Dalit March

mk gandhi

Dalit Arts & Culture

Caste Untouchability

What governs the daily life of a Dalit is discrimination on the basis of caste. Discrimination manifests itself through visible practices such as separate drinking water wells, segregated housing colonies, separate burial grounds, segregated places of worship, separate seating of children during mid-day meals at school, prohibition of inter-caste dining and marriages, prohibition of dressing like others do or mounting a horse during a wedding, amongst scores of other forms3.Discrimination also manifests itself through non-visible forms in the shape of caste prejudices that can be heard in the spoken language through idioms and phrases as well as in literature.

The most common response whenever attempts are made to change such caste ridden practices is violence. There are official figures published and placed before the Indian Parliament every year concerning murders, mass murders, and rapes, destruction of property, arson and physical attacks that take place on the lives and property of Dalits. Though these reports depict reality, they are far from documenting the full extent of the violence; the State lacks a trust-worthy system of tracking such violence, while police and other administrations fabricate data for political reasons. The structural violence, however, is not visible. Public schools are the breeding ground and the place where caste discrimination is indoctrinated and spread.

The caste system has been able to survive scientific development, modernization and the market economy due to its strong linkages with the economic, religious, social, cultural and political order. Caste has been propagated as a system sanctified by Hindu religion. Over the years, as a way to reject Hinduism, Dalits have converted to Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism, but even with their converted faith they continue to be discriminated on the basis of caste by their new respective faiths. Post-independence land reforms in India attempted to redistribute the natural resource of agricultural land, but failed miserably when it came to Dalits. The land reforms succeeded, however, in providing land to poor but touchable castes. Historically the institution of caste has prohibited Dalits from holding property, thus rendering them by and large a landless class who stood to lose in the Indian post-independence green revolution. Dalits are predominantly represented in the class of landless agricultural workers. In the absence of uniform national legislation to govern both the wages and working conditions of agricultural workers, there persists a system of economic exploitation and bonded labor. Gender discrimination, suffered by women across caste lines, has its origin in the caste system. Dalit women suffer most because of their gender, poverty, and caste status. Intense suffering melts into a force to become the basic ingredient for social transformation. Women leadership is therefore critical to transform the caste system. Transformation therefore has to be a journey towards self-respect and value that can influence other minds to follow and gravitate towards it.

‘Caste’ as a system is an economic, social, political, cultural and psychological order, there has to be a multi-dimensional approach including strategies that involve using law, mass mobilization, awareness of rights, globalization of human rights, land reforms, affirmative action programs, education, women’s leadership and reinventing spiritual discourse.