In 1945, George Orwell, in his allegorical novella ‘Animal Farm’, put forth the idea — “All men are equal but some men are more equal than others”. It is so befitting to this day. At a time when urban India is being defined by the emerging economic power, globalized culture and trends, and gleaming city life, there lies an execrable and harrowing portrait of caste ridden rural areas behind this glittering faÃ§ade. It is so appalling that despite 67 years of freedom from the yoke of imperialism, we are not yet free from our own social vices of stigmatizing the people belonging to the so called ‘lower castes’. What this article intends to bring forth is the gut-wrenching, sordid saga of the plight of Dalits and their frequent subjection to oppression, violence and marginalization.
On October 19, 2014, Sai Ram, 15, a goatherd in the Mohanpur village of Bihar, was badly beaten and then burnt alive because his goat strayed on to the paddy field of a man belonging to a higher landowning caste. In another instance, on October 23, 2014, a Dalit family of 3 was butchered in Javkhede Khalasa — Kasarwadi village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra indicating a case of ‘honour killing’ which has become utterly ubiquitous. In September 2013, a 22-year old Dalit youth was stabbed to death by his girlfriend’s parents in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh. In July 2013, E Ilavarasan, a Dalit youth from western Tamil Nadu’s Dharmpuri district was killed following a failed inter-caste love marriage. In April 2014, Umesh Agale of Deopur village, Maharashtra, and a 17-year old Dalit boy of Ahmednagar met the same fate.
Furthermore, the likelihood of poor Dalit women being subjected to atrocities, sexual violence and oppression increases manifold as a congruence of factors — gender, caste and class, make them outrageously vulnerable to such grotesqueness.
Dalits have long faced massacres and gang-rapes.
On October 8, 2014, six Dalit women were gang-raped by upper caste-landlords in Bhojpur district of Bihar. On October 3, 2014, a 23-year old Dalit woman was dragged out of her farmhouse and gang-raped by five men in Gunga village of Madhya Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh, a 19-year-old Dalit girl and two teenage girls were allegedly raped and murdered in separate cases.
National Crime Records Bureau reports that there were 1346 cases of rape of Dalit women in 2009, which rose to 1557 in 2011 and 1576 in 2012. As per its data, more than 4 Dalit women are raped every day. It is needless to mention that these numbers represent a mere fraction of crimes against Dalit women as most of the cases go unreported.
Against the backdrop of this gross cruelty exists a socio-economic and politically engendered caste stratification. ‘Dalit’ is a category characterizing the people who have been broken, ground down and trampled upon by social groups above them in a deliberate manner. Dalithood reveals the inherent denial of dignity, the practice of untouchability and the karma theory of caste hierarchy. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, in his fortnightly ‘Bahishkrit Bharat’, said “…. dalithood is a kind of life condition which characterizes exploitation, suppression and marginalization of Dalits by the social, economic, cultural and political domination of the upper castes’ ‘Brahminical ideology’”. There have been movements in the past to eradicate social inequities and laws have been made to ensure justice to the oppressed castes, but all in vain, probably because of the perfunctory effort and resistance by certain sections of the society to integrate it completely into the consciousness of the masses, as well as a complete failure to deal with it ontologically. In fact, it is noteworthy to mention how someone like Gandhi erred in his approach while dealing with this social ill. He coined the term ‘Harijan’Â , meaning ‘children of god’. It has a metaphysical connotation without deriving epistemological and political strength from the material social experience of its subjects. He obviously misconstrued and strayed away from the reality because, if at all, these people seem to be the children of a ‘lesser’Â God. A God whose children are subject to continual subjugation.
The Dalit category has perpetuated because of a deliberate and artificial construction by the State and the political machinery, especially opportunist Dalit politicians, who shows people the abstract and rather utopian idea of annihilating caste. The State traps Dalits into perennial passivity which then effectively subordinates them to the construct of pools and patronage. The access to this structure of patronage constitutes Dalits as subjects of doles and charity rather than parity.
The torture, repression, victimization and marginalization of them will linger on unless a radical mobilization for social integration, forging of an autonomous political identity, and a discursive space is created which will enable Dalits to participate in finding solutions to their own substantive problems. Social justice, which is a cornerstone of the State’s existence, must be rendered to them not just in a court of law and justice, but also in a court higher than that – the court of conscience. Any law, any legislation, any provision will be futile unless justice is delivered and as Frederick Douglass aptly said “ Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe”.