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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
|Equality for Dalits: Does it exist?|
Justice, Liberty, Equality: Dalits in Independent India
Author: Lenin Raghuvanshi
Publisher: Frontpage Publications, London, U.K
Year of Publication: 2012
Price: Not Mentioned Pages: 135
Dalits in India have been suffering since time immemorial in India. Hinduism which believed in Varna system of caste coupled with the Aryan supremacy structured the prejudice, bias and exploitation against dalits. It was deemed to be God ordained commandment on the higher castes to demean, exploit and kill them with impunity. They were destined by God to suffer immortally, thus placed outside the Varna system. The upper castes by trampling their rights and perpetuating atrocities against them were fulfilling the God’s plan. This situation should have changed after the Independence of India in 1947. Indian State adopted secularism and democracy as its foundational pillars of constitution which guaranteed equal rights to all irrespective of religion, caste, color, class, gender, region and community. These constitutional guarantees and rights should have been translated into action, but alas this is not the case.
The present book under review by the versatile activist Lenin Raghuvanshi is a testimonial documentation of atrocities, exploitation and abuse of rights of Dalits in “free India’. In the Introduction of the book, Lenin depicts the police violence against Dalits, Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Crimes against their women and how the culture of impunity shields the guilty. This culture of impunity against the criminals is the biggest threat to the rule of law in India. Lenin woefully states about the Dalit women as, “Dalits are considered untouchables in Indian society yet rape of Dalit women is not considered a taboo by the upper castes. In fact, the latter uses rape as an instrument of continuous subjugation. Dalit women bear a triple burden: discrimination and exploitation based on caste, class and gender. Women are also victims of violence by security forces and armed opposition groups, traditional justice delivery system like ‘caste panchayat’ (illegal body of caste based system in villages) and cruel cultural practices like sati, honor killing and witch hunts. Discriminatory attitudes and lack of sensitization to the dynamics of crimes involving sexual or domestic violence leave victims without critical police aid or redress to which they are entitled”.
Talking about the state of impunity enjoyed by police and security forces Lenin states “In fact, almost every section of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc), 1973 provides some kind of impunity. For example, section 46 empowers the police to shoot to kill any accused charged with a crime punishable by death if that accused person attempts to escape from police custody. The police forces of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have made extensive use of this section to cover up fake encounters, killing hundreds of hapless detainees”.
Lenin then goes on to describe south of every village as South Africa because it contains Dalits against whom invisible apartheid is still prevalent. The discrimination against Dalits is both intrinsic and external. The Dalits are illiterate hence they are not aware of their constitutional rights; hence fail to alleviate their status. Rest the caste system is embedded in the Indian society and it manifests itself in various forms. The state of impunity is reinforced by the caste considerations as police fails to bring the culprits of crimes against dalits to book either due to caste bias, influence or lure of money. Dalits many times are collectively punished by the upper castes for the crime or mistake of a single Dalit. These examples bring fore the sad fact that spread of literacy hasn’t helped people grow more empathic towards dalits. Also it unveils a gory reality that Indian State has failed to inculcate spirit and virtues of equality and harmony among its institutions.
Lenin then moves on to document the plight of Musahar community and their day to day woes. He laments at the post active attitude of the administration in curbing the starvation deaths in this community. The land that is allotted to the Dalits is taken away by upper caste people, and the upper caste Hindu money lenders keep them under perpetual bondage. In this age too there exist bonded laborers in the community. Lenin has worked for Musahars despite impediments by releasing many bonded laborers and establishing a community school, as previously most children were drop outs. He holds the public distribution system responsible for the starvation deaths, as it is corrupt. The medical facilities are lacking which add to the mortality rate. The police still operate on the colonial structure with a communal mindset. Lenin is of the firm opinion that Indian police learnt demoralization and community punishment from the practice of caste system. He then relates many stories of police torture victims. The role of police in fake encounters is also well known, and how they operate in communal riots reinforcing victimization of the minorities.
The police torture is widespread in India, and “The biggest problem in combating the State on the issues of torture in India has been the non availability of verifiable data” (P-48). In many cases false medical reports of torture victims are produced in league with medical doctors and sometimes reports are concocted by Police themselves. Lenin is aware of the Legal flaws, “The judiciary is hampered by lack of specific legislation to address cases of torture and human rights violations by the security forces as well due to delayed judicial processes. All these leave the poor victim lonelier, shattered and completely disintegrated, irrespective of economic status” (P-49). Lenin wants and desires, “India is yet to adopt any legislation recognizing the right to compensation for human rights violations. The government continues to maintain its reservation to Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that under the Indian legal system there is no enforceable right to compensation for persons claiming to be victims of unlawful arrest or detention against the State. The courts and National Human Rights institutions, however, have awarded compensation for human rights violations, including torture”. (P-49).
The chapter on Testimonial Therapy is the jewel of the book. It gives hope to the victims of torture to overcome the psychological trauma in post torture phase. But only a few pages are dedicated to explain the testimonial therapy. Lenin abruptly moves to the Shrinking Livelihood in India. He quotes as case studies, the decline in the production of world famous Benaras Silk, as a result of the rival Chinese silk. Lenin relates the diseases associated with the handlooms and the Tuberculosis being rampant among the handloom workers and weavers. Then he again states about the severe malnutrition in Uttar Pradesh, though it is not Somalia. Lenin continues with the child starvation deaths this time in Ghasias community, who are also victim of government apathy.
The last two chapters deal with Rule of Lords, Political Patronage & how caste, patriarchy and corruption help in perpetuation of the same. Lenin relates violence against women, in the form of infanticide, honor killings, domestic violence, child marriages, infant and maternal mortality rates. If certain women make it to the panchayats still their husbands control the affairs.
Lenin then goes on to track the record of victims of fake encounters, extra and custodial killings by the Police since 1960s, which rose to epidemic proportions in early 1990s when innocents were being targeted as Maoists, Sikh militants or Islamic Jihadi extremists. The incompetence of National Human Rights Commission to protect human rights of innocents has rendered it as a toothless tiger. The State also acts softly on Hindutva fascist cadres. To add insult to injury criminalization of politics is ruling roost.
Overall the book is a welcome read and must for everyone who wants to be aware of the underbelly of Indian State. But the scheme of chapters and selection of case studies at times betray the title of the book, the scope of the book is much wider than its title conveys. It covers a lot of ground, but thematically it appears to be jumbled in a hurry. Despite its flaws Lenin needs to be congratulated for his endeavor. This book is a testimony to the fact that there are serious problems and grave issues with the project of ‘Shining India’.
(The author is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)