A matter of shame
The celebration of India's 75th Independence Day was preceded by a lament of losing a nine-year-old Indian to the nation's still thriving obsession with caste. The pride of defying the global scepticism around Indian democracy, floated seven decades ago, was overshadowed by the humiliation of carrying a rotten baggage of the past that shouldn't have any place in the 21st-century India. India's Prime Minister announced from Red Fort the ambition to make India a developed nation in the next 25 years. But of what use the tag will be if those intended to benefit from it continue facing atrocities in the name of caste and religion? In an utterly shameful incident, a teacher in a school of Rajasthan's Jalore district beat one of his students for touching a pot meant for "upper caste people". This was, however, just one incident. In March this year, Jitendrapal Meghwal, a Covid-19 health assistant in Barwa village, was killed allegedly because of his "good looks and personality". In the same month, a Dalit was made to rub his nose in temple premises for his post on Kashmir Files. In June last year, a Dalit man of the Bhim Army was killed in Hanumangarh for putting up Ambedkar posters. Last year itself, two Dalit men in Nagaur district were brutally assaulted for allegedly stealing money. It was reported that a screwdriver dipped in petrol was inserted in the private parts of one of the victims. There is no end to the list of such reported and unreported crimes. These incidents show that it was not the pot or the water that claimed the kid's life in Jalore, it is the absolutely flawed perception of Dalits being so much down the caste-based hierarchical order that they can be treated inhumanely. Any such crime against Dalits, henceforth, should be considered as a crime against humanity. A section of society — claiming itself to be "superior" than others — cannot be allowed to continue ripping apart humanity into pieces. Social changes, particularly those rooted in the history of caste and religion, are among the hardest to bring forth. It is true that such changes take time but 75 years is more than enough. It is not just the complex layering of society that is taking its time to wither away, but also the failure of politics and governance — be it under the Congress or the BJP rule. Reckless continuation of Dalit atrocities in certain Indian states is also an indicator that economic benefits are not trickling down to the community properly. Economic backwardness is one among the reasons that prevent the upliftment of Dalits in India. Sadly, politics is interfering with society in an extremely unfruitful way. The Rajasthan government is failing badly in preventing atrocities against Dalits. It is reported that there has been an increase of 7.23 per cent in the cases of atrocities against members of Scheduled Caste (SC) communities in 2021 over 2020. The state government's response that the increase in the cases is the result of active registration of FIRs doesn't help much. Equally flawed is its argument that the government has been taking swift actions after the occurrence of Dalit atrocities over past few years. Such a case-by-case approach may be inadequate in rooting out a problem of such depth. Where the Rajasthan government is failing is in taking preventive actions and formulating stringent, vision-based policies in this regard. The situation had been no different with the erstwhile BJP government in the state. The NCRB data in 2016 showed that Rajasthan ranked third in terms of number of cases relating to atrocities against Dalits. By alternate mudslinging while being in opposition, both the national parties are doing little to help the cause. The political opposition to the death of the kid in Jalore appears to be narrowed and election-centric. The opposition in the state should put forth a comprehensive design to curb the regressive malaise, and create an urge for the government to accept it. The larger cause should not be undermined by political blame games. As Ashok Gehlot government will face anti-incumbency in the upcoming assembly elections in 2023, he stands a chance to set a benchmark — through bold and effective administrative actions — to ensure that the issue of Dalit atrocities is not allowed to fall apart to petty vote-bank politics. It may be the right time to initiate a process of change that has been long waiting in the pipeline. In failing to do so, the Congress may not only lose big politically but also shoulder the blame for persisting the problem. The blot is good for none. It needs to be removed soon.