The lynching of Dalits in Una, Dayashankar Singh’s statement on Mayawati and several other abominable acts against Dalits are testimonies to how society treats them. In Una, Dalits were beaten up for skinning a dead cow — they had not killed the animal in question. There was a similar incident In Haryana’s Jhajjar district in October 2002. Five Dalits, who were rumoured to have killed a cow, were beaten to death. But they had merely skinned the dead animal. Such violence stems from a mindset that holds Dalits as inferior to certain animals.
Violence and atrocities against Dalits cannot be linked to any party or government. More than a law and order issue, such violence is a social phenomenon. India adopted the European model of democracy without making suitable modifications. The Indian state tried to secure the basic needs of people like education, health and food. But such a welfare system could work in European countries, not in a caste-ridden society such as ours. Normally, the state should not interfere in social and cultural matters, but India needed major social reforms — even revolution.
In the 1960s and 1970s, China went through the Cultural Revolution. Chinese society changed for the better. Politicians in India, in contrast, were wary of bringing about revolutionary changes in society; they feared a backlash. As time went by, they became dogmatic and reactionary, starting to explot the sentiments of the masses. Today khap panchayats, that sanction honour killings, are glorified.
After independence, the government failed to establish rule of law. Several loopholes ensured that a vast majority of crimes against Dalits went unpunished. Incidents like the one in Una are a natural consequence of such laxity. The perpetrators of such acts know that the poor and Dalits cannot hire expensive lawyers. So they do not think twice before inflicting violence on them; they also have the support of many people from their caste.
There is another major problem with our social and political set up. Whenever there are atrocities against Dalits and tribals, it is leaders and activists from these communities who are at the forefront of protests. Why don’t people from the so-called higher castes come forward to ensure that those who commit crimes against Dalits are brought to book? In fact, there are many who do not even acknowledge the existence of the caste system.
How can anyone, who has a sense of nationalism and patriotism, discriminate on the basis of caste? Such problems have existed in other societies as well, but they were remedied in modern times. Dalits and OBCs have been living with other Hindus for thousands of years, but discrimination against them has not abated. India has fared poorly compared to the West in this respect. Societies in Europe and America assimilated former slaves. Why didn’t India have upper castes heroes like the abolitionists in the US such as Abraham Lincoln and John Brown? Lincoln had to pay the price for liberating blacks with his life.
Till 1955, people from African-American communities had to give up their seats in buses to whites. That year, riots broke out
after Rosa Parks was humiliated for refusing to obey this unwritten social law. Many whites in the US lent their support to the protesters. Today the African-American community in the US has illustrious figures like President Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey, the highest paid TV anchor. More than 200 corporate CEOs belong to the African-American community and sports – or most other fields for that matter – would be incomplete without people from that community.
If the percentage of Dalits in India was roughly equal to that of people from the African-American community in the US, there would have been very little chance of a Dalit becoming the country’s Prime Minister. Perpetrators of violence against Dalits – like those in Una and Jhajjar – do not know how much they have harmed themselves and society. In a discriminatory society, no one prospers and is happy. Research, science and technology, production, healthy politics, arts and culture cannot evolve in such a society, and mere government efforts are insufficient to create a developed country.
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