No inclusive Odisha with Bias towards Dalits

Indra Meghewal

The recent death case of a 9 year old Dalit student, Indra Meghewal, in Rajasthan on the ground of untouchability practice in school must be seen as a national shame. Azadi Ki Amrut Mahostav to mark the 75 years of our freedom must seriously engage us to honestly introspect about the status of freedom from untouchability practice in our villages. How far the dedicated efforts of our socio-political movements by Gandhians, Marxists, Socialists, Rationalists, Ambedkarites and others have impacted our social life and helped initiate social reforms. The most important is what impact has been made by our post independent constitutional provisions and laws such as PCR and POA Act against untouchability. There is no denying the fact that untouchability remains a challenge to our inclusive democracy and social federalism.

As per 2011 Census Scheduled Caste population of Odisha is 72 lakh covering about 16 lakh households mostly inhabited in rural parts of the State. There are 94 sub caste groups identified as Scheduled Caste who are practicing Hinduism as their religion and a very insignificant number belong to Sikhism and Buddhism. About 2.77 per cent of the total population of the State embraced Christianity, as the second major religion of the State and a major chunk of Christian population belongs to Dalit communities but they are yet not recognized as SCs. When the first scheduled caste list for Odisha was prepared in 1936 there were only 54 communities identified as SCs which has been doubled during course of time and many other communities are still on line to get included in list of SCs in Odisha .So the actual number of untouchables in Odisha is still not clear as all untouchables are not yet included in the official list.

Untouchability in many cruel and inhuman forms continues as a social reality in rural parts irrespective of religious identity and a sizable population remains socially victimized everywhere. Historically they are forced to provide service to the rest of the castes in the upper ladder of the structure. Untouchability is the main problem of Dalit communities which is not just social but very much affecting economic and political participation also. Untouchability practice still continues unabated in rural villages and being enforced in new forms and discourses as a religious value, social custom to maintain caste pride and purity.

There are various forms of untouchable practices persistent in villages even in the most inhuman and vulgar form such as manual scavenging that disrespects human dignity. The most condemned cases are atrocities against Dalit communities that range from rape, murder, house burning, social boycott, destruction of house, property and crops, physical and mental assault to organized mass violence against innocent women, children and elders in community to subjugate the defense less communities in village.

Dalit nowhere in Odisha are allowed to enter into village temples though they are officially forced to write Hindu as their religion to get caste certificate. There are reports about schools in caste Hindu dominated village where Dalit children are not allowed to seat with other fellow students during midday meal and in some places even forced to seat separately or on the back row of the class. Nowhere Dalit women being allowed as cook for mid-day meal preparation in spite of Supreme Court directives. Unfortunately our teachers in educational institutions discriminate against Dalit children.

The Aanganwadi centres, class rooms, hostels, playgrounds are still not a pleasant place for all communities. The most progressive teachers’ associations in Odisha have not raised their voice against the age-old discriminations against human beings based on caste in our educational institutions; rather many of the teachers are shamelessly arguing in favour of our so-called great social customs. Our most glorified villages are not a place of equality for all, especially for those who are denied a dignified access to place of worship, cremation ground, water bodies and place of commons at par with other fellow villagers.

The Home Department of the Government of Odisha annual reports speak of district wise and crime wise figures of about 2000 cases registered in different police stations. The real figure is about ten times more as it is a fact that many of the cases do not get a place in police record and there are a good number of cases which end up with amicable settlements in police stations with pressure against poor and illiterate victims of atrocities.

The State Government officials due lack of training and awareness   never bother to follow the constitutional mandate, Acts and Rules and programs that are targeted for abolition of untouchability. It is not the caste society rather elected democratic Government, its wings like legislative, executive and judiciary, media, civil society remain largely insensitive to the centuries old inhuman social suffering of communities. This is reflected in in non-functional of dedicated intuitions of government to protect interest of Dalit, non-registration of FIR, non-payment of compensation, delay in trial, and long delay in justice delivery. The police, local Government officials, advocate, media, NGOs mostly from upper caste remain insensitive and unaccountable to the victims and to the whole criminal justice administration and society at large. This historical injustice remains truly unaddressed in spite of protest by many.

Though education is one of the important means to bring larger change in life of Dalit and society at large but even 75 years after independence the primary education remain a distance dream for a major section of poor and socially marginalized sections in the village. The way privatization and communalization of our school system are being encouraged with active government patronization, it is sure to lead to social disharmony and unending caste and religious conflicts.  Abolition of untouchability should be a national agenda before all of us to promote equality among all.

Manas Jena is a social activist

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