the other people
The saga of the other people has not ended. It is shifted to the international
arena. They do not appear to be part of "we the people". Serious
efforts to bring these "the other people", who are rotting as
non persons in a caste-ridden society, to the status of persons were on
for some time prior to independence. The people emerged from subjects
to citizens after 15 August 1947. After the coming into force of the constitution
all of us attained a political status with well-defined rights. The most
articulate representative of the other people wrote into the constitution
human values and gave it a human face. There was recognition in the constitution
that for the other people to truly become "we the people" specific
safeguards and positive measures were necessary. Caste was not abolished
by the constitution. Provisions were made to treat all castes on a par
with each other. But the other people, even after 50 years, have remained
"the other people".
Constitutions and gods have always been good. The problem has always been
with interpreters, law, and judicials. The constitution makes untouchability
an offence. And it persists. Bonded labour and child labour come from
the ranks of the Dalits. Both the practices have been made penal and abolished
by the constitution and yet they persist. The entire administrative, judicial,
and political systems are still exercised by the "upper" castes
despite large-scale movements against these hegemonic practices. A few
are allowed to climb the social order as political leaders or as judges
in the subordinate judiciary or as High court judges. In education and
Government employment, the constitution has introduced reservation as
a principle of ensuring equality for the Dalits. The present ruling party
at the centre attacked reservation as the prime cause for diminishing
merit and efficiency in administration, and by stocking the anti-social
order as equal members. It is more difficult to fight this teasing illusion
than to fight downright subjugation and the status as on person.
In the rural areas, violence against the Scheduled Castes continues unabated.
Recognizing this, Parliament enacted the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled
Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, a law creating special offences,
which were made triable by special court. Look at the practices which
continue to exist and which parliament has identified as offences under
the Act. Very few of us would have gone through the definition of "atrocity"
in the Act; nor would any of us have heard about nor witnessed the indignities
to which scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are subjected continuously.
Where social reformers have failed a Constitution may not succeed unless
the words in the Constitution are transformed into deeds.
Section 3 enumerates 22 categories of atrocities, which are made punishable.
Unless we read the enumeration of the atrocities set out, we may not be
in a position to understand why Ambedkar wanted to get out of the Hindu
system, why the Schedule Castes want the conduct of upper castes to be
made an international issue.
The law was intended to afford speedy justice, the component of speed
was to act as a deterrent. The lebensraum provided by the law to evade,
defeated the law without any necessity for open defiance. The assault
on Dalits is legitimised by the acquittal of assailants in courts. The
offences under the Act were made triable by Special Court whose presiding
officer shall be a sessions judge. This is entrusted to the Special Court
for purposes of speedy trial, an aspect of Article 21of the constitution.
This was interpreted by the apex court to mean that like all other criminal
offences it should pass through the committal proceedings before a magistrate.
This enactment now remains only in statute book and will slowly fall into
desuetude. All this is achieved without the help of a loaded judiciary
system as in the U.S. Thus we have laws, constitutional provisions show
cased to tell international bodies through obliging Attorney Generals
that the caste of the Dalits cannot be equated with race.
James Baldwin, the African-American writer, in one of his essays "Letter
to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation",
sets down the condition of the Blacks ) which is no different from the
untouchables in India. He points out to his nephew, "you were born
and faced a future that you faced because you were Black and for no other
reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever.
You were born into a society, which spelt out with brutal clarity, in
as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were
not expected to aspire to excellence; you were expected to make peace
with mediocrity." This is what the caste system tells the untouchable.
The slaves were not transplanted in the United States to give them democracy.
The promise of democracy was not made to them. In India, despite the grandiloquent
declarations in the constitution, birth and descent is the criteria. The
identification of this targeted collective of 160 million is not difficult;
nor is it the issue. Racial discrimination targets the Blacks for trying
to rise above the subservient status allotted to them. They and the dalits
are need for the performance of hard labour in the fields and for performing
menial chores. They should be, to better function in their allotted status,
quarantined and rendered invisible. Every society has such collectives
who are targeted for such discrimination and violence and the perpetuation
of such a collective can only be by descent. The principle of power is
at issue and not some sociological definition or description of caste,
which does not tally, with the meaning of race.
The 160 million Dalits are demanding that untouchability and other forms
of discrimination based on descent practised in India be equated with
or included in racial discrimination and other related intolerences. Arguments
based on sovereignty to bar scrutiny of obnoxious and obscurantist practices
violating human rights and dignity are irrational. Identification have
never been an obstacle to employing discriminatory practices and violence
The Caste system in India and the hereditary untouchability and the irrational
and violent conduct these practices engender are crimes against humanity
under the International Criminal Code