On Saturday, as the nation prepared to commemorate its 75th Independence Day, a nine-year-old Dalit child from Rajasthan’s Jalore district succumbed to his injuries, allegedly inflicted by a person who should have given wings to his dreams — his teacher. The FIR in the case should be read as a sobering reality check on the terrible inequalities that continue to afflict and debilitate the nation as it aims to become the “destination,” where as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said from the ramparts of Red Fort, “aspirations are met”. “Indra was a child. He didn’t know that the matki (earthen pot) that he drank from had been kept separately for the savarna jati (upper caste) teacher”… “the teacher abused him with casteist slurs and beat him up, resulting in internal injuries”, the FIR says. These words should prick the nation’s conscience, and remind policymakers of unmet promises and unfinished tasks, as India begins the “Amrit Kaal” to the centenary of its Independence. The Ashok Gehlot government must ensure that due processes are rolled out swiftly and surely to provide justice in this case.
That casteist violence is a grim lived reality — at odds with India’s constitutional principles — for a large section of the country’s Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities is borne out by numerous reports and surveys. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data show that a crime was committed every 10 minutes against a person from an SC community in 2020. Rajasthan along with Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh accounts for two-thirds of such crimes though these four states constitute about 40 per cent of the country’s population. Cases registered in Rajasthan under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act went up from around 6,000 in 2018 to more than 8,500 in 2020. Worryingly, the conviction rate in the state in such cases has gone down in these four years — from 11 per cent in 2016 to less than 8 per cent in 2020.
From the lack of enabling measures that force thousands of SC &ST students to drop out of institutions of learning every year to the persecution that can drive a young scholar like Rohith Vemula to take his own life, the discrimination faced by Dalit youth is endemic and deeply ingrained. Swift action in the case of the atrocity at Jalore will signal the state’s resolve to stamp out the oppression that bedevils the aspirations of its young. That should also be an urgent imperative for a nation aspiring to be a knowledge hub.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 16, 2022 under the title ‘Death by inequality’.