Monday, April 27, 2015

Still Not Cast Away

Much to Sikkim’s shame, caste discrimination remains illegally in practice

The Constitution of India rejected the concept of an untouchable caste in 1950. Caste discrimination was outlawed the day the Constitution, the supreme law of India, was adopted, and yet, even though no longer officially sanctioned, the idea of untouchability remains alive in our country. What remains a continuing challenge is that caste consciousness is not just a privately held prejudice, but continues to manifest in dastardly acts of violence running the entire spectrum from physical to emotional and societal. One would have hoped that more than six decades of having been seen as a criminal offence would have dulled the propensity of caste discrimination to express itself publicly, but that remains wishful thinking in a society that continues to shame itself by refusing to accept all people as same. Thousands of anti-dalit attacks occur every year, and hundreds of people are killed because of their caste. Newspapers continue to report about reprehensible acts of violence from across the country directed against people only because they belong to the scheduled castes. And now, with the wretchedness having resulted in a fatality in Sikkim, the State joins the line-up of societies which allow such depravity as targeted cruelty against some castes despite it being not only illegal, but also offensively immoral.
Earlier this week, a 68-year-old was arrested on charges of murder in West Sikkim after he allegedly attacked a 24 year old with a wooden beam. The attack proved fatal and newspaper reports confirm that this was a hate crime – the youth was attacked because he belonged to a caste which the suspected murderer did not want crossing his hearth! Murder is rarely the first crime of a demented mind and in most cases builds up to such inevitability after the perpetrator gets away with smaller acts of violence and his heinous hate ignored by the society at large and the law & order agencies. It will not come as a surprise to learn that this was not the accused person’s first hate crime or that he has a history of caste discrimination. Every time his hate was not admonished by the society he lives in and every time the law compromised the cases, he was emboldened. Now, a youth is dead, as much because of the madness of caste as due to the society’s continuing condoning of those who discriminate on the grounds of caste. And before anyone jumps up claiming that caste discrimination is essentially an upper-caste Hindu turpitude, one needs to point out that the practice is as disturbingly observed by other communities as was codified by those who promulgated it. Notwithstanding anything that the Constitution of India or the laws of the land might say, caste, as institutionalised inequality, oppression and discrimination characterises Indian society itself, practiced as much by those who benefit from it as even by those whose religions have no place for it. Social get-togethers in most of rural Sikkim continue to observe caste segregation and although no one gets beaten up for not observing the code, the fact that people continue to peddle caste divisions in the name of culture or tradition makes a mockery of all tenets of equality that the Constitution strives to deliver.
It is important to realize that it is from a series of soft peddling on such issues that shockers like the recent murder manifest. A hate crime might not result in a death every time, but it remains a possibility so long as casteism is allowed to express itself in public, even if in physically nonviolent gestures like segregation [for everyone at social events] or in private interactions of individuals. More importantly, it is when people see nothing wrong in mediating on behalf of the perpetrator of hate when he/ she is officially charged with such crimes that chances of real equality and ending discrimination get compromised. The society’s elders instead of trying to convince victims into “settling” their differences should be encouraging the young [and others] to report instances of discrimination the moment the notice it. Laws can only go so far, the move towards reform will have to come from the society itself…

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