Politicians eating meals in Dalit homes to demonstrate their progressive credentials is a meaningless show. The Dalit community needs substantial inputs in education, healthcare and jobs rather than dinner dates.
Political parties seem to in the middle of a pitched battle over whether Karnataka state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa ate food ordered from a restaurant in a Dalit home recently. This, apparently, is in keeping with the party’s greater plan of making inroads into the Dalit community by having leaders eat in their homes on a daily basis. BJP party leaders are doing the same thing in other states. Whether there is any truth to the allegation from opponents that food was procured from outside as the Yeddyurappa did not want to eat food cooked by a Dalit or not, the whole practice is abhorrent.
It suggests that Dalits need some sort of legitimacy and social acceptance by dint of higher caste leaders eating in their homes. The BJP is not alone in this, all political parties have adopted this practice to demonstrate their progressive credentials. This is to shortchange, and indeed, insult the Dalit community. Its members don’t need the meaningless show of leaders deigning to eat with them. They need substantial inputs in education, healthcare and jobs to give them a level playing field. This dinner diplomacy is solely aimed at getting votes. The Dalits today are not content to be considered a buyable votebank to whom leaders can pay lip service. As the BSP debacle in Uttar Pradesh shows, their vote can no longer be taken for granted. So far, this forced bonhomie has proved nothing more than photo-ops for political leaders. The discrimination against continues as recent cases of Dalit grooms being beaten up for daring to come to the wedding venue on a horse or decorated car shows. Mindless reservations in low-paying jobs and relaxation of marks restrictions too are not the answer. Dalits need concrete measures for empowerment without which they will not be able to stand on their own feet.
As has been seen before, these visits by politicians result in raised expectations in the family in question. As we have also seen, they are forgotten quickly after the publicity purpose has been served. This tokenism must be stopped and cannot be a substitute for action on the ground. Dalit children should have equal access to education, students pursuing higher education should be able to do so in a non-discriminatory environment. We have seen talented students like Rohit Vemula face the inherent prejudices in educational institutions towards Dalits seeking equal opportunities. Politicians should put their money and resolve where their mouths are to push the cause of Dalits, not be part-time lunch or dinner companions.