“Our outrage is not enough. We must take real and focused action to mend our societies’ dramatic failure to support the rights of people of discriminated classes.”– Navi Pillay
India is a culturally diverse nation, composed of numerous languages, religions, traditions etc. This heterogeneous nature of the society defines India and is its biggest strength. Minorities and minority groups form an essential and integral part in sustaining this diversity. The Constitutional framers acknowledged the existence of such minorities and thereby drafted a robust and living Constitution which guaranteed protection and equality before the law by virtue of protective discrimination. One such minority group which has been struggling since time immemorial are the Dalits. The Dalits or as Mahatma Gandhi called them, ‘Harijans’ have been victims of deep seated casteism and prejudice prevalent in India. Article 17 of the Constitution of India abolished untouchability in the Indian state. Furthermore, the Parliament amended the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 and changed its title to the Protection of the Civil Rights Act.
In spite of the given constitutional and legal protection, we continue to observe that discrimination on the basis of caste is still practiced in most parts of India, particularly in Northern India. The recent incident in Una, Gujarat has raised many eyebrows. Four men were tied up and beaten in public by cow vigilante groups based on the apprehension that they were responsible for killing and skinning a dead cow. This incident has raised public outcry not only in the state of Gujarat but all over the country. The Dalit community have made a strong case of discrimination and have come out to protest against the same. This is not a single odd case, the Dalits have been on the receiving end for ages. They continue to face such blatant discrimination and there is a rise in the number of such incidents and atrocities.
Another prominent and much discussed case was that of the suicide of young scholar Rohith Vemula. It showcased the sordid saga of casteism and the deep rooted elitist attitude of the upper caste is mobilising the entire system against this underprivileged caste groups. It is violence against the weak by the powerful, present in every aspect of life. The suicide of this young promising scholar is an example of campus politics and social discrimination. Such blatant prejudices exist in all universities and it proves that there is absolutely no mechanism to address this problem. It indicates alarming practice of injustice meted out against the poor students who strive to work hard and be a party of the mainstream. The average Indian mind is imprinted with this age old prejudicial system and thus unfortunately, caste system dominates the country and all its institutions.
This has given rise to a new concept and jurisprudential philosophy called, ‘Dalit jurisprudence’. It is the responsibility of the judges and the judiciary to mete out justice to the Dalits. It aims at the emancipation of these communities from social injustice, economic oppression and bondage of upper castes by securing for them liberty, equality and dignity and protecting them from the injustice and discrimination. It is the Dalits segregated in far flung busters, slums and ghettos have been afflicted by grinding poverty, diseases and ignorance. Justice Krishna Iyer portrayed and studied the utter backwardness of the Harijan Humanity, stated that Jurisprudence to be living law, must respond to the bhangi colony and the black ghetto intelligently enough to equalize opportunities within the social, political and economic orders, by waking up for long spells of depreviation.Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 in addition to the Constitution and particularly the Preamble, Articles 14 to 17, 38, 39, 46, 335, 338, 340, 342, 355 and 366 form the corpus jurisprudence of Dalit Jurisprudence to protect the disadvantaged sections.
Perhaps the biggest issue and stumbling block is the blatant exploitation of the Dalits by the political class. The Dalits have been reduced to a political tool and thus often exploited and ignored. They are remembered during the electoral season and thereafter forgotten. The development of this section is not a priority and thus, they continue to remain in poverty. The Dalits are also discriminated on the basis of the occupation and often are limited to pursue demeaning tasks such as manual scavenging and cleaning.
Such incidents smudge the social fabric of India. It questions the crucial concept of ‘justice’. In a country where we cannot protect our own citizens from such condemnable atrocities, it would be a joke if we claim that there’s a sense of justice and equality in India. We need to question the existing system and its validity in this time and age. It’s time that such prejudices and discriminations are done away with if we, as a nation, wish to survive and grow. Ignoring selective sections of the society and not making them a party of the development process will lead to unimaginable consequences which we cannot fathom at this stage. It’s high time that we appreciate and involve these castes into the mainstream and bring an end to such institutionalised social discrimination.
By: Saif Rasul Khan