AHRC wants reforms to end apartheid in India

27Jul07

Caste based discrimination is the Indian variant of apartheid. For decades Indians have been separated and divided according to the caste hierarchy. In spite of several laws and even Constitutional guarantees India remains largely divided along the caste lines.Caste based discrimination is omnipresent in India. It is reflected across the societal spectrum. It is so evident that even a complete stranger could identify the inequalities practised openly in the society based on the caste. Caste based discrimination is reflected in the private and public life. Caste is the final denominator for everything in India. It has its influence in the politics, administration and even the economic growth of the country.

Though India is projecting itself to become a developed country by the year 2020, what has been ignored is that if situations as of now continues, a major proportion of the country’s population will not be benefiting from it. The state of Uttar Pradesh is an example. The state, considered to be the power centre of India, is now administered by a political party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that came to ower towing the caste line, particularly that of the Dalits. But what is the actual situation of the Dalits in this state?

The Dalits in Uttar Pradesh are extremely poor. Their counterparts,the Patels and Yadavs, otherwise known as the Other Backward Community (OBC), has liberated themselves from the servitude of the upper caste by making use of the window of opportunity provided to them by the former government, also led by a Yadav. In the process of self liberation, they not only ignored the Dalits, but also forced them to continue under servitude. It has to be understood that this was a calculated move to exploit the economy of caste based discrimination.The equation is simple; by the end of the day there need to be asource for free labour. To ensure free labour the neo Brahmins of the state – the Patels and Yadavs – forced the Dalits to remain under servitude. The Patels and Yadavs are also now known as the neo feudal of the state.

To control the Dalits, the age-old Brahmin policy of food deprivation and bonded labour is brutally enforced. Though bonded labour is prohibited by the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, the law has little meaning for the Dalits. They are forced to bone-breaking work in the farms, quarries and kilns of the upper caste community. Food deprivation and poverty eradication, though sought to be prevented through several central and state government programmes like rationed distribution of food grains and oils through the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) shops and implementation of programmes like the Andyodaya and Annapoorna schemes along with the employment generating programmes like the Jawahar Rozgar Yogna never percolated into the Dalit community for their benefit. Dalits are deprived from accessing these programmes by the upper caste by corrupting the implementing element of these programmes.

All this is possible only because of a corrupt and fallen criminal justice delivery mechanism in Uttar Pradesh. The backbone of the criminal justice system is the policing in the state. Policing in Uttar Pradesh suffer from the impunity the officers enjoy for their corrupt practices. Custodial torture and extra judicial killing is widely used to terrorise those who challenge the police in Uttar Pradesh. Even well known human rights groups are not immune to this terror. Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, the Secretary of a people’s movement, the Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and his wife Ms. Shruti and their activists, based in Varanasi who are fighting against the caste based discrimination in the state is targeted by the local police and the corrupt officials within the administration. Several threats have been made against the life of the activists associated with the PVCHR. Thus far instances where limited to harassment by the local police and death threats sent out by the upper caste feudal whenever they found their position were challenged.

Illegal dealing of rationed articles is dominated by corrupt licensees, mostly from the upper caste, who had obtained licenses to run the PDS shops in villages. Some of them have been renewing their license for decades in spite of specific complaints filed against these licensees. The district administrations, the license issuing authority on behalf of the state government, has thus far ignored these complaints and failed to properly investigate them. Even in cases where an investigation was ordered it was breached by corrupt police officers who rallied behind the upper caste under the influence of their money. When mere complaining and campaigning was found ineffective matters were taken to the local courts for intervention. The local courts which are equally corrupt and nepotic failed to intervene. Some of the judges in the lower judiciary and a few in the higher judiciary of the state are so prejudiced with their caste sentiments that any issue concerning the lower caste is thrown out of the court without any consideration.

It is this insensitivity to deep issues by the courts amplified by a corrupt police that sustains a broken administrative setup in Uttar Pradesh. The state is a showcase and a specimen for studying the current day practices of caste based discrimination in India. The state is now administered by a Chief Minister who has declared in public that her government is determined to rule out caste based prejudices in the state. This determination, if it is not a political hat trick, has to be reflected in what steps the current administration would take to check the deep rooted problems within the criminal justice mechanisms, particularly the police, within the state.

If caste based discrimination could be initially controlled and in due course totally eradicated from Uttar Pradesh, similar steps couldbe initiated in the rest of India. But what is required for this isthe political will and determination to correct the injustices metedout against the Dalits by the upper caste through exploiting a fallen criminal justice system. India is yet to experience the benefits of a reasonably functioning criminal justice system. Without correcting this fatal mistake India will never succeed in eliminating caste based discrimination, and it will remain a blot in the modern history of India.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.



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