Here are eleven instances, among many others that may be cited-
- In the Jaunsar Bawar region of Dehradun, a mob attacked BJP MP Tarun Vijay for leading Dalits into a Hindu temple. The temple authorities claimed that there would be a nine-day purification in the temple because the devta has become ‘angry.’ (July 2016)
- A Dalit family in Chikkamagaluru was attacked by around 50 Bajrang Dal activists because they suspected that the family ate beef. The police had arrested seven people but they are now out on bail. Three members of the family including a differently-abled man were thrashed and are seriously injured. (July 2016)
- When CRPF jawan Vir Singh lost his life in the militant attack in Pampore, Kashmir, in June this year, the entire nation was mourning his loss. But his sacrifice did not deter the residents of his village to display their caste prejudice when they refused to allow a small piece of land to be used for his last rites because he was from the Nat community. It was only after the intervention of the district officials that they agreed to allow that land to be used. (June 2016)
- A minor Dalit girl was allegedly beaten up by higher caste women in Ganeshpura village here after the victim’s shadow fell on a muscleman belonging to their family. The problem began when this girl went to fetch water from a village hand pump and her shadow fell on muscle-man Puran Yadav. The girl was also given death threats by the villagers and the family of the muscle-man. (June 2016)
- Ravindra Chauhan, a BJP MLA in Maharashtra compared Dalits to pigs when he was addressing a crowd. The point that he had tried to make is that Devendra Fadnavis and Narendra Modi are committed to the cause of uplifting the Dalits. But in trying to explain this, he gave a peculiar example of Abraham Lincoln narrating an incident from his own life when he picked up a pig and cleaned it! The example clearly shows the deep-rooted recognition of Dalits as unclean and impure beings in need for purification. (June 2016)
- In a case of a brutal honour killing, a woman was hacked to death by a person related to the family of a caste Hindu girl, who had dared to marry the brother of this woman. The woman was killed in front of her toddler. The police also failed to protect this family even when the family had formally asked for protection following a verbal threat to their life by the father of the girl. (May 2016)
- A nine-year-old Dalit boy in the district of Damoh district in Madhya Pradesh drowned in a well on Tuesday where he had gone to drink water after being denied access to the hand pump in his school. The children often face such discrimination at the hands of the upper castes in the area. (March 2016)
- Radhamma seems to be a character straight from Raja Rao’s stories. She is an Adi Karnataka caste woman who works as a cook in the Government Higher Primary School in Kagganahalli village in Kolar district in Karnataka and earns just Rs. 1700 per month in order to sustain her family of 7 members. When she had joined the school as a cook, there were 118 students in the school, but now 100 of them have left and the rest of the 18 are under strict restrictions from their parents to not eat any food cooked by her because she is a Dalit. (November 2015)
- General V.K. Singh passed the ‘dog’ remark that made it clear that he consciously or subconsciously compared the gravity of burning a Dalit child alive with someone throwing a stone at a dog. (November 2015)
- A Dalit boy was beaten up by his teacher for touching the mid-day meal meant for the non-Dalits in a school in Rajasthan. The boy was also admitted to a hospital and was under treatment. Furthermore, when the father of this Dalit boy had went to meet the teacher, he was also abused on his caste identity. (October 2015)
- A Dalit man called Mohan Paswan was killed in Bihar because he dared to drink water from the well which is generally used by the upper caste people. He was in his 40s when he was lynched by the henchmen of Pramod Singh, an influential upper caste person in the village. (June 2012)
As a Hindu, to fellow Hindus, I would say that we ought to take stock of things like these before boasting of being liberal and progressive, and being very judgmental of other religious groupings. Equally, while I totally respect the right of Indians from minority religious groupings to be concerned for Dalits as fellow Indians and fellow human beings, they need to examine their own sectarian and gender issues before being very judgmental of Hindus, other than even caste issues among Indian Muslims, as you can see here and here, and Indian Christians (a negative influence of a dimension of Hindu culture) in very many cases. Also, it must be noted that there is a long tradition of challenging untouchability within Hindu theology for centuries (Adi Shankaracharya, Basava, Channabasava, Tukaram, Chaitanya and more recently, the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj come to mind), and KM Sen, in his book Hinduism, delves on this citing the Puranas, as does even Wendy Doniger in her book The Hindus.
There have been Hindus who have vehemently condemned caste discrimination and have suggested that it is antithetical to the true essence of Hinduism, as is the case for most practising Hindus I know personally, while there are many other Hindus largely or completely indifferent to religion, so there is no question of them being casteist. (And no, while some left-leaning Hindus may want to undermine the gravity of the incorrectness of labeling all upper caste Hindus as casteist for casteism does indeed exist in Hindu societies, the very same people would not be comfortable referring to all Muslim men as sexist or all Muslims as jihadist terrorists, for sexism and jihadist terrorism do exist in Muslim societies.) The Chandogya Upanishad, for instance, narrates the story of the butcher Raikva who was acknowledged as a great and wise man by a virtuous king, who seeks knowledge from him. Even the often-cited Purush Sukt of the Rigved talking of castes emerging from different body parts of the creator can be and often is interpreted in a completely different fashion. God, as per the Vedas and Upanishads, has been ascribed names based on His attributes, like ‘Brahma’ for being the creator (the Quran uses the term Al Khaliq for God in the same context, and even the Quran does metaphorically refer to God as having eyes, hands etc.), and so, the creator manifesting itself in the creation of the human society meant that different occupations served as all being integral to the society as body parts, not about any being superior or inferior. In the Quran, too, God is formless, and in that context, the Purusha Sukta also refers to Earth, worshipped as a mother-goddess, as having emerged from the feet of the creator! Also, the very same Rigved also carries a verse talking of how a certain person follows a different occupation from both his parents, which shows that caste was initially neither meant to be hereditary nor hierarchical.
The Modi government, if really sincere about securing Dalit rights, should start a nationwide campaign against the social evil of untouchability, just like their cleanliness drive, and indeed, Gandhiji’s legacy can be invoked on this point as well.
Thanks to my friend Suvankur Sukul for his help for this article.
(Image Courtesy: Flickr)