“The fact that you to ask me how bad things are shows how ignorant society really is,” said Chandrasena, a PhD student at JNU in New Delhi.
The words were spoken in a rare moment of candour. He wasn’t bitter or angry, he was just stating the facts. Many of us have often looked at students who get into educational institutions on the basis of a SC/ST certificate with scorn and most often our argument is that because of them, many more deserving candidates get left out.
The reservations that most Indians see as a curse, has perhaps been the only concession society has made for them, and given how controversial it remains, shows how grudgingly upper castes cede what has been considered for years as their right.
Hyderabad University Rohith Vemula’s alleged suicide once again highlights that life for a Dalit/SC/ST/underprivileged student is anything but easy.
But do we really know what their life has been like up to this point? From the moment they are born to the day they die, discrimination is the ever present curse. ScoopWhoop spoke to some Dalit students to learn what life is truly like from…
Discrimination starts early; it starts with the name. The names of the upper classes have a specific tone, for instance, they could be Veer Pratap, Eashwar Chand or Jiya Lal. Dalit names are usually the names of gods, say a Ram, Jawahar or Kanshi. The point of it is simple, in UP, Bihar or even Rajasthan you can tell them apart by caste.
And in case, you decide to defy the norms, you can get killed too. In December 2011, a low-caste Dalit boy was killed in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh for sharing a name with a man of a higher caste.
It isn’t just that. Various idioms and phrases are meant to degrade them even further. Have you ever heard someone say ‘Kya Chamaron Walle Kaam Kar Rahe Ho‘? There are several other such idioms. Sometimes things get ingrained so deeply that we rarely even question their meaning.
Imagine going to school and not being allowed to drink water from the same place as the higher castes. Chandrasena spoke about an incident when he was in an Allahabad school where a higher caste student would take water to a height and pour it out to the Dalit children who were gathered below. That is how they drank water. They were not allowed near the water source and they didn’t dare either for fear of punishment. They were also asked to sit separately.
In MP, their solution was to build a different water source. Over 200 Dalit or underprivileged villagers were not allowed by other families to drink water from a public bore-well. The state administration’s solution was to construct a separate well just for the lower caste families.
In June 2015, a minor Dalit girl was beaten up by higher caste women in Ganeshpura village in Chhattisgarh after the victim’s shadow fell on a muscleman belonging to their family.
There is a temptation to dismiss them as one-off incidents but one quick Google search will convince you otherwise. The list is never-ending and nauseating.
One of the students we spoke too thought the discrimination would end once he took admission in a college that is in Delhi or any other big city. But he couldn’t be any more wrong.
In 2007, when he joined JNU, they had an ID card that clearly mentioned that they were SC/ST. It was only after a prolonged battle that they finally managed to get it off the cards around 2010.
Reserved students often alleged that their papers were not examined properly. Students who get 35/50 in their written exam would get 2/50 in their Viva. Chandrasena said he got zero when even just appearing for the exam usually guarantees 2 marks. An RTI revealed that many other SC/ST students had the same problem. It later emerged the examiners were of a higher caste.
There are other issues like fellowships being withdrawn or not getting the professor your want to help you through your PhD.
As one PhD student said, “They don’t want us to study because it then means that we are acquiring the means to make our caste inconsequential.”
A survey of freshmen at the IIT-Bombay campus in 2014 showed that 56% of reserved category students felt discriminated against. Some years ago, a report on the differential treatment of SC/ST students at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences prepared by a committee chaired by former University Grants Commission chairman Sukhadeo Thorat showed that 72% of such students said they faced discrimination, while 88% reported various forms of social isolation.
Following the shocking 60% budget cut in funds for Dalit and Adivasi welfare in India in 2015, things haven’t looked good.
As one of the people we spoke to found out, writing SC/ST on your CV means that you directly become eligible only under that category. And if they have already hired enough SC/STs then say goodbye to your chances.
“In 2007, I went for an interview at the United Health Group (Gurgaon). As I was leaving, the receptionist took me aside and told me there was no problem in the interview but I should take out the ST from my CV. I did that at my next interview and landed a job at IBM,” he said.
This is the problem for those who are educated. But many never get that far. An estimated 1.3 million Dalits in India make their living through the vile, inhuman and outlawed practice of manual scavenging. The use and abuse of Dalit bonded labourers remains endemic within a range of occupations. Young Dalit girls suffer systematic sexual abuse in temples, serving as prostitutes for men from dominant castes.
The condemnation can be quite severe, ranging from social ostracism to punitive violence. On August 6, 2001, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an upper-caste Brahmin boy and a lower-caste Jat girl were dragged to the roof of a house and publicly hanged by members of their own families as hundreds of spectators looked on. The public lynching was punishment for refusing to end an inter-caste relationship.
Inter-caste marriages can also lead to large-scale attacks on lower-caste communities. In May 2000 in Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh, a police constable enraged by his daughter’s marriage to a Dalit was joined by other relatives in shooting and killing four members of his son-in-law’s family. This isn’t unusual – no one in UP, Bihar or even Haryana will be shocked by any of this.
Even in death, they are discriminated against. In Coimbatore, Caste Hindus are not permitting them to use the Corporation burial ground and as has become the norm, the police is backing the higher castes.
On January 26, 2001, a devastating earthquake rocked Gujarat. Within days of the country’s worst natural disaster in recent history at least 30,000 were declared dead and over one million were left homeless. Six weeks after the earthquake, Human Rights Watch visited the towns of Bhuj, Bhijouri, Khawda, Anjar, and Bhachau in Kutch, the state’s most devastated district. In all areas visited by Human Rights Watch, Dalits and Muslims lived separately from upper-caste Hindus. Several residents and survivors told them, “we are surviving the way we lived, that’s why we are in separate camps.”
Is There A Solution?
Well, we need one quickly. According to the 2011 Census, SC/STs make up 25 percentage of India’s population. Trying to suppress them isn’t going to work any more and India’s caste system – the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy – needs to be demolished.
As Babasaheb Ambedkar said in his speech in November 1949 while presenting the Constitution:
“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality.