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Is the Bhim army wrongly categorised, like the 1857 ‘peasant revolt’?

The Bhim army is a radical Dalit protest group mobilised in western Uttar Pradesh. It’s likely that you’ve heard of them, always in the context of the word radical. Radicalism inherently has a negative connotation associated with it, to the extent that radical nationalists in the Indian freedom struggle were renamed assertive nationalists in school history textbooks.

However, while the retrospective debate on the effectiveness of ahimsa versus the use of violence in the freedom struggle remains an inconclusive one, the contemporary debate among ‘intellectuals’ on the bhim army is quick to judge the taking up of arms as an unjustifiable, unwarranted wrong.

The primary argument made by those that affirm their support of the Dalit cause as being exclusive of the bhim army is that a violent assertion or reclamation of rights is a disservice to the cause. The argument hinges on the concept of representation of Dalits in the public eye, and that them gaining a violent connotation only substantiates the arguments of upperclassmen or Rajputs who are quick to hold on to status quo.

However, the problem is not misrepresentation, but rather a lack of representation. Caste issues are talked of among the urban well to do, only in the context of dissent towards reservation. What’s worse is the lack of discourse on the caste system and more specifically on the bhim army in traditional news.

No mainstream English newspaper has published articles on them; neither Hindustan times nor Times of India shows any search results on the Bhim army on their websites. Google results on the same are also very limited, with the only news coverage appearing on the first page being from the Hindi newspapers Patrika and Amarujala, while the remaining search results are of the unrelated Bhim app.

The question then becomes an entirely different one – why is mainstream media refraining from providing coverage to a movement that is fighting against a societal structure that has persisted in our society since before independence? In my opinion the possible answers include party monopolization of newspapers, and their being composed of beneficiaries of the caste system, lack of investigation owing to a lack of awareness even among the journalists as to the extent of the caste problem, and finally an active decision to leave the public oblivious of the ground realities within their own country. All three of these possibilities are equally disturbing and problematic.

We were a nation colonised for almost 100 years before an independence struggle broke out. What then is the stipulated amount of time before people are warranted in taking up arms against a structure which suppresses them? It is easy to be blind to the casteism that exists in our society, however, while most of us are quick to admonish the caste system, we are lacking unless we recognise its prevalence.

Peoplw from lower castes have still been integrated into government sector jobs, however, the private sector remains exclusive. We in our localities would seldom find people from lower castes, and this we would realise if we only took a second to look. The reason we are capable of realising this, of course, is another indicator of the deeply entrenched nature of the caste system; our ability to distinguish people simply based on their surnames.

There is only so much of the caste problem we can know sitting behind our computer screens, even if we are actually seeking out awareness on the same. The caste struggle unlike the feminist one is not trending and hence hardly spoken of. It is also a problem that is less pervasive than that of women’s equality, and therefore more easily ignored. Intersectionality in the context of the caste system is something which is entirely unexplored. However, any awareness that might come, is possible only if we stop believing things aren’t that bad, because things are so bad, that we don’t even see it. 

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