Life of a Dalit in India

By Atique Ur Rehman

Atique Ur Rehman is a retired military officer who has served in ISPR for over two decades. Presently he is pursuing his PhD in International Relations (IR) from Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad.

The inspiration to write about Dalit in India was the Indian movie ‘Article 15’, which I watched aboard a flight from Doha to US.
Main plot of the story is injustice and discrimination with Dalit cast in India. Although Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Film is inspired by multiple true life events including 2014 Badaun gang rape and 2016 Una flogging incident. The two minor Dalit girls were gang raped and hanged with tree in village in Katra of district Baduan on 27 May 2014.

The incident sparked hue and cry at international level for the brutal act against lower cast Dalit girls and reluctance of police and the government to take any action against five criminals including a policeman. Even UN Secretary General condemned the brutal act. All accused were from upper classes of India. The final verdict of the court is still pending and criminals were granted bail on plea of false investigation by Central Bureau of Investigation which altered the facts to prove that girls were not sexually assaulted and they hanged themselves.

Since 2007 as many as 23 Dalit students have committed suicide in New Delhi and Hyberabad universities which are considered elite educational institution in India

On 11 July 2016, the seven members of a Dalit family were skinning the carcasses of dead cow in Mota Samadhiyala village near Una in Gir Somnath district of Gujarat state of India. They had bought the carcass from Bediya village. They were approached by persons in two cars who claimed to be member of cow protection group and accused them of killing cows. Dalits tried to convince them that they were skinning dead cows. They were not convinced and tied Dalits to the car and beat with sticks, iron pipes and a knife. Four of them were brought to Una town in car and stripped and assaulted again in public.

Rohith Vemula’s mother thrashed in Delhi by Police when she demanded justice for her son

When police arrived, the attackers fled in their car. The assault was recorded on video and circulated on social media. The Dalits were moved to hospital in Una and later to Rajkot civil hospital on 14 July. The videos of thrashing went viral on internet and sparked the protests across the state.

Like Rohith Vermula, hundreds of Dalit students in various universities across the country are facing such discrimination just because they belong to scheduled cast.

72 years after independence, the political rhetoric and constitutional protection has not been able to end atrocities against Dalits in India.
In February 2016 a PhD scholar, Rohit Vemula, at Hyderabad university hanged himself with a note that his birth was a fatal accident. He was Dalit by caste. Rohit’s death is not the only story, hundreds of Dalit students in various universities across the country are facing such discrimination just because they belong to scheduled cast. Since 2007 as many as 23 Dalit students have committed suicide in New Delhi and Hyberabad universities which are considered elite educational institution in India. According to a report of 2010 by National Human Rights Commission on prevention of Atrocities against scheduled castes, every day three Dalit women are raped in India, two Dalits are murdered daily and 37% Dalits are leading their lives below the poverty line.

‘Dalit’ means oppressed, crushed or broken. Officially in India, Dalits are referred to as ‘Scheduled Castes. Dalits who are mostly living in rural areas form 16% of Indian total population. More than 60% of the scheduled cast are living in five Indian states, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh. 170 millions Dalits in India are suffering from extreme political, social, health, educational and economic backwardness. Dalits were also called ‘untouchable’ before enactment of article 15 in the Indian Constitution. But socially they are still called ‘impure’ and considered the maul treated group in society who undertakes low paid jobs. Navsarjan, a Dalit rights group based in the state of Gujarat, explains that Dalits are divided into sub-castes that assign them such occupations as leather worker, street sweeper, cobbler and agricultural worker. According to US Department of State’s country report of human rights practices of 2010 and also a Pakistani English newspaper report of April 2011, the lowest sub-caste of Dalits is estimated to be approximately 1.2 million who as “manual scavengers,”. The Dalits who live in main cities are also associated with cleaning of sewages drains with without any proper equipment and protective gears which results into dozens of deaths annually from inhalation of toxic gases or from drowning in human excrement.
A BBC report published in mid June, 2019 has brought out the fact that cast system in India is still persistent due to political regression as it suits the politicians. Cast system is the basis of order and regularity in Indian society since centuries. System traps the people into fixed social orders from which it was impossible to escape.
Social identities are much more stronger in India than their political affiliations. Although till 18th century social identities were flexible and one could move from one cast to other but British India made the caste a defining social feature.
A survey carried out in 565 villages in 11 states was able to conclude that 37.8 percent of the villages, Dalit children at government schools had to eat apart from the other children. In Hindustan Times in its study 23 November, 2010, concluded that 48% of villages Dalits were denied access to water sources. In another study carried out by Navsarjan and the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Center reported that in 98% villages a Dalit cant rent a house in non Dalit area. Same study also concluded that In 87 percent of villages, Dalits were not allowed to rent pots for weddings and In 73 percent of villages surveyed, Dalits were not allowed to use the services of the barber, In 33 percent of villages surveyed, Dalits were not allowed to use the services of tailors, In 29 percent of villages surveyed, Dalits were denied access to the drinking supply (and 71 percent of the villages do not have a drinking tap in the Dalit section and In 10 percent of the villages surveyed, Dalits were not allowed to use the services of the village’s private doctor.
The problem being faced by scheduled cast in India is not a law and order issue but a social problem. Cast violence can only be reduced through a new social order in Indian society, says Chandra Bhan Parsad, author of a book ‘ Defying the odds: The rise of Dalits Enterpreneurs’.
A member of the Indian parliament, B.R. Ambedkar said ‘India is entering into an era of political equality. But economically and socially we remain a deeply unequal society. Unless we resolve this contradiction, inequality will destroy our democracy.’
In a recent article published by The Atlantic, Aatish Taseer writes that India is now exploding and approaching an especially dangerous point. India has been on the boil for weeks after the enactment of Citizenship Amendment Act. However there has been no effort from the government to find an imicable resolution of the situation which is getting worse by every day.