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The endless battle with caste-based vitriol and violence

  • Published
    2nd Dec, 2023
Context:

A youth in Andhra Pradesh was kidnapped and assaulted driven by caste based violence.

Atrocities abound

  • Discrimination and violence against Dalits are common with the caste hierarchy condemning them to the bottom of the social ladder.
  • Despite laws to protect the Scheduled Castes (SC), abuse is frequently reported from across the country.
  • In Andhra Pradesh alone, 2,014 crimes against SCs were recorded in 2021, of which 33 were murders and 49 were cases of rape of minor girls.
  • The State recorded a conviction rate of 5.3% and 13.8% in terms of disbursal of relief within seven days.
  • Shunned by many in society who call them ‘untouchable’, Dalits, particularly in villages, are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions like in scavenging, and routinely abused, even killed, sometimes at the hands of the police and at times by people of upper castes.
  • This entrenched form of societal segregation, often described as hidden apartheid, has led to the complete isolation of many villages along caste lines.
  • The prevalence of caste-based violence in Indian society is a complex issue rooted in historical, social, and economic factors.

Understanding the reasons behind such violence requires a nuanced examination of India's socio-cultural fabric:

Historical Legacy:

The caste system, deeply ingrained in Indian history, has assigned social roles based on birth. This hierarchical structure has led to discrimination and oppression of certain castes.

  • Untouchability: The practice of untouchability, where certain castes were considered impure and socially ostracized, has contributed to a sense of hierarchy and discrimination.

Social Inequality:

  • Economic Disparities: Caste-based economic disparities have created imbalances in access to resources, education, and opportunities. Certain castes have historically been marginalized and economically disadvantaged.
  • Education Gap: Limited access to quality education for marginalized castes has perpetuated social inequality, hindering upward mobility and reinforcing stereotypes.

Political Exploitation:

  • Vote Bank Politics: Some politicians exploit caste identities to consolidate vote banks. This not only perpetuates divisions but also creates a political environment where caste-based issues are used for electoral gains.
  • Reservation Policies: While reservation policies were introduced to address historical injustices, they have also sometimes led to tensions between different castes, as some may perceive these policies as favoring certain groups over others.

Social Norms and Customs:

  • Inter-Caste Marriages: Resistance to inter-caste marriages is still prevalent in many communities. Social norms against marrying outside one's caste contribute to the persistence of caste identities.
  • Social Stigma: Certain castes face social stigma, affecting their self-esteem and societal standing. This can lead to frustration and, in some cases, violence.

Lack of Awareness:

  • Ignorance and Stereotypes: Lack of awareness and perpetuation of stereotypes about different castes contribute to prejudice and discrimination. Educational and awareness campaigns are essential to challenge these biases.

Legal and Judicial Challenges:

  • Legal Framework: While India has laws against caste-based discrimination, the enforcement of these laws faces challenges. Cases often take a long time to be resolved, and the legal process itself can be intimidating for victims.
  • Caste-Based Crimes: Crimes specifically targeting individuals based on their caste identity, known as "caste-based crimes" or "atrocities," persist. These crimes can range from verbal abuse to physical violence.

Justice delayed and denied

  • Failure to prosecute perpetrators of horrific caste atrocities has emboldened the perpetrators.
  • Low conviction rates are a reflection of how cases under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act are registered and pursued.
  • Prosecutors and judges fail to faithfully pursue complaints brought forth by Dalits, which is evidenced by the high rate of acquittals in such cases.
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