India has a long history of a very old, thriving and continuing civilization. Many a caravan of humanity came to this country, settled down here, enriched it and made it its homeland for years together. Modern or post independent India is the multiplication of total efforts of all these contributors from different corners of the world. However, every coin has two sides. In this enriched India, a big misfortune has been rampant for the past 3000+ years, i.e. cruel discrimination of humans against humans. This inhuman mentality has become all the more sharp in the context of the modern trends of equality, justice, liberty and fraternity. The caste based prejudice and narrow-mindedness assumes, from time to time, cruel and horrible proportions resulting in conflicts and disturbances.
Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of Indian freedom moment, also waged a war, in spite of having reservations on the subject, against the caste system and gave a new name to Dalits – “Harijan” (people of God) – and a semblance of respectability to the old ‘untouchables’ as they used to be called then. Another icon of the same India, who is god father to the Dalit community, Dr.B.R Ambedkar refused to accept the doled out respectability and outrightly rejected the name Harijan and preferred to be called Dalits or “suppressed people”. It showed the dissatisfaction with half hearted and snail-paced reforms in the society and a strong quest for complete parity with other human beings.
Dalits in India are 20.14 crore according to 2011 census, i.e. one fifth (16.6%) of the India’s population, and are worst sufferers in slums in cities and rural areas as well. 80% of landless labourers in rural India are Dalits. They are being denied the right to equality and human dignity and even the right to existence. The reason for their backwardness and oppressed social and economic status may be their sub divisions as Dalits refers to 450 communities in India. There is no proper leader to lead the community and if there is any, he/she is often bought and bribed by so-called political leaders for their political gains. The cases of rapes of Dalit women, social boycott, attacks and atrocities are on increase again after the formation of the new government in 2014.
Every now and then, Dalits are targeted either by upper castes or by corrupt political leaders, and are segregated in all spheres of social life: in place of worship, education, housing, land ownership, use of common facilities such as wells and water taps, roads, buses and other public places. In old days, Dalits were not even allowed to wear shoes. In many dominant caste families, the servants used to be and are still Dalits. Throughout India, there are places where Dalits are not allowed to enter Hindu temples as we have recently witnessed a case in Tamil Nadu, which is 4th highly populated state in India, where Dalits of seven villages in Tirupur district were prevented from worshiping at the new Uthamapalayam Mariyamman temple which was built by the caste Hindus because the old temple, under HR&CE (Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments) Department, ‘lost its sanctity’ when Dalits entered it in 2010 [March 2016].
These happenings in Haryana and Tamil Nadu just a decade ago indicate the level of exploitation of Dalits in India. In Jhajjar, Haryana, caste Hindus lynched five Dalits over rumours of having killed a cow before skinning it. Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is always ready to defend the killers, came out with the shocking statements that the life of a cow was more precious than that of a human being.
The issue of institutionalized murder of Rohit Vemula, a research scholar of University of Hyderabad, was diverted by the statements of ruling party leaders that Rohit was not Dalit and commission took a long time to enquire into the matter and at last said that Rohit is Dalit. But nobody answers the question why someone had pressurized the students to such an extent that a brilliant student of his field had to take such an extreme step as suicide.
More Dalits are now visible in the middle layers of bureaucracy than ever before and a significant proportion of them have used the educational opportunities opened up to them by way of reservation. Untouchability of the overt ‘in-your-face’ kind had declined at least in the cities. The Dalit problem, the gradualist optimistic view holds, may be on the way to resolution.
After a brief relief, atrocities on Dalits of India have been started again and they feel as if “Black Days” have come. This time again, their votes have been garnered in the name of development, and political leaders are misusing their power instead of improving the status of Dalits in India. Dalits in India are still waiting for Justice, Equality, Fertainity and “Achhe Din”.
(This is the 2nd article in the series India and Dalits)