Dalits as easy targets

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:51 pm IST

Published - October 23, 2015 12:04 am IST

The > murder of two children of a Dalit family in Faridabad is part of a disturbing pattern of violence against the Scheduled Castes in Haryana. National Crime Records Bureau data put the number of incidents of crimes against Dalits in Haryana in 2014 at 830. The corresponding figure for 2013 was 493; for 2012 it was 252. Haryana has often been in the news for all the wrong reasons so far as the question of caste-related incidents are concerned. It has witnessed many major atrocities on Dalits before — including the > Jhajjar killing of five Dalits in 2002 , > the burning of Dalit houses in Gohana in 2005 , and > the killing of two Dalits at Mirchpur in 2010 . These atrocities apart, the State has been notorious for its > Khap (clan) panchayats that have hit out against marriages outside a given caste or within a clan. Successive State governments including the present one led by the Bharatiya Janata Party have been unable to show the resolve to confront such tendencies up front. Political leaders have generally shied away from questioning the regressive aspects of tradition in the State. However, Haryana isn’t the lone culprit where violence against Dalits is concerned. NCRB data show high incidence of such atrocities in States such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, among others.

Despite two crucial laws to deal with crimes against Dalits – the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 – the high incidence of violence against them is disturbing. While this shows the social vulnerability of Dalits even decades after reservation and dedicated laws meant to uplift and empower them were put in place, the gradual improvement in their material status may in fact have led to a rise in atrocities. For, increased Dalit independence and assertion are not to the liking of the dominant castes, especially in the countryside. There is little doubt that the rise of a middle class among Dalits since Independence — thanks largely to the reservation policy — has made these issues politically sensitive. With Dalits emerging as a pressure group constituting about 16 per cent of India’s population, any such incident leads to a political outcry. One such was witnessed on October 21 when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited the village and political leaders in poll-bound Bihar tweeted about it. Their votes have made the voice of the Dalits matter to an extent. But all this is still primarily at the level of political discourse; more needs to happen on the ground. The answer would perhaps lie in sensitising the police to act with alacrity in cases in which people are denied their right to life with dignity, and in more effectively communicating egalitarian ideas vis-à-vis caste within society. Unless Indian society makes amends, such incidents will keep sullying the country’s name.

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