Why do people love to hate Mr Dalit? Though India has modernised faster than most of the world, the winds of change have seemingly bypassed the lower rung of society. The Dalits continue to be despised and denied of social equality even 67 years after our Constitution abolished untouchability and gave equal rights to all.
Isn’t it outrageous that in the 21st century India even sporting a moustache by them is considered an act of defiance by the upper castes? And isn’t it horrendous that even 70 years after India became Independent, the Dalits do not have a right to watch a cultural programme. Many a Dalit have been beaten up in recent times for just twirling their moustache. One youth was killed for watching a ‘garba’ at a temple.
The 21-year-old Dalit youth was allegedly beaten to death by a group of men belonging to the upper caste Patel community for attending a garba event in Gujarat’s Anand district. Soon a social media campaign, which had started after a Dalit was stabbed for sporting a moustache in a village in Gandhinagar district, gained prominence. At least 300 Dalit men from villages near Sanand district kept a WhatsApp display picture which had a logo of a twirled moustache with a crown and ‘Mr Dalit’ written on it.
And the attacks of Dalits have continued unabated with two more Dalit youths being allegedly thrashed in separate incidents by members of the Rajput community near Gandhinagar for sporting a moustache. But the Dalit youths are in defiance. As part of the campaign, they are posting selfies with mustaches twirled, asserting that it is their constitutional right to do so, with hashtags such as ‘#JativaadNaVirodhMa (Opposing casteism), #PiyushbhaiNaSamarthanMa (In support of Piyushbhai) and #SamidhanNaSamarthan Ma (In support of the Constitution).
One youth from Ahmedabad wrote: “This campaign shows that we are fearless in choosing how to live and what to wear.” Another youth posted: “Casteism does not allow me to sport a mustache but this country’s constitution gives me absolute freedom to sport one. I am in support of a casteless India.” The atrocities, however, are not confined to a particular State or a community.
In Karnataka, an upper caste person allegedly tried to kill Dalits of Channur village in Kalaburgi district recently, by mixing endosulfan, an insecticide., into the water of an open well. The well is the only source of drinking water for the Dalit families. The seven other wells in the village are all used by the upper caste families.
Incidents of such nature abound throughout modern India. And at the receiving end also are the minorities, besides the Dalits. The heart-rending stories emerged during a Karwan E Mohabbat, a month-long journey that started from Assam and travelled to Jharkhand, Karnataka, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, meeting families of Dalit and Muslim victims of caste and religious violence.
One was that of Jafruddin Hassan of Khurgain village in Shamli district, Uttar Pradesh, who still awaits justice four years after his son Salim was killed by a mob of cow vigilantes somewhere on the cattle trade route between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Till date, his family has no information about the case, not even the copy of the post-mortem report. So far only one of the nine accused mentioned by Salim in his statement had been arrested, but he, too, was released the next day.The tears may have dried up, but the scars remain. Jafruddin has, somehow, resigned to his fate.
The 50 Dalits, whose homes were burnt down by dominant upper caste in Shabbirpur village in Shamli over an Ambedkar statue, still live in fear. This is a pattern the Karwan noticed in its entire journey, meeting over 50 families across India.
Almost in all the cases of lynching by cow vigilantes, it was found that there were criminal cases filed against the victim, casually referred to as ‘cross-case’, tempting the victim’s family to make a compromise. Caste and religion in India still evoke extreme sentiments that lead to violence against the marginalised. According to a survey, .Muslims were the target of 51 per cent of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years from 2010 to 2017.
Violence committed by ‘gau rakshas’ has reached such proportions that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared them as people who are “destroying the society”. It is time Indian society become a modern society in letter and spirit.
Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.