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Thursday, June 6, 2013

In the voice of Antara Roy, India: The right to live, not survive

                                                                                                                        By Antara Roy

Dalit House
Source: Vipingoyal; wikimedia commons
On 15 August 2013, India completes 65 years of independence. The face of India shows many tell-tale signs of development. However, the mood quickly gets sombre when you dig deeper. Once the initial dazzling brilliance of change is settled, the truth of the raging inequalities gives cause to shock most tourists. Yet, as Indians, we seem to accept this reality as the way of life. We like to justify these social structures as parallel worlds that are in perfect harmony with each other. Sadly, we ignore the fact that the inequalities are not just based on financial status. We have a far worse enemy dragging us back for each step taken forward. It is based on social rank decided at birth, a rigid system that restricts progress on merit.

A friend of mine recently asked me to write an article on the Indian caste system1. That was when I got thinking about the existing unforgiving hierarchy which has been ingrained into us and is part of our social system. Despite all our achievements in science and technology we are a land of the blind. Yet this topic of discussion is huge. In this article, I would like to bring focus on a section of the Indian society. This section of the population does not get to enjoy the benefits of free India. With the tide of time, people are trying to fight the injustice. This article is in appreciation of them and to help forward their cause.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Source: wikimedia commons by અનિલ કંટારિયા

The most evident tragedy is the way we treat this section of our society called ‘Dalits’. They were the ‘Untouchables’. The Indian constitution presently forbids the use of the word ‘untouchability’, but little was done to change the bias grounded into our minds. The caste system itself still being legal, and authority mainly being represented by the upper classes, the Dalits often find themselves helpless in spite of the laws present to protect the citizens.

Interestingly, the menacing roots of this differentiation go deeper than religion.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar writes in his essay ‘Waiting for a Visa’ how Dalits were scorned by other religious communities. He was a Barrister-at-law and upon independence was invited to serve as the nation's first law minister. He was also appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and responsible for drafting India's new Constitution.. Yet, he could not touch a can of water: his touch would pollute the water2.

The situation has not changed much. A simple, quick internet search on current news relating to atrocities committed against Dalits is all it takes to provide one with good understanding.

A right to live

Dalit denied Narmada water4– The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has admitted a complaint that Dalits are not being given access to water from Narmada River, although the upper caste farmers responsible for this injustice have personal borewells and do not depend on the river water for consumption. More interesting is the fact that the water sump3 constructed for supplying drinking water to Dalits was not connected to Narmada river water pipelines.

Fight for acceptance

Orissa villagers stop midday meal cooked by Dalits5– The state Woman and Child Welfare Department had ordered the preferable employment of women from Dalit and tribal community for cooking mid-day meals in primary schools. However, the Village Education Committee (VEC) members ordered the Dalit cooks to stop work. The reasoning was that Dalits have no right to cook at a school that accommodates upper-caste children.

Fight for increased awareness

Long walk to Delhi by Dalit youths6– Four youths of Mysore city's Ashokpuram area took on the journey to create awareness and to draw the attention of authorities and politicians.

Abused Dalit community, Pune India, 2009
Source: GHRD files from the investigation 
Today India still comfortably trudges the path of hierarchical oppression. A friend from Europe indicated that parts of India reside in the Stone Age. At the time, this comment hurt my nationalistic sentiments deeply; however, while writing this article I begin to agree with the idea. It is not just the physical growth that reflects the development of a country and proves civilized living. This growth should be in the minds of every single individual so as not be ignorant to judge each other based on caste, gender, religion, and colour.

The journey of researching for this article has been rather unsettling, and created in me a sense of guilt. I have come to a personal realization that there is much greatness in our past, but when we find ourselves oppressing others in the name of tradition, we need to step back and question ourselves. There is definite progress and an increased awareness, but we need to try harder and end this atrocity once and for all.

                           One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself

Antara Roy is a young woman from Calcutta, India, currently living and working in the Netherlands

Links and References

        1.    A brief introduction to the caste system providing a helpful understanding of the topic.

2    2.     The essay Waiting for a Visa by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

   3.   A small space to collect water. Maybe used as a reservoir in India.

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