Untouchability is still alive and kicking in India
More than 60 years after Independence, untouchability is alive and thriving in Indiaâs hinterlands. Pockets of social change have been but mere drops in an ocean of casteism and prejudice. This was borne out in a survey by National Law School, Bangalore, which was reported recently. Following this, TOI correspondents did a reality check in eight states across India.
Dalits are still segregated with little access to temples, water sources and upper caste areas. And ironically, even in Radhanagar in Hooghly district, the birthplace of social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy, there are separate crematoria for Brahmins and non-Brahmins. And in a bizarre case in Waganagere village in Gulbarga district of Karnataka, 120 Dalit households were forced to draw water from their well even after a dog fell in and died. During festivities, not only are they served food separately, but they have to bring their own plates and tumblers. Gulbarga, incidentally, has 126 cases registered under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 and the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, the highest in Karnataka.
In UP, almost every village has a chamar toli, a place segregated for them. Dalit children are made to sit separately in schools. In Malasa village in Kanpur Dehat, though the post of gram pradhan was reserved for scheduled castes, it has been lying vacant as no Dalit has the courage to contest the election, fearing backlash from the dominant Thakurs. And when they do, as two Dalits did last year, their candidature was rejected because no one, not even Dalits, seconded them during the filing of nomination papers. Uniquely in UP, untouchability is practised by Dalits too.
In Rajasthanâs Dholeria Shashan village near Pali, newcomers are interrogated and if they are scheduled castes, entry is tough. They also cannot pass upper caste houses wearing footwear or headgear, says poet and writer Vinod Vithall.
Segregation is also blighting the next generation. In Rajpur tehsil, 60 km from Kanpur, Thakurs withdrew their children from a primary school after a Dalit cook was employed to prepare mid-day meals. D Shyam Babu, senior fellow, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, says authorities often turn a blind eye to caste atrocities. Acts which protect the lower castes arenât implemented either. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes in Chandigarh admitted that it receives 3-4 complaints daily. Ajmer district police reportedly has recorded 360 cases pertaining to SCs/STs over the last 18 months. In UP, over two dozen such cases were filed in the last six months.
But Dalits have now started asserting themselves. ââIn Tamil Nadu, upper castes are now at the receiving end after two decades of virulent clashes. In Punjab, thanks to the Green Revolution and prosperity, most Dalits have a good lifestyle,ââ says Balwinder Singh Sidhu, a government official, though there are pockets of discrimination.
Individuals have made a difference too. Tamil Nadu inspector general Pratheep V Philip has started a social justice tea party where the police provides tea to villagers and counsels them against discriminating Dalits. Two months back in Alwar, a Brahmin invited Dalits to his daughters wedding. In rural Bengal, says social scientist Amal Mukhopadhyay, inter-caste marriages too are taking place.
So will B R Ambedkarâs dream of an India where untouchables are not a sub-division of Hindus, but a separate and distinct element in the national life fructify?
(With inputs by Ashish Tripathi and Faiz Rehman Siddiqui, Lucknow; Ramaninder K Bhatia, Chandigarh; Deepender Deswal, Rohtak; Ajay Parmar and Kshitiz Gaur, Jaipur; Sanjeev Kumar Verma, Patna; Falguni Banerjee and Ashish Poddar in Kolkata; Prashanth G N, Bangalore and Radha Venkatesan, Chennai)
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