A 'shot' of confidence to dalits

A 'shot' of confidence  to dalits

The organisation maintains that it conducts public ceremonies in Delhi slums where ‘Valmikis’ (safai karmacharis) are invested with the sacred thread leading to temple entry. A Brahmin priest conducts the ceremony of "Sanskritisation."
Dr Patra spoke to Deepak K Upreti of Deccan Herald.

DH: What are you aiming at?
SM: Self-emancipation of dalits and creation of a nation-wide dalit movement that India has not seen. Atrocities against them should be undone. This can be done constructively without engaging in a blame game.

DH: Do you mention your caste when you go for sacred thread ceremony?
SM: No. I don't. In fact, we are asking all the educated people to drop their caste surnames. We are creating a forward movement. But it is very difficult for people to accept the concept of casteless society.

DH: How do you make your entry to dalit colonies?
SM:  It is not an easy job. It is a slow process. We start seeing them. They live in ghettos. Being a doctor I have an advantage. They come to me for help and I start talking about their rights and importance of knowing about them.

DH: Besides the thread ceremony what are the practical instruments of change you use?
SM: Education is the basic pivot around which a change may take place. What I have found is that dalits, most of the times, conglomerate for political reasons. They have been targeted by political parties. I want such conglomeration should be done away with and dalits should conglomerate for social causes where they are made aware of their rights.

DH: Why do you have mass sacred thread ceremony? Does it not promote the retrograde caste system?
SM: The so-called "Sanskritisation" is a way to bring them out. The gathering may look religious. Otherwise they would not come to the camps where we emphasise on dalit women's education, health and rights.

DH: How many places have you visited in Delhi and how many of them did you manage to baptise?
SM: We have visited 15 ghettos and the thread ceremony took place in about 20 places. We bring educated or those seen to be celebrities to the dalit colonies and try to convince them that they could also rise and achieve like them through right  awareness and education.  

DH: How do you visualise the change?
SM: Well, we have added medical and educational camps in these places. Thread ceremony, if I may say, is symbolic. It helps us to bring them on a common platform where they can be addressed non-politically. Dalit gatherings, so far, have been synonymous with politics.

DH: Have you encountered political resistance?
SM: We have met with some but that is mostly uneventful. Irony is that when we started we thought Brahmins would oppose us but that did not happen.

DH: But the upper castes or say intermediate castes have remained highly resistant to
social equality. Even after 5000 years, a basic change like temple entry is objected to.  How do you expect a change?
SM:  Yes, we are all very casteist. Some of the greatest institutions in the capital are casteist.  We may not agree. But in back of our minds we are casteist. In our country as soon as name is uttered---bias is automatically created. We all want full name or rather surname. Even reputable institutions like AIIMS have caste system. It means education itself is not enough to change caste system.

DH: Does reservation promote caste system?
SM: Reservation is also promoting casteism . I remember one day there was Jat conglomeration for demanding reservation and some of my doctors colleagues rushed to the rally as their "Jat brothers" were there.

DH: How many lives have you  touched by your contact
programme? How do you keep in touch with "the empowered dalit groups"
SM: Touching someone's life pertains to reaching to his soul. I think hundreds if not thousands. There is a lot of change in terms of their
confidence. I met one woman six months after she had her temple entry and ‘Puja’ of Shivaling. She said Dr Sahib that was a memorable day of her life.  I can not give ‘roti, kapda, makan’ to them but definitely boost their self-confidence.

DH: What do you say about political parties’ contribution to the dalit cause ?
SM: Political parties lack will to usher in change. All efforts since independence have gone down the drain. Since 1980 Indian politics is increasingly dependent on castes and  running on caste lines only. They are fanning caste fire for their own benefit.

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