A few months ago, I was invited to an adult education centre in Caceres, a small town in western Spain, to give a talk about India. Like every New-Gen optimistic Indian, I had a very enthusiastic story to tell – a 5 thousand-year-old history, rich philosophical traditions, in an interlude, a colonial setback, and finally, a speeding march of economic development.
Obviously, I would make a PPT with maps, spiritual-looking people in trademark yoga postures, the Taj, mighty castles and forts of Rajasthan, adorned southern temples, showing the recent changes in cities with the time-lapse – and all of these coupled with quotations of stalwarts from the West and the East about the country. A typical picturesque depiction of India!
I concluded – a functioning democracy envisioned by humanist Gandhi, liberal Nehru, and modern Ambedkar.
A gentleman sitting at the back, immersed in listening, suddenly sat erect and asked – “Democracy? What kind of democratic society is riddled with the caste system, and prosecutes the lower castes?” As an optimist, I said, “At a slow pace, but things are changing.” Changing yes, but it is not enough.
Change is a good thing and it should happen in order to carry forward the civilisation towards a better destiny. But, not the kind of change introduced by the apex court on March 20, 2018, in the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, observing “rampant misuse”.
Such a decision contrasts the NHRC’s concerns. According to a news report published on January 20 in the ToI, amidst the rising violence by the cow vigilantes, the commission expressed concern over the tardy implementation of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989, and the Rules of 1995, and said, “There was delay by the state administration to take positive action for redressal of grievance. There was also delay in providing the statutory monetary relief in several cases, observed the commission.”
Chandrabhan Prasad, a Dalit academic, notes, “By 1980s, a crop of Dalit officers in the bureaucracy had become visible, now seeking positions of departmental heads, for instance. By this time frame, the orthodox caste Hindu society felt threatened, spoiling Dalits’ ACR-Annual Confidential Report, became an unstated movement. This very special social situation created conditions for the need of the Dalit Act 1989.”
If the powerful armour of bureaucracy cannot protect a Dalit, then imagine one who resides at the margin of village settlements in rural India. This act, which was amended in 2015 to cover newer forms of discrimination and crimes against lower-caste communities, should have changed in order to strengthen the victim further, and not the other way around – but alas! It seems that rampant violence against the lowest of Indian caste rung happens so often, and is assumed to be justified by the casteist social laws. It is so natural that the upper-caste sensibility has stopped reacting.
The worst show of empathy surfaced when news channels came up with sensational dystopian reporting as if a mob was trying to end the great Indian civilisation. Circulation of anti-reservation messages on WhatsApp accelerated suddenly, and many fake videos of protesters killing the policemen hit social media.
On the ground, other communities locked horns with the protesters – and Raja Chauhan, a BJP worker from Gwalior, was captured firing his pistol at the protesters. In the other instances, the upper caste celebrated their valour by tagging a video of a shopkeeper firing at the protesters, circulating it on social media and portraying it as having taught the Dalits a lesson.
It is even more appalling to read the comments on YouTube or social media against the protesters. However, it tells the real tale of Indian society.
The hatred towards the lower castes is so deep-rooted that this argument against reservation is often given – why is it not stopped for those who have enjoyed the benefit once? This argument reflects the aversion towards the mere presence of Dalits in the shared public space or the system. How many times have such questions been asked to the generational bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers, judges, army officers and professors of premier institutions? How long will we turn a blind eye to the junta of educated elites functioning like the mafia?
When can the connotation of reservation as a form of representation hit our brains? Democracy is not theocracy, aristocracy or the much-touted meritocracy of the Indian elites sitting above all the forms of capital. Democracy has to guarantee a minimum representation of its citizens. If not, then it is useless.
Finally, no matter how picturesque we depict India to be, how many successful economic stories we may narrate, unless the sense of equality, fraternity and liberty do not replace the rubbish aversion towards castes, to see a developed India is a distant dream.