Increasing Dalit rights assertions in India have unleashed a wave of backlash violence and abuse against Dalits. This has been evident in news reporting over the past year, and is now also reflected in official National crime statistics in India, showing a 19% rise in crimes against Dalits including violence, rape and murder committed by dominant caste members.
In October, the burning to death of two small Dalit children, asleep in their house, grabbed international headlines. The children were reportedly victims of a dispute between Dalits and members of the dominant caste. This horrific incident is unfortunately by no means unique, as the past years have seen a rise in violence, rape and murder of Dalits.
The violence and atrocities are often directly related to Dalit assertion of basic rights including land rights, freedom of expression, access to justice, access to education, water, food, decent work and other services and equal participation in cultural and religious activities, to name a few.
Even seemingly minor signs of Dalit resistance have resulted in brutal retaliation by the dominant castes. Speaking to Livemint.com, Rajeshwar Paswan, Bihar state coordinator for the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, a non-governmental organization states,
“A Dalit boy’s wrist was chopped off because he was wearing a watch; another was killed as he had a song on (social reformer) B.R. Ambedkar as his ringtone. I can reel off incidents like this without even consulting news reports.” Speaking on the lack of justice in these types of cases Paswan continues, “It is very difficult to get the police to cooperate with us. We often have to resort to protests and dharnas to even get a chargesheet filed. Sometimes, the victim is not aware that there is a special act for crimes committed against SC/STs.(Dalits and Adivasis)”
The rise in crimes against Dalits is seen despite tough legislation (The SC/ST prevention of atrocities act) being in place in India prohibiting discrimination agains Dalits and offering tough sentences in relation to atrocity cases. However, conviction rates are low in cases filed under the SC/ST prevention of atrocities act and Dalits are often not able to access justice due to deeply entrenched discrimination in law enforcement and the judiciary.
Also in October a young Dalit boy died while in police custody, police torture is blamed. His crime, allegedly stealing two pigeons. A Dalit family including three small children were also stripped and put in jail for allegedly encroaching on the land of dominant castes. These are again not lone incidents of police negligence in India but everyday tales of the utter disregard for justice when it comes to Dalits in India.
Dalit rights NGO NACDOR has also released statistics showing the increasing violence against Dalits. Speaking to Indian news outlet DNA, Ashok Bharti, NACDOR Chairman, gives three key reasons underpinning these statistics,
“Successive governments in India have failed to take care of providing adequate resources to the members of the community … even today, they are forced to work as bonded labourers because they have no land of their own,” Bharti says and highlights the, “absence of social conscience” and “absence of an effective mechanism and institutions which safeguard Dalit’s right to equality has only resulted in further oppression of community.”
Statistics released from the state of Karnataka are a startling example of this reality where it is found that our of 1633 cases booked under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, zero cases resulted in convictions.
An article in the Deccan Herald on the Karnataka findings stipulates that,
“The PoA (SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act) is not being implemented. Often, the police connive with perpetrators to destroy evidence and intimidate the victims into withdrawing the case. SC/ST activists point out that police are often unwilling to file a case under the PoA Act and instead pressure SC/ST victims to file a case under the more lenient Indian Penal Code, which among other things allows bail to the accused. Out on bail, the accused often file ‘counter cases’ against SC/STs so that a ‘compromise’ settlement can be reached.”
A disturbing trend continues
Last years India chapter of the IDSN annual report started like this,
“A Dalit college student fell in love with a woman from a different caste and ended up dead in a well, body parts chopped up and his parents murdered. The goat of a young Dalit boy wandered into the field of a dominant caste man and the boy was burnt alive. A Dalit girl was gang-raped and subsequently refused admission to hospital. Two Dalit men tried to break out of slavery had their hands chopped off with an axe. An 8-year old Dalit boy enjoyed sweets offered by the local temple and the priest smashed the boys head into a pillar until it bled.
Killing in the name of inter-caste love, in the name of caste boundaries, in the name of caste domination, or just because you can get away with it. Whichever form it has taken, in 2014, India has witnessed an upsurge in reporting on caste-based atrocities and killings.
The cases mentioned here are just the tip of the 2014 caste atrocity iceberg, underpinned by extreme brutality, and a lack of protection and justice for the victims. Most frightening, is the seemingly direct correlation between Dalit rights assertions, and the escalation of violent retaliation against them, as well a rapidly shrinking space for parts of civil society, in particular human rights defenders. Most uplifting, is the spirit with which Dalits in India continue to fight for their rights, undeterred by the threat of increasingly brutal consequences.”
As only a few months remain of 2015 it seems that sadly this years chapter will be a repeat of last years – with fresh cases, more evidence and less justice.
Key Reports on Caste & Access to Justice
Claiming Justice: A Study of CSO Interventions in Addressing Atrocities Against Dalits and Tribals
A report highlighting interventions taken by civil society organisations (CSOs) to address atrocities under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA). The report is based on extensive field study conducted in five states in India, and documents the experiences and reflections of using the criminal justice system as told by victims, witnesses, human rights defenders and public officials. The report captures CSOs’ best practices in assisting victims of atrocities, and offers recommendations to strengthen their fight towards dignity and justice.
Justice Under Trial: Caste Discrimination in Access to Justice before Special Courts (Report – NCDHR)
A comprehensive 2014 report by the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NCDHR) finds serious obstacles to Dalits obtaining justice in crimes against them and reports growing impunity when victims are Dalits. The report findings mirror many of the findings in the report Claiming Justice – also from 2014.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International’s 2015 reports raise serious concern over caste discrimination
The newly released Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 and the Amnesty International 2014-15 report find that caste discrimination persists with adverse effects to human rights on multiple levels. Serious obstacles to access to justice, discrimination in education and access to services and caste-based violence, including rape of Dalit women, are among the key themes addressed in the reports. These concerns are also noted in the latest India and Nepal reports of the US State Department.