Horror, misery, injustice: How India treats Dalits

Every 18 minutes, a Dalit is brutalised in India. Yet, across political parties and civil society, their pleadings for justice have brought no succour 

Ashok Das Delhi

In April this year, Mannu Tanti was brutally murdered by being pushed into a wheat threshing machine in Kharra, his village, in Lakhisarai district of Bihar. His body was dismembered into two, the lower half lay in the machine. His only crime was seeking his four days’ wages from the local goons. Such instances of barbaric caste violence are not isolated, but part of a long tally committed every day against the Dalits in the country.

In a village in Haryana’s Bhagana district, after years of a futile struggle against injustice, human rights violation and the arbitrariness of the administration, the Dalits converted to Islam to escape the indignities of the caste system.

On September 2, in another incident, a Dalit woman living in Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh was stripped and forced to drink human urine. On October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi – the messiah of peace – a 90-year-old Dalit man was burnt alive by a Brahmin priest because he tried to enter a temple in Hamirpur district, Uttar Pradesh. A day later, in Jodhpur, a Dalit student was brutally beaten by his teacher for touching the plate of an upper-caste boy in his school. On October 8, the nose of a Dalit boy was chopped off for his refusal to play the dhol (drum) in a procession in his village in Himachal Pradesh. 

The list of these acts of intolerance and caste-based persecution of Dalits is endless. Worryingly, these incidents do not get reported in the mainstream media. Strangely, the violence is no longer limited to the poorer and weaker sections of the Scheduled Castes but is now visible amongst those Dalits who occupy important positions in the senior bureaucracy today.

Krishna Kumari, an officer of the Uttar Pradesh State Civil Services working in the food and supply department in Bulandshahr district, accused her supervising officer, Dwarka Prasad Tripathi, of discriminating against her for being a Dalit.

Prof Arun Kumar Choudhary of Punjab University posted a tweet on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account, complaining of discrimination. He alleged that as he was a Chamar (cobbler caste) no table or chair was provided in the staff room. When he raised the issue, he was regularly transferred, which amounted to mental harassment.

There are many reasons behind the rise in violence against Dalits. A primary cause of this rising intolerance is the growing mobility and wealth amongst the Dalits that is leading to resistance to upper caste oppression. Traditionally, occupying the lowest rung in the social hierarchy, the violence they were subjected to by the upper castes was suffered in silence. Over the years, a collective consciousness that has been espoused amongst the Dalit populations has contributed to a growing struggle against the vagrancies of thugs and goondas. Under the aegis of this growing consciousness they are rallying together and striving towards unity. This is not palatable to those who have been in power, and this insubordination has been increasingly punished.

Now the Dalits have learnt to refuse orders, and this has dealt a major blow to the pride and status of the ‘savarna jaati’, effectively questioning power structures that have been in place for millennia.

The recent upsurge in Dalit confidence can be attributed to the togetherness that was espoused by the activism and word of BR Ambedkar, and the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), launched by Kanshi Ram, as a vessel for articulating the political ambitions of the marginalised. ‘Jai Bheem’ then became an acceptable greeting, and the Dalits did not have to hide anymore, their identities did not need to be concealed anymore. The unity fostered by the Ambedkar and BSP factors was loathed by the upper castes and regular instances of violence followed.

In May, a 21-year-old youth was murdered in the town of Shirdhi, Ahmed Nagar district, Maharashtra, because his phone ringtone was a song or speech related to Ambedkar. Similarly, three brothers were beaten for opposing a statement against Ambedkar in Maharashtra in October.   

Atrocities against Dalits are not restricted to a particular geographical region; reports of oppression regularly come in from all states. Yet, in spite of having struggled relentlessly, Dalits are not getting justice. This fact has been established by the Bhagana incident where Dalits were forced to leave their houses and had to stage a dharna in front of the District Collector’s office along with women and children. Simultaneously, they also held protests at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. They didn’t get justice even after taking their complaints to the then Chief Minister of Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and Rahul Gandhi. Not only that, they also pleaded for justice from the next Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, but just like the previous Congress regime, this government too looked the other way.

Uttar Pradesh has recently emerged as the leading state in terms of the number of cases of atrocities against Dalits. According to the 2011 census, every week 13 Dalits are murdered, five have their houses or properties burned, six are kidnapped, 21 Dalit women are raped and 77 Dalits are severely assaulted. So, in this country, there is an incident of violence against a member of the Dalit community every 18 minutes. These figures would be shameful for any civilised society but in our country this is the norm.

(The writer is the editor of Dalit Dastak.)

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: