Dalits, women, poor are the only oppressed

 

By:M Rajiv Lochan

 

It has become quite boring – this talk of minorities being oppressed in India and living in fear. Those who talk like this, are the ones who have absolutely no clue of what is happening in India and how. Or maybe they are taking the flow of rhetorical information on the Internet too seriously.

 

There are only three segments that are oppressed in India today: Dalits; women and the poor.

 

They are oppressed alright. Some are doubly and trebly oppressed for being Dalit and woman or Dalit and woman and poor or merely being woman and poor or Dalit and poor.

 

Look at those charged with cleaning up our streets. All are from one particular Dalit segment. All are pressed down enough that in village India and the small towns they cannot even refuse to manually pick up the shit of people and carry away that gooey, dripping, stinking mess on their heads. Refusal is not an option for them.

 

They are so oppressed that they cannot refuse the policemen who insist that they handle rotting dead bodies with bare hands.

 

Even in the modern metropolises of India, where people say free economic activity is dissolving caste bonds, they are so oppressed that they cannot refuse the contractor from ordering them to wade into a pool of poisonous sludge in order to dislodge whatever is blocking the sewage system of their great city. All this they have to do without the sundry protections mandated for them by the law.

 

The contractor, by the way, is one of their own caste; someone who has made it big enough to hire others to do the dirty. Senior officers who are supposed to ensure that the contractor does not violate laws are only too happy to turn a blind eye in return for a free daily cleaner for their own homes.

 

Poverty and caste might force them to do these tasks. But they certainly don’t live in fear. Rather, they are fighting back with great vim and vigour. Look at the repeated strikes by sanitation workers in various cities demanding proper wages. City dwellers complain that the sanitation workers shirk work.

 

No one notices that the contractor routinely hires only about half the number of workers contracted while charging the full amount from the government. Or that many workers are simply put on duty in the homes and offices of government officers and elected representatives. That leaves less than half of the mandated numbers to do the actual cleaning up of the streets. The big question then is: how do such a low number of workers even manage to ensure a modicum of cleanliness for the city?

 

But instead of appreciating the work being done, residents merely complain. Then, when sanitations workers go on strike and in a few days, entire cities turn into stinking dumps. Perhaps that is the time when Indians get some idea of how important is the task of even the sanitation workers. The only reason why do we not hear of strikes by sanitation workers from the village and small town is that they are too few in numbers. In the village they might be the only family of their caste.

 

The women of India too have stopped taking things silently. Till recently young men from Upper Castes, especially from the villages, would revel listeners with stories of how they forcibly ‘had’ some Dalit girl, often in a group. Did you notice how the numerous stories of ‘gang-rape’ from village India never feature an Upper Caste girl?

 

Except that now women have begun to strike back. Today there are numerous stories of Dalit girls refusing to take back cases against the young men who have had this perverse kind of fun with them.

 

The classic responses from Upper Caste sympathisers of such criminals have ranged from Mulayam Singh Yadav claiming the criminals to be misguided youth, to the Karnataka Home Minister saying forced sex by just two men wasn’t ‘gang rape’.

 

The women, however, are not having any of this nonsense anymore. Day after day we hear of them refusing to compromise with their rapists despite the best efforts of the local police, politicians and society wise-men. If someone is still letting these gutsy women down it is our tardy system of justice that simply refuses to get out of its self-imposed inertia. To say that these women who are fighting back are scared would be most unfair.

 

As for the sundry religious groups, whether Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, or whatever: within each there is a small number who speak nonsense in the name of their religion and traditions and all of such people are marginal within their own group, unheard by the majority of the group and often considered to be weirdoes. Enough people from each group condemn the weirdoes publicly and privately.

 

However, when the weirdoes break the law by attacking someone it is the dysfunctional state machinery of India that lets them get away. The mainstream Indian media contributes its bit by stereotyping these deviants as representatives of their community.

 

Think of the numerous times when an opinion of a Muslim alim or scholar is bandied about with much tut-tutting as The Authentic Muslim Voice. That opinion is called a ‘fatwa’. It is mostly given in response to a specific question from someone on what might be the Prophet-sanctioned way of doing things. You don’t even have to be a Muslim to ask the question. The answer is merely an opinion, not a belief or an actual practice. Yet it gets projected as the voice of the Muslim people.

 

The one thing that does divide some Indians strongly is this business of eating and drinking. Veg / Non-veg. Alcohol / No-alcohol. The veg people simply do not show any tolerance towards those who are non-veg. Drinking of alcohol is frowned upon in many places by many people. When they can manage to do so, the abstainers even practice intolerance towards the non-vegetarians and drunks. Does that amount to ‘oppression’ of some sort? - ABN Live

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