In Gujarat, Gau Rakshaks attacked seven Dalit youths with rods and knives on July 11, where they were stripped and beaten for almost two hours. The father of the youth intervened and he was beaten up, too . Further, they were tied to an SUV vehicle and paraded. Their crime – they were skinning a cow.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports a 44 per cent increase in violence against Dalits, up from 32,712 in 2010 to 47,064 crimes in 2014. The heinous nature of these crimes is beyond imagination – a Dalit women was brutally raped and murdered in Kerala in April, another was raped and murdered, and dumped in a water tank in Rajasthan in March, two children were burnt to death in Faridabad in 2015 and two girls were raped, murdered and hung up on a tree in Badaun in 2014.
Atrocities against Dalits haven’t stopped even after the July 11 incident, despite the ongoing protests. The violence continues in July — a 14-year-old minor girl visiting her grandparents was raped and mutilated in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. On July 17, a college-going Dalit girl was gangraped again by the same men who were arrested for the crime in 2013.
Not just violence, other means are also being employed to trample the rights of Dalits. Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula was driven to suicide by harassing him over non-payment of college fees. The UGC fellowship was cut down and so was the budget for the release and rehabilitation of manual scavengers. While the government and political parties paid rich tributes to Balasaheb on his 125th birth anniversary, his office in Dadar was razed without permission from his grandson.
The growing violence against Dalits follow a clear pattern. These incidents are directed towards reminding Dalits about their status in the caste-based social structure, and ensuring that they remain there. These atrocities are committed to ensure that Dalits live a life of indignity, humiliation and exclusion from the mainstream society; so that they continue to provide the caste-based services ‘so essential for society’ and remain at the bottom-rung without access to higher education and entrepreneurship.
What can explain the continuing practice of manual scavenging and bonded labour despite legislation against them?
The ‘dominant civil society’ had always arrogated itself the right to decide the fate of the Dalit community through its caste sanctions. The larger civil society does not consider it necessary to intervene when Dalits are murdered in broad daylight, publicly beaten, paraded naked and raped. The administration and policymakers provide the added support to the system with impunity. The police have also been implicated in supporting and colluding in the violence. Even in Una, the use of police lathis by Gau Rakshaks to beat the Dalit youths serves as an example.
According to Wilson Bezawada, the convener for Safai Karmachari Andolan, the violence that has sporadically spread across Gujarat shows the “deep grievances” that the community has been facing. One wonders who will take action when senior administrative officers label these men as just “lumpen elements who have taken the law into their own hands” and that the “self-styled Gau Rakshaks are hooligans”.
The response of about a dozen youth attempting suicide in protest against the Una incident also reflects the abject lack of faith in the system. They once again reflect what Rohith Vemula did. “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. Never was a man treated as a mind” – as a glorious thing made of the stardust”. Even as India hopes to achieve its rightful global status through empowering its youth, it is important to ensure that Dalits live with freedom and dignity.
The Constitutional rights and entitlements of the Dalit community need no illustration. Babasaheb’s leadership ensured that adequate rights and provisions were included for eliminating untouchability, providing protection, promoting education and economic development, and the right to participate in the political process of the country. It is important that these provisions are implemented and the caste-based disadvantages are addressed through equitable and inclusive social justice measures.