India%27s Untouchables %28National Geographic%2c June 2003%29

India%27s Untouchables %28National Geographic%2c June 2003%29

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Unformatted text preview: India's
"Untouchables"
Face
Violence,
Discrimination
 Hillary
Mayell
 for
National
Geographic
News
 June
2,
2003
 

 More
than
160
million
people
in
India
are
considered
"Untouchable"—people
 tainted
by
their
birth
into
a
caste
system
that
deems
them
impure,
less
than
human.
 
 Human
rights
abuses
against
these
people,
known
as
Dalits,
are
legion.
A
random
 sampling
of
headlines
in
mainstream
Indian
newspapers
tells
their
story:
"Dalit
boy
 beaten
to
death
for
plucking
flowers";
"Dalit
tortured
by
cops
for
three
days";
"Dalit
 'witch'
paraded
naked
in
Bihar";
"Dalit
killed
in
lock‐up
at
Kurnool";
"7
Dalits
burnt
 alive
in
caste
clash";
"5
Dalits
lynched
in
Haryana";
"Dalit
woman
gang‐raped,
 paraded
naked";
"Police
egged
on
mob
to
lynch
Dalits".
 
 "Dalits
are
not
allowed
to
drink
from
the
same
wells,
attend
the
same
temples,
wear
 shoes
in
the
presence
of
an
upper
caste,
or
drink
from
the
same
cups
in
tea
stalls,"
 said
Smita
Narula,
a
senior
researcher
with
Human
Rights
Watch,
and
author
of
 Broken
People:
Caste
Violence
Against
India's
"Untouchables."
Human
Rights
Watch
 is
a
worldwide
activist
organization
based
in
New
York.
 
 India's
Untouchables
are
relegated
to
the
lowest
jobs,
and
live
in
constant
fear
of
 being
publicly
humiliated,
paraded
naked,
beaten,
and
raped
with
impunity
by
 upper‐caste
Hindus
seeking
to
keep
them
in
their
place.
Merely
walking
through
an
 upper‐caste
neighborhood
is
a
life‐threatening
offense.
 
 
 Nearly
90
percent
of
all
the
poor
Indians
and
95
percent
of
all
the
illiterate
Indians
 are
Dalits,
according
to
figures
presented
at
the
International
Dalit
Conference
that
 took
place
May
16
to
18
in
Vancouver,
Canada.
 
 Crime
Against
Dalits
 
 Statistics
compiled
by
India's
National
Crime
Records
Bureau
indicate
that
in
the
 year
2000,
the
last
year
for
which
figures
are
available,
25,455
crimes
were
 committed
against
Dalits.
Every
hour
two
Dalits
are
assaulted;
every
day
three
Dalit
 women
are
raped,
two
Dalits
are
murdered,
and
two
Dalit
homes
are
torched.
 
 No
one
believes
these
numbers
are
anywhere
close
to
the
reality
of
crimes
 committed
against
Dalits.
Because
the
police,
village
councils,
and
government
 officials
often
support
the
caste
system,
which
is
based
on
the
religious
teachings
of
 Hinduism,
many
crimes
go
unreported
due
to
fear
of
reprisal,
intimidation
by
police,
 inability
to
pay
bribes
demanded
by
police,
or
simply
the
knowledge
that
the
police
 will
do
nothing.
 
 "There
have
been
large‐scale
abuses
by
the
police,
acting
in
collusion
with
upper
 castes,
including
raids,
beatings
in
custody,
failure
to
charge
offenders
or
investigate
 reported
crimes,"
said
Narula.
 
 That
same
year,
68,160
complaints
were
filed
against
the
police
for
activities
 ranging
from
murder,
torture,
and
collusion
in
acts
of
atrocity,
to
refusal
to
file
a
 complaint.
Sixty
two
percent
of
the
cases
were
dismissed
as
unsubstantiated;
26
 police
officers
were
convicted
in
court.
 
 Despite
the
fact
that
untouchability
was
officially
banned
when
India
adopted
its
 constitution
in
1950,
discrimination
against
Dalits
remained
sopervasive
that
in
 1989
the
government
passed
legislation
known
as
The
Prevention
of
Atrocities
Act.
 The
act
specifically
made
it
illegal
to
parade
people
naked
through
the
streets,
force
 them
to
eat
feces,
take
away
their
land,
foul
their
water,
interfere
with
their
right
to
 vote,
and
burn
down
their
homes.
 
 Since
then,
the
violence
has
escalated,
largely
as
a
result
of
the
emergence
of
a
 grassroots
human
rights
movement
among
Dalits
to
demand
their
rights
and
resist
 the
dictates
of
untouchability,
said
Narula.
 
 Lack
of
Enforcement,
Not
Laws
 
 Enforcement
of
laws
designed
to
protect
Dalits
is
lax
if
not
non‐existent
in
many
 regions
of
India.
The
practice
of
untouchability
is
strongest
in
rural
areas,
where
80
 percent
of
the
country's
population
resides.
There,
the
underlying
religious
 principles
of
Hinduism
dominate.
 
 Hindus
believe
a
person
is
born
into
one
of
four
castes
based
on
karma
and
 "purity"—how
he
or
she
lived
their
past
lives.
Those
born
as
Brahmans
are
priests
 and
teachers;
Kshatriyas
are
rulers
and
soldiers;
Vaisyas
are
merchants
and
traders;
 and
Sudras
are
laborers.
Within
the
four
castes,
there
are
thousands
of
sub‐castes,
 defined
by
profession,
region,
dialect,
and
other
factors.
 
 Untouchables
are
literally
outcastes;
a
fifth
group
that
is
so
unworthy
it
doesn't
fall
 within
the
caste
system.
 
 Although
based
on
religious
principles
practiced
for
some
1,500
years,
the
system
 persists
today
for
economic
as
much
as
religious
reasons.
 
 Because
they
are
considered
impure
from
birth,
Untouchables
perform
jobs
that
are
 traditionally
considered
"unclean"
or
exceedingly
menial,
and
for
very
little
pay.
One
 million
Dalits
work
as
manual
scavengers,
cleaning
latrines
and
sewers
by
hand
and
 clearing
away
dead
animals.
Millions
more
are
agricultural
workers
trapped
in
an
 inescapable
cycle
of
extreme
poverty,
illiteracy,
and
oppression.
 
 Although
illegal,
40
million
people
in
India,
most
of
them
Dalits,
are
bonded
 workers,
many
working
to
pay
off
debts
that
were
incurred
generations
ago,
 according
to
a
report
by
Human
Rights
Watch
published
in
1999.
These
people,
15
 million
of
whom
are
children,
work
under
slave‐like
conditions
hauling
rocks,
or
 working
in
fields
or
factories
for
less
than
U.S.
$1
day.
 
 Crimes
Against
Women
 
 Dalit
women
are
particularly
hard
hit.
They
are
frequently
raped
or
beaten
as
a
 means
of
reprisal
against
male
relatives
who
are
thought
to
have
committed
some
 act
worthy
of
upper‐caste
vengeance.
They
are
also
subject
to
arrest
if
they
have
 male
relatives
hiding
from
the
authorities.
 
 A
case
reported
in
1999
illustrates
the
toxic
mix
of
gender
and
caste.
 
 A
42‐year‐old
Dalit
woman
was
gang‐raped
and
then
burnt
alive
after
she,
her
 husband,
and
two
sons
had
been
held
in
captivity
and
tortured
for
eight
days.
Her
 crime?
Another
son
had
eloped
with
the
daughter
of
the
higher‐caste
family
doing
 the
torturing.
The
local
police
knew
the
Dalit
family
was
being
held,
but
did
nothing
 because
of
the
higher‐caste
family's
local
influence.
 
 There
is
very
little
recourse
available
to
victims.
 
 A
report
released
by
Amnesty
International
in
2001
found
an
"extremely
high"
 number
of
sexual
assaults
on
Dalit
women,
frequently
perpetrated
by
landlords,
 upper‐caste
villagers,
and
police
officers.
The
study
estimates
that
only
about
5
 percent
of
attacks
are
registered,
and
that
police
officers
dismissed
at
least
30
 percent
of
rape
complaints
as
false.
 
 The
study
also
found
that
the
police
routinely
demand
bribes,
intimidate
witnesses,
 cover
up
evidence,
and
beat
up
the
women's
husbands.
Little
or
nothing
is
done
to
 prevent
attacks
on
rape
victims
by
gangs
of
upper‐caste
villagers
seeking
to
prevent
 a
case
from
being
pursued.
Sometimes
the
policemen
even
join
in,
the
study
 suggests.
Rape
victims
have
also
been
murdered.
Such
crimes
often
go
unpunished.
 
 Thousands
of
pre‐teen
Dalit
girls
are
forced
into
prostitution
under
cover
of
a
 religious
practice
known
as
devadasis,
which
means
"female
servant
of
god."
The
 girls
are
dedicated
or
"married"
to
a
deity
or
a
temple.
Once
dedicated,
they
are
 unable
to
marry,
forced
to
have
sex
with
upper‐caste
community
members,
and
 eventually
sold
to
an
urban
brothel.
 
 Resistance
and
Progress
 
 Within
India,
grassroots
efforts
to
change
are
emerging,
despite
retaliation
and
 intimidation
by
local
officials
and
upper‐caste
villagers.
In
some
states,
caste
conflict
 has
escalated
to
caste
warfare,
and
militia‐like
vigilante
groups
have
conducted
 raids
on
villages,
burning
homes,
raping,
and
massacring
the
people.
These
raids
are
 sometimes
conducted
with
the
tacit
approval
of
the
police.
 
 In
the
province
Bihar,
local
Dalits
are
retaliating,
committing
atrocities
also.
Non‐ aligned
Dalits
are
frequently
caught
in
the
middle,
victims
of
both
groups.
 
 "There
is
a
growing
grassroots
movement
of
activists,
trade
unions,
and
other
NGOs
 that
are
organizing
to
democratically
and
peacefully
demand
their
rights,
higher
 wages,
and
more
equitable
land
distribution,"
said
Narula.
"There
has
been
progress
 in
terms
of
building
a
human
rights
movement
within
India,
and
in
drawing
 international
attention
to
the
issue."
 
 In
August
2002,
the
UN
Committee
for
the
Elimination
of
Racial
Discrimination
(UN
 CERD)
approved
a
resolution
condemning
caste
or
descent‐based
discrimination.
 
 "But
at
the
national
level,
very
little
is
being
done
to
implement
or
enforce
the
laws,"
 said
Narula.
 

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1996‐2008
National
Geographic
Society.
All
rights
reserved.
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