The recurring incidents of violence against Dalits reported from various parts of the country are a direct challenge thrown by arbiters of caste hegemony to the law of the land. Many of those committing atrocities against Dalits know very well that they are in violation of the constitutional right to equality and stringent laws like the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Yet they are brandishing these atrocities. The surfacing of two videos last week illustrates the point – one from Maharashtra where two Dalit boys were beaten and paraded naked for swimming in a village well and another from Gujarat where a 13-year-old was assaulted for dressing like a “kshatriya”.
The videographing of these heinous acts is clearly calculated to humiliate Dalits and dissuade them from claiming their right to public spaces and an equal social footing with other communities. However, Dalits are also in no mood to back away from confrontation. The rise of a new generation of assertive Dalit leaders like Jignesh Mevani and Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan underlines this trend. Upper caste zealots are clearly fighting a losing battle as more Dalits embrace modernity and these arch-conservatives hark back to feudal memories.
Interestingly, despite extreme polarisation in politics, all mainstream parties condemn caste oppression. But this political consciousness must seep into society and civil administration especially police personnel who respond to crime at the grassroots level. Even as PM Narendra Modi attempts this when invoking his idea of a New India free from casteism and communalism, BJP’s Dalit MPs are essentially pointing to failures of the sabka saath sabka vikas slogan. Preventing further atrocities requires strong prosecutions and expeditious punishments. Beyond this New India requires creating more economic opportunities to flatten persistent caste hierarchies.