People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXVI

No. 22

June 03, 2012

GUJARAT

 

Caste Discrimination & the Myth of

Inclusive Development

 

Archana Prasad

 

THE open public hearings held by the National Human Rights Commission in Gujarat on May 14 and 25, 2012 revealed the true face of Modiís corporate governance in Gujarat. Dalits from 77 villages reported that they had been forced to flee their villages because of the social boycott and discrimination practiced against them within the state. The visit of the NHRC has been a result of the repeated complaints made by dalit rights organisations in the state. Further, the lack of political will to implement the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, in the state has revealed that the Modi governmentís slogan of inclusive development is but an ideological tool to justify the conservative values and upper caste dominance that marks the Gujarat model of development. While the case of discrimination and economic underdevelopment of Muslims in Gujarat is relatively well known, the impact of the stateís growth model on Scheduled Castes and Tribes is yet to be fully gauged. Sustained work by dalit rights organisations has shown that the caste cleavages in Modiís Gujarat have only deepened with his corporate style of governance. Clearly the prosperity for a few has not led to any progressive social engineering within the state. Rather it has only emboldened and strengthened its upper castes.

 

EXTENT & FORMS

OF DISCRIMINATION

According to the Gujarat State Human Rights Commission, 1,081 cases were registered against the dalits who comprise 7 per cent of the population in 2008-2010. This figure is slightly lower than the figure of 1,157 recorded by the National Crime Record Bureau. But these were only cases of physical violence and assault. They do not include cases of social boycott and other non-violent methods of discrimination that have led to the harassment and stress of the dalits in the region. A public hearing recorded in January 2012 noted that seven to fifteen per cent of Gujaratís population faced social boycott from powerful castes. The targeted population of this boycott has been largely Muslims and dalits who have been combating the effect of this boycott on their lives and who were economically harmed ever since the Gujarat riots. While the case of Muslims has come under sharp focus after the Gujarat riots, the instances of boycott against dalits had been lesser known till the dalit rights organisation filed their complaints with the NHRC.

 

The extent of discrimination is not only seen in terms of spread and number, but also in the different aspects of life in which the dalits are discriminated. A public hearing on the question in January 2012 recorded the variegated nature of incipient social oppression and exploitation. Instances of discrimination ranged from encroachment of dalit lands to the discrimination against dalit children in schools and the daily harassment of women who go out for their household chores. The attempt of upper castes to take over and encroach on dalit lands has also been an underlying cause for social boycott. The daily harassment and economic boycott has induced the migration of dalits from the village and thus enabled upper castes to take over their lands. Hence the social boycott appears to be the part of an economic strategy enabling the concentration of wealth that is the hallmark of the Gujarat model of development.

 

Another aspect of the daily discrimination and social boycott is its gender dimension.  A survey of three districts by two dalit rights organisations in December 2011 revealed a total of 185 crimes against dalit women by non-dalits. These included one murder, 20 rapes or gang rapes, 19 acts of outraging modesty, 22 kidnappings, 20 abductions and 18 cases of serious physical injury. Classified for the purpose of this study as 93 grievous crimes and 92 non-grievous crimes, this breakdown highlights the grim fact that 50.27 per cent of the cases resulted in death or grave physical injury to the women. Harassment of women included physical assault of landless agricultural workers by their employers, daily verbal humiliation when women move out of their houses for daily chores. The violation of the honour of the women became a symbol of caste dominance.

 

DISCRIMINATORY ATTITUDE

OF STATE MACHINERY

The cases of discrimination have to be seen in the context of the non-implementation of the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. In a press conference after the open house hearings in Gujarat, the NHRC chairperson pointed towards the slow rates of conviction for crimes against the Scheduled Castes. The survey of social boycott practices pointed out that only five per cent of the reported crimes ended in conviction. This is one of the lowest conviction rates within the country. But convictions were only one part of the story and the difficulty in accessing justice started from the first step itself, when most dalits found it impossible to even get their FIRs filed. This is especially seen in the case of atrocities against dalit women where crimes perpetrated by non-dalit men have been severely under reported. In contrast all crimes perpetrated by dalit men were easily registered. Hence the system of discrimination was prevalent not only within the society but also in recording crimes. The same discrimination was also found in the process of framing charges and convictions. The police pursued cases against crimes perpetrated by dalit men on dalit women with more intensity and serious in comparison with registered crimes by non-dalit men on women. In three districts surveyed by the Centre for Dalit Rights, not even one of 185 cases filed against non-dalit men was pursued by the police. A total of 61 per cent of the cases registered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act were acted upon by the police between 1989 and 2007. There was no action in 40 per cent of the cases. These processes show the State machinery had an anti-dalit bias and was linked to the upper caste alliance that was the main beneficiary of the Gujarat model of development.

 

The problems and atrocities faced by the dalits reveal the underbelly of the Gujarat model of development. Even though the chairperson of the NHRC praised the government of Gujarat for effectively implementing pro-Scheduled Caste schemes, the experience of their implementation shows that anti-dalit attitudes have affected their success. Apparently 70 per cent of the Scheduled Caste people are educated in Gujarat, but only 26 per cent of them reach the matriculation level. Many of those entering schools leave because of the rampant discrimination against dalit children. Ostensibly only 26 per cent of the Scheduled Castes in the state live below the poverty line, but this figure is misleading because the impact of economic boycotts on figures of income and employment are yet to be recorded. But, in order to do this, the state government will itself have to first recognise that Gujarat is a divided society and its model of development is only increasing these inequities.

 

The consolidation of the upper caste alliance and its exploitation can only be combated with the effective State machinery which is forced to meet its obligations towards the deprived sections of the society. But in order to do this, the Hindutva forces and ideology will have to be combated as the bulwark of its stability lies in the upper caste, anti-dalit alliance. Since the assembly elections of Gujarat are only six months away, a sustained campaign will have to be carried out to demystify the Gujarat model of development and Hindutva ideology. Unless this is done, the plight of the dalits will only become worse in the state.