Can birth be unfortunate? Can living be a crime? Yes, it can be, if you are one of the 160 million strong population of Dalits. Every hour, one of them will be assaulted, three of the Dalit women raped, and two killed. For aeons, we have practised and propagated caste hierarchy that has resulted in an entire people being treated as sub-humans.
History is full of instances where in one set of people has dominated over the other. But when such domination continues to be a reality in the post-modern era of liberty, equality and fraternity, it indeed says something very shameful about the proud residents of this planet. Casteism is one such sordid reality. We make someone else clean our dirt and then call the person dirty. Is this what our religion, Vedas and traditions teach us? Hypocrites, that’s what we are. We touch the feet of our elders to receive blessings but outcaste “Dalits” saying they were born out of Brahma’s feet. We worship Lord Shiva, who holds the world’s dirt and poison in his throat, and abuse someone who cleans our homes! We dare to claim to be educated and ‘enlightened’ social beings endowed with sensitivity and sensibility. Yet we do this to our brothers and sisters…
Untouchability is indeed a sin, a horrifying saga of our beastly nature. When a woman is refused water because she is said to be unclean one moment, and ravished to fulfil a man’s lust the very next, the abuser is abusing himself. The continued practice of untouchability tells a dirty tale not about the so-called untouchables but about the supposedly ‘touchable.’ It exposes in all its ugliness, the naked aggression, the daily violence of the perpetrators.
What is sad is that the oppression has become so entrenched that the voice of a Dalit gets lost in this cacophony of self-involved, fast-moving and fast-changing world. Crimes against the Dalits in the villages, discrimination against them in urban areas, institutions like banks and universities hardly get reported. Worse, when reported, the crimes are hardly taken seriously by the authorities, unless they pose a direct threat to their interests.
Instead of improving their lot, the power-hungry politicians take undue advantage of the prevailing situation, making it all the more disgusting. They propose reservations that hardly benefit those entitled to it. They allocate money and lands which slip out into someone else’s hands, with official connivance. They make development plans on paper and receive money for their implementation. The money goes into their pockets, while the paper plan ends up in the waste paper basket. The exploitation and deception go on and a Dalit remains exactly what the name implies, “the oppressed”.
We all enjoy our share of freedom and rights Dr. B. R. Ambedkar gave his countrymen through the Constitution of India, but fail to share the same ideal of freedom and equality with the very people he represented! It is time we acknowledged our liability to the Dalits, atoned for the wrongs we have done to them, generation after generation. In our generation, no other issue has pitted us against “them” as reservation has. If we get so angry, feel so aggrieved that ‘merit’ is overlooked in the instance of a few thousand perhaps, how much more should the Dalits feel aggrieved that their very humanness was overlooked for hundreds of years.
Let us “cleanse” our soul of the dirt it has accumulated and begin taking responsibility for our filth, both spiritual and material, so that the generation after us doesn’t have to live with the guilt, like we are doing, for what our forefathers/ancestors did. Let us think, speak and act against untouchability.