Casteism; prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of caste. That is what casteism is. And, Dalits, sadly, have been oppressed throughout the recorded history of India. They’ve been relegated to doing agricultural tasks as well as polluted occupations like disposing of dead bodies, cleaning toilets, sewage and more. They have been stripped of their dignity and have been denied basic human rights.
To this very day, thousands of villages have a separate area for Dalit houses, separate classrooms for Dalit children and separate walls for Dalits. And, this discrimination occurs despite laws against such practices!
But why? Oh, because they’re Dalits…they’re untouchables…they rank the lowest in the Indian caste system. It’s not anyone’s fault that people born into that caste have to suffer…right?
When I read about the Hathras case and what happened to that 19-year-old Dalit woman, my heart broke into pieces. But more than that, it sparked a burning curiosity in me which led me to open up my search engine and read more about the casteism that exists in India and everything that had to do with Dalits. And, let me tell you that once I finished reading as much as I could, my already broken heart, if possible, broke into even smaller pieces.
According to the Huffington post, the crime data in India shows that Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are hotspots for crimes against women…particularly Dalit women. Did you know that Kerala has the highest number of rape incidents per 1,00,000 Dalits? Sickening, right?
It’s terrifying to see just how much casteism remains as an ordering principle in Indian society today. It literally runs through our blood.
But what is India’s caste system? A brief explanation of what I’ve understood:
The system divides Hindus into 4 main groups-
- Brahmins (priests and teachers)
- Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers)
- Vaishyas (farmers, traders, merchants)
- Shudras (labourers)
However, some people were kept outside of this Hindu caste system. They were made to perform menial, dirty jobs. You already know who I’m talking about…
The 5th group: Dalits (popularly known as ‘untouchables’).
While this system was a true privilege to the upper castes, it was exactly the opposite for the lower castes who faced countless years of oppression and torture.
In smaller villages and rural areas, if a Dalit wants to appeal to the authorities to get a complain registered for an atrocity committed, it is not easy at all. The Dalit gets social barriers, passivity and apathy thrown right into their faces.
Most Dalits to this day are excluded from the provision of essential educational resources which is basically the most important and empowering tool that can help them level the playing field.
But what is even more annoying is that even though India’s constitution banned discrimination on the basis of caste, prejudice runs rampant amongst our Indian society (especially affluent parts of society).
And it’s not like Dalits themselves haven’t tried to speak up. According to hrw.org, in 2006 in Punjab, a Dalit laborer and activist Bant Singh was seeking prosecution of the people who gang-raped his daughter. In response, he was beaten up so severely that both arms and one leg had to be amputated. In another village in 2016, a Dalit family was killed by an upper-caste mob and the mother and daughter were stripped, beaten and paraded through the village.
Talking about this reminds me of a book I had read back in the 8th grade, when I was about twelve years old. It was called ‘Her Father’s Daughter’ by Shekhar Mehra. The book was about a girl, Gayatri, born into a zamindar (landholder) family who falls in love with a Dalit boy. Obviously, her household and the entire village were against Dalits. The book goes into detail about how the boy and his family are tortured by Gayatri’s household when they find out about their affair. And her father didn’t have to tell the village twice to ill-treat and torment the Dalits (since that comes naturally to most people, hm?)
When I had read the book at that time, I was confused as to why the Dalit boy was abused and tortured so much. I couldn’t find a reason as to why him or the Dalits were treated so harshly and were made to live on the outskirts of the village. I was puzzled. They were nice people. All of them. Why did they have to be opposed and persecuted? For what? Just because of their caste?
And now when I think about it, it makes my blood boil. Discrimination based on one’s caste is NOT correct. At all. And rape? That is just as, if not more awful!
Rape cases aren’t taken very seriously in our country. When an incident occurs, a big uproar takes place across the nation only to die down after a couple of months (it’s a whole other topic only). However, in terms of discrimination, our nation has taken a few notable steps to at least try and reduce Dalit oppression.
In 1947, India introduced a reservation system to enhance the ability of Dalits to have political representation as well as to obtain government jobs and education. And, in 1997, India elected its first Dalit President, K.R. Narayanan. Many social organizations have started to promote better conditions for Dalits through education, healthcare and employment.
However, even though Article 15 of the Constitution of India may have prohibited discrimination based on caste and even though Article 17 may have declared the practice of untouchability to be illegal, such practices are still widespread.
Why? Well, because nothing is going to actually change until society’s mindset itself changes!
So what can we do? What can we as informed, educated individuals do to change how people in this nation approach casteism and discrimination?
First thing; don’t sit back and let it happen. Complaining from the comfort of your couch while sipping a cup of tea ain’t gonna do anything! Instead, get up and actually do something about it. Anything. Even a small action, a small effort, a small something can help influence how we as a whole nation deal with discrimination.
Second and most important thing; spread awareness! In whatever way you can, bring light to this issue! Create petitions. Sign petitions. Take part in, support or lead protests against discrimination. Use your social media handles to post and repost about rape and discrimination in India! Talk to as many people as you can…inform ones who don’t know much about the prejudice in India. Host social events, virtually or in-person where you can reach a wider audience.
The first step towards change is awareness. DALIT LIVES MATTER.
I’d like to end this post with a thought-provoking quote;
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
~ Nelson Mandela