The endless strings of caste violence and discrimination towards the Dalit community have not decreased after centuries, even after laws were made to protect them.
More than 160 million people in India are considered “Untouchable”—people degraded for their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human. Statistics compiled by India’s National Crime Records Bureau reveal that in the year 2000, the last year for which figures are available, 25,455 crimes were committed against Dalits. Every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched. It is increasing rapidly by 2023.
There are an estimated 40 million people mostly Dalits working in bonded labour and 15 million of whom are children, working under slave-like conditions for very low pay or some not paid at all.
In Kerala’s Kasaragod district, the caste system runs strong so that many upper-caste Hindus still consider people from the oppressed castes as untouchables. Dalits, Adivasis, and Other Backward Community members here are not allowed to take the temple’s main entrance, enter its sanctum sanctorum, offer money, and dine with others.
The Dalits have to climb the rocky steps created only for the untouchables, sit under designated tile-roofed structures, hand over their offerings to members of the upper caste communities, watch the festivities from a distance, wait for hours to collect food, take it out and eat it sitting away from the main dining area.
Brar on Twitter shared: “A Dalit youth went to the temple, the caste Hindus of the village said: Now the temple will have to be washed. He was asked to lick the boots and was threatened not to file a police complaint. This incident is from Kutch, Gujarat.” (sic)
A Dalit youth went to the temple, the caste hindus of the village said: Now the temple will have to be washed. He was asked to lick the boots and was threatened not to file police complaint. This incident is from Kutch, Gujarat. pic.twitter.com/GXHC2WQTTm
— Брат (@B5001001101) May 11, 2023
The Dalit Voice: “#Casteism In UP’s Agra, Marriage procession of a Dalit bridegroom was stopped by Caste Hindu Thakurs for riding a mare. Entering the wedding hall and brutally thrashed the baratis with sticks and also molested women and girls. The case is of Sohalla area of Sadar Police Station.” (sic)Unnao (UP): A couple was killed by the girl’s father & relatives just bcoz the girl (17) belonged to the “Thakur” community, while the man, aged 19, was a “Dalit” and her relationship was opposed by her family and this led to the killing of the two #Dalits.” (sic) Apparently, the couple was hanged from a tree to make it look like suicide.
Unnao (UP): A couple was killed by the girls' father & relatives just bcoz the girl (17) belonged to the "Thakur" community, while the man, aged 19, was a "Dalit" and her relationship was opposed by her family and this led to the killing of the two#Dalitshttps://t.co/3esQUGaRGz
— Rational Guy 🖋🇮🇳 (@Rational__Guy) May 11, 2023
History of Dalits in India
Hindus believe a person is born into one of four castes based on karma and “purity”—how he or she lived their past life. Those born as Brahmans are priests and teachers; Kshatriyas are rulers and soldiers; Vaisyas are merchants and traders; and Sudras are laborers. Within the four castes, there are thousands of sub-castes, defined by profession, region, dialect, and other factors.
Dalit is a root word from Sanskrit meaning “broken/scattered”, also previously known as untouchable, and is the lowest stratum of the castes in India.
Dalits were banned from the four-fold varna system of Hinduism and were seen as forming a fifth varna, also known by the name of Panchama. Dalits now profess various religious beliefs, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Islam due to facing extreme inhumanity from upper castes. Scheduled Castes is the official term for Dalits as per the Constitution of India.
In the olden times, if a Dalit listened to an upper caste speaking, hot oil was poured into their ears. Dalit women often were forced to serve as sexual servants to upper-caste men. If Dalits tried to defy the caste system, they received cruel punishments such as being forced to parade naked through village streets, and being beaten, raped, tortured, hanged, and burned.
Human rights abuses against these people, known as Dalits, are constant and every few days we read about a Dalit girl or upper-class boy beaten to death or vice versa due to caste differences, Dalit boy was beaten to death for plucking flowers, Dalit beaten for drinking water from the same vessels used for the upper castes, Dalit tortured by cops for three days”; “Dalit ‘witch’ paraded naked in Bihar”; “Dalit killed in lock-up at Kurnool”; “7 Dalits burnt alive in caste clash”; “5 Dalits lynched in Haryana”; “Dalit woman gang-raped, paraded naked”; “Police egged on the mob to lynch Dalits”.
It was reported, “Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls,” said Smita Narula, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, and author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables.” Human Rights Watch is a worldwide activist organization based in New York.
These atrocities are concentrated in certain parts of India where the “Untouchables” are given the lowest jobs and live in terror of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighborhood is a life-threatening offense.
National Geographic reported that nearly 90 percent of all the poor Indians and 95 percent of all the illiterate Indians are Dalits, according to figures presented at the International Dalit Conference that took place May 16 to 18 in Vancouver, Canada.
“There have been large-scale abuses by the police, acting in collusion with upper castes, including raids, beatings in custody, failure to charge offenders or investigate reported crimes,” said Narula.
Despite the fact that untouchability was officially banned when India adopted its constitution in 1950, discrimination against Dalits runs deep in the society that in 1989 the government passed legislation known as The Prevention of Atrocities Act. The act specifically made it illegal to parade people naked through the streets, force them to eat feces, take away their land, foul their water, interfere with their right to vote, and burn down their homes.
Now, a human rights movement surged among Dalits to demand their rights and resist the dictates of untouchability. While much of this was rooted in religious principles practiced for some 1,500 years, the system persists today for economic as much as religious reasons. When will this inequality and caste system completely be wiped off India?
As Geneva-born political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “Man is born free but everywhere is in chains.”