India’s Dalits really, really distrust the Maoist movement of India and Nepal.  As the Maoist movement begins to challenge for state power in Nepal, and has struck a serious level of alarm in the ruling elite in India, this question has important ramifications for the future of south Asia.

The Dalit movement in India is the largest and fastest growing threat to the status quo, followed at some distance by the Maoists.  Interestingly, almost all the Dalit leadership I know, mostly mid-level cadre in the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), India’s third largest national party and main force in the Dalit liberation movement, are ex-Maoists.

When asked why they distrust the “Naxalites”, the common term for the Maoist movement, they point out, to start, the fact that almost all the rank and file fighters in the Maoist movement are Dalit and that almost all the leadership are “high caste”. The Dalits I know have had firsthand experience with just how caste-ist the “Naxalite”/Maoist leadership is.

When delving into the “political line” put forth by the Maoist movement in India and Nepal, it is rare to find mention of caste/varna, let alone any attempt to address caste/varna (color) in any sort of historical perspective. It would seem that the Maoist leaders would prefer to blend class with caste and avoid any dealing with such a potentially divisive question.

The Dalit movement exemplified by the BSP cadre I know is firmly rooted in organizing Dalits into community collectives and focused on mobilizing Dalits in exercising their voting rights. When it is pointed out that no ruling class has ever peacefully relinquished their privileges, i.e, through elections, my Dalit comrades point out that 85% of India Dalits still believe in the one, unifying tenet of Hinduism, varna/caste/color. Simply put, most Dalits believe they are being punished by God for sins in a previous life and their lot as “untouchables”, Dalits, is God’s will. If God willed your punishment today with the promise of a better re-birth in the next life, than trying to lift yourself and your children’s lot above that of cleaning the communal toilets is going against God’s will. Sounds like a brilliant scheme for social control using a religion, Hinduism, in the opinion of all the Dalits I know.

Taking into consideration just how mentally enslaved most Dalits remain, moving the masses of Dalits from being so crushed and broken to real liberation might take a series of steps instead of one giant leap, or so my Dalit comrades seem to feel.  Dalits may have to see for themselves that casting a vote is not going to midwife any real liberation for the rank and file. While acknowledging that a series of trial and error may mark their struggle and that the Maoist scorn such an approach, Dalits feel that if the Maoist movement continues to ignore varna/caste while still dependent on Dalits to win power, Dalits are doomed to see their struggle for equal rights and justice betrayed by the new Brahmins, the leaders of today’s Maoist movement.

One fact remains utterly non debatable and that is that India and Nepal remain overwhelmingly a society of villages. Equally non debatable is that in India’s villages, caste rules. How the Maoist movement can hope to succeed without even addressing this issue in any real way bodes ill for any hopes the Maoist movement offers any real solutions to the most barbaric, inhumane system of human oppression in the world, apartheid in India and Nepal.