Members of Dalit community display a portrait of Bhim Rao Ambedkar during 'Bharat Bandh' in New Delhi | PTI
Members of Dalit community display a portrait of Bhim Rao Ambedkar during 'Bharat Bandh' in New Delhi | PTI
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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.


Also read: Why NCRB collected data on lynching, cow slaughter & hate crime, but left it out of report


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.


Also read: There is dangerous selectivity in how we look at violence against Dalits in India


Defying insults

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.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Merit argument helps the upper castes in 2 ways:
    1. The narrative against reservations dominated by savarnas and OBCs is purely against SCs, STs and lower strata of OBCs. This leads to overshadowing of all other issues like unemployment, environment etc. as the reservation narrative pushes upper castes to believe that reservations are the cause of every ruin. They however, won’t raise the question of increasing number of seats and jobs but rather to remove reservations. This makes upper castes to portray reservations as ‘evil.’ It in the end, leads to the complete negligence of other issues pertaining to electoral politics, so the political parties though appearing to be standing with the Bahujans, won’t touch the ‘merit’ discourse.
    2. It protects the privileges of upper castes and the political elite. It is because of the outright domination of resources by the savarnas. they will always appear to have top ranks and hence, ‘merit’. The middle class upper caste which is ‘non-elitist’ are the torchbearers of anti-reservation narrative because though they enjoy religious and social privileges, capital is where they can be defeated by the middle class Bahujans. This leads to an outright neglect of their privileges in turn, helping the upper caste(including OBCs) to protect their prvileges and attacking reservation at the same time.

    Merit argument is a fallacy. Education system is crap in India, if upper caste think they are best at cramming books and getting great results(which also isn’t so) then I won’t call it merit by any slant.

  2. I am a brahmin man.

    It took me 35 years to realize that using swear words in front of a woman constituted sexual violence, if the woman thought it did. That last part shifts the power structure a bit, doesn’t it?

    I do not agree with the merit argument because it talks only about output, whereas it should also include input i.e. the number of resources at the disposal of each candidate. That is where the bar shifts, i think.

    I do not know how Dalits feel about this insult thing or whether it is the right thing. But, like the sexual violence discovery i made, maybe this insult thing is also a form of violence.

    Will keep it in mind. Thank you for the information and perspective.

  3. I cannot agree enough with the arguments of Mr. Prakash. Most upper caste people never realise the privileges that they received all their life – somewhat akin to the white privilege prevalent in America. The deep rooted impacts of black slavery are well documented and researched but I haven’t come across a similar study of the impact of social deprivation faced by our own brethren, the impact of which can be scarcely imagined. No amount of social hand-holding and positive discrimination can be criticised in view of this deprivation.
    I do agree that questioning a person’s capabilities based on their background, caste or otherwise, is humiliating. If someone were to question a person’s capabilities based on their religion then that would be treated as bigotry – the same could be applied to caste as well.
    I just hope that newer people are allowed to reap the benefits of a policy of positive discrimination, instead of it becoming a fief of the earliest beneficiaries – I would hedge that children of Meira Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan do not need the support of reservation to make a mark and that they could voluntarily give up the benefits of such a policy to allow more needy to benefit.

  4. Why can’t there be talk of merit and how is merit an insult? Merit is a number, a rank. Though SC or OBC may circumvent the entry from the normal merit rank, it does not mean that their relative merit should be suppressed in conversation. Ultimately, public service is about efficiency, about getting work done well.
    If the author is so much concerned, why not put resources into improving the merit rank or numbers, instead of criminalizing the discussion of merit and hurting free speech, etc? I suspect Ambedkar would not have agreed with this author at all. Ambedkar himself was meritorious, nobody denies his place. Dalits should learn from that instead of perverting the conversation through perverted laws.

  5. LOL! nice way to spin the evil that is “reservation”. If you don’t like “merit” you will be called out on it, don’t assume people are going to go easy on you when you leech off of their seats with half the credentials.

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