NewsIndiaTimes - page 24

News India Times
August 26, 2016
Special Report
– that’s all you need to know
Continued from page 22
Their feelings of anger and
disappointment have reached
the shores of the United States
as well.
Ram said quoting media
reports that the Dalits, who
were tortured, did not kill any
cow at all as alleged by their tor-
mentors, but were only skin-
ning the animal. “In India,
chamars who are members of
the Dalit community tradition-
ally skin dead animals for hides
for their livelihood.
They do what upper caste
Hindus have traditionally
assigned them to do like skin-
ning dead cows or buffalos. So,
Dalits are doing their duties
according to the laws of the
upper caste Hindus. Why then,
they should be tortured and
beaten up. It’s a shame on the
society,” Ram said.
Ram, an undergraduate in
science from a Punjab universi-
ty, asked what kind of inde-
pendence it is that treats Dalits,
who are legally called
Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes, so inhumanly
so many decades after inde-
pendence, and what kind of a
government is that whose offi-
cials call on people to celebrate
the country’s independence
while they turn a blind eye to
such atrocities. “What will be
celebrated August 15 in India
and elsewhere is the country’s
independence from the British
Rule, but not the freedom or
independence of its hundreds
and thousands of people who
belong to the Dalit community
who are yet to be liberated from
the shackles of poverty and
exploitation and oppression by
the upper caste,” Ram said.
The Condition Of Dalits
Dalits, who have traditionally
been considered untouchables
in India’s caste-ridden society,
account for about 16.6 percent
of India population, according
to the 2011 Census figures. But
data about their socio-econom-
ic condition indicate a very
sorry state of the community
Dalits’ control over the
resources is less than 5 percent,
and close to half of the popula-
tion lives under the poverty
line, and 62 percent are illiter-
ate. Among the Dalits, most of
those engaged in agricultural
work are landless or nearly
landless agricultural laborers.
“If you look at the statistics
and visit India’s rural areas, the
villages where 70 percent of the
population lives, you will be
convinced that nothing has
changed for Dalits, independ-
ence or no independence. So, I
don’t see any special reason for
Dalits, who are treated as sec-
ond class citizens in India, to
become jubilant on this
Independence Day,” Suraj
Yengde, an associate at the
Department of African and
African American Studies,
Harvard University, where he is
finishing his PhD said in
response to a question.
Boston-based Yengde, a
native of Maharashtra who is
simultaneously working on the
peripheral identities of the
global south space, with the
Centre for Indian Studies in
Africa, University of the
Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,
noted that the problem of
Dalits is not the problem of
Hindus at all. “Those who claim
a generalized, uniform Hindu
identity are actually well aware
of the non-existence of such a
thing. Caste is the real identity
for a Hindu,” he said in a tele-
phone interview.
An attorney by profession
from Maharashtra, Yengde said
that the data and statistics show
that Dalits have poor access to
education, healthcare and gov-
ernment resources, or business
capital. “I am appalled to see
that Dalits are the worst-per-
forming social group in India
since the country’s independ-
ence, although some people
would tell you that this is not
the case and that some
improvements have been made
in their socio-economic status,
and that in terms of upward
mobility in political life, Dalits
have made some progress. But I
can tell you that these kind of
propaganda and has not basis
whatsoever, and not true at all,”
he said. “Dalits have no access
to the entire political system,
except a little bit of political
space because of reservation.
And that is all,” Yengde said.
Sandeep Chavan, an IIT
Bombay-trained computer
engineer from Maharashtra
who divides his time between
Boston and Bombay, gave an
example of the highly-trumpet-
ed government programs for
the community’s development.
He said not much has
changed in terms of facilities for
education in government
schools in villages where the
majority of the children are
from poor families and are of
Dalit background. Citing the
example of a school in a village
near Hyderabad where he was
born and raised and had his
schooling, he said the school
remains more or less the same
since he want there some 20
years ago in terms of facilities
for learning, number of trained
teachers to impart lessons, and
most importantly in terms of
attitude of higher caste Hindus
for Dalit kids who attend the
He said nobody seems to be
concerned that the school, or
for that matter other schools in
rural areas of India, do not even
have proper toilets for girl stu-
dents, not to talk about com-
puters or other facilities for
education. “The sufferers are
everybody, but mostly students
from the Dalit community as
most children in such schools
are from our community only. I
was very lucky in the sense that
my parents were able to spend
some money to later send me to
a better private school and then
to Bombay, there I got admis-
sion in IIT. But I would say that
my case is more an exception
than a rule,” Chavan said in
response to a question.
Both he and Yengde agreed
that there is no reason for the
community to feel proud about
the country’s independence
and ritually rejoice over it,
adding that when the Dalits
experience real social and eco-
nomic progress and are treated
as equal citizens in India, only
then Dalits will come forward to
take part in spontaneous cele-
brations over India’s independ-
ence. “Nobody will have to call
upon us to join such celebra-
tions once we are treated as
equal citizens of India.”
Yengde argued that politi-
cians’ claims about Dalits’
progress are basically hollow
and are not borne out by facts.
He said that liberalization and
reforms of India’s economy that
are often touted as a poster of
the beginning of India’s march
towards development have not
changed the conditions of
Dalits. “If it had changed their
plight, why then the Dalits con-
tinue to work as landless labor-
ers? Actually, the reforms were
not meant to reform the eco-
nomic status of our people.
People talk about ‘Prosperous
India, “Innovative India”, or
‘Shining India’, but there are no
Dalits in all those ‘Indias’. That
is a real pity,” he said.
The point was highlighted
during the centennial com-
memoration of Ambedkar at
the Columbia University in June
1913. There, the speakers
brought to the attention of the
100-odd members of the audi-
ence about the urgent need to
bring the marginalized section
of the India’s population under
development umbrella.
Professor Angana Chatterjee of
the University of California,
Berkeley, mentioned the point
forcefully without making a ref-
erence to Ambedkar. Reading
out from her paper on
‘Subaltern Counter-memory’,
she noted that while the bene-
fits of development and the
political and economic deci-
sions made as a nation have
enhanced the quality of life for
many in India, these very indi-
cators of development tell “a
discouraging story of persistent
inequities leading to the brutal-
ization of marginalized groups.”
“Basic human rights,” she
said, “such as the rights to life
and livelihood, health care,
education, and freedom of
expression, still linger outside
the grasp of India’s disenfran-
Historical Legacy
While all agree that Dalits’
problems need to be addressed
without delay, many say that it
is easier said than done because
of vested interests and apparent
apathy of political parties for a
lasting solution. Critics of the
Bharatiya Janata Party, led by
Prime Minister Narendra Modi,
allege that the recent spate in
violence against Dalits is a
direct sequel to the rise of radi-
cal Hindu supremacist ele-
ments within the party which is
said to be tied to the Sangha
Parivar. But some Dalit-history
experts in the U.S. argue that
the exploitation and oppression
of Dalits predates the coming to
power of the current BJP gov-
ernment in 2014.
“The lower castes in India
have suffered exploitation for
thousands of years. In fact, in
post-independence period, the
Dalits have suffered virtually
under all governments, but
what is happening under the
new BJP government now is
that the frequency of attacks on
the members of the community
has increased. I think more
than the law and the
Constitution, upper caste
Hindus seemingly have more
faith in texts like Manu Smriti,
an ancient legal text on
Hinduism that was one of the
first Sanskrit texts translated
during the British rule of India
Continued on page 26
Freedom Struggle, Continues
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