The spectacle of senior politicians of all hues eating at Dalit homes has become a farcical show of tokenism. These orchestrated media events serve as a photo opportunity for the leaders ahead of elections and do nothing to ameliorate the plight of the marginalised communities. The political parties seem to be vying with one another to have lunch/dinner dates with poor Dalit families in villages to showcase their concern for weaker sections. However, what the Dalit communities need is access to better healthcare, education and jobs and an end to social discrimination in all its forms. For many Dalit families across the country, discrimination, harassment and violence are unfortunately part of everyday reality even seven decades after independence. Whether it is the ruthless attacks by hooligans calling themselves ‘gau rakshaks’ in several parts of the country or the latest wave of street violence by upper caste vigilantes in Saharanpur of Uttar Pradesh, it is the Dalits who become the victims. Of late, BJP veterans have been breaking bread with Dalit families in well-choreographed media events. One such outing by Karnataka State BJP president and former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa turned out to be a big embarrassment for the saffron party after it emerged that he ate food ordered from a local restaurant. Similar questions were raised over the Dalit outreach by BJP president Amit Shah during his recent visit to Telangana.
Despite several laws to protect them, the Dalits have been at the receiving end of the caste bias and violence. The practice of eating with Dalit families in full media glare actually amounts to belittling the community because it shows that Dalits need such a validation to be considered as equals. Such shows of empty tokenism will not change anything on the ground if the parties don’t come up with a blueprint detailing measures to improve their living standards by ensuring that they have full access to healthcare, education and the justice system. The politics over night-stays and lunches at Dalit homes, particularly during the election season, turns bizarre as parties compete with each other in perpetuating poverty tourism. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi started the trend when he first spent the night at the hut of a Dalit family in Gauriganj in his Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi in 2008 when Mayawati was the Chief Minister. It is now the turn of BJP leaders to continue the practice, which is abhorrent and reeks of condescending mindset. The debacle of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh shows that the Dalit community can no longer be taken for granted for votes by any political party and what they need is genuine social and political empowerment.