Punjab Dalits have the numbers but not power | Punjab Elections
CHANDIGARH: After Uttar Pradesh (UP), BSP was once strongest in Punjab. It was not surprising. Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalit population at 31.9 %, as per 2011 census, among all states. The irony for Dalits in Punjab is that though they are large in numbers, political parties continue to ignore their rights once elections are over.
Dalits are split in 2 major communities, Adidharmi Ravidassia and Valimiki Mazhabi, both of them have very different demands. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), that arrives on scene as a reactionary movement among Dalits, could also expand its base among Ravidassia community only. Both communities collectively make around 25% population of the Punjab.
Recently, the divisions have also been coming to the fore in political articulations. Noted singer and prominent Congress leader Hans Raj Hans also raised it within the Congress.
Time and again, political parties in opposition have raised their voice every time there have been reports of atrocities committed against Dalits. This was best seen in the October 10 killing of Sukhchain Singh, a Dailt youth who was murdered in Mansa allegedly by the liquor mafia. The murder gave the Congress and AAP a handle to beat the ruling SAD-BJP alliance. However, this empathy for Dalits remain only till elections.
Rai Sikhs make another prominent Dalit community and they hold key on some seats of Malwa region. Traditionally, Dalits voted for the Congress. After BSP came on the scene, the Congress lost considerable vote share in the reserved seats in Punjab.
In last some years, SAD has also won over a considerable section among them. BJP has also been trying to woo the Dalits. AAP is also now battling to get prominent Dalit faces to find a foothold in them.
According to Dalit activists, the two most important issues faced by the community are related to land as basic human right: The first is for giving a 5-marla plot to each homeless Dalit family; and the second is the community’s right to use one third of the common village land for farming.
These issues have found no mention in the agendas of political parties in Punjab despite each of them trying to pass off as a sympathiser to the cause of the community