Untouchability in INDIA- present scenario
Untouchability has always been the matter of debate. It is a menace attached with our traditional culture and society. It’s a social evil that despite huge efforts from Ambedkar or Gandhi had still managed to find its room in the society. But what actually untouchability is? Untouchability, in its literal sense, is of practice of ostracizing a minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate. In easy words, untouchability is nothing but just a social isolation of one caste from another. The upper class finds it impure to be touched by the lower caste, that even if their shadow touches them- they tends to take bath in the holy water of Ganga to get “pure”. A ground-breaking study on caste discrimination in the Indian state of Gujarat shows that the practice of ‘untouchability’ is still prevalent. The report also makes it clear that the Indian legal system is failing to address the issue.
Hierarchy of castes:
According to traditional Hindu ‘Varna System’ (caste system), a person is born into one of the four castes based on karma. Those born as Brahmans are priests and teachers, Kshatriyas are rulers and soldiers, Vaisyas are merchants and traders and Sudras are laborers. There were no caste such as lower caste. Actually all the caste that reside under “untouchables” don’t have any place in the caste system itself. They are outcaste. They form an entirely different class, the fifth row in the caste hierarchy. Thus they are not even recognized by the system. The caste system in India is the paradigmatic ethnographic example of caste. Kaunsi jati ke ho? Kya biradri hai tumhari? These questions often discard one from the society completely. These questions are asked again and again at every walk of life. And weirder is the fact that these questions actually make people hesitate to answer. Why? It’s simple, because they have been bought up in a way that they always feel ashamed of the caste they were born in.
The Untouchability Offences Act, 1955:
The 17th Paragraph of the Indian Constitution states that untouchability is a punishable offence. The Untouchability Offences Act was passed by Indian Government in 1955 in which any person forcing the disabilities of untouchability can be sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 500/- or both for his first offence. And for every subsequent attempt, the punishment involves imprisonment for more than 6 months as well. The act was actually passed seeing the discrimination in the society over caste. Amendments were made time to time to make the condition better, but all in vain. In addition to enacting laws against untouchability the Government of India also instituted propaganda against untouchability throughout India. “Harijan day” is observed all over the country.
The Dalit’s in India are the lower caste that live below the poverty line. There are 250 million Dalits in India-about 1/6th of the total population, and still we treat them as minorities. They are highly regarded as untouchables. The cases against Dalit violence is not new in the country but actually dig deep. Many cases go unnoticed just because the Dalit is victim. Many doesn’t receive justice because they don’t have money and many don’t choose to speak due to fear of further harassment. They are not allowed to touch water tanks available in villages and they are not allowed to even enter the temple- which is said to be the home for every living being despite any differences. Violence against them has seen a surge of 35% since 2014. In 2016, an estimated 214 incidents of crimes against scheduled castes were reported per million SC population, up from 207 the previous year, according to the NCRB data. In all of India, 40,801 atrocities against Dalits were reported in 2016, up from 38,670 in 2015. Uttar Pradesh reported the highest atrocities against the Dalits.
Why the violence?
Not only with Dalits, but these kinds of violence can be seen in any lower caste society. But the main question is why these people are actually violated? The answer is quite simple and complicated at the same time. From centuries, Indian society is divided into several caste and each caste was ranked according the profession they performed back then. Like the dealers and businessman were the highest caste people and the lower caste consist of cobblers or cleaner, peons etc. due to these occupation differences, the wealth amounts also varies. So the children of a merchant received good education whereas the kids of cobbler received less. So it was like pre decided that the son or a daughter of a merchant will become a merchant and the son or daughter of a cobbler will also become a cobbler. And that’s where the evil started taking place. To get further, these things were not limited to the occupations only but also to the other activities such as temple visits, access to drinking water, gatherings, festivals and what not! The lower caste was not allowed to get access to these things. And soon the discrimination took place of violence. And today it has turned out to be a huge social issue.
Sagar Shejwal, a 24-year-old nursing student, travelled to the town of Shirdi in May 2015. During his trip he went to the liquor shop were his phone started ringing. His ringtone was the paid tribute to Dr. B R Ambedkar, a Dalit icon. Few men standing at the shop asked him to change it, on the quarrel between them they started hitting Sagar with glass bottles and took him away on a motorbike. Hours later his body was found in a field. In the autopsy report it was reported that he was run over the motorcycle several times- leading his death.
In 2014, Manik Udage, 25, was allegedly beaten to death with a steel rod. Because he organized a little event to celebrate the birth anniversary of Dr. B R Ambedkar.
Nitin Aage, a 17-year-old boy from a village called Kharda was hanged on a tree in 2014 because he was seeing a girl from an upper class family.
And just like these there are plenty of other cases as well. They are threatened, tortured and killed on totally mindless reasons- reasons so lame to even call as a reason. We need to stop these caste based atrocities in the country and treat everyone with respect and love. There should be no ranking system in society, people should live in harmony even if they all belong to different caste, religion or whatsoever. Because in the end by the heart we all are humans.
If look at a broader perspective, the untouchable situation has gotten better in the society. People are getting educated and discarding these old senseless customs. But one sad fact is that, now most of the lower caste people themselves are misusing the laws made for them. One good example is reservation. The reservation was actually introduced to nourish the disadvantages castes and tribes. They were divided into schedule caste (SC’s), schedule tribes (ST’s) and other backward castes (OBC’s). Its primary objective was just to enhance the social and educational status of the underprivileged caste. At first it served a good purpose, but now it has taken a negative turn. Now even if these caste are doing good, having a better living- still seek privileges from this system. Whereas on the other hand the General caste is getting on the disadvantaged side. They have to compete more to get admissions or jobs. Everywhere is a competition for the general category whereas the reserved ones gets them easily. For an instance take the seats margin in admissions, where the general has to manage a score of 90% and still don’t get admission there the reserved one’s get easily admitted even on 50% score. And despite of all these, we are seeing a lot of these communities demanding more. Like the Gujjar protest in 2018, where they were demanding more seats in the admission criteria. Whereas there was another protest from “Jaat” community demanding percentage in reservation in the OBC category. India today is giving privileges to the reserved ones not to the deserved one’s. It’s funny where the one part of the country is still seeking freedom from the caste atrocities, the other part is very proudly enjoying the freedom and on the top of that- demanding more.