The Persecution of Dalits in India

The Persecution of Dalits in India

    The tragic slaying of a young Dalit child in India due to a trivial dispute is reprehensible and horrifying. This story illustrates how scheduled castes and tribes are still treated like animals in India, despite the country’s professed commitment to secularism and democracy.

    Even though the caste system has been abolished by law in modern India, the practice of untouchability is still common in many parts of the country. For example, in most of the towns and villages in Rajasthan, Dalits are not permitted to drink from the public well or access temples. In public schools, members of the Dalit caste are not allowed to serve meals to students from higher castes; instead, they are forced to sit outside the classroom and are responsible for cleaning the restrooms.

    In this piece, we will delve deep to learn who the Dalits are and what their current situation is like for them.

    Dalits are individuals who belong to the most subordinate socioeconomic group in the Hindu caste system. They are often referred to as “Untouchables.” The members of this group selected themselves the moniker “Dalit” in the 1930s. The word “Dalit” can be translated as “oppressed” or “broken.” A Dalit is a person born into a lower caste than the four primary castes that make up the caste system. These castes are the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriya (warriors and princes), the Vaishya (farmers and artisans), and the Shudra (tenant farmers and servants).

    Similar to the social outcasts known as “Eta” in Japan, the Untouchables of India were coerced to undertake tasks considered spiritually impure. These tasks included preparing corpses for funerals, tanning hides, and eliminating mice and other vermin. Any activity involving dead cattle or cowhides in Hinduism was considered excessively impure. Beliefs in Hinduism and Buddhism held that vocations involving coming into contact with death tainted the workers’ spirits and rendered them unfit for social interaction. For instance, a group of drummers who originated in southern India and were known as the Parayan were regarded as untouchable due to the fact that the drumheads they used were made of cowhide.

    Those born to Dalit parents had no choice but to remain in that caste and had no chance of advancing up the social ladder. Moreover, due to their uncleanliness in the eyes of the gods of Hinduism and Buddhism, they were forbidden from participating in myriad activities and locations because of the decisions made in their previous lifetimes.

    The policies of affirmative action (a series of measures taken to rectify the effects of unlawful discrimination against applicants, prevent further discrimination, and eradicate discrimination altogether), which are protected by the constitution, have had an advantageous impact on the representation of Dalits in educational institutions, jobs within the government, and elected posts. Despite these advancements, Dalits continue to be members of the most underprivileged class in Indian culture. The discrimination they experience is still prevalent in modern times.

    Despite living in cruel and degrading conditions, Dalits generally continue to make a living. Roughly eighty per cent of Dalits call rural areas their permanent home. The most pressing issue for them continues to be economic exploitation. They are nearly mostly subsistence farmers working on marginal land or landless labourers. As a result, many people are in debt and are forced to pay off their obligations as bonded labourers, despite the fact that this practice was outlawed by law in 1976. This is because many people are in debt. When this occurs, a labourer obtains financial assistance from a landlord or moneylender in exchange for an agreement to continue working for the creditor until the debt is paid off. In reality, it is hard to repay such debts due to the combination of high-interest rates and poverty, which forces the labourer into deeper debt. It is then conceivable for the debt to be passed on to the subsequent generation, and it is complicated to break out of the cycle of bondage.

    In certain regions, many high-caste landlords give their Dalit labourers minimum wages in cash, food, or nothing at all; resistance is frequently met with violence, which can occasionally result in the victim’s death or death injury. When Dalit workers have joined labour unions or made progress toward gaining education or economic mobility, mob violence against Dalit communities is commonly reported. Landlords sometimes lead this violence. This violence has been especially noticeable in situations where Dalit workers have gained economic mobility.

    In recent years, Dalit women have been hit particularly hard and disproportionately. They are disadvantaged not just due to the fact that they are female but also due to the fact that religious, social, and cultural norms have placed them at the bottom of the social order. As a result, they face discrimination. In addition, the stigma of “untouchability” makes them even more vulnerable to being exploited and abused than they already were. For instance, while sexual violence is an issue that affects women all over India and is encouraged in part by the frequent failure of the judicial system to secure justice for its victims, the situation is especially difficult for Dalit girls and women due to the additional discrimination they face: the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) reports that less than two per cent of rape cases against Dalit women result in convictions, compared to around twenty-five per cent of rape cases against women in general. This statistic compares to Dalit women have been almost wholly excluded from development strategies and programmes, particularly in the fields of health, education, housing, employment and pay, application of legal rights, decision-making and political engagement, and rural development.

    The national population policy is aimed toward population control and targets Dalit and other women for family planning programmes. This is done since women are the primary contributors to the population “explosion” and the poverty resulting from it. But unfortunately, there has been no shift in how society views these women, and they continue to be subjected to oppression, marginalization, and violation while also being almost completely forgotten.

    The continued existence of scheduled castes in the 21st century is something that gives me the creeps. Some unfortunate people are viewed like aliens on their own land, which is ironic given that today’s society is obsessed with exploring other planets and discovering extraterrestrial life. People are expected to be more connected to one another through a shared sense of humanity in this age of globalization. A violation of human rights in one nation or region is the same as a violation of human rights throughout the entire society in that nation or region. Despite this, we continue to treat some people who are marginalized with indifference and a lack of seriousness.

Caste pride is behind this centuries-old custom. The deep chasm that divides the society is made even deeper by this custom, a conspiracy to trap us in the whirlpool of inferiority 

-Om Prakash Valimiki 

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