The atrocities on Dalits are increasing at an alarming pace even after the enactment of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which got recently amended in 2015 making it a toothless act to serve the interests of the marginalized communities. The provisions of the act have been moulded in a way to again hold Dalits accountable for the crimes committed against them.
The ‘cure’ for caste-based violence relies mainly on the legal and social system in our country. As the legal provisions have proven to be inadequate in delivering justice to the oppressed community, the society needs to play a more proactive and robust role to curb violence against Dalits. The idea of social duty is ultimately formed by the collective of individual activities.
But most of the time we do not comprehend the possibilities and need for such actions. We often pass it on as a work to be done by others, as it is not our responsibility. Every day we engage with articles, news, and podcasts, social media hashtags, and a feeling of sadness does emerge within us on the name of violence but in the end, we take a back seat and put the onus to voice out against such an act on others.
To prove our hatred and non-compliance to the caste system, we often announce our friendships with individuals from a lower caste, which itself reflects the hypocrisy attached to it. We don’t identify all our relationships based on caste but as soon as we talk about a lower caste person, the caste becomes an indicator of our disloyalty to the caste system.
Why the ‘issue of caste’ gains popularity only when it concerns lower castes? The upper castes are never questioned and scrutinized for their actions over the decades. On the contrary, the dismissal of the existence of caste by upper-caste shows their power to influence the popular discourse which is structured to fulfil their interests.
Until it’s not ‘personal’, we don’t pay attention to the atrocities inflicted upon one section of the society. We play along the power lines and reserve the best for us, whether we may deserve it or not. But the society doesn’t work in linearity, what is happening in one end will eventually affect the other end, it’s all connected. So, if an individual gets raped or murdered in the remotest corners of the country, the after-effects of it, in any imaginable or unimaginable form, will eventually come to the glass sealed penthouses of the city.
With the amount of knowledge I have gained in my life through experience, circumstances, and theoretical pursuits, I think the first step which we need to take to question the caste-based violence is ‘acknowledging our privilege’. We need to understand that the ‘surname’ does bring social, economic, political, and cultural privileges. We need to accept that a poor Brahmin will be put into a higher social status than a rich Dalit due to customary rules, although the percentage of Dalits being more influential, economically, is very less.
The urban centres claim to be built upon class structure rather than caste structure, discarding caste as a rural phenomenon and the oxymoron of meritocracy and non-existence of caste in cities is widely propagated. If that is the case, why are the caste atrocities happening in cities as well? Why the newspaper advertisements contain different columns based on caste to seek marriage proposals?
Why are Dalits still not allowed to enter the temple or treated differently in households? Why are slurs such as, ‘chamar’, ‘bhangi’, commonly used in a way to demean a person or a community? These are the questions one can witness in the routine if one is conscious about it, but if these are accepted as customs and traditions, and clouded by prejudice, these agents of caste system will survive and thrive for many centuries. And, also, if the cities are not casteist, then why there is a huge demand for reservation amongst the upper caste people?
How ironic is it, that although we blame the reservation system in the name of inequality and bluntly criticize the idea of affirmative action, we want reservation based on caste. It is a complete opportunist idea of the caste system. The upliftment of a few is not the upliftment of all, moreover, that upliftment is also limited to educational and economic aspects and does not penetrate the boundaries of socio-cultural set-up.
The second step which can prove to be pivotal in the Dalit struggle is we cannot speak ‘for’ the community, but we can, and we must ‘speak out’ for them. The whole attention has to be put upon the distress and oppression rather than what we feel about it. Let the voices be heard in a way that it doesn’t fade away the cause behind it.
If we are a part of the struggle, we should pass on the mic, the mic should be with the oppressed. We must stand and support as an ally but never try to become the face of the struggle.
The third and one of the most important steps is to create spaces for the people to come out. Believe them on the first account rather than asking for the evidence first-hand, as there is a whole system behind the oppression and a marginalized individual is too powerless to bring out facts and figures which support the harassment. The experience should be given due importance and acknowledgement. We need to bring individual testimonies out on public platforms, as when the oppression is reported from the standpoint of the oppressed, it does not require the theoretical formulations to bring out the validity.
The annihilation of caste, as described by Ambedkar, is a social process that puts a responsibility upon each individual to stand up against the caste system for creating a just and egalitarian society. But our blindness and unparalleled devotion to the evil and unreasonable norms of the society have led to the failure of peace, failure of individual consciousness, failure of justice, and ultimately to the failure of humanity. We behave in a way that we are stuck in the maze of the caste system but the truth is we are the creators of the maze.
Featured Image Source: Press Trust of India