Dalit's Fact and Figure
The caste system of India has produced a classless people, literally outcasts, called the Dalits, or untouchables. They number about 300,000,000, representing close to one-third of India's total population. If the Dalits were a nation, it would be larger than the United States of America and the fifth largest in the world.
An incredible movement is taking place in which many Dalits are rejecting Hinduism, which is believed to be the cause of their condition, and in large numbers are embracing other religions, including Christianity.
Although some churches are found among the Dalits, mostly this movement is in its infancy. Other videos in this series, Sounds of Global Worship, feature examples of the varied worship expressions found among these people.
It is the desire of Heart Sounds International to help this emerging church develop its own indigenous worship forms. Of interest is the fact that many of India's artists and creative people come from among the Dalits, and we believe that in time these new Christian believers will compose many new songs of worship to the Lord.
This video is an excerpt from a documentary that Heart Sounds completed by invitation of a ministry within India. It reveals the plight of the Dalits as they struggle to find freedom in the midst of a very difficult situation. Many are finding this freedom through the good news of Jesus Christ Whom the Dalits also recognize as a Dalit, or outcast.
COPYRIGHT HEART SOUNDS INTERNATIONAL. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.www.heart-sounds.org
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
Discrimination Against Dalits
Keeping Dalits in Their Place
Dalit Life and Poverty
Dalit Groups and Professions
Dalit Latrine Cleaners
Ratcatchers and Leatherworkers
Mazhabis, Dhobis and Mahars
Gandhi and Laws that Protect and Help Dalit
Dalits Improving Their Lives
Dalits Still Suffering Despite Improvements
The Ugly Reality of Caste Violence and Discrimination in Urban India
Data on caste-based violence in metropolitan cities confirms the grim reality that sits at odds with the narrative of an aspiring global superpower.
by Ashwini Deshpande
A mention of violence against Dalits on account of their caste readily bring forth images from rural or small-town India; depending on our vintage these could be from late 1970s’ horrific Belchi and Pipra massacres, or of the more recent public flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat. We would rarely imagine metropolitan cities, supposedly melting pots, as being sites of caste-based crimes, as the urban arena is expected to dissolve and obliterate caste distinctions. Caste is prima facie anonymous in urban India; urban (upper-caste) Indians would forcefully insist that caste is either dead or dying, as forces of urbanisation, globalisation and modernisation are sweeping away antiquated social distinctions, and fostering a climate of meritocracy, which recognises and rewards individual merit or ability on a level playing field.
In this context, the 2016 report of the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) which, for the first time, has released separate figures for 19 metropolitan cities on crimes against Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SC/ST), is enlightening. It provides data for three years (2014-2016) for these 19 cities. These are large cities, with populations of over 20 lakhs (two million), and if it were at all possible for caste to be anonymous, it would be in cities such as these. To clarify, the crimes against SC/ST are those registered under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA Act). The original Act was passed in 1989, and was amended in 2015 to expand the scope of offences committed against Dalits and Adivasis specifically targeting their caste or tribal background.
We will return to what kinds of offences are included under this Act later; for now, let us focus a bit more on the crime numbers released by NCRB.
Crime figures: what can we understand from them?
The data released by NCRB is compiled from statistics given by the state/union territory police departments and central law enforcement agencies. In other words, these are crimes that are reported and recorded. Thus, any comparison of change or levels needs to be made with caution, as it might reflect differences in reporting, and not in the actual incidence of crime. Imagine a fictitious city, say Shahbad, notorious for atrocities against Dalits. If nobody filed a complaint, the police records of Shahbad would show zero atrocities, but that would be a reporting issue, not the actual absence of atrocities. And if one person filed a complaint with the police, the crime incidence in Shahbad would show an “increase” from zero to one, i.e. a 100% increase, but that would reflect an increase in reporting, rather than a worsening in Shahbad’s upper-castes’ proclivity to commit atrocities.
In this fictitious example, we can tell if the 100% rise indicates an actual increase in atrocities, or an increase in reporting. In the NCRB data, we cannot distinguish if the variation reflects differences in incidence or in reporting, or a bit of both. Does this mean then that these numbers are not indicative at all? Of course, not. We need to be aware of the caveats related to this data, of which there are several, and be very careful with interpretation.
Having said all this, we can actually note some inescapable conclusions. What is noteworthy about the caste violence data from the metropolitan cities is that it is not negligible, indicating very clearly that caste consciousness is far from dead in urban India. For instance, India’s “Silicon Valley” cities, poster children of modern, globalising India, temples of cutting-edge information technology, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, reported 207 and 139 incidents respectively in 2016. Accompanying these cities were the usual suspects, the BIMARU capitals, Lucknow and Patna, with 262 and 241 cases respectively, at number 1 and number 2 spots in the incidence/reporting ranking, respectively.
Second, it would reasonable to view these figures as the tip of the iceberg, which means that these numbers hide more than they reveal, as several caste-based crimes and atrocities would never get reported. The behemoth establishments of police and law enforcement appear daunting even to the well-heeled, and pose almost insurmountable multi-faceted challenges for the poor, poorly educated, stigmatised, marginalised and those without powerful and influential connections. Dalits and Adivasis combine all of these disadvantages and more. Additionally, given that crimes covered under PoA are specific caste-based hate crimes, victims often under-report because of fear or reprisal, and/or to avoid added humiliation that would invariably accompany a scrutiny of their complaints.
What kinds of crimes and atrocities do these numbers reveal?
To fully appreciate what these figures reveal about caste consciousness in urban India, it is useful to understand the kinds of crimes covered under the PoA Act. The full list is too long to reproduce, and goes well beyond the obvious and routine crimes consisting of murders, assault and robberies. The crimes reported under PoA are those where the perpetrators are not Dalit-Adivasis, and the victims are. Some examples of such crimes are: forcing victims to eat or drink obnoxious substances; dump excreta, sewage, carcasses into their homes or compounds; land grabbing; humiliation; sexual abuse. These are glaring, flagrant and egregious actions. The Act also covers a series of actions, which might appear more benign, but are equally harmful, as these prevent Dalit-Adivasis from being able to carry on with their lives in a routine manner, such as preventing them entering temples, or hospitals, or contesting elections, take out wedding processions, wear nice clothes, attend school or college without being harassed and humiliated, work in an occupation of their choice and so on.
Keeping these examples in mind, we can now return to what these numbers tell us. Regardless of whether the inter-city and/or yearly differences in these numbers reflect a change reporting or actual incidence – in other words, whether Bengaluru and Hyderabad actually have a higher incidence of these offences, or have heightened awareness and consciousness – with possibly more responsive police – that gives Dalits-Adivasis the confidence to report such crimes – the fact remains that such horrific and often gruesome expressions of hatred, against those who are regarded as untouchable and marginalised, continue to happen in 2016, despite the existence of Article 17 of the Indian constitution forbidding untouchability explicitly, and punishable under the law.
THE CASTES AND DALITS IN INDIA
The word Caste, originates from the Portugese and Spanish Casta, meaning "race," "breed," or "lineage." It was first applied to the jatis of Indian Society by the Portugese Travelers in the 16th Century. This has a strong Racial base, Ethnic foundation and a Cultural bias. Although, now the superstition and belief created by the Caste System appear to have started to deteriorate and change, the unjust social structure and unfair recognition of individuals groups and their contributions, that was created by the Castes is still very much in place, especially in Rural Areas. There are about 3,000 jatis or Castes and more than 25,000 sub-Castes in India. India's 3,000 Castes are grouped loosely into four varnas.
The word varna is Sankrit for colour, which later came to also mean classification and grouping. The varnas or classes, traditionally determined the occupations of the People. Those at the top had reserved for themselves the purest, most sanctified and lightest or easy occupations, and those at the bottom were coerced and forced to deal with things that were taxing, heavy, risky, dangerous, difficult, uncomfortable and impure. Thus Classes based on varnas, do not depend upon any ones education, intelligence, occupation, suitability, capablities, achievements, income, wealth and potentials; but the varna determines the Class of a whole Segment of the Society, the Group, the People, and the education one born there in can have, the occupation one can take inspite of education intelligence knowledge suitability skill capacity capablity potential, the income they can have, the heights to which they can grow, and the wealth they can acquire retain hold and own. Hence, in this Country, Caste is varna based determinant of Class, and Class in the Indian Society is dependant on the varna based Occupational Caste! And it holds good even today, inspite of some exceptions. Exceptions they are, not a measure of the changes taking place in the Indian Society. This is true, not only in India, but anywhere in the World amongst the Indian Society, be it in USA or Canada, or Britain and Europe, Asustralia or Russia, South East or Middle East, Ceylon or Burma!
In traditional terms, the four main varnas and their occupations were, in descending order:
Brahmans: priests and vedic scholars
Kshatriyas: warriors and rulers
Vaisyas: merchants and traders
Shudras: artisans, labourers and servants
These are the visible mainstream, and hence recognised and acceptable part of the Indian Society, that is directly dominated by the brahmins. The occupations indicated against each of them are what generally is attributed to them. But don't ever ask what the brahmins as scholars were doing, why they were said to be scholars, whether they were students and teachers, what they were learning or teaching anything, what they were teaching, whom they were teaching! And don't question as to what developments and progress did the prayers and scholarship of brahmins ever led this ancient Nation, large Society in this Country and the invariably hard working but poor people!!
A very very small Part of this mainstream Indian Society, is the exclsively closed small numbers of brahmanic society, believing in their original god Brahma - with the brahmins his original followers! They are at the Center, on an average only about 3 to 5% of any region in the Country! But they always, even if poor or illiterate, are at the top of the visible Indian Society.
The immediate bigger circle, which is also relatively small - being only about 15% including the brahmins with a National presence of about of 3% of the Indian Society, is the core of the 'Sanathan Dharm' of dominant caste hindus, the DCH - BKVs. The larger outer circle, of the mainstream brahmin controlled Indian Society, is of the 'caste hindus' of the 'chatur varnas' or four varnas. That is based on the Varnavavastha or Varnashram System of four basic castes of the Religion - Sanathana Dharma. This is the fourfold 'hindu system' of the BKVSs. It is slightly less than 50% of the total Indian Society.
Outside this brahmin controlled hindu system exist, a very large section of People, who are by and large still invisible or kept invisible. They are the marginalised and neglected Indian Society. They are the non-hindus. They were originally the non-caste people or casteless people. They were the original Indegenous People of the Country, of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They were the Ati-Shudras. And these Ati-Shudras form the backbone of the Indian Society, and are the prime movers of the Nation's Economy!
The Ati-Shudras were treated at different points of time of the Indian Social Evolution, as being the unseeables, unhearables, and Unapproachables of the Indian Society. They were confined to exclusive areas outside the specific main hindu habitations. Some of them remained totally unknown even to the rest of the Indian Society till British Times. They were driven out and banished or distanced themselves safely that far, and hence were forgotten completely and totally. The rest had to keep safe non-polluting distances. Today they are still the Untouchables and or the unwanted Unacceptables! All Social Assurances, Political Promises, Legal Safe Guards and Constitutional Guarantees to them have really no meanings! The only difference is that most of them now have a new Constitutional Identity as the SCs and STs. And they have their own identity, a single identity as Dalits, cutting across all Parties, Regions, Languages, Ideologies, philosophies, faiths, castes, sub-castes, tribes, sub-tribes and Religions! That is the reason, why inspite of the great historic ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, temperate weather conditions suitable for agriculture, settled habitation, development and growth, India could not develop into a really vibrant and progressive society, or develop to be a great Nation. Till today this Country could not evolve an Indian Society! Even now the Indians, their Govts and Scholars are chasing the mirage of a hindu society, in a Nation of brahmins baniyas kshatriyas kayasths and shudras, surrounded from all sides by the SC&ST Dalits believing in Buddhism, Christianity and Islam! Then there are also others who are non SC&ST Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Jews, Muslims etc.
The Ati-Shudras are basically agricultural workers, miners and settled specilist skilled workers. For, tilling the land for agriculture and digging the earth for mining, were considered to be defiling mother goddess earth, and amounted to molestation, unforgivable and unpardonable grievious violation of her body, and was nothing but rape! But there was never any prohibitary measure on the part of the caste hindus to prevent agriculture and mining, since they were necessary for the survival growth wealth and good living of the dominant caste hindus. But they were used as one of the ploys to keep ot the Ati-Shudras, experts in agriculture and suitable for hard dangerous taxing work of mining, from the main stream society. Therefore, tilling or mining the land was basically left to the Untouchables! And anyone touching the plough even by mistake, would loose caste and declared an Untouchable and ex-communicated from the orthodox hindu society.
The Ati-Shudras, were and are, and hence will always be a different people! They were and are still different racially, culturally, ethnically, and in their habitation and social practices. They are generally strong stocky well-built black stub-nosed and curly haired, with the women having thick long curly hairs of immense personal value and to the jealousy of others. The women are socially equal in almost all respects, enjoying nearly all the rights of their menfolk. They are, in fact socially free and are equal partners with men - whether it is at the work place or in cooking at home, or drinking and smoking at home or in public, or marriage divorce and or remarriage. Specifically, these are some of the charecteristics that set Ati-Shudras apart, ethnically and culturally as a class different, distinct and far away from the dominant caste hindus.
The Ati-Shudras have their own gods and goddesses even today, starting from that Paraya god Shiva, and his consort that Parachi - the Jungli goddess Kali. The gods of the Ati-Shudras have their own temples. What is more, even their goddesses have their own independant and exclusive temples - free from their consorts. These Temples have their own distinct but simple constructions, with bright colourful architecture, and with very little restrictions. Ati-Shudras follow distinctly different but simple ritualistic practices of worship, that include offerings of meat, blood, and intoxicating home-made or community brewed liquor. Ceremonial occassions, invariably involve serving of food in public to the whole community. And the unique fact is that these Temples did not have any Priests. Anyone and everyone praying and or making offerings is at that time a Priest himself or herself. It is not that this is because the Ati-Shudras did not have the benefit of brahmin priests.
The brahmins and Ati-Shudras in a traditional society or in an orthodox setting, never ever came anywhere near. The only persons who came into contact with the Ati-Shudras were the Slaves of the brahmanic society - the Shudras, and the traders and merchants - the vaishyas or baniyas. Hence the question of the brahmins and their priests serving the Ati-Shudras or Ati-Shudra Temples and the Ati-Shudra gods and godesses does not arise at all, even today in most parts of the Country. Well, that becomes a problem in Ati-Shudra Christian Churches, where the dilema crops up as the Church as an International Institution or Theology or Ideology is a stranger to the Castes, and the Dangers Evils and Trauma of Castes; where is it is a reality in India, in the whole Indian Society including the Indian Christian Society; and very much exists and is practiced within the Church, along with the attendant dangers evils and trauma; even though the Official Church does not accept or discuss this that openly, and in reality does not know till date how to handle this. So the Official Church does not accept the existance of castes within the Church, or the discriminations of the Ati-Shudras within the Church, and refuses to face the Castes squarely within the Church and Christian Communities. Therefore, often the Problem arises today, as to which priest(s) will go to the Ati-Shudra Churches, when and at what cost to the Ati-Shudras Christians. For, in the Indian Church, though there are no hierarchic Priesthood as amongst the caste hindus, most of the Christian Priests are by and large are of caste hindu origin, still carrying with them in their heart caste hindu biases, specifically the discrimination of the Ati-Shudras.
The Problem of a caste hindu Priest does not arise in the traditional Ati-Shudras' Temples, as there is generally no priestly-intervention or priest-intermediary between the praying Ati-Shudra and the god or goddess. Every Ati-Shudra can by himself or herself directly communicate with his or her god or goddess, casually in passing; or seriously with offerings and sacrifices, touching his or her god and or goddess personally and physically. But this does not mean that the Ati-Shudras did not or do not have any Priests. They always had and even now have their own Priests, who step-in on special occassions. But they were and still are uniquesly different and distinct from those of other Religions and Communities. They were highly proffessional, great masters in their art and knowledge of rituals prayers and songs. The prayers and prayer songs etc were and still are in local languages, but chaste and pure, within the knowledge understanding and grasp of the common man of the community. These were professionals alright, but were not professional priests! They were and still are, ordinary members of the Ati-Shudra Community, attending to normal household and professional works like anyother individual. But they were and are called, in only for formal ceremonies - such as those associated with death and organised marriages. This again, even though a man and a woman, on their own choice secretively by themselves, or exclusively with only their close friends and confidents, without others knowledge can go to any of their own or chosen god or goddess for the occassion - anywhere in the Village, or on the roadside, or in the fields, or even in the jungles - to get married as per the custom they know or choose to adopt. This they may declare to the community, or may keep it as a secret till they choose to declare at a later date. That is perfectly valid, as for as the Ati-Shudras are concerned with-in their communities, whether there were any witnesses for the marriage or not, or whether such a marriage proposal had the approval and sanction of the community, or was opposed by anyone else.
The Ati-Shudras as Untouchables were treated as special servants of the hindu society, meant for exclusively reserved unwanted tasks. They were the Slaves of the Indian Society, freely available to anyone and everyone in the hindu society, for exploitation. They were destined to do all difficult dangerous risky dirty or filthy works. But no-one in the hindu society were responsible for their welfare and well being. Manytimes, no one was responsible to even pay for the actual works done for the hindu society. Often times, and even today, they are expected to work free, merely on getting a general information, without anyone calling any particular one of them specifically. They were to work for the general good and public upkeep of the hindu society, just in return for some leftover food that someone may give, or manytimes not even that. They are generally expected to fend for themselves, and be on their own. But they should always be available, and be ready at the beg and call of the brahmanic society.
Today, for various historic and political reasons, particularly to keep the Scheduled Dalits away from the Muslims, and also the Christians and Sikhs, particularly the anti-hindu Sikhs otherwise referred to as militant Sikhs, they are being referred to as 'Panchamas' of the hindus or the fifth varna. Thus they were never, and even today are not part of the hindu society. Yet, today the Scheduled Dalits are considered an appendage or extension of the hindu society. And in common parlance, they are loosely referred to as hindus, even when they are not, and are actualy outsiders, living outside and away from chaturvarna hindus of four-caste-brahmanic system! The Scheduled Dalits are outside, and still not openly and publicly stated so, for political and intra-religious reasons today, as being outside! The Scheduled Dalits are said to be inside, but really not treated so, and honestly not accepted as being inside. This crude fact, has been repeatedly stated publicly by jagatguru (world teacher) Sankaracharya of Puri, and frequently reported in the Press - Print and Electronic Media, to the great discomfort and ebarassment of the Govts! The Dalit being a hindu is great fraud and illusion played on the Dalits, created deliberately and sustained at a very big cost and social tension in the recent decades. Affected are not only the SC&ST Dalits, but also the whole Church in India, Christianity in the World totally confused and not knowing what to do and how to deal with the double-dealing Indians and Indian Leadership, and the whole Indian Muslim Community that is
The Dalits were also called as the 'Mlechas' that means foreigners from beyond big turbulent rivers, seas and oceans, the hills, and the hill people. Infact all Persians, Greeks, Romans, Afghans, Arabs, Burmese, Ceylonese, Chinese, Tibetans, Turks, Mongols, Moghuls, Europeans including the British Colonial Rulers, the Black Africans etc, irrespective of the fact whether they were just travellors, visitors, settlers, invaders, crude conquerors and all powerful rulers, and even deciders or determinators of the destiny of all caste hindus, were referred to by the single term 'Mlechas'. This, even when the foreignerswere infact were the deciders or determinators of the destiny of all caste hindus. They were all considered actually as Untouchables only, irrespective of their position status and power! The brahmins had a knack of treating and saying so, or making it clear to the lesser caste hindus without offending the foreigners and getting into trouble themselves. The last publicly known case of such a discriminative treatment and public humiliation was that of Lord Mountbatten, the last and said to be the most influential and powerful Viceroy of India with plenipotent powers, after he visited a Temple in South India. Today, the non-hindus of the Indian Society are actually in majority, but are mortally weakened by extreme fragmentations and mutual suspicions and distrust. They are very badly divided and refuse to come together, even to face the crafty caste hindus for their own survival. A good number of them are other Religious Settlers from outside the Country, converts to Islam and Christianity from mostly the Shudra and Ati-Shudra Communities, and perhaps a few outcasted caste hindu families. In fact, the biggest punishment and fear or humiliation for a caste hindu, always had been being outcasted, loosing the caste, and ex-communication from the caste hindu society.
The division, differentiation, marginalisation or basic stratification of the Indian Society is as -
brahmins and non-brahmins,
dominant caste hindus and non-DCHs,
caste hindus and casteless people,
and finally as,
hindus and non-hindus.
The SC&ST Dalits always and everywhere were pushed down to the very bottom of the whole Indian Society - inclusive of the caste hindus and non-caste hindus. The practices and methodologies may vary from place to place, but the end results remained always to be the same. To the Dalits were left the occupations that involve the most undesirable and impure work and occupations, such as that of midwives, leatherwork, slaughter, scavenging, disposal of the dead, including the humans and the brahmins' own sacred cows, etc. Even today there are not much changes, though the form and actuals jobs might have undergone some modifications, such as - nursing in addition to midwifery, and to work as poorly paid rural teachers in uknown places where no body wants to go, attendants in very dangerous places in mines, power plants, nuclear stations, etc. They having been condemned to the bottom of the Indian Society, had to always remain there permanently at the bottom. They are said to be impure, and always retain their impurities. They could even transmit the impurities of their birth as Ati-Shudras, to others through physical contact, use of the same physical facilities, or even by having their shadow cast on any of the caste hindus, however dirty polluted and mean the latter might be! This, even if their present occupatios may be modern, respectable, professional and much more superior to that of the brahmins and other caste hindus. This lead to the literal practice of people being segregated as untouchables. This happens, and such meaningless and thoughtless untouchability, much worse than Apartheid, is being practiced today at the end of the Twentieth Century in this Country, even in the highest Govt Offices Universities and other big and higher centers of learning - though such incidents are rarely reported in public and carried by the caste hindu press and electronic media, or investigated. Officially, the practice of Untouchability was outlawed by Article 17 of the Indian Constitution, and made a punishable criminal offence. In reality, however, it is still a very real debilitating painful practice that actully pulls down not only the Ati-Shudras, but also the progress and development of the entire Nation.
A Population, slightly larger than the entire size of the United States of America suffers daily from a level of discrimination, similar in many respects but more harmful and evil than the Racial Discriminations of the African-Americans in the United States, and the Blacks in South Africa under Apartheid. These discriminations range from discriminations in admission to schools to being forbidden to share public facilities with caste hindus, to lethal violence. The Violence against the Ati-Shudras are carried out by various hindu groups, the most well known being the hindu ultra-conservative RSS militia. The later always attack the Muslims and others for liberating, by enmass Conversion, the Untouchable SC Dalits and invisible ST Dalits. They have now specifically turned their fury against the Christian Missionaries for the past Conversions, particularly the distant still to be recognised Tribal Dalits.
The name Dalit, a self-adopted one, has come to replace the term “untouchable," and the derogatory term harijan of Gandhi, and the denigrating name girijans of the Govts. Dalit, literally means “broken” or “crushed under foot.” And this today is preferred to other terms, as it is thought to represent the true conditions of the people. And what is important, it is not demeaning or condescending in any way. Originally, the term Dalit applied only to those formerly Untouchables, but it has been expanded in many places today to include the Tribal Peoples, who being nature worshipping anemists like the SC Dalits, are also not a part of the hindu caste structure. Other terminologies for peoples in this condition include Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, or simply SCs&STs, which derive their origin from the Indian Constitution’s “scheduling” of those castes and tribes that are disadvantaged. All of these terminologies tend to be rather amorphous, and are used still interchangeably. SCs&STs are still part of the overall group of Weaker Sections of the Indian Society. Being non-hindus living outside the caste fold, they were also considered earlier as one of the non-hindu Minorities. And being poor and backward, SCs&STs were part of the large number of Backward Classes. But, with the Govt having specifically taken them out of the Backward Classes, away from the Shudra Backward Castes and other Minorities, and declared them to be the SCs&STs, the rest of the Backwards, minus those who follow major non-hindu Religious Minorities are now classified as the Other Backward Classes.
Today, some progress in upward mobility of Dalits appear to have been made in metropolitan areas. However, most rural areas still remain mired in the social traditions of caste, which hold lower and non-caste peoples down. It is also important to note that while casteism is declining in some areas, as a determinate of occupational and economic status; it remains a formidable tool in forming political groups and support. Both the President of India and the recently appointed President of the governing coalition leader Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are Dalits. It should be however noted that both are largely symbolic appointments. They are infact proving to be the uncomfortable cause of many legal political and social frictions, even at those highest levels.
MEDIA AND DALITS
As the experience of groups from around the World have shown, a major key to overcoming Oppression is access to Media, and uncontrolled mediums which allow free and open discussion of all issues. This report provides an examination of whether or not this is true as for as the Dalit Community in India is concerned, and if not, what can be done to take steps in that direction.
OVERVIEW OF INDIAN MEDIA
In India Media is reasonably well developed And the Media today has a wider reach, in urban and semi-urban areas, and urbanised rural areas nearer to State Capitals, business centers etc. It has a powerful role to play in business promotion, and political life of the Parties and their Leaders. It is for these specific reasons that big industrial and business houses are running many of the News Papers, and are also branching off to the now powerful visual media.
apart from Paintings this includes Drawings, Line Sketches also. The painters in early days were generally Dalits. They used their artistic skills in paintings and drawings to show their resentments against the brahmins and brahmanic gods and goddesses. Hence, they always included an unusual animal with various gods and goddesses to depict their inhuman nature and animal qualities! They also invariably painted them with crude aggressive weapons in their hands and on their person, to tell their People, the Dalit Communities and the World that they are not godly but are cruel killers, and one has to keep away from them. That is the reason that unlike the brahmins, Dalits as a People are not close to the exploitative demanding and bribe taking gods and goddesses, who act only on getting their considerations! These gods and goddesses are that way worse than the corrupt caste hindu officials, both in the private and Govt Sectors.
Except for the modern day high flying caste hindu cultural ambassadors casually working as Sculpters to rake in money, the Sculpters who have produced millions and millions of innumerable statues in different media are the SC&ST Dalits. For various reasons those who have been working on gods and goddesses have been included as some lowly caste hindus. But the patterns and norms laid out by the Dalit Painters have struck, and they always followed them while producing the gods and goddesses, providing killer weapons in their hands. Added to that, they often went one step ahead, showing these gods and goddesses as cheap perverted creatures indulging shamelessly in public fornication. As result any rational unbiased analysis of these gods and goddesses, as done by Baba Saheb in his Riddles, or by Annadurai Karunanidhi etc in the South would show how third rate they were unfit toeven be considered as human beings!
The Folklore alive particularly in the Rural Areas is always of the Dalits. They are in the form of Stories, Childrens Stories, Fairy Tales, Legends, Lullabies, Poems, Songs, Bhajans etc. They are rich with many interesting and useful anecdotes, historical accounts, witty sarcasm and sensible irony. They effectively convey the seathing anger and silent protest of the Dalit People, against all the social cultural ritualistic and religious practices of the brahminic society. They reflect the peoples animosity and general antagonism against the brahmins, other dominant caste hindus, their gods and goddesses. They are clearly understood by the masses, unlike the ununderstandable meaningless Sanskritic Sloghas, which are not often clear to the brahmins themselves, who had only mugged them up blindly from oral recitations by some one else. They are therefore varying, and are invariably not reliable hearsays!
It is for the above reasons that the huge colossal white elephant of irrelevant Indian Education System in the brahminic hands, including the rare few Dalits who had managed to worm their way in, are very systematically consciously and carefully avoiding any collection compilation documentation preservation study and research of local and regional folklores. Instead, the whole dominant caste hindu Govts and the brahminic controlled Media, are always working overtime to hoist the literatures beneficial to the brahmins like Ramayana and Maha-Baratha as National and Religious Indian Epics. This inspite of many meaningless irrelevant immoral evil anti-people, anti-social, anti-development and pornographic references in them. Studies and publication of the Folklore like the Kannada Grama-Devathalu or Village Deities and such other works by Siddha-Lingaiya in Karnataka had crudely shaken the brahmins. And as usual they could effectively silence them by buying him out for his silence! No such publicly known contributions to highlights the Works of our Dalit Forefathers specifically denied formal education by the brahmins and other DCHs had been done by any of the Dalits elsewhere in the Country.
D. FOLKSONGS AND BHAJANS
Folk Songs and Bhajans are also infact part of the Folklore of the People. Most of the Folklore are, except some of the the Folk Stories are in the form of Folk Songs and Bhajans composed and sung in praise of dalit gods and goddesses. They were the easiest form of handing over socially relevant messages, particularly protests against the corrupt, evil and the wrong doers in the society, authority and at the higher levels of Govt and Religious Institutions like the Temples. In fact these were the most popular form of Mass-Media of the People from time immemorial. It is sad that today the Dalits have invariably lost their faith and their capacity to use these. Instead the Dalits, particularly the educated urbanised ones even from the Rural Areas and Villages, have become more dependant on the evil brahmins, their advice, and their media, and have developed implicit and deep faith in all their doings.
Poems and artistic expressions are by deep thinkers, disturbed minds worried about the unfair and unjust happenings all around them in the Society, Educational Academic and Research Institutions, Govt Offices, Religious Bodies etc. They quickly effectively and in short few sweet couplets could deliver their messages strongly and with due focus. Poems by Great Dalit protest Poets like Joshua and other nameless millions of conscious and concerned Dalits can shake the berahmins and drive them to suicide and death if only they have any shame and conscience! This is a powerful Media which the modern Dalits should again make use of. Here is one great literary medium in which even illiterate unlettered Dalits have traditionally been masters. And many great Poetic Literary Works are by such great immortal legendary Dalits, whose Dalit origins and backgrounds are systematically being concealed and denied even today! This inspite of the facts that the existance name background and origins of many Dalit Authors, and even the Works of hundreds of Dalit Poets having been suppressed and destroyed by the highly destructive evil brahmins! Like the Tamil brahmins who deliberately threw the Palm Leaf Writings of ancient Tamil Scholars in flooded Cauvery, saying that real good worth preserving works will flow against the current of the River in Spate and reach the banks, and that other useless works should left to get washed away! What a scheming evil mindset the brahmins have!
This include the Street Dramas, Dramas in Street Corners and Melas, as well as the irony and sarcasm even in Bakthi Movements. But Drama had not evolved into a big medium in this country except in some States, like Andhra Bengal Maharashtra Tamil Nadu etc, to refer a few. The impact of Drama and also Cinema on the Society and Culture in awakening and throwing out, even the massive wide-spread oppressive yoke of the brahmins and their extreme social suppressive mechanisms and injustices, as well as the radical political changes they have brought in their wake in Tamil Nadu is very well known to recount here in any more detail.
This includes plain writings, novels, posters, hand-outs, hand-bills, wall writings publication of books, etc. But with the all round massive illiteracy in the Society, and the specific denial of all Education to Dalits all through the history of this Nation, writing is not very popular amongst the Dalits. But it is heartening to know that protest writings are showing up in a big way in States like Andhra, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. But they are still a long way for these protest Dalit Literature to make an Impact on the Society in a real big way. The problem is compounded by the lack of interest in buying books, and non-existant habbit of reading particularly others writings. This situation is further hampered by the increasing cost of books, entry of brahmins and baniyas in printing and publishing, their poor quality and unattractive printing, effect of inflation, higher costs. And the extent of reading particularly amongst the target groups of Ati-Shudra Dalits, Shudra OBCs and other poor is very poor because ofthe still prevailing massive illiteracy amongst these massive sections of society!
This is another special area where Dalits have not entered so far to make a mark. But this a very convenient area to criticise castigate and send a quick message.
Radio is perhaps the oldest, and the most available and reliable form of media. All India Radio (AIR) has 305 Transmitters. AIR claims to provide Radio Coverage for 97.3% of the population(?) over 90% of the country. AIR Stations are the only domestic Radio available, but there are foreign services such as the Voice of America, BBC World Service, Radio Ceylon once the most popular in South, Radio Pakistan, Voice of Bungladesh, Radio China etc from the surrounding Nations. But their availability is not as wide spread as that of AIR. Everyone with in the villages visited, had access to a radio and said that they listen to AIR. It was the preferred source of media for very few people.
Cinema is the oldest largest most influential Media in the Country. It has on any day the farthest reach and far-fetched reach to reach the unreachable if one desired so. The potentials of Cinema have never been fully realised, nor have they been tapped and utilised for any positive development, in the real sense! Ofcourse, Govts through their News Reals, Documentaries, Short Films, Clippings with the Media Units and Films Divisions, had been trying to reach the rural masses, educate the rural people children and students, and bring about changes in the rural societies. This they have been doing through the compulsory screening of weekly and monthly News Reels screened in Cinema Theaters, or by screening them in special shows in schools, rural areas, festival times and in the fairs. Missionaries and Church had also been using Cinema and Documantaries to carry the message of Peace, Life, Brotherhood and Fraternity, the Message of Jesus and the Spirit of Christianity amongst its folks in the Church and Church Compounds. But sadly today the social and educational role of Cinema as an agent of change and medium of good meaningful and useful message had ceased in this Country long long ago. But it still exercises a great influence in certain cercumstances particularly in Politics, specially in the Southern States.
This is again another area of contradictions. While this is basically a foreign medium evolved as a result of scientific and technological developments elsewhere in the world, and millions of photographers and photographic workers are the Ati-Shudra Dalits and Shudras, those who actually use Photography as a Media of Professional Journalistic Value and rake in millions and names for themselves are again only the brahmins and other DCHs promoted patronised and projected by their own ruling classes in Govts and other offices of power authority and patronage! Thus the Dalits have by and large could not make much of a mark, though it has very important and great potentials. World would not have forgotten the cold blooded blood thirsty trigger happy Colonial Officer firing to kill a protesting Native in South-East Asia, with the small-arm right on the temple of the hapless victim. There are many more such historic pictures, which had rudely shaken the conscience of the World and ultimately brougt down even even the crude criminal cruel heartless and mindless down to their knees. Thus Cameras and Photography, particularly the very Small Detective Cameras, Movie-Cameras, Video Cameras, Digital Cameras etc have great potentials of capturing the cruelties real intentions scheming and planning of the brahmins and their petty backward agents, or the actions and doings of their cold-blooded blood thirsty RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal killer operators, against the helpless Dalit Women, Children, the aged etc etc. These are yet to be realised and made use of by the Dalits in any effective way, because of their foreign high technolgy origin as said earlier, as well as lack of exposure, familiarity, knowledge, experience, confidence and the cost factor!
Exhibitions of Paintings, Wall Writings and Posters etc etc that bring out the suppressed and hidden anger and simmering dissent and under the surface protest,
Television is the most favored form of media. Television includes shooting and filming TV Programmes Messages News etc, either in professional well-equipped Studios, make shift places, in the open field or even in remote and wild araeas. The opportunities for the Dalits to enter these areas are very limited, even though some break is available to learn the skills formally in Govt run Film and TV Institutes, thanks to the much criticised and run down Reservations in admissions.
Through Antenna Reception, only one or two Channels of Doordarshan, the Government of India’s National TV network, is now available to the common man, though earlier almost all Channels of Doordarshan were available for the average TV Viewer without a Cable Connection. This is so, because for reasons unexplained, Doordarshan had handed over most of its Channels to local private cable operators. Thus the common man, with-out personal Satelite Dish Antena Reception, or the ones accessed through cable connections, can not access most of the Channels of even Govt run Doordarshan. Yet, Doordarshan claims to have a reach of about 87% of India’s Population; which given the inaccessible backwardness, poverty and endless miserable routine in the rural areas and of the massive large sections of Weaker Sections of the Indian Society, is definitely a doubtful bogus tall official claim.
In most areas, Doordarshan’s National Programming is supplemented by State and Regional content from the State Capitals. What can be received through cable and satellite is an entirely different story. As said earlier most of Doordarshan's Channelsn are also available on Satelite Cable. These Multiple Channels come with more diverse programming. And Satellite Channels such as CNN, BBC World Service, and StarTV are also available. These deliver a wide variety of American, Australian, British, and other Nations' TVs, as well as Indian programming, to those households able to afford Dish, or have access to Satellite Cable Television. Inspite of these, most Dalits only have access to Doordarshan through Antenna Reception, though access to Satellite Cable TV is expanding steadily.
A recent quick small study by some scholars showed that -
In Gangoh, the largest Village near Delhi, with a Population of 50,000(?) nearly 80% of all People have access to TV, but only one percent has colour TV. Only 1100 of the TVs in the Gangoh have a Satellite Connection. And of these, only 10 or 12 of them are owned by Dalits, providing access to Cable Satellite Channels for at most 200 Dalits.
In the smaller Villages, with populations below 3000, about 50% of the villagers have access to TV. But probably only 10% watch the News on a regular basis. Access is generally restricted to Antenna Reception, as ownership of Satellite Dishes is limited by cost. Some of the small Villages have no Satellite Dish, and in those Villages where one exists, the owner is invariably a dominant caste hindu, who generally does not allow others to come anywhere near by. Thus the Dalits do not have access to Satellite Cannels.
The most popular programmes on TV are reported to be religious serials, cricket, movies, and cinema songs. Appearance of Dalits on TV, even as News Readers is for the most part unknown, and not seen. Rarely do any Dalit Star appear, or is allowed to come on the TV. Hardly are there any, for these are profitable and highly paying businesses. Hence, carefully and meticulously Dalits are being kept out. Hence they are not being seen. Recently, it was said that a serial on Doordarshan had a few Dalit Characters in it, though the actors were not actually the Dalits! The Dalits in this serial were portrayed to be very submisive subserviant supportive and working in favour of the caste hindus. And when one of the Dalits made a mistake of some kind, the punishment by the caste hindus was quite severe. This in a TV Serial, a story! That is the type of Message, a Value-System the TVs want to build up, sustain and uphold in the Society even today.
When it comes to TV News Focuses on the issues of Rural Areas and the happenings there-in, where the most oppressed Dalits live, the News generally does not deal with them, and skirts them out very skillfully, unless there had been some grievious or serious sensational issue. But these days, some other private programmes do take some interest, but even these are limited to issues of crops and the like. And where Dalit Issues had to be discussed, they bring in co-opted or co-optable elements, who do all their best to whitewash the harm being done to the Dalits by others. Otherwise the TVs project some half-backed upstarts, and even drop-outs from some colleges and universities, only because they are the hand maidens of those who matter in the ruling circles. Thus, the Dalit Issues fall by default, or are thearetiacally as an abstract matter casually and indifferently discussed, by those not at all concerned but make a living out of Dalit Sufferings, like the Professors and Officials dealing casually with Dalit Matters as their Profession, or are handling them for the time being as a matter of course.
N. NEWS PAPERS
News Papers being in private hands, have remained the exclusive terrain of the dominant communities of the country. Most of them ofcourse are the dominant caste hindus, specifically the brahmins. They systematically keep out SC&ST Dalits, and hound out any SC or ST Dalit who may manage to stray in. That is all to their credibility and charecteristic merrit and honesty!
News Papers in this Country are not well developed. And People do not have an attitude to News Gathering and decimation of the right actual facts and happenings. That is part of hindu characteristic of untruth and deciet!
News Papers and Journalistic practices like writing, editing, proof reading, publication of Journals and News Letters in Schools, local and neighbourhood Communities are all unknown and strange to this Country! Hence handwritten, cyclostyled mimeograph or photocopied publications, private circulations, informations amongst friends circles, in family or extended families all do not almost exist in this Country.
Hence Dalits are nowhere near News Papers and in the business of bringing out Magazines News Letters Journals etc.
News Papers are the only form of media that Dalits generally have an easy and reasonable access to, that are able to present a diversity of opinions. Even in the smallest Villages, there reach copies of atleast a couple of different Newspapers. And in larger Villages, nearer to metropolitan cities and State Capitals, local, regional, and national Papers could be found.
A small Survey by some Dalit Friends and Sympathisers showed the following -
In Gangoh, approximately 1900 copies of Newspapers are distributed daily. Many of the Papers are national and regional. An, there also reach three other local Papers. The local Papers do have a good focus on local issues, but not on the issues of Dalits. About 40% of People in town read a Newspaper, but of that 40% only 3-4% are women, even though they are approximately 50% of the population. Of the Dalit Population, only 20% read any Newspaper.
When considering circulation and readership, it is helpful to remember that while many people read one copy of a Newspaper, the Newspapers are often read out to many who don't get a Paper and to those who are illiterate. So in both cases, numbers tend to be larger than reported. Taking these factors into account, 90% of all of People near the State Capitals have access to Newspapers. This percentage of readership seemed to hold true for even the smaller Villages near by, even though fewer copies of Newspapers reach them.
Mainstream News Papers do some coverage of Dalit Issues, especially when there are atrocities like murder, etc. And sometimes, they will run pieces which consider the situations and lives of Dalits, as The Hindu and The Pioneer have recently done. However, the truly controversial stands are left to the Dalit's Alternative Media, which consists of many informal private circulations, some local regional language tabloids and journals - the most popular one being one English Journal named The Dalit Voice, run by a rich dominant caste hindu.
O. INTER-NET, WEB PAGES AND WEB SITES
The Inter-Net, Web Pages and Web-Sites are still in infant stages even in the cities. They are accessible only by the well to do, well connected and well placed, better educated, and highly paid employed sections of the society. Hence, understandably, Dalits hardly have any access to them. And strangely enough, those well-off and well-placed Dalits who can afford them, hardly take any interest in general Dalit Issues, unless that hurts them the most. Otherwise, they tend to be indifferent, and neglect Dalit Issues of even their own concern or having a direct impact on them also, leaving them all to the Govts to resolve, or expect someone else just someone else to comeforward and take up the task, and to those non-interested Dalit Leaders who are not even affected by the Problem to deal with! In the Rural Areas, these are not even heard off! Thus, these are practically inaccessible to the Dalits and most other Weaker Sections. And the poor Literacy Rates, lack of Computer Literacy, prohibitive cost of Computer Education, poor Knowledge of Inter-Net, non-availability of Computers, very high cost of the Computers and Lap-Tops, unaffordable cost of Inter-Net Connections, poor quality of the Connections and Inter-Net Services, too high a cost of Telephone and other interlinkages, non-appreciation of the Potentials and Uses of Inter-Net in Dalit Development are not only big obstacles, but even keeps this out of the focus of the Dalits as an useful tool.
A Western Scholar on Dalit Issues had recently reported -
After extensive searching, only one Dalit specific Web Site of Indian Origin could be found, though other Sites set up by advocacy groups operating from West and OECD Countries could be found! All parties interviewed or visited, regarded the Inter-Net as a tool with no reach to the Dalit Community itself, although One Group stated that it was an effective way to bring out Information on Dalit Issues in the first place. And, naturally, it is that group that operates the one Indian-based Dalit-Issue Web-Site.
Inter-Net, Web-Pages and Web-Sites are potentially very useful spheres, where Dalits have to be brought-in large numbers, and they need to be watched and encouraged carefully steadily and monitored closely. This then will become a very great and powerful tool amongst the large Dalit People, particularly if they are properly guided and appropriately helped and encouraged from time to time till they take-off by themselves.
III. DALIT INVOLVEMENT IN MEDIA AND BIASES
Dalit involvement in the local media in Gangoh is relatively weak compared to the rest of the Nation. Of the 10 Journalists based there, 3 were from Backwards Classes, and only one was an “untouchable” Dalit. Generally the coverage of Dalits in the News is always rare, as even Dalit Journalists tend not to report on Dalit issues. The Reasons given for this are -
i) The Dalit Journalists are afraid that if they cover Dalit Issues, they might lose their jobs
ii) Such Reportings unless sensational to be of commercial news value are generally dumped out
iii) The Dalit Journalists are simply not interested in covering the issues.
Conversations with local Leaders of a Dalit Party, which had incidentally emerged as the third largest All India Party after BJP and Congress, advocating the Rights of Dalits and other disadvantaged peoples also revealed dissatisfaction with the present Indian Media. They noted that the Media adequately covers issues such as the murders and sexual harassment of Dalit individuals - perhaps because of their shock value and sensationalism, does not do any analysis as to why these Atrocities occur. In regards to bias, he thought that Dalit Participation in the ownership of mainstream media would have to happen, before biases of the mainstream media started to disappear. Many others, were in agreement with thes. Caste hindu ownership and control of media exists very very strongly. It actually prevent the entry of formally qualified dalit journalists, even while accomodating a lrge number of dominant caste hindus of known dubious values and fraudulent experiences. These all together create, at best, a negative bias against the Dalits, the real facts behind Dalit Issues and the truths of the caste hindu dominated Indian Society, that is still poor and backward in many respects.
Members of the Villages are also concerned about the geographic bias towards regional centers. Also, if something happens in a village, the information may pass through several hands before a reporter gets a hold of it, and this in turn can increase the biases and inaccuracy of the information. One of the small villages recently held elections, and no media organization covered in any form. When asked if they would be more interested in the News, if it showed information about events in their village like the election, the answer was resoundingly in the affirmative.
When asked whether more channels and competition would help to alleviate biases, many said that it was difficult to say because of a lack of anything for comparison, especially for TV and Radio. However, they did say that ownership or management of Media, if not direct control probably influenced bias, and said that ownership by Dalits would be a great help. One Dalit gentleman mentioned that, ownership by well to do members of the Backward Classes, many of whom are very very better off, would be much more helpful. He felt that they being as Shudras basically working classes like the Ati-Shudra Dalits, but being acceptable and recognised members of the caste hindu society, might be able to bridge many of the differences between the Dalits and the rest of the society. Though this is an odd comment, may be influenced by some personal considerations, there still is some truth and merrit in this, however small that may be.
Dalit alternative Newspapers, play a crucial role. But that is “not well ventilated” and it often does not consider issues in their entirety. Its role in transforming the mainstream Media is limited. Hence it is necessary that Dalits must become players in the mainstream media, to remove the biases that exist against the Dalits there-in.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
As one can see, the Channels of Information that Dalits have access to are limited, especially in the Rural Areas. Television, Radio, and Newspapers, as well as Cinema, Photography still and movie, Exhibitions etc - organised and or managed through Govt, Community and other public and private efforts - suffer from little involvement of the lower castes, and practically no involvement from “untouchable” and "invisible" Dalits. In addition, there are limitations to what can be expressed and discussed on TV and Radio, since they are centrally controlled by the government and caste hindu officials, with some form of under-the-surface active vigilant Censorship or agenda which is currently set by the hands of the hindu-conservative BJP and Sangh Parivar.
Given the overall constraints of the situation, as well as the living standards of the Dalits, there are two specific short-term recommendations and two long-term possible solutions, that could redeem the Dalits in this Country, and Develop them with the help of the Media.
A. The Short-Term
i) First - The only form of Media, that has the ability to express varied opinions to the Dalit Population is the Local Indian Press, both the English and Language Press. The Big Industrial Business House and Politically Controlled Press can hardly recognise or appreciate the aspirations and needs of the large mass of poor Rural Dalits and the poor Urban Dalits. But the Reporters of small newspapers are very poorly paid. Hence, they are open to persuasion through the purchase of meals and other small favors. It would be to the advantage of all concerned and those interested in the Development of a large Continental Size Community of 260 million plus SC&ST Dalits, to organise a Systematic Program and also set up very Specilised Formal Institutions, to introduce debate and deal with issues that are of concern to Dalits. Those who own and edit Indian News Papers, particularly the regional language papers, should actively be involved in these activities and exercises, that they in turn can themselves look into and organise their own special programmes to involve more and more SC&ST Dalits and Dalit Journalists in News Gathering, News Reporting, News Writing, News Editing and Presentations. Meetings accompanied by materials and means in Regional and State Centers with regional and also popular Dalit Leaders could be appropriate. It is important to remember that many of those involved with Indian Language Papers have some political ambitions, and Dalits can be politically powerful because of their large population.
ii) Second - The second short-term solution is to identify issues of concern to Dalits, and encourage Indian language media outlets to discuss them. One example for this would be, discussion about Economic Liberalisation. While the Governments now strongly support Economic Liberalisation, most Dali Leaders Activists, and by and large the entire Dalit Communities, save for some odd exceptions, are fiercely opposed to it, because of the short-term negative impact it is having on the poor rural populations, who are mostly the Dalits. Open discussions about the differences in opinion in this area, could lead to better understandings, and in turn, constructive action on both sides of the issue. After all what will the SC&ST Dalits loose by the evils of Economic Liberalisation if at all there is any, as the Dalit Activists fear? Only their bondage to the most oppressive caste hindus! The economy was never in the hands of Dalits, or within their reach, even though as the labouring working classes, it is only their labour hardwork sweat and blood built up this Nation and its Economy so far! They were never recognised. Their hard work labour and fruits of value addition were always taken away by their caste hindu supervisors managers senior-officers bureaucrats and politicians. Let this unfair structure be torn apart - and rebuilt afresh on the basis of competition, hardwork, skills, intelligence, creative strength, mental and physical stamina, constructive capablities, and productive capacities. It is here that many Western Nations, Capitalistic Countries, and even Foreign Multi-National-Corporations can chip in liberally, and deal with the Dalits directly through the New Institutions and Special Programmes. Even in Global Terms, 260 million plus Dalits is a big force and power. And if they could be educated, woken-up, honestly employed, and reasonably-paid, oh then it is going to be real big market. For the SC&ST Dalits, unless like the caste hindus practically need anything and everything for a decent life. The caste hindu society over the millenniums have vertually left them naked and without any means!
B. The Long Term
i) First - There is nothing more imperative than education. The Govts and Foreign Missions in India, UN Agencies and International Aid, Donor Organisations must enter this sphere to unflinchingly advocate access to free public education to all Indian citizens, particularly the Dalits. Education is key not only to Literacy but also tp Knowledge, and therefore is the portal to access to the Press and other Media, but also in broadening of worldview. These, in turn would help in weakening, if not in breaking down the caste system, that had historically served all along, the dominant caste hindus well. Of course, Mass Education will also result in many other benefits, including economic improvement and better self-governance. Hence the Govts in the Country, right from the Local Govts and also the Voluntary Organisations, real NGOs and local Peoples' Organisations should explore the possibilities of entering into some sort of bilateral understandings and exchange programmes, to bring in open free liberal thoughts for the benefit and use of the whole local community, as well as build and establish good Centers of Learning and Knowledge open and actually accessible to the common man
ii) Second - Finally, the Govt, foreign Missions in India, UN and Aid-Agencies must continue to advocate the improvement of access to information technologies to Dalits in the rural areas and other oppressed peoples. Both cable/satellite television and the Internet represent opportunities for people to make themselves heard, without being subject to the control of a controlling authority that might be opposed to their ideas.
Although progress in this area will likely be slow, all gains that can be made are significant. For an oppressed people like the Dalits, expression of their views to their own Population and their Nation is paramount in improving their condition. As such, the UN and Govts of the World, should actively encourage media organisations to consider and involve the Dalit people and their views.
Overview : Dalit Study
There emerged numerous questions while discussing Dalit Studies during the workshop, but most of the discussion centred around two central questions—what should be the focus of Dalit Studies and what should be the reference point of such studies. This was the pivot around which most of the discussions and debates moved around. The discussants supporting and vying for the establishment of Dalit Studies as an independent mode of knowledge, an autonomous discipline within the larger framework of social science, argued that the very resistance of establishment of Dalit Studies is a kind of politics from above within the field of social science. This argument finds reflection in the papers presented at the workshop, particularly while critiquing the existing boundaries and rules of disciplines like History, Sociology and Literature.
In the discipline of Sociology, there had been always a tendency to naturalise critical issues like caste system because of Western and Brahmanic dominance of knowledge. The same is the case of History. The way historiography is developed in India is replete with mere historicism. One finds total absence of critical issues like caste in the Indian historiography. Caste seemed to be a gift to the discipline of Sociology. Besides, one finds subaltern knowledge (e.g. the knowledge about different views on Indian nationhood) in the field of History being subjugated and marginalised under dominant discourses. In the field of Literature also the dominant knowledge had been the western classics rather than Indian writings, which has always remained in the margins of English literature in India.
On the other hand, there had been arguments supporting for the establishment of Dalit Studies as a new perspective. From this point of view, Dalit Studies should not be treated as a mere body of knowledge, rather there is a need to construct a new perspective that cuts across all disciplines in the Social Sciences and Humanities to comprehend the Indian reality. In the present context, Dalit Studies poses imminent danger of ghettoisation and appropriation. The demise of Gandhian Studies and Women Studies initiated in the field of Social Science were put forward as burning examples. The post-colonial condition characterised by Western dominance of knowledge leaves almost no space to establish Dalit Studies as a separate discipline.
Social Science has a different historical trajectory in the Third World countries. When the West was developing its cities, economy, democracy, liberalism and bourgeois freedom, the Third World was loosing everything. Enlightenment for one half of the globe was imprisonment for the other half. In this context we can neither condemn the West nor keep our innocence intact. This criticality of the post-colonial condition offers possibilities for developing a new perspective, a new lens through which we can look at different disciplines within the Social Science field rather than the establishment of Dalit Studies as a separate discipline. Besides, to establish as a separate discipline within the wider framework one needs identify, define and develop the very structure of knowledge. What is the dalit structure of knowledge? Are we in a position to answer this question? Since the very dalit point of view is coming under different contestation it will be premature to imagine the establishment of Dalit Studies as a separate discipline.
The Question of Methodology
The question of methodology, i.e. how one goes about understanding the dalit structure of knowledge, also dominated the debates and discussions throughout the workshops. One strong opinion in this regard was the recovery of history and culture of dalits by undoing the hegemony of the dominant knowledge system and preparing enough ground for understanding the history of suffering of marginalised groups and from this point critiquing the dominant system. One effort in this regard will be looking critically at the anti-colonial movement as a kind of instrument to appropriate the movements from below. This rereading of the text needs to capture the inter-subjectivity of the concrete. In terms of praxis, Dalit Studies needs to focus on teaching the students by promoting critical thinking and self-reliance (Apna Deepak Khud Bano/Satya Ki Talash Karo) as an alternative to the destructive ‘guru tradition’ which leaders such as Ambedkar and Phule had criticised so thoroughly.
Another point of view in this regard is creating a universal that will subsume all the knowledge systems from below. If the objective of the proposed Dalit Studies is to inscribe the multiple and at times even contesting concerns of the worst victims of caste, there is a need to go about it differently than the current practice. Updating colonial ethnography would only serve to reinforce existing untouchability and ghettoisation. One needs to put together anew elements of what potentially could constitute an emanicipatory epistemology, ethnography that simultaneously an empowerment. However, there is a danger in pitting this reconstructed knowledge against culture and aesthetics, leading to sharp differentiation between questions of identity and interests. If caste has crept into History it can go from it. There is a need to correct this pitfall which could be teased out from the emanicipatory struggles of the dalit castes themselves and ideological articulation and its leadership in recent history.
Besides these two points there had been another view points based on the immediate material upliftment of the marginal communities since in their everyday life poverty looms large beyond which the marginal communities fail to see. They become a commodity in terms of their labour power in the eyes of the masses and bodies in circulation in a capitalist system. Therefore, any effort vying for their effective participation in the reconstruction of their knowledge system needs to liberate them first from the clasps of poverty. Under the capitalistic system they have undergone painful separation of them from their means of production. They have lost their lands and crafts, the pivot of their life. Within this view point another version calls for inspiring the marginal communities to develop the desire to accumulate and develop entrepreneurship which will increase the social mobility of these communities to rise up the ladder of social hierarchy.
The Linkage of Dalit Studies with Employment Generation
There was major concern with regard to linking Dalit Studies to employment generation. Most of the questions asked in this regard were:
- Who is going to study Dalit Studies in the globalization era where there is a rat race for management and IT-oriented courses.
- How will Dalit Studies ensure employment generation of the future youths?
- Why Dalit Studies in higher education why not at the primary level?
- Won’t Dalit Studies face the same fate as Gandhian Studies?
The arguments against weak linkages between the proposed Dalit Studies and the demand of modern education in the age of competition is that the course is not made exclusively for dalit students, but is to be universally integrated within all the disciplines of Social Sciences to encourage critical thinking by decolonisation of the mind. It is not to be a mere academic exercise but is to be directly linked to the issues of society, culture and politics. Dalit Studies alone cannot take the responsibility of improving material condition of the dalits. The question of employment generation is one that Social Science itself faces in the present era of globalisation. There are various efforts being undertaken in the government and non-governmental fronts to uplift the material conditions of the dalits. However, dalit upliftment or dalit empowerment cannot be a linear and static process since the question is also related to the psyche of the mainstream. Another viewpoint along the same lines is that there is politics behind resisting Dalit Studies by dangling with all these impossibilities. The post-Independent Indian government initially introduced the concept of vocational studies at the school and secondary level for all the marginal communities to hone their technical expertise and in the process generating employment. This very project of Brahmanic division of labour in knowledge production left no space for marginal communities to learn their history, art and culture.
Experiments in Curriculum Building in Higher Education
There had been exchanges of views and comments on experiments done towards establishing a dalit studies or dalit perspective in various disciplines of social sciences. One prominent view in this regard is that since the marginal people are the frontier people, the making of frontier curriculum needs to be a carefully balanced process building theoretical and practical skills. This would include a combination of fieldwork, lectures, discussions, seminars, presentations and library work; a regular interaction with the larger social context, which includes the community and institutions of civil society; a system for critical reflections in place of assessment and evaluations; and a network of libraries. It was opined that while building up curriculum for Dalit Studies there is need to emphasise upon the development of organic link between academics, intellectuals, student communities, organizations working at the grassroots level and communities.
Some suggestions made during the discussion on development of curriculum were:
- Open University curriculum since IGNOU introduces new courses ever year.
Other than History and Sociology,
- To introduce Dalit Studies as an innovative project through a step-wise process;
- There is ample scope to introduce Dalit Studies in the
Economics as a positivistic science has always been in the margin when it comes to critical theory building. However, today’s Economics is more open, free from neo-classical grips. Economics in terms of political economy can insert an element of Dalit Studies. There had been no effort offer a theoretical platform for the economic thought. Ambedkar, Phule and others who offered alternative economic insights were scattered in their thoughts. The development of economic history of the Dalits will help add new dimensions to Dalit Studies.
- Dalit Studies should focus not simply on the Scheduled Castes but on the entire system of exploitation and on providing an alternative to this.
- There is a need for serious thinking in understanding the dalit structure of knowledge. One way to do this will be keeping different vantage points to see the reality in totality.
- The debate between establishment of Dalit Studies as a separate discipline and as a new perspective needs critical evaluation in the perspective of lessons learnt from Black Studies, Women’s Studies and Gandhian Studies.
- The establishment of a new discipline needs to address not only inspiring of critical thinking and developing scientific temperament but also its linkage with employment generation to be sustainable in the future.
There is a greater need for exchanges of ideas and views, discussions and debates to concretise the dalit perspective of Social Sciences between academicians, bureaucrats, planners, non-governmental organisations working at grassroots levels, students and communities to further the effort in this regard.
Goal and accomplishments
We engaged in developing a new perspective called Dalit Studies—both as an autonomous discipline and as a critique-cum-restructuring of existing disciplines in Social Sciences and Humanities. It is a struggle against the inherent tendency in liberal education in India to erase, or at least gloss over, caste experiences from subjects of study in colleges and universities. This, needless to say, has resulted in our increasing inability to participate in contemporary politics as academicians and students, just as it has rendered voiceless large sections of our society which our Social Sciences claim to speak of and for.
Our purpose has, therefore, been to intervene in the system of higher studies in order to sensitise it to the dalit issue. The main principle on the basis of which we try to function is that of ‘de-normalising’ caste as a lasting category of Indian society. On the one hand, we have tried to deconstruct many of the familiar and accepted categories of Indian Social Sciences as categories which primarily work to conceal a caste statement and parade instead as either universal or national. On the other hand, we have tried to emphasise significant anti- and non-caste locations in Indian society, which prove that caste has not necessarily always been the defining trait of India in the way that it has been presumed to be since the nineteenth century. We have worked with the principle that the meanings and experiences of caste have fundamentally changed in history—and that to study ‘Dalit Studies’ is, therefore, primarily to engage with this imperative to change the very history and definition of the nation. Briefly, we have evolved a programme of Dalit Studies that aspires to be emancipatory, seeks to challenge and change the very edifice of Social Sciences.
We feel that our effort has yielded satisfying results. One and half years ago when we undertook this programme, our assertion was that the state of Bihar was the place to begin research, mobilise opinion, produce syllabi in social sciences and try to get it introduced in the universities. Today, we have reasons to suggest that our initiative was not misplaced. Our reading of the socio-political ground realities in the state has been proven correct. The responses we received for this work from various quarters, both in our workshops/seminars and outside are encouraging.
- More than 200 university teachers from Bihar actively participated in our discussions; nearly 50 made presentations and submitted papers in the seminar and workshops that we had organised. Today we have a rich pool of intellectual resources from the state working with us on the programme. This network has started taking shape as a directory and has led to continuous discussion amongst scholars and policy makers.
- We also brought together intellectuals and practising academicians, both freelance and affiliated to universities, from Delhi University, Jamia Millia University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Central University of Hyderabad and so on to a common platform. Today there is better cohesion and dissemination of ideas among people working in the field of dalit studies.
- The participation of three vice-chancellors and several pro-vice chancellors, along with noted academicians with experience in syllabi making and their introduction in university courses is a strong indication of the fact Deshkal has successfully mobilised educational institutions and policy-makers of the state.
- Based on the workshops, seminars, papers and discussions, Deshkal developed an M.A.-level syllabi of Ancient Indian History, Modern Indian History and Hindi. For the last two courses, it also prepared detailed reading materials. It is an extension of this effort that five research scholars have enrolled for Ph.D. in these universities on dalit issues.
- The courses of Modern Indian History and Hindi have been introduced in the curriculum of B. R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. The vice-chancellors of Patna University, Magadh University and Vir Kunwar Singh University have expressed strong commitment to do the same in their respective universities.
- Deshkal Society has given concrete shape to these in its policy report titled Dalit Studies: Problems, Potentials and Challenges in Higher Education and a book titled "Dalit Studies in Higher Education: Vision and Challenges" which contains papers presented in the seminar and workshops. The policy report and book are soon to be published.
Our workshops, seminars and discussions received support from the media, both the print and the electronic, in Hindi and English. Nearly 30 stories were carried in different dailies. The Economic and Political Weekly also published an article titled ‘Dalit Studies: Exploring Criteria for a New Discipline’ (24-30 April 2004, vol. XXXIX, no. 17). We can assume that our intervention has succeeded in generating interest, awareness and support for Dalit Studies in higher education in the mainstream public space in Bihar and outside of Bihar.
Problems and Their Context
- It is a struggle against the inherent tendency in liberal education in India to erase, or at least gloss over, caste experiences from subjects of study in colleges and universities. Till now, Dalit Studies is often linked to Ambedkar Studies only.
- Dalit intelligensia is still not very influential at the level of policy.
- Reading materials in Social Sciences and Literature are not available in Hindi language.
- Teachers are not prepared for Dalit Studies at the level of approach and training.
- There is lack of enthusiasm even among young dalit scholars regarding the scope of Dalit Studies in terms of livelihood.
- Not only academic groups but the dominant group outside university show antipathy towards such initiatives.
With this in mind, we have tried to do two things simultaneously. First, we have tried to develop an autonomous area of study called Dalit Studies, where the dalit perspective can set forward its own terms. Or, in other words, Dalit Studies as an independent form and mode of knowledge can critique and redefine existing boundaries and rules of existing disciplines like History, Sociology or Literature. However, and second, since creating an autonomous discipline also runs the risk of leading to ghettoisation and boycott of Dalit Studies itself by mainstream academics—which defeats our purpose entirely—we have also tried to subtly reorient the general study of the existing disciplines, both thematically and methodologically, in order to make them more receptive to serious engagement with the politics of caste. We have tried to identify possible spaces within existing curricula where we could intervene and tried to work out how far this can be done through suggesting additional topics and additional readings and also how far by alternative formulations of existing themes.
We have undertaken a series of activities in this line:
- We have held a number of workshops, both in Delhi and in Bihar, in order to work out, with the help of dalit intellectuals, from all over India, an alternative vision of higher studies, of teaching and content materials, of pedagogical methods and so on.
- We have also tried to interact and coordinate with other groups and individuals who have been working on the same lines as us. We have shared materials, experiences and problems.
- We have also tried to collect all official documents and policy statements which express the Indian State’s agenda about caste identity and national development. We have developed a sense of the changing role of our governments vis-a-vis the caste issue and set forth a critique of the Indian State’s education and culture policy.
- Additionally, we have undertaken a study of the institutional structure of our higher education bodies, be it the UGC or individual universities, in order to formulate the issues and challenges we must face when trying to intervene in the higher education system.
Challenges and Lessons
- Course development and preparation of reading materials that require research, writing, translation and compilation should be taken up on a much larger and rigorous basis than what has been the case so far. It may be an independent project in itself.
- A lackadaisical approach will not be of much use. Discontinuation of the intervention at this juncture will prove disastrous, as it has the potential to discredit the social relevance of the effort and issue both.
- Simultaneous works in the field of preparing the syllabi and their implementation. Since this was our first year we first prepared the syllabi and than tried its induction into the universities.
- The experience of undertaking this work makes it clear that this is not merely an academic exercise. Social and political nature of the work should always be kept in mind.
Given the nature of work we realized that it generates strong reaction among traditionally dominant sections. To offset such reactions, extra care and preparation are needed in the form of social diversity in undertaking strategy and implementation of such work.
National Conference on Dalit Studies: Developing Content Materials for a New Discipline, Bodh-Gaya, 28 Feb-1 March, 2004
The workshop began with a plenary session on the first day, with speeches not only by eminent intellectuals who had traveled from Delhi, but also by civil servants and university vice-chancellors. A consensus seemed to operate, without any prior discussion, that an urgent restructuring of our education system is necessary in order to sensitise our students to the dalit question. There was a pledge of support by government representatives as well as by university heads to our efforts at including ‘Dalit Studies’ in the existing education system in Bihar.
On this encouraging note, the workshop began with the introductory session on Who is a Dalit? An overview of dalit studies. G. Aloysius’ presentation argued that a critical dalit studies curriculum should primarily aim at undoing the ‘normalisation’ of caste as a characteristic of Indian society and history. He said that while on the one hand, there is need to deconstruct many of the categories of Indian social sciences as categories which conceal a caste statement and parade as either universal or national, there is also on the other hand, a need to emphasise anti- and non-caste movements in Indian history which has sought to go beyond caste paradigms altogether. He also emphasized that a dalit studies curriculum should reflect on the entirety of social sciences rather than identify specifically caste-related issues. Prof Anand Kumar, chairing the session, brought the discussion round to some specific suggestions – viz., the need to form an Indian Association of Dalit Studies, an umbrella organization which could bring different kinds of people together on the lines of History Congress or Science Congress; the publication of a bibliographic overview of dalit literature; and the starting of a Dalit Studies Journal.
In the rather intense discussion that followed this session, the question that repeatedly came up set the tone, in a way, for the rest of the workshop – whether ‘dalit studies’ should assert itself as an autonomous, if not separatist agenda, and thus risk ghettoisation within our education system or should it try to pervade all themes and problematics of social science study, and thus risk a dilution of the issue.
Following this introductory session, came a series of
papers which effectively offered critiques, from the dalit standpoint, of all
the existing disciplines of social sciences as they are taught today.
Sociology, evidently the discipline which defined from
early twentieth century, the parameters of caste study, came under heavy
criticism. The papers by Ritambhara and Ramaiah both questioned the basic unit
of Indian sociological study – the Indian village – by arguing that villages in
India are actually multiple and antagonistic settlements divided on caste
lines. The argument was that to make the study of sociology sensitive to dalit
issues required a whole shift in the fundamental locus of Indian sociology.
Political science came under a double criticism. On the one hand, the issue of the creation of political symbols was raised and it was argued that political studies, as it is taught today, is unable to offer tools for demystifying the ways in which nationalist icons have been created, at the exclusion of even names like Ambedkar as P. Jogdand argued. On the other hand, the issue of caste and democracy was also raised and it was argued that contemporary political science merely analyses caste in terms of vote bank politics and fails to question existing parameters of representation, both political and literary. A more basic debate came to pass through Anand Chakravarty’s study of Bihar peasant movements and Bela Bhatia’s study of Bihar Naxalite movement about how much of Dalit Studies was purely a story of oppression and how can we reclaim moments of resistance, criticism and even laughter out of dalit politics in contemporary times. Also the session on Muslims and dalits corrected our common sense understanding of Islam as an egalitarian and Hinduism as a caste-based religion, an easy binary which so often allows the Hindu right to defend caste as an essentially Hindu and anti-Islam Indian trait.
The discipline of history came under fundamental questioning, especially through the session on dalit literature. The basic point which came across was about the historical status of dalit autobiographies, oral traditions and literary works. Many participants argued that history’s rules of evidence necessarily excluded marginalized voices which either fail to or refuse to claim academic parameters of historical truth. A history sensitive to the dalit issues must therefore be refracted through the prism of fiction and imagination. The other difficult question that came out of this discussion was that of authorship, particularly sharply presented by U R Ananthmurthy – viz., what is dalit literature or dalit history? Is it that produced by dalits alone or can it also include works produced by non-dalits?
All through these sessions, however, the reminder came repeatedly that the ‘dalit’ itself is not a unitary category. The session on gender especially demonstrated this, with presentations by Suguna Ramanathan, Jyotsna Macwan, Smita Patil and Nandita Bajaj who talked of caste oppression as deeply gendered – especially given that control of women’s sexuality and circulation of women’s bodies and reproductive power were basic to the politics of caste power. (An interesting presentation by S. K. Biswas also foregrounded the notion of heredity as basic to the caste system and its relation therefore to primary property structures of society.)
The workshop ended with an open session, which invited suggestions from participants and local audience on how to go about instituting a dalit studies agenda. Suggestions and advice were many – including the need to advocate dalit studies curriculum to the UGC, the need to participate in Academic Staff Colleges for the sensitization of college teachers, the need to create a central pool of reading materials also translated in Hindi, the need to start a web site and create a pool of resource personnel who could also act as visiting lecturers on certain themes and so on and so forth.
April 28, 2010
Dalit in India Facts and Figures
Every 18 minutes:
A crime is committed against a Dalit
- 3 Dalit women are raped
- 2 Dalits are murdered & 2 Dalits Houses are burnt in India
- 11 Dalits are beaten
- 13 Dalits are murdered
- 5 Dalits home or possessions are burnt
- 6 Dalits are kidnapped or abducted
Social and Economic condition of Dalits:
- 37 percent of Dalits living below poverty in India
- More than half (54%) of their children are undernourished in India
- 83 per 1000 live birth children born in Dalit community are probability of dying before the first birthday
- 45 percent of Dalits do not know read and write in India
- Dalits women burden double discrimination (gender and caste) in India
- Only 27 percent of Dalits women give institutional deliveries in India
- About one third of Dalit households do not have basic facilities
- Public health workers refused to visit Dalit homes in 33% of villages
- Dalits were prevented from entering police station in 27.6% of villages
- Dalit children had to sit separately while eating in 37.8% of Govt. schools
- Dalits didn’t get mail delivered to their homes in 23.5% of villages
- Dalits were denied access to water sources in 48.4% of villages because of segregation & untouchabilty practices
- Half of India’s Dalit children are undernourished, 21% are severely underweight & 12% DIE before their 5th birthday
- Literacy rates for Dalit women are as low as 37.8% In Rural India
Status of Prevention of Atrocities Act:
- The conviction rate under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is 15.71% and pendency is as high as 85.37%. This when the Act has strict provisions aimed as a deterrent. By contrast, conviction rate under IPC is over 40%
- many cases of atrocity are not registered in police stations,because upper caste area officers are there and they want to compromise the cases out of police station for many reasons ..1.they are partial their caste,because casteism exists evennow.2.Supriority complex is highly prevalent..3.There is lack of awareness of legal protection, legal process and safeguards among dalits.
On actual crime committed against Dalits
“Even the reports prepared by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and placed before Parliament contain merely factual information received from States about registration and disposal of cases; various administrative arrangements made for the function of the Act and funds spent, without any meaningful analysis of the performance of the States which could form the basis for making corrective interventions.” “Under-reporting of Atrocities Act cases is a very common phenomenon and therefore the decline in the number of registered cases does not provide a true picture of the incidence of atrocities.”
“A large number of cases which deserve to be registered under Protection of Civil Rights Act or the SCs & STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act are not actually registered under these Acts, either due to ignorance of law or under pressure from the interested parties. Investigations in even those limited number of cases is often earned out in a slipshod manner and with considerable delay.”
Source: National Human Rights Commission Report on the Prevention and Atrocities against Scheduled Castes