No Change in the plight of Dalits even after 75 years of Independence

By Abdul Bari Masoud

The recent incidents of brutality against Dalits are just the tip of the iceberg.  They underline the stark reality that caste brutality persists across the nation even after 75 years of Independence. They also demonstrate how anti-racism legislation fell short of eliminating this deeply ingrained social ill that feeds off local beliefs.

According to National Commission for Scheduled Caste, a Dalit boy who was allegedly beaten by his school teacher in Rajasthan for allegedly touching a drinking water pot received treatment at six different hospitals over the course of 23 days, but he succumbed to his injuries at a hospital in Ahmedabad on August 13.

Chail Singh reportedly got infuriated with the boy, a student of Class III, when he saw the latter drinking water from a pot meant for the upper caste people in the school, and later thrashed him brutally. The 40-year-old teacher was arrested and charged with murder as well as violation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

The National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) has asked the Congress government in Rajasthan to take strict action against those responsible for allegedly killing the Dalit boy for touching a water pot. However, the central child panel did not issue any such directive to the UP and Madhya Pradesh governments where incidents of similar nature took place.

In Bahraich district of UP a 13-year-old boy died as a result of significant internal bleeding caused by wounds sustained during the assault. Rajesh Vishwakarma, the victim’s brother, told local reporters that his brother had been physically assaulted by a teacher over unpaid tuition of `250 a month. “Although I had paid for it online, the teacher was unaware and severely beat my brother,” he was reported as saying.

In another BJP-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh, a teacher assaulted a Class XII Dalit girl and hurled abuses at her and other students. The case came to light after Government Higher Secondary School pupils complained to the Singrauli district collector that their teacher had harassed them and used racial insults on August 2. According to the girl’s older sister, complaints against the teacher were made before as well, but no action was taken.

Babu Jagjivan Ram, who subsequently rose to become the Deputy Prime Minister, endured the same humiliation in school exactly 100 years ago. He did, fortunately, survive the attack.

Recalling her father’s ordeal, Meira Kumar, former Lok Sabha Speaker, tweeted: “100 years ago my father Babu Jagjivan Ram was prohibited from drinking water in school from the pitcher meant for Savarna Hindus. It was a miracle his life was saved. Today, a nine-year-old #Dalit boy has been killed for the same reason. 75 long years after Independence, caste system remains our greatest enemy.”

I sometimes think he’s not alive to see what happened in Jalore because things have not changed in 100 years, India has not changed in 100 years, she rued.

According to a 2020 report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a Dalit is the victim of a crime every ten minutes. Crimes against Dalits increased by 9.4% from the previous year. A majority of atrocities against Dalits have been documented in Uttar Pradesh.

Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra, earlier told the Lok Sabha that in the year 2018, 42,793 cases of atrocities against Dalits were reported while 45,935 cases were reported in 2019. In 2020, this figure increased to 50,291.

Tribal communities are also enduring such cruelty. According to the information given in Parliament, there has been a 26% increase in crimes against tribals between 2018 and 2020. Per the NCRB data, 6,528 cases of atrocities against Scheduled Tribes (STs) were registered in 2018, while the number was 7,570 in 2019 and 8272 in 2020.

Caste-based inequality, discrimination, and exclusion are present in nearly every aspect of life despite the fact that the Dalit and Adivasi communities make up more than 25% of the overall population of the nation.

This prejudice exists even at political level. In a shocking survey, the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) revealed that in 22 out of 386 panchayats, Dalit panchayat presidents were not even given chairs in their offices. And, in some cases, they were not even allowed access to the local body office and not given access to documents. The survey conducted in 24 districts of the state found that many Dalit panchayat presidents were not even allowed to hoist the national flag.

It is also a cruel reality that despite reservation quota for SCs and STs, the upper castes are holding a disproportionate share of power in the government system.

According to the All India Survey for Higher Education (AISHE), 8.6% of teachers are Dalits, which is much less than the 15% quota reserved for them; whereas the majority, 58.8%, is from the unreserved category. One illustration of the system’s current inequity is the underrepresentation of Dalits in educational institutions, which is also a problem in many other government agencies.

In response to a question asked in Parliament in July 2022, the Centre said that in 10 government departments, 53,293 reserved posts out of 85,777 posts remain vacant. That is 62% of the total reserved posts.

When it comes to Dalits, 5,18,632 persons were employed in the central government jobs in 2014-15, but the number reduced to 3,36,927 in 2020-21.

The nine-year-old Dalit boy’s death in Rajasthan has caused public outrage. Speaking with Radiance, Supreme Court lawyer and president of Rashtriya Janhit Sangharsh Party, Bhanu Pratap Singh said it is a very severe issue. But he also faults Dalits and their leaders for “sticking with Hinduism and using Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s name for their own gain rather than adopting his course of renunciating Hinduism”.

Another Dalit intellectual Ajeet Kumar Pankaj, assistant professor at the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University’s regional campus in Manipur, holds the same view.

Prof Pankaj recalled the words of Dr. Ambedkar to Mahatma Gandhi: “Gandhiji, How can I call this land my own homeland and this religion my own, wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink?…If in my endeavour to secure human rights for my people, who have been trampled upon in this country for ages, I do any disservice to this country, it would not be a sin.”

Senior Jamaat-e-Islami Hind leader Prof Mohammad Salim Engineer said it is a matter of deep concern for the whole country that the atrocities on Dalits and weaker sections are on the rise.  

The failure to accord our Dalit brethren dignity and equality is of grave concern to the entire nation, Prof Salim told Radiance. He suggested a nationwide campaign to change people’s perceptions of the caste system and said anti-Dalit legislation should be implemented in full without considering vote-bank politics.

As Meira Kumar also suggested, we must change the mindset of the people.

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