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- GS2 || Indian Society || Social Movements || Caste based movements (Dalit, OBC, Upper caste)
Why in the news?
Recently a Muslim boy was beaten for drinking water in Ghaziabad temple. This incident has once again revived the old debate on untouchability and caste and religion based discrimination in India.
What is ‘Untouchability’ and who are ‘Untouchables’?
- Untouchability is a social practice in which people from higher castes do not have any physical discourse with people from lower castes. They are considered impure and their lives are considered less precious.
- Traditionally, the groups characterised as untouchable were those whose occupations and habits of life involved ritually “polluting” activities, such as fishermen, manual scavengers, sweepers and washermen, etc.
- Untouchability is believed to have been first mentioned in Dharmashastra.
- Untouchables were not considered a part of the varna system. Therefore, they were not treated like the Savarnas which includes Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
Manifestation of prejudice against the untouchables or lower castes:
- Within the Government: The prejudice against the Dalits is prevalent within the government. Even top officials and ministers who are Dalits are insulted and humiliated with caste slurs.
- Exclusion from places of worship and spiritual significance: They are often prevented from entering any place of worship which is open to the public and other persons from the same religion, they are not allowed to be a part of social or cultural processions, including jatras.
- Discrimination against Dalit children: Dalit children are discriminated against when it comes to mid-day meals and getting access to clean toilets.
- Discrimination at institutes of higher education: The UGC guideline of prevention of discrimination in higher educational institutions came into light after University of Hyderabad student Rohit Vemula’s suicide.
- Violence against Dalit women: Dalit women are exploited in various forms including physical, emotional and sexual. They are employed as bonded labour as well. As a reaction, the Dalits have formed several organisations. Eg: Dalit Panther.
Government actions on untouchability:
- During the national freedom movement, Dalit activists had been calling for separate electorates for untouchables in India to allow fair representation.
- The British government had also proposed an Act called the Minorities Act, which had proposed to give guaranteed representation for Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and Untouchables in the newly formed Indian government.
- However, a separation within Hindu society was opposed by national leaders at the time such as Gandhi.
- He began a hunger strike to protest this type of affirmative action, citing that it would create an unhealthy divide within the religion.
- Later in Poona pact, Gandhi and Ambedkar reached an agreement that some proportion of seats in legislature and civil services will be reserved for Dalits.
- The 1950 A.D., national constitution of India legally abolished the practice of untouchability and provided measures for positive discrimination in both educational institutions and public services for Dalits and other social groups who lie within the caste system.
- To give effect to Article 17 (Abolition of Untouchability), the Parliament made an enactment viz., Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955. To make the provisions of this Act more stringent, the Act was renamed as the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. Further, in 1976 the Act was comprehensively amended to make it even more stringent.
- These are supplemented by official bodies such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
- Government has also been encouraging NGOs and civil societies to act as watchdog for Dalit rights.
- Government has also enacted Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 which looks after the violence against SC/STs.
- In August 2002, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) approved a resolution condemning caste or descent-based discrimination.
Constitutional debates on Untouchability:
The Constituent Assembly Debate on Draft Article 11 (Article 17) started on 29th November 1948. Draft Article 11 was about the removal of Untouchability. The then Article 11 is Article 17 of the present Indian Constitution.
- Nazirrudin Ahmed wanted to substitute the Article 11 with comprehensive definition “No one shall on account of his religion or caste be treated or regarded as an “untouchable”; and its observance in any form may be made punishable by law.”
- Mano Mohan Das was of the opinion that the removal of Untouchability is an important fundamental right.
- He further added that the word “Swaraj” will become meaningless as long as Untouchability is not abolished.
- Santanu Kumar Das proposed for the removal of social inequality.
- Professor K.T. Shah made a suggestion that the definition of Untouchability is nowhere given in the Constitution.
- He suggested making corrections i.e. to use a different word instead of using the word “Untouchability”.
- According to him, if a person is placed under disability for a period of time, he is treated as untouchable. His suggestion was not accepted by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
Factors responsible for miserable conditions of Dalits:
The idea that untouchability is caused solely by the caste system does not hold good. In fact, there are also other causes of untouchability besides the caste system.
- Racial Factors: One of the fundamental causes of untouchability is the racial consideration. A large number of races existed in India, but the Aryans who were advanced and civilised people, defeated the aboriginals of India.
- The concept of racial superiority of the victorious Aryans was responsible for maintaining connubium, commensality and restriction on social intercourse
- The practice of Untouchability: While laws (Article 17) have officially abolished untouchability, yet it is practiced across the country.
- Religious factors constituted the main cause of untouchability.
- Purity and divinity were assigned important places in religion.These were considered essential in motivating people to abstain from being engaged in impure occupation.
- Political reasons: Dalit movement, like identity movements across the world, has really narrowed its focus to forms of oppressions.
- Most visible Dalit movements have been around issues like reservations and discrimination in colleges, and these are issues that affect only a small proportion of the Dalit population.
- Today Dalits are perceived as a threat to the established social, economic and political position of the upper caste. Crimes are a way to assert the upper caste superiority.
- Economic reasons : Rising living standards of Dalits appears to have led to a backlash from historically privileged communities.
- The Delhi School of Economics has concluded in a survey that an increase in the consumption expenditure ratio of SCs/STs to that of upper castes is associated with an increase in crimes committed by the latter against the former.
- Rising income and growing educational achievements may have caused resentment among upper caste groups, leading to a backlash against Dalits.
- According to NCRB report, half of all atrocities committed against Dalits are related to land disputes.
- The increasing trend of privatisation of the public sector has also casted shadows on the potential economic upliftment of Dalits.
- Educational Institutions: In educational institutes too, the Dalits have been facing discrimination in various ways. For eg: In public schools, Dalits are not allowed to serve meals to superior castes; they often have to sit outside the classroom; and are made to clean the toilets.
- Even in higher educational institutes such as research organisations and universities, most of the faculty vacancies reserved for them are lying vacant and students are often discriminated against. For eg: The recent incidents of suicides of Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi clearly demonstrates the reality of discrimination against Dalit students.
- The research projects and intellectual properties of Dalit researchers and academicians do not receive as much attention as their Savarna counterparts.
- Workplace violence: The risky workplaces compounded with a lack of labour rights protection measures render migrants Dalit workers, especially women more vulnerable to occupational injury.
- Further, the emerging problem of subcontracting short-termed labour makes it more difficult for them to claim compensation when they are injured at work places.
- Dalit women are most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by employers, migration agents, corrupt bureaucrats and criminal gangs.
- The enslavement trafficking also contributes to migration of large proportion of Dalit women.
- Attitudinal changes: People from upper caste and lower castes both need to adopt attitudinal changes. While upper castes people need to encourage more inter-dining, inter-marriages, non-practice of untouchability, etc. people from lower castes need to give up reservation benefits if possible.
- Police reforms: Police need to be sensitised to take due notice of violation of Dalits rights and act stringently on such cases.
- Also, they must be sensitised to the basic human rights so that when cases against Dalits are filed, they must not make them subject to extreme mental and physical abuse.
- Straighten Dalit-rights watchdog institutions: Dalits fear reporting such crimes fearing backlash from the upper and privileged castes. Such barriers need to be dispelled by strengthening and reaching out to them through institutions already in place namely Nation commission for SCs, Judiciary, fast track courts, Media and Press etc.
- Pro-Dalit Labour reforms: Sensible labour laws reforms to empower Dalit workers including the option to exit for Dalits trapped in a system.
- Investment in skill development and availability of jobs: Huge investments will be needed in development of skills among Dalit workers. Increased availability of stable-wage jobs for women is critical to preventing their socio-economic exploitation. The Skill India and Stand-Up India are welcome steps in this direction. Government should also promote ‘dalit entreprenuership’ as entreprenuers from dalit community are often ignored by the investors.
- Bridging the deep-rooted biases through sustained reconditioning: It is only possible by promoting the idea of gender equality and uprooting social ideology of male child preferability.
- Sharing decision-making powers: Dalits must be made part of decision-making processes and appropriate powers and due position in governance must be conferred upon them.
- Bridging implementation gaps: Government or community-based bodies must be set up to monitor the programs devised for the welfare of the society.
- Empowering Dalit women: Dalit women need group and gender specific policies and programmes to address the issue of multiple deprivations.
- Dalit women also require comprehensive policies on health, especially on the maternal and child health
Model Mains Question:
- Discuss the extent of caste based discrimination in India and also explain the various forms in which it manifests in socio-economic spheres. Suggest measures to uplift the life standards of Dalits