PUCL Bulletin, December 2001

Erode: TN & Pondy PUCL
Casteism, Intolerance and Instruments of Law
-- By Justice Dr. K. Ramaswamy, Member, N.H.R.C.

Table: Crimes on dalits and tribes

:Table 3: All india conviction rate under PCR Act and
SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act during 1991 to 1998

The acute and complex 21st century problem that would continue to plague Indian democracy is Casteism. The clash of war between constitutionalism, i.e., equality, fraternity and unity among the people of India, the grand vision of the basic structure built in the Preamble and the caste-based discrimination, instead of resolution, even after 54 years of Independence and 52 years of the working of the Constitution, has been continually raging. Casteism and the wicked assertion of caste hierarchy have been much more menacingly raising ugly head. For failure to tackle this menace, the civil society, instead of integration, is getting further fragmented and disintegrated. The centrality of the issue, therefore, is to tackle Casteism.

The quintessence of human rights is dignity of the individual and equality of status, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (U.D.H.R.), 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, the International Convention on Social and Economic and Cultural Rights, 1966, the International Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination, 1965, the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination in Religion and Intolerance, 1981, are all aimed at tackling intolerance and discrimination pervading the society. All are born equal in dignity and rights and all are integral part of humanity. The presumed superiority or inferiority has no scientific basis and is contrary to the moral or ethical principles of humanity. It is anti-social beliefs. It hinders development of the victim and perverts those who practice it. The purpose, object and aim of UDHR and international instruments which were pragmatically incorporated in the Indian Constitution in the chapters relating to Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, is to ensure protection of dignity and equality inherent in all human beings and pledged to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all groups of people.

The social structure in India is predominantly based on hierarchical caste system, inculcating a sense of ascending scale of respect and descending scale of discrimination and denigration of the people. Due to untouchability which was given social and religious sanctions for its perpetuation, the Dalits have been kept as outcastes, inflicting indignity; inhumanity and denigration have been heaped on them for millenniums. International human rights regime and the Constitution of India prohibit caste-based discrimination, in particular, by Articles 14, 15 and 16 and abolished untouchability by Article 17, life has been protected under Article 21, and equality of status and dignity has been given in equal measure to the Dalits and Adivasis. By practicing untouchability, Dalits have been deprived of education, basic human right for intellectual excellence, cultural pursuits and economic empowerment, social justice, equality of status and of dignity and opportunity. The international Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights is aimed to ensure social, economic and cultural rights in equal measure to reach all the people, including the deprived sections. Articles 38, 39, 41 to 46 of the Indian Constitution are equally aimed at attaining the same goal. Because of the spread of education in post-Independence era among the fringe of Dalit children, they became conscious of exercising their fundamental freedoms and human rights, especially the right to dignity and equality of status. It is unfortunately misunderstood to be an affront to the hierarchical ascending order of respect, hitherto being the privilege of the forward segments of the society. They feel that their hegemony is at stake.

As a result, to maintain the status quo superiority and to suppress the assertive spirit of the Da1its for their human dignity and equality, the Dalits and Tribes have become the target of atrocities. The atrocities are crimes against humanity and symptoms of depraved conduct and degraded civility and civilization.

As time passes by, the frequency of committing atrocities on Dalits has been rising. Though the Constitution has abolished untouchability in Article 17 and its practice in any form was declared a crime, in other words, a crime against the Constitution; human rights violation and crime against humanity, backed up by penal laws for prevention thereof, in other words, the Untouchability Offences Act, 1956, christened as 'Civil Rights Protection Act, 1976' and The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the frequency has been on the rising scale and the machinery of criminal justice system practically has failed. As a result, these laws are viewed by the Dalits with cynicism and aggressors laugh as mere 'paper tiger with no teeth to bite'.

As per 1991 document of the Government of India, Ministry of Welfare "that every hour two Dalits assaulted, every day three Dalit women, raped, two Dalits murdered and two Dalit houses burnt in India. It is a frequent spectacle, the Dalit women are disrobed to the public view and paraded naked in the villages for no fault of them, often mass murders of Dalits committed.

State-wise statistics also have been given and every year the maximum offence committed against scheduled caste are from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Similarly for Scheduled Tribes Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. As seen despite Article 17 a fundamental right guaranteed to the Dalits, human right to dignity of individual and equality of status are human rights as also fundamental rights, the aforementioned statistics tell a tale of ground reality that the Dalits and Tribes, seldom enjoy human rights and the law has failed to protect their right.

As has been mentioned though, fundamental freedoms and human rights incorporated in the Constitution are equally available to all citizens and no one has been given higher rights over others. Every day Dalits and Adivasis are being discriminated due to Casteism, poverty and illiteracy. The law prescribes punishment for violation which is a crime against humanity but the mindset has not been changed. No one had bargained to be born in a particular community or caste, religion or region. Birth is the result of the biological act between wife and husband/man and woman. The hitherto mythical belief that Brahmin is born from the head, Kshatriya from the arms, the Vaishya from the stomach and the Shudra from legs, no longer is believed by anyone including the hardheaded casteists. In democracy governed by rule of law, everyone is entitled to exercise his/her constitutional, civil and political rights including right to contest and to be elected to the elective bodies. Hitherto perpetration of Casteism by the four varnas has now been given way to its perpetration of untouchability and atrocities on Dalits, in particular, and on Adivasis is more now by new found middle class backward class segments in the society than the traditional Brahmins, Kshatriyas or Vaishyas.

The root for committing crime against humanity, in other words atrocities on Dalits, in particular, is due to mindset of not to appreciate that everyone has been born equal and entitled to equal fundamental freedoms and human rights and that the exercise thereof by the Dalits, Adivasis and other poor people is for the protection of their human rights, dignity of person, equality of status, economic empowerment and right to be elected to an elective office etc. Every right carries with it equal duty to fellow citizens. As has been mentioned the caste system, though, has come to stay in India for over centuries, Casteism is no longer relevant in a democratic polity. Each is entitled to equal right, equal protection and non-discrimination and equality in dignity of person, status and of opportunity. Therefore, to disseminate these human rights perceptions constitutional guarantees, human rights education and inculcation of human rights culture and Human Rights spirit are necessary which should be brought about through educating students by formal education of human rights, adult education on human rights to uneducated adults; in particular, to the enforcing agencies, the police.

When the law entrusts on them they are under law and not above law. In a democracy the police are part of the civil society and humane governance is expected of them and the police are accountable. They have no right to kill the Dalits and Adivasis in police custody. Equally the police should be sincere in implementing the law. It is not so much the lacuna in the law but the spirit to abide by the law by the people and the zeal, devotion and sincerity to enforce the law by the public functionary and, in particular, the police force is necessary. Sensitization, motivation and sincere implementation of law are their duty. Periodical orientation training courses on human rights, human rights culture to the police force will inculcate in them sensitivity and will disabuse their mindset to be amenable to law. The duty of the state too is to disseminate the human rights culture and spirit in the civil society. Without cooperation of the civil society, it is impossible to bring about unity, fraternity and integration among all sections in the society. Therefore, human rights education, adoption and cultivation of human rights spirit and observance of human conduct should purge human rights education, adoption and cultivation of human rights spirit and observance of humane conduct.

In the civil society all are not hostile towards the Dalits or Tribes or other poor people. There are many an enlightened and public-spirited persons and human rights activists in the society like PUCL, which have been doing yeoman service for the past 25 years. All should join together to eradicate the evil of casteism, and to educate the perpetrators of human rights violation, literate who are either intolerant or do not appreciate the human rights of the weaker segments, particularly, the Dalits, the Adivasis and other poor people in the society. While carrying on the human rights campaign and its regime with the cooperation of these segments and proactive role by the media, print as well as electronic and sincere implementation of the law by police, commission of atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and other poor people could be prevented and the spirit of unity and integration could be spread.

Here is a classic instance that Shri Rathinam and his colleagues even at the cost of their practice as advocate championed the cause of murder of Shri Murugesan, Dalit Panchayat President and carried it as a campaign and successfully prosecuted the offenders. I do not propose to go into the merits of the matter since it is the subject of a pending appeal in the High Court. Suffice it to say that to prevent repetition of such atrocities, cooperation of all enlightened and public-spirited persons and human rights activists are absolutely necessary, for prevention is better than cure. Therefore, even at threshold the spirit of human rights education, human rights spirit, and human rights culture should spread among the people so that harmony and peace in the society would be brought about, unity and integration among the people would be established. I appeal to all right conscious, public-spirited persons and human rights activists to join hands and carry this campaign to eradicate Casteism and proclivity to commit atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and other poor so that peace and social stability would be a reality.

- S. Balamurugan, Joint Secretary, TN & Pondy PUCL

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