Of Dalit Human Rights
By Goldy M. George
27 April, 2005
rights is one crucial aspects being prominently discussed these days.
It is more critically conversed in the wake of growing atrocities against
the historically deprived group. Dalit human rights has become an international
issue and organisations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International,
Minority Rights Group and Anti-Slavery International are making Dalit
Human Rights a priority issue and are concerned to raise the issue internationally
in UN bodies, governments and the public-at-large.
For the most part,
the international community, particularly the general public residing
outside of India, is unaware that untouchability and daily/routine forms
of caste discrimination are still practised in India. However, in recent
years an increasing number of human rights organisations and bodies
are coming to recognise untouchability and caste discrimination as a
gross human rights violation.
Since caste still
operates as a defining condition in establishing marriages, social relations
and access to employment, millions of Dalits and other former low-caste
people remain behind in education, employment and access to wealth.
Although untouchability and casteism is banned in India, discrimination
is widely practiced, and statistics draws the logical conclusion that
there is a broad correlation between one's economic state and one's
position within the caste hierarchy.
The government may
boast of economic progress and grand new development schemes, such as
highways joining major cities or plans to interlink major rivers, but
it has failed to address issues like education, caste and gender discrimination
and the rural-urban gap. The result is continued upper-caste dominance
in professions, business, and culture
to face the wrath of the caste lords and are denied of human dignity
and their rights including a just share in the resources like land,
water, mines, aqua resources, etc. The indigenous people continue to
fight for their identity and dignity. Their right to a decent dignified
life is under severe threat.
Dalit Human Rights
In a recent speech
at the release of the National Human Rights Commissions (NHRC)
"Report on Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes"
authored by K.B. Saxena, Justice A.S. Anand the Chairperson of the NHRC
called upon the government to adopt a rights based approach and not
a welfare based one in addressing the condition of the people belonging
to the Scheduled Castes (Dalits). Terming the continuation of discrimination
and atrocities against Dalits as shameful, Justice Anand blamed mainly
on the societys "indifference" and "refusal to
change its mindset".
Dalits has its distinctiveness of being embedded in the social structure
of the dominated by the upper caste. It is the caste-based hierarchical
structure that lays down the norm of conduct for human relationship
between its more privileged groups and the subdued and subordinate ones.
The report also says, "it is the caste relationship in Hindu society
which is getting disturbed by forces of pressure both from above and
below. The frequency and intensity of violence is an offshoot of desperate
attempts by the upper caste groups to protect their entrenched status
against the process of disengagement and upward mobility among lower
castes resulting from affirmative action of State policy"
The ground has thus
been made more fertile for tension and unrest to grow in many parts
of the country. The situation has also turned ripe for communal and
casteist forces to sow the seeds of division and discord and indulge
in violence. Dalits, being the most vulnerable of the poor are the worst
hit, with atrocities against them continuing in a number of states.
The violence takes brutal forms and turns into acts of atrocities against
the whole group of people, such as massacre, rape, burning of houses
and through more subtle methods like social boycott, which intended
to block their access to basic necessities and services.
Whenever such atrocities
against Dalits involving loss of life and property are reported, human
rights and Dalit activists complain that the police are generally reluctant
to file cases under the stringent provisions of the Atrocities Act.
They generally book cases either under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or
at best, under the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act, 1955, much
milder than the Atrocities Act. This often results in the culprits going
scot-free. Leaving the culprits scot-free is in a way arming them which
in fact gives them more confidence and courage to carryon such activities
without any difficult in future.
The Atrocities Act
was enacted mainly with the intention of giving more teeth to the earliest
Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 (amended and renamed as PCR Act),
and for creating a deterrent against physical violence. The Act brought
new types of offences under "atrocities" against Dalits by
the non-Dalits and provided for more rigorous punishment for the guilty.
the Act also covers policemen and enforcement authorities who fail to
protect Dalits from atrocities. It empowers special courts to extern
"political offenders" from scheduled areas and tribal areas
and attaches the property of an offender, and prohibits the grant of
anticipatory bail to the potential accused. It also provides for the
payment of compensation to victims of their legal heirs.
Power is another
major ground leading to mass scale atrocities against Dalits. Power
particularly in terms of political power through reservation and other
policies of compensation had resulted in drawing hatred from the upper
caste segment. This has widespread in rural areas particularly with
the awakening of Dalits at the panchayat level.
The important factor,
which has contributed to the Dalit situation vis-à-vis the panchayat
system, is the nature of Indian society, which of course determines
the nature of the state. The Indian society is known for its inequality,
social hierarchy and the rich and poor divide. The social hierarchy
is the result of the caste system, which is unique to India. Therefore
caste and class are the two factors, which deserve attention in this
There has been a
sharp increase in violent manifestations of casteism in local communities
ever since the local government system got strengthened through the
Constitution amendments. When the panchayati raj institutions have been
seen by the upper castes as the tool for the lower castes to assert
their right as individuals living in a democratic polity the latter
have become targets of caste based discrimination and violence. This
rising unrest at the local level has become a common phenomenon.
It is evident that
the upper castes that have been controlling the affairs of the village
and the community and the rural economy cannot tolerate the changes
that are being brought about by the decentralized democratic institutions.
Therefore, from the beginning of the implementation of the panchayat
system, tensions, violence and killings have taken place in order to
resist the transformation.
The elections to
the local government bodies have been the first and foremost point of
attack by the casteist groups. From the very first election under the
new system, the rights of the lower castes to participate in the democratic
process and hold positions were questioned by the upper castes. The
classic case is that of a village in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu,
a southern state in India. In Melavalavu, the dominant castes of the
area murdered the panchayat president and the vice-president who both
belonged to a Dalit community, merely because they dared to fight the
panchayat elections. When Melavalavu was declared a panchayat reserved
for the lower castes in the October 1996 local body elections, the dominant
castes resented this and the polls could not be held. The second attempt
to hold elections was also foiled by violence and booth capturing. Finally,
when the elections were held on December 30, 1996, the upper castes
boycotted it. Members of the lower caste were elected as president and
vice-president amongst others despite stiff resistance from the upper
castes, but they were never permitted by the dominant caste to enter
the new panchayat office. Finally on June 30, 1997, the president and
vice-president along with three others were murdered in broad daylight;
their only crime was that they had been elected through the democratic
These kinds of violations
continue unabated even today. The local body election in the same state
the upper castes suppressed the rights of the lower castes to exercise
their franchise. Similar incidents have occurred in most of the states.
The northern states, which are prone to more caste conflicts, are witnessing
human rights violations after the introduction of the new phase of panchayats.
There are a number of instances indicating the presence of powerful
caste elites that continue to thwart attempts for a constitutional resolution
of social justice issues at the village level. The frequent reports
on the killings of Dalit men, women and children are not only restricted
to backward states, where the process of decentralization of power to
the local level has not really taken off. Caste violence is part of
the social reality.
In the last panchayat
elections in Bihar, over 96 people including a magistrate and several
candidates were killed during the polling and more than 40 candidates
were murdered in different districts between notification of polling
and filing of nominations. Studies have shown that most of these killings
were the result of caste war
Even after duly
getting elected, the Dalits are not getting the power and status they
deserve. They are made to sit outside the panchayat offices, on the
floor while the traditional village headmen occupy the chairs. Even
when upper caste groups are committing atrocities against the Dalits,
the latter do not have a supportive redress mechanism. It may also be
mentioned that the police (law and order machinery) is not under the
authority of panchayats. The people belonging to the lower castes are
being subjected to unabated atrocities particularly through the connivance
and collusion of the state administration and the local police. In many
instances, cases are not even registered against the perpetrators (who
are mainly the upper castes) by the police who are greatly influenced
by the upper castes or majority of whom belong to the upper castes.
Another ploy to
make caste hierarchy acceptable to all was the strategy of introducing
an extensive system of 'graded inferiority', providing everyone with
an inferior grade immediately beneath them. How could the Dalits leave
the gods and goddesses of the upper caste and worship their own? Is
it not against their caste rule? Such aspects are also supplementing
to the list of atrocities.
Dalit Human Rights
and Land Rights
The owners of the
land are today landless; that is Dalits. Historically they are one of
the long persecuted humanities betrayed of rights over land and any
form of resources. In an age of globalisation and marketisation, the
life values sustained through the community life and love are constantly
diffusing and substituted with competition.
Land is a productive
asset but people are more emotionally attached with the land in many
ways. For many it is the symbol of their freedom. To some it is the
image of their fight against the upper caste. It also represents the
mark of reiterating the lost identity. To many it is the icon of self-determination,
co-existence and community feeling. But to the corporate sector and
agents of development it is a commodity to be consumed. The state also
takes side with these so-called think tanks. Land can be purchased and
sold for commercial purpose. Or even it could be acquired forcefully.
Every time the common man sacrifices himself for the relish and enjoyment
of the elite.
In most part of
the country Dalits are either small or marginal farmers or landless.
Analysing it from the historical viewpoint they are the first plebeian
community of the country. Due to the obvious paucity of land or resources
or employment the largest number of migrants from one state to another
is Dalits. Sizeable numbers among them are bonded labourers too. Their
life condition is wretched and extremely inhuman. Women and children
are subjected to atrocious harassment and torture, particularly in the
Looking back at
the land struggles in the past, the participation of Dalits in land
movement quite is sizeable in various parts of the country, particularly
in the armed movements. In fact the character of the ruling class towards
the Dalits was the same in almost every part of the country. One of
the principal reasons of the post Naxalbari march, by hundreds of rustic
poor and landless peasants taking up arms in their hands, was the growing
unrest among the Dalits against the upper caste Hindus in West Bengal.
However non-of these
movements emerge into a Dalit land rights movement with a perspective
of social change in the basic knitting of the structure. One prime factor
of the failure of the Indian working class movement was that upper caste
bourgeoisie who never wanted to change the basic social frame mostly
led it. Therefore the realisation of change in the brahminical social
order could not be internalised.
At present a strategic
method of further seizure of their land and property is lucid and visible.
In many places the land occupied by them is deliberately targeted under
different guise such as rural development programs, building schools,
road construction, etc. Another method is through the intervention of
middleman, who provides them with loans during the occasion of marriage,
death, birth, festivals and celebrations, and in return mortgage the
land. Many such cases have come into light.
Hence the whole
question of land rights of Dalits has gone into oblivion. The implementation
of land reforms has been subverted by the absence of political will
and bureaucratic commitment, loopholes in the law, tremendous manipulative
power of the landed class, lack of organisation among the poor and excessive
interference of courts. Therefore the intended benefits to the poor
in general and particularly the Dalits failed to materialise. From various
studies and reports yet another reason for the failure of land reforms
is the failure to update land records in all states. In addition to
this tardy implementation of legal and legislative initiatives, judicial
delay in setting up disputes, inadequacy of the laws and so on had contributed
a lot in affirmation of Dalit land rights in India.
Dalit Human Rights
As we are in an
age of globalisation, it has become very difficult for the common man
to survive. One of the major conflict in this area is the claims vis-à-vis
the facts. The state claims something, which is exactly the opposite.
"Development" of poor and poverty "eradication"
has become the buzzword in the market. Everyone - the government, multinationals,
industrialists, etc. - claims that they strive for development. In fact
development and eradication are diametrically opposite to each other.
Today development is one of the most hatred terms among the common man.
The winds of privatisation
under the Economic Reforms have already shaken the very foundations
of the Reservations. The Reforms clearly envisage the minimalist government.
Wherever the Reforms patterned on the Structural Adjustment Programme
of the World Bank were carried out, denationalisation of the public
sector and privatisation have come in a big way. Being the late starter,
India has not reached the scales achieved by others, say, the Latin
American countries. However, is not unimpressive. Almost all sectors
of economy stand opened up for private investment. Initially the disinvestment
of public sector companies began with 49 per cent by the policy. The
public stake being more than 50 per cent, the public sector as such
was not dismantled in policy. However, the reform package has already
crossed all boundaries by disinvesting PSUs like BALCO by 51%. Now all
PSUs are open for disinvestments by 51% or more. Even the case of the
transformation of telecommunication department to BSNL is the same story.
Hence reservations had been wiped off through these politics.
The Reforms have
already resulted in freezing the grants to many institutions and in
stagnating, if not lowering, the expenditure on education. The free
market ethos has entered the educational sphere in a big way. Commercialisation
of education is no more a mere rhetoric; it is now the established fact.
Commercial institutions offering specialised education signifying the
essential input from utilitarian viewpoint have come up in a big way
from cities to small towns. Their product-prices are not only based
on the demand-supply consideration in their market segment but also
are manipulated by their promotional strategies.
In a true spirit
of globalisation, many foreign universities are invading the educational
spheres through hitherto unfamiliar strategic alliances with non-descript
commercial agencies, of course at hefty dollar equivalent prices. Many
elite institutions like IIMs, IITs, and suddenly facing fund crunch
had to raise their fee structure and other prices many fold. They were
already beyond the reach of Dalits. When they eventually turn self-financing,
their prices would be benchmarked against their international counterparts,
which any way would be affordable to the same top market segment that
constitutes the focus of all the Reform-talk. As the job markets become
acutely competitive, owing to a sharp decline in job opportunities,
the polarisation between the elite and commoner has sharpened. Various
kinds of price barriers would be erected to thwart the entry of downtrodden.
Let us look at how
World Bank and IMF act in this manner. World Bank one of the key innovators
of globalisation along with International Monitory Fund (IMF) had invented
concrete steps of marginalisation of nation and its people. Former Chief
Economist of World Bank Joseph Stinglitz says that there are four steps
the IMF adopts towards damnation. Step one is "privatisation".
This is the luminous idea to sell off state industries and nations other
industrial assets. In most of the nations privatisation is parallel
to briberisation, where everything could be easily through simple commissions.
The second step is "capital market liberalisation". In theory
capital market deregulation allows investment capital to flow in and
out. Unfortunately as in many cases the money simply flowed out and
out. Stiglitz calls this the "hot money" cycle. Cash comes
in for speculation in real estate and currency, and then flees at the
first whiff of trouble. A nations reserves can drain in days,
At this point the
IMF drags the gasping nation to step three: "market based pricing",
a fancing term for raising prices on food, water and cooking gas. This
leads, predictably to step three-and-a-half: what Stiglitz calls, "the
IMF riot". The IMF rioting is painfully predictable. When a nation
is "down and out, the IMF takes advantage and squeezes the last
pound of blood out of them. They turn up the heat until, finally, the
whole cauldron blows up". One would almost get the impression that
such riots are written in plan and yes! it is. For example the "Interim
Country Assistance Strategy" for Ecuador in it the Bank several
times states with cold accuracy that they expected their
plans to spark, " social unrest", to use their bureaucratic
term for a nation in flames. This IMF riots cause new panicked flights
of capital and government bankruptcies.
Step four is "poverty
reduction strategy": free trade. This is free trade by the rules
of World Trade Organisation and World Bank. This is all about opening
market to outsiders. Today the World Bank can order a financial blockade
just as effective and sometimes just as deadly. Particularly
the intellectual property rights treaty has "condemned people to
death". "They dont care", says Stiglitz, "if
people live or die".
From the above analysis
it is clear that all aspects of resources are drawn away from the people
living in poor nations. Decolonisation of erstwhile colonies invariably
saw the elite take control of political power. Naturally they were inclined
to capitalism preferring to inherit the colonial state its laws,
structure and character rather than to transform it fundamentally
in ways to respond to the most urgent needs of the oppressed sections.
The development process initiated by the organs of the state
built on the edifice of the colonial structure, while evolving into
a full blown neocolony, had to content with political threats of fundamental
nature. The political compulsions, when confronted by the state and
ruling classes, evoked invariably responses to manage and control the
threats themselves. These took the form of co-option, diversion, fragmentation,
outright suppression or combination of these, depending on the extent
that these challenges posed.
The state provided
a semblance of mitigating problems without actually having to resolve
them in fundamental ways. In effect globalisation is fueling the whole
program of neocolonialisation. Globalisation is nothing but the spreading
of capitalistic regimes all over the world controlled by a few. This
will end-up the remaining space of Dalits within the existing system.
Now the question is where does the whole question of human rights fit?
Dalits already the recipient of all flaws and defects of the social
fabric, will there be any space for them in the course of globalisation?
Whether the four-step principles of IMF-World Bank-WTO trio going to
leave Dalits out of its grip? The plain answer to all these quests and
quires will be a big NO!
deprivation, exclusion and exploitation are endemic to every society,
which leads to frustration, anger and aggression. Those who are subjected
to injustice and oppression tend to rebel and revolt. These reactions
culminate in assertion which give rise to peoples movements. But
social movements are not an everyday phenomenon. Discrimination and
deprivation always do not lead to protest and aggression. Only when
people become conscious of these inequalities and injustices and mobilise
and organise themselves to struggles against those who subject them
to servitude and bondage, peoples movements takes place. Moreover
when the disadvantaged and the downtrodden see that another alternative
is both possible and viable they try to overthrow the existing social
The question of
Dalit Human Right is not just a matter of addressing the atrocities,
but at large it corroborates to the affirmation of land rights of Dalits,
resisting the forces of globalisation, communalism, casteism, patriarchy
and so on. This paves the way for collective action. Collective action
leading to peoples movements results in social change. This is
the ethical course of addressing Dalit human rights.