Thursday, June 23, 2011


According to the Constitution of India, Untouchabilty is an offence punishable with a fine or imprisonment in jail for two days. But the practice of untouchability continues and Dalits continue to live outside villages, excommunicated from society. They are denied entry into temples, they are not allowed to share community wells, they are forced to drink water from separate glasses in some rural cafes, and they are frequently attacked or abused if any sign of defiance is shown. This reluctance stems partially from ignorance and also from peer protection.

The Prevention of Atrocities act (POA) is a tacit acknowledgement by the Indian government that caste relations are defined by violence, both incidental and systemic.  According to a 1999 study, nearly a quarter of those government officials charged with enforcing the Act are unaware of its existence.

Worse still are the roles of schools and teachers in perpetuating untouchability and sowing the seeds of caste-related discrimination in young minds. The Dalit children are often discouraged by teachers and fellow students belonging to caste Hindu social groups. In many schools Dalit pupils were not allowed to share water with caste Hindus. To punish an erring or naughty Dalit boy teachers scold him by calling him by his caste name. If the teacher decides that the boy needed a beating as punishment the task was assigned to another Dalit boy. There is also systematic refusal of admission to Dalits in certain schools particularly at the plus two levels.
In some villages during the temple festivals Dalits are supposed to stay hidden from caste Hindus. The two-tumbler system under which Dalits and non-Dalits are served tea in different vessels is still prevalent in some teashops. In some eateries they are compelled to sit on the floor.

What Should Be Done?
Both upper castes and the lower castes need liberation from the oppressive religious ideology which is at the heart of this terrible situation. The Dalits themselves need economic self-sufficiency without which they will be unable to survive. Any long-term solution to this deeply entrenched problem will require a social, cultural and moral transformation of society.
The basis of everyone's rights lies not in their religious identity or affiliation but in their humanity. Dalits need education and training in Human Rights. As victims of superstition, they need exposure to rational thinking. The succour and superstition of another religion will do little to change the lot of the Dalits. The problem of untouchability is more than an issue of law and order - it is a deep rooted, millennia-old malady that afflicts society. Unless the Dalits have belief in themselves and are empowered to assert their own humanity, unless they themselves discover their inherent human dignity, they will continue to be where they are - on the extreme margins of society. But empowerment of the Dalits will can only happen when their fractured movement unites on the basis of democratic principles.
Emancipation is a personal achievement, and the victim needs to enact his or her own emancipation. Others - be they Humanists or Hindus or Christians or Muslims - can only help as facilitators. And the facilitators must remember that the Dalits need education, not pity, justice, not charity.

"God never made man that he may consider another man as an untouchable."- MAHATMA GANDHI


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