The plight of a Dalit family in Dankaur is now national news but unfortunately it is not because our country has developed a sudden sensitivity to lower caste people and the misery of their lives.
The outrage and outpouring of sympathy has been triggered by thousands of people on social media sharing the photographs of the family, stripped and on the streets – with evocative captions and exhortations of shame.
The news of the ordeal has been overtaken by the images and even the mainstream media has not proved immune to the viral lure. The images, and the dignity of the family, has been laid bare before all to see, and possibly not even with their permission.
To justify the image splashing, many have pointed out that the family allegedly stripped naked themselves – a claim that is disputed at best and dubious at worst—with several contradictory articles quoting the daughter of the man arrested as saying that the photos and videos were taken to defame the family.
All this might be new for the young and empowered liberals in the metropolises but the oppression, neglect, threat of violence and disenfranchisation is the daily reality for millions of Dalit and Bahujan people in this country. The alleged police atrocities, high-handedness and impunity that followed the incident is the real story – the truth of Dalit lives.
There are two broad motives behind sharing the photos and egregiously violating the dignity of people who are already under a storm.
One, the well-meaning people, who feel sharing the photos will help open people’s eyes to the atrocities that lower-caste people face in this country with alarming regularity.
This, however, is not the way to do it – talk about the violence faced by Dalit people in every sphere of live every single day, how upper caste people are complicit in the structure that thrives on the subjugation of twenty crore Dalit people, how the doors of our institutions such as the government, courts and private sector, are closed to them.
Share your own experiences, your own frustration with the system – explain how our complicity in an oppressive system can be challenged, support Dalit organisations, walk alongside us in protests but stop using the dignity of Dalit people as an argument to strengthen your stand.
The second group of people are those who have woken up to the vicious caste reality of the country with the Dankaur incident and are horrified by it – and possibly think the shock value of the images will wake up other people from their caste-privileged slumber.
But the shock cannot be at the expense of other peoples’ lives, especially when these lives are precarious and at constant threat. Caste in our country is a glaring reality, one that doesn’t require us to splash images to gain attention.
Just look out the door at the friends we have, the kind of movies we watch, the books we read, our heroes, our icons, our history – where over half of our population that makes up the lower caste people has been excluded.
Even among our liberals, talk of caste is only when heinous atrocities are reported —- when Dalit men are burnt alive for trying to enter temples, when Dalit women are raped and murdered -– but these acts of violence are propped up by an exploitative caste structure that ensures these millions have scant access to education, jobs, land, water or home. That is the reality we need to wake up and embrace and look at how we are part of that structure, how that structure is helping us, instead of sharing graphic images.
The bedrock of Dalit struggles is the inalienable right of people to live with dignity, without the fear of persecution or threat of exploitation. This right is inseparable from the right to access to education, jobs, state structures and legal recourse. And yet, these rights – which luminaries such as Ambedkar, Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule, and Ayyankali fought – are snatched away from lower caste people everyday.
It is this denial that we should be fighting about. We should be enraged everyday when reservations are denied to people, when we find no Dalit literature in our bookstores, when all our friends come from upper caste, when there are no Dalit professors, journalists, liberals, judges or police heads.
We don’t need those images to be reminded about caste – it festers around us. We don’t need the images to shock and awe, the reality is enough. Talk about the plight of the family and the suppression they faced, not reduce their brave struggle to a bunch of likes. Stop sharing the posts.