India is a democratic country where everyone is treated equally and with respect. India is a developing country with a sound legal and economic system in place and even though there are some disparities that exist, people are taking immense efforts to remove those and make it an egalitarian society. This is what we have all heard, right? But do we think it is true? Dalit (meaning ‘broken or scattered’ in Sanskrit) refers to the people belonging to the lowest caste in India characterized as untouchables.
While in the olden ages, in Hinduism, there existed the caste system dividing people into four castes (namely brahmas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras), Dalits were seen as forming the fifth caste also known by the name of Panchama. Constitutionally, they come under the title of Scheduled Caste and according to the 2011 Census of India, they comprise of 16.6% of India’s population.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the treatment of Dalits has been a like a ‘hidden apartheid’ and that they ‘endure segregation in housing, schools, and access to public services’. While Dalits constitute 25% of the Indian population, they account for 33.2% of prisoners.
Casteism is not followed in urban cities but in the rural and backward areas of India, it is still prevalent. The situation is not that they are being disregarded in the society or not being given equal opportunities but rather, atrocious acts being committed only because they are Dalits. We already are aware about many of the instances when these acts were carried out but apart from voicing the wrongdoings on social media platforms, nothing else is done.
The Hathras gang rape case has not been an isolated event. It rather is one of the numerous instances where “upper caste” men have violated Dalit women to enforce caste hierarchies and silence the Dalit community.
The latest crime data shows that Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra are hotspots for crimes against women, particularly Dalit women. Kerala has the highest number of rape incidents per 1,00,000 Dalits.
Dalits do not even have access to justice because in many instances, it is the police who are the ones carrying out violence against the Dalits. When the justice and legal system fails, they don’t have anyone to turn to and thus, endure the torture that is forced upon them.
In the media, only some instances come to light but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of incidents that are going unheard of. The government had introduced the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act in 1989 which was aimed at curbing and punishing violence of Dalits but it doesn’t seem to have made any significant impact.
A Dalit found burning holika for Holika Dahan ceremony, was tortured and paraded naked in the villages. In some parts of India, there have been allegations that Dalit grooms riding horses for wedding ceremonies have been beaten up by upper caste people because it is considered to be a tradition carried on by upper castes. In 2015, people burned houses and vehicles belonging to Dalit families and slaughtered their livestock in reaction to Dalits daring to hold a procession at a village in Tamil Nadu. In 2015, it was claimed that a panchayat ordered the rape of two Dalit sisters because their brother eloped with a married Jat girl of the same village. These are some scattered instances but things like these are being carried out every single day.
Even during the coronavirus pandemic, Dalits were among the worst hit by the strict lockdown that had been imposed during the initial stages. They often had to wait longer for their turn to receive food or financial aid at local distribution points, and even being turned away. Most of the Dalits are involved in low paying jobs and not having a source of income for so long has made the situation worse for them.
While we talk about #BlackLivesMatter, it is utterly hypocritical of Indians to not talk about caste discrimination in the same way. So many people belonging to so many different castes face harsh discrimination from society but not a lot is being done to rectify that. For the most part, people have simply accepted the fact that casteism is a part of India and will always be the same way.