NEW DELHI: Dalit intellectual Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd has been writing extensively on Dalit rights and justice for decades now, having authored several books. He is a political thinker and a professor of Political Science, recognised as a Dalit ideologue.

In an interview with The Citizen over the recent protests by Dalits in Gujarat against the Gau Raksha Samiti vigilantes attack on four members of a family for skinning a cow, Kancha Ilaiah as he is more popularly known, was frank and categorical in his appraisal.

Excerpts of the conversation with The Citizen:

The Role of the RSS and Affiliates

Ever since the RSS started in 1925 it opened different wings of functioning.One of these was the Gau Rakshak Samiti. No organisation in the world, not even the worst of the right wing like the Ku Klux Klan of the United States, has prioritised animals over human beings.. If they wanted to reach out to Dalits, as they maintain from time to time, why did they not form an organisation for the protection of Dalits, to defend them from the atrocities to which they have always been vulnerable since 1947.

Instead militant Hindu organisations parade with lathis and knickers and give more importance to cows than to the 18-20% untouchables in India.

Do they believe in animal nationalism or human nationalism?

The responsibility has to be taken by the RSS for what is happening now as it has spread this ideology.

Cow Based Attacks on Dalits

The RSS/BJP ideology emerges from religion, not from politics. I am not a supporter of the Congress party, far from it, but everyone knows under whose government the attacks on Dalits on the basis of skinning cows took place. In 2002 when the BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power the first attack on Dalits on this basis took place. During the Congress governments for ten years this particular kind of violence did not happen. Now again Dalit boys have been stripped and beaten for skinning a dead cow.

Gau Raksha Samitis

The BJP is now saying that it does not support this Gau Raksha Samiti, that it is not their creation. In Hyderabad alone the BJP MLA is President of the local Gau Raksha Samiti and I have it on good understanding, that across the states many of the BJP members are heading these cow protection committees, or are senior members.

Do not the Prime and the Home Minister know that the BJP members are part of this cow protection samitis, and that they are running these private armies that are attacking and killing Dalits.

There have been a series of attacks over the past two years in the name of the cow slaughter ban, in Gujarat, in Madhya Pradesh, in Chhattisgarh…

The Current Crisis

I have not witnessed this kind of situation before. I am more terrified of the killings around the cow, than of remarks made against leaders like Mayawati. She is a tall leader, she heads a party that can tackle those who make insulting remarks. But for there is no protection for these innocent and poor youth, for whom skinning dead cows is a livelihood. They do this to live. And then these people in newly purchased vehicles drive up, tie them to the wheels of the cars, strip them and beat them. This is intolerable.

It is the youth protesting. Yes there is no leader, and this can make the protests go in any direction if not handled properly.In a direction that we as democratic citizens certainly will not want. But the youth, now with more understanding and education, are not willing to accept this humiliation ny longer.

There have been rallies all over, here in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh where Dalits have surrounded BJP party offices in protest. Dalits have been patient for far too long and have been tolerating violence quietly. The young people are different, they are not going to accept this violence now and have made it clear through these protests.

They know as all the marginalised sections know that the so called economic growth is only for the capitalists, not for the poor.

How can governments decide what you eat inside your house. Today Vice Chancellors of Universities are getting continuous communications from under secretary level bureaucrats raising question about a student, a faculty member, asking them to take action, or seek an explanation for what someone said, what someone wrote. I have had any number of such letters sent against me.

The Future

This is going to snowball as the Gujarat protests are clearly a turning point. Dalit youth are restless all across.The scale of the protests, that are spreading to other parts of the country, are an indication. Besides there are Dalit youth, studying and working in other parts of the world. These kind of issues cannot be localised. The African-American struggle spread outside the US, became an issue for all people wedded to rights and justice. You cannot take away the affinity of the people with each other.

The Dalit issue too is seen as similar and is part of the world discourse on human rights.

The government and the Opposition should sit together, if they want to tackle this effectively, and as a first step do away with these anti-cow slaughter laws and leave it to the conscience of the people to nurture their cattle. After all even though there are people who eat meat, that proportion is far lower to those who nurture the animals and look after them. It is this Brahminical consciousness that makes a political party push for animal protection at the cost of human brutalisation.

The government should close all cow protection gangs, and do away with these private armies that target people, and kill them.

All marginalised sections---the Muslims, the SC/STs, the OBC’s---are today at the receiving end.

After all both Muslims and Dalits make a livelihood of skinning dead cows, and the attack on the one is seen as the attack on the other and all marginalised communities.