Dalits – “They are the members of lower caste in the Indian caste system.” This is the meaning of the word in Google dictionary.
The word traces its origin from the Sanskrit language which implies Dalita meaning “divided, split, broken, scattered”. Hence, the semantics of this word reflects the inequality in our society.
The origin of Dalits in the Indian caste system
The concept of categorizing humans based on their professions arose from the Early Vedic Period (1500 – 600 BC), where there were three major classifications:-
- Teaching profession:- Brahmins.
- Administration:- Kshatriyas.
- Agriculture and Business:- Vaishyas.
- But there was no categorization like upper caste and lower caste.
It is very essential to note that:-
- There was no rigidity in the change of profession;
- Inter-caste marriages or rather marriages between individuals of two different professions existed.
- And social mingling was regardless of professional status.
But things changed from the Later Vedic Period (1000 – 600 BC). Due to improvements in the business sector, the Vaishyas moved towards trade and commerce.
To fill the gap in the Agriculture sector, a new category called Shudras emerged, this added the fourth category to the above list:-
- Teaching profession:- Brahmins.
- Administration:- Kshatriyas.
- Business:- Vaishyas.
- Agriculture:- Shudras.
And from here the aspects of profession, marriages and social interactions got rigid, there was no provision for modification, inter-relationship, and common mingling. So this bought in hereditary nature in society.
Gradually, with the diversification of respective professions, the gap between the respective professions grew up giving rise to the Class system of society based on social status.
The Brahmins took up advisory roles, Kshatriyas took up security and leadership, Vaishyas entered different businesses, and similarly, the Shudras also engaged in cattle raring, laundry, and other professions involving manual labor.
Being in the labor class, the Shudras were denied access to education, thereby, the social image of the Shudras depicted them as subservient to the other Classes, which bought in the concept of the Caste system.
In this Caste system, the role of respective castes in the society was presumed gradually reserving the Shudras to the Lower Caste.
Based on the place of residence, type of ritual practice, and other social attributes, in modern society, they are categorized as Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC).
Being in the lowered section and widely diversified, they were collectively termed Dalits in modern etymology, and due to denial of education, they are forced to be restricted for menial drudgery.
Thus, every Dalit is a forced manual scavenger, but not every manual scavenger is a Dalit!
Dalits tarnished in present society
The economic status of the lower caste has moderately improved due to specific constitutional provisions and social activities that promoted the Dalit parents to educate their children to bring them out of poverty.
Although they account for 25% of the Indian population (200 million in number), nearly 66% of them are Below Poverty line even today.
They are forced to take up professions like manual scavengers, rag pickers, slipper guards, drainage cleaners, safai karmacharies, and other menial drudgery.
All these professions are informal and contracted by middlemen hence festering the exploitation further.
The woes of the exploited Dalit victims in all this drudgery remain the same, they are not given proper remuneration and proper rigs & tools for these unhygienic works.
They can manage the brunt of this pain in every other drudgery, but the manual scavenging isn’t very merciful to their lives.
Manual scavenging: a dark curse on Dalits
Manual scavenging is a practice by which Dalits remove excreta from public and private dry pit latrines and carry them to dumping grounds and disposal sites.
Though long outlawed, the practice of manual scavenging continues in most states and will continue as long as dry latrines are used.
Even at present 97% of Dalits are manual scavengers because the contractors prefer them!
A manual scavenger from Paliyad village, Ahmedabad district, Gujarat, expressed his cry in different seasons;
In the rainy season, the water mixes with the feces that we carry in baskets on our heads, it drips onto our clothes and our face. When I return home, I find it difficult to eat food…. But in the summer there is often no water to wash your hands before eating. It is difficult to say which season is worse.
Manual scavengers are routinely exposed to both human and animal waste without the protection of masks, uniforms, gloves, shoes, appropriate buckets, and mops. This has severe repercussions for their health;
- The majority of scavengers suffer from anemia, diarrhea, and vomiting, with
- 62% suffering respiratory diseases,
- 32% suffering skin diseases,
- 42% suffering jaundice and
- 23% suffering trachoma, leading to blindness.
- Many scavengers have also died of carbon monoxide poisoning while cleaning septic tanks, and this number has increased in recent times.
- 36% of them faced violence from their employers.
- Over 50% of them face untouchability in their social circles.
A total of 996 Dalits laid down their lives due to manual scavenging since 1993, and 111 of them haven’t received compensation yet!
Other Injustices towards Dalits in present society
- Bonded labor:- There are a vast majority of bonded Dalit tribals who seek loans from employers or money lenders and get coxed by them at a high rate of interest.
- Child labor:- Dalit children are vulnerable to exploitative labor mainly to support their families, especially the children of the migratory tribes, who are often expected to work alongside their parents in day-labor jobs.
- Problems to access health care:- Several manual scavengers facing suffocation are often poorly attended in government hospitals causing inhuman death.
- Apart from this, in Uttar Pradesh, anganvadis (community centers) are known to practice “untouchability” and as a result, pregnant women are forced to go without health care.
- Doctors at the local hospital in Pandalam Thekkekara, Kerala, are seen to spend much more time treating upper-caste women than Dalit women.
- Crimes on Dalits:- Media, NGO, and government reports reveal that the police have systematically failed to protect Dalit homes and Dalit individuals from inhumane acts.
- Sexual abuse:- Dalit women are also singled out for other indignities, like being paraded naked, even for petty disputes.
- Human Rights Watch reported that on November 3, 2003, a Dalit woman in Kishanganj, Bihar was paraded half-naked by a group of people who wanted to teach a lesson to her family for not relinquishing their claim to a piece of land.
- Dalit women may be branded as witches and blamed for certain mishaps in the community. Dalit women are also punished for these mishaps, by having their teeth pulled out, by having chili pepper put in their eyes, and by being beaten severely enough to result in death.
- Further, they are severely exploited as Devadasis and under forced prostitution.
- Police atrocities:- Dalits, including those arrested for minor offenses, are often held in custody for long periods, occasionally at distant and isolated locations to avoid publicity.
- To cover up custodial deaths, police often claim that the person was killed trying to escape or that he or she died of natural causes.
- Dalit activists are often subjected to specious prosecutions, falsified charges, and physical abuse and torture following arrest.
- Illegal police raids on Dalit villages under the pretext of looking for suspects in the aftermath of caste conflicts. Human Rights Watch has documented several such instances.
- Forced eviction:- Encroachment of tribal dwelling areas has created turmoil for the Scheduled Tribes, this issue has been common in several infrastructure constructions including the Statue of Unity.
The hidden potential of Dalits
Given the right opportunity and proper facilities, they can serve in several sectors to maintain the welfare of cities in a professional manner.
- When the government is trying to bring every vocation under skill training even these jobs can be formalized as a certified profession. There are innovative technologies developed for cleaning septic tanks like:-
- The Manhole cleaning robot of Kerala:-
- HomoSEP robot, developed by IIT Madras:-
- By providing advanced equipments the risk in the profession can be reduced, as seen in other countries.
- The best example in Indian cities are:-
- Bangalore:- The garbage collection is well organized with waste segregation at the source, and the collection is operated via garbage trucks. Even the collector has a proper uniform and hand gloves.
- Mumbai:- The septic tank cleaning is done by a private company called “Blue star services” which again has adequate rigs for the employees.
- The government of Punjab and Haryana can think about using them to clear stubbles in the farms once the harvesting is completed.
- There are several instances of stubble burning despite of government incentivizing the stubble market, thus formal legislation can be made to empower the Dalits to harvest the stubbles for profit if the farmers fail to do.
A caste-free society is achieved when everyone is treated impartially both from a social and political perspective.
to achieve this, we need to stop linking social status and government privileges to different castes!
Read More –
- Manual Scavenging: Delhi High Court imposes 10 lakhs in damages for the families of two people who dies in a choked sewer.