To do away with reservations, we must first reconstruct our social relations that are still strongly influenced by caste
FOR THE governing elite, discrimination against Dalits is an overblown problem that is actually a thing of the past. They believe reservation in government jobs and academia only serves the negative purpose of perpetuating the caste system. Predictably, the chorus against reservation is spearheaded by the middle class whose philosophy is the naked pursuit of personal advantage devoid of a social conscience. However, for the purveyors of the myth that caste no longer determines one’s life chances, certain news reports from the past few days should be an eye-opener.
In a village 120 km from Bhopal, the 20-odd Dalit children in the government school are provided segregated seating in the classroom, at arm’s length from their peers. At meal times, they are served only leftovers, and that too, a tiny portion. In Coimbatore, 1,000-plus Dalits forcibly entered the 120-year-old Mariammam temple, which had been out of bounds for them. Another news snippet on data released by the RBI shows that between 2004 and 2012, the lowest percentage increase in wages in rural areas was that of sweepers and cobblers — traditionally Dalit occupations — which was even lower than that of unskilled farm labourers.
For those who would brush these off as isolated examples, the details of atrocities against Dalits should correct the misconception. According to home ministry estimates, there were 26,650 atrocities (murder, abduction, rape, kidnapping and arson) in 2006, followed by 29,825 in 2007 and 33,365 in 2008. Mind you, these are only partial figures, as most Dalits suffer in silence. So ingrained is caste in our collective consciousness that even a Dalit who converts to Christianity or Islam or Sikhism continues to be hobbled by his social origins. Mahatma Gandhi had this to say about the plight of even converted Dalits: “Whether the Harijan is nominally a Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Sikh, he is still a Harijan. He can’t change his spots from Hinduism. He may change his garb and call himself a Catholic Harijan or a Muslim Harijan, but his untouchability will haunt him during his lifetime.”