Violence Against Dalits in India

Back in 2012, when a young woman was barbarically assaulted and raped in Delhi, the entire nation rose up in fury against the brutality. Such violence and atrocities are  sadly not isolated incidents in India. After over 68 years of independence, the nation is still struggling to raise beyond evils such as discrimination and violence in the name of caste.

Outrage over brutal murder of a Dalit Girl in Kerala

Last week, emotions ran high in Kerala when Jisha, a 30 year old law student from Perumbavoor, was found brutally raped and murdered near her home. The savagery of her attack that ripped through her chest, injured her genitals, and pulled out her intestines, left everyone shocked. Despite the huge outcry surrounding the incident, local police do not seem to be any closer to bringing the perpetrators to books. What is certain, however, is that the girl belonged to the Dalit community, one of the lowest rungs of the caste hierarchy that has plagued Indian society for centuries now.

This piece of information has sparked much outrage both in the state and over Social Media networks. It has also raised a number of important questions that must be answered urgently. Was the girl specifically targeted because she was a Dalit? Why has the nation not risen up in union against an incident as sickeningly violent as the Nirbhaya incident? Is violence against Dalits far too commonplace? Why have accusations of a police cover up not been taken seriously?

 Protection and Inclusion of Dalits

Back in the 1800s, even before India overthrew the British yoke, there was a strong reformist movement that swept across the nation. As far back as 1850, the Caste Disabilities Removal Act ensured equality of the castes in terms of employability and inheritance. Following independence, an increase in education and employment opportunities further ensured inclusion of the Dalits into mainstream society. In 1989, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act came into effect to protect these castes from discrimination and violent abuse. While these acts and laws have provided a great deal of relief for the backward classes, violence and animosity against the Dalits is still a matter of concern in India.

Episodes of violence against the Dalit community rarely make it into the headlines, but when they do, they leave rather disconcerting memories. Indians are not likely to forget the 1968 Kilvenmani massacre of Tamil Nadu in which 44 Dalit labourers were murdered by landlords, nor are we likely to ignore the abuse that led to the rise of Phoolan Devi. Much closer home, a two-year-old kid and his 11-month-old sister, both Dalits, were set ablaze in Haryana. It is perhaps time we took a long and concentrated look at routine violence against Dalits and take the efforts required to end such crimes.

Violence Against Dalits

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports (released in October 2015) reveal that in 2014, crimes against the Scheduled Castes (SC) were pegged at 47,064 — a sharp rise over 39,408 such cases reported in 2013 and 33,655 in 2012.

Violence against the Dalits may be triggered by the slightest of offences in most cases. Caste envy and perceived disrespect is often known to trigger violent outbreaks and gross abuse.

NCRB statistics further reveal that in 2014, some 2,233 dalit women were raped. In 2013, 2,073 Dalit women reported rape, 1,576 women in 2012, 1,557 women in 2011, and 1,349 women in 2010.

Kidnappings, abductions, and similar crimes against Dalits were reported in 2014. In 2013, 628 cases were reported; 490 abductions reported in 2012, 616 kidnappings in 2011 and some 511 in 2010. The trend is certainly a very worrying one.

Crimes against Dalits in Haryana

Haryana seems to be one of the worst states in the country in terms of crimes against Dalits. In 2014, 21 Dalit murders were recorded in the state and it has seen a 271 per cent increase in crimes against Dalits in the past decade. When it comes to murder of Dalits, however, Haryana is surpassed by Bihar with 56 murders (in 2014), Tamil Nadu with 72 such cases, and Madhya Pradesh with 80 cases of Dalit murder recorded that year. Maharashtra, too, seems to have had its share of violence and crimes against Dalits.

It is high time the lawmakers of the land started recognizing violence and crimes against Dalits as a serious malady and start enacting laws that allow for the strictest punishment against the perpetrators. Laws apart, enforcement is another major area that the government must look into. News reports suggest that many cases of Dalit abuse go unrecorded.

Dalit Violence or Merely Violence?

Now, having placed the history of brutality against Dalits quite clearly in the background, let us look at some other important aspects of these cases that popular media is calling ‘Dalit violence’. Branding every violence or assault or abuse of a Dalit victim as ‘Dalit violence’ may be grossly misleading. Not only does it colour cases with an unnecessary casteist hue, it often causes  impediments in discovering the real perpetrators of a crime enabling the criminals to go scot free.

Apart from this, such inaccurate labeling only fuels more animosity and aggression between the different castes. Let us take the case of Jisha, for example. Some recent news reports suggest that the Ernakulam Law College student was caught up in a very torrid family feud. Calling the rape and murder, however condemnable, Dalit violence without having established the intent of the criminals makes it a dangerous and volatile accusation.

News and media sensationalism can be blamed for such incorrect nomenclature. At the same time, it is undeniable that during the course of looking into isolated events we cannot afford to overlook the caste angle. Dalits require the protection of the law and the support of the social machinery but this will not come by fuelling their angst and calling every crime “Dalit violence”.