H C Singh

Dalits in India – Search for Common Destiny by Sukhdeo Thorat: Brief Review and Comments

 First of all, it does not seem proper to call schedule castes as Dalits, particularly to title the book – ‘Dalits in India’. No doubt that in accordance with Hindu caste system there are about 30 percent Shudras or Dalits but Gandhiji called them Harijans i.e children of god and even the British under 1935 Act referred to them as Scheduled Castes ie, castes in a schedule. Since then they have not been called officially and academically Shudras or Dalits. Subtitle – Search for a common Destiny is really commendable.

No doubt the author of the Book Shri Sukhdeo Thorat has done lot of research on the subject collecting information on the conditions of SC’s since independence. There are dozens of tables about their progress and improvement in their conditions. It shows clearly that none of the governments at centre during last 63 years has done enough to improve their lot significantly as was required in the 1950 constitution of Free India which granted reservations for 15 years in the hope that by 1965 their will be no need for reservations for them as they would be equal to higher castes, having overall better living conditions by way of providing proper facilities for their education, employment, wages, housing. Various government did not bother to examine the important provision in the constitution and implement these as pointed out below. Part III of the constitution of 1950, specified Fundamental Rights of all citizens, after abolishing untouchability once for all as per Article 17 of the constitution and its violation punishable in accordance with law. Part III of the constitution further spelled out right to equality, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, sex or place of birth and ordained that there will be equality of opportunity in matter of public employment for all citizens to any office under the state. In addition it provided freedom of speech, expression, peaceful assembly and movement of citizens of India in any territory and to settle any where in India in any state and to settle anywhere in India.

Article 46 of part IV of the Directive Principles of State specifies that the state shall promote educational and economic interests of the weaker section of the society, particularly of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and protect then form exploitation. Article 330 of the constitution provides for reservation of seats for SC’s and ST’s in the House of People (Lok Sabha). Similar provision was made in Article 332 for reservation of SC’s and ST’s in the legislatures of the states, in proportion, as far as possible, to the population of SC’s and ST’s in the state.

Finally in the interest of scheduled castes and Tribes. Article 338 of the constitution provides for setting up National commission for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, specially to investigate and monitor all matters relating to safeguards provided for them in the constitution, to evaluate working of safeguards provided in the Constitution.

Besides the provision in the Constitution outlined above for SC’s and ST’s there have been civil rights Act of 1955, The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) ordinance of 1975. Under these rules the state government may appoint an officer not below the rank of Sub-Divisional Magistrate for the purpose of making an inquiry and submit the report of inquiry to the central government for placing before parliament.

In 1989, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act was passed providing for courts for such offences relating to atrocities. Offences of atrocities under 1989 Act include causing injury or even insult to any SC or ST by forcibly removing his clothes or to parade him naked. It is also an offence to dump excreta waste matter, carcass or any other obnoxious substance in his premises or neighborhood. There are many other offences causing insult or injury deliberately and details of punishment for such offences, and enhanced punishment for subsequent conviction. Special Courts can impose punishment which will be not less than one year.

So many provisions have been made and so many Acts have been passed even after the coming in force of 1950 Constitution yet it is well known that in many states untouchability still exists and scheduled castes are not even allowed to enter certain temples and thorough fares. They are not allowed to own or build houses in areas where higher caste people live and practice business. There is hardly any punishment or enforcement of these penal provisions in these areas. Even the employment of manual scavengers and construction of day latrines have been prohibited by 1993 Act but these continue to exist all over India, particularly in rural areas and J.J colonies in the cities and poor day labourers settlements in urban areas.

To sum it up, historically SC’s have not been allowed to own agricultural land. Inspite of many provisions in the constitution and other Acts, there is high incidence of landlessness among SC’s. The best course, as suggested by Sukhdeo Thorat is for the government to create a ‘pool of state level acquired land under ceiling laws and from other public land such as waste land which is free from legal problems’. Land so acquired may be given to landless SC’s. Government may also adopt measures to enforce strictly provisions about quota for jobs both in public and private sectors, education for SC’s in rural areas in particular, and to end atrocities so that they become educated, employed and are fearless and have ‘common destiny’ with other citizens in next 20 years, so that there are no Dalits or SC’s at all, for all times to come.

October 7, 2010 - Posted by | Hinduism, India, Political Commentary | , , , , ,

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