In a seeming paradox, the latest National Crime Records Bureau data show that West Bengal, which at 214 lakh has the second highest population of Scheduled Castes, recorded just 85 incidents of crimes against SC in 2012. This works out to 0.25 per cent.
Uttar Pradesh has the highest population of Scheduled Castes — 413 lakh.
In West Bengal, among the crimes committed against Scheduled Castes there was not a single case of murder, dacoity, robbery or arson. Seven incidents of hurt were reported.
Asked for his comments on this seemingly unique sociological phenomenon, political theorist Partha Chatterjee of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata told The Hindu on Monday it would be considered impossible; there must have been more cases. “However, to my sense, in the normal course the police here do not record your caste. For example, in a case involving a Scheduled Caste person where there is a dispute over land, it would be recorded as a land dispute and not as a caste-related one. Maybe the absence of adequate Dalit movements here is a reason why the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 is not applied much.”
Professor Chatterjee added: “The practice of untouchability is very low in West Bengal society; it is not a general phenomenon. That sense of everyday practice of untouchability is gone in Bengal society.” Even if it does happen, it is mostly in terms of ritual-based rights where Dalits could be denied them, or in cases where the upper castes do not send their children to schools where midday meals are cooked by Dalits.
Dalit intellectual Kancha Ilaiah said the National Commission for Scheduled Castes should mandate police stations to register the caste identity of victims in order to understand the sociological aspects of victims. “Who gets killed, who gets attacked frequently, who gets raped, should be recorded in terms of caste identity.”
Mr. Ilaiah said the Left, which rules India’s consciousness, has not provided enough space for movements of equality in West Bengal. That is why Dalit movements have failed to emerge there. “Communist ideology there has kept other ideologies under its hegemony. Upper caste intellectuals failed to give space for Dalit intellectuals to thrive. Media and other social forums need to intervene and report on the Dalit situation there.”
Reacting to Mr. Ilaiah’s comments, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat told The Hindu it was because of Left mobilisation that the situation had totally changed in West Bengal. Dalit empowerment had happened in a big way, resulting in fewer crimes being committed against them. The role of land reforms and panchayat reforms, initiated by the Left, were of great social significance.
Caste has not fully disappeared in Bengal society, but unlike other parts of India violent incidents of caste discrimination do not happen there. “The Left has its weaknesses, but not recognising its role in the empowerment of Dalits by ideologues of Dalits is something that is unacceptable,” Ms. Karat said.