Caste Matters

Unity in Diversity?


India is a land of diversity. Every next town has its own dish to serve its visitors. Every next village can have a different set of festivals to celebrate. Every 50-100 km, a new language or a new dialect appears. With so many cultures, languages, diverse groups of people, their festivals, foods, dressing habits, India truly is a land of diversity.

But in all this talk of unity in diversity, there is one more thing that unites people despite differences and that is caste. When it comes to dealing with caste identities and caste pride, people are one. A person who lives in the northern part of India has the same thinking about their caste pride, caste identity, as the person living in the southern part.

The person living in eastern India discriminates against another person based on caste in the exact same manner as their counterpart in western India would.

Despite the great physical and cultural distance among these people, with one another, they behave in the same exact way when it comes to caste.

Let’s explore this further with two recent live examples. One is from Northern India, from the state of Rajasthan, whereas another is from Southern India, from the state of Karnataka. Both are not only approximately 1,600 km apart but culturally very different.

On 15 March, 2022, a Dalit youth named Jitendra Meghwal was stabbed to death in broad daylight. His only crime was that he had started living a better lifestyle and had started sporting a moustache, which was not acceptable to the upper caste neighbours of his village.

 In this country, it is a crime for Dalit youth to lead a happy and comfortable life with dignity. And that is why Jitendra was killed.

On the same day, some 1,600km away, a young Dalit woman named Daneshwari was torched to death using petrol allegedly by her partner. She was in a relationship with an upper-caste boy from her engineering days. But he refused to marry her, saying she was of a lower caste and his parents would never approve of their marriage.

When she insisted, he called Daneshwari to an isolated place, poured petrol on her and lit her on fire. She died in a nearby hospital.

These two incidents are not rare if one talks about the frequency of such crimes. Nearly 1,39,045 cases under crime against Dalits have been registered in different states between 2018 and 2020, with 50,291 such crimes reported in 2020 alone. That makes 46,348 cases per year and 127 cases per day, one case every 15 minutes.

And this figure is only for the crimes recorded or registered in government records. So the actual cases could be way higher if one considers the unreported cases.

The crux of this discussion is to make people aware of how caste binds different sections of society all together in this diversity, but not for good. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Arunachal, people all are united when it comes to their caste pride and identities.

 An upper caste in Karnataka is not afraid to torch his lower caste Dalit girlfriend. At the same time, an upper-caste in Rajasthan is not hesitant to stab his fellow villager for his caste pride. And it is true, pan India.

That’s the reality. People are committing caste-based atrocities on their fellow citizens; civil society must acknowledge it and stop it. This aspect of unity in diversity is one one can’t boast about.

Meanwhile, another gruesome incident has come to light from Dhaulpur, Rajasthan, where a Dalit woman was gang-raped at gunpoint in front of her husband and children by her upper-caste villagers.

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Vol 54, No. 41, April 10 - 16, 2022