Dalits continue to face oppression & discrimination

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Governments may come and go. Leaders can rise and fall. Promises can be made and broken. Issues can emerge and fade. But one thing constant in independent India is the unbelievable degree of oppression encountered by the Dalit community. In the last few days, we have had stones pelted at a Dalit groom in Madhya Pradesh because he dared to ride a horse during his wedding. In Maharashtra’s Shirdi town, a Dalit man’s mobile phone rang out a song on Ambedkar. This was reason enough for a mob comprising the dominant castes to lynch him. The brazen manner in which the Dalits are targeted despite stringent laws to protect them suggests an overarching complicity of the state, its institutions and the non-Dalit communities. Farcical rhetoric, an abundance of lip service and a pretentious political class have created a make-believe hive of security. For the Dalits each day is a conflict, surrounded by belligerent so-called upper castes deluded into believing they are god’s gift to humankind. The courts have not helped either. 
The acquittal of all the accused in the Kambalapalli killings in Karnataka and a contentious ruling in the Khairlanji attacks in Maharashtra have not done much to restore the confidence of the Dalits in the judicial system. If nearly seven decades after independence, India is still grappling with the mindless discrimination, there is something seriously wrong that needs to be quickly rectified. Remedies exist on paper. Various laws and penalties therein should ideally have proved to be deterrents but they seem to have no meaning. The reason is caste feelings have permeated so deep in society that even those who are constitutionally empowered to take action are themselves afflicted by the deadly scourge. Therefore, most cases of discrimination, after the initial attention and media coverage, eventually fall off the news radar and end up with virtually no action against the perpetrators.

Besides public damning, awareness campaigns and threats of punitive action, nothing substantial so far has been initiated to erase caste discrimination. While the system of reservations has helped to some extent in providing opportunities for the Dalits in education and jobs, social relations are still stuck in a time warp. The Dalits have fought too, and registered some victories – like having their own political party and coming to power in Uttar Pradesh. But these have not been enough to bring about a pan-Indian change in the attitudes of the dominant castes towards the Dalits. Time, meanwhile, is running out. No one can say when the patience of the Dalits will reach a break point. And, when it does, all hell will break loose.

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