‘Not law, but mass movement needed to deal with discrimination’

March 02, 2019 10:50 pm | Updated 10:50 pm IST - Bengaluru

What started off as an exploration to find a comprehensive law against caste-based discrimination, ended with a sobering realisation for two activists: laws do little to curb the complex nuances of discrimination and instead a mass grass roots movement may be necessary.

Four years ago, Sunil Mohan and Rumi Harish, both transgender activists, set out to talk to activists and scholars to understand forms of caste discrimination and find a legal solution to it. Their report, ‘Conversation on Caste Discrimination in South India’ released on Saturday, comes to the conclusion that a comprehensive law would be fraught with “legal, conceptual and administrative loopholes.” The report is published by Alternative Law Forum.

“The discrimination of Dalits close to Tumakuru is different from the discrimination in Mandya. There are so many forms of discrimination that no law can cover them all,” says Rumi Harish.


Their interviews with over 90 activists in four States in South India point to several loopholes in existing laws. For instance, they quote instances of people from socio-economically castes finding it difficult to find houses on rent from upper-caste landlords. The discrimination is more subtle, but difficult to prove in a law where the burden of proof is on the victim. Over four years, the activists explore the various forms of discrimination in education, livelihood, among others.

“The legal and psychological violence from upper-castes is widely prevalent and spread. Look at the food restrictions and the vilification of non-vegetarian food even in hostels,” says C.G .Lakshmipathi, social scientist.

Sunny M. Kappikad, Dalit rights activist and scholar, said: “Our existence itself is a form of discrimination. The tradition system (referring to Manusmriti) has dominated and remains a hurdle in inclusiveness.”

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