Sultan M Hali
DALITS in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are threatening to convert to Islam if upper-caste Hindus will not treat them with dignity. Irked by the rules set by upper-caste Hindus, the Valmikis in Sambhal have announced that they would embrace Islam if the discrimination they have faced for years did not stop. The term Dalit implies “oppressed” in Sanskrit and is the self-chosen political name of castes in India, which are considered and treated as “untouchable”. Though the name Dalit has been in existence before, it was popularised by the economist and reformer Bhimrao R. Ambedkar (1891–1956) in the twentieth century. Himself a Dalit, popularly known as Baba Saheb, Ambedkar inspired the Dalit Buddhist Movement and campaigned against social discrimination against Untouchables (Dalits), while also supporting the rights of women and labour and the principal architect of the Constitution of India, yet the Dalit continue to be maltreated by the upper caste Brahmins in India.
Use of the word “Dalit’ for a person or group has been outlawed, and India’s National Commission for Scheduled Castes considers the public use of the label unconstitutional. In India, the legal terms are “scheduled caste”, “other backward caste” or “scheduled tribe”. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes exist across India, and do not share a single language or religion. They comprise 16.6% of India’s population, according to the 2011 census.
Dalit are treated in a very inhuman manner and are at times beaten up and even killed. Among state schools, 88% discriminated against Dalit children, while 79% required Dalit students to sit in the back of the classroom. In 79% Indian schools, Dalit children are forbidden from touching mid-day meals. They are required to sit separately at lunch in 35% of schools, and are forced to eat with specially marked plates in 28%. In high schools, higher caste students are often advised not to mingle with Dalits. There have been incidents of Dalit teachers and professors being discriminated against and harassed by authorities, upper castes colleagues as well as upper caste students in different education institutes of India.
Last month, an 18-year-old Dalit killed himself after he was socially boycotted by villagers for accidentally killing his pet calf in Gopalpur Barandi village, India. Police said Ramu threw himself in front of a train in Itiyahthok area of Gonda. His body was found the next morning, some four kilometers away from his home where he lived with his mother Cheriya Devi and three brothers. In the current incident, the Dalit community’s right to have their hair cut by the barbers in the village is the latest fiasco that has boiled matters. Since independence, the Valmikis of Sambhal have to travel up to 20 kilometers to get a shave or hair cut but recently a Muslim barber who is new to the village agreed to provide his services to one man from the community and all hell broke loose after the fact became public.
Earlier this month, an installation of a statue of BR Ambedkar in Ravidas temple triggered tensions between Dalits and Thakurs and a group of Dalit youth attacked the upper castes. Later, around 50 Dalit families in Moradabad immersed statues of Hindu deities in the river there and started greeting one another with the salutation “Salaamwalekum” instead of the usual “Ram Ram”, following an increase in incidents of attacks on Dalits in Uttar Pradesh ever since the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government came to power. Yogi Adityanath has vowed to crackdown on the minorities in UP but instead of being chastised by the central government, he is egged on to continue his reign of terror. Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government seems to have been spiked by a series of incidents of heinous crimes and law and order issues. Serious crime figures have seen a sharp increase — in many cases going up manifold.
Having come to power in March 2017 with a three-fourths majority, riding on anti-incumbency and promising a turnaround in the law and order situation, which the BJP said had collapsed during the Samajwadi Party (SP) regime, the situation in less than two months has turned against the ruling party. From murders to rapes to dacoities to caste conflicts and communal tensions, the government seems to be tottering in face of soaring crime and shaken public confidence. The situation has come to such a pass that the Allahabad High Court (HC) expressed concern over the crime situation in the state. While disposing of a petition, a bench of Chief Justice D.B. Bhonsle and Justice Yashwant Verma directed the Principal Secretary (Home) and the Director General of Police to rein in the criminal and mafia elements.
In an unrelated development, an Indian TV Channel has doctored a statement by Lt. Gen Amjad Shoaib (Retd) and claim that the senior Pakistani officer admitted that Commander Kulbhoshan Jadhav had been kidnapped by Pakistan from Iran. The officer had stated that Kulbhoshan was operating from Iran but India Today TV Channel deleted the word “operated” and presented the clip. Indian media and politicians are pathological liars. On May 23 2017, they produced a doctored video clip claiming that on May 9, they had destroyed Pakistan Army bunkers in Naushera along the Line of Control and killed thirteen Pakistani soldiers. Readers may recall that Indian media and armed forces were presenting doctored videos during the Kargil War too making false claims.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.