This is nothing new. The word “Dalit” means “broken”. A large section of our society –our sisters and brothers- have lived “broken” for centuries. Somehow, we have learned to live with it, for the privileged among us have internalised that these are lesser mortals who do not deserve to be bracketed with the rest of us. Human rights are, really, not for “them”. They are doomed to lead a shadowy existence somewhere beyond the backyard of full citizenship.
Of course, there have been enlightened voices against this perversion- from Lord Buddha to Ambedkar; but the best of them have failed to make a dent on this age-old curse. Atrocities on Dalits continue like a running sore on the neck of India, as slavery did in Europe.
The issue is, fundamentally, not about caste. It is about money. Caste is a mechanism of exclusion, driven by money, but misrepresented as sustained by something else. It is man’s invention; God has nothing do with it. Caste is a sanctified form of pro-elite reservation – reserving the resources of our country to a tiny, privileged section of our society. Caste and money meet in corruption. Corruption by lower caste and OBC agents is viewed and felt like a separate category.
Consider just one example. When UPA-1 crafted MNREGA, it was denounced by the social and economic elite as a ‘criminal waste of national resources’. The outlay on account of MNREGA is peanuts compared to the money looted from our banks by the richest in this country. According to Prime Minister Modi’s statement in the Parliament, it stands at ₹52 lakh crores. This mega loot is known by the respectable name of ‘non-performing assets’.
If a rich man steals – actually robs you and me of our precious little savings kept with banks – it is assets. Assets, for whom? If a poor man steals ₹100 from anyone, it is theft, and a loss. This mentality is the root of the problem. But we rarely talk about it. We dare not even admit this to ourselves.
Man becomes violent and murderous when his unmerited economic privileges are touched. The psychology underlying this needs to be noted. These social parasites are used to obscenely outlandish lifestyles, marked by criminal wastefulness and mind-boggling exhibitionism. Being nothing in themselves, yet wanting to be gods walking on terra firma, they need to show off. What can they show off, except what they have looted from the common man? They cannot work for their wealth. So, all they can do is to rob the rest of us.
Fortunately for them, and dangerously for us, they have brains, sharpened by centuries of soulless education. So, they can misrepresent everything to their advantage. They have succeeded in creating a vast system in which keeping millions of our fellow human beings exploited, suppressed and broken is a done thing. The poor are seen as a national burden. So, many of us don’t experience the sort of indignation – righteous anger – we would have, otherwise.
Now consider another example. During the Padmaavati (Later changed to Padmaavat) imbroglio, a school bus ferrying students of a posh school in Gurugram was attacked. It created a national uproar. Not long thereafter, nine school children in Bihar were crushed to death by a well-connected politician. About twenty more were seriously injured. It didn’t bother anyone. It was not news.
How we treat a human being depends on what is the worth we ascribe to them, based mostly on the communities they belong to. If the life of Dalits is worthless, they will remain forever vulnerable to atrocities. So, what needs to be addressed is not just these episodes of cruelty and oppression; but the “status” of these degraded people. So long as we do not recognize Dalits as our sisters and brothers, these atrocities will continue.
Now come to the Supreme Court’s embarrassment. Going by the statement of the Honourable Judges concerned, the impugned order was passed based on the pleadings of the government. This is, I am afraid, an unfortunate situation, especially for the Supreme Court. The explanation the Hon’ble Court has offered is a greater embarrassment. The order was passed based on the arguments of the government. Was the Court convinced of the legality and the Constitutional validity of the pleadings and the resultant order? Or, did it allow itself to be overpowered by the gravity of the establishment?
Now, the very same government approaches the Court to undo the harm, realizing it to be politically costly. What does it think of the Hon’ble Court-a tool of convenience or what? The Court has no option to stand by its verdict, lest it discredits itself by seeming to be a pliable tool in the hands of political masters.
Also, consider the logic that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has proffered. The provisions the concerned Act are liable to be abused. I wonder how many laws are there anywhere in the world which are not liable to be abused. The abuse of a law is a problem, mostly, extrinsic to it; though it is certainly sensible, and necessary, that every law needs to be as wholesome as possible. But if by trying to build a bulwark against likely abuses of a law, we defeat, or compromise, its purpose, there’s really a problem.
The sensible thing to do is to ensure that abuses are addressed and punished.
Providing for pre-screening in the exercise of legislation meant to protect Dalits against atrocities can effect – clearly unintended- of robbing the Dalits of the opportunity to take advantage of the provisions. It could amount, de facto, to alienating Dalits from these provisions.
The fact that this is not intended does not mitigate the harm it is undoubtedly to inflict on Dalits.
Youth Ki Awaaz report highlights the atrocities inflicted on Dalits, ironically, even in the course of struggling for their basic legal protection. Non-state militias like Karni Sena could brutalize them with impunity. How many of these agents of extra-judicial street justice will be held to account is a question that is pointless to raise. And that’s exactly where we are today.