Dalits still left out

Discrimination against Dalits is rising despite stronger laws. Attitudes of police, judiciary must change

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Published:February 18, 2016 12:04 am
dalit, condition of dalits, descrimination against dalits, rohith vemula, dali suicide case, Rohith Vemula’s suicide, anti-Dalit attitudes, indian express opinion Rohith Vemula.

The Dalit mobilisation that is gaining momentum in the wake of Rohith Vemula’s suicide reflects structural issues that he was well aware of. Certainly, reservations have given birth to Dalit entrepreneurs and a Dalit middle class benefiting from government jobs. But in spite of this, or because of this, anti-Dalit attitudes have been on the rise.

The number of registered cases of anti-Dalit atrocities, notoriously under-reported, jumped by 17.1 per cent in 2013 (compared to 2012) according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The increase was even more dramatic between 2013 and 2014 — 19.4 per cent. The word “atrocities” needs to be fleshed out here, otherwise it will become another bureaucratic, abstract euphemism.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (the PoA act), gives a list of “offences and atrocities”.

Someone is guilty of one of these “offences and atrocities” if he or she forces a Dalit or an Adivasi “to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance”, “forcibly removes clothes from the person of a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe or parades him [sic] naked or with painted face or body”, dispossesses him “from his land”, compels him to do “bonded labour”, “exploits her sexually”, “corrupts or fouls the water” he or she is using, denies him or her “right of passage to a place of public resort”, forces him or her “to leave his house, village or other place of residence”, etc.

This list is surprising, not only because of its detail but also because the Constitution drafted by Ambedkar had already taken care of most of these issues. Article 17 abolishes untouchability, Article 23 prohibits bonded labour and Article 15(2) stipulates that no citizen should be subject to restriction with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of entertainment, the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort on the grounds of caste. In 1955, the Untouchability (Offences) Act reasserted that Dalits should not be prevented from entering any public place. Then, in 1976, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was passed. In 1989, why did a new, detailed law have to be made that listed instances of “offences and atrocities”? Because none of the previous legislation had made any difference.

The PoA Act has not made a huge impact either, as evident from the figures mentioned above. Atrocities have continued, unbearably. In October 2014, a 15-year-old boy was burnt alive by an upper-caste man in Mohanpur village (Rohtas district) because his goats had eaten his paddy crop. In June 2015, two Dalit boys were killed in an altercation because they were short of Rs 4 in a flour mill of Allahabad. In October 2015, two kids of three and eight were burnt alive in their house in Ballabgarh village (Haryana) after an argument with local Rajputs. In May this year, a 21-year-old Dalit man was killed in Shirdi (Maharashtra) because he was playing a song in praise of Ambedkar.

In parallel, Dalit women continue to be victims of violence and rape, the same way as Mahasweta Devi, who turned 90 this month, described them decades ago in her short stories.

What has been the response of the state, lately? A new law was passed. Last month, the Indian Parliament made the existing
legislation even more sophisticated. This law provides stringent action against those who sexually assault Dalits and Adivasis and occupy their land illegally; it also declares as an offence garlanding with footwear a man or a statue, compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses or do manual scavenging.

Will that make any difference? Not if the police and the judiciary do not change their attitude. In spite of the fact that the PoA Act has introduced special courts for speedy trials, the conviction rate under this act has remained very low and has declined even — from 30 per cent in 2011 to 22.8 per cent in 2013 (more recent data are not available). And the percentage of “pending cases” has increased from
80 to 84 per cent.

But to have a case registered under the PoA Act is in itself a problem. On average, only one-third of the cases of atrocities are registered under the PoA Act. The police is reluctant to do so because of the severity of the penalties likely to be imposed by the act.

Many Dalits do not know their rights anyway and cannot fight a legal battle that is costly in terms of time and money. The 2011 Census offers a poignant picture of the socio-economic condition of the SCs, which explains their vulnerability. Out of the 4,42,26,917 Dalit households in India, 74 per cent live in rural areas, where the per-household land area they own on an average is less than 0.3 ha — most of them are landless. A total of 2,06,16,913 Dalit households live in one room and 1,39,24,073 in two rooms. Only 22 per cent of the Dalit households live in larger homes. And only 34 per cent of them have toilets in their premises. More than 50 per cent Dalit households use firewood as their main fuel for cooking.

The literacy rate among Dalits is rising, though. In 2011, their literacy rate crossed the 66 per cent landmark (8 percentage points below the non-SC/STs). But educated Dalits want more — to join the university system. Some of them have succeeded in doing so, but they often face frustrating experiences when they are discriminated against in the very institution that should promote social mobility. Rohith Vemula was one of them. There are many others. Take the case of Senthil Kumar from Jalakandapuram (near Salem). This son of a pig-breeder joined Hyderabad University, just like Rohith Vemula, and got a PhD scholarship in physics in 2007. But he committed suicide in 2008 — victim of the local atmosphere — after failing his exams and losing his scholarship. Today, the children of his family don’t want education — his mother even “hates education”. But can a country progress if a fifth of its population does not have full access to higher education? What kind of development (today’s key word in India) will that be?

 

The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/ CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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    Ansal
    Feb 18, 2016 at 11:56 am
    This evangelist bi got and madar jaat Jefeorlet has written any time on Christian conversion ? When soever u see this bhad va on any airport or tv talk show, treat him like Patiala house lawyers treated JNU ki lan doore and bha daviyan
    Reply
    1. H
      hayatlives
      Feb 18, 2016 at 10:57 am
      Bhains ke aage been bajaoo....
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        Ajitdada
        Feb 18, 2016 at 4:22 pm
        Chris, Please ask the question to British? why they have created a western cl system among Indians by pet cuddling the boot licking prince and kings and their agents? Why British gave more powers to the feudal system and protected it? Today when you see 600 million Indians under utter poverty is a reward of 150 years of iron rule by British. Our ancient knowledge systemically undermined, our culture, food and languages were vilified. M number of Indians made beggars by British policy of divide and rule. We paid that with blood and slavery. If you have time then read the travelogue written by Greek Ambador Magesthanis who described India as a land of wisdom and high morals. He couldn't find slavery in India, that was 2300 years back at the time of Chandragupta Maurya. He wrote with high regards for Indian society in "Indika". Many prominent visitors to India pre British gave best accounts of India. Slavery was a concept from Jews, Greeks, Christians and Muslims and everyone tried to make India a slave. BUT British did it systematically by vilifying most of the Indian things. Lord Macaulay divided Indians further with language barriers and imposed English. Your 2 cent article forgets to the poison created by your own Western society and blames Hindu/Indians for the cancerous symptoms. Christians and Muslims will never understand Hindus.
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          Ajitdada
          Feb 18, 2016 at 8:55 pm
          Let me tell you Chris one example where British created a non existing cast which became a feudal cl/cast and looted Maharashtra till last yearn when their govt. lost power. Pre British There was no cast/cl named "Maratha" existed in Maharashtra. It was Muslims who always referred armies from Maharashtra ( shivaji's army ) as "Mar Hattay" means "Those who have no fear of death". Shivaji and his later rulers had the army made of people from all communities in Maharashtra. Hence the western understanding of "Kashtriya" should only fight was wrong. It was the peasants who were the bulk of Marathi army. There were few landlords who belonged to "Kunbi" means farming cast. Somehow British identified them as "Maratha" cast ( "Mar hatta"/"Marathaa") . These rich "kunbis" maintained their power and wealth and preferred to marry with similar status. British clification identified them as a Maratha cast instaed of a rich peasant "Kunbi" cl. Today "Maratha" are a cast in Maharashtra and they do not marry with "Kunbi" community. This is a clic case of dividing a social group and training them to yield power. This w Maratha cast was a sucker under Kongress support and still behaves as landlords.
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            Ajitdada
            Feb 24, 2016 at 7:41 pm
            New details have emerged, Roit Vemula and his mother were converted to Christianity. So those who now harping for a Dalit card should see why Rohit is still referred as Dalit? The Christians and Muslims are themselves castist with the fellow converts. Kerala, Goa, Karnataka, Andhra have separate burials for low cast converts.
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            1. M
              M.h
              Feb 18, 2016 at 6:41 pm
              So much majoritarian guilt. Everyone is up in arms. why abuse the writer. What happened in the dark ages is not his fault.
              Reply
              1. P
                Pat
                Feb 19, 2016 at 7:42 pm
                Because faltu anti national netas and tax payers Money is exploited by the ones who benefit. Common man suffers and these people are know how to scoop funds and show they are getting nothing, both the castes based funds and netas vote bank politics is hurting India and its nationals.
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                1. K
                  K SHESHU
                  Feb 18, 2016 at 11:13 am
                  It is desturbing to note the plight of dalits. Despite a plethora of schemes and legislations, the crime rate and atrocity rate remains high. This clearly describes the failure of the upper-caste governments and their apathy towards the problems. That is why, Ambedkar wanted a seperate elected representative system. He very early visualised that the upper-castes will not allow the development of lower castes and minorities. Only a change of political power from the hands of upper castes will ensure the safety of lower castes. Even rich lower caste families face discrimination on caste grounds. They are the majority combined and so, they should rule the country .
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                    Abhivadan Vashisht
                    Feb 18, 2016 at 5:06 pm
                    Each of one must know this rohit vemulla was the one who supported terrorists like Yakub Memon and was actively involved in student politics. Just because you are a dalit or a muslim you can't the victim card all the time and get away with it. And we should never sympathize with anyone who commits suicide. What message do we want to give to youngsters. Very poor and ill-researched article by the way.
                    Reply
                    1. S
                      Sidharth Sankar
                      Feb 18, 2016 at 12:39 am
                      Hey Christophe Al-Jaffrelot, shouldn't you should be more concerned about the Islamization of France?
                      Reply
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                        Archpagan
                        Feb 19, 2016 at 5:34 am
                        Thanks for your very informative post.
                        Reply
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                          Archpagan
                          Feb 18, 2016 at 6:05 am
                          Entire Hindu society had been 'dalit' under 1000-year long Mohammedan-Christian domination. I see no 'dalit' now in India, but 'neo-dalits' and 'neo-Brahmins' only. Moghul/Afghan rulers prevented all Hindus from ridding on horseback, using musical bands or wearing shining dress. Some powerful Hindus learnt it from Mohammedan masters and applied the same to weaker sections to ert their social hierarchy. That is now called caste oppression. During British era 95% of the potion was fully or partially dependent on agriculture. Of them 30% were landless farmers. The exploitation of landless laborers by land-owning farmers came to be known as caste oppression. In reality, professions like agriculture or fighting was open to all castes over the ages. There was never any machinery in place to enforce that people follow caste-based trade only. A potter’s son used to learn pottery from his father/ clansmen as there was no ‘medical college’ for him to learn medicine and others had little scope to learn pottery as there was no engineering college to study ceramics.This can hardly be called discrimination.Untouchability was practiced purely on hygienic ground, without theological foundation. It is untouchability that saved tribal people from extinction. That is why it is ‘officially’ practiced in respect of Jaroas of Andaman. Christians and Mohammedans have proudly adopted ethnic clensing of non-conformists, calling them heathens/kafirs. Should we be apologetic for treating the non-conformists as untouchables and therby protecting them? Apartheid? My foot! A caste Hindu’s life begins at the hands of an untouchable DHATRI (Midwife) and ends with another untouchable cremator (Chandal). They are integral part of Hindu society.
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                            Archpagan
                            Feb 19, 2016 at 5:47 am
                            If somebody pelts a stone at a Christian installation, it becomes international news, while theft of gold ornament from Hindu temple is a daily occurrence having no news value. No wonder that pent up anger of Hindus has burst upon this sickular media over Kanhaiya Kumar episode.
                            Reply
                            1. N
                              Natarajan Arunachalam
                              Feb 21, 2016 at 3:41 pm
                              The reservation system has failed INDIA. Let the govt think differently on what went wrong in the policy. Pampering and now every one wanted reservation??? Without working hard people enjoy benefits. Not only in postings/ but also in promotion. Now 100% reservationists are in top position. Net result FAILURE of govt.No country will progress if such system of discrimination of meritorious people. Finally our own fellows are fighting on streets and burying national Interest. Can you introduce reservation in sports???? The fellow who is coming in the last be rewarded !!!! Then why in education??? Natural death sentence to our Nation by this single policy. Provide all facilities .. Hostel, scholarship and all monetary help and ask them to compete finally with to bring quality, capability in life.
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                                Dip
                                Feb 18, 2016 at 10:29 pm
                                Thank you for such a poignant picture that you painted.I have one criticism India suffering from a serious bout of colonial hangover is still a country that primarily has since 1947 been ruled by a predominantly a Hindu structural elite which has formed the bourgeois. BJP currently practises a political ideology which is a page from the political ideologies of the right wing religious side of congress manifesto, though it does not shy away from the debate of colonial hangover. Most of the right winged intellectuals of India( most of them hindus )debate that for India to become Bharat varsh again it should go back to its roots. Then simultaneously that is the same narrative that the left winged parties like the Communist Party of India, Aam Aadmi Party preach. So why are these two ideologies the two main ideologies in India, why do the religious political groups like RSS and VHP and some other fringe groups in other religions getting so much pority in the political process recently? Is'nt this alarming?
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                                  Most Secular
                                  Feb 18, 2016 at 8:05 am
                                  Anybody else feel like throwing up because of the picture in the article? This picture has been used over and over and over again by the media to gain sympathy from commies, tards and slaves.
                                  Reply
                                  1. S
                                    Sahana Deshbhakta
                                    Feb 20, 2016 at 2:12 am
                                    In 1993, a Lodha girl, Chuni Kotal committed suicide. She was doing her M.Sc in anthropology in Vidyasagar University, Midnapur, West Bengal. Her teacher, a Brahman started humiliating and abusing her with in the cl and in seminars, calling out her as criminal tribe. She protested to the Vice-Chancellor against public insults by her teacher, Falguni Chakraborty. No action was taken to intervene in the sordid proceedings. Finally she lost the battle. The West Bengal Government set up a probe panel headed by another Brahman judge who acquitted the accused. The reaction and repercussion of her Lodha, a tribal community to this injustice was predictable. They stopped sending children to school, apprehending that similar tragedy awaited their children as Chuni had suffered should they travel up the ladder of education! The PoA Act will be of little use. Ultimately, the question is: Who will implement the Act? With deep seated prejudice against the underprivileged, justice would be at the mercy of the officers for providing justice to victims against the privileged violators. Actually both the vilator and the low enforcers might belong to the same social spaces which stand against the victim getting justice. If by any chance, any officer, dedicated and commited, from low caste background do take initiative to act in letter and spirit of the law, she/he would soon be bed as casteist and sidelined as well as bed. This is a hard reality.
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                                      Dilip
                                      Feb 18, 2016 at 8:44 am
                                      I feel removing Rohit photo and putting Nandu Ram Photo would be more appropriate. Because he is the true patriot who killed the father of the nation as Mahatma hi wants to bring equality and provide justice to marginalised. Also through away the consution and celebrate it has a black day as the Hindu Maha Sabha wanted. Because they are the true citizens of India who wants to keep the integrity of the nation strong by suppressing the dalits, tribals and other minorities, who ask for their basic rights enshrined in the consution.
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                                        D.K. Bhatt
                                        Feb 18, 2016 at 1:50 pm
                                        The anti-Dalit atrocities reported round the years are mostly committed against those sections who are educationally, economically and politically at the lowest rung and have so far remained beyond the benefits of empowerment measures. Let the benefits of reservations in legislatures, educational admissions and government services be percolated down to those who are economically, educationally and socially most backward. Instead of concentrating most of the reservational benefits to select caste groups among the Dalits, let the already benefited families or individuals join the mainstream so that the scarce resources might be accessed by their less fortunate brothers and sisters. One would otherwise find that those who were at the lower rungs economically, politically, educationally have remained so and are always at the receiving end at the hands of perpetrators of atrocities. Their data would only help to perpetuate the benefits reserved for their w cl to go again and again into the hands of the already benefited castes. And this would go on and on, as the system would not allow the hitherto excluded purported beneficiaries to get the same by concentrating and perpetuating those benefits to few caste groups. All sections among the backward and most backward castes have equal claims to access the governmental measures of their socio-educational upliftment which empower them and consequently reducing the chances of their abuse and exploitation by perpetrators of anti-Dalit atrocities.
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                                          Dr. Sonali
                                          Feb 18, 2016 at 7:21 am
                                          How do you know who is "dalit" in India? By acts? Or by looks? Where how and when are people discriminated? By act or by looks?
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                                            drywpande@yahoo
                                            Feb 19, 2016 at 5:06 am
                                            Who is this white gentleman giving us lectures on what should we do? And why Indian Express serving the causes of anti national organizations. We are also free to abandon this news paper if it doesn't take a proper stand. You decide and show.
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