By Miss Sangita Kansal
As an Indian British who has lived in England all my life, I cannot comprehend the deeply ingrained prejudice against the Dalits (downtrodden, oppressed) in India, it seems as it if has soaked into the DNA of many people, especially in rural areas.
The deep rooted caste system which gives more importance to cows than Dalits must be in conflict with itself as a human is only born after taking a thousand re-births as an animal. So why are cows deified and Dalits maligned?
The caste system also counteracts the liberal Constitution which was drafted by India’s beloved Dr B.R Ambedkar. The Constitution guarantees the right to equality of all citizens. Article 7 abolishes untouchability, a concept abhorred by Mahatma Gandhi (who renamed untouchables to Harijans which means the children of God). Article 23 prohibits bonded labour and Article 15(2) is clear that no citizen should be barred from access to public spaces, use of wells, roads etc on the grounds of caste. Despite this, socially and emotionally there remains a ‘no entry’ sign for Dalits. Justice,equality, liberty and fraternity the four basic principles of the Indian Constitution do not extend to Dalits.
New laws have been passed reiterating the safeguards which already exist in the Constitution for Dalits. The new legislation such as the Civil Rights Act 1955, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989 , Bonded Labour Abolition Act, were brought in because previous legislation made little impact. Special Courts have been established in major States to facilitate speedy justice. However, Caste is not a law and order problem alone, but overwhelmingly a social problem.
Although the literacy levels in the subordinate castes is rising and they are beginning to fight for their land and occupation rights, with more middle class Dalit entrepreneurs resulting from Government reservations and positive discrimination, atrocities against the Dalits rise unabated. In October 2014 a 15 year old boy was burnt alive by an upper caste man in rohtas District as the paddy crop was eaten by his goats. In the past, a 21 year old man was murdered in Maharashtra simply for singing in praise of Ambedkar. Two children were burnt to death in Faridabad 2015, two girls were raped and hung up on a tree in Dadaun in 2014. In 2015, two 8 year old Dalit children drank from their teacher’s pot- as a consequence, they were brutally beaten and dismissed from the school. Even though the case was taken further, the police investigation was closed.
More recently in 2016, the Una incident in Gujarat again brings to home the heinous crimes committed against innocent human beings. The attack on four young Dalit men for simply skinning dead cows were beaten with iron rods by so called Cow Vigilantes, who showered these men with caste-based demeaning words. Instead of the police castigating the Cow Vigilantes, they locked up the four Dalit men in police custody. If these cows were alive they would have been offended and disturbed at such shameful behaviour. Cows are peaceful animals who nurture life, the Cow Vigilantes are the exact opposite.
The National Crime Records Bureau has indicated a 44% increase in violence against Dalits. There is empirical evidence that every week in Dalit communities across India there are 13 murders, 5 Dalit homes burnt, 6 Dalit people kidnapped or abducted and 21 Dalit women raped. Horrifying statistics also indicate that in rural areas 37.8% of government run schools separate Dalit children from others, in 27.6% of rural villages Dalits are prevented from entering police stations, in 33% of rural villages public health workers refuse to enter Dalit homes, 48.4% are denied access to water sources and in 70% of rural villages Dalit and non-Dalit people cannot eat together.
Dalits are the lowest rank of Indian society. Approximately 167 million are Dalits in India i.e. over 16.2% of the total population. The majority of bonded labourers are Dalits and many of them are impoverished, illiterate and unaware of their rights. Half of the subordinate castes live below the poverty link such a caste system is cancerous.
The violence against Dalits is engineered to remind them of their low caste status in society, to keep them subjugated and demoralised. The objective is that this caste is locked into to providing the services of dirty cleaning work that no other caste will ever touch as it is traditionally the domain of the untouchables. The police and judiciary who are of higher castes, are often not impartial or sympathetic and perpetuate this system of apartheid in India. Apartheid has been abolished in South Africa, why is it allowed to continue in India for people of the same race?
It is obvious that Hindus who feel superior due to their caste and take great pleasure in reminding vulnerable low caste sections with measures of violence, harassment and segregation, that they do not really understand their own religion. Hinduism is a peaceful and flexible religion which believes in the concept of karma. So if these’ lovely’ high caste people create a bad karma by committing atrocities on the Dalits for the sake of doing to, they are without a shadow of a doubt going to be ostracised and denigrated in future existences too, this is the concept of karma and cause and effect.
Have Hindus consulted the cows about their bad behaviour? Does Hinduism really revere cows more than humans? Well that is a revelation. Is Hinduism now the only religion that practices apartheid and congratulates itself for doing so?
We need more political will and better enforcement of the laws to protect a very precious section of our country. The collective consciousness of the nation needs radical changing. Any religion cannot promote violence and discrimination, and any spiritual philosophy which commands respect should be versatile enough to accommodate modern thinking, otherwise it becomes archaic. One day India will look back into its history and almost liken itself to Nazi Germany in its treatment of the ‘untouchables’. How audacious, that cows are treated better than humans! In my Western upbringing I continue to battle with this concept of man- made caste or human interpretation of Hinduism to suit its own ends. In England there is no concept of caste, does that mean that it is deeply flawed? The answer has to be no.
My names is Miss Sangita Kansal