Excerpt from India Now and In Transition: Hindu India and the Subaltern Voice | books | excerpts | Hindustan Times
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Excerpt from India Now and In Transition: Hindu India and the Subaltern Voice

Read an excerpt from Daipayan Halder’s “Hindu India and the Subaltern Voice”, from the book, India Now and In Transition, edited by Atul K Thakur.

books Updated: Jul 21, 2017 12:29 IST
Daipayan Halder
Daipayan Halder
Hindustan Times
Daipayan Halder,Hindu India and the Subaltern Voice,India Now and In Transition
Officials stand around the well used by Dalits in Mana village in Agar Malwa district of Madhya Pradesh in which upper caste villagers allegedly poured kerosene. (HT Photo)

In the competitive cacophony of the 24/7 news cycle, the Dalit voice is often dismissed in the brief columns of inside pages in mainstream daily newspapers. Unless of course, the issue takes on a political hue and the Opposition benches get an opportunity to target the ruling BJP-led government as an essentially upper caste construct that puts more value on the holy cow than the untouchable Dalit. One such opportunity presented itself in July 2016.

Book cover, of India Now And In Transition.

On 11 July 2016, few Dalit youths from Mota Samadhiyala village in Unataluka of Gir-Somnath district in BJP-ruled Gujarat were flogged by cow protection vigilante groups when they were skinning a dead cow.The accused thrashed them alleging that they had killed the cow. After the video of the attack went viral, it sparked off violent protests across Gujarat.

The issue rocked not just the state assembly but also Parliament. But what was more damaging for the BJP that has been trying to shed its anti-Dalit tag in order to wean away Dalits from parties like the BSP is what The Indian Express reported on 27 July.

Ask Bant Singh. When his minor daughter was raped by upper caste men in 2000 in Jhabhar village in Mansa district of Punjab, he dared to take them to court, a rather bold step for a Dalit back then. The trial led to life sentences for three culprits in 2004. It was one of the earliest instances of a Dalit from the region complaining against upper-caste violence and managing to secure a conviction.

In the wake of brutal thrashing of Dalits in Una, at least 1,000 people from the community in Banaskantha district have so far expressed their desire to convert to Buddhism, stating that there was no point in continuing with Hinduism, if they are not treated as equals. These Dalit community members have even filled up the forms giving their consent for the religious conversion, which will soon be submitted to the government authorities. Very worrying news, no doubt, for a party that believes in the supremacy and spread of Hinduism.

The incident yet again brought to mind the condition of India’s untouchable millions. While almost all political parties in the country vie for their votes (Dalits, as they are called, make up 16.6 per cent of the total population of India according to the 2011 census), the condition of the average Dalit remains as problematic as before—run down, at the village level, by the local landlord and the police, and at the national level, by the bureaucracy and the political class.

For India to realise its potential and sit at the high table of the world’s top superpowers, it is important that we as a society right this historic wrong and bring Dalits to the national mainstream. For no country can prosper till such time as all sections of its society are truly empowered.

It is one thing to be poor in India. Quite another to be casteless poor. The ancient text PurushaSukta(hymn 10.90 of the Rig Veda) explains the origin of the four varnas from the mouth (Brahman), arms (Kshatriya), thighs (Vaisya)and feet (Sudra) of the Purusha. And those that came from the feet have remained there! Even as India makes giant strides in science and technology they are trampled upon by the higher castes for generation after tormenting generation.

Ask Bant Singh. When his minor daughter was raped by upper caste men in 2000 in Jhabhar village in Mansa district of Punjab, he dared to take them to court, a rather bold step for a Dalit back then. The trial led to life sentences for three culprits in 2004. It was one of the earliest instances of a Dalit from the region complaining against upper-caste violence and managing to secure a conviction.

Such cases have been filed before. But justice had always been a far cry, as even judges displayed caste bias. If we go back more than a decade we come across the example of Bhanwari Devi. On 22 September 1992, this grass-roots worker was gangraped in front of her husband, for trying to prevent a child marriage. The trial judge acquitted the accused saying ‘rape is usually committed by teenagers, and since the accused are middle-aged and therefore respectable, they could not have committed the crime.’ If that wasn’t enough, he went on to say: ‘An upper-caste man could not have defiled himself by raping a lower-caste woman.’