Saturday, February 13, 2010

[ZESTCaste] A Neeli Sene to take on the swayamsevaks

karnataka: Dalits
Push Comes To...
A Neeli Sene to take on the swayamsevaks
Sugata Srinivasaraju

Dalits in Karnataka have raised a 'self-defence, peace-keeping force'
The force called the Neeli Sene (Blue Army) will be a counter to the RSS
The first batch of 50 volunteers have been trained in Belgaum
By 2010-end, the Sene hopes to have 3,000 volunteers across the state

The Dalits in Karnataka are raising a 'Neeli Sene' (Blue Army). It's
said to be a "self-defence" force for "peace-keeping" and they say the
'blue' is not to be mistaken with that of the bsp's ujala colours but
as denoting the even and azure expanse of the sky. The they,
incidentally, is the Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (Bheemvaad), for decades
now an organisation representing the socio-economic interests of the
Dalit community. The first unit of the Blue Army was inaugurated in
Bangalore on January 26, fifty young men from Belgaum dressed in blue
uniforms and navy blue berets alighting at the city railway station
and marching smartly across the city's main thoroughfares.

That said, there's no discounting the Sene's raison d'etre. According
to DSS state convenor Mohan Raj, the Blue Army was raised specifically
to counter the growing clout of the RSS in the state. "We feel that
communal forces have been strengthened after the bjp came to power.
The RSS and other parivar organisations have a free run now. We would
normally expect the police to protect the Dalits, backward classes and
minorities, but now that does not seem to be happening," he says.

The idea of the Sene first came up at a September 2007 meeting of the
DSS state committee in Raibag, Belgaum. The members during the course
of the meeting argued that if the RSS could march on the streets with
'lathis', why shouldn't they be raising a force that protects the
spirit of the Constitution and the privileges guaranteed therein. They
were also deeply concerned about Dalit youth in rural areas being
misled and becoming insensitive to the needs of the community.

The DSS has been putting in a lot of effort to train their Blue Army.
Damodar Gasti, formerly of the Mahar Regiment, oversaw the training of
the first batch of 50 volunteers in Belgaum. Training starts early at
5 am in the morning at the Shahu Maharaj Palace grounds. The palace
grounds hold special significance because Shahu Maharaj was apparently
the first to introduce reservations for backward communities, as early
as 1902. These men also attended an ideological camp every fortnight
where they read and discussed Ambedkar and Jyotiba Phule. The first 50
men were chosen from more than a hundred volunteers. The DSS insisted
that those chosen at least be matriculates and over 18. A second unit
is to be inaugurated in the RSS hotbed of Udupi on February 28. By the
end of the year, they plan to have about 3,000 volunteers in the Blue
Army in most districts of the state.

All this effort, of course, has not gone down well with the home
department. When contacted, Karnataka home minister Dr V.S. Acharya,
himself an RSS swayamsevak had this to say about the new Sene: "The
RSS is a nationalist organisation. It is not against anybody. I do not
know what threat the Dalits face in Karnataka. There are no problems
here, Karnataka is a law-abiding state. Nobody has any need to worry."
Madara Swamiji, pontiff of the 'untouchable' Madiga seminary in
Chitradurga, though, begs to differ. "In principle, I endorse the DSS
move to raise a self-protection force. In fact, our own math is
training small batches of youth in communally sensitive villages to
protect our people. The state police are not in favour of the Dalits,
they are dependent on the government for promotions and medals."


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