The How of Social Harmony: A Dalit’s Viewpoint

By Dr Asavadi Prakasa Rao
Dr Asavadi Prakasa Rao
Thanks to the constitutional reservations, we the SCs/Dalits have come a long way, and at this historical juncture when India is at 70, we have Ramnath Kovind, a Dalit holding the office of President of the Indian Republic – the first Dalit President being KR Narayanan.
We, the SCs, are second to none in patriotism; so let’s think mainstream and broadminded, instead of feeling being on the margins. We have a responsibility to the nation and we will discharge it.
Social harmony is one of the most important activities of nation building; and here I would like to focus on it from the angle of the Dalit situation.
To go into the genesis of caste at this stage is superfluous, I suppose. A number of religious leaders and social reformers right from Buddha’s down to the present times have done their best to eliminate caste, but nobody has totally succeeded. Whether you attribute it to the ploys of the rulers or to the conspiracy of the upper-castes, one thing in our contemporary situation is undeniably glaring – that each and every one has been doing their best to strengthen the foundations of the very caste system they profess to dismantle.
Though it is evidenced that caste discrimination has almost disappeared in the matter of community events like festivals, feasts, fairs and temple visits, nobody knows when the much ingrained and pent-up caste-gestalt is going to burst out next. Ironically, the lowest order of the castes in the caste hierarchy has itself become a breeding and battle ground for internecine conflicts, and the upper-caste leaders are adding fuel to this fire. It is also a naked truth that the leaders of caste associations – who do everything in their command to promote and perpetrate caste consciousness and jealousies in order to ensure that their position of leadership remains unchallenged thanks to the shows of strength they organise from time to time – do nothing concrete for their members, but snap up every benefit for themselves.
To me it appears that the inter-caste differences would gradually wither away not by hating, fighting and thrashing one another but by promoting inter-caste empathy and harmony only. This idea may infuriate some of the caste leaders and activists, but it is my well-considered opinion in the background of my work in this direction over the last two decades. Let’s have a dispassionate and amicable approach.
It is undisputable that some of the upper-caste people are humiliating the non-caste people, viz. Dalits; but all is not lost if both the groups and the government have an open and clear mind on the issue.
Discrimination against Dalits
Here is a litany of facts of discrimination against the Dalits:-
1. SC employees are refused tenancy of residential portions; if at all they are let out, they are let out only to those SCs who have converted to Christianity. Sometimes houses are let out to the SCs without an idea of their caste; but once their caste identity is uncovered, they are harassed and hounded out. Acts like this force the SCs, a major segment of the Hindu society, to walk out into the fold of other religions.
2. The SC labour is engaged in temple construction but they are not allowed entry into them, post-construction. Their services are used in the weddings of the upper-castes but when it comes to serving food, they are offered only the stale leftovers.
3. When students are taken out on excursions, the SC students are, in some cases, kept away from certain facilities; they are not allowed anywhere near the kitchens or temples.
4. When well-meaning efforts are made to involve the SCs in ceremonies like cow worship, the people of other castes are boycotting such ceremonies. Even in the temples built in the SC colonies on the initiative of the government or the TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams), prominence is given to the devotees of upper-castes and the SC devotees are excluded or given a left-handed treatment. Half-hearted and token attempts would do no good.
5. Even now in the rural hotels, the SC customers are not allowed into the main dining area; they have to sit in the veranda and use only those plates and tumblers earmarked for them; after using them, they have to wash and return them onto the allotted shelf.
6. Separate residential colonies, hostels, schools and graveyards are set up for the SCs; but they are being built on the outskirts, flung away from the main town or village. On the one hand we decry the age-old caste discrimination, but on the other we perpetuate the caste segregation in a modern way. This is an example of governmental incompetence and conceptual muddle-headedness.
7. The caste Hindus are using more than the necessary space for the tombs of their dead in the graveyards; and they don’t allow the corpses of the SCs to be buried in their graveyards of the upper-castes. When a member from the families of the educated and cultured SCs living even in a general residential complex or locality passes away, the non-SC residents create a ruckus and force and hurry up the bereaved to carry away the corpse immediately on a plea that the presence of the dead body bodes ill for them, not mindful of the loss to and mourning of the bereaved family.
8. In the aided educational institutions owned, controlled and managed by upper-caste people with political clout, they appoint more of their own caste people and favour them with everything. But they deny similar concessions to the SC employees in matters like grant of leave, permission to pursue higher education, and selection for training for professional competency, in utter disregard of the governmental rules and regulations. The SC teachers are used for the personal service of the management/administration, and whenever the victims raise their voice for justice they are slapped with legal cases and are cornered into tendering their resignations. The upper-caste people are discrediting the SC teachers with a tag of inefficiency even among the students.
9. In the government offices where the SCs happen to be in a high position, the other employees disregard them and extend no cooperation. They level allegations against their SC bosses, drag them to courts and weaken them financially. The government which has permitted the SC employees to float their welfare associations is conniving at the formation of similar organisations by the employees of other castes, and quite often they affiliate themselves to various political parties. This superfluous protective measure for the unions of non-SCs makes a mockery of the dictum: The strength of the weak is the ruler.
10. Caste fire is being stoked even in the universities and hostels with mischievous creation of groups, supported by outside big leaders. The merit of the SC students is not recognised and the academic growth of the SCs is being stifled. Even when an SC candidate gets into a position by virtue of merit, such selection or promotion is derogatorily linked to their caste-label.
11. The non-SC candidates are grabbing the benefits of SCs by producing false caste and income certificates, managed from corrupt government officials, to gain illegal admission into educational institutions and jobs. A foolproof machinery should be in place to keep a tab on and check such irregularities and evil practices.
12. The impressionable minds of upper-caste children are being polluted against the SC children, with the former not being encouraged to mingle and play with the latter, thereby crushing the innately lofty ideas and ideals in their budding stage itself.
13. The lands of the SCs are being grabbed, driving them into eternal poverty. The upper-caste people are also luring or forcing the SC women into sex and also raping their progeny in the name of wild justice.
14. If any of the SC persons are fair-complexioned, handsome or a tad fashionable, wearing shoes or goggles or decently dressed – the upper-caste people in the villages controlled by big landlords are riven with jealousy and ungraciously taunt and hurt them.
15. No concrete actionable thought is in evidence to better the lot of the SCs living in hovels, hurled away from the villages onto the fringes. Come elections, the political leaders act chummy, pouring out barrels of sham love and concern.
16. If there is any unexpected fall-out or disturbance at the hustings, the blame is laid at the door of the SCs, their hamlets are attacked, and the innocent suspects are punished. For the reserved constituencies, the upper-caste leaders select docile and illiterate or semi-literate candidates so as to use them as their pawns. If after being elected or getting into a good position, the SC leaders stand on the side of their fraternity, they are sought to be expelled or dispossessed. Educated and honest people from the SCs are not encouraged.
17. The plight of the SC outcasts in the villages is such that even the people of the other lower castes – engaged  in trades like haircutting and laundering, though they also eke out their livelihood at the lower rungs of the caste order – not only refuse to serve the SCs but also join the upper-castes in harassing the SCs.
18. The antiquated Devadasi system is still being followed in some of the villages, continuing the indignities of the women of the SCs.
What to do
The list of insults and oppressions is endless, but we should not get disheartened or give up. Everyone who is conscientious would do well to set the things right. After all, we are all Indians; and the dicta in epics and texts like the Mahabharata are a source of authority to us. Vyasa, the creator of the Mahabharata, says: ‘Helping the needy is a sacred virtue; persecution of the innocent is a grave sin.’ So let’s follow the spirit of this adage.
Dos for Upper-castes
I hope that the people of the so-called upper-castes would empathically consider and translate the following plans of action in right earnest.
1. Treat not Ambedkar as a mere caste leader but place him in the pantheon of other adorable leaders and give him his due honour. Limit him not to just his birth and death anniversaries; seize every opportunity to consider and reflect on his services. Desist from looking on his works and his followers as untouchable. Do read his works and you will appreciate what a corpus of valuable ideas he has brought forth by means of his extensive and intense research of a multitude of relevant things to benefit the Indian society.
2. Teach your family to be broadminded, caring and helpful to the SCs in a spirit of solidarity and unity. Look upon the SC children on a par with your own. Invite them to your homes and have dinner with them, sitting together. This would help the SC children rid themselves of inferiority complex.
3. Invite the SC female folks to the ceremonies in your family like weddings, baby showers, and other feminine and auspicious events and honour them. This engenders a feeling of goodwill and support in them.
4. If your son or daughter marries inter-caste, encourage them; and don’t heed motivated criticism about it. Create conditions conducive to their happy married life. If misunderstandings crop up, talk it out patiently with the couple and help resolve the differences. Counsel them to think from the angle of humanity and harmony, but not money and property. Tell them that the pivot of a happy successful marriage does not rest on the beauty of the skin or physical temptation, but on selfless and sublimating love.
5. Ensure that the food, clothing, shelter, education, jobs etc, meant for or due to the SCs, are not denied.
6. The itinerant crafts persons, artists and traders from the SC/ST communities go from village to village and stay in the small cloth tents they pitch up outside the villages. Accommodate them in your localities, be friendly and generous. Enlighten them on how to lead respectable lives. Proactively take up their needs with the authorities and see that these lowly ones get the required facilities.
7. Attend the meetings organised by the underprivileged for themselves, hear them through until the meeting ends, and try to read the concerns and agony gnawing away at their hearts. Facing a variety of humiliations they long for self-respect and equality. When you go amidst them, you are most likely to encounter a barrage of barbs, accusations and damnations; but don’t get charged up and don’t take them to heart. Be broadminded, patient and helpful as a father would be to his grown-up son like whom the downtrodden tend to behave.
8. It is advisable to shed the caste names of streets, villages and persons; and discontinue the circulation of proverbs etc that are derisive of particular castes. Literary and cultural organisations should assume a proactive role in this.
9. There have been many noble souls in the history who have endeavoured to bring about harmony among diverse sections of the society. Organise their birth and death anniversaries and convey their work and message. Identify the merits in the respective castes and adopt and disseminate them. Pick out eligible persons with requisite attitude from the neglected strata, have them trained as domestic and temple priests to conduct religious rites and ceremonies.
10. Please accept that reservations are not a charity but a social responsibility and that they would contribute to a welcome social transformation and integrity.
Dos and Don’ts for the SC brethren
And there are dos and don’ts for the SC brethren as well. Let them consider and put them in action without any prejudice or misgiving. Let them elevate their status like a lotus springing out of the mud, like a flash of lightning emerging from a cloud, and like a diamond transmuting from the carbon. Didn’t Arundhati come from the outcastes, Vyasa from the fishing, Valmiki from the hunting, Kalidasa from the cattle-keeping, Kabir Das from the cotton-cleaning, Kanaka Das from the blanket-weaving, and the Telugu poetess Molla from the pot-making lower castes? Think over.
1. Make proper use of the government’s resources and the helping hand of well-wishers. Don’t hanker after freebies, but be ready to work hard. Once you have developed on a par with the average benchmark, give up the facility of reservations and help those who are in a lower position to stand on their own. Don’t live beyond means or on debts but learn to be contented. And avoid pomp and greed.
2. Avoid polygamy and extramarital liaisons. Shed misogynistic attitude and be loving to your better half. Have limited children to be free of financial straits. Since education gives wisdom, give good education to your children. Spend quality time with them quite often, relating your life experiences and advising them how to lead a life free of pitfalls.  
3. Don’t delude yourself that higher education is the panacea for each and everything, but persuade your children to acquire skills in one or more of handicrafts that are to their liking, alongside their regular studies.
4. Don’t give in to vices like intoxicants and gambling. If you do, you will be a butt of ridicule and hatred. Don’t wish for or accept hush money, for illegitimate earnings would not last. Be an example of morality and honesty. Mark that, a mazer of congee earned with the sweat of your brow is far healthier than a bowl of lavish pudding coming from a venal wallet.
5. Keep up both personal and environmental hygiene. Don’t let your gastronomic weakness tempt you to eat the meat of dead animals. If you still do, at least don’t wear it on your lapel. Don’t kill the animals or dry the meat in the open. The educated need to enlighten the SCs in the slums on the importance of cleanliness and clean surroundings.
6. The educated SCs should stand by the folks of itinerant tribes who are equally backward, and stay in touch with them. Spare at least an hour of your time in the evenings for their free education. Often visit the student hostels to find out their problems and offer solutions. We will be bold enough to do all these things only when we are not weighed down by an inferiority complex.
7. If you are in electoral politics, acquire the ability and credibility to contest not only in the constituency allotted to you but also elsewhere. Take care that your political managers don’t siphon off your budgeted funds. Organise the affairs and work in such a way that you can mobilise the support of the people of other castes as well.
8. Call get-togethers and meetings at frequent intervals, undo your weaknesses, and go ahead as per the situational demands.
9. Identify the spots of social reconciliation and harmony and publicise them. Circulate pamphlets about the social leaders and saints who have worked for social conciliation, in order to awaken the people. Organise their memorial meetings and broadcast those parts of their ideals and teachings that have a present relevance.
10. It is unfortunate that the differences between the various sub-caste categories of SCs is leading to internecine conflicts; and the upper-castes by exploiting our ignorance are fomenting further discord among ourselves. Hence all categories under SCs should be vigilant and have a consensus. 
11. The elected representatives from the SC constituencies shouldn’t be sold away to the upper-castes at the expense of the SCs. They should wean the SCs away from acts like – slaughter of animals like cows on their own instead of getting the meat from the slaughter houses; skinning the animals; and lifting the night-soil – into productive and respectable ways. A sense of self-respect should be instilled in spite of their poverty.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda about Brahmins and Dalits
Swami Vivekananda relates how his guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a Brahmin served the Pariahs (outcastes). On one such occasion the Paramahamsa prayed:
“Oh, my Mother, make me the servant of the Pariah, make me feel that I am even lower than the Pariah.”
(Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, Twenty-second Impression, Dec 2006, p 350).
Now the Brahmins and the people of other castes need not clean the outcasts’ homes, but let them empathise and embrace them in the spirit that the Paramahamsa did, and it will accelerate social harmony, and the country would emerge must stronger.
Had the upper-castes drawn the Pariahs into their fold centuries ago, we would have had an unchallenged might of repulsing the foreign attacks on our country, says Swami Vivekananda.
Vivekananda debunks the so-called inherent or genetic merit of the Brahmins in the field of education, and stresses the need to invest any amount of money and care on the education of the Pariahs and also on the natural equality of the human spirit (while addressing the Brahmin community in general at Kumbakonam) thus:
“Ay, Brahmins, if the Brahmin has more aptitude for learning on the ground of heredity than the Pariah, spend no more money on the Brahmin’s education, but spend all on the Pariah. Give to the weak, for there all the gift is needed. If the Brahmin is born clever, he can educate himself without help. If the others are not born clever, let them have all the teaching and the teachers they want. This is justice and reason as I understand it. Our poor people, these downtrodden masses of India, therefore, require to hear and to know what they really are. Ay, let every man and woman and child, without respect of caste or birth, weakness or strength, hear and learn that behind the strong and the weak, behind the high and the low, behind every one, there is that Infinite Soul, assuring the infinite possibility and the infinite capacity of all to become great and good.”
(Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, Twenty-second Impression, Dec 2006, p 208).
Dalit Poet Boyi Bhimanna’s Views
I don’t presume any competence to offer suggestions to the governments. But I have a heart to endorse any good suggestion irrespective of its source. Reputed Dalit Telugu poet and Padma Bhushan awardee Dr Boyi Bhimanna has made quite a few proposals and they are worth considering. He says:
“When there are laws governing religious conversions, why don’t we have such laws for caste conversions as well? If the latter is allowed, the distinction between castes gets gradually blurred, and thereby the caste system loses its sting. If all the concerned – the outcastes, the downtrodden, the progressives and the nationalists – come onto a single platform and try for it, the proposed legislation would not be difficult. This is the only way for a coherent Indian nation. The rest are simply frauds.”
If humanism is to replace the caste, this is a very good proposal, but the million dollar question is: How far will it be possible in the current milieu where caste organisations are formed and consolidated by the very people who detest the caste system?
Boyi Bhimanna looked upon caste as a superstition, since hunger, thinking faculty, pain and suffering are common to all. After all, a human gives birth to a human only; and what flows in everyone’s veins is the same blood. Unfortunately, nobody is realising this. This was his anguish.
Inter-caste Marriages
Some of the thinkers advocate inter-caste marriages as an antidote to caste discrimination, but this is true only to a certain extent, since the binding factor in love-marriages is essentially a temporary physical attraction between two individuals but not the ideal of inter-caste harmony or caste-eradication. In fact, many an inter-caste marriage is breaking down in course of time. This is what Bhimanna felt.
The inter-caste married couples should discard their caste identities, but not cling to one caste or the other lest their children should face problems in finding their partners. It would be wise if the children of inter-caste couples look for and choose their life partner in the children of another inter-caste couple. There should be a stipulation in the electoral laws that a representative should have married outside the caste and that too from a low caste, and a poor family, because the SCs on their own cannot afford to negotiate and settle matrimonial alliances with the people of upper-castes. Even where the upper-caste people are accepting brides or grooms from a lower caste, ostensibly in the name of social unification – but for their own vested interests, they don’t respond when the people of such lower caste are in some crisis, much less stand by them. So such marriages should be given legal sanction.
Ultimately, the question of caste should come up only when governmental concessions are the criterion. Well-off people irrespective of their caste not being in need of such concessions, should not mention their caste in the applications concerned and serve as an example for others; and there need not be any legal objection to it. Still if any official declines such application, they should be liable for prosecution. This is how Bhimanna pondered over the issue.
Dalits, a Shade-giving Tree
The outcastes are a symbol of a shade-giving tree which takes in the air (carbon dioxide) breathed out by everyone but releases a salubrious air (oxygen), and also yields flowers, fruits, firewood and timber. Just like a silent selfless tree, the outcastes are serving everyone, even as mutely bearing the agony of axe-cut like insults, and with no return. ‘A noble and sublime soul is needed to even out this teary tale of the Dalits,’ said Gurram Jashuva, famous Telugu Dalit poet and Padma Bhushan awardee.
Let us, the Dalits, be dispassionate & broadminded
While we are on a mission of castelessness and social equality, let us not do anything that goes to aggravate caste stratification. On the one hand, we say that we should not be called by our caste name; on the other, many of us have begun to suffix their caste names to their first names. Is it right on our part? And in such cases, if anyone calls us by such suffix, how can they be wrong?
A stigma has come to be attached to the Atrocities Act, since some of our members have been abusing it as a tactic to blackmail or settle the score with a non-SC individual for extraneous reasons. We have to be doubly discriminating while filing a case invoking this Act.
It is not enough if we go on a spree of erecting the statues of Ambedkar without emulating his hard work. The money spent on this activity, could better be utilised for a more meaningful welfare of our community.
We should not endlessly insist on and enjoy the reservations. If it is continued, it could threaten to rebound as reverse discrimination. Reservations should be limited to a single generation in any family. The qualifying income for reservations could be raised from time to time but only in proportion to the rising cost of living, and not on considerations of vote-bank politics. If it is disproportionately raised, it would hurt the prospects of the poor and meritorious in the upper-castes, many of whom are already feeling the pinch. Recently the Central government has raised the OBC creamy layer limit from Rs 6 lacs to Rs 8 lacs of annual income. I feel this is not called for. With this raise, it shows as if an OBC person with an annual income of Rs 8 lacs is still poor, whereas an upper-caste person with an annual income of Rs 2 lacs is rich! Isn’t it preposterous? It would be unethical to eat the cake and have it too.
Equality can’t come about just on the basis of laws and reservations or by wilful confrontations; there has to be social understanding and give-and-take as well. In this gigantic and sacred task, everyone – from the SCs to the upper-castes – should be a willing partner. Things cannot, however, be achieved overnight; it takes a good deal of time to realise our dreams. In the meanwhile, let everyone be clear-sighted, committed, persevering and patient.

2 comments :

  1. Excellent discussion of the realities of the life of Dalits and recommendations of what needs to be done, not just at the governmental level, but within our communities. The reference to Vivekananda's philosophy is an eye-opener.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent discussion of the realities of the life of Dalits and recommendations of what needs to be done, not just at the governmental level, but within our communities. The reference to Vivekananda's philosophy is an eye-opener.

    ReplyDelete

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