Protesting against the imprisonment of more than 70,000 lower caste Hindu Dalits in the state of Maharashtra, India, UK-based Dalit human rights groups amassed in London on Monday to urge the international community to take notice of the violent repression of the Dalit caste and other religious minorities by the current government in India.
Amid heavy rains, many progressive groups such as the South Asia Solidarity Movement joined the demonstration to demand the release of Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad. Presenting a signed memorandum which said, “Release the thousands of Dalits arrested in Maharashtra in the first fortnight of January, immediately drop the charges against them and launch a transparent public inquiry into the events of January 1 and 2. Immediately release Chandrashekhar Azad, the leader of the Bhim Army,” they demanded the arrest of the Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ebute who are believed to have instigated the clashes at Bhima-Koregaon early last month.
Commenting on the scenario, Keval Bharadia from the South Asia Solidarity Group, says, “India is turning into a republic of fear and violence, where mob-lynching by the Hindu supremacist forces is a common occurrence. The descent into fascism has meant a horrific increase in attacks on Dalits – but the President, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit himself, is silent. We urge him to speak out and stem this tide of violence.” In reality, the Indian social fabric is irretrievably damaged as nothing is being done to lessen the statistics of rape, dowry deaths, female infanticide, farmer suicide, slum dwellers or the poverty rate. Making matters worse is the recent surge of violence against religious minorities and even the Dalit Hindu lower caste.
Releasing its World Report 2018, the Human Rights Watch reports that, “ The Indian government failed to stop or credibly investigate vigilante attacks against minority religious communities during 2017.”Adding that the current ruling party BJP publicly promotes Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism at the expense of the fundamental rights of all Indians. Even rumors regarding the consumption or sale of beef result in mob-lynchings which go unchecked by the police, there are at least 38 such instances which resulted in deaths but complaints were filed instead under the heading of laws banning cow slaughter.
Commenting on the ongoing crisis, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch says, “Indian authorities have proven themselves unwilling to protect minority religious communities and other vulnerable groups from frequent attack, there needs to be a serious effort to prevent future attacks and to prosecute all those responsible for the violence.”
Leave aside minorities, even a primitive caste system continues under which equal human rights are denied the Dalit community. Also known as the ‘Untouchables’, they are physically excluded and isolated from other higher Hindu castes, they have often consigned the task of removing human waste from latrines by hand, according to the Human Rights Watch. In a bid to get the Indian government and public to recognize their human rights, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights has tried to remind the authorities that India’s Constitution had abolished untouchability.
Alarming facts have come to light regarding the status of Dalits in Indian society. Apparently, in 38% of government schools, Dalit children are made to sit separately while eating, 27% of Dalits are prevented from entering police stations and 25% from entering ration shops. Continuing with the survey, it appears that in 48.9% villages, Dalits are not given access to cremation grounds and in 25% villages, they are paid lower wage rates.
Mostly paid wages from a distance as they are untouchable, they are also barred from selling products in 35% local markets, in 12% villages not given access to polling booths and in 14% villages they are denied entry in government /panchayat buildings. As a rule, they have restricted to segregated seating areas anyway and they cannot enter non-Dalit homes in 73% homes. Restrictions on their entry in temples are as high as 64%, ranging from 47 % in UP to 94% in Karnataka.In short, this social issue needs to be tackled as it does not go with India’s constitution or human rights.
Concerned by the worsening situation, activist Amrit Wilson feels that Muslims in India face a “genocide-like situation” and now Dalits share the same situation, urging that, “International community must take notice of what’s happening in India. It’s a scandal that needs to be exposed.” Meanwhile, charges of sedition and criminal defamation are used to dumb down academics and journalists that try to criticize government policies according to the Human Rights Watch. It reports that” Threats of legal action and arbitrary corruption investigations put increasing pressure on journalists and media outlets to self-censor.”
Not only that, it has noted that blanket internet shutdowns have been imposed 60 times in 2017, out of which 27 were in Jammu and Kashmir. Cutting off foreign funding to human rights activists and defenders under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) is another method used by the government to keep matters in their control.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.