Calcutta 😀r Ramchandra Dom, popularly known as the ‘people’s doctor’, is the first Dalit to be elected to the Politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at its recently concluded 23rd Party Congress in Kannur, Kerala .
Dom, a seven-time CPI(M) Lok Sabha MP representing Birbhum (reserved) and later Bolpur constituency, fought poverty and social punishment from childhood but that did not deter him from becoming a doctor . Presently, he is the General Secretary of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, a pan-Indian organization working for the upliftment of the Dalit community across the country.
NewsClick spoke with the 63-year-old communist leader about his life and times, his involvement in the left-wing movement and the challenges facing the Dalit movement. Edited excerpts.
SC: Tell us about your childhood and your difficulties.
RD: I was born in the then impoverished village of Chilla, located in an obscure part of Birbhum into a scheduled caste family. My father and his brothers only had 1.5 bigha of land to cultivate, so they also had to work as rural artisans (carpentry) to support the families. We were six brothers and three sisters and I was the third among my siblings.
In our time (the 1960s and 1970s), very few villagers could afford to study. My eldest brother, although deserving, had to drop out of school halfway through class 9. Two other brothers did not have the chance to study in schools and started working as rural artisans. Only a younger brother graduated and is currently in government service.
I had to fight against social punishment at every stage, although at my school I was encouraged by my teachers, many of whom were left-leaning. They helped me with my studies and raised me like their own child.
In the 70s, during my school years, I slipped into the student movement and had to face social punishment and torture from the ruling party (Congress) which was even a Gana Adalat (kangaroo court) to judge me during my school years for daring to pursue studies and at the same time getting involved in the student movement. I had to face the onslaught of heavy vehicles in the village. However, soon my village took a left turn and we united to protest against the oppression that was raining down on me.
After passing the secondary and higher secondary examinations, I got admitted to the pre-medical course in 1976 after passing the joint entrance examination. Again, the role of my teachers in this achievement was commendable. Several teachers and supporters from my village also helped me financially to continue the course in Kolkata.
In Kolkata, I first stayed at the Student Federation of India (SFI) office and then took a room in the slums of Dumdum Patipukur area with another serving person. At that time, I had also started taking private lessons in Kolkata to earn some money.
In 1977 a political change took place in West Bengal (Left Front was elected to power) which helped me to get my SC allowances on time and I moved to NRS Hostel (Nil Ratan Sarkar) for medical students and I have been involved in building the SFI in various medical schools.
In 1984 I completed my medical studies and in 1986 I moved to Birbhum as a doctor in a rural health center. Later, I also became the BOMH (Block Medical Officer of Health). However, in 1989, the party – the CPI(M) – asked me to leave my government job, which I did. Later that year, the party nominated me to represent it from Birbhum in the Lok Sabha elections. Thus began my parliamentary life.
In the midst of all this, I was among the key organizers of the youth movement and I was a central executive member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India or DYFI.
By the way, after completing MBBS, I became the second person in my community to become a doctor.
What is your view of the historical perspective of the Dalit movement?
Dalit means oppressed and the movement for the uprising of the oppressed classes started in the Middle Ages. Sri Chaitanyadeb started the Bhakti movement, the foundation of which was based on the upliftment of the oppressed classes. This was the first organized movement for the uprising of the oppressed classes
At present, it is Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar who organized this movement. In Bengal, Jogen Mondal led the movement and was its epicenter. Babasaheb gave Dalits an opportunity by securing reservations in government jobs, paving the way for their rise in independent India. However, it was not a system conducive to everything.
What was the role of the Left Front government in the uprising of the marginalized classes in Bengal?
Under the Left Front government, the school education sector was overhauled. School infrastructure has been considerably improved. Benefits were paid on time and SC/ST homes started operating in various parts of the state. Along with the midday meal program, the Left Front government encouraged marginalized sections to join the education arena. In a nutshell, in the 34 years of left-wing rule in the state, the marginalized section has benefited immensely.
You said reservation is not the only way to uplift Dalits in the country. Why?
Land rights, right to work, right to education, right to housing, right to health and political empowerment are key to destroying the roots of India’s caste-dominated society. Without social empowerment, the movement for the upliftment of Dalits will be incomplete. Even now, in southern Indian states except Kerala, Dalits are barred from entering many temples.
Economic and social exploitation are intrinsically linked. According to our party, the Dalits, Tribals and other backward castes are the key elements of the class struggle in India. The fight for social and economic rights is important. Fighting only for the economic agenda of the Dalits will not uplift the community, just like fighting for the social agenda will not help either. It is only by assimilating these two agendas that the real uprising of the oppressed classes can really take place. We Marxists are firmly convinced that for this revolutionary social change is necessary.
What is the current situation of Dalits in the country?
In northern India, social and caste divisions are extremely clear. In West Bengal, due to the long reign of the left and reformist social movements, these divisions are not so severe. However, the feudal remnants of the society are still very active. Therefore, in present-day West Bengal, Dalits, Tribals and a section of women become easy targets for lumpen elements. Here, the approach of governments on these issues is also important. Previously, any such incident was handled with iron fists. Now, due to the lackluster attitude of the state government, such incidents are happening again and again.
For eight years the country has been ruled by those from the stable of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party, who themselves believe in Manuwadi philosophy. Their main objective is to recondition the varna vyavastha (caste system) and strengthen it. Their basic objective is to build the Hindu Rashtra by destroying the current Constitution.
It is as if the country is going back to the Middle Ages, where reactionary forces with regressive mindsets can be seen behind the rapid increase in sexual assault and social oppression of Dalits. Criminal records are just the tip of the iceberg. In Bengal, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) inaugurated the lumpen raj, and in the country, the sangh pariwar orchestrates this kind of terror.
In the last two years, that is to say in times of pandemic, exploitation has multiplied. Now is a good time to build a strong resistance movement.
Dalits’ pathways to justice are obstructed. On the other hand, creeping privatization initiatives began at the behest of central and state government, both continuing neoliberal policies and paving the way for the corporatization of the country’s natural resources, such as water. , forests and land resources of the adivasis.
In the private sector, there is no reservation, so it becomes irrelevant. The most affected sections are Dalits, Tribals and other backward sections of the population. Education and employment are being dismantled due to widespread privatization of the public sector and recruitment freezes in central government ministries as well as state government units.
Reservations in education and employment in the private sector should therefore be introduced and, if necessary, appropriate amendments to the Constitution should be made.
Social movements alone cannot address the concerns of Dalits and Adivasis. The fight to change the central state and its mode of privatization must be resumed and the social movements must continue in parallel. No Dalit organization can make this happen. Thus, a correct trajectory must be taken. Only spontaneity cannot achieve this.
What are the problems facing the Dalit movement?
Sub-plans (for SC/ST) have been made superfluous by the current government and subsequently the planning process for Adivasis and Dalits has also become redundant. adivasi. Issues such as maintenance of yojna subplans by NITI Aayog and increase in budget allocation based on population ratio should be addressed.
The rights of marginalized sections of society – rights to water, forests and tribal land – must not be compromised. SC/ST hostels shouldn’t be. The movement to strengthen the MNREGA (Rural Employment Guarantee System) must be resumed, and must also be launched in urban areas. Actions such as the prevention of atrocities against SC/ST should be reinforced.
What are the roadblocks before the Dalit movement?
While the Union government is run in a fascist fashion, any movement against it is subdued through the use of force, as seen in the Bhima Koregaon movement when many activists were imprisoned and are still incarcerated. The space for democratic movements has been restricted.
In the Uttar Pradesh elections, we saw the fallout from social micro-engineering, which is practically the use of different divisions of Dalit society, pitting them against each other to bring them under the fold of the Hindutva. This has proven to be a drag on the organized Dalit movement in the country.