December 11, 2006
Article: Caste War
From the Times of India newspaper, December 2006
by Balchandra Mungekar
"It is unfortunate that the barbaric killing of a Dalit family a mother and her three grown-up children, should have taken place in Khairlanji village of Maharashtra, and violent protests broken out soon after throughout Ambedkar's home state. Ambedkar's analysis of caste was unique on three counts. First, after rejecting the commonly made defence that caste implies division of labour, he argued that caste results in the division of labourers, strongly underlining the ascriptive role of caste. Second, he maintained that caste system did not create more inequality but graded inequality. This gave every caste a sense of superiority as it found some other caste below it, which makes the fight against caste system difficult. And third. Ambedkar showed that the caste system has deplorable impact on the country's moral fabric inasmuch as it "killed the public spirit, destroyed the sense of public charity and made public opinion impossible". There is thus a lack of sympathy for the deserving and suffering, that of appreciation for the meritorious and charity for the needy. We are witnessing slow but steady change towards greater social mobility Liberal democratic values evolved during the freedom movement and later enshrined in the Constitution, legal abolition of untouchability, spread of education, growing pace of urbanisation, development of means of communication and transport, and effective role of the state in modernizing the society have all resulted in weakening the ascriptive role of the caste which makes society more achievement-oriented. In this respect, notwithstanding faulty implementation and growing resentment, the reservation policy has succeeded in creating some space for Dalits in mainstream society. However, the pace of social integration is not as promising as one would have expected. The intensity of assertion on the part of Dalits of basic democratic rights, and desire to live with dignity self respect and confidence is increasing. This is being resented. Dalit assertion for better and dignified life is looked upon as a challenge by those who perceive that their caste-based arrogance is under threat. Their response is atrocities against Dalits. Unfortunately the perpetrators also belong to the Shudra community vindicating Ambedkar's argument that caste created graded inequality. Khairlanji is a fresh instance in this regard. Bhaiyalal Bhotmange's family, with four to five acres of land, was self sufficient to some extent. His l8-vear-old daughter Priyanka and 20-year-old son Roshan were studying in college. Sudhh 21 years old and blind, would help the family in its routine work. Bhaiyalal's wife Surekha was hard-working. They had some bank deposits that they planned to utilise for Priyanka's marriage next year and for setting up a small retail shop for Roshan to make him self-emoloved. Why was his family butchered then? They refused to succumb to the ever-growing pressures of his co-villagers who demanded more access through his fields for carrying their cattle and agricultural implements. The reality was they envied Bhaiyalal's financial position that had emboldened him to live with self-esteem He was taught a lesson. However, Khairlanji is not an isolated incident. Atrocities against Dalits such as rape, intimidation, arson, murder, kidnapping and abduction have been a routine part of our social life. The number of such atrocities against Dalits during 2003-05 was 69,216. Of these, four states - Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, MP and UP - accounted for about 60 per cent. This is despite constitutional safeguards, and various legislations such as the Prevention of Atrocities Act. The reason is obvious: The partisan and prejudiced attitudes of law-enforcing machinery that gets support from vested interests. As a result not all cases of atrocities are registered, conviction rates are dismal, and states are not filing appeals. The pace of trials is so appalling that by the end of 2005, as many as 87,000 trials were pending in the courts. Acts dealing with atrocities must be implemented stringently State and district administrations must be held responsible for their non-compliance by holding periodic reviews. Trials must be conducted quickly and the guilty punished. The nation must take atrocities against Dalits very seriously."
Posted by klajja at December 11, 2006 11:01 PM