Dalits – Old struggles of a “new” India

One questions that pops up quite often in a geographically diverse group is ” Does the caste system really still exist in India? “.

It is rather sad to admit, that discrimination which denies many of dignity and basic human rights is still a reality, only just hidden from mainstream urban culture of India.

‘Dalit’ – a word derived from the Sanskrit word ‘dalita’, meaning ‘crushed’ or ‘destroyed’ – even the word that is used to identify them tells a story of oppression.

Early in August this year, thousands of Dalit’s started a march from Ahmedadbad to Una.  Organisers said the march called ‘Aazadi Koon’ (March for Freedom) has been planned to galvanise the community and will cover a distance of around 350 km.

This wasn’t a first of it’s kind uprising. Dalits have been fighting for basic rights from the time of India’s independence. And yet, the extent of the indignation, even now, is palpable even through the charcoal words of newsprint.

The underprivileged minorities often have it tough, even when they want their voices to be heard, a marathon task, quite literally in this case.

Some facts:

  • This march was triggered as a reaction to the “mob justice” met out by ‘gau rakshaks’ on 4 Dalit men. These men were merely doing their job of skinning an already dead cow ( in this case the cow had died of an lion attack)
  • Dalit families usually skin dead animals and sell the leather they procure, to supplement their often meager incomes
  • Away from the glitz of urban India, Dalits still struggle for decent job opportunities and most are left with no options other than working as landless labourers or as manual scavengers
  • Since the march, a large number of Dalits have given up cleaning and skinning cow carcasses, leading to sanitation concerns in some parts of the country
  • If Dalits were allocated the land as per the Land Ceiling Act, most would not depend on side gigs to support their families. Except, the lands officially allocated never really reached them, instead it was encroached by the people in authority.

For the Dalits of India, the fight is real and one that continues as a daily struggle even today.

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