate in the Pune courts and the leader of a militant Dalit outfit - Bharatiya Dalit Cobra. Currently he is on a walkathon from Pune to Mumbai - on a mission to convince Dalit and Muslim youth to act now.

"Please, stand up, awake and fight. This is the basic principle that I walk on. It was the principle of Babasaheb Ambedkar from whom we get our energy. This is his advice," says Chavan.

Question him a little more and you find Castro and Mao sharing space with Ambedkar in his rhetoric. They form the better part of his sales pitch aimed at a ragtag band of youth who flock around him at every stop to listen to his fiery speeches.

"The courage shown by the kin of the deceased in Amravati and Osmanabad has boosted our strength. Take for example Dinesh Wankhede who died for our cause. His mother said that she will not cremate him. That is courage," says he to his followers.

Thane: Bhai Vivek is not alone in his endeavour. Other young leaders like Sunil Khambe have succeeded in splitting the RPI and now lead their own factions with a reputation for aggression.

Ulhasnagar: Experts say that the torching of the Deccan Queen was not entirely the fallout of mob frenzy. They allege it was masterminded by a set of educated leaders who motivated the masses to implement it.

Mumbai: Says Editor, Workshop, Sunil Kadam, "The people who participated in pelting stones on roads were all Phds and MPhils.Hundreds of educated youth guided them in torching the Deccan Queen. The Deccan Queen was intentionally targeted because they knew it would attract the attention they wanted. That's why they let the Koyna Express go."

Osmanabad: Dalit leaders add credence to Kadam's views when they claim credit for the recent incidents which rocked Maharashtra.

Says President of the Bhimshakti Shivshakti Sena, Yashpal Saravade, "After Khairlanji, the Dalits have their own identity. The Dalit youth today don't identify with Dalit parties. They have militancy in their blood."

Osmanabad/Mumbai: But while leaders like Yashpal refer to the militant heritage of the Dalit Panthers, the group which modelled itself on America's Black Panther movement has been out of action for almost 20 years now.

The Dalit Panthers became a cult as they would hand out quick justice to those who committed atrocities against Dalits. Over the years, the old guard of the movement has now mellowed and those heady militant days are now just nostalgia.

Says the founder of the Dalit Panther movement Padmashri Namdeo Dhasal, "At that time, we believed in tit for tat. There had been a rape in Pune's Bhoogaon village. About 2,000 of us went and attacked the village. We asked the villagers to produce the boy guilty for the rape or we would burn the village."

Now Namdeo Dhasal is an internationally acclaimed poet with a Padamsree and a Sahithya Akademi Award, but scratch a little and some of the old sparks are still visible.

"The mission was always to abolish the caste system. You cannot achieve it by organising a single caste," says Dhasal.

The Dalit Panther movement started in a Dalit students' hostel, but died out when the Dalit movement went mainstream with the Republican Party of India. But with Republican leaders unable to transfer vote shares into Parliament seats, Dalit militancy has reared its head again and this resurgence promises to give the Maharashtra government much food for thought in the days to come.

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