Trigger Warning: Caste-based atrocities, Violence
“That wretch has shut her mouth,” said her aunt. “Then pour it down her ears and nose. Do whatever it takes to kill her. Her actions led to this. She deserves to die,” said her father.
This is not an excerpt from a story. In 2003, a couple, a Dalit youth named S.Murugesan and a Vanniyar girl named D. Kannagi was forcefully fed poison because of inter-caste marriage. When the girl refused to open her mouth, the poison was poured down her ears and nose.
You might have believed that, by now, discrimination based on caste should have been erased from human minds. But that’s just a belief after all. The perceived lower castes – Dalits, Atishudras and OBCs consisting of 70% of the total population in India are still the puppets of powerful positions. They are not just socially, economically, educationally backwards but also in aspects of receiving respect and values from the oppressive society.
They face social isolation, ostracism, oppression, untouchability, vituperative behaviour, daily, by the upper castes, often denied rights, lampooned, suffer because of sordid actions of various politicians, leaders, lawmakers and keepers. Honour killing has been prevalent since a very long time, and almost 75% of these never-ending heinous crimes against the apparent lower castes go unreported. Honour killing is a collective decision taken by the family and community.
There are ‘Caste Camps’ in Tamil Nadu to curb a woman’s activities into respecting the principles of ‘purity and honour’, persuading and dissuading girls of a particular backward community from inter-caste marriages, especially with Dalits. The funds of these camps are dependent on community and family patronage.
The case of Maruthi Rao, who killed his pregnant daughter’s husband on the way to the hospital by hiring thugs reminds us of the mentality which still exists. He explained to the police that he loved his daughter, but his status in the society mattered more.
We live in a country where it is considered to degrade your value and position as a person in society if there is a relation between two different castes in the family. Not just caste but the economic difference, religious belief, colour of skin, social status, the background of the family, and the list is endless!
The constitution consists of several laws protecting these oppressed communities. Still, none of them is implemented or administered properly; there is a lack of judiciary initiatives which mars the effectiveness of even a strong act like the Scheduled Castes and Tribes ( Prevention of Atrocities ) Act, 1989. Article 15 and 16 states that there should be no discrimination based on caste, religion, race or place of birth on any grounds.
Article 46 shall promote the education and economic interest of weaker sections, namely SC and ST. Article 243D, 243T, 330, 335 ensures and reserves seats for higher posts like panchayats, municipalities, Lok Sabha, services in connection with the state. Article 338 establishes the national commission for scheduled caste which monitors and safeguards these laws provided in the constitution.
But are these laws enough to drive out discrimination and the atrocities hurled upon them? According to BR Ambedkar,
Caste is a notion, a state of mind. Destruction of caste does not therefore mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional change.
He believed that the destruction of the belief in the sanctity of shastras could bring a change in the betterment of their condition.
Fear of power and fear of losing one’s life is greater than saving another life. It’s human nature. Hence, even the most honest and honourable police officers or activists, found one in a crowd of thousands are forced to switch sides because of threats from the higher authorities. And if they don’t, they are burdened with the fate of death by murder with no justice.
The struggles of the Dalit activists are highlighted by the recent incident of Arvind Bansod in Nagpur. The voices of the oppressed are suppressed, and no one, out of fear, can fight for them.
The community itself is incorporated with the idea of illogical marginalisation of Dalits and OBCs labelling as lower statuses (from the shastras) and a prevalent patriarchal society ruling over women in the community is what leads India to be the only country with caste discrimination.
The service offered by Dalits and OBCs is such an integral part of our daily life that a day without them will turn our world upside down, and we will be absolutely helpless. It is our duty as a human being to treat another human being with utmost respect and honour regardless of their profession, economic status in society or caste.