By Amarpreet Kaur:
India is a land of myriad diversity. The varied cultures and traditions, the cuisines, the flora and fauna, the festivals, the religions and their associated rituals; all form a wonderful kaleidoscope that is unique and cannot be found elsewhere across the globe. Despite these differences in culture, one thing that every Indian takes pride in is the fact that ‘We the people of India are a united lot’. To put it the other way, ‘unity in diversity‘ is the thread that binds all the people of the nation together; we all work as one for the betterment of our country so that it can reach higher pedestals of success.
How can a united India have place for a caste system? This is the question that we are faced with. How can there exist a system wherein you treat certain people in a certain kind of way depending upon the ‘caste label’ that the family they were born in, bears. Caste system in simpler language is nothing but division of the society into different classes on the basis of peoples’ inherited social status and the nature of the work that they do. Unfortunately, such a system has had a huge negative influence on the way people belonging to certain sections of our society are being treated. We talk of environmental issues; we talk of world peace and the likes; but what about the caste system? First we created this so-called ‘divide’ on the basis of caste and then began ill-treating our very own fellow countrymen. On a personal note, the present plight of the ‘Dalit’ community in India is something that breaks my heart.
Let us go a little into the background. The roots of the caste system can be found in ancient India where the Hindu society was divided into four classes namely: the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Brahmins were the priests and the scholarly people; Kshatriyas were the warriors; Vaishyas the merchants and Shudras the labour class. The worst part came when certain people began to be treated as ‘untouchables’ altogether. They were looked down upon in society. With passage of time, these people came to be known as ‘Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes’ or sometimes as ‘Dalits‘. The nomenclature changed from time to time but what remained static was the social status of these people.
To protect the interests of these people, the Government of India passed the ‘Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act’ in the year 1989. Article 17 of Indian Constitution seeks to abolish ‘untouchability’ and its practice in any form is forbidden. It is basically a “statement of principle” that needs to be made operational with the ostensible objective to remove humiliation and multifaceted harassments meted to the Dalits and to ensure their fundamental, socio-economic, political and cultural rights.
The law is there, but sadly the implementation has not been effective at all. Don’t agree? Then check out this stat which says that three Dalit women get raped, two Dalits are killed, and several of them beaten up on a daily basis. To say that this is shocking would be an understatement. The height of discrimination that Dalit children face in schools can be gauged easily from the fact that they are made to sit on the last benches of classrooms; the food they eat is simply thrown at them from a distance. The Dalit people cannot enter temples; they cannot bathe in the same ponds as do the people belonging to the so-called ‘higher’ castes; employment opportunities are denied to them in most of the cases; they are beaten up on many occasions; their women are sexually abused and harassed. This is really hard to digest; nobody has the right to treat an individual in that manner!
The very objective with which the ‘Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act’ was passed has not been achieved. The major reason behind this failure is that the people involved in the implementation of the Act; the police and the judiciary; all belong to the ‘higher’ castes. The appointment of a Dalit as an officer in police or as a judge is something that has rarely been heard of. Besides, a number of provisions pertaining to safeguarding the interests of the community, the children and women in particular are missing from the Act. These loopholes have only added to the woes of these people.
The Government needs to look at things seriously and press for making amendments in the Act at the earliest if these people are to be brought at par with other sections of the society. We all see India as a developed nation; but what we have forgotten is that development does not happen in isolation. You cannot expect your country to be amongst the top countries in the world if you have a substantial population of your society living in such pathetic conditions. Development is an ongoing, wholesome process which can only come through when all people can contribute equally. That said and done there is also something called individuality and self-respect as well. I personally feel that all these trivialities that we are so caught up with, the ‘caste system‘ included, are a creation of our small minds. Every human being is special and has full right to lead his or her life with dignity and utmost respect. So stop humiliating others.