74 years since independence, and India is still struggling tooth and nail to do away with caste based and gender violence. But the progress has been dismally sluggish and dissatisfactory.
On that note of thought, the Gender Impact Studies, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organized a #webpolicytalk on The heinousness of many Hathras amid the pandemic – Voluntarism, the way ahead for combating caste and gender-based violence, in collaboration with Delhi Post.
The moderator Dr. Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International, initiated the session by explaining how the incidence of gender and caste violence have increased manifolds especially during the pandemic. He also pointed out how the main speaker of the event Mr. Martin Macwan, Founder, Navsarjan Trust; Dalit Human Rights Activist, have narrowly escaped caste based violence and a murder attempt in 1986 for being a staunch dalit activist and his role in Land Race Campaign. In 2005, Mr. Macwan was hailed by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for justice and human rights as one of the five outstanding human right defenders.
Dalit identity in India
The speaker Mr. Macwan began his session by pointing out the many nuances that are involved in dalit identity in India. He used the analogy of an onion to explain the layers within the dalit community. There are among 1250 subcastes with varying social indices. No matter the amount of legislations or the type of party in power, dalit violence has been unhibited. The campaign against untouchability pre independence has vanished in Independent India. Without having any sort of consolidated facts and figures on the dalit community, plan and programmes made for the benefit of the community is thus destined for half-baked success. India today lacks a holistic picture of the living condition of the Dalits.
The impact of caste and gender prejudices on the minds of the young population has far reaching consequences. Mr. Macwan reminded once again that the gruelling incident of Hathras tells us earlier the crimes happened in darkness, away from the public eye, but now the character has hanged…violence is meted out in the daylight, often in the presence of police without fear of law. Not a single chapter is spent in our education curriculum to talk about the raging issues of caste based violence or gender violence in India. And the government still bears the age old obsolete thought process that by merely putting a law in place, everything will be taken care of. He added that the role of the state in Hathras rape case also shocked the nation. There are 591 dalit legislators across the country and 94 dalit Lok sabha MPs, and all of them absolute silence on the Hathras matter, not uttering a single word of protest. In this context Mr. Macwan talked about the Poona Pact signed between Ambedkar and Gandhi, where Ambedkar never wanted political reservation but vyed for separate electorate.
As a way out, Mr. Macwan is in favour of stopping political reservation for 10 years and looking at its impact. Gandhi insisted for 5 years of political reservation as the forefathers saw that within 10 years we will achieve social equality and the reality is so hopeless today. He also mentioned how in recent years the government is encroaching in the social space of civil society organizations. This is particularly detrimental to the interest of the dalit right activists. The alternative that India has, according to Mr.Macwan is voluntarism. The youth needs to be motivated through academic institutions or vocational bodies and inturn helping the people in India. He concluded his session remarking that as a state we have failed in social reforms.
Feminism and Gender
The next speaker Dr. Govind Kelkar expressed her affirmations with Mr. Macwan’s viewpoints. She mainly focused on gender perspective, with the effects of caste and gender. She talks about the pervasion of Brahmanical patriarchy in India, where women were equated with the “shudras”. This Brahmanical patriarchy has through centuries marginalized the Dalit and women population in the country. Today amidst a soar in gender and caste based violence, Dalit feminism as a discourse has gained much importance. Dalit women are much more threatened, what Dr. Kelkar termed as double oppression and double exploitation, given their marginalized gender and caste identity. They are exploited by upper caste men as well as by dalit men themselves. But the dalit women’s voice has by and large been muted by the state and other agencies. The issues endemic to the dalit women were never taken separately by academicians or other institutions working for the dalit cause. The entire dalit community was seen as a consolidated homogenous group. For Dr. Kelkar the way out is human rights for every men and women. And this will only come through a collective struggle, protest and pressure.
Limitations of law enforcement bodies
The next speaker of the session, Dr. Simi Mehta, reiterated the need for more and more discussion on dalit and gender issues including civil society organisations to head of the state. She talked about the lack of responsibility on part of the law enforcement bodies when it comes to registering a case or protecting the interests of the Dalits.
Dr. Martin Macwan in the question session clarified the need to do away with only political reservations not with educational and professional reservation, which as he sees, has made tremendous impact in uplifting the dalit community in certain ways. He also discussed elaborately the limitations of the Atrocities Act. It is the prejudices against race and certain sections of the society which makes any law ineffective. He portrayed the American Black Lives Matter Movement as yet another example of that norm. And because of those inherent prejudices there should be reservations in higher judiciary as well. He reiterated Dr. Kelkar’s assertion that the situation of the dalit women are the most precarious. The problem of unemployment within the dalit community also needs to be dealt with seriously.
In response to the moderator Indu Prakash Singh’s question on the failure and the role of political institutions in caste based violence, Mr. Macwan mentioned the way NHRC or the SHRC are coloured politically. Thus it shows that equality has failed to become a critical value of Indian democracy. And here the role of civil society becomes all the more important.
In answering the question on the role of youth and the way patriarchy can be dismantled in India, Mr. Macwan described the role of education in both these matters.
YouTube Video: The Heinousness of many Hathras amid the Pandemic | Martin Macwan
Aknowledgement: Anondeeta Chakraborty is a Research Intern at IMPRI.