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THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 10 MARCH, 2016

India's Not So Silent Apartheid: Dalit Boy Refused Access To School Handpump, Drowns In Well


NEW DELHI: A nine year old Dalit boy in Madhya Pradesh’s Damoh district drowned in a well after teachers prevented him from using a hand pump.

Veeran Ahirwar, a class three student at the government primary school of Khamariya Kalan village, Tendukhera block, had reportedly just finished his mid-day meal and gone to drink water from the handpump. He was stopped by a few teachers. Veeran then decided to go to a nearby well to draw water. In attempting to do so, he tipped over and fell in.

Veeran’s brother, Sewak, who studies in the same school said that dalit students were not allowed to drink water from the handpump. During a preliminary inquiry, members of the Dalit community told a team of officials led by Damoh district panchayat CEO JC Jatiya, that their children often faced discrimination at the hands of teachers.

The Damoh collector, Sriniwas Sharma, however, ruled out that caste-based discrimination led to the accident. He said overcrowding at the school hand pump had forced the children to move to the well near the school (as stated by the Hindustan Times).

Caste discrimination continues to be a problem in modern India, with schools often being the scene of segregation. According to the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR), in 37.8% of villages in India, Dalit students are made to sit separately in government schools. The Citizen has carried several stories detailing discrimination against Dalit students in schools. In September 2014, for instance, two Dalit children were brutally beaten and rusticated from a primary school in Rajasthan for drinking water from a matka (earthen pot) used by an upper caste teacher. The teacher Mangal Singh rusticated eleven Dalit children for this “crime”, half of the strength of the 25 students school in Meghwalo ki Dhani in Tant village of Bikaner district in Rajasthan.

“Despite the fact that “Untouchability” was abolished under India's constitution in 1950, the practice of “Untouchability”—the imposition of social disabilities on persons by reason of their birth in certain castes— remains very much a part of rural India. “Untouchables” may not use the same wells, visit the same temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or lay claim to land that is legally theirs. Dalit children are frequently made to sit in the back of classrooms, and communities as a whole are made to perform degrading rituals in the name of caste,” says Human Rights Watch.

NACDOR notes that in 27.6% of India’s villages, Dalits are prevented from entering police stations. In 25.7% of the country’s villages, Dalits are prevented from entering ration shops. In 35% of villages, Dalits are barred from selling produce in local markets. In 47% of villages with milk cooperatives, Dalits are prevented from selling milk, and in 25% of such villages, they are prevented from buying milk altogether.

Further, according to official Indian crime statistics, 27 atrocities against Dalits are committed every day. 13 Dalits are murdered every week. 3 Dalit women are raped every day. A crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. This, despite the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Worse, these crimes are on the rise. According to data released by NACDOR, a total of 3,198 cases related to atrocities on dalits have been registered between 2004 and 2013 as against 1,305 from 1994 to 2003. These crimes rose by another 19 percent in 2014. According to statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), crimes against SCs rose to 47,064 in 2014 from 39,408 in 2013. In 2012 there were 33,655 crimes against dalits, about the same as in 2011.

These statistics are corroborated by reports in the media. The case of Rohith Vemula -- a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad -- who committed suicide highlighting caste discrimination in his suicide note, has gripped the nation. Rohith was one of five Dalit students expelled by the University administration.

Although Rohith’s suicide has gripped media headlines, other cases of discrimination against Dalits are hardly reported.

At the time of writing, Dalit organisations and others demand suspension of Huzurabad DSP and Jammikunta Rural CI for neglecting their duty regarding the gang-rape of a Dalit girl.

In November last year, a Dalit couple and their relatives were beaten up, abused and issued life threats for allegedly touching idols at a temple in Chitrakoot district.

In October last year, in Greater Noida in Gautam Buddh Nagar, a Dalit man and his wife were stripped naked whilst protesting against lack of action by the police. Aslam Khan who was part of a fact finding team to find out the details of the case, termed it a case of "dalit atrocity". In the same month, in Haryana, two dalit children were burnt alive, allegedly by upper caste men.

In June, two brothers in a village in the Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh were stoned. Their crime? They are Dalits, and had passed the examinations for the Indian Institute of Technology. This was not acceptable to the upper-caste villagers. The brothers, Raju and Brijesh Saroj, are sons of a daily wage labourer living in Rehua Lalganj village. Intelligent and committed, the boys ---18 and 19 years respectively---spent their years studying hard, topping school examinations and getting scholarships. They have faced harassment, violence, abuse for this with Brajesh at the age of 10 being thrashed by a school teacher for daring to question his Sanskrit translation.

In May last year, Dalit residents of Rajendra Nagar locality in Sonepat were attacked by RSS men, and told not to seek any legal remedy.

In October 2014, a mahadalit boy was burnt alive by four upper caste men in a Bihar village because the boy’s goat had strayed into one of their fields. The four men -- having previously thrashed the boy, who had then managed to escape -- stormed the boy’s home and set him alight after pouring kerosene on him. The boy succumbed to his injuries.

In the same month, three upper-caste men gang raped six dalit women, including four teenage girls again in Bihar.

In September last year, a dalit woman was brutally beaten and her house torched in Memdarganj in Nawada district, Bihar. She was accused of practising witchcraft. Earlier last year, following tensions over the issue of the entry of Dalits into a temple, a dalit woman was beaten and stripped by higher caste assailants in Gangooru village in Belur taluk.

In June last year, in Gugal Kota village in Alwar, Rajasthan, a young Dalit bridegroom was attacked because he was riding a horse to his wedding. The Rajputs in the village allegedly did not like the celebrations as these were seen as being beyond the Dalits “status”, and the boy was pulled down from the horse and the guests attacked and beaten.

A few months before that, in Koliwad village in the Hubli district of Karnataka haircutting salons shut down because a few Dalit youths wanted to have a haircut but fearing reprisal from the upper caste communities, the barbers refused to do so and shut down their shops.

In July, a village headman ordered a retaliatory rape of Dalit girl, whilst the village stood back and watched. The girl’s brother had allegedly raped the wife of the girl’s rapist.

In New Delhi, about 90 Dalit families from Haryana have been camping for extended periods to demand justice for four gangrape victims. Their demand is to bring the culprits to justice and compensation to the victims -- a demand that has thus far fell on deaf years.

Most cases still go unreported, with Dalits -- who continue to live in the outskirts of villages, drawing water from different wells and praying in separate temples -- fearing reprisal attacks.

Further, scavenging despite being declared illegal is still prevalent with Dalits in villages cleaning human excreta from the toilets of upper caste families. Ninety nine percent of them are women. Because of the ban the government has virtually stopped keeping statistics of the number of persons still doing this humiliating and filthy job with the budgetary allocations for their rehabilitation being reduced now to 20 crore rupees, that is intended more for surveys than for the Dalits who are still employed and beaten into working as manual scavengers. The 2011 census, before the law banning this job, recorded 750,000 persons working as manual scavengers in states like Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The job has become almost hereditary passed down from family to family in the absence of reforms and rehabilitation schemes.

Sulabh international vividly describes manual scavening: “A caste based and hereditary profession, which is handed down, as a legacy from one generation to the next; “manual scavenging” has been an age-old routine for this community, which is untouched by technological advancement in sanitary practices. Not only does the prevalence of this culture seem antediluvian, but what is worse is the fact that those born in this community are considered agents of pollution due to their background of social hierarchy, based on birth. They are the most oppressed and suppressed class of Indian society - hated, ostracized, vilified and avoided by all other castes and classes. The appalling hardship, humiliation and exploitation they face, have no parallel in human history. The practice started in the Pauranic period continued in the Buddhist, Mauryan, Mughal and British periods.” And those from these families receive the worst of abuse and discrimination, beaten and abused if they even dare to brush against anyone from the more privileged castes.

The National Human Rights Commission Report on the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes says that, “every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit. Every day 3 Dalit women are raped, 2 Dalits are murdered and 2 Dalits Houses are burnt in India, 11 Dalits are beaten. Every week: 13 Dalits are murdered, 5 Dalits home or possessions are burnt, 6 Dalits are kidnapped or abducted.”

In terms of their social and economic status, “37 percent of Dalits are living below poverty in India. More than half (54%) of their children are undernourished in India. 83 per 1000 children born in Dalit community are probability of dying before the first birthday. 45 percent of Dalits do not know read and write in India. Dalits women burden double discrimination (gender and caste) in India. Only 27 percent of Dalits women give institutional deliveries in India. About one third of Dalit households do not have basic facilities. Public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes in 33% of villages. Dalits are prevented from entering police station in 27.6% of villages. Dalit children had to sit separately while eating in 37.8% of Govt. schools. Dalits do not get mail delivered to their homes in 23.5% of villages. Dalits are denied access to water sources in 48.4% of villages because of segregation & untouchability practices. Half of India’s Dalit children are undernourished, 21% are severely underweight & 12% die before their 5th birthday. Literacy rates for Dalit women are as low as 37.8% In Rural India.”

The Commission notes that “Under-reporting of Atrocities Act cases is a very common phenomenon and therefore the decline in the number of registered cases does not provide a true picture of the incidence of atrocities.”

“A large number of cases which deserve to be registered under Protection of Civil Rights Act or the SCs & STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act are not actually registered under these Acts, either due to ignorance of law or under pressure from the interested parties. Investigations in even those limited number of cases is often earned out in a slipshod manner and with considerable delay.”

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