A 3- part article:
Post 1; Post 2; Post 3;
After Independence, to fulfill the Constitution provisions, the Indian Government has passed various legislations to enforce the abolishment of 'untouchability' and remove the barriers of caste discrimination impeding the socio-economic progress of the Dalits. This included the Protection of Civil Rights (Anti-Untouchability) Act, 1955 and various land reform laws to redistribute land to the landless, a large and disproportionate percentage of whom were and still are Dalits. Later years saw the passage of the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976, Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, Jogini Act No. 10, and the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 & Rules, 1995. The central and state governments also established SC/ST Welfare Departments soon after Independence. In the early 1990s, the Central Government passed legislation establishing the National Commission for SC/ST and the National Human Rights Commission.
There is no doubt that none of these would have been possible without the interventions made by Dr. Ambedkar, to ensure that Independent India would be based on a democratic constitution that guaranteed equality, fundamental rights and dignity to all regardless of caste. Had he succumbed to his contemporary dominant-caste nationalists who pressured him to settle these matters internally, Dalits would be much worse off than they are today.
The much acclaimed affirmative actions by the Governments, in the form of the Constitutional provisions, powerful Legislations, Judicial Activism and the existence of Human Rights Mechanisms – National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Dalits) Commission, National Commission for Women are not able to protect Dalits from the heinous crime of untouchability.
Any small attempt of Dalits, to “assert their rights or their resistance against the violence” unleashed on Dalits, is viewed as an act of Disobedience and creation of a Law and Order problem. This results in brutal attack on Dalits, by the state machinery, especially the police. The Dalits are at the receiving end, both by the dominant caste and by the state police force, which is also very much dominated by the dominant caste persons. Crimes and atrocities on Dalits have ever been increasing over the past few years. The National Crimes Record Bureau recorded only 8,500 crimes against Dalits in 1997 but the ‘Minor Studies Series’ puts the figure at between 55,000 and 65,000 per year. There has been a sudden spurt from around 18,000 per year in 1993. The Report states that over 250 people have been killed in caste clashes in TamilNadu since 1995. Eighty-six were killed in 1997 alone. Of the total of 167,000 cases of crime against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes framed between 1995 and 1996, only 4,322, a paltry 2.6% resulted in conviction. Chopping of heads of Dalits, maiming limbs, chasing them from their inhabitations and looting their properties, still persist. Dalits are prevented from contesting in local body elections and in case elected, not recognized and allowed to function as leaders of village body Panchayats.
More than that the people in power still have no real concern for the emancipation of the dalits.
The Indian Government sounded increasingly irrational as it shouted itself hoarse to deny a problem that everybody else can plainly see. Similar to its predecessors in the Nationalist Movement who opposed Dr. Ambedkar for raising the specific concerns of the Dalits with regard to Independence in the Round Table Conference, the then BJP Government was opposed to the efforts of Dalits who seek the support of the United Nations in the context of the World Conference Against Racism in strengthening India's own constitutional obligations to abolish 'untouchability' and caste-based discrimination. As on date, courts have to intervene and order district collectors to make it possible for dalits to rightfully partake in the temple functions.
Either the constitution or the legislations or the judiciary or the other Human Rights mechanisms in the form of Human rights commissions at various levels from the states to the center are not providing effective safeguards and guarantees to ensure Dalits rights. Even the most powerful instrument currently available in defense of Dalits rights, namely SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, hardly provide effective safeguards for protection and promotion of Dalit Human Rights. Article 17 of the Indian constitution proclaims that the practice of untouchability is abolished. Denial of temple entry, prohibiting access to common water sourecs, denial of share in the common property of villages, separate burial grounds, prevalence of two separate glass system in tea stall, are some of the inhuman forms of manifestations of untouchability that exist even today.
Caste discrimination cannot end without concrete social, educational and economic changes. The irony is that dalits, comprising 16% of India’s population, suffer from a disease, even more pathetic than the practice of untouchability – the ideological dominance of the upper castes who control not only social, economic and political power in the country but even knowledge and opinion. Even the personal experience of being discriminated against does not become an issue unless ‘permitted’ by the experts and the state. To disbelieve them is a necessary precondition for dalit assertion. The Dalits have been in dark in exercising their political rights viz the denial of rights to contest the village local body election. The village Melavalavu in Madurai District evinced the murder of the Dalit Panchayat President and other six Dalits by the Dominant Caste, for they could not assimilate the winning of a post in election by a Dalit.
Education: The correlation between quality education and emancipation is well established globally. How then can we justify that 50% of dalit children (64% dalit girl children) are pushed out of the school system before they can complete even primary education? How do we ensure a strong nation, assuming that dalits are part of the nation, when we cannot even ensure basic education to 16% of our population?
Civil Protection: The current government statistics of murder, rape and assault that dalits are subjected to paint a horrible picture if extended to a history of 3000 years. We have reason to believe that approximately 21,90,000 dalits have been murdered, 32,85,000 raped and over 7,50,00,000 assaulted. The violence perpetrated on dalits cannot be rooted out until long term economic, social and political measures, such as land reforms, are firmly implemented. The helplessness of dalits gets magnified by the general apathy of bureaucrats and especially of the police force to rush to their help. Even when dalits are attacked by caste hindus it is always the dalits who bear the brunt of the violence. The Keezha-vanmani burning decades ago or the recent killings in Melavalavu and the routine massacres in Bihar and the significant lack of conviction will always remain as indelible stains on our democracy. Unless dalits too get social positions, especially in the police force, the administrative institutions will be always against the dalits.
All these things are what the government and othe s have to do for the emancipation of the dalits. But this would not be enough at all. The awareness of the dalits themselves is most essenctioal requirement. Any amount of eduction or awareness programs cannot result in the assertion of the dalits. Instead it has to come from within. Waiting for somethjng to hapaen outside to help themcome out of their pitiable state may be a pipe dream. An even more serious question is whether the state that represents a certain class and caste culture, can be entrusted with the responsibility of education, especially for dalit children. Education, if perceived as a tool of empowerment, needless to add, cannot be trusted in the hands of state agencies. The oneness of all sects of dalits and their inner force to break the shackles are the need of the day.