In India, Dalits still feel downward from the caste ladder

NEW DELHI – The President of India recently received a letter from a youth in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. It included a graphic description of how the author stated that he had been abused by the police in his village.

22-year-old Varun Prasad said he was seeking permission from President Ram Nath Kovind to join the Naxalites, an illegal Maoist rebel group fighting a guerrilla war against the Indian security forces.

“Law and order has failed me,” Prasad, a “Dalit” from the lowest rung of India’s caste hierarchy, said in the letter, on 11 August to Kovind – who is also a Dalit. “I want to look elsewhere to maintain my dignity.”

Violence against those at the bottom of India’s caste system – and the rigid, hereditary social stratification, again stood at the focal point.

Prasad lives on the banks of a serene stream of Godavari, India’s second longest river. The banks of the river are a reservoir for illegal sand mining, controlled by powerful local trade and political groups.

“There was a death in our village that day,” Prasad told NBC News by telephone, referring to July 19, the day he was beaten up by the police.

“We were arranging the funeral when a truck belonging to a local politician was taking out sand from the bank of the river. I told them to wait a little while shaking the body. They would not listen, and a change took place.”

In the ensuing scuffle, Prasad said, the fight was exchanged and, with his account, he was killed first. He also admitted damage to the windshield of the truck.

“They wouldn’t listen and the words came to kill,” he said. “The driver slapped my face and I damaged his windscreen.”

“The next day, I was taken to the police station,” he said. “The officers beat me and used gruesome plight. They called a barber and he shaved off the top of my head and cut my mustache. It was very humiliating. I wrote to the president to draw attention.”

The local police admitted the incident. In a two-page document, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, the district’s Superintendent of Police, Kinnushi Bajpayee, said a departmental inquiry established that Prasad was a victim of “inhuman acts towards any accused person”, and The officer was inducted.

Prasad said that he was suffering due to being a Dalit.

Police registered a case against the officer, commonly known as the Atrocities Act, which specifically targeted crimes based on the victim’s race. It was an internal, departmental inquiry.

Dalit is a word that can be used to mean oppressed, broken or crushed and is referred to in the past by the inhuman word “untouchables”. Over the years, the community has chosen the term Dalit for itself, barring the official Monekar of the Scheduled Castes. Out of a population of 1.3 billion in India, 200 million are Dalits.

Indian policemen beat up a lower-caste Dalit protestor during a nationwide strike in Ahmedabad, India.Ajit Solanki / AP File

The Hindu caste system, in which identity and status is stated at birth, dates back to an ancient Sanskrit text called “Manusmriti” (The Laws of Manu), and of the principle of purity and pollution to classify people into four varnas or castes. Uses.

At the top are Brahmins (priests), followed by Kshatriyas (soldiers / administrators) and Vaishyas (traders), Shudras (servants / laborers). Dalits are beyond the purview of this system, which considers them “untouchables”.

In 1950, untouchability was legally abolished when India became a republic. In fact, it is embedded in the psyche of India.

‘Hating caste at work’

Beyond prejudice, Dalit activists see a more sinister agenda, tied to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s vision for a Hindu nation.

The BJP – or the Bharatiya Janata Party – leads the coalition in the central government. In its second consecutive term in power, it is known for its strong claim to nationalism.

A party spokesperson denied that BJP’s Hindu nationalism contributed to the increasing number of attacks on Dalits.

“We have an inclusive nationalism,” said Sudesh Verma, a party’s national spokesperson by telephone. “We believe that all Indians are Hindus by ancestors.”

However, India has a significant population of minorities, including about 194 million Muslims, with a population of 14.9 percent. According to the Pew Research Center document released in 2019, it has the second largest Muslim population of any country in the world after Indonesia. There are also around 28 million Christians and 20 million Sikhs here.

For instance, activists point to a crowd of mobs over beef in which people have been attacked and often killed only on suspicion.

Hindus worship the cow, and slaughter is illegal in most states.

Courtesy of Thenoji Soundarajan and #DalitWomenFight

Lynching is carried out by vigilante groups; The victims are mostly Dalits and Muslims. Many of these events are widely filmed and broadcast on social media.

The president’s office said it forwarded Prasad’s letter to local government officials, asking them to investigate.

While the police officers involved have been suspended and a departmental inquiry ordered, Prasad says the policemen were following orders. He hopes the president’s instructions will lead to action against villagers of the dominant caste – he said, who instigated police brutality.

The note circulated by the police corroborates Prasad’s allegations, and bears the name of Kavala Krishna Murthy, a local man of prominent Kapu – a landowner, – as well as five unidentified persons – as accused. It is written in the note that the complaint is being investigated. The statue could not be reached for comment.

Prasad said, “This is caste hatred at work.”

Litany of violence

Prasad’s experience in the police station is recently on a long list of cases in which Dalits in India have suffered violence.

India has a special law to deal with crimes against Dalits. The Parliament passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in 1989. Its existence recognizes that Dalits hate violence and hatred, and the law targets crimes against the group. It also allows for speedy trials, special courts and strict punishment. A case of Prasad has been registered under this Act.

According to government figures, less than half of cases go to court and the conviction rate has been as low as 15 percent. A 2017 Home Ministry document stated, “Despite the preventive provisions made in the Act, atrocities are increasing … a cause for concern for the government.”

The National Crime Records Bureau publishes an annual “Crime in India” report. In its 2018 report, it lists 42,793 cases – meaning a Dalit was a target of crime, on average every 15 minutes. The number of cases has increased by 66 percent in the last decade.

During a protest in Chandigarh, India, the police tried to stop the Dalits.Ajay Verma / Reuters

SR Darapuri, who like many Indians uses the initials instead of a last name, is a retired police officer, a member of the Indian Police Service. He is also a Dalit and has spent his retirement campaign for Dalit and minority rights.

“I know the force is well, and caste bias prevails among all ranks,” he said by telephone.

Beyond police violence, inter-ethnic violence is also widespread. Triggers can act as innocuous as entering a temple or falling in love.

In September 2018, 25-year-old Prannoy Kumar was cut off in broad daylight in Miryalaguda town in Telangana state. His wife Amrita accused his father of appointing a hitman to kill Pranay because he was a Dalit. The father, Maruti Rao, was charged Died by committing suicide While the hearing of the case was going on.

His funeral was broadcast live on local TV and was celebrated for his “father’s love”. Amrita was trolled as an uncontrolled daughter, and this was confirmed on social media.

“We saw the racist face of the media and the public,” Kumar’s father, Balaswamy, who goes by one name, said by phone. “We want to take revenge. We want this story to be known so that such racist and so-called ‘honor killings’ can be brought to an end.”

India’s history as a republic is awash with even more bizarre events. In addition to Tamil Nadu and Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, Dalits have been massacred in many states. There has also been counter-violence.

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In 2016, in Una, a city in the state of Gujarat, seven members of a family were tied to an automobile and publicly undressed, marched and marched in the city. He was wearing the skin of a cow, which he had bought after he died. He was accused of killing it.

In another incident in the state of Jharkhand, in 2018, a BJP minister gave flowers to six people accused of lynching to celebrate his release on bail. Dalit and minority activists, political opposition and media commentators have been criticized by the ruling party for never explicitly condemning these incidents.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court diluted some provisions of the Atrocities Act. It restricted police powers, and introduced “safeguards” to protect those accused under the law. The decision also indicated that some Dalits are using the act as a weapon for blackmail and harassment.

India’s Dalits erupted in protest.

A national strike was announced for April 2, 2018 and thousands joined across the country. They blocked railroads and highways. Several incidents of violence and arson in several states led to clashes with the police. According to 38-year-old Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani and firebrand Dalit youth leader in the state of Gujarat, fourteen people died and several hundred were injured.

Mevani said this was the first time that Dalit protesters ensured a nationwide lockout. And this, without the support of any major political party.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks to media in New Delhi, India.Altaf Hussain / Reuters

Government protests. It filed a review petition and went on. An amendment to the Act was soon drafted, nullifying the decision and running it through Parliament. Eventually, the Supreme Court withdrew its own ruling in October 2019.

This was no small victory for the Dalit movement.

The BJP praised Engineer’s response to increasing its Dalit vote share in the 2019 elections.

“Educated Dalits are no longer humble,” says Mevani. “They are organizing and demanding their rights. It is resented by non-Dalit castes, exposing them to more violence, but we are not giving up”.

Nevertheless, the path ahead for activists like him, according to retired police officer Darapuri, is filled with crisis.

He says, “The current bifurcation is going on at two levels – at the political level it uses rhetoric to woo the Dalit vote, to great success. “” But the vigil on the streets now feels more aggressive. They feel safer. “

The caste system also keeps Indian communities as dogs as they migrate and settle abroad.

A recent survey among Dalits living in the United States claims that 25 percent of respondents reported experiencing verbal or physical assault, and 60 percent experiencing race-based abusive jokes.

Lawsuits from other castes have been filed by their managers against large IT companies alleging caste discrimination against Dalit employees in California.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text home to 741741 or visit for additional resources.