Eight days after four Dailt men (tannery workers, according to the police) were stripped, tied and beaten up with iron rods and pipes at Gir Somnath district’s Una taluka in Gujarat for skinning a dead cow, the issue resonated strongly in Parliament on Wednesday.
The Congress, the BSP and other parties forced two disruptions within the first hour in the Rajya Sabha, accusing the government of not acting against “Dalit atrocities”. Home minister Rajnath Singh condemned the violence and said that “we must get a permanent solution to such incidents. The mindset has to change”.
Indeed that’s a commendable desire, but then it is easier said than done. Here’s a reality check: According to National Crimes Records Bureau, crimes against Dalits are rising: 47,064 cases were registered in 2014, up from 39,408 in 2013 and 33,655 in 2012.
An International Dalit Solidarity Network report has a few explanations for the reasons behind such aggression against the community:
First, dominant castes are using violence against Dalits to reinforce the hierarchical caste-related power structures and suppress Dalit rights assertions and claims.
Second, the access to justice for Dalits is dismally low. For example, at the end of 2014, 85% crimes against Dalits filed under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act were pending trial, while 25 % are awaiting trial investigations across the country. Convictions were awarded in only 28% of cases in 2014 that completed trial. So the law is not working as a deterrent.
Third, a severe lack of empathy on the part of administrators: Dalit human rights defenders, says the report, attempting to help victims of injustice, are found to be at the receiving end of police violence and torture, intimidation, harassment and in some cases are even murdered. The report stresses that the protection of Dalit human rights defenders is seriously lacking. Here’s another example that illustrates the point: The BJP government in Maharashtra demolished a house where national icon and Dalit leader BR Ambedkar had a printing press. Which community would not be aggrieved if such a thing happens to structures they hold dear? Think about how Indians react when the Mahatma’s photo is misused by people abroad.
While we do need a social and mindset change to end such gratuitous violence against Dalits, as Mr Singh pointed out, what India needs more is transformative politics that is ready to call a spade a spade and not try to exploit the Ambedkar legacy for political gains but actually fulfil the leader’s dreams of a casteless society.