India is a good and interesting example of democratic country in Asia. It’s a country with Hindu devotee majority, but it has a moslem President and Sikh Prime Minister.

But India also an interesting example, how weak a good constitution facing a tradition legitimated by faith and scripture. How barren state law in the hand of upper caste and upper class.

Let see the Constitution of India. On article 15 and 17 mentioned:

15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to

(a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or

(b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

(4) Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

17. Abolition of Untouchability.

“Untouchability’’ is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability’’ shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

 

But in field, in practice, we can see the opposite of that. Discrimination based on caste system, religion, still goes on.

According to Rig Veda, Hindu scripture, there is a caste system called Varna. Its has four main castes: Brahma, Kshatrya, Vaysha, and Shudra. Out of that called Panchamas, untouchable people, and most popular by Dalit people. And there are hundreds sub caste in every level of caste, even in Dalit people. The consequences of this Varna system are differences between castes on whole aspects of life: religion, marriage, occupation, mobility, diet, contact, political participation, and education.

And the existence of the system also related with many factors and many aspects. In my reflection and learning, there are several roots why so difficult to abolish the discrimination because of caste system.

The first root of that system is because of the system is a part of religion and belief. As I mentioned before, this system was starting with Rig Veda, the main scripture of Hinduism.

Some thinker and academist belief that it’s not about Hinduism. Its just about one interpretation of Hinduism. For them, we can interprete that the meaning of caste system in Rig Veda is like a job description or division of labour among people, and it’s not discriminative.

But if so, why the belief is so strong and deep? I think, its because the interpretation represented by a text, book called Manusmrithi (The Law of Manu). Eventhough Manu, Hindu thinker, just live in the middle of Hinduism era, but the book was very influence, and Hindu people consider that Manusmrithi is Hinduism itself, or the true interpretation of Hinduism. I think, more than interpretation, Dr. Ambedkar (the father of Indian Constitution and the Dalit who struggle for abolish a caste system in the modern era) gave us an example that the root was Hinduism itself. Dr. Ambedkar converts to Budhism to show people that the main problem is religion, Hinduism.

Above all, bibliolatry or text minded drives a religious devotee to be a blind follower. The truths are come from religious leader. And in Hinduism context, because the man who has access to scripture is only Brahmin caste, they have big chance to rule the lower caste, according their interpretation on scripture. The Manusmrithi declared “Even by mistake if a lower caste person hears the Vedas, molten lead should be poured in his ears” and “his tongue should be cut off if recited the sacred verses.”

There is also fundamentalist Hindu who create a movement called Hindutva. It is consider that India is Hindu country, and should ruled by Hinduism way.

The second root, because of strong belief and applied for a centuries, the system became a culture, not just a belief and religion value. That’s why even in Islam and Christian community there are Dalit moslem and Dalit Christian. This fact is very strange. I think in the Christianity no hierarchy based on colour and caste. Also in Islam. It is difficult to understand that the moslem community also apply the untouchability.

We can say, that is a culture of oppression. The upper caste, and also the Dalit people consider that this system is naturally happen, and they establishing it go on in this way.

The third, education. This problem makes a circle and sustainability of discrimination. Most of the Dalit community has a problem with illiteracy and less education. And because of that, it’s difficult to change their bargain in the rest aspects of life.

The forth, low consciousness and awareness among Dalit people. There are hundreds sub caste among Dalit people, and among them, there is also another discrimination. Some of those sub caste also get a gain and profit with this system. It is difficult to create a unity among them in order to challenge and abolish whole caste system. It is also because of low education and culture of oppression.

 

In term of relation between government and citizen, there are also many problems. They are:

The fifth, low consciousness about constitution and law enforcement. We can see that there are many legal reason and legal act to abolish the system. Beside The Constitution, there is also National Commission for Scheduled Castes to monitor the situation of Dalits, and Central and State governments also established SC/ST Welfare Departments. There is a Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. Also Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 prohibits certain types of atrocities committed against Scheduled Castes by non-Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes. Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules 1995 sets down protection mechanisms and bodies for effective implementation of the SC/ST (POA) Act and protection of Dalits. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 bans the dehumanizing practice of manual cleaning of human excreta from dry latrines. And I think, as a democratic country, India has to obey a Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and International Covenant about human rights.

That’s all are more than enough as a weapon to push the country to take a responsibility with the discriminate causes in the name of of caste system and religion.

The sixth, high bargaining position of Hindu religious leader facing the government. The upper caste also dominating position in the government area.

The seventh root is related with external factors. It is less international campaign of NGO’s in term of media influences. In NGO context, there is also an irony: Usually, NGO activists had a very clear consciousness about human rights and anti-discrimination. Of course NGO have an average problem: bias and dependency. Many NGO working depend on funding agency. But in this case, there is a big irony: They have a campaign and work in human rights issues, and at the same times, they discriminate the lower caste community and establish discrimination among them. They have a campaign on gender equality, but in the same times, because they are from upper caste, they don’t want to talk about inequality among Dalit women.

There is also caste prejudice and stereotyping among NGO’s activists.

The eighth root related with global issue, in term of global capitalism. This colonization system not only affected in controlling economic system of country, but also establish the discrimination in developing countries.

Here, there is another kind of globalization impact, in term of establish discrimination among Dalit and untouchable community. It’s another fact about injustice: caste system make the lower caste people have no land and live in poverty, and globalization make them more suffer and discriminated. Most of them work as a farm or agricultural labor, because they have no chance to work in another aspect, and in the same time, globalization and modernization trough them out from that kind of aspect. Technology progress drive the farmer to use machines that more efficient and effective. Then, how about Dalit community? More suffer and hopeless. They’re become completely inhuman being.

 

Back Clash: Reservation

Because of campaign and struggle for Dalit liberation, especially in case debate between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar on the way to abolish untouchability, government conduct an affirmative action called reservation. It is mean, in some regulation, Dalit people get a priority, to conduct equality between Dalit and upper caste people.

 

Not all Dalit community agree with this policy. It is because some reason:

First, instead of increasing quality, reservation establishing inequality. It is drive the Dalit people to satisfy with the low standard of knowledge, skill and ability.

Second, even tough it will give a big chance and opportunity, but it is also conduct the Dalit people become spoiled. For the future, it will make another problem.

In some upper caste perspective, reservation also drives a bad condition:

First, back lash. Because with lower standard the Dalit people will get a chance and opportunity, there are several cases that the upper caste declares themselves as a Dalit people, in order to gain that chance.

Second, injustice. It will be conduct injustice among upper caste. It is because the will lost their opportunity and it will be given to Dalit people, even with lower skill.

Third, less quality. “How can we give a pilot job with the man under standard of security flight?” It is the way they explain that the reservation conduct the quality of skill, education, and ability decreased.

In my opinion, the reservation needed as an affirmative action. It is mean that this policy should do as a temporary and contextual condition, not for permanent policy and not for all contexts.

 

Dalit Struggle: Liberation and Transformation

There are many groups struggle in that issue. There are also many improvements and changing in term of decrease the discrimination. But in fact, the discrimination still goes on and created another way. According to the root problems, we can make categories of Dalit Liberation and Transformation:

 

1. Based on Religion

It is the most important root of problem. In this area, within a Hinduism we should open the people’s mind to create a liberal and humanist interpretation of scripture. We need a recontextualization. It is the way Mahatma Gandhi did. But it must be done in whole interpretation of the scriptures. Because of modernization (in term of education and technology improvement), there is no more difficulties to access the scriptures. But this kind of modernization only has done in city and high class area.

Furthermore, if the recontextualization is an impossibility, and the conclusion is no another way to interpret the scriptures, the answer is to challenge the Hinduism itself. And Dr. Ambedkar did it, by converted to Budhism. It is a radical transformation.

 

There is also another example in the transformation. M.C. Raj, one of Dalit leader in Tumkur district, creates another spirituality and declared Dalit Religion to challenge Hinduism. Based on historical view and philosophical view, Dalit has their own spirituality and faith, different from Hinduism. There is also another fact from Dalitbahujan society, clearly mentioned by Kancha Ilahiah (Why I am Not a Hindu?), that Hinduism just came later. They have their own spirituality, even before they heard term “Hindu”.

On external context, Christianity and Islam also have a responsibility to challenge this culture. As we know, equality is the principal faith of Christianity and Islam. And most of Dalit people converted to Christianity and Islam because of that reason.

2. Based on Community

Tumkur movement is also a good example how the movement based on community gains a power and transforms the injustice culture. By declare that their spirituality is their politics, they become a powerful and strong movements. After 20 years struggle, they start to establish political awareness among themselves. They belief, political power is the way to gain a rights and equality.

But this transformation must be based on community awareness and local context. In another context of Dalit community, the Tumkur way could be create another segregation. It is because they create a new religion that challenges another religion. The facts, many Dalit people converted to Islam, Budhism, and Christian, and many of them also still establishing Hinduism as their religion.

And there are also other obstacles, especially to find a common goal among Dalit community. Sometimes, diversity among Dalit people creates a conflict among them.

3. Based on Global Awareness

Global human right, antidiscrimination, gender equality, and democratization movements, like or dislike, drive every country in the world to deal with some consequences. In this context, United Nation or regional association are important institutions.

Anti Vietnamese war, anti apartheid, and anti Americanism global movements are several example how global awareness drive and influence a local government to conduct a better regulation. It’s could became a radical transformation. Otherwise, International community will isolate the country.

4. Based on Politics and Law

As a democratic country, law enforcement and political participation are important issues in India. That why it has a good constitution and equal law. In term of transformation, it is need a movement to challenge an implementation of constitution and law. Principally, there is no one above the law, and also below the law. It needs campaign on constitution and law awareness. It needs a political education for the peoples.

A women movement in Goa is a good example to mention it. They built a good campaign and push the State government to conduct a law to abolish child abuse and sexual abuse. And by that, they conducted a control mechanism to make sure that the law is implemented.

* yang ini adalah tugas akhir di School of Peace, Bangalore, India, akhir April 2007