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Dalit Sufferings: WANTED DEEDS, NOT SYMBOLISM, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 13 July, 2017 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 13 July 2017

Dalit Sufferings


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


Notwithstanding that next week’s presidential election is a foregone conclusion with Ram Nath Kovind to be the next incumbent of Rashtrapati Bhavan, questions have arisen whether the attitude of the NDA towards dalits would truly see a drastic change. Only by electing a dalit as the Head of State, things cannot automatically change unless the rank and file as also the leadership of the party thinks it imperative to focus on the lower castes, which have been deprived for long and bring them into the mainstream of life and activity.   


It is no secret that the BJP is desperate to change its pro-Brahmin image and now wants to enlist the support of the lower castes. The plans and programmes announced by the government at the grass-root level have, in some places, taken care to make inroads into this community. Many of the party’s leaders are now engaged in wooing the dalits as also scheduled castes and tribes. But though the general attitude of society towards this section has changed mainly in the cities, the scenario is quite different in the remote and backward districts of the country. 


Kovind, a known dalit figure in BJP circles is an accomplished and non-controversial leader, and will be the second dalit after K R Narayanan to hold the highest office. However, precious little has changed for the down trodden in the country. Worse, dalit vengeance and protests have grown in the past few months across the country. And though, the Opposition’s nominee Meira Kumar has stated that she is fighting an ideological battle based on values of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘destruction of caste’, her nomination was largely based on countering the NDA’s dalit candidate. Sadly, the caste system in Hinduism, very much prevalent hasn’t gone down well with our traditional values and Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and Tagore were against this.


Unfortunately, the dalit movement has taken a violent turn. But one cannot deny the fact that it has a long history. However, in may be safe to say that it was Kanshi Ram who built the most formidable and politically significant dalit coalition, taking every section of the community on board. It is generally believed that till date there is no dalit leader who enjoys a nation-wide appeal like Kanshi Ram.   


In recent months, oppression of dalits has come to the forefront to fight oppression and change the outlook of society towards this community. A new brand of leaders like Chandrasekhar Azad have been steering the movement and airing the demands of the community. Dalit forums have been set up in most States as also in universities, specially in the northern States after Rohith Vemula’s suicide. 


Delving into the problem of dalits, one cannot deny that their realisation has gained momentum in recent months after the Vemula’s suicide and this reflects structural deficiencies in the system that he was well aware of. Certainly, reservations have given birth to dalit entrepreneurs and a dalit middle class benefiting from government jobs. But in spite of this or because of this, anti-dalit attitudes, sometimes leading to violent protests have been on the rise.   


The number of registered cases of anti-dalit atrocities, notoriously under-reported, jumped by 17.1 per cent in 2013 (compared to 2012) and in 2014, it was 19.4 per cent, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and in 2014, it was 19.4 per cent. This has not come down in 2015 and in 2016 but remained a little higher. Experts are of the opinion that the word ‘atrocities’ needs to be fleshed out here, otherwise it would become another bureaucratic, abstract euphemism.    


One may refer here to Article 23 that prohibits bonded labour and Article 15(2) that stipulates that no citizen should be subject to restriction with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of entertainment, the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort on the grounds of caste. In 1955, the Untouchability (Offences) Act reasserted that dalits should not be prevented from entering any public place. Then, in 1976, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was passed. In 1989, why did a new, detailed law have to be made that listed instances of “offences and atrocities”? In spite of all these legal commitments, there has not been much difference to the social status of dalits in society, obviously due to lack of enforcement.    


It cannot be denied that even after around seven decades of independence, in many villages of India the nature of certain social equations has not changed from what they have been for centuries. Such villages continue to remain what Dr BR Ambedkar called “sinks of localism, dens of ignorance and narrow-mindedness.” How else could one see certain several incidents taking place where dalits being exploited, not being allowed to be equal members of society and even their families remaining out of bounds to temple festivities?   


Discrimination against dalits is widespread and ingrained in the psyche across India, in rural settings in particular. In some places it takes the form of violent oppression, in others it is disguised yet omnipresent. Though in recent times there is some responsiveness of the State to harassment of dalits, recurring acts and persisting practices against the dalit community makes one wonder whether State response and constitutionalism alone are enough to overcome longstanding social injustice and prejudices in India’s villages.   


The overall performance sheet of successive governments has been rather poor as these did very little by emphasising on their education and bringing them into the mainstream of life and activity. Not even five to seven per cent of dalits have been able to establish themselves and gain social standing and come out of the stigma of the past. As the political establishment is weighed in favour of upper castes and urbanites, they did not have the vision and initiative to alleviate their sufferings.     


Though in the last few years, there have been some changes in the composition of leadership of political parties, the problems of the dalits and tribals have not been considered in the right manner. There is need for a drastic change in the outlook of the government towards lower castes as just reservation may not achieve this. There has to be awareness generation of the fact that we are born as equal entities and caste, class, religion comes much later. It is expected that the new generation, which is educated, would neglect the stigma of caste and be broad minded enough to accept all sections of people as equal human partners in life and society. ---INFA  


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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