Media coverage on crime is heavily skewed in favour of reporting urban crime as opposed to rural, or caste-based crime. Though we occasionally hear reports of honour killings, or entire community households being burnt down, they are reported more as examples of a malaise afflicting society. This malaise itself is not talked about. This post captures some recent information on practises against Dalits and atrocities against them.
Open magazine, along with a number of other news papers have carried stories on a report published by a group called the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (“an umbrella group of more than 150 labour, Dalit and human rights movements). They set off on a comprehensive survey three years ago. They started documenting all manifestations of untouchability, 2010. They visited 1,845 villages in 22 (of 32) districts in the state. The survey recorded an astonishing 80-odd practices of untouchability—new, bizarre, vintage. It further recorded 22 atrocities committed against Dalits.”
Some of the practices the magazine quotes from the report include:
- Not allowed to speak on the cell phone in the presence of caste Hindus. (A practice reported in the Nilgiri constituency, a reserved Lok Sabha seat, the current incumbent of which is, ironically, Union Telecom Minister A Raja.)
- Not allowed to keep male dogs. (Why? They might breed with female dogs from upper caste neighbourhoods.)
- Separate work timings under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
- No door delivery by postmen; postal department prevented from hiring Dalit postmen.
- Prevented from having their clothes washed or ironed, or assigned separate cupboards at the laundry for clothes of Dalits.
- Offered tea in coconut shells which they can drink only by squatting on the ground.
- Attacked if they call any caste Hindu as annan (brother).
- Dalit (Arunthathiyar) students compelled to clean bathrooms in schools.
- Forced to eat faeces.
- Murdered if elected as Panchayat President against the wishes of the dominant caste.
- Killing all dogs in a Dalit area if a dog of the Dalit area bites a dog that belongs to an upper caste community.
In the course of my work I have often heard of the Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the Prevention of Atrocities against SCs and STs Act. I went through the website of the National Crime Records Bureau which would also record statistics on offences under these two laws:
- There were a total of 33,615 incidents of crimes being reported against SC’s in 2008. Almost 25% of this was in Uttar Pradesh.
- Under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, more than 35% of cases were still pending investigation at the end of the year.
- The total number of cases for trial in courts in India under the SC/ST Act in 2008 was 40,963. Out of this, 34,014 were still pending in courts at the end of the year.
Though there was a lot of other information available, I put in these three points to highlight how at all three levels starting from the actual occurrence of the incident, investigation by the police, and finally to dispensing justice in courts, there is an overwhelming picture of the state and society having failed in resolving the issue of caste amicably.