This Una incident in Gujarat is most despicable and horrific, and a national shame. We need the most stringent action against the culprits, and quickly, too. The incident is symptomatic of a deeper malady that has plagued our country for a very long time.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on atrocities on dalits are available only up to 2014. There were 47,064 instances of crimes against scheduled castes in 2014, as reported by NCRB. There are indications that the number has increased to 54,355 in 2015.
If one had to look at the state-wise distribution of crimes against scheduled castes, the best indicator would be the rate of crime—the number of crimes committed against scheduled castes per one lakh population.
In 2014, the top three states were Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. Gujarat, which is the centre of attention now, actually had much lower rate of crimes against the scheduled castes in 2014—2.4 per cent—whereas the above mentioned three states were all in the range of 17 per cent to 18 per cent.
There are three major reasons why atrocities against dalits are taking place. The most important one is that the dominant castes in India tend to reinforce the hierarchical caste-based power structure and suppress dalit rights' assertions. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, in 1936, had described how the Indian society is based on the caste system:
“The caste system in India is a form of graded inequality with ascending order of reverence but a descending order of contempt.”
This indicates the mindset that is behind all these atrocities. Dalits have been asserting their fundamental rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, which is being resisted by the dominant castes, leading to atrocities.
The second reason is that the access to justice for scheduled castes is abysmally low. The general conviction rate in our country under the Indian Penal Code, is around 45 per cent, whereas the conviction rate for the crimes committed against scheduled castes is only 22.4 per cent. The lowest conviction rates are in Bihar and Gujarat. In Gujarat, the conviction rate is only 2.9 per cent, which is way below the national average. Convictions are hardly taking place in Gujarat.
The third reason is the severe lack of empathy on the part of the administrators, police and other authorities that tend to carry their biases to work.
Under the circumstances, what needs to be done?
In 1936, Ambedkar said in his famous speech—that is now part of his book Annihilation of Caste:
“The only way to annihilate caste in our country is to put explosives to Dharma Shastras”.
One doesn’t want to go that far. But, within the constitutional framework, to my mind, there are at least four action points that need urgent attention:
- We need effective enforcement of the law, particularly the Scheduled Caste & the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which was amended and passed by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in 2015.
- We should promote inter-caste marriages. That honour killings happen even today, is a matter of shame.
- Drop our caste-based surnames.
- Proper implementation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe sub plan.
Scheduled castes make up 16.8 per cent of the overall population of the country. In 1979, under Indira Gandhi, Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP) was introduced. Essentially, it stipulates that the allocations be made, funds proportionate to their percentage in population should be earmarked for the scheduled castes for their welfare. Sadly, the allocation of funds for SCSP has come down in the last two years. However, I hasten to add it is not a recent occurrence. Over the years, the proportion of the funds earmarked for SCSP has never crossed nine per cent. This has happened during the rule of earlier governments, too. The current decline is a matter of grave concern.
I want to emphasise that the track record for all Union governments in terms of implementation of SCSP has been uniformly bad; adequate allocation is not made; and then there is a massive diversion of funds that routinely takes place from SCSP to non-dalits. There is an imperative need for immediate correction in terms of implementation of the plan effectively.
The author is an economist and Rajya Sabha member.