Broken people

  • In 1950, the Indian Constitution abolished untouchability (not caste), which meant that upper caste Hindus could no longer segregate Dalits or force them to perform ‘polluting’ occupations. The reality, however, is that caste bias continues to run deep. Even the police and judiciary are not immune to it; they let caste atrocities go off lightly and unpunished.
  • A high caste judge in Uttar Pradesh got his chamber washed with the holy water from the river Ganges to purify it since the earlier occupant of the judge’s chair happened to be a Dalit. 
  • A Dalit boy was mercilessly thrashed and died as a result. When the matter was being heard in the Gujarat High Court, the police prosecutor spiritedly defended the police action (the thrashing that led to death) saying, “My Lord, the law differs from person to person.” Subsequently promoted to the bench, the same prosecutor is today a sitting judge of the Bombay High Court.
  • A sessions judge charged with the murder of a Dalit youth still enjoys his position. The investigating officer is on record stating that the accused is interfering with the evidence in the case.
  • Allocation of jobs on the basis of caste is one of the fundamentals of the caste system. While within the caste system, the division of labour for the four varnas is not the most rigid, for the Dalits who occupy the ‘lowest’ caste category, it is caste and caste alone, which is the determinant factor for the attainment of social, political and economic rights. 
  • A lack of access to education and training, combined with rank discrimination while seeking other forms of employment, has relegated Dalits to jobs like leather workers, disposers of dead animals and manual scavengers — all jobs that are basic become dehumanising when relegated to one section, forcibly. We have 8,00,000 manual scavengers in India despite abolishment of the practice in law  (Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. Offenders, which include those who employ manual scavengers and those who construct dry latrines, are liable to punishment of a year in prison and fine in addition to prosecution under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989). But the Act has been rendered toothless by the judiciary itself (see box). 
  • In the Eighth Five–Year Plan, Rs. 464 crore was allocated for the construction of flush latrines in place of dry latrines and the rehabilitation of scavengers; the money is completely under–utilised.
  • A job as a manual scavenger is physically and mentally soul destroying. Most scavengers live in segregated colonies and are forcibly prevented from using common resources. At times, in one row of toilet there can be as many as four hundred seats that have to be manually cleaned. Even other scheduled caste people will not touch the safai karmachari; it is untouchability within untouchables. 
  • In Gujarat alone, reported deaths of manual scavengers due to inhaling of carbon monoxide while inside a manhole was a staggering 20 over a year. In Mumbai, even today children are lowered into manholes and there have been deaths. 
  • In 1995, the Commission on Bonded Labour appointed by the Supreme Court estimated as many as 1.25 million bonded labourers in Gujarat. This despite the Bonded Labour (Abolition) act, 1976, and the SC/ST (POA) Act, 1989. Around 80-90 per cent of the bonded labourers are from the scheduled castes or scheduled tribes.
  • Of the total Dalit population, 85 per cent live in rural areas. Presently, almost half (49 per cent) of the rural Dalit population are agricultural labourers while only 25 per cent are cultivators. In stark and shocking contrast, in 1961, 38 per cent of rural Dalits were cultivators and 34 per cent were agricultural labourers.
  • Only 31 per cent of Dalit households have electricity as compared to 61 per cent non–Dalit households. Only 10 per cent of SC households have sanitation while 27 per cent of non–SC households enjoy this facility. The state and socially dominant groups play an active role in denial of basic amenities. Electricity, sanitation and safe drinking water are provided in the dominant caste section but not in the Dalit colony.
  • SC persons in most rural areas have separate sources of drinking water.
  • Since the early 1990s, violence against Dalits has escalated dramatically in response to greater demands and awareness of rights’ violations. Between 1995 and 1997, as many as 90,925 cases were registered all over India as crimes and atrocities against scheduled castes. Of these, 1,617 were for murder, 12,951 for hurt, 2,824 for rape and 31,376 for other offences listed under the prevention of atrocities Act.
  • The abysmal failure of successive governments to provide free and compulsory education is a failure that has affected all sections, only Dalits proportionately more. So, two–thirds of the Dalit population is illiterate as compared to half of the rest. The literacy gap between Dalits and the rest of the population reduced by a bare 0.39 per cent between 1961 and 1991. 
  • Dalit enrolment in the year 1993 at the primary level was a low 16.2 per cent while among non-SCs, it was 83.8 per cent (annual report 1994–95, HRD, GOI)
  • According to two annual reports of the SC/ST Commission (1996-97 and 1997–98) the dropout rate for Dalit students was a high 49.35 per cent at the primary level, 67.7 per cent for middle school and 77.65 per cent for high school. The factors behind dropout rates include the compulsion to work. But abusive treatment of Dalit children is increasingly being recorded as a significant form of discrimination.     



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