SITUATION OF THE DALITS IN INDIA
Indian society : real structure, constitutional principles, perspectives.
Outcasts of society : the situation
of the untouchables :
Indian society is characterised by its division into casts
despite constitutional advances. This division is made according
to a double organisation, both linear and classificatory : the Jati,
name which covers the social species to which one belongs from birth
and the Varna, the classification which refers to functions : Brahmin
(priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishya (tradesmen, salesmen and
land-owners), Shudra, servants of the three former categories called
the "twice born". Each Varna is thus divided into Jatis
according to social standings.
On the margins of the cast system, we find the "outcast",
the "pariahs", the "untouchables", those who's
contact is deemed so unpure that they have to live in a place outside
the village of the town they depend on. Their birth condemns them
to the meanest tasks, those considered unpure by the Brahman ideology
: cleaning clothes and public places, activities linked to cremation,
Whatever the Law might state, untouchability is deeply anchored
in the mentalities and affects them greatly and this can be seen
very concretely. Being despised by the society they live in, being
slaves to a perpetual debt which runs from generation to generation
(Thematic Report of the Mechanisms of the Human Rights Commission)
(cf. Annex), the untouchables have given themselves a name : Dalits,
which means "Oppressed".
The application of the 1950 Constitution
The Dalits represent 18% of the Indian population, that is approximately
170 million individuals living without dignity. The Democratic Indian
Constitution written by Ambedkar (one of the few Dalits having had
access to education : see article) abolished untouchability (art.17
of the Constitution), forbade discrimination (art.15), set the goal
for social justice and equal opportunity by introducing special
measures (seat reserved in political representation, quotas in education
and public service). But, 50 years later, these principles are still
only rarely applied. Social pressure is still very much there, access
to education and to formation in general, even if it is a constitutional
right remains a luxury. Thus the quotas remain in the hands of a
minority that is set on keeping things that way ; this includes
the President of the Indian State Mr. Narayanan elected in 1997
who is the perfect example.
From alienation by birth to freedom by
knowledge : democracy in action.
Problems of social inequity, poverty, the inadequacy between the
Democratic Constitution and reality can sometimes find that the
solution is the effective participation of the poorest in economic
and social powers. The great majority of Dalits are illiterate,
but that does not prevent them from being more and more interested
in politics and from being ardent defenders of the Democratic Institutions.
In the last 20 years, their electoral participation has grown which
goes to show how much faith and hope they have in their vote. But
today the Dalits are often hostage to populist political measures
taken by other political parties, they are slaves to clienteles
and vote for those who locally promise social programs whatever
their political goals may be. As for Dalit parties, they are too
fragmented and divided to represent the Dalit population effectively.
The goal is thus to make social promotion easier through education,
enabling them to have access to jobs with a certain responsibility
on the one hand, and on the other it is to make them understand
that they have common interests on the long run. Only on these conditions
can they build an autonomous and unified social identity enabling
them to be accepted by the society in which they live.
RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENEPHOBIA AND ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION
UN System of Human Rights : 1999 Overview
Thematic Report of the Mechanisms of the Human Rights Commission
Racism and Racial Discrimination, a Report
from the Special Commissioner (E/CN4/1999/15, par. 88-100)
91. The term "casts" underlines a "social"
and a "class" distinction which is not based on race.
This notion finds its origins in the functional division of Indian
Society. Classification according to hierarchy is the primary characteristic
of this social system which, from births, confers unto its members
certain privileges or imposes unto them certain restrictions which
are to be unaltered during the entire lifetime of the individual.
Each cast depends, from a functional point of view, on the other
casts and has a very precise role to play in a system based on the
symbolic relation between people belonging to different casts. Racial
hierarchy appears as an abhorrent subsidiary element of the fundamental
structure of society, whereas the social system of casts, with its
multiple segmentation and its complex classification, has been the
central element in the functional organisation of Hindu Society.
It has been amply shown that people belonging to different casts
have the same racial characteristics.
93. The first enumeration of the "untouchable" communities
was made during the 1931 census by British authorities. They used
the definition used at the time for the census as well as reports
established by several comities and commissions since independence,
the general criteria retained so as to determine whether a certain
community was a member of the said "enumerated" casts
was extreme backwardness from a social, economic and educational
point of view due to the traditional application of untouchability.
98. Organisations that represent the untouchables or Dalits recognise
the progress which has been achieved since the Independence of India
but insist on the fact that the situation of this group is still
difficult. According to these organisations, if the average
rate of literacy in India (for men and women respectively) was
of 63.8% and 39.42% in 1992, the figures for Dalits were not over
29.7% and 18.05%. At this time, we can count approximately 115 million
Dalit children that work, 20 million of which in dangerous conditions.
What's more, in 199, over 1 200 Dalit children died of malnutrition
in the State of Maharashtra. According to diverse sources, the Dalits
are often victim of forced migration, arbitrary imprisonment
and summery execution in India. According to the Dalit Liberation
Education Trust, every hour 2 Dalits are attacked, every
day 3 Dalit women are raped, 2 Dalits murdered and 2 Dalit
99. Untouchability is still very alive, especially in the countryside
and can be seen in the segregation of housing, the Dalits having
to live at least 1/4 of a mile from the other inhabitants and are
forbidden the access to the well which is the common source of water.
Moreover, segregation also exists in schools, services and public
places (hairdressers, shops, transports ; in restaurants, the crockery
is sometimes separated between that for Dalits and that for upper
100. Taking into account the facts exposed above, and in reference
to the disposition of the Constitution, particularly those that
the government quotes in its communication of September 30th 1997,
that is "according to article 366, the enumerated cats are
defined as 'casts, races, tribes or parts or components of these
casts, races or tribes, considered in article 341 as 'enumerated'
casts" and taking into account that this comity for the elimination
of racial discrimination, whilst making its final periodic reports
declared that " the situation of ill-favoured casts or tribes
is under the jurisdiction of the International Convention to eliminate
all forms of racial discrimination" (CERD/C/304/Add.13, par.
14), the Special Commissioner deems that particular attention
should be given to the situation of the Dalits in India and that,
to this effect, a field mission could be envisaged with the agreement
of the Indian Government.
Report by Mr. Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, Special Commissioner
on the contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia
and the intolerance it creates in conformity with Resolution 1998/26
of the Human Rights Commission.