It was during one of my field trips to Juhapura in the month of December 2015 that I came across this board which mentioned in big words ‘Bhim Sena’ in Gujarati. It is situated just across the 132-feet Ring Road that divides Muslim concentrated-ghetto of Juhapura from Hindu concentrated area of Gupta Nagar. It turned out to be an office of a Dalit organisation. I met some of the members in the office. One of the member who also manages a motor workshop in that building called some of the employees who work in the garage in the office as they were Muslims and belonged to Juhapura. They told me that they were working in this garage since a long time and never felt any issues in working among ‘Hindus’. The members of ‘Jai Bhim Sena’ also mentioned about the need for Dalit-Muslim unity and the problems within the Dalit community such as ‘less education’ among the youth in the area.
During my stay in Ahmedabad, I have come across many Muslim and Dalit activists who have been working on the issues of communal harmony, Dalit-Muslim unity and empowerment. National Peace Group is one such small but spectacular organisation which have tried to bring youth especially from Gomtipur and Amraiwadi both Muslims and Dalits in one platform. They perform various activities such as street plays and local seminars. These are some examples from the ground, though a small step but can act at a high-level for bridging the gaps between the two ‘oppressed’ communities in Ahmedabad.
In this discussion, I am arguing why we need solidarities not only in the context of ‘Una movement’ but within-and-outside this movement also. I want to point out about the importance of nuanced understanding of the categories such as Hindu, Muslim and Dalit. How oppressed classes and castes among Muslims and Hindus have been facing violence at different intervals of time since the colonial era? I will also try to bring into picture certain equations that have changed since 1947 which have hugely impacted the re-assertion of the rights of Dalits and Muslims. I will also try to point out some of the differences and intersections that oppressed identities and groups face and where solidarity is needed to build. The most important question is why the question of Dalit-Muslim solidarity is important now?
If we look at the history of India post 1947 till now. We see a pattern of oppression and violence that both Muslims and Dalits have faced through various institutions; state and non-state both. The important aspect that one needs to remember is that this violence has never been spontaneous but has been systemic and structural. It is very important to recognize the fact at this point that the root of this violence has its legacy in the colonial history of India. Particularly, when one talks about cow protection groups or land reforms during colonial times, we can see an emergence of a pattern that has been followed post-1947. Take the example of cow protection groups; its origins are located in the late 19th Century when Gau Rakshini Sabhas were established, legitimized by their presence in the Congress sessions. The cow protection groups became a symbol for the mobilization of the people along communal lines so as to assert the collective presence of these organisations in the public sphere by creating an image of the ‘threatening other’. This idea has been the foundational idea of the ‘Hindu Nationalists’ to forge unity within the order of ‘Hindus’ amassed with caste inequalities. This logic of ‘Hindu unity’ is still been played in the post-1947 India where the idea of a nation is rooted in constructing an exclusionary discourse where marginalized sections are pitted against one another, not to liberate them but to maintain the hierarchies. These symbols serve as a tool for asserting an identity based on the ideas of homogenization of the religion defining it as a community, imagination of the golden past by relying on the cultural symbols like ‘Vedic Golden Age’ and ‘authentic’ religious texts. At the same time, in such situations among the Muslims, the sacrifice of cow becomes a symbol of defiance against ‘Hindu supremacy’.
The Hindu-Muslim strife in the nineteenth century though polarized the situation between these two communities but there were also many other events that gave rise to new solidarities among the oppressed ‘classes’ of Muslims and Hindus. In Bihar and Eastern U.P., the Cow-Protection propaganda succeeded in mobilizing large sections of ‘Hindu community’ against a small isolated ‘Muslim community’. In both these regions, the cultivating castes of Koeris, Kurmis and Ahirs were instrumental to end cow-sacrifices in the 1890s and 1910s so as to legitimize their ‘new social status by projecting their Hinduness’. [i] Later after the 1910s and 1920s when these castes became socially organized and pressed for more social mobility the upper-caste Hindu Zamindars joined hands with the upper-caste Muslim zamindars of the region to fight against these cultivating castes to restrict their assertiveness. This is a very strategic example to understand how caste, class and religious dynamics have worked in the formative years of development of the discourse of ‘nationalism’.
The role played by the cow-protection groups resulted in the alienation of Muslims from the ‘nationalist movement’ lead by Congress as a result of which Muslim representation in Congress sessions started declining after 1893. The Congress was not directly involved in this movement but their silence and patronizing of meeting Gau Rakshini Sabha in the Nagpur session of Congress in 1891. Also, the involvement of prominent Congress leaders like Bal GangadharTilak who were closely associated with the local Gau Rakshini Sabhas created a ‘Hindu dominance’ in the nationalist discourse and grievances among Muslims.[ii]
If we look at the history of Gujarat, the violence against Dalits which broke in 1981and later in 1986 turned into Hindu-Muslim Violence was an attempt by these same forces to level oppressed against oppressed. A Dalit participating as a ‘perpetrator’ in the violence against Muslims has always been reduced to a ‘foot soldier’. As a result Dalits had to bear the brunt of the after effects of these acts of violence.[iii] The logic of the idea of BJPs ‘Development Model’ is underlined within these same ironies and assumptions that try to forge unity within a ‘Hindu unit’ which is intrinsically scarred with caste oppressions and inequalities.[iv] The incident of lynching in Dadri or the beating of Dalits on the pretext of killing cows is the same tension that breaks this farcical unity of the Hindutva camp. It is ironic but very surprising; the way B.J.P. has been successful in appropriating the caste tensions within its ranks. These tensions were tried to resolve by sustaining the inequalities through silencing its relevance in the discourse-making process of farcial ‘Hindu unity’. The ‘Una Movement’ is a big slap to the bogus discourse created by Hindutva groups.
The need at this point of Dalit-Muslim solidarity is to understand the importance of times; how these communities stand at the peril of being pushed off-limits in the continuous discourse-making processes of ‘India’ as a nation. Nation-state is not a given, eternal or a ‘natural’ entity; it is contingent to the forces that constitute the various processes of making nation-states a lived entity. What B.J.P. has been doing is trying to ‘alter’ the ‘Idea(s) of India’ based on liberty, equality, justice and fraternity imbibed in the constitutional values through the struggles of people like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
The important principle is broader solidarity can only be achieved between oppressed. But the question is how to channelize these solidarities. It is through understanding the dynamics of both the communities; the subjectivities and the questions that can’t be ignored, like the question of caste and gender[v] and of differences within both Muslims and Dalits. The Muslims and Dalits have lived like neighbours, at various instances Muslims protected Dalits during the anti-reservation riots of 1981 between upper-castes and Dalits in Ahmedabad. But unfortunately in 1986 Dalits also took part in the violence against the Muslims mostly in the old-parts of the city. There are many reasons which have been attributed to the breakdown of relations between Muslims and Dalits. Like the closure of Mill industry, the resurgence of Hindutva forces and the push within-and-outside Dalits for getting acceptance into the fold of ‘Hindu mainstream’. The changing political economy as a result of it created rifts among Dalits and Muslims due to rising vulnerability, loss of opportunities and insecurity.[vi] There has been a confluence of reasons that resulted in the breakdown of the solidarity that was emerging out of KHAM (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) unity though a politically motivated act of Congress but had a great impact on the power dynamics between upper-castes and Dalits in Gujarat state. The anti-reservation violence and 1986-violence were a part of the frustration of the upper-castes in Gujarat just about the sharing of their privileges with the oppressed. After 1990s and particularly after 2002, the gap between Muslims and Hindus in Ahmedabad as such has been widened and there have been no serious attempts to bridge the gap. The communalisation of politics in post 1947-India did not just start after 1980s with the rise of Hindu Right wing but it has been a very gradual process since colonial times. The ghettoisation of Ahmedabad is associated with the breakout of first major Hindu-Muslim violence in 1969 during Congress rule. As a result of this, we see emergence of a ‘Muslim ghetto’ in Juhapura, Ahmedabad with a population of nearly 4-5 lacs.
Though what one can see after-2002 is the systemic amnesia about the events of the violence in the past and the reluctance to change anything for good. What Una movement has done is that it has brought back into memory the importance of generating solidarities between all the sections and classes of Muslims and Dalit at a very defining moment in the history of post-1947 India. When the remaking of India is happening by shaping it through a selective discourse based on very discriminatory principles that inherently tries to preserve the hegemony of the ruling classes and castes. It’s important for the oppressed classes, castes and communities to forge a broader based solidarity on principles which doesn’t silence the differences but navigates and negotiates them to accommodate these differences in the broader struggle for liberty, justice, fraternity and equality. The differences are many but what is important now is to recognize these differences and try to create local solidarities that can bridge the bigger gaps. As I have mentioned in the beginning two small stories from Ahmedabad, these local actors or groups can act as an important factor to forge a greater solidarity.
It is also important to acknowledge differences within Muslims. Muslims are not one homogenous group. There are caste inequalities even ‘practices of untouchablity’[vii] and hierarchies prevalent among Muslims. After 1947, Muslim localities have always been marked as ‘Mini Pakistan’ and Muslims have been denied status as equal citizens. The discourse of Muslims as a ‘pampered’ minority represented as fundamentalists, illiterates, extremists, backwards illustrates how these markers of the boundaries of nationstates (mini Pakistan), stereotypes and generalisations get fixated/imprinted on the social geographies and bodies of these beings resulting in pushing them off-limits to the discourse of equal citizenship status in the country. The Muslims in India irrespective of caste and gender have been facing these issues at a larger level which becomes apparent when looks at the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in India.
Here, is the dilemma, how can one go for solidarity; with the less oppressed or the more oppressed? The solidarities have to be formed on some principles; these principles will be the basis for greater purpose of the solidarity of struggles. For example, the question of intersectionality; of class, women and gender is a very important question in any struggle. How can a struggle take all those questions together without losing the basis of its foundations or compromising with its principles? Not a solution but a way which can lead to building of solidarities within different sections is acknowledging the differences, not silencing or ignoring the voices or questions that does not fall within the spectrum of struggle but bringing them together by negotiating a way that can bridge the gaps not create gaps. Reaching out to people at ground levels; creating solidarity at local mohallas, wards, across neighbourhoods not limiting to just few slogans and dharnas which are very important also. At the same time, it is very heartening to see that Muslims and Dalits across the spectrum are coming together in a single-unified platform in Gujarat. The struggle has to be carried forward in a very dynamic manner to end the oppression.
Notes:[i] For further discussion see; Gyanendra Pandey. 2006. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. In The Gyanendra Pandey Omnibus, 2008. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp.198-200.
[ii] To look further into the role of Hindu revivalist movements and cow protection groups see; Sekhar Bandopadhyay. 2004. From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan. pp. 233-234, 240-243.
[iii] See Raju Solanki’s analysis of the implications of communal violence, the state of Dalits, minorities and other marginalized sections; Blood under Saffron: The myth of Dalit-Muslim confrontation, Round Table India (July 23, 2013) at:
[iv] See; Thomas Blom Hansen. Communalism, democracy and Indian capitalism. Seminar 674(Oct.2015):40-43at:
[v] For a discussion on participation of Dalit Women in the movement see; Swarnima Bhattacharya, The Making and Unmaking of a Dalit Woman Leader. The Wire (August 27, 2016) at: http://thewire.in/62009/dalit-women-leaders/
[vi] See; Christophe Jaffrelot and Charlotte Thomas. “Facing Ghettoisation in Riot-City,” in Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalisation, 43-79. NewYork: Columbia University Press, 2011; Field et. al makes an important argument that it became a ‘territory war rather than segregation in these locations’(p.509) one of the reasons why most of the violence between Muslims and ‘Hindus’ during that time happened in the mill areas. See; “Segregation, rent control, and riots: The economics of religious conflict in an Indian city. The American Economic Review 98, no. 2 (2008): 505-510.
[vii] See; Prashant K Trivedi et al., Does Untouchability Exist among Muslims? Evidence from Uttar Pradesh. Economic and Political Weekly (April 9, 2016) at: