- 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.”