Untouchability of low caste people still alive in Indian countryside: Report

NEW DELHI: Untouchability is alive in the countryside though fear of law and rising Dalit assertion seem to have curbed its crude manifestations.

These are findings of a survey by National Law School, Bangalore, to study the impact of Protection of Civil Rights Act on untouchability commissioned by Union social justice ministry.

Villages, the den of this decadent practice, are far from being zero-untouchability zones as found in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, MP, UP, Rajasthan and West Bengal.

As many as 516 of the total 648 Dalits questioned said they were not allowed to enter temples while 151 said they were not allowed to take out processions of their deities. The survey said 581 were allowed drumbeats during marriage processions.

Around 16% of non-Dalits questioned conceded that SCs were barred from temple activities. Importantly, 13% refused to comment, showing the bias continued to be strong. The non-SCs confirmed what 516 of a sample of 648 Dalits said ^they were denied entry to temples.

Dalit participation in social activities has improved, with 591 invited for wedding feasts. But the improvement stops there. Around 29% said they wait for others to finish eating before they can eat while 20% non-SCs said they expected SCs to wash their plates after eating.

The primitive manifestations of untouchability still exist, even if they are on the wane. In the survey, 7% respondents said they were barred from entering main streets of villages while 7% said they could not wear sandals and walk in front of a dominant caste member. In fact, 9% revealed they had to talk with folded hands and 29% said they had to stand up in respect.

A sore point of old caste segregation was bar on entry of SCs in non-Dalit houses. While 82% revealed they were allowed in, around 18% were still not.

A big section of non-SCs said they would not allow SCs into their houses while an equal number refused to comment, showing the sensitivity was not easy to overcome. SC women work as maids in other caste homes but a majority said they were not allowed inside. Many in Karnataka, MP and Rajasthan named Brahmins and Konkani castes as barring their entry while in Bengal, 34 different OBCs were identified.

As many as 20% said they were not served food and water in non-Dalit homes while 24% claimed being served in separate vessels. At least 25% non-SCs concurred with the claim.

Dalit children are still growing with the stigma of being from inferior class. While seating arrangements are common in schools, SC kids in many cases are asked to take the back benches. Also, many are served midday meals separately from other children.

The bias showed when over 40% non-SC respondents agreed there were no SC teachers in their village schools.
Vestiges of mediaeval society became apparent when upper castes and OBCs, if only a handful, revealed they served SCs in towels or their upper garments; while some poured water directly into the cupped Dalit hands for drinking instead of giving a tumbler. A few cases showed that barbers used separate instruments for haircut of Dalits.

The survey was carried out in six states and 24 villages, a mix of those with highest and lowest crimes under PCR Act. S Japhet, director, Centre of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, said, "No study can claim to be totally representative because of social and regional diversity. But this is as comprehensive as it can be as an empirical study. The methodology is scientific."

For all the empowerment, Dalits in the countryside are still forced into services seen as "menial" - 154 of 553 Dalits performed drumbeating, 42 grave digging while 97 were into making chappals. As many as 78 said they were asked to carry out animal sacrifice and 57 said they were sweepers.

Not surprisingly, the biggest improvement in Dalit rights is in politics - SCs are active in politics, are invited to functions and get elected too. The negative is that their elections are limited to seats reserved for them. "It shows that political empowerment of Dalits through affirmative action is confined to the reserved seats," says the report.



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