FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Equality denied
Posted:Oct 12, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Sukhadeo Thorat 
 
The steps, if any, initiated by the government through a special session of the Lok Sabha on atrocities after the Una incident last year, have not had an impact on the violence against Dalits in Gujarat. On the contrary, there has been an increase of incidents which the Supreme Court had earlier described as “offences being shockingly cruel and inhumane”. From 1995 to 2015 about 9,926 incidents have been registered — about 473 per year — under the Protection of Civil Rights Act (1955) and the Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989). The annual number of cases has jumped from 212 in 2013 to 1,010 in 2015. This trend indicates a growing caste divide in rural Gujarat.
 
The question is: Why are Dalits denied equal rights despite laws against such a denial? Why is violence, not democratic methods, used to resolve caste issues? Although B.R. Ambedkar was instrumental in developing legal and other measures to ensure equality, he was not very optimistic about the effectiveness of some of these measures and he offered alternatives. Now that political parties have seemingly begun to respect Ambedkar’s vision, it will be useful to recall his views on the limitations of the present policies and the solution he offered for troubled times such as these.
 
It was Ambedkar who brought the ban on untouchability under the purview of the fundamental rights in the Constitution and later helped to enact the Untouchability (Offences) Act (1955). But he was more aware of its limitations than anybody else. In his view, laws could be effective if violated by an individual but not when the entire community is opposed to the rights of a minority. He quoted Edmund Burke: “There is no method found for punishing the multitude. Law can punish a single solitary recalcitrant criminal. It can never operate against a whole body of people who are determined to defy it. Social conscience is the only safeguard of rights. If social conscience is such that it recognises the rights which the law chooses to enact, the rights will be safe and secure.”
 
Unfortunately, in Ambedkar’s view, the social and moral conscience that governs the caste system does not support equality. The social beliefs that support inequality continue to influence the behaviour of “high” caste people in the villages. This belief system is at the root of the denial of rights and the use of violent methods against Dalits. The past does not remain in the past; its legacy continues to influence behaviour towards Dalits. Matters are made worse by the motive behind the denial of equal rights — the preservation of economic and social status.
 
Ambedkar argued that the actions of people are a natural outcome of their belief in caste codes. Unfortunately, there is no engagement by the government and high-caste Hindu civil society with people who practise untouchability. On the contrary, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. As studies show, till recently, atrocities were often motivated by caste consciousnesses, but the current wave seems to be driven by an ideology which expresses faith in a hierarchical social system, although there is an occasional symbolic display of concern about the persistence of caste and untouchability. It is this ideological boost which has, perhaps, revived and lent moral support to the denial of rights and the use of violence against Dalits. What is required are direct efforts towards building a social consciousness in support of equal rights for Dalits. Nothing else will work if a majority of the higher castes in villages are determined to oppose equality.
 
Along with legal and social hurdles, Ambedkar was equally aware of the economic and demographic imbalance between Dalits and high castes in villages. In 1942, he observed: “It is a contest between the Hindus who are economically and numerically strong and the untouchables who are economically poor and numerically small… the chief weapon in the armoury of the Hindus is economic power which they possess over the poor untouchables living in the village.” To correct this imbalance, Ambedkar suggested a geographical and economic distance between high castes and Dalits in the villages and argued for separate settlements or villages for Dalits, with independent sources of livelihood. Ambedkar was aware that the proposal may be “dubbed as an escapism”. But he defended it on the ground that the “consequence is perpetual slavery”. The uninterrupted cases of atrocities since 1955 would seem to bear out his apprehensions.
 
Ambedkar also advocated the gradual move of Dalits to cities. He saw the urbanisation of Dalits as a path to free them from the exploitative milieu in the villages to relatively harassment-free social spaces in cities. He thought this solution would be relatively easy. The government has declared a big housing plan, which could be used to transfer Dalits to urban areas in a phased manner over a 10-year period. The Indian government has the experience of settling lakhs of refugees during Partition, providing land for settlement, jobs and money for a business. Therefore, what Ambedkar had suggested is not a new or impossible task — it is something we have done before successfully.
 
Ambedkar also argued that without securing equal rights for about one-fifth of the population — Dalits — we cannot become a true nation. In 1946, he warned: “The Nation is not a physical thing in which certain objective characteristics, such as commonality of language, race, territory, etc persist. Nation, on the contrary, is a spiritual reality binding people into a deep comradeship… It is a feeling of possessing things in common in life, of communication, participation and of sharing with all those who constitute one nation. Nation is a mode of associated living, of conjoined communicated experience.” Thus communication, participation and sharing with all those who constitute one nation is the key to nationhood. Twenty-one year old Jayesh Solanki was watching a garba dance celebration in a public space in Gujarat for which he was killed. Ambedkar’s idea of a socially inclusive nation is in the making but there is a hard and long way ahead of us to make it a reality.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has confirmed his presence for the occasion. In an exclusive interview with INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS, Indonesia’s Ambassador to India, Sidharto R.Suryodipuro, reminded Nilova Roy Chaudhury that the first Chief Guest for India’s Republic Day celebrations, in 1950, w
 
read-more
The words of Ho Chi Minh  “Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty” rang true for the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan when, with increasing brutality, the West Pakistani oppression spread across the land, writes Anwar A Khan from Dhaka
 
read-more
In a significant boost to New Delhi's Act East Policy, India and Japan set up the Act East Forum on Tuesday as agreed during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to India this year for the annual bilateral meeting that would help to focus and catalyse development in India's Northeast.
 
read-more
  United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated on Friday Washington's warning that “all options are on the table” to meet North Korea's nuclear threat while offering to keep the lines of communication with Pyongyang open.
 
read-more
The 15th trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China concluded in New Delhi on Monday with many nuanced takeaways embedded in the joint statement of 46 paragraphs. Reiterating that the forum “is not directed against any other country”, the statement underlined the importance of the establishment o
 
read-more
The first thing that one sees when a flight approaches New Delhi is thick smog that envelopes the city and its lack of greenery.  In almost all other major cities of India lack of greenery is the most obvious sight that one sees when approaching it by air.
 
read-more

Pakistan has agreed to allow the rupee to depreciate after holding talks with the International Mone­tary Fund (IMF) on the country's economy.

 
read-more

Two major global changes in the past year; the ‘Brexit’ referendum and the advent of Donald Trump, writes Sandeep Kaur Bhatia

 
read-more

It is also imperative for India to explore other regions for markets. Its trade deficit with Latin America has been narrowing. Also, its trade with Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala has increased, ...

 
read-more
Column-image

Over the last 25 years, India's explosive economic growth has vaulted it into the ranks of the world's emerging major powers. Long plagued by endemic poverty, until the 1990s the Indian economy was also hamstrung by a burdensome regulat...

 
Column-image

Title: A Ticket to Syria; Author: Shirish Thorat; Publisher: Bloomsbury India: Pages: 254; Price: Rs 399

 
Column-image

Gorichen, a majestic peak in the Eastern Himalayas at an altitude of 22,500 feet, is the highest in Arunachal Pradesh. Beautiful to look at and providing a fantastic view from the top, it is extremely tough climb for mountaineers.

 
Column-image

It is often conjectured if the reason for long-standing conflicts and insurgencies, in the developing world, especially South Asia, is not only other powers fishing in troubled waters but also the keenness of arms industries, mostly Western, to...

 
Column-image

Title: The People Next Door -The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations; Author: T.C.A. Raghavan; Publisher: HarperCollins ; Pages: 361; Price: Rs 699