Written by S Shiva (Sri Lankan Reporter)
The word ‘Dalita’ in Sanskrit (one of the classical languages of India) means ‘broken, divided, scattered and/or split’. India, like many other neighboring South Asian countries, is a country where the oppressive system of castes takes predominance. And in this country, the Dalits are the lowest of the low. The ‘Untouchables!
The Name of the Caste
The name of the Dalit caste comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Dalita’. The name is applied here that this particular caste is considered to be a broken caste and should stand divided from the other four main castes – the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (the ruling class), the Vaishyas (landowning farmers, artisans and traders), and the Shudras (tenant farmers, servants, and general laborers). As such they are not even considered one of the official castes of India.
The Dalits are also called ‘Harijans’ (Children of God), a name coined by Mahatma Gandhi. But despite its seeming innocence, the Dalit caste members dislike being called by that name as they feel that the name was not given in a complimentary manner, but rather consider it a derogatory term. The laws of India, on the other hand, call them ‘Scheduled Castes’. The laws make it illegal to call them ‘Dalits’. But the contempt, cruelty and name-calling still continues till today.
Why are they ‘Untouchable’?
The Dalits of India are considered dirty as they do menial work related to waste cleaning, funeral parades and arrangements, and making cowhide leather from dead cows, drummers for funerals, etc. The belief is that such work corrupts them spiritually and physically, and that their mere touch would spread the corruption. As such, touching them, or allowing them to touch items that the higher castes use, is considered disgusting.
The higher caste people of India give excuses for their behavior that the Dalits were the worst sinners in their past lives, and that they deserve to be treated badly.
What do the Dalits face?
Since many centuries ago, the Dalits have been facing great oppression from the rest of the Indian Community. Despite being Hindus initially, they were not allowed to even step into temples, shops, or other places visited by members of the other castes. They were not allowed to study or own land. Some of them attempted to change religions to Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and others
– hoping to to escape the cruelty. But even in the other religions the discrimination and oppression continued.
Many atrocities were committed against them by the other castes, even by laborers, and they just had to accept it without defending. Any attempts at resistance were curbed in a very bloody manner. It was and still is an accepted norm in India that it is okay to even kill a Dalit. They are the easiest targets for any sexual or physical abuse in the society.
Dalit women are at the bottom of bottom. Dalit women are raped with out any law protecting them. Hence many times they are gang raped, whenever the upper caste men feel like. The men go unreported as the Dalit women do not have money or the courage to report the abuse. Many times the rape victims have been threatened by the perpetrators or police to withdraw their complaints.
A report by CNN stated that one woman in Haryana, India was gang raped by men including some of the same individuals accused of raping her three years ago. Several women spoke about themselves being made to feel like a sex commodity for men to give them derogatory names and look at them lustfully. Dalit caste members cannot send their daughters unaccompanied to the fields, to fetch water or even to school for the fear of getting kidnapped or rapped. In some villages, young Dalit girls are abducted and kept for days and raped till the men were done, and then returned back to their families. The families would take solace in finding their daughters alive atleast. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, more than four Dalit women are raped everyday. There have also been reports where doctors would not touch patients that belong to the Dalit caste.
There is another issues where the rape of a Dalit woman is not picked up by the media in general. It seems that the general public seems uninterested in the rape of Dalit women. However if a middle class non-dalit, non-tribal woman gets raped then it becomes headline news in India. Dalits in general do not under this form of discrimination as they fail to understand why some rapes are more outrageous than others, especially if its a middle class non-dalit case.
Today, there are laws that state that Dalits should be given equal opportunities and rights. Yet, these are only on paper. Many attacks on Dalits have occurred in full view and with the support of the Indian Police forces. Dalit people have been killed or tortured in the worst and most inhumane manners. But the police do not make any serious efforts to stop such attacks or to bring about justice. Even today, they are not allowed to step into many places or go to school.
Despite India’s statements that such discrimination against Dalits is now fully illegal and has stopped in modern Indian society, the truth is that the cruel and tragic oppression continues in full.