One of the most interesting takeaways from the latest National Crime Records Bureau report on 2017 data was the recognition of a variety of crimes committed against Dalits. And that now includes insults.
The much-debated Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 explains the concept of insult and social ostracism in a detailed manner.
Insult has many layers, especially in the context of caste.
The lack of acceptance of the Dalit community stems from an utter lack of empathy. This eventually leads to insults and ostracisation. Insulting Dalits has become an every-day affair in India. It is an attempt to show them their “place” in the social hierarchy.
The merit insult
When it comes to insults, let’s look at how jobs discriminate against SCs and STs.
There is a critical lack of representation of Dalits at crucial decision-making positions where it matters. Bureaucracy, think tanks, media, judiciary and academics are yet to witness a surge of Dalits in higher echelons.
A report 2018 said: “A study by Thorat and Attewell in 2010 observed that for equally qualified SC and upper caste (about 4800 each) applicants, SCs had 67 percent less chance of receiving calls for an interview. What is more disturbing is that the high percentage of less qualified high castes (undergraduate) received calls compared with the more qualified SCs (post-graduates).” What can be more insulting than that? Even after being more skilled and competent, you are less like to receive a call for an interview if you are a member of a Scheduled Caste. And yet, the argument of merit has been systematically been used as a tool of insult against the members of socially disadvantaged communities.
Back in our college, the concept of merit also led to ghettoisation of students belonging to a certain social background. One particular incident from my college days is still fresh in my memory. I participated in a debate spoke in English. This caused a section of the class to laugh at me. An upper-caste student had remarked: “Now we have to listen to these lesser mortals speaking in English as well?” At that age, it was difficult for me to imagine the gravity of the statement. It was insulting to be continuously reminded of the fact that “you don’t need to study and work hard, you will manage because you have reservations”.
With the emergence of people like Tina Dabi and Kanishak Kataria (both of them topped the UPSC exam, the stigma against Dalits has been somewhat dented.
Even so, daily insults, conscious or unconscious, cause a deep scar that most in the SC/ST community have to continuously carry.
There is a lack of academic resources on the impact of years of institutional oppression faced by Dalits. There should be a comprehensive study to measure the loss due to social discrimination over the years, like it has been explored in the United States.
This inclusion of ‘insult’ as a category was deliberately ignored by the Indian mainstream commentariat on the expected lines. The Ministry of Home Affairs deserves to be applauded because this monumental change will have far-reaching implications in Dalit studies. This change, coupled with other progressive measures like mentorship and handholding of first-generation Dalit entrepreneurs with schemes like Stand-up India, will help boost Dalit confidence.
There is a sense of instant dignity for us the moment we enter the newly constructed Dr Ambedkar International Centre at Janpath in New Delhi. It gives us a sense of ownership, of something tangible at India’s heart, as we witness the towering statue of Ambedkar sitting with his legs crossed in the Centre. The elites who deliberately kept the doors of the Indian International Centre closed for decades are surely scared of this democratisation. The Ambedkar Centre is particularly popular among Dalit intellectuals who are becoming a part of the system and ensuring that it is more open and transparent. That’s how you talk back to insults. They will not be a victim of unwelcoming glances that await them in the IICs and IHCs of New Delhi.
For the first time in the history of Independent India, there is institutional support for the emergence of a Dalit voice. Dalits are being heard and are not merely regarded as a political commodity. The time is not far when Dalits will seek to contest from unreserved constituencies and political parties would no longer be in a position to ignore their demands.
The insertion of ‘insult’ in the NCRB report will eventually give us a fresh perspective on Dalit atrocities and help us take the Dalit empowerment conversation ahead.
The author is an Assistant Professor at Patna University. He is a member of the state executive committee, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, BJP’s youth wing, Bihar. Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.