Let the political reformers run to any direction they like, they will find that in the making of the constitution, they cannot ignore the problem arising out of prevailing social order.
                                                                       Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of caste (Ch.II)

While major educational institutions across the nation has started voicing out their concern for the oppressed, we see strong retaliation by the state and the majoritarian classes born out of fear and communal hatred. CUTN rapidly evolving into a premier university, most students still appear to have dangerous misconceptions, the dogma of reverse discrimination and lack of understanding on Dalit lives arising out of a hatred generated through the reservation system. Echo addresses these prevailing misconceptions before it is too late.

How we cover the issue:

  • The reality of Dalit life in India.
  • Reservation- misconceptions, clarifications and inevitability.
  • Annihilation of caste
  • References for further reading

The reality of Dalit life in India

“Know Truth as Truth and Untruth as Untruth” ~Buddha

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Many people have a convenient view that untouchability and caste discrimination is a thing of the past. But after seven decades of independence, caste stands as a bitter reality and a severe obstacle against prosperity and progress.

Turn in any direction, caste is that monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of caste(Ch.III)

Crimes against Dalits: According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there is a crime committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes.

  • 13 Dalits are murdered each week.
  • 5 Dalit homes are burned each week.
  • 6 Dalit people are kidnapped or abducted each week
  • 21 Dalit women are raped each week.

The NCRB data is based upon complaints filed which is obviously much less than the actual number, especially in cases like that of rape. Dalits are prevented from entering the police station in 27.6% of rural villages. Yet NCRB reports that 2233 Dalit women were raped in 2014 alone. Mere imagination of the real number is bewildering. The most disturbing fact is that crimes against Dalits rose 19% in 2014, while the official conviction rate for Dalit atrocity cases was just 28% in 2014 (5.3% in 2006), along with a rise in intensity of the crime as well.                                           .
Contemporary evidence of untouchability: The cruelty of casteism is multidimensional. Crime and atrocities are just visible markers. Denial of basic rights, amenities and human dignity, even after 68 years of independence, is a testimony of the deep roots of casteism that prevails in every nook and corner of the country.

Evils of casteism go beyond untouchability too. According to the goverment’s Millenium Development Goals report, 75% of SC/ST households still do not have access to safe sanitation facilities. Only 17.16% Dalit households have more than 2 rooms in their home (Census 2011).

Political inequality: “The political equality in respect of Dalits is compromised in various ways. The exercise of the right to vote without fear or favour is widely frustrated both by untouchability  and exertion of dominance. The absence of public buildings to serve as a polling booth near the cluster of Dalits prevents this option being exercised on a large-scale, even where the local officials are motivated to provide such a booth. Dalit votes are frequently ‘captured’ en masse. Both discrimination and dominance affect the exercise of the right to contest elections, which severely circumscribes Dalit freedom. Threatening Dalit aspirants not to contest the election, forcing them to withdraw their candidature if they file their nomination, and assaulting them and their supporters if they persist in their political assertion, are quite common.” (Quoted as in “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas” — Report of an Expert Group to Planning Commission, April 2008.)

Reverse Discrimination: While such injustice is faced by Dalits, there is rise in number of people who believe in concept of reverse discrimination that Brahmins and other upper caste people face discrimination due to reservation. We could have ignored such an absurd concept if journals like Wall Street Journal had not echoed the same. WSJ says, “close to half of Brahmin households earn less than Rs. 4,000 a month.” But it ignores to consider the fact that 88% of Dalit population lives under Rs. 20 a day.  How many upper caste men have had their eyes gouged out for marrying outside their caste? How many higher caste basis have been torched and razed in land or other disputes? How many upper caste folk lose a limb or even their lives for daring to enter a temple? How many Brahmins or Thakurs get beaten up, even burnt alive, for drawing water from the village well? How many upper caste groups are forced to live on the outskirts of the village, locked into an eternal form of indigenous apartheid? Rajasthan saw an infamous rape case tossed out because in the judge’s view, an upper caste man was most unlikely to have raped a lower caste woman. Now that’s discrimination.

RESERVATION POLICY – CLARIFICATIONS

Understanding of Dalit lives should be more than sufficient to understand the necessity of a Dalit representation policy like our reservation system. But, unfortunately with Dalit-hatred in air everywhere, few more clarifications on the policy becomes necessary.

What is reservation? Why reservation?

Reservation, as commonly understood, is not a poverty alievation program. It basically is a “policy to ensure proportional participation of Dalits and backward classes in public sector employment and to enable their entry to educational institutions, political democratic bodies and institutions”. Without ‘positive discrimination’, this proportional participation cannot be realized due to existing prevalence of exclusion and discrimination.

Why give reservations on basis of caste?

Oppression was and is on the basis of the caste system with religious sanction. Hence the remedy should also be on the same criterion. Millions of people have been handicapped due to caste for centuries till date.  Dalit students are routinely humiliated and harassed at school. Many drop out because of this. Dalits who want to pursue higher education are discouraged and mocked down. This does not happen to the poor upper caste people.

Not that a Hindu cannot be taught the sense of duty to fallen humanity, but the trouble is that no amount of sense of duty can overcome his duty to the caste. Caste, is therefore the real explanation to why the Hindu has let a savage remain a savage in midst of his civilisation without blushing or without any sense of remorse or repentance.

B.R. Ambedkar

Why not on basis of economic criterion?

 The poverty prevailing among the Dalit-Bahujans has its genesis in the social-religious deprivations based on caste system. Therefore poverty is an effect and caste system a cause. The solution should strike at the cause and not the effect. Why a Dalit suffers in society and is restricted education or any such privilege is not because he is poor. It is because, he is a Dalit. Moreover, practical difficulties in proving economic status of individual to the state machinery are many. Whereas the rich and powerful might easily get a false income certificate. More than all these reason, reservation policy aims at including the socially excluded humanity and to involve them in active participation in nation’s path. The fundamental ideal of the policy itself cannot be compromised.

Were Reservations incorporated by the founding fathers of the constitution only for first 10 years?

Only the political reservations (seats reserved in Loksabha, Vidhansabha, etc) were to be reserved for 10 years and the policy review was to be made after that. That is why after every 10 years the parliament extends political reservations.

The 10 year limit for reservations is not true for the reservations in education and employment.

Should there be a creamy layer criterion or not?

No. Even with present criteria,  out of all seats meant for SC/STs in IITs , 25-40 % seats remain vacant because it seems IITs do not find suitable candidates. At this stage, more restriction would only help preventing the middle class Dalits from benefitting out of the policy. No leader of a multinational giant is a Dalit to fear that he would use the policy. And such people do not need reservation to benefit their children. Thus, creamy later criterion will only scuttle the entire effectiveness of the system.

Will not the reservations based on castes lead to divisions in the society?

There are minimum 5000 castes within the SCs, STs and the OBCs. If at all reservation system would alter caste practices in society, it would be the most effective tool in annihilation of caste by merging 5000 caste into three broad categories. Thus the theory of reservation leading to divisions in society is irrational. Instead of propagating such rhetoric, anti-reservationists should make sincere efforts towards annihilation of caste.

 Will not reservations affect the Merit?

Prof Rahul Barman of IIT Kanpur says “Reservations of more than 60 %  have existed in the 4 states of southern India and around 40 % in Maharashtra since last 50 years. On other hand in the north Indian states the 15 % ‘privileged castes’ have been enjoying 77 % of the seats in educational institutions and in employment. The World Bank study has found that all the 4 south Indian states are much ahead of north Indian states in terms of their human development index. It is a common knowledge that all the southern states and Maharashtra are much ahead in fields of education, health, industrial development, in implementing poverty alleviation schemes, etc. than the north Indian states.”  Thus the fallacy that reservation has been  affecting merit and had been a hurdle in country’s development has been proved false by evidence.

Have existing reservations for SC/STs been effective or not?

“Studies show that the intended benefits of reservation policy have not percolated to the Dalits. The percentage share of SC population to the total employment falls short of stipulated 15% mark, especially in higher cadre Group ‘A’ and ‘B’ jobs, though the SCs have been fairly represented in the lower cadre group ‘C’ and ‘D’ jobs” says Sukhadeo Thorat, Indian Institute of Dalit studies. Thus the middle class and the lower middle class Dalits we see today who have no struggle for everyday meal, have come out of reservation. Notwithstanding the shortfalls in targets of reservation policy, there is no doubt that reservation has helped in the mainstreaming of the Dalits.

How long should the reservations continue?

Till upper caste matrimonial ads continue to mention caste requirements. 50 years of affirmative action is nothing compared to 3000 years of subjugation. It depends on effective implementation of the existing policy without compromise.

Inevitability of reservation system:

Caste is not a self-chosen identity. The identity of caste is being thrown by the society. As long as the society continues to brand people in the name of caste, reservation system is necessary. To know what will happen to the society if reservation is lifted, we have to look at fields where reservation is not there. For example – the Indian cricket team. 70% of the team is composed of Brahmins, who constitute 4% of Indian population. The 1 billion crazy cricket fans are only able to watch this happening. This will happen to every field and Dalits will be swept off every field quite spontaneously if reservation is removed.

Annihilation of caste:

We need to question the equation of reservation with the redressal of caste inequality not because reservation is no longer needed but because it is no longer enough.

Satish Deshpande, Sociology professor,  Delhi University.

Everyone wants to annihilate caste system. But that alone will not end it. Apart from serious policy changes according to the directive principles of the state policy, public attitude should change. We should not be silent observers of caste atrocities. Last decade witnessed a series of cruel incidences.

  • In the infamous Khairlanji Massacre of 2006 , four members belonging to the Mahar community were killed in Maharashtra. The women of the family were reportedly paraded naked before being killed.
  • In 2010, 70-year-old Tara Chand and his physically challenged daughter Suman were burnt to death when their house was burned down in Mirchpur, Haryana, along with 18 other Dalit homes, by members of the Jat community.
  • A two-year-old boy and his 11-month-old sister were burned to death in Sunped village of Faridabad district in Haryana in October 2015
  • “A Dalit boy’s wrist was chopped off because he was wearing a watch; another was killed as he had a song on B.R. Ambedkar as his ringtone. I can reel off incidents like this without even consulting news reports,” said Rajeshwar Paswan, Bihar state coordinator for the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an NGO..
  • In Thirunaal kondachery, Nagappatinam, the Dalits and the non-Dalits not only have separate crematoria, but also different paths to takes corpses to the crematory. Due to heavy rains, on Nov 26, when the corpse of Kunjammal was tried to be taken through the common path, the villagers opposed strongly and the police gave a landmark judgement to follow the village tradition. On January 3 this year, when Kunjammal’s husband Chellamuthu died, his grandson had court orders to take the corpse through common path. But the police yet again demanded the corpse to be taken through a separate path. When the Dalits opposed, the police attacked the Dalits and arrested 50 of them for ‘disturbing the peace of public’.
  • In June last year, the headless body of 21-year-old Gokulraj was found near a railway track in Nammakal district murdered for the crime that love is. The investigating officer R. Vishnupriya, a Dalit, committed suicide, after which allegations of harassment from superiors surfaced.
  • Last december, Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula commited suicide.
  • A Dalit student, V. Sankar, who had recently married a so-called upper caste Hindu girl, was brutally murdered in public view in front of a shop at Udumalpet in Tirupur on March 13,2016.

Why are we so indifferent to these incidents. The youth, believed to be the pillars of india, did not rise up against any of these incidents, except when Rohith Vemula took his life. We should understand that by not standing against casteism, we silently approve it.

Indifferentism is the worst kind of disease that can affect the people – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

What should we do?

We need not be rebels to fight against casteism. Though the caste is an extremely complex phenomenon, Ambedkar ultimately suggested that inter-caste marriage resulting in fusion of blood, is the only effective remedy to destroy caste.If everyone of us decide to resist opposition and rule out the caste criteria during our marriage, casteism will automatically end.

Why is the SECC data not released?

The socio-economic and caste census 2011 was meant to target and prioritize the beneficiaries of government policies. It would provide a better perspective at determining who was worst off in the society in terms of caste, et al. It is a big step in understanding the grim realities of rural India. However, due to obvious political reasons, the data related to caste has not yet been released. SECC would shatter the upper class arguments by revealing their low numbers and disproportionate share of the economy, which is the crux of the reason why they are not printed.

This April 14 is 125th Ambedkar Jayanthi. Ambedkar is perhaps the greatest thinker India ever had. He had solutions for every single problem India had  and still has. To read and understand Ambedkar and Dalit lives  can be the best way to celebrate his legacy. We recommend a series of books and other sources that we have heavily relied on for this article:

  1. Annihilation of Caste – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
  2. Bhimayana- Durgha Bhai Vyam and Subash Vyam
  3. Dalits in India, Search for a common Destiny – Sukhadeo Thorat
  4. Caste society and Politics in India – The new Cambridge History of India – Susan Bayly

(All four books available in CUTN Library)

    5. Ambedkar’s Caravan – drambedkarbooks.com

    6.Round Table India – roundtableindia.co.in

    7.Twitter pages – @AmbedkarCaravan @Dalitcamera @ambedkarperiyar @dalitlivesmatter

    8.Documenary – Jai Bhim Comrade by Anand Patwardhan.

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