Nuclear Family’s Untouchables

Published: Tue, 09/01/2009 - 12:10 Updated: Thu, 07/02/2015 - 09:10

Thousands of Dalits still clean shit with their bare hands and carry it on their heads. So how come a 9 per cent growth rate economy can’t generate alternative professions for them?

Decades after Mahatma Gandhi called them Harijan (people of god), nearly 160 million Indians continue to be socially ostracised. The condemnation of Dalits has not changed and untouchability continues, relentlessly, and with religious sanction. Despite laws to ban this caste-based discrimination; and lucrative ‘Dalit vote-bank’ politics.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 25,455 crimes were committed against Dalits in 2000. Most crimes go unreported because of the fear of an upper-caste backlash and due to mindset of panchayats, administration and police, entrenched in the caste system. A report by Amnesty International claimed a high number of sexual assaults on Dalit women. The study estimates that only about 5 per cent of attacks are registered and police officers dismiss 30 per cent of rape complaints as false.

In the countryside, Dalits still face segregation. Untouchability is a ritual. According to a recent study, almost 27.6 per cent Dalits are prevented from police stations, 25.7 per cent from ration shops, 33 per cent public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes, 23.5 per cent Dalits still do not get letters delivered to their homes; in 10 to 20 per cent villages Dalits are not allowed to wear clean or bright clothes or sun-glasses, they can’t ride bicycles, unfurl their umbrellas, wear chappals, smoke or even stand without head bowed.

There are separate wells for the Dalits, they can’t sit in the presence of upper caste men, even in local government offices they are ostracised. They are served in separate tumblers and plates in public places. In some schools, reportedly, Dalit children are made to sit separately. They are physically separated in villages, even their cremation grounds are often separate. In Punjab, landless Dalit-Sikhs are not allowed to enter Gurudwaras and condemned as bonded labourers — if they demand their rights they are not allowed to defecate in village land, mostly controlled by upper -caste Sikhs.

To segregate Dalits from caste Hindus, a high wall, around 500 metre long, was built at Uthapuram in Madurai district. In January 2009, a purification ritual was performed after Pramila Mallick, Orissa Child Welfare Minister, who is a Dalit, entered the sanctum sanctorum of the Akhandalamani temple, a revered shrine of Shiva at Aradi village in Bhadrak district. Such cases are relentlessly repeated.

A report by Human Rights Watch in 1999 found that around 40 million people work as bonded labourers to pay off generations of old debt. Most of them are Dalits and a staggering 16 million of them are under 18. Dalits are expected to do menial jobs considered impure by the caste society. There are one million people still engaged in manual scavenging, cleaning toilets, sewers and removing dead corpses with their bare hands, though the government claims to have done away with this practice. Dalits constitute a large part of the Indian Railways workforce cleaning up excreta along the railway lines. Old Dalit women, even young girls walking with cane baskets full of filth on their heads is a common sight across the Hindi heartland and rest of the country.

So how come a nine per cent growth rate economy can’t generate alternative professions for these wretched of the earth?

Thousands of Dalits still clean shit with their bare hands and carry it on their heads. So how come a 9 per cent growth rate economy can’t generate alternative professions for them?

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This story is from print issue of HardNews