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Islamabad

February 15, 2016

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Dalit: children of a lesser god in India

“There is no nation of Indians in the real sense of the World, it is yet to be created. In believing we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into thousand of castes be a nation?  The sooner we realise that we are not yet a nation, in a social and psychological sense of the World, the better for us.”  (Ambedkar)

Today, in this era of modernisation, for an ordinary person, words like slavery, untouchables, caste and discrimination seem Greek. Yet, a little effort in exploring this vast global village will not only make understanding of these terms easier, but will also navigate you to the regions of Earth where these are actually practiced.  Destination is not very far off, it is the greatest democracy of the World and a self acclaimed secular state, the India. Let us see how an Indian high ranking official explains the situation. According to Justice A.S Anand, “Despite elaborate provisions in the constitution and other laws, it is an unfortunate reality that social injustice and exploitation of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other weaker sections persist. There are reports in the press about atrocities against persons belonging to these groups and the frequency with which they occur is a cause for disquiet. The humiliation which persons belonging to the scheduled castes in general and the Dalits in particular suffer even today, more than half a century after India proclaimed itself to be a republic, is a matter of shame”.

Caste discrimination and life of Dalits is too big a stigma to be hidden under secular and democratic slogans of modern India.  Historically the caste system has formed the social and economic framework for the life of people in India. In its essential form, caste as the system of social and economic governance is based on principles and customary rules that involve the division of people into social groups (castes) where assignments of rights are determined by birth. These castes are fixed and hereditary. The assignment of basic rights among various castes is asymmetrical and hierarchical. Resultantly, those at the top enjoy maximum rights coupled with minimum duties and those at the bottom perform are treated conversely. Within Hindu society, the caste system is maintained through the rigid enforcement of social exclusion and in case of any deviations a system of social and economic penalties comes into play. Thus the doctrine of inequality is the core and heart of the caste system. Supported by philosophical elements, it constructs the moral, social and legal foundations of Hindu society.

Without going into details of four castes prevailing in Hindu society, those in Hindu society  who are beneath the entire caste system – and are therefore literally ‘outcaste’ as well as ‘untouchable’ – call themselves ‘Dalits’. The word “Dalit”, meaning “broken” or “ground down”, is used by ‘outcaste’ people themselves to describe at the same time their oppression, their identity and their collective power for emancipation. Interestingly, gender discrimination  further reinforces the impact of caste discrimination forcing Dalit women to face double discrimination in all spheres of life. They are more affected by poverty and a majority of them experience physical or sexual violence from dominant castes. This practice is mostly used intentionally to maintain the oppression of the Dalit community. 

According to UN, caste-based discrimination is a discrimination on the basis of work and descent. It is an ancient form of oppressive, hierarchical social system that ordered people according to their family of birth. It has remained in place despite its legal abolition because of its strong and irrevocable religious sanction. The Brahminical system clearly states that those born into families not recognised within the major caste categories would be ‘untouchable’ and could never come into contact with the superior caste Hindus. Far from being a remnant of the past, caste discrimination continues in both its traditional, rural forms of physical and occupational segregation and economic exploitation, in access to land and to criminal justice, in modern Indian educational system, in marriages and dining, and in access to the new employment opportunities.

Despite being charged with a constitutional mandate to promote social justice, various local institutions of the Indian State clearly tolerate and even brazenly facilitate the practice of untouchability to Dalits. Findings of many credible surveys reveal shocking information. In 37.8% of the villages, Dalits are compelled to sit separately in government schools whereas in 27.6% of the villages they are banned from entering police stations. In 25.7% of the villages of Dalits, they are not allowed to enter ration shops. In 33% of the villages, public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes and in 23.5% of the Dalit villages, these poor people don’t get mail delivered to their homes. The most shocking finding of the survey reveals that in 48.4% of the Dalit villages, they are denied access to water sources. This is so-called Secular India, the World's largest democracy.

According to official Indian crime statistics, a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. Justice Asanand, NHRC chairperson, in his report on atrocities writes, "Despite elaborate provisions in the constitution and other laws, it is an unfortunate reality that social injustice and exploitation of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other weaker sections persist. There are reports in the press about atrocities against persons belonging to these groups and the frequency with which they occur is a cause for disquiet. The humiliation which  persons belonging to the scheduled castes in general and the Dalits in particular suffer even today, more than half a century after India proclaimed itself to be a republic, is a matter of shame".

Being a Dalit in India is a big crime. In so-called shining India, even today those from higher castes do not marry Dalits. Dalits are the only ones who perform duties which are considered degrading in Indian society, such as manual cleaning of human waste, giving news of death and working with leather. According to India's official survey, over one million Dalits are manual scavengers who clear human waste from public and private latrines and dispose of dead animals; unofficial estimates are much higher. Human Rights Watch revealed that in India’s southern states, thousands of girls are forced into prostitution before reaching the age of puberty. Joghinis, literally meaning “female servant of god,” usually belong to the Dalit community. Once dedicated, the girl is unable to marry, forced to become a prostitute for upper-caste community members and eventually auctioned off to an urban brothel.

Despite claimant of World's greatest democracy, high caste Hindus refuse to eat or drink with Dalits. Dalits showing signs of economic or social mobility or emancipation are cut down to size by the dominant castes via shocking acts of violence and humiliation mostly backed officially. Unfortunately, a vast majority of perpetrators of these acts enjoy impunity. Many laws, as well as the constitution itself, have been introduced in India banning caste discrimination, untouchability and their manifestations. The problem is not the law, but its implementation which is mostly retarded by Hindu culture, religion and the political system. Specially when hard liner Hindutva centric governments rule India, lack of political will to ensure strict implementation of existing laws is but natural. As long as fanatic religious political parties will continue dominating political cosmos of India, Dalits will continue experiencing untouchability, bonded labour, poverty, manual scavenging, segregation, landlessness and violence.

India, which claims to be World's largest democracy and a secular state must look inward and see her official treatment to Dalits. Today, if there is any organised slavery on the globe, it undoubtedly exists in India. Today, Dalits are impoverished and excluded, abused and humiliated, denied justice, exploited and untouchable, are they children of a lesser God? India instead of aspiring to seek UNSC and Nuclear Club's membership should dispense justice to her Dalits by breaking the ancient shackles of slavery. 

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