The practice of ‘untouchability’ has its roots in India’s caste system, which is supposed to be more than 1,500 years old. Unfortunately, it still exists in some form or the other. A person’s caste is decided by virtue of their birth, not after. When a person is born into a particular caste, it ‘traps’ the person inside its confines. The ‘untouchable’ or the ‘outcasts’ are those people who are among the lowest in the social hierarchy, who face the maximum oppression.
We often live in the comfort of our cocoon in a city or developed town. This comfort often makes us think that there is no caste-based discrimination or untouchability. But we are wrong – so wrong! It may not be as regressive as it used to be, earlier – but it does exist.
Dalits still face discrimination in getting access to houses, schools and public services. They are denied food and are forced to do the ‘dirty work’ which others don’t. Dalit women are an easy target for upper-caste men. In fact, between 2001 and 2002, close to 58,000 cases were registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
I have often seen people discriminating against their domestic helpers in a city like Bangalore. Here, I have seen people keep separate vessels and utensils for the helpers – and they even refuse to pass on these things for fear of direct contact.
Dalits are forced to perform tasks, which are deemed to be polluting or degrading – and this includes cleaning the drainage system, septic tanks, and clearing human and animal waste.
Dalit students are discriminated against in education institutions, which often results in low literacy and high drop-out rates among the Dalits.
Considering that even India’s ‘Hindu’ neighbour, Nepal, has no qualms in recognising caste-based discrimination, it’s time that India properly recognises that such discrimination exists in our country. Furthermore, actions need to be taken to address the issue.
Whenever we talk about caste discrimination, there are people who are quick to point out that they don’t see any discrimination and that everyone is equal. This merely shows the privilege of these people – nothing more.
We can’t make changes in our system that will correct centuries-old wrongs, or even immediately transform the ground reality in India. But we can aim for something that will gradually bring changes over a period of time, which will eventually destroy discrimination.
In the US, the Civil Rights Movement did not suddenly make everything all right. Nor can these issues be resolved quickly. After all, they take years to be resolved. Similarly, in India, it will take years to get rid of the system which has been used to discriminate against people for centuries.
However, we should start the change from today, so that our kids don’t grow up in a society which discriminates against people based on their caste.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.