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Past As Living Present :
Calamity And Discrimination

By Subhash Gatade

24 September, 2006

(“[U]ntouchability, is a kind of disease of the is a mental twist.. I do not know how my friend is going to untwist the twist which the Hindus have got for thousands of years unless they are all sent to some kind of hospital.’
Dr B.R.Ambedkar , 1954 , Quoted in Bhagwan Das, 95 :53).

ater is said to be a great leveler. But even the ravaging flood waters which have created a havoc like situation in the districts of Barmer and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan just failed to crack an age old structure - the walls between caste.

Reports coming in from different parts of these flood affected districts of Rajasthan have indicated how victims belonging to the Dalit castes were being hounded out of the relif camps by dominant castes, who believe that their entry would 'pollute the sanctity of camps.' Leave accomodation, or the relief camp toilet facilities, dalits are even being denied food and water.The hatred towards the dalits run so deep that even in these hours of common tragedy the dominant castes are vehemently opposing the drainage of water from the worst affected dalit majority Malwa and Kawas villages.

Looking at the studied silence maintained by the articulate sections of our society over these developments, dalit groups in Rajasthan have formed a monitoring committee to look into complaints of discrimination against dalits in relief and rehabilitation measures. It would also try to ensure that the Dalit victims of caste discrimination are rendered justice and get a fair deal. (The Hindu, 13 th September 2006)

The plight of dalits in Rajasthan facing a calamitous situation echoes similar chain of events in the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami which had killed thousands of people. One of the leading newspapers had then revealed it all. ‘There’s something even an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale and a tsunami that kills over 1 lakh people can’t crack : the walls between caste. ..' It presented details of how Dalits from 63 affected villages from Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu were facing the brunt of the powerful Meenavar fishermen (a Most Backward Class).

Here also dalits were being thrown out of relief camps, pushed to the rear of food and water lines, not being allowed to take water from UNICEF facilities and in some cases not even being allowed to use the toilet. ( Indian Express January 8, 2005). Comparing the situation vis-a-vis Dalits in Nagapattinam and Barmer, it was easy to infer that the dominant castes have rather shared notes with each other.
Anyway one thing is quite clear. May it be the question of 'feudal' Rajasthan or Tamilnadu which is normally lauded for a history of social reform movements or Gujarat, the 'successful model of a Hindutva lab' - which had no qualms in pushing dalits to the margins in the post-earthquake period - whenever the question rendering justice to the dalits is concerned even during a calamity, one hardly notices any difference.

In all such cases of caste discrimination, where the offenders of dalit human rights could be easily identified and prosecuted, the role of the state and its various agencies has always been found to be wanting. The unwritten consensus among the functionaries of the state is not to ‘disturb the social equilibrium’ at such a crucial juncture. A social activist present in Nagapatinam had indignantly told the reporter ,”..No one is willing to take up the matter at the field level as this could complicate things.”

The approach of the state and its agencies thus once again vindicate what the n number of reports brought out by the National Commission of SC and STs have been repeating ad infinitum. The broad conclusion of the various such reports is that the different institutions of the state ranging from the police to the judiciary have rather preferred to look the other way or have connived with the powers that be in saving the guilty when dalits and other oppressed sections were humiliated or were subjected to violence. And one has no other option but to concurr with the view of the ex justice of the Supreme Court Mr V.K. Krishna Aiyar that the laws formulated for the protection of the dalits have been effetively been turned into ‘paper tigers’.

For an outsider it may appear surprising how the ‘social nausea’ ( to quote Ambedkar) refuses to subside even in times of calamity also. But for someone who is familiar with the Indian social fabric the ageold doctrine of exclusion legitimised and sanctified by the Brahminical ideology culminating in such behaviour is a ‘routine matter’. There is need to understand that incidents of such nature (as witnessed in Barmer or Nagapattinam) demonstrate how this ideology of purity and pollution has permeated deep down the social fabric of our society. Discrimination on the basis of caste even while faced with a calamity is a logical outcome of the common sense which gets built up in such an ambience.

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