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Lok Sabha debates Dalit issue; MPs demand ban on cow vigilante groups

NEW DELHI: Why is Dalits’ fight being fought only by Dalits? The question was posed by a few MPs in Lok Sabha which debated atrocities on Dalits on Thursday afternoon. Ironically, not even all the 79 Scheduled Caste MPs were present to take up their fight inside the House.

Satish Kumar and his private army, the chief of ‘Gau Raksha Dal’, a vigilante outfit known for perpetrating violence against those who they accuse of threatening cows.

When the debate began a few minutes after the scheduled 2.35pm, as there were very few members in the House, there were around 70 MPs, less than 15 per cent of the Lok Sabha’s strength. Of this, there were around 40 members, including six ministers, on the ruling side, where the BJP alone has 280 MPs, 40 of whom belong the scheduled caste.

Even on the side of the Opposition, which had been insisting on a debate on atrocities on Dalits in the wake of the attacks on four youths from the community for skinning a dead cow in Gujarat, there were several empty benches. Initially, there were just eight members from the Congress, with neither party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who had been emphasising on Dalit outreach, nor leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge present. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav also skipped the debate.

Amidst the thinly attended debate, home minister Rajnath Singh tried to counter the Opposition offensive that the Modi government had failed to check atrocities against Dalits, saying it was not a political issue. However, dissatisfied with his reply, the Congress staged a walkout.

“We should not politicise this but we should take a pledge to take up the challenge to end this malaise,” he said.

However, at the end of his reply when BJD’s Thatagatha Satpathy said that the message should go from the government that it would act against those perpetrating violence on Dalits in name of cow vigilante groups, Singh said states should take stern action against such anti-social elements in case of atrocities against Dalits.

Singh challenged the Opposition to prove that atrocities had risen during the BJP regime by showing figures of international agencies. He cited figures– 39,346 in 2013, 40,300 in 2014 and 38,564 in 2015– to underline his point that it was not a political issue. He also listed some steps taken by Modi government like Jan Dhan yojna and pension and insurance schemes. “The PM has inculcated courage among those who did not have courage to face the gates of a bank,” he said.

During the six-hour debate, MPs and ministers from both sides cited various personalities — BR Ambedkar, Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Sant Ravidass, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

The gist of the Opposition’s message was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements against fake cow vigilante groups had not translated into action. Some members demanded a ban on such cow vigilante groups.

The first three members– PK Biju (CPM), KH Muniappa (Congress) and Udit Raj (BJP)– to participate in the debate all belonged to the Scheduled Caste community.

Biju, who initiated the debate, said the government was the custodian of the constitution and asked why the cow vigilante groups were not banned if the PM was aware about the activities of the cow vigilante groups.

Muniappa said Dalits lived in deep sense of fear and insecurity. He alleged that in Gujarat the attacks on Dalits had reached a level “never before seen in history”. Udit Raj said it should not be a blame game among political parties and blamed the system. “Why is the Dalits fight being fought only by Dalits?” he asked, a sentiment echoed by TDP’s Ravindra Babu Pandula.

Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, a Dalit leader who intervened in the debate, embarrassed both the treasury and opposition benches reeling out statistics of rising atrocities. He then said the highest number were in UP and Bihar. Paswan praised former Prime Minister VP Singh as messiah of the downtrodden.

Later, Congress’s Jyotiraditya asked why he did not quit the UPA government or the current NDA regime, in which he was now a partner.

Earlier, minister of state for finance Arjun Meghwal, caused the government a few moments of embarrassment as he was missing when the Chair called out his name. When the Opposition immediately created an uproar, union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said he was present in the House but had stepped out to drink water.

TMC’s Saugata Roy demanded a ban on cow vigilante groups while BJD’s B Mahtab suggested that all political parties get together to take up social reform.

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