Tuesday, 30 August 2016
Dalit Uprising and After
Why Hindutva Would Not Be the Same Again
When I was born I was not a child
I was a dream, a dream of revolt
that my mother, oppressed for thousands of years ,
Still it is untouched in my eyes
Covered with wrinkles of thousand years, her face
her eyes, two lakes overflowing with tears
have watered my body.....
- Sahil Parmar*
Well known Gujarati poet Sahil Parmar's poem 'When I Was Born' perhaps reverberates these days in Gujarat when we are witnessing a Dalit Upsurge- a first of its kind at least in that regions history. It will be a talk of folklore for times to come how flogging of dalits in a village in Saurashtra by Hindutva fanatics suddenly erupted into a mass movement of dalits which could catch imagination of the people cutting across different sections of society. An attempt is being made here to understand the dynamics of the movement and its likely impact on the future trajectory of Hindutva.
Love Cows, Hate Human Beings ?
There are moments in the trajectory of any authoritarian/fascist/right wing project where one of its closely guarded secrets suddenly tumbles out in the open and then it becomes difficult for it to fix it. The Hindutva brigade today finds itself in a similar situation - thanks to the dalit upsurge in Gujarat which is still unfolding before our eyes.
The historic march to Una town of Saurashtra region- under the banner of Una Atyachar Ladat Samiti might be over ; thousands and thousands of dalits who had gathered there from different parts of the state and outside might have returned home but their resolve not to undertake the despicable caste practice of manual scavenging and disposing of cattle carcasses still reverberates all over the state. And their demand before the state government that within next one month - by 15 th of September - it starts distributing five acres of land to each rural dalit family for rehabilitation is reaching far and wide and gathering fresh support.
None from the Hindutva fraternity had ever imagined that in their so called 'model state' itself , they would be faced with such a challenge which would put their carefully crafted pan Hindu social coalition to test. It was beyond their comprehension that dalits - the most downtrodden section in the Varna hierarchy - who had been slowly roped in down the years in the Hindutva politics and a section amongst them had also become a party to the anti-minority violence in 2002, would one fine morning turn their backs on them and would readily join hands with the 'other' demanding a life of human dignity and putting in jeopardy the very raison detre of the project.
And as can be expected in such a situation, they literally floundered when they were asked to react to this uprising. The multiple voices which emerged from the broader 'Parivar' were an indication of their confusion.
No doubt talking in multiple tongues has always been part of their overall strategy but this time it also demonstrated disorientation in their own ranks. The moot question became whether to uphold the perpetrators - who were following the script - or support the victims. And thus one found the Prime Minister exposing majority of the cow vigilantes as being anti social elements and asking the home department to prepare a dossier about them and another significant leader of the same 'family' denouncing such characterisation as being 'anti-Hindu'. The confusion was understandable. In fact, it was for the first time in recent times that Hindutva Supremacists are discovering that the more they push one of their key agenda centering around cow politics - which has served them well till date - the more there is possibility that their dream of Hindu Unity would see further fissures. ( Vidya Subrahmaniam describes it as 'A reverse Ram Mandir Moment' in her article on present situation in UP.http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/its-mayawati-versus-modi-in-up/article9022511.ece? ref=topnavwidget&utm_source=topnavdd&utm_medium=topnavdropdownwidget&utm_campaign=topnavdropdown) Apart from Dalits, who have come under increasing attack at the hands of overzealous 'cow protectors' and are slowly turning against the 'Parivar' itself , large section of peasant population is peeved over the fact that politics around cow has made their life miserable as they are not able to do away with cattle who have become old or have stopped producing milk. One of the couplets by Saint Tulsidas captures Hindutva's plight beautifully 'Bhayal Gati Saap Chachunder Jaisi..'.
“Rashtravadi toh hamare saath hain, humein Dalit aur pichchde ko saath lana hai.”
Everybody knows that there was nothing 'unusual' - as far as depradations unleashed by Hindutva fanatics under the name of cow protection were concerned - about what happened to dalits from Mota Samadhiyala village when they were skinning a dead cow.
One can recollect that such attacks were common even in those days when BJP did not have majority of its own at the centre. A classic example has been killing of five dalits in Dulina (Jhajjar ) - hardly fifty kilometres away from the national capital - who were similarly skinning dead cows, by a cow vigilante mob (2003) before Dulina police station itself with leading officers of the police and administration remaining mute witnesses. A leading Hindutva leader ( dead sometime back) even 'justified' the killings by citing reference to ancient Hindu sciptures claiming that in 'Puranas cows were more valued than human beings'. The killings definitely led to an outrage, there were few symbolic arrests as well but the commotion died down soon and in fact the perpetrators of this massacre were decorated as 'cow protectors'.
In fact, most such earlier attacks in recent times had been rather more brutal. To name a few, lynching of two young men near Latehar after their brutal torture near Latehar, Jharkhand by cow vigilantes ; killing an adolescent near Udhampur who was sleeping in truck by throwing petrol bomb under the suspicion that the truck was carrying beef ; near riot like situation which emerged in Palwal, Haryana because of cow vigilantes attack on a truck carrying meat or the way two transporters were fed cow dung laced with urine when they were found transporting cattles for sale near Gurgaon. Scan the internet to watch the 'valour' of these fanatics and you will find scores of such criminal attacks on innocents. Videos after videos are available which show how these self proclaimed cow protectors brutalised people for carrying cows from one place to other or because of suspicion that they were carrying beef and how their has been no action against them from the law and order people.
But thrashing of Dalits from Mota Samadhiyala village by cow vigilantes, uploading the video of their 'valour' on social media has proved to be a turning point.
Anybody can see that the Dalit Uprising which the Una incident has triggered has inadvertently or so unearthed the 'well guarded secret' behind this exclucivist project - where it is clear even to a layperson now that for Hindutva, dalits or other marginalised are lesser human beings or the 'other', whatever might be its claims about the great samrasta it upholds. There is a growing realisation that the formal posturing of Hindutva politics, where it is presented /understood in the form of religious imaginaries where 'minorities- may be Muslim or Christian - are portrayed as the 'other' is one thing but essentially the whole idea of Hindu Rashtra is an attempt to further legitimise the Brahminical project of hegemonising and homogenising of Indian society where secondary position of Dalits has received religious sanction also. An inkling of how they view Dalits and the backwards - when they are talking among themselves - can be had from the recent comments by PM Modi when he spoke at length at a meeting which was attended by 400 top leaders of the BJP, at the end of the15 day patriotism drive. Newspaper reports tell us that he called on his party to continue playing Nationalism card which is 'central to the BJP's ideology.' Perhaps the most telling comment made by him was the following : “Rashtravadi toh hamare saath hain, humein Dalit aur pichchde ko saath lana hai.” The nationalists are with us, we need to bring Dalits and backward groups." (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/nationalists-are-with-us-lets-reach-out-to-dalits-backwards-pm-modi-to-party-2993281/)
Was it just slip of tongue or an admission of the truth that for Hindutva non-backwards, non-dalits i.e. upper castes have sole claim over nation and dalits as well as backwards to be outside its purview who need to be brought closer. (http://scroll.in/article/814769/the-daily-fix-what-did-modi-mean-when-he-said-there-is-a-chasm-between-dalits-and-nationalists)
Perhaps a marker of their continuing indifference or disdain towards the plight of the dalits ( forget those bollywood type dialogues where it was declared that 'Shoot Me but Do Not Shoot My Dalit Brothers') could also be gauged from the fact that when the Dalit Upsurge was at its peak in the state, the provocative statement by one of their own MLAs from Telangana who 'justified' the beatings and uploaded a video on facebook did not prompt them to take any action. His words were “Jo Dalit gaye ke maas ko le ja raha tha, jo uski pitai hui hai, woh bohut hi achhi hui hai [Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen],”(http://scroll.in/latest/812903/anyone-who-kills-cows-deserves-to-be-beaten-says-bjp-mla-raja-singh).
Unpacking the Gujarat Model !
Recently Jignesh Mewani, convener of the 'Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti' which is spearheading this upsurge was in the capital to communicate the message of the movement to a broader audience and also garner support for the Rail Roko programme organised by the front from 15 th Septemember. He underlined the resolve of the dalits that they are firm in their decision not to clean up other people's dirt, nor to lift carcasses of dead cattle. He told the audience how twenty thousand dalits had gathered in their rally in Ahmedabad and have taken a oath not to undertake any such profession which they have been condemned to do because of Varna hierarchy and are further stigmatised because of that. In a tongue in cheek comment he added
"We (Dalits) are not going to clean up people's dirt any more. Modiji, now you are welcome to experience the spirituality that is supposed to be there in scavenging."
Jignesh - who is an advocate and an activist - was referring to Karmayog, a collection of Modi's speeches to trainee IAS officers, brought out by a Gujarat PSU, in which he had said that scavenging was an "experience in spirituality" for the Valmikis (a sub-caste of Dalits). (See : https://kafila.org/2014/02/12/modi-and-the-art-of-disappearing-of-untouchability/)
Explaining the genesis of the movement and why the flogging incident of Dalits by self proclaimed cow vigilantes affiliated to a Hindutva organisation triggered the uprising he shared details of the lives of deprivation and discrimination and atrocities faced by Dalits under the much talked about Gujarat Model. According to him
- there are yearly thousands of cases of atrocities against Dalits every year
- atrocities continued to rise during Mr Modi's chief ministership which lasted for 13 years
- there are more than 55,000 dalits who are still engaged in the work of scavenging
- 1 lakh sanitation workers who are still not getting minimum wages
- dalits in 119 villages in Gujarat are living under police protection
- rate of conviction in cases of Dalit atrocities is merely three per cent.
According to him glaring example of denial of justice to Dalits has been the killing of three Dalits by the police with 'AK 47 rifles as if they were terrorists' in Thangarh in Gujarat in the year 2012 and despite the fact that more than a lakh Dalits demonstrated against these killings there was no action by the government against the accused police personnel.( As we go to the press one hears that Gujarat government has announced an SIT to look into the killings and has also raised compensation for affected families).
When someone in the audience posed a question about availability of land in the state, Jignesh shared figures about availability of land under various schemes and how dominant castes/classes have been in actual possession of such land meant for the exploited and the marginalised. According to him thousands of acres of land with the state which the it got during Bhudan aandolan has also not been distributed. He also shared lesser known provision about SC-ST sub plan which talks about 'purchase of land for its distribution to the landless' in case of its unavailability. His simple poser which struck a deep chord with the audience was that 'if under the name of Development the state can allocate thousands of acres of land at throwaway prices to the Ambanis, Adanis and the Tatas why dalits should be denied their rightful due.' He also explained how the recent changes undertaken by the state government under the land acquisition act have many 'draconian' provisions inherent in it where the 'consent' clause has been deleted - means if the government wishes to hand over land to the corporates for 'development' work, then it can simply take over the peasant's land supposedly for 'public goods', offer some symbolic compensation and need not seek her/his consent.
To the poser that if Dalits leave their 'traditional profession' which grants them some sort of 'economic security' he quoted Ambedkar who had asked his followers during the historic Mahad Satyagrah (1927) that they should get ready to 'die of hunger' to live a life of dignity but should never undertake such stigmatised professions.
Gujarat Model: Dalit, tribal, OBC landless denied surplus land, Patels “received” 12 lakh acres
Fresh facts have come to light suggesting that, in Gujarat, there has been extremely questionable progress in the allocation of surplus land to the landless, acquired from big landlords under the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, 1960. Based on RTI applications, the district registrar of land records, Junagadh, has admitted that out of 11 of 16 villages for which information was sought, “no survey of surplus land has taken place” for the last 24 years, hence there was no allocation.
In another instance, in Navsari district, Gujarat government declared that between 2006 and 2008, while Modi ruled the state, it had “allocated” land to 7,542 landless beneficiaries, but a year later, it admitted the land titles were yet to be given to 3,616 beneficiaries. “However, now, on the basis of an RTI reply, we know that things have not changed even in 2015.
In an article published in “Dalit Adhikar”, a Gujarati periodical, Jignesh Mewani says, “Information with us suggests that the Gujarat government, in all, acquired 163,808 acres land under the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, 1960, and we feel most of it has been allocated to the landless only on paper. The landless, mainly Dalits, tribals and belonging to the other backward classes (OBCs), haven’t yet got actual possession of land.”
Mewani says, “Chief beneficiaries of the land-to-the-tiller policy have been upper caste Patels. About 55,000 Patels were allocated 12 lakh acres of land declared, mainly in Saurashtra and Kutch regions of Gujarat. But as for Dalit landless agriculturists, they have received not even 12 inches of land. Only a very small section, which is very close to the powers-that-be, has gained.”
According to Mewani, “Let us give a sample of the Gujarat government’s good governance: We made in all 65 RTI applications between 2011 and 2015 to find out facts about allocation of just 6,500 acres of land in different villages. Yet, officials are refusing to give copies of land titles which may show that land has been actually handed to the beneficiaries.”
Associated with Jan Sangharsh Manch, a Gujarat-based human rights organisation, Mewani says, “Of the 163,808 acres of surplus land, 70,000 acres of land is under dispute with the revenue tribunal, Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court. While this land may not be allocated, there is a need to answer as to why the rest of the land, too, remains unallocated.”
In fact, says Mewani, there are 15,519 acres of surplus land, on which there is “no dispute” at all, yet the Gujarat government is “refusing to act,” ..
Jignesh's claims about continuous denial of justice to Dalits or the great hiatus which exists between claims by the government and the actual situation on the ground is a fact which even earlier reports by NHRC have admitted.A cursory glance at its 2009 report had declared that Gujarat accounted for 3,813 complaints of human rights violation of the total of 94,559 cases from across the country, which was less than only Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. (Indian Express, 20 th March 2009).
A 23 page confidential report submitted by the state Social Justice Department to the State Chief Secretary and legal departments provides glaring examples of ‘mishandling of cases registered under Prevention of Atrocities Act against SC/ST. (Express, Sep 15, 2006). The rate of of conviction of cases under the Prevention of Atrocity Act against SC/ST in Gujarat is mere 2.5 per cent while rate of acquittal is 97.5 per cent.
The report provides details of how cases are not investigated properly by the police and the hostile role played by public prosecutors during time of trials.
– Act clearly stipulates that offence which are registered under this act cannot be investigated by an officer below the rank of DySP but more than 4,000 such cases have been investigated by Police Inspector or Police Sub Inspector.
– Acquittal of the perpetrator because victim not identified as member of SC or ST community. Reason, not attaching caste certificate of the victim with the case papers
– Public prosecutors false claims before the courts that act has been modified by the state government altough it is known that it is a central act
– Granting of anticipatory bails although there is no such provision in the act. Interestingly the Parliamentary Committee on SC and ST affairs had also expressed concern over such anticipatory bails granted ‘in atrocity cases in the state of Gujarat’.
In fact a detailed and systematic study of 400 judgements done by Vajibhai Patel, Secretary of Council for Social Justice (March 2005, Year 11, No.106, http://www.sabrang.com) had compelled the government to work on this 23 page report. It tells us that utterly negligent police investigation at both the higher and lower levels coupled with a distinctly hostile role played by the public prosecutors is the main reason for the collapse of cases filed under the atrocities act. It is worth noting that he has meticulously documented these judgements delivered under this act since April 1, 1995 in the Special Atrocity Courts set up in 16 districts of the state. The study also blasts the common perception is that the inefficacy of this law is due to false complaints being lodged or compromises between the parties, in actuality it is a complicit State that has rendered the Act toothless.
'Keep Cow's Tail With You, And Give Us Our Land'
..on March 20, 1927, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar led the Mahad satyagraha – for drinking water from the Chavdar tank at Mahad. This was the “foundational struggle” of the dalit movement, a movement for water – and for caste annihilation.
In his statement at the time, Dr. Ambedkar put the movement in the broadest possible context. Why do we fight, he asked. It is not simply for drinking water; drinking the water will not give us very much. It is not even a matter of only of our human rights, though we fight to establish the right to drink water. But our goal is no less than that of the French Revolution. ..
And so dalits went to drink the water at Mahad. They were met with ferocious repression: at attack by caste Hindus followed. The dalits retreated, came back several months later on December 25 for a renewed struggle, and since the collector had given an injunction against any further attempt, Ambedkar decided to honor this and instead burned the Manusmriti. A fitting climax to the first battle of dalit liberation!
Dalit Uprising in Gujarat and the manner in which it has rattled the state government and has severly impacted the BJP's well laid out plans to consolidate its support base among Dalits has been a whiff of fresh air for every peace and justice loving person in this part of Asia.
What has caught imagination of the people is the key slogan of the movement which says 'Keep Cow's Tail With You, And Give Us Our Land'. It is a single slogan which encapsulates question of caste discrimination as well as communalism and puts forward a positive demand to fight material deprivation - which has been an integral part of the sanctified hierarchy of caste.
The emphasis of the movement that Dalits leave the 'stigmatised professions' - which has condemned them to be the lowest position on Varna/Caste hierarchy - and wholehearted participation of thousands and thousands of Dalits in it , the militancy it has added to the Dalit movement has broken a new ground in the dalit movement.
No doubt that there was lot of spontaniety in the movement but the way it moved ahead and has added new edge to dalit assertion could not have been imagined without the young leadership which took charge. Their inclusive approach also helped them rope in activists of other organisations or attract many such people who are opposed to or uncomfortable with Hindutva politics on a common agenda of . Inclusiveness of the movement was also evident in the fact that Muslims - who have been put in very miserable condition post 2002 carnage - also joined the Azaadi Kooch to Una. Many welcomed it on the way in large numbers and also travelled to Una in their hundreds for the 15 th August independence day rally held there.
A less discussed aspect of this upsurge is the fact that dalits are merely seven per cent of the state's population and have not had a long history of militant movement but despite these limitations the impact of the movement has been phenomenal. Not only it compelled the BJP to change its Chief Minister for mishandling the movement but it also disturbed its dalits outreach plans elsewhere.
Remember barring the historic struggle led by Dadasaheb Gaikwad - a close Comrade of Dr Ambedkar - in late 50s in Maharashtra where issue of land was highlighted, rare have been the occasions in post independence times that issue of material deprivation of dalits was creately integrated with socio-cultural discrimination and political marginaliation.Una has changed the picture. It has also raised many unheard of slogans in the dalit movement. 'Dalits of the World Unite', 'Workers of the World Unite' or 'Jai Bhim', 'Lal Salam' and Jai Savitribai'. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jqgA75o5PE)
Analysts have rightly put it that dalit movement in recent times has largely remained limited/focussed on what can be called issue of 'Identity/Asmita' but Una marks a new beginning where issue of 'existence/astitva' has also come to the fore. Possibly gone are the days when 'victimhood' was highlighted or rhetoric of 'Brahminism down-down' was repeated ad nauseum and a careful silence was maintained about economic issues. As a revolutionary activist shared in his email '[a]n important thing to note is that the Una Struggle can also be seen as part of a continuum where social movements connects itself with anti-systemic struggles.'
Definitely the Una struggle which has sent shivers down the spine of the Hindutva Supremacists cannot be seen in isolation. It is rather a continuation of growing dalit assertion against Hindutva depradations especially after the ascendance of Modi led regime at the centre. The realisation has slowly sunk in that not only it wants to attack affirmative action programmes but its economic policies - coupled with its regressive sociocultural agenda - are bringing ruin to the dalits and other marginalised sections of society. It is becoming more and more clear to them that the people in power want a docile/pliable dalit polity which can dance to their tunes. They want Ambedkar but not the real one but his sanitised version. How much they are scared about real Ambedkar and his ideas can be learnt from a decision of the Anandi Patel led government. It literally dumped four lakh copies of Ambedkar's biography which it had printed for massive distribution as the author of the book had also included 22 vows which Ambedkar recited with his followers at the time of conversion to Buddhism.
And this realisation has given rise to a tremendous reaction. Ranging from the successful campaign against derecognition of Ambekdar Periyar Study Circle active in Chennai IIT by the management (https://kafila.org/2015/06/05/no-to-ambedkar-periyar-in-modern-day-agraharam/), or countrywide movement - where students and youth were in the forefront - after the 'institutional murder of Rohith Vemula' (https://kafila.org/2016/01/22/long-live-the-legacy-of-comrade-vemula-rohith-chakravarthy-statement-by-new-socialist-initiative-nsi/), or the massive mass mobilisation against demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan in Mumbai by the BJP led government or the 'Zameen Prapti Movement' in Punjab led by revolutionary left where Dalits have come together to form collectives etc, one can easily see that such assertion is increasing in its intensity and militancy.
..In Punjab, the share of the Dalits in the 1,58,000 acres of Panchayat land is 52,667 acres. There are also legal entitlements for them in the Nazool Lands. However, the actual possession of these lands has remained with the landlords and rich peasants. As per the agricultural census 2010-11, the SCs in Punjab, who are a third of its population, owned just 6.02% of the land holdings and 3.2%of the land area of the state. Of these operational holdings also a large proportion (nearly 85%) are said to be unviable due to the small size of less than 5 hectares.
Since 2014, the Dalit peasantry organized under the banner of ZPSC (Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Samiti) and holding its red flag with the blazing sun firmly aloft, has begun to assert their claim over what is rightfully theirs. These lands used to be auctioned to dummy candidates of landlords; a gaushala in Sangrur district has been given land for 30years at the rate of Rs 7000 an acre by the Akali-BJP Govt. of the state where as the price for Dalits is over Rs 20,000an acre. This spreading struggle in districts of South Punjab has been met with police and landlord repression , false FIRs against ‘unknowns’ but the struggle rages on like a spreading blaze.
If the unexpected shift of a section of Dalit masses - for various reasons - towards BJP was an important factor in its ascent to power in the year 2014, this growing assertion of dalits is a proof that they cannot be hoodwinked anymore. With the real agenda of these Hindutva Supremacists out in the open - which is witnessed not only in its attacks on right to life and right to livelihood of every exploited and marginalised section but also in its hurry to co-opt Ambedkar but bulldoze every element of dalit assertion - the battlelines have been finally drawn.
And the unfolding Dalit Uprising has added new lustre to it.
(Note - *translated from original Gujarati by G K Vankar, http://roundtableindia.co.in/lit-blogs/?tag=sahil-parmar)
Monday, 29 August 2016
Sunday, 28 August 2016
Testimony of Bhagwan Das before UNO
Testimony given by
Bhagwan Das, Chairman,
All India Samata Sainik Dal, and
Ambedkar Mission society
In the 36th Session of Commission on
Human rights Sub-Commission on Prevention
Of Discrimination and Protection of
Minorities, held at Geneva on
23rd August 1983
I am grateful to the chairman of the sub-committee for granting me an opportunity to present the case of the Untouchables living in India and the neighbouring countries that came under the influence of Hindu religion and culture. I am giving this testimony on behalf of Secretary General (Dr. Homer A. Jack) World Conference on religion and Peace (WCRP). I also speak on behalf of various Untouchables and Buddhist organisations of India namely All India Samata Sainik Dal (Volunteers for equality) an organisation founded by Dr. Bheem Rao Ambedkar, Indian Buddhist council, Ambedkar Mission Society, Ambedkar Mission Incorporated (Canada) and Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society, Bedford, UK.
I take this opportunity to mention here that WCRP in its first conference held at Kyoto, Japan in 1970 discussed the problem of discrimination including the practice of untouchability. In its third conference held at Princeton (USA) the problem of the Untouchables in India and Burakumin of Japan was discussed and mentioned in the declaration. In the Asian Conference of Religion and Peace (II) held at New Delhi the problem of Untouchability and discrimination against the Buddhist converts was taken up and recommendations made in the declaration issued at the end of conference. Human rights Commission of ACRP decided to set up an office at New Delhi and an office is now functioning at New Delhi with the help of the Japanese Committee of WCRP under the title Asian Centre for Human Rights.
Untouchability is a phenomenon peculiar to Hinduism and it is an integral part of their religion. It took birth in India and it’s from India that this abominable practice spread to other religions and countries. No religion in India is free from this contamination; not even those who loudly preach from house tops the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man.
Hindu society is divided vertically and horizontally on the basis of caste. Christianity and Islam have allowed caste to exist in their society. Lower caste Christians especially in Southern states of India are meted out discriminatory treatment in the matter of burial in the cemeteries, appointment of parishnors, priests etc., and matrimony. Upper caste Christian seldom marries a girl from the lower caste Christians. Islamic society is also modelled on the pattern of Hindu society. It is divide into three or four groups namely ‘Ashraf’ upper caste, Moghuls, Turks Afghans etc., ‘Ajalaf’ converts from upper castes of Hindus and at the lowest rung of ladders sit the lowly ‘Arzal’, butchers, tanners, shoemakers, sweepers and scavengers etc.
Sikhs who claim to be more progressive and egalitarian but unfortunately even they have not been able to keep their society free from caste system and untouchability. Even in a country like Britain they rigidly follow caste system and practise untouchability and discrimination against the Untouchables (Ramdaasia and Mazhbis) living in England. A ‘jat’ Sikh shuns the company of the Untouchables and avoids going to the pubs patronised by the Balmikis and Ravidasis-two untouchable castes of Punjab. An upper caste Sikh (Jat, Khatri, Arora,-trading communities of Punjab never misses an opportunity if he can offend an Untouchable by referring to his caste.
Untouchables in various countries
Nepal is predominantly Hindu state and 89% people either return their religion as Hinduism or are registered as Hindus in the census. Barely 7% of the Nepalese are Buddhists. Proselytization is prohibited. Hindu society is divided into as many as 59 castes and several artisan and other castes such as Paura (sweepers and scavengers), Damais (smiths), Sarakis (leather workers) goldsmiths in hilly regions are treated as Untouchables. Even though there is free education, very few among those castes can take the benefit owing to the practice of untouchability. In the Nepalese Panjyat (Panchyat) not more than one or two members of this community can get elected owing to the deep rooted prejudices against these people whose only fault is that perform useful duties. Their exact number is not known because unlike India Nepal census reports don not register caste. Owing to the fear of dominating upper castes Hindus, even Buddhists avoid contact with the Untouchables in Nepal. These communities suffer from numerous disabilities arising from untouchability. So far as I have been able to ascertain they have not been able to organise themselves for struggling against discrimination. Those who can in contact with these people were mulcted by the authorities and only paying the fine and performing some ceremonies they could be readmitted in the society.
Pakistan with 97% of its population owning Islam as their religion is divided into numerous castes, tribes etc., Hindus constitute about 2% of the population and are listed as caste Hindus (296,837) and Scheduled Castes (603,369). Scheduled Castes is the statutory title given under the government of India Act 1935 to the Untouchables. Most of them earn their livelihood as sweepers, scavengers, cobblers, weavers, etc.. Muslims also treat them as Untouchables like Hindus throughout the World. Pakistan also has a Christian population numbering about 908,000. Christians are divided into three groups, Europeans and Anglo-Pakistanis, Eurasians like Goanese, converts from upper castes of Hindus and Muslims and people belonging to upper stratum of society. At the bottom sit the most despised sweepers and scavengers who are known as ‘Christian Punjabis Sweepers’ (CPS). They are the descendents of the members of Chuhra community, traditional sweepers, who embraced Christianity to escape the tyranny of Hinduism and the stigma of untouchability but the partitioning of the country compelled them to revert to the traditional occupation of sweeping and scavenging. Although they are economically better than the rural workers so far as the wages are concerned but they are compelled to live in segregated localities and are treated as untouchables. Like their counterparts in India, CPS are the most despised people in Pakistan. They suffer from numerous disabilities arising from untouchability.
Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist (population 8,537,000, 67.3%) with Hindu constituting the second largest religious group (2,239,000) divided into clean and unclean castes. Among the Sinhalese, Goyigama is the highest caste and those engaged in occupations like butchers, drum-beaters. Toddy tappers, sweeping, etc. are considered ‘hina jati hina sippi’ people. Discrimination in the matter of marriage is practised among the Sinhalese. Siame Nikaya, a Buddhist sect does not admit the members of the lower castes as Bhikkhus but the other two Nikayas admit men belonging to the lower castes if they desire to join the order. But among the Tamilians, caste system is rigidly followed and untouchability practised in the Jaffana area which is predominantly Hindu (Tamalian). Society is divided into two major groups, namely clean castes and unclean castes. Among the unclean castes are included Palla (potter), Seneer (weaver), Parriyar, Kadaiyan (lime burner), Chikkalyan (leather worker and sweeper), Vunnan (washer man) and Thurumba etc. Upper castes (Vellala, Brahmin, Chetty etc.) treat them as Untouchables. Present conflict has temporarily obliterated the differences but after the trouble has subsided caste feelings revive.
Bangla Desh is predominantly Muslim (80%) with 4,926,448 (20%0 Hindus divided into two groups namely caste Hindus (Brahmin, Kayasthas, Baidyas etc.) and Namoshudras, Kaibartas, Hadis, Moschis, etc.). Many of the Muslims are converts from among the Untouchables and Buddhists. Yet discriminatory treatment is meted out to the untouchables in Bangla Desh. Our informants have stated that the Hindus of upper castes are treated as equals but the lower castes are discriminated in the matter of housing, employment etc.
All these countries were part of greater India until 1947 and were influenced by Hindu religion in the matter of rituals and customs.
Untouchability in India
Untouchability has not been defined by the sociologist or the legislators. At the time of discussion on ‘Untouchability Offences Act’ in Parliament when a question was raised about definition, the law minister said, ‘There is no need to define untouchability. Everybody knows it’. He was trying to avoid definition but he was telling the truth that everybody knows whom to avoid, whom to persecute. Untouchability is deeply embedded in the minds of Hindus and regulates their behaviour with other people. Stratification of society and restrictions on inter-marriage between different classes or groups are not unknown in other societies or cultures but to use the words of Dr. G.S. Ghurye, a renowned sociologist, “Hindu system is unique only in this that it alone classified some groups as untouchable and unapproachable.” Other religious groups only copied them. Since Hindus treated the scavengers, sweepers, cobblers, basket makers, weavers etc. as untouchables, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs also treated them as lowly, despised, degraded people. Since untouchability had religious sanction behind it, all efforts made by social reformers failed. Hindus avoided the discussion and foreigners did not want to take up the cause of the untouchables for fear of antagonising the Hindus. They were also taken in by the propaganda carried out by the followers of Gandhiji. Dr. Ambedkar had rightly observed, “The old orthodox Hindu doesn’t think that there is anything wrong in the observance of untouchability. To him it is normal, natural thing. As such it neither calls for expiation nor explanation. The new modern Hindu realises the wrong but he is ashamed to discuss it in public for fear of letting the foreigner know that Hindu civilisation can be guilty of such a vicious and infamous system or social code as evidenced by untouchability.”
Mass conversion of Untouchables to Christianity and Islam and growing importance of number in the politics of India coupled with criticism of Hindu society by Western writers, sociologists, travellers etc., led Hindus to introduce certain changes in their social system. While they wanted to remove untouchability, they did not want Hinduism and caste system to suffer in any way because Hinduism is sustained by caste system. If caste system goes, Hinduism cannot survive for long. On the other hand Hindus have developed a vested interest in Untouchability and caste system. More than 75% population of India is illiterate and people sincerely believe that caste is god-made and there is no hope or scope for change. Any laws made by man are interference in the God’s work. Hindu law makers had made elaborate laws and rules to keep Untouchables in degraded condition perpetually. Economic measures were adopted to perpetuate degradation, segregation and poverty. Laws were framed and strictly enforced to keep them divided, dispirited, poor, ignorant, illiterate and physically weak. They were not allowed to acquire wealth; higher interest was charged on loans; good, wholesome, nutritious food proscribed so that they may not grow strong. Right to bear arms was denied so they may never revolt. Low wages and excessive work was prescribed so they may have no leisure. Identity marks and symbols were prescribed so that even by mistake pure Hindus may not eat or drink with them. This system was rigidly followed by the Hindus for centuries. Even Muslims did not disturb it. British especially after the sepoy mutiny of 1857 for fear of antagonising the Hindus tried to maintain those laws and enforce them through courts of law.
Progressive Western educated Hindus however felt uneasy and promised to bring about changes after attaining independence. Accordingly provisions were incorporated in the constitution abolishing untouchability and certain ameliorative provisions such as reservation in legislature, services of Union Government and states, educational institutions etc. Untouchables were subjected to some inhuman laws like forced labour in rural area. A provision to abolish slavery of this kind was made in the constitution but the law was enacted in 1976. Millions of Rupees were provided for the economic upliftment of the Untouchables in the Five Year Plans.
In spite of these laws the Untouchables suffer from numerous disabilities especially in smaller towns and villages of India. Untouchables don not have well in thousands of villages and upper caste people do not allow them to dig wells. Untouchables have to beg for water from a distance lest their shadow should pollute the upper caste Hindus. Sometime the water pipes are laid and stopped a few yards short of the Untouchable locality. The present writer struggled for seven years to get a public hydrant installed in a village of Himachal Pradesh while every Minister or even the Chief Minister announced that water had been provided.
If the Untouchables demand higher wages in villages, the caste Hindus pour filth or kerosene in the wells so as to starve them of water. Untouchability is widely practised. A mild and harmless law which was neither educative nor awarded deterrent punishment was enacted in 1955 under the title ‘Untouchable Offences Act, 1955’. This proved to be ineffective. This law was amended and passed as Protection of Civil Liberties Act 1976 containing a provision of minimum punishment. Owing to illiteracy of Untouchables majority of whom live in the rural areas, very few cases are reported and a very small number reaches the courts of law. Untouchability in worst form is practised in the Hindi region but the largest number of cases is registered in the state where the Scheduled castes people are awakened and better organised.
Of all the countries where untouchability is practised India has the best of laws and the most generous provisions in her constitution. British had introduced quota system with a view to giving share in administration to all religious groups and other minorities. Untouchables were however denied a share on the plea that there were no educated men available. Through the efforts of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar undisputed leader of the Untouchables ‘reservation in services’ was introduced in respect of the Untouchables also in 1943 during the vicerolty of Lord Linlithgow. Later o provision was made in respect of the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes but reservation in favour of other minorities was abolished. During the early years there was little resistance because very few qualified people were available to fill up the reserved seats. Resistance was offered by non-implementation of government orders, or by declaring that suitable candidate was not available or if available ‘not found suitable’ and also through courts of law by filing writ petition. Since 1974 organise resistance is being offered by the upper caste employees who have enjoying monopoly of all government jobs. Private sector does not employ the Scheduled Caste people, excepting in the lowly, low paid and degrading situations. Table below gives some idea of the success in the part of the opponents of the reservation:
Reservation given in
Class 1 = 4.95% Class 11 = 8.54%
Class 111=13.44% Class 1V = 19.46%
Discriminatory treatment is being meted out to the Scheduled Caste people in the matter of recognition of their unions on the plea that it is the policy of the government that ‘communal’ organisations of employees will not be recognised. On the other hand organisations of the Hindu employees who are opposed to the reservation have the support and blessing of administration as well as the political parties, especially of those who have their base among the middle classes of Hindus.
Scheduled Castes (statutory title of the Untouchables) is an artificially created minority under the constitution. Names of castes can be deleted or added by the president. Pressure is mounting now through press to delete the names of more awakened and better organised castes. Majority of the Untouchables (about 76%) live in 568,000 villages of India. In some places they are allotted land by the government. Dr. Ambedkar demanded nationalisation of land with collectivisation of allotment on cooperative basis. The government favoured the creation of small holdings and peasant proprietors. Fragmentation of land is non-productive but the untouchable farmers who never owned land because of the laws prohibiting possession of land in some states desire to own land. The landholding dominating upper castes do everything possible in their means to obstruct distribution of land. Even if land is allotted, the upper caste landlords do not allow the Untouchables to take the fruit of their labour. If Untouchables demand higher wages or even the minimum wages prescribed by the Government, the upper caste landlords indulge in murders, torture, arson and Rape etc. to terrorise the poor ignorant untouchables. Thousands of men are employed as bonded labourers and kept away from the cities, police etc. Hundreds of women are forced into superstition by exploiting their ignorance, poverty and superstitious beliefs and sold into the brothels of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur and Delhi.
Untouchables are becoming increasingly convinced that the Hindus hate them not because they perform unpleasant duties but because their religion teaches them to hate certain castes. Many embraced Christianity and Islam. Dr. Ambedkar who saw no hope of Hinduism reforming itself exhorted his people to renounce Hinduism and embrace Buddhism which he had revived in 1956. Millions of people responded to his call and embraced Buddhism. Government of India immediately issued order that if an Untouchable renounce Hinduism and embrace any religion other than Sikhism he will become disentitled to concessions and grants allowed to the Scheduled Castes. When a few hundred Untouchables in Madras embraced Islam because the Hindus harassed and humiliated them and did not allow them even to wear shoes or loin cloth which went below the knee cap, Hindu militant organisations turned riotous and burnt the huts of Untouchables and molested their women. Even Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi forgetting that she was the head of a secular government showed concern and delivered speeches discouraging the conversion of Untouchables. Some states have enacted laws making conversion difficult. Those renouncing Hinduism have to obtain a certificate from the Magistrate that the person desiring conversion to Islam or Christianity is doing it voluntarily. Police is dominated by the upper landholding castes of Hindus and is generally hostile towards the Untouchables. Indian Penal code contains certain provisions under which police have power to arrest and detain a person if he has no ostentatious means of livelihood. This is in a country where majority of the people have no employment, house or shelter of any kind. Police abuses its powers especially against the Untouchables and many people are killed or incapacitated through torture in police custody.
Hinduism have closed the doors of armed forces to the Untouchables for ever. Untouchables were admitted to the armed forces of Islam after embracing Islam which many did. During early decades of their rule, British recruited Untouchables in their armies but after sometime they began to close the doors especially in central India and Bengal under pressure from the high castes of Hindus. They introduced the pernicious theory of ‘martial races and non-martial races’. Later on they disbanded the Untouchable armies and raise class regiments recruiting men belonging to upper castes. Indian government has not completely abolished the class regiments and has officially removed the ban on recruitment. But Government have not taken any measure to change the mode of recruitment. Recruiting officers, mostly belonging to peasant castes owing to to deep rooted prejudices based on caste and their medical; officers invariably ask a man’s caste and reject him on medical grounds. Untouchables have little share in army (0.44% in officers cadre and 10.62% in other ranks), 7.63% in other ranks of navy and 0.156% in officers cadre and 2.568% in other ranks.
Untouchables have the equal right to vote and contest elections. 79 seats are reserved in the House of the People (Lok Sabha) out of the total number of 542. Out of a total strength of 3997 members in the state legislatures and Union Territories 540 belong to the Scheduled Castes. On paper the number appears to be very impressive but owing to the election system of the country it is the majority community which elects the representatives of the candidates. In the rural areas the Untouchables can not exercise their right to vote freely and independently. Very often police protection has to be provided. After the election heavy price has to be paid tb the Untouchables if the members of higher castes owning land feel that they did not get the support of the support of the Untouchables.
Violation in Villages
Scheduled castes in the rural areas demand land, better wages, right to wear dress according to their liking, assert the rights granted under the constitution. Hindus on the hand want to maintain status quo in all fields. Tensions arise and often result in confrontation. Landlords have raised armies of trained men released from army and police to terrorise the Untouchables landless labourers. Police protects the strong against the poor. Government through its machinery and religious policies strengthens casteism and superstition because it helps the ruling classes. Leaders of struggle are picked up and either involved in false criminal cases or murdered by the police in encounters. Men, women and children have been massacred and burnt alive whenever they put up resistance against oppression. Men have been killed for offering Ganges water in a shrine. A man was killed in Aligarh (UP) for affixing the word Chauhan to his name. Women’s toes were crushed for wearing rings. Man was killed for twirling moustaches. In Meenakshipuram where mass conversion to Islam took place, men were not allowed to sit beside the upper caste men in the state buses, nor allowed to walk through the streets; women were punished for wearing sandals. In Kafalta 11 persons were done to death for crime of riding a horse in marriage procession and for using palanquin. The incidents of violence in the villages have been showing an upward trend for the last five years:
Year No. of incidents of atrocities
Recent figures are not available but the Home Minister Mr. N.R. Laskar during the last session stated that the number was showing an increase but during the Monsoon session of last week, he said that number of incidents has fallen considerably. Figures furnished by the Government do not represent the fact. These represent only a tip of the iceberg because many of the cases remain unreported. Untouchables feel very insecure owing to the growing resentment against the declared policies and programmes of the government which are very rarely accompanied by implementation. Bureaucracy is being blamed for non-implementation but is the government which lacks the political will to take action against those who flout the government authority.
This weakness is evident from the fact that even a simple and harmless demand by the Scheduled caste legislators in the Parliament to have a portrait installed in the Central Hall of Parliament where Dr. Ambedkar played a very important and historical role both as a member of the Executive Councillor in the Viceroys Executive Council (1942-46) and as first Law Minister and Chairman of the Constitution Drafting committee (1947-51). Government have been resisting this demand on some pretext or the other. Similarly in recognition of the great services rendered by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the field of education a unanimous decision was taken in the Maharashtra Assembly to change the name of Marathawada University to Ambedkar University. This university came into existence chiefly owing to the establishment of three colleges by Dr. Ambedkar in the most backward region of Marathawada of Maharashtra. Orthodox Hindus in the region felt offended and instigated the illiterate and ignorant villagers that now ‘Ambedkar’ an Untouchable will enter your houses in the form of degrees and diploma certificates and you will have to repeat his name. As a result many houses of Buddhist converts were looted. Women molested, old men insulted, buildings demolished or set on fire and some people killed. Hundreds of men were forced to leave their villages and seek shelter in the towns, railway platforms, footpaths etc. Government could not implement its decision and the oppressor won the field. Untouchables and Buddhists continue the agitation with unshaken determination.
In spite of the that Indian Constitution has the most liberal provision, Government have failed to implement its own declared programmes and policies for the removal of untouchability and upliftment of the deprived and disadvantaged section of society. Prejudices can not be removed merely through legislation. Religious policy of the government is discriminatory and is based in favour of Hinduism and Sikhism and prejudicial to the religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Government in accord with the wishes of the orthodox Hindus has used coercive measures to check the conversion of Untouchables to Buddhism lest they should unite and organise themselves for struggle. Present policy of the government appears to be based on the tenets of Hinduism. Methods may have changed but the aim of the Hindu law makers and religious leaders have not changed. Anything which the untouchables consider good for then is vehemently resisted and opposed. Whatever goes to make them week, dispirited, disunited and dependent is encouraged.
- A commission should be set up to investigate and submit a report on the practice of Untouchability in the countries wherever it is practised.
- Action should be taken against countries and institutions who encourage this practice and the name of religion and custom.
- Government should be asked to eliminate discrimination against the despised and segregated groups in the matter of freedom of religion.
- To set up a commission to monitor the activities of government and religious groups in the countries where untouchability is practised.
- Governments of the countries where the Hindus and Sikhs have migrated and practise untouchability and discrimination against the Untouchables should be approached to enact laws to discourage this practice.
- A separate office should be set up to receive cases of untouchability and disability and the states concerned should be asked to report what measures they have taken to eliminate discrimination in their respective countries.