Are you still silent?

A Dalit was abstained from entering your house and you are still silent.

As with my posts on taboo subjects, this piece is also inspired by some latest news I’ve been reading on multiple platforms. And trust me, each time I read news related to this topic, I utterly ask myself one question — will India ever surmount this?

Social stratification in India is among the oldest (about 3,000 years old). It divides us into immutable hierarchical groups based on duty and work. Currently, we are divided into more than 3,000 castes and 25,000+ sub-castes (again based on occupation).

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

And the biggest highlight of the caste system in India is the Dalits (achhoots).

The complexity of this system comes in when we realise that the particular ranking of a caste may differ among regions and over time.

Our constitution bans caste-based discrimination. And we’ve several quotas in government jobs and educational institutions. But has this helped anywhere?

I don’t think so! If that would have been the case, we would not be hearing/reading cases related to caste-based discrimination every day.

Let me begin with some examples from the past, where it is evident that the constitution or the quotas are of no use. It is a matter of humanity or human rights and not about reservations.

The Gujarat earthquake — six months after this devastating disaster when thousands were homeless, humanity witnessed discrimination at its worst. Dalits and Muslims were seen living separately from upper-caste Hindus. Plus, they did not have the same access to adequate shelter, water, food, electricity, and other benefits.

The Hatharas case — we are all very well versed with the horrific Hatharas rape case. And what was more disturbing? The DM, instead of giving sympathies to the victim’s family or guaranteeing them the right justice, intimidated the family. The victim was a Dalit girl. The DM even permitted the cremating of the woman’s dead body (destroying the crucial evidence).

There have been multiple discrimination-based cases and lawsuits at big companies and MNCs which became public, all across the globe. All these cases have highlighted one single thing — casteism.

Last year, a roar of voices could be heard everywhere. “BLACK LIVES MATTER

Everyone was moved by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Celebrities, activists and even politicians stood with the protests of Black Lives Matter. Yes, these lives matter, after all, they are humans too!

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

I’m sure now you must be thinking of banners and protests displaying DALIT LIVES MATTER! Yes, their lives matter. They are HUMANS!

But, did we deem about our expression of solidarity? Did we? Strangely, when we are silent about, and acknowledge the caste system in our society (in and around our homes too).

Several people have taken their lives in the awe of this caste system. One such case (in headlines) — Rohith Vemula. Rohith was the leader of the Ambedkar Students’ Association. His mother, Radhika Vemula, continues his work against caste-based discrimination and for Dalit rights.

Talking about activists, we are well aware that in recent years, many Dalit and Adivasi activists have been arrested. These arrests have been on the assertions of these activists instigating caste-based violence. And trust me, either there has been little evidence or no evidence for these arrests. Still, we are silent!

Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

Many people leave the thought of supporting these activists (leave the fact of being an activist), because of these arrests. Some still have the courage and are determined to bring the change.

I can recollect reading Yashica Dutt’s interview some time back where she discussed why did she publish her book (Coming Out as Dalit). The writing of her memoir was inspired by Rohith Vemula’s incident.

Do we all know the issues which the people of India (apparently deemed to be low-caste) face? They cannot find a place to rent, they cannot eat with their colleagues (as most of us can — privileged!). And the most bothersome part of their story is that they are not permitted to enter homes of upper-caste people and not entitled to enter temples. What? They cannot even pray to their gods?

I feel these are just contemporary forms of CASTEISM (MODERN CASTEISM we can say).

I never realized that there is such a world until I moved to Udaipur. I had just known Udaipur as the city of lakes. But, when I started going to college, I experienced a different world — a world full of castes, religions, and whatnot.

I remember having this conversation with my mother after first few weeks — I don’t understand Maa, how do people even remember such things (their castes, their sub-castes, types of religion, etc.).

All I knew was people (HUMANS)

I hugged every human in the college (irrespective of their caste or their religion). Is this difficult to do? Did talking to them, hugging them, or hanging out with them ever make me different?

Yes, it did! I felt astounding. I felt blithe! They are good humans too!

The most critical part I can recall is they never disclosed their caste to everyone. But, soon it was! ‘Notice board’ was the answer to who belonged to which category (General, SC/ST or OBCs). Also, we had a separate book bank (where we can purchase/rent books for each semester).

I’ve seen all the comments and discrimination with people around me. I never looked at them through the lens of casteism. Never! And can never do it!

Parents disallowing their children not to get involved in friendships/relationship with other students at college who belonged to lower castes. Seniors, indirectly bullying juniors, asking their entrance exam scores/ranks, and then laughing off — because of your caste you got into this college.

These are just small experiences which I’m writing about today. There were many. I was depressed with that part of the city. The beautiful city never appeared beautiful to me. It still doesn’t!

And you know what these experiences do with them — impacts their mental wellness. It hampers their ability to dream or keep aspirations.

They are allowed to dream, and you or I, are no one to kill them.

Remember, our constitution’s architect was a Dalit — B R Ambedkar.

K R Narayan, our first Dalit president. And K. G. Balakrishnan, former Chief Justice of India, was a Dalit.

But, we should move beyond talks of a few examples and have them in all fields — equal to us. And that is something I have stood for, in recent years (especially for women).

Our focus should be on EQUITY and not equality. Equity will ensure their presence in every field and they will be equal to us.

I can see social media posts about recent killings of Dalit people or how a community killed someone from the other community.

If we are to overcome all this, there should be severe reforms throughout.

No caste columns on any admission/entrance forms. No caste columns on employment forms. No caste certificates should be necessitated.

Their recognition is Indian and they should be treated as Indians.

Let’s now talk about what the government has been doing on the serious issue of casteism.

Our central government’s manifesto? Just talks, talks and talks!

They have never allocated any budget for Dalit’s welfare. Even if there have been some budget allocations, they have been too low for their welfare. This has hampered several educational schemes. And all these schemes and promises have been seen in their manifesto since 2014.

Too much of hype!

Instead, we have seen several offenders set free after being accused of the charges for the crime against Dalits, Adivasis, and Women.

The recent statistics are pretty evident that crimes against SCs and STs have increased significantly in 2019 (7.3 per cent and 26.5 per cent, respectively).

Ten Dalit women are raped every day on an average, while the upper caste perpetrators often benefit from impunity. — France 24

Not just women, men are being tortured to death. Gang-rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, and whatnot.

The Dalits are still considered to be untouchables. And we are talking of social and economic empowerment.

My only question at the bottom remains — if they are considered to be untouchables, then why do you kidnap or abduct them? Why do the upper caste people in several parts of our country have to gang-rape Dalit women?

The only answer I am left with is caste-based discrimination is banned under the Indian constitution. But, it is still widespread in mostly all parts of India.

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