Karthik Navayan | Roundtable India
Society in India
A society should be a humane society; the pre-requisite of a society is that the groups of people constituting it should be related to each other through persistent relations. But in Indian society, people are not only unrelated to each other but also hate each other, and the castes belonging to the lower strata are not even left with the freedom that certain animals enjoy. The caste system in India denies human status to its fellow beings and treats them worse than animals. We can see that some animals like cows, pigs are given godly status whereas the so-called untouchables are denied entry not only into temples but also denied the right to even walk on the common paths. The saga especially of the downtrodden castes and the women belonging to these castes is highly deplorable. But still we call Indian society a ‘society’?
In Hindu ‘society’, caste is the most powerful instrument in determining a person’s dignity. Caste system is the result of the Hindu belief of ‘Reincarnation and Karma’. The four castes eventually developed into a social mosaic of 3000 sub-castes, with the Untouchables at the bottom of the list; in real sense they are out of the list. Such a rigid caste system is not found anywhere in the world except in India. If a person is born into a caste, his status is predetermined and immutable. Birth decides one’s status and this cannot be altered by the talent developed by the individual or by the wealth the person may accumulate. Similarly, the caste in which a person is born predetermines what vocation the person will pursue. One has no choice. Birth decides the occupation of the person. This caste system discriminates between human persons and stratifies them into different groups. Manu Dharma, the Hindu religious code of conduct, divides human persons into four Varnas.
The Hindu Indian society has defined a particular code of conduct to persons belonging to every caste. It also sanctified how a person or persons belonging to a particular caste shall relate themselves to a person or group of persons belonging to upper castes and lower castes with reference to this own caste. These were the four original varnas:
1. Brahmins (the Priestly Class)
2. Kshatriyas (the Warrior Class)
3. Vaishyas (the Trading Class)
4. Shudras (the Servants)
Situation of women
The Manu Dharma Shastra denied equal status to women, on par with men, and imposed restrictions on her: “Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in Youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.”
A woman has no right to study, let alone the Vedas. Women cannot utter the Veda Mantras, as they are unclean. A Brahman, Kshatriya, or Vaisya man can sexually exploit any Shudra woman. Even the act of killing a woman is explicitly justified as a minor offence for the Brahmins; equal to the killing of an animal.
Any society has to fulfill certain basic necessary conditions if it is to survive. These basics are known as functional pre-requisites of a society. Sociologists differ in their views regarding the identification of the functional pre-requisites. Some sociologists view social stratification as a fundamental pre-requisite, while some others view reproduction and socialisation as the functional pre-requisites of society.
With regards to the stratification of Indian society, Dr Ambedkar says “Caste is not just a division of labour, it is a division of labourers”; he also says:
“It is a pity that Caste even today has its defenders. The defenses are many. It is defended on the ground that the Caste System is but another name for division of labour; and if division of labour is a necessary feature of every civilized society, then it is argued that there is nothing wrong in the Caste System. Now the first thing that is to be urged against this view is that the Caste System is not merely a division of labour. It is also a division of laborers. Civilized society undoubtedly needs division of labour. But in no civilized society is division of labour accompanied by this unnatural division of laborers into watertight compartments. In addition, the Caste System is is a hierarchy in which the divisions of laborers are graded one above the other. In no other country is the division of labour accompanied by this gradation of laborers.
The Caste System is in itself a degenerate form of the Chaturvarnya which is the ideal of the Hindu. How can anybody who is not a congenital idiot accept Chaturvarnya as the ideal form of society? Individually and socially it is a folly and a crime. One class and one class alone to be entitled to education and learning! One class and one class alone to be entitled to Arms! One class and one class alone to trade! One class and one class alone to serve! For the individual the consequences are obvious. Where can you find a learned man who has no means of livelihood who will not degrade his education? Where can you find a soldier with no education and culture who will use his arms to conserve and not to destroy? Where can you find a merchant with nothing but the acquisitive instinct to follow who will not descend to the level of the brute? Where can you find the servant who is not to acquire education, who is not to own Arms, and who is not to possess other means of livelihood, to be a man as his Maker intended him to be?”
From the above observations of Dr Ambedkar it is clear that calling Indian society a society is somewhat problematic and those who claim and declare themselves as civil society in India in the name of fighting against corruption are actually ideologically corrupt and those who are gathered around them, speaking against the reservations to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes show that they are not civil in nature. The Indian Hindu society primarily lacks the pre-requisites of a society because of the caste system.
Caste is gaining strength day after day. The traditional caste is disappearing and its modern forms are emerging. And the modern casteism is more dangerous, more influential and invisible. Even the movements started with the goal of working against the caste system are becoming part of the caste system. Some organizations of the so-called lower castes which initially worked against the caste system are now actually strengthening the caste system, as Bhagwan Das observes: “Dalit parties have worked to strengthen the caste system, by further driving a wedge between scheduled castes and other groups. Their method of assertion is wrong. Only a few people in the corridors of power have benefited from the ascendancy of some Dalit leaders. For example, a Chamar leader will only work for his community since Dalits as a whole are not united.'
The living experience of caste differs from not only caste to caste but also from person to person. The living experience of caste of the so called lower caste is different from the living experience of caste of the so called upper caste. And how the so called upper caste describes “how caste operates” is different from how the so called lower caste would describe it.
If we check the caste back ground of 1) Child Labourers 2) Beggars 3) Prostitutes 4) Street Children 5) Rag pickers… and other victims of tragedies like communal riots, natural disasters in India, we’ll find that most of worst victims are from the so-called untouchable castes.
Law in India
Caste was the law in India for centuries. Caste as an ideology of hierarchy that most Indians believe and practice in their day to day life is the decisive factor in Indian life, and is the root cause of the denial of human dignity and of gross violation of human rights. It is important to see the plight of implementation of equality legislations of India.
Law in India, or the system of laws in modern India, is largely based on the English common law because of the British Rule, which justified the caste system. Much of contemporary Indian law shows substantial European and American influence. Various legislations first introduced by the British are still in effect in modified forms today. They were framed according to the guidance and suggestions of Hindu Brahmanical brokers.
Indian family law is complicated, with each religion adhering to its own specific laws. In most states, registering of marriages and divorces is not compulsory. Separate laws govern Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, but there is no Buddhist marriage act as the Brahmanical Hindus claimed that Buddhism is part of Hinduism. Actually, “Hinduism and Buddhism are distinct religions and cultures. They are different in many ways that define who they are and what their faith is. Hinduism was not founded by any sort of prophet, whereas Buddhism was founded by the Buddha. Hindus believe in the Vedas, but Buddhists do not believe in the Vedas or any other Hindu holy book; they do not believe in the existence of souls, or God.”
The exception to this rule is in the state of Goa, where a Portuguese uniform civil code is in place. There are about 1221 laws in India. However, since there are Central laws as well as State laws, and it’s difficult to ascertain their exact numbers.
The speech by Dr Ambedkar in the Indian constitution Assembly gives a complete picture of “Indian Society”. He says:
‘We must begin by acknowledging first that there is complete absence of two things in Indian society. One of these is equality. On the social plane, we have in India a society based on privilege of graded inequality which means elevation of some and degradation for others. On the economic plane we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against the many who are living in abject poverty. On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man and one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value.'
Dr Balagopal, a human rights activist, mathematician and lawyer from Andhra Pradesh, said:
“Law is not what the legislature made; the law is what the court says legislature made, and that is a very important distinction. Even a law maker, who is an MLA or MP, cannot say I made a different law, he is not allowed to say, once the court says this is the law you made. That is the law, and the Legislature will have to amend the law if they feel this is not the law they made; this instance happened recently when seven judges of the supreme court of India declared it is unconstitutional to direct the private sector colleges to give reservations. The judgment is unconstitutional, but had the constitution makers been here today they would simply have to amend the constitution, they can’t do anything. They have amended the constitution now, totally unnecessary amendment caused by the unconstitutional judgment”
This observation of Dr Balagopal clears the confusion. Even though there are good legislations, it is impossible to implement them until and unless the judiciary and executive also believe in them. Actually there is no reservation in higher judiciary and all high courts and supreme courts were/are filled by Hindu upper caste judges who believe in and practice caste. The Hindu ideology which is the root cause of inequality and discrimination is the guiding principle for most of them. Installing Manu’s Statue in the Rajasthan High court is a small example of the judges’ mindset in India.
Another news reported in the Times of India says “Several members in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday demanded action against a judge of the Allahabad High Court, who as part of ”purifying” his chamber, earlier occupied by a judge belonging to the Scheduled Caste, allegedly cleaned it with Ganga water. Labour minister Sathyanarayana Jatiya assured the House that the government would ascertain facts and take ”appropriate action.’ These are our judges.
Not only judges, many people in India including members of the so-called civil society, the politicians, religious heads, social activists, academics, and the lawyers merely speak against the practice of untouchability, but support the existing caste system; in the minds of Hindus it is a sin if they do not practice untouchability. They believe that caste was given by god. The Hindus, including judges and bureaucrats and other officials believe and practice what’s written in their religious mythological texts, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Vedas and Manusmriti– the literature which justifies the mischievousness, rapes, cheating, insulting, killing, burning of people of the untouchable, or so-called lower castes.
The problem of untouchability, discrimination and atrocities on the so-called untouchable castes originated from the caste system which treated them as secondary human beings. And the colonial construction of caste provided rulers’ position to the Indian Hindu upper castes and legitimized their higher status as normal. That led the whole Indian democratic system to become a caste prejudiced system that always favours the perpetrators of the atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the name of culture and tradition. And it created an impossible situation for the implementation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.
This attitude is in tune with the culture and mythology of Hindu religion which celebrates festivals after someone’s killing: Dussehra is celebrated after the killing of the king Mahishasura by Goddess Durga, and Deepavali is celebrated after the killing of Narakasura, another king, by goddess Bhudevi. In modern times also, many atrocities on the so-called lower caste people and groups- involving killing, raping and burning them- are reported on or during Hindu festivals.
The Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
Article 17 of Indian Constitution seeks to abolish ‘untouchability’ and its practice in any form is forbidden. It is basically a “statement of principle” that needs to be made operational with the apparent objective to remove humiliation and multifaceted harassments meted to the Dalits and to ensure their fundamental and socio-economic, political, and cultural rights.
Even after 5 years of the implementation of the constitution, when there was no change in the status of untouchability in the country, then the rulers recognised the necessity of a separate legislation and brought in the Untouchability (offences) Act 1955. But the act did not define what the crime is.
The government and rulers later recognized that the Untouchability (offences) Act 1955 was not sufficient to eradicate untouchability and to punish the perpetrators and brought another legislation after 21 years: the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act. But there was no change in the situation of prevalence of untouchability.
It was felt that the normal provisions of the existing laws like, the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1995 and Indian Penal Code have been found inadequate to check these atrocities. Despite previous legislations, the various gross indignities and offences against the Scheduled Castes and Tribes had not diminished. By recognizing these facts the Parliament passed the Act known as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 & Rules, 1995.
The statement of objects and reasons appended to the Bill while moving the same in the Parliament, reads “despite various measures to improve the socioeconomic conditions of SCs & STs, they remain vulnerable. They are denied a number of civil rights; they are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliations and harassment. They have, in several brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and property. Serious atrocities are committed against them for various historical, social and economic reasons.” Then the government again realised that there should be a proper legislation to address the problem of untouchability and to protect the rights of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and brought the present legislation, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The preamble of the Act also states “prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, to provide for Special Courts for the trial of such offences and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offenses and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” So the objectives of the Act very clearly emphasize the intention of the Government to deliver justice to these communities through affirmative action to enable them to live in society with dignity and self-esteem and without fear or violence or suppression from the dominant castes.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted by the Parliament of India (Act 33 of 1989), to prevent atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. And rules to this act were framed in the year 1995, after 5 years.
In 1950, the constitution of India abolished untouchability, but it remained; in 1955 the Indian government had brought in the Untouchability (Offences) Act, but untouchability has not gone. In 1976, the government of India had brought in the Civil Rights Protection Act, untouchability remained the same; in 1989 the Indian Government had brought in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, (hereafter the Act), untouchability had remained and the same kind of the killings, burnings, rapes on the so-called untouchables are continuing. And new forms of untouchabilities are emerging in the educational and employment institutions.
There are 3 components in the Act 1) Preventive 2) Punitive 3) Rehabilitative.
Atrocities on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes take various forms – both visible and invisible. However it is the visible forms of atrocities that are defined and included in Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. Visible forms of atrocities are taking place in rural India, and invisible forms of atrocities are taking place in urban life; the invisible atrocities are a more dominant form of atrocity. The invisible kind of atrocities frequently take place in universities and other educational institutions.
Human rights organizations including Dalit organizations mostly concentrate on the protection of Dalit human rights after atrocities have taken place. No people’s organization or government authorities are showing interest in implementation of preventive measures. The invisible atrocities on the Dalits can be prevented through the implementation of preventive provisions in the Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of atrocities) Act 1989.
Section ’17.of the SC ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act – Preventive action to be taken by the law and order machinery
(1) A District Magistrate or a Sub-divisional Magistrate or any other Executive, Magistrate or any police officer not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police may, on receiving information and after such inquiry as he may think necessary, has reason to believe that a person or a group of persons not belonging to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes, residing in or frequenting any place within the local limits of his jurisdiction are likely to commit an offence or have threatened to commit any Offence under this Act and is of the opinion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding, declare such an area to be an area prone to atrocities and take necessary action for keeping the peace and good behaviour and maintenance of public order and tranquillity and may take preventive action.
(2) The provisions of Chapters VIII, X and XI of the Code shall, so far as may be, apply for the purposes of sub-section (1).
(3) The State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, make one or more schemes specifying the manner in which the officers referred to in sub-section (1) shall take appropriate action specified in such scheme or schemes to prevent atrocities and to restore the feeling of security amongst the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.’
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India has identified and listed 195 districts as atrocity prone areas in 12 states: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh.
In March 2010, National Dalit Forum, an NGO, sent applications under the Right to Information Act to these 195 District Magistrates to know the implementation of preventive measures under the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.
The questions asked in the Right to Information application were:
1) Provide the list of atrocity prone areas identified in your district.
2) What are the preventive measures initiated in the atrocity prone areas?
3) Provide the information of financial resources to meet the expenses of the preventive measures, also provide the information of where the expenses have been booked, in which budget code and account number.
The response from the District Magistrates on the RTI Applications shows the pathetic condition of the situation, of the non-implementation of Preventive Measures. Out of 195 applications, only 150 acknowledgements were received; the other 45 districts magistrates/ authorities have managed not to send acknowledgements. About 20 applications were rejected saying that the preventive measures under Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 does not come under their functions. One district magistrate from Tamil Nadu replied to the above three questions as “NIL”
80 applications were forwarded to the concerned district social welfare officers saying that it is a matter related to the social welfare department and 50 applications were forwarded to the concerned district superintendents of police saying that the matter related to law and order. 150 replies with irrelevant information were received from district magistrates/ authorities and 40 district magistrates/ authorities supplied partly relevant information.
150 district magistrates/ Authorities replied in their local language: like Tamil Nadu magistrates replied in Tamil, Karnataka magistrates replied in Kannada, Gujarat magistrates replied in Guajarati, Kerala magistrates replied in Malayalam, Rajasthan magistrates replied in Rajasthani. It is a trick of the authorities to confuse the applicant; when the application submitted is in English, they have to reply in English only.
It is really a pathetic situation that none of the district magistrates felt responsible for implementing the preventive measures under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of atrocities) Act 1989. And many of them were not even aware of the provision of preventive measures. Except 10 district magistrates, all have tried to escape from their liability of providing information/and implementing the preventive measures.
The District Magistrate is the Chairman of District Level Vigilance and Monitoring Committee under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989; he is responsible for identifying the atrocity prone areas and also to initiate preventive measures. It is clear that the administration and police are totally insensitive towards the protection of rights.
The provision for punitive component in the Act is Section 4, which says “whoever, being a public servant but not being a member of a Scheduled for neglect Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, wilfully neglects his duties required to be performed of duties. By him under this Act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year”.
Section 4 is a provision in the act to punish the investigation officer/ any government authority who neglects his duties that have to be performed under this act. It means the police have to register a case against another police officer which is a very rare phenomenon. It may possible in the cases when more politically influential people are involved but it is very difficult with regard to the cases of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Until now not one case is reported under this section.
A bare reading of the Section 4 shows that the offences, which are punishable under this section, must have been committed by neglecting duties to be performed under the Act. So, the inference is that specifically for the purpose of an act/wilful default, committed by the Public Servant under this Act, legislature in its own wisdom has came out with punishment for the wilful negligence by the Public Servants under the Act.
But the major lacuna in the Act is that the section has not clearly defined “wilful negligence”. So the crucial question is whether the process of investigation conducted, investigation report and filing of Charge Sheet within stipulated time, providing relief and compensation to the victims and implementing protective and preventive measures in respect of any duty prescribed under the Act comes under the Section 4 or not.
The experience of the survivors, activists and organizations reveals that the police and administration are adopting several ways to neglect their duties and diluting the spirit of the Act at every stage from the registration of the case. Some of these problems are as follows:
At the Level of FIR and Investigation:
1. Delay in filing the FIR.
2. Refusal in registering FIR by Police officials.
3. Writing the complaint in favour of the accused without giving necessary details and not reading it out to the complainants.
4. Cases not registered under proper sections.
5. Not including necessary details in the FIR (facts, figures, words, deleting the names of the accused /weapons used /accused list, their details)
6. Misleading the victims by registering case in the SHD instead of registering in the FIR.
7. Not issuing copy of FIR to the victims as per SC/ST (POA) Rules 1995.
8. Not investigating the case in time.
9. All the victims, witnesses are not covered under investigation.
10. Investigation is often being carried out sitting in the dominant caste locality or calling them to the police station.
11. Police officials are not entering all the details narrated by the victims and witnesses in the statements.
12. Victims are not provided protection during and after investigation
13. Not informing the victims and witnesses about the date and time of IO’s visit.
14. Delay in providing documents (post-mortem certificate, wound certificate) to the victims.
At the level of Charge Sheet:
1. Delay in filing charge sheet.
2. Delay in getting approval from higher authority.
3. No corroboration between the statements collected and charge sheet.
4. Deleting of sections of SC/ST POA Act in charge sheet.
5. Depending on legal opinion to finalize (charge sheet).
6. No mechanism in judiciary to monitor filing of charge sheet.
7. Charges are framed without looking at the related corroboration (corroboration with charge sheet and FIR charges are framing).
8. Outsourcing preparation of charge sheet.
Section 21 (III) of the Act talks about the provision for the economic and social rehabilitation of the victims of the atrocities; it means that a victim of atrocity, including victims of atrocities for physical or psychological harm suffered as a consequence of the atrocity, shall have the right to fair and adequate relief, compensation, and rehabilitation.
But the situation is very terrible: the victims of atrocities are treated as untouchable even in the courts and offices. The Victims are not paid TA/DA/Wage during investigation, trial. And they are not paid medical expenses. The compensation and the immediate relief are not being paid according to Rules – 1995.
Keeping the above experience as base the Ministry of Home and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment issued several advisories between 2002 to 2006 for better enforcement of the Act and Rules. “Suitable Departmental action may be initiated against a police officer in case He or she does not register the FIR. Further, in case the police officer does not belong to SC ST, appropriate action may be initiated under section four of the Act”. [No. 11011/8/2006 -PCR (Desk) – 14/03/06 MSJE; No. 24024/9/2004- SC/ST Cell-03/02/05
Hence there is a need to define the types of negligence based on the advisories issued by the Ministry of Home and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and various methods that the Officials are adopting to dilute the spirit of the Act.
A study was conducted on the implementation status of SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 by the National Coalition for Strengthening the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the report was released by the Retired Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan on 18th May 2012.
The Report revealed that there is a substantial increase in cases of violence against SCs and STs. The report also highlighted loopholes in the implementation of the SCs and STs [Prevention of Atrocities] Act and argued that it has not been able to check atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in an effective manner.
According to the report, crime rate against SCs has increased from 2.6 per cent in 2007 to 2.8 per cent in 2010. In 2010, Uttar Pradesh accounted for 19.2 per cent of the total crimes against SCs (6,272 out of 32,712) in the country. In the same year, Rajasthan reported the highest rate of crimes (7.4 per cent) against SCs compared to the national average of 2.9 per cent. And the number of crimes against STs drastically increased in 2010 to 5,885 cases and murder cases of STs alone totalled 142.
At national level, only 11,682 (34.2 per cent) out of 34,127 atrocity cases were registered under PoA Act in 2010. Of all the cases registered in 2010, investigation was completed only for 37,558 cases of the total of 51,782 cases. Charge sheets were submitted only for 26,480 cases (51 per cent) because of which even by the year end, around 14,092 cases remained pending for investigation. In 2010, of the 16,601 cases registered across the country under PoA Act for atrocities against SCs, the police closed almost 2,150 cases (13 per cent) in 2010. Meanwhile, of the 1,714 registered cases of atrocities against STs, 223 (13 per cent) were closed. The report also says that with 101,251 cases of crimes against SCs/STs (80 per cent) pending for trial by the end of 2010, no significant improvement was seen in the trial pendency rate (82.5 per cent) at the end of 2011.
All the above facts and non-implementation of SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act reveals that Indian society is not civil in nature towards its fellow beings. And there is no social climate that makes the majority of people feel the necessity of protecting the rights of the so-called untouchables.
The Hindu Indians still practice their ancient law. Though they live in the modern era caste is the only law for them. And there is no social acceptance for equality law, therefore there is no social practice of law in India. The constitution and different social protection legislations are one on one side and the Indian Brahmanical ideologies and philosophies which are deep rooted in the minds of Indian Hindus are on the other. Though there is written legislation and mechanism available for the protection of human rights of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, they all are futile when there is no acceptance from “society”.
The Indian government should stop supporting Brahmanical upper castes and their casteist ideology which results in atrocities on SCs and STs, instead of making numerous useless legislations in the name of protecting human rights.
Please read the first part of this article here.
 Which legitimizes the untouchability, denial of freedom, self respect, right to education, property to the dalits and women
 Varna means color, the Caste
 Manusmriti IX.3
 Manusmriti IX.18
 Manusmriti IX.25
 Das Bhagwan, Times of India, April 15, 2005 – http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-04-15/interviews/28041839_1_dalit-politics-caste-system-indian-politics
 Laxmaiah Mallepally, The Hans India, 10th May, 2012.
 Dr Ambedkar’s address to the Constitution Assembly, 25th November (1949), (Constitution Assembly Speech, vol.2 at 184-187).
 Dr Balagopal’s speech on Caste and Law in EFL-University, organized by Department of Cultural Studies available at http://www.archive.org/details/BalagopalOnHumanRightsMovementInIndia
 The Times of India/New Delhi/22 July, 1998.
 The Statement of the object and reasons for SC/ST (PoA) Act, 1989.
 Unpublished report of study on the implementation status of preventive measures under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, by National Dalit Forum, Hyderabad.
 NCRB Data 2007 reveals that 67.4% of the cases were not registered under SC/ST (PoA) Act, 1989.
 The State Police Department of Andhra Pradesh in response to the query raised by the Chief Justice of the High Court of AP on the PIL filed by Sakshi Human Rights Watch admitted that 14,452 cases were delayed and 3,281 cases were not charge sheeted due to delay in getting approval, legal opinion and superiors’ orders. The statistics furnished by the Director General of Police shows that 1 case registered under this Act [SC and ST (PoA)] is pending investigation for the last almost six years, 4 cases are pending investigation for last five years, 18 cases are pending investigation for over four years, 31 cases are pending investigation for over three years. 190 cases are pending investigation for almost two years and 805 cases are pending investigation for last about one year.
Untouchability is a menace and social evil associated with traditional Hindu society. It is being practiced since times immemorial and despite various efforts made by social reformers such as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar; and despite there being provision on abolition of untouchability in our Constitution under Article 17, the evil is still in practice in our country.
What is Untouchability
Untouchablity in simple terms can be understood as a practice whereby a particular class or caste of persons are discriminated with on the ground of their being born in that particular caste or on the ground of their being members of those social groups involved in menial jobs. The discrimination can be in the form of physical or social boycott from the society. For instance: the members of so-called higher castes such as Brahmin, Kshatriyas etc would not dine or sit with a person of Bhangi class.
It was believed that people of higher castes could become impure even if a shadow of an untouchable person touches him and to re-gain his purity he had to take a dip into holy waters of the Ganga.
Who Are Untouchables in India?
According to traditional Hindu ‘Varna System’, a person is born into one of the four castes based on karma and ‘purity’. Those born as Brahmans are priests and teachers; Kshatriyas are rulers and soldiers; Vaisyas are merchants and traders; and Sudras are laborers.
Untouchables are literally outcastes. They do not directly figure into any of the traditional ‘Varna System’ of Hindus. According to Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, untouchables form an entirely new class i.e. the fifth varna apart from the existing four varnas. Thus, untouchables are not even recognized under the caste system of Hindus.
However, historically persons born in lowest castes and classes of persons doing menial jobs, criminals, persons suffering from contagious diseases and tribals living outside the so-called civilized world were considered as untouchables. Their exclusion from the mainstream society was based on the belief that they are impure and harmful and it was necessary to ostracized them for the overall benefit of the society.
Untouchability was also practiced as a form of punishment to the law-breakers and criminals; they were socially boycotted for their misdeeds.
Who are the Dalits?
Untouchables are also known as depressed classes, harijans etc; but today they are more frequently referred to as ‘Dalits’. In modern times, ‘Dalit’ refers to one’s caste rather than class; it applies to members of those so-called menial castes which are born with the stigma of “untouchability” because of the extreme impurity and pollution connected with their traditional occupations. They are considered impure and polluting and are therefore physically and socially excluded and isolated from the rest of society.
Today members of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes (SC/ST) are considered as ‘Dalits’ and they are subjected to various forms of discrimination in the society. Especially, Schedule Castes such as Chamars, Passi, Bhangis and Doms etc are known as ‘Dalits’; these people are generally associated with menial jobs such as tanning, skinning of hides, works on leather goods, sweeping, scavenging etc.
Types of Discrimination against Untouchables or Dalits
According to National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), there are various forms of discriminations being practiced against Dalits in India, these are:
- Prohibited from eating with other caste members,
- Prohibited from marrying with other caste members,
- Separate glasses for Dalits in village tea stalls,
- Discriminatory seating arrangements and separate utensils in restaurants,
- Segregation in seating and food arrangements in village functions and festivals,
- Prohibited from entering into village temples,
- Prohibited from wearing sandals or holding umbrellas in front of dominant caste members,
- Prohibited from using common village pat,
- Separate burial grounds,
- No access to village’s common/public properties and resources (wells, ponds, temples, etc.),
- Segregation (separate seating area) of Dalit children in schools,
- Bonded Labor,
- Face social boycotts by dominant castes for refusing to perform their “duties”
Abolition of Untouchability under Indian Constitution
India got Independence on 15th of August, 1947 after long and painful struggle of more than one hundred years. The struggle was not only against the foreign rule of British but it was also against the social evils such as untouchability prevailing from centuries. After Independence when great leaders of freedom struggle agreed to make our own Constitution, it was decided that there must be provisions under the Constitution regarding the abolition of social evils and upliftment of down-trodden castes and social groups etc.
In view of this objective Article 17 was added to the Constitution; Article 17 reads as follows:
“Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability” shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.”
Thus, Article 17 abolishes and forbids untouchability in any form. At the same time, it also makes it an offence punishable as per the law made by the Parliament.
In order to fulfill the mandate of Article 17 of the Constitution, the Parliament enacted the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955. It made several discriminatioray practices punishable as offences, although the punishment provided were rather mild and in their actual application even milder.
Several lacunae and loopholes were found in the working of the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 which compelled the Government to bring about a drastic amendment in the Act in 1976. The Act was revamped as the Protection of Civil Rights Act.
However, the menace of untouchability continued and ‘dalits’ were still being treated in a discriminatory way, their socio-economic conditions remained vulnerable, they are denied a number of civil rights and were subjected to various offences, indignities and humiliations.
Therefore, to counter theses atrocities meted out to so-called ‘Dalits’ section of society, the Parliament passed ‘Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Attrocities) Act, 1989. The Act provided more comprehensive and punitive measures to deal with and to prevent discrimination and atrocities against ‘dalits’. The ultimate objective of the Act was to help the social inclusion of Untouchables/Dalits into the mainstream Indian society.
These above mentioned Acts were made with good intention and with positive objective of removing discriminatory practices against untouchables/dalits but in actual practice, these Acts have failed to live upto their expectations.
Untouchability: Present Scenario
In our society there still exist feeling of superiority of caste and birth. We can experience the practice of untouchability in everyday life around us, especially in rural and semi-urban areas of the country. Also, in big metro cities, the inhuman practice of manual scavenging is still there. According to a news report of Press Trust of India (PTI), on January 3, 2014, four tea shop vendors were arrested by the Police in Karnataka for practicing untouchability while selling tea- they were serving tea in different types of cups to caste Hindus and SC/STs. The incidence shows that the evil practice is so deep rooted in Hindu society that even after 67 years of Independence is continuing in one form or other.
However, it can be said that things are slowly changing; the mind set of modern generation is also changing. Today’s youth with modern education and globalized outlook are viewing the social order from different perspective of equality and impartiality and not from the religious or traditional point of view.
Hopefully, the wicked practice of untouchability would be removed from the society sooner rather than later and our country would usher into a new era of social equality and brotherhood which will be the true India of Gandhi and Ambedkar.
Social Reformers of India