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Atrocities in Dalits' daily life

The oppression of Dalits has been going on for over 3000 years. They are segregated in all spheres of social life: places of worship, education, housing, land ownership, use of common wells, roads, busses, etc. They are the people who have to do the menial and degrading jobs. They are considered to be untouchable. In their daily life untouchability results in, among others, the following consequences (For more day to day examples also go through the press releases). 
In a lot of the upper caste (rich) families the servants are Dalits. After the servant has cleaned the rooms, pots and pans, one of the family members will sprinkle 'holy' water to purify all that has been touched by the servant. 
Dalits are not allowed to wear shoes; if they wear them, Dalits will have to take off their shoes at times they meet a higher caste person. 
In the rural areas, Dalits are not allowed to cycle through the village streets in which the higher caste people live. 
The Dalits mainly live in separate communities, outside the actual village. 
In general, Dalits are not allowed to sit at the bus stop; they have to stand and wait till upper caste people have entered the bus. Dalits are also not allowed to sit on the seats, even though they are vacant. 
After half a century of Independence even the educated among the Dalits are not free to get a house for rent of their choice to live in.
Most Hindus will avoid having a Dalit to prepare their food, because they fear becoming polluted. 
The government has made reservations for Dalits, so that they can enter into jobs in the public sector, parliamentary State Assemblies and universities. This reservation, however, makes them even more vulnerable in the society. 
Mira Saroj: Daughter of a toddy tapper in Uttar Pradesh, she is enrolled at Delhi University but jumps in with manual labour at home when she is free from studies. 'Sadly, an educated Dalit women is almost a contradiction in terms', says Mira. (Outlook Magazine, November 16, 1998) 
'We may touch a cat, we may touch a dog, we may touch any other animal, but the touch of these human beings is pollution.' (G.K. Gokhale, in Jesus the Dalit by M.R. Arulraja, 1996. Volunteer Centre, 7-1-30/6, Ameerpet, Hyderabad - 16) 
The following news items recently appeared in the newspaper: 'Ratnam, a Dalit educated youth of a village just outside Hyderabad, was forced to kill 35-40 buffaloes in 2,5 hour's time for religious purposes. His family was, because they are Dalits, forced to do this traditional annually event for years. Until now his father had done the job. He had to kill each buffalo within less than four minutes without making any sound. If he would make a sound or he would fail, he would be punished severely. After the ritual was over the man himself was not allowed even to enter the temple itself, because he is a Dalit. Now it has become Ratnam's turn to take the job over from his old father. But he refused. The consequence is that his whole family is boycotted and he is even threatened to be killed'. (The Hindu, September 6th, 1998)  

'Fights have been reported, between Dalits and higher caste people in Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh. A common habit in India is drinking the very sweet tea, either in a person's house or outside in a teahouse. Dalits are not allowed to drink out of the same cups in these teahouses, than other do. And even, after they have finished, they are supposed to wash their cups themselves. The Dalits of Mahabubnagar did not want to do this anymore. Then the struggles came. In the same article other daily problems were mentioned. Dalits e.g. have to wait entering a bus, until the higher caste people have entered. Or Dalits are not allowed to cycle through a village; they have to walk. Dalits are also not allowed to wear shoes; any time they meet a higher caste person, they will have to take of their shoes, so it is better not to wear shoes at all. And finally the Dalit community is not allowed to live in the same village as the higher castes, so they often have separate communities with their own entrance'. (The Hindu, June 12th, 1998)  


In the Indian Press nearly daily articles in Newspapers and Magazines are published. In this page a selection of the most up to date articles are briefly described and if possible links to the newpaper or magazine or to the original text is given.

3 May 1999 

Embargo against Dalits still in force in AP (South India) - S. Gopinath Reddy (Indian Express Newspapers, Bombay)
Dalits in a village in Mahabubnagar District are disciminated in many ways. They have to drink tea out of different cups, which they will have to wash afterwards, they are not allowed to enter temples and they will have to pay a fee while wearing shoes. Police has booked cases against higher caste people, but they remain undeterred. The Dalits are not allowed to draw water from the only borewell in the village, so they have to walk 4 kilometres to fetch water.

"They started behaving smart. If we allow them to share tea glasses, they would go to the extent of marrying our girls", a higher caste person justifies the situation. He also said that he would not mind going to jail ' to protect age old - customs'. 

24 April 1999 

Dalit Suicides? - Gail Omvedt (The Hindu)
Why are Dalit farmers more likely to commit suicides? Why should they have more problems than the farmers of traditional cultivating castes in producing cotton or other cash crops?

In the last year the media was full of discussion on suicides by farmers; the weather failed, the government held debates, ecological problems, the free market and multinationals were blamed, the prices and the overall vulnerability of farmers. However, a study of the suicides in Maharastra, done by a researcher in Gokhale Insitute of Pune, showed that 62 of the 75 suicides were Dalits. This is shocking. Especially because it is overwhelming unbalanced, while a majority of Dalits owns little land only. Clearly agricultural problems indeed exist and are serious, but what is the underlying factor that causes them to impact on Dalits in a severer way? Why are the Dalit farmers more likely to commit suicide?

First of all, Dalits are not traditionally cultivators. Further, the Dalits are specialists in many other fields. They were experts in rope-making, wood cutting, leather works; only few Dalits were farmers in the sense of being able to control and manage the cultivation of the whole land. 

Secondly, whenever any use of new technology, like pesticides, irrigation supply, it requires extension services. This should be given either by the government or by a private company. The Dalits lack the access to this, and are much more in need for help from the government. These have failed.

The Dalit suicides show, above all, that the caste system meant the fragmentation of indigenous knowledge. Lack of appropriate knowledge may be even more important than lack of capital. The caste system discouraged to move beyond the assigned duty. There has been no encouragement to step outside the framework to freely create and innovate and acquire new skills. There is need for training and education in skills of production, including effective education for economically viable and ecologically sustainable agriculture. This training may prove to be more important than even job reservation for Dalits.

Echoing empowerment - Alladi Jayasri (Magazine - The Hindu)
Deep within Karnataka’s (south India) B. R. Hills, the Soliga tribals once faced turbulent times. As is the case with indigenous peoples in such an environment, commerce has exploited them to the hilt. But that was till Dr. Sudarshan settled down there in the Seventies. Twenty years hence, an initiative between modernity and tribal society is set to be acknowledged. And at its core lies hope – of three women who have had the right to make choices.

The three women had the opportunitiy to get education and study in the big cities in India. However the bond with the village, with their own indigenous people is so strong, that they went back. Now the teach and educate their fellow Soliga tribals for life in the new millenium.

Harassed Dalits seek justice - W. Chandrakanth (The Hindu)
About 100 Dalits of Chowlure village in AP facing social boycott and police cases came to the city seeking justice. They complained about attacks on them by non-Dalits. The Dalits were refused to do puja (worship) in a temple, afterwards they were attacked by the non-Dalits with sickles, sticks and rods. The Dalits filed a case at the police, instead of doing justice, the police filed a false case. The Dalits were asked to live in peace with the non-Dalits. But they wonder how that is possible when they don’t get the access to nearby drinking water, groceries and milk. They are socially boycotted.

22 April 1999 

12 Killed in Bihar villages - Our special correspondent (The Hindu)
12 Persons of a Dalit community and other backward caste communities (Yadav) were massacred lated Wednesday night in central Bihar. It is again the work of the Ranvir Sena, a private army of higher caste people. After a killing last month the Ranvir Sena vowed to avenge it and struck at two hamlets of the village. 

Last night's killing is the sixth major carnage in central Bihar in less than 3 months. 

19 April 1999

Pattas in hand, land out of reach - R.J. Rajendra Prasad (The Hindu)
A backward class agricultural labourer holds his 'patta' for 2 acres of dry land. It is given to him in 1978, but he never has had the benefit of possessing the land. 

What is happening? A landlord owns10 acres of land and part of this land belongs to the labourer, but which part is not clear. Now all of the land is fallow. So, the labourer does not mind about which part is his. But the landlord went to the USA and is hardly in the area.

What happens if the labourer still start to cultivate his own piece of land? The police will catch him, because the police is protecting the interests of the landlord. 

17 April 1999

Disrimination against Dalits alleged - The Hindu
The general secretary of the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Mission, Mr. A. Sampath Kumar, accused the district officals of discrimination against Dalits in obstructing the unveiling of the Ambedkar statue at Vontimitta, Cuddapah, AP.

14 April 1999 

Identity crisis for educated Dalits? - W. Chandrakanth (The Hindu)
Durint a meetint organised byt the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights in Hyderabad, the 'Dalitisation of urban Dalits' was discussed. One of the questions was whether Dalits lose their identity by coming to a city. The answer was 'yes'. In the villages the Dalits the Dalits live in separate communities; everybody knows that one is a Dalit or not (and is treated accordingly). But in the city Dalits change their lifestyle. An employee of the university says: 'I dress differently, I eat differently, I send my children to and English medium school, I avoid declaring my identity. However, I fail somewhere and the moment it is out, I am made to feel like a leprosy patient (considered impure in India). In my work I am called a 'quota man' (which means that I received my position only through the govermental reservation system)".

The article describes that Casteism is omnipotent and omnipresent. A student remarked that other laugh at him when he says that his father works as a rickshawpuller or as a daily labourer. 'Then the harassement begins'.

During the discussion they all agreed that the Dalits,both in city and rural areas, should be united. Both Dalit Hindus and Dalit Christians should make an united effort.

12 April 1999 

Police harassing Dalits - Our Staff Reporter (The Hindu)
The Human Rights Forum visited several villages in South India, after the blasting of a landlords' house and a railway station. Although the blastings were done by the Naxalites (guerrilla group), the police is blaming the Dalits for it. 82 Persons were arrested, out of which 70 are innocent Dalits.

11 April 1999 

Selling infants - K. V. S. Madhav (The Hindu)
Eyes closed and fists clenched, hundres of infants set sail across the sea of humanity from humanity from the poverty-ridden pockets of Nalgonda (Andhra Pradesh, South India) to Hyderabad (Capital of AP, South India) and beyond to several foreign countries. A reporton the adoption racket.

In the trivbal villages of Nalgonda the Lambada's are eagerly awaiting the birth of another child. Normally they will be desperate of having another mouth to feed, but today it is different; the father has already sold out the foetus to a 'social worker' . He gets Rs. 1,500/- ($ 35, -) for it. The 'social worker' takes care that the baby will end up in a Western country, where it is sold for much more than what the father gets. 'Foreign couples like the Lambada babies, beause they are fair and goodlooking'.

This practice came to light due to a tip given by a Lambada women herself. The police investefates the case and locke up the 'social worker'. According to an NGO working in the area, the practice is not new.

The motivation of the 'social worker' is that he gives at least new life to the babies, otherwise the baby might become the victim of female infanticide.

Melavalavu's government - in - exile - P. Sainath (The Hindu)
In areas where upper caste dominance has been procounced, the declaration of some Panchayats (village leader poitions) as 'reserved' has had a backlash. In some cases, there are no candidates at all even when the Panchayat is reserved. They are too scared to contes. Doing so could invite terror. A striking example is Melavalavu, close to Madurai (Tamil Nadu, South India).

When the elcetions came, the Dalit candidates of the elections were not allowed to file their nominations. There was only on who did. his house was burned down. In the second round of elections the Dalits were promised more security, but the upper caste boycotted the elections. In the third roudn of the local elections a member of the Dalit party was elected, but he could not work at the Panchayat office. It was locates in the upper caste area. A few weeks later, he and other members of the party were killed in the bus on their way home. 

The rest of the Dalit villagers went to the police, but the only thing they did was warning the upprer caste people to leave the village.

South Tamil Nadu faces Dalit disrimination every day. Dalits are refused to draw water from the village well and the children who are going to a school (which is located in and upper caste area) are still beaten up. Caste tensions are old, but violence itself, in its present form is new.

The opinions on the reasons for these new clashes are divided. Higher caste people say that the Dalits have improved a lot in their postitions. Dalits themselves say, 'we still can not go to the Panchayat office, because it is in the upper caste area'. Nothing has improved yet.

4 April 1999 

Breaking the shackles   - Kalpana Sharma  (The Hindu Magazine)
On March 8th, the International Women's Day, around 400 women in a village in Karnataka had gathered. All these women (mainly Dalits) are participating in empowerment and literacy programs.

Thus far the Dalit women had to do all kinds of practices, because of them being a Dalit.

'Our young daughters had to sit on the laps of the Gowdas (upper caste men) in our villages and remove with their mouth the money the men were clenching between their teeth'.

An old men in our villageraped and eight-year old Harijan (Dalit) girl, because he had been told by the government doctor that he would be cured of a sexually transmitted disease in this way'.

'The Gowdas would taunt us and say that even if we educated our daughters, who would give them a job? Better send them to us'.

In the women groups, the women were made believe that they have the power to change the circumstances into which they were born. Through the women groups they were able to stop sitations like the above mentioned.

This can be considered to be representing a virtual social revolution. The women are initiating tremendous important steps. 

12 March 1999 

A history of massacres - Venkitesh Ramakrishnan (Frontline)
In the period of 1990 - 1999, 35 instances of caste-based massacres took place. In total 400 persons were killed, of which more than 350 were from among the lower castes (Dalits). 

The number of attacks against Dalits and other lower-caste people has gone up every time a backward caste leader rose to power. Nearly all of the atrocities have been done by the private army of landlords, the Ranvir Sena. 

They did not only kill around 200 people in the last 5 years, they also participated in the conduction of the 'mass rape' campaign. In this campaign 200 Dalit women between 6 and 70 years old were raped (in 1992).

In the end the Ranvir Sena boosts on their actions - they learn the Dalits a lesson, that if they tried to take on the landlords the women of their communities will be humiliated.

8 March 1999 

The bride Price - Rohit Parihar (India Today)
In several districts of Rajasthan, women from backward communities are being bought and sold with impunity as the police and Panchayats look the other way. Every year hundreds of women are being sent from man to man, for money. And it is their husbands who are acting as auctioneers. What makes this bizarre practice even more incredible is that it has societal sanction. 

An NGO Women's Rights Committee Against Atrocity discovered that almost in every home there is an unsuccessful marriage. Virtually Every household has a women bought or given out for a price. 
Most of the women live in fear, no knowing 'when he will strike again'. But slowly some women have begun standing up for themselves, but since it has societal sanction it won't be easy to stop this primitive practice.
1 March 1999

Persecution of Dalits alleged - Our staff reporter (the Hindu)
In Visakhapatnam the Dalit community is ostracised by the local landlords since april last year, when they were not called for work which put the Dalits to a lot of difficulties. 

The district officials took no action on the upper castes, even though the landlords' action was againts the PCR Act. The Dalits were even not invited by the local landlords on a festival in June last year. This enraged the Dalits. They went on hunger strike, but were arrested by the police. Still the social boycott continued, which brought the Dalits in a position unable to find livelihood in their native village. 
A human rights group suggests now that the Government, while taking up development works, should lay down a condition that the villagers should not indulge in social boycott of Dalits.
25 February 1999 

Ambedkar's new Buddism - Gail Omvedt (The Hindu)
Ambedkar's Buddishm was meant for a community of super-exploited men and women seeking their place in a new millennium, a community with a fighting tradition ready to seek out new ideas.

23 February 1999

Crocodile tears for the Dalits - Gopal Guru (The Hindu)
The BJP's Government's hidden agenda, which is full of contratictions, denies it any consitency in its political stand. Otherwise, it would have certainly considered the rising number of killings and atrocities against the Dalits in Maharastra and Christians in Gujarat and dismissed those State Governments. 

The sacking of the government in Bihar is not because of the Dalit killings; this is only used as a legitimacy; not through persuasion, deliberation, negotiation and consensus, but by appropriating 33 bodies of Dalits in Bihar. Dalits are being treated as the sacrificial goat for satisfying the parochial aspirations of parties, such as BJP.
The only option left to the Dalits and even the minorities is to take their case to the larger public, not for sympathy but for solidarity. The suppressed sections will have to collectively develop the human rights consciousness and take collective action.

12 February 1999

In solidarity - R. Madhavan Nair (Frontline)
The novelist Arundhati Roy expresses her solidarity with the cause of Dalits and Dalit literature. 

With her book 'The God of Small Things' she won the Booker Price. On a visit to Kerala the author mad a significant and widely appreciated contribution to the cause of Dalit literature. She said: 'the Dalit struggle for justice and equality would be and indeed ought to be the biggest challenge that India would face in the next century'. 
By announcing her support for the Dalit cause, Arundhati Roy has taken a decisive step. She remains primarily a literary figure of international distinction, but a literary figure who has stepped out in the public arena to speak forthrightly and powerfully on just causes she has chosen for herself.
8 February 1999

The Lust for Blood - Sanjay Kumar Jha (India Today)
The cycle of caste violence continues with the killing of 23 Dalits by the Ranbir Sena -  a private army of landlords. On January 25th 1999 a massacre took place in a village in Bihar. This time even the women and children were not spared. The officials are still trying to figure out the reason behind the blood bath. According to a villager the land troubles might be the cause. About 50 acres of disputed land have been occupied by the local Naxalites, the Ranbir Sena's archenemy.

27 December 1998

Beating the caste barrier - P. Sainath (The Hindu - Magazine)
Two coalitions had squared off in Anathavaram, Andhra Pradesh. One of higher caste landlords. Their allies, the sarpanch, the police and the local administration. The other, of landless labourers - a mix of Dalits and Backward Classes - rice mill employees, coconut workers and other locals including retired school teachers. The battle was over the minimum wage for agricultural workers. This time, the landless won.

8 December 1998

When the alphabet ends with ABCD - P. Sainath (The Hindu - Magazine)
Dalit vs. Dalit? The Mala-Madiga divide is today one of the most complex political problems in Andhra Pradesh (south India). And potentially, the most explosive. In both groups, several view one another as the main threat. This is odd, since both account for a chunk of those below the poverty line. Also, there seems to have been no history of major conflict between the groups. But the battle over reservations as altered that.

4 December 1998
Campaign for Dalits' Rights - Our Staff Reporter (The Hindu)
To highlight the atrocities being comitted on Dalits and demanding that Dalit rights be recognised as human rights, a national campaign was being launched on December 10th. The campaign memorandum will be submitted to the President, the Prime Minister, Governors and the leaders of the opposition parties in Parliament and Assemblies. 
One million signatures will be collected in support of the demands.
16 November 1998
The Ekalyavya Complex - Sagarika Ghose (Outlook magazine)
A hard-fought literary movement takes root in north India, as Dalit intellectuals, children of bonded labourers and sweepers move beyond quotas in a battle for cultural space. 
Since the 1920s Dalit intellectual activity has continued, inspired by Ambedkarite agenda and a sense of an identity separate from Hindu society. 
Almost 50 years after reservations, still '63 % of the Dalits are still illiterate and barely 7% is able to read and write articles and novels'. 
Only in south and west of India Dalit literary activity is assumed a form. But now also in the north of India a new group of Dalit writers is emerging. They want to create a corpus of literature to challenge, what they describe as, 'caste Hindu knowledge' and address issues specific to north Indian Dalit politics. 'Dalits are no longer content to be the raw material for others, they want to interpret their own history and society'. 
Tej Singh: Son of agricultural labourers form Uttar Pradesh and a first generation literate, he is a product of Harijan schools and now teaches in Delhi University. But he says, 'even institutions like Jamia Millia have only one Dalit teacher'. 
Chandran Prasad: also a first generation literate from Harijan schools, he studied at JNU and is part of a north Indian group fostering a corpus of literature to challenge 'caste Hindu knowledge'. Yet, he says, an upper caste Dalit alliance is needed to tackle the BOC onslaught. 
Mira Saroj: Daughter of a toddy tapper in Uttar Pradesh, she is enrolled at Delhi University, but chips in with manual labour at home when free from studies. 'Sadly, an educated Dalit woman is almost a contradiction in terms', says Mira. 
8 November 1998
Glass struggle in Telangana - P. Sainath (The Hindu - Magazine)
In Sangambanda village, Andhra Pradesh (south India), discrimination against Dalits is open and accurate in its extent. The 'two glass system' - or separate glasses in hotels for the Dalits - is pervasive in the villages. Threats of economic pressures, even actual caste boycotts, are part of this package. In these battles, the age-old 'glass' system has gained renewed significance as a symbol of oppression.
6 September 1998
Whose sacrifice is it, anyway? - P. Sainath (The Hindu - Magazine)
The Durgamma Jatara festival held in Jadimalkapur village, in Andhra Pradesh (south India), every three years brings with it the slaughter of 35-40 buffaloes. Different generations of the same Dalit family in that village were forced to perform the animal sacrifice. Then one of them rebelled - with disastrous consequences. Imposing humiliating rituals and occupations of Dalits is an important way of reinforcing upper caste dominance.


Dalit students battle prejudice and violence
Times of India
Siddarth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI: Vikram Ram, a Dalit student at the University
College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) in east Delhi, got a rude
shock when he sat down for his first meal at the hostel mess.
``Bloody Shaddu'', he was told fiercely by a group of upper caste
students (using an abusive term for Scheduled Castes), ``you
cannot eat with us''. Hurt and bewildered, he made his way to the
row of tables where the Dalit students normally sit.

According to the Dalit students, even the hostel has de facto
been ghettoised, with most of them on two floors. When Rakesh
Kumar, an SC student, was assigned a room elsewhere, a
neighbour said: ``We will not let you stay here, Shaddu. Your
kind of person cleans our toilets.'' Faced with the prospect of
constant harassment, he asked to be shifted.

When this reporter asked some upper caste boys at UCMS
about the term `Shaddu', they denied the word was ever used,
except during arguments. After some prodding, one student,
Anand Bakshi, said: ``It is only a pet name.''

As for separate dining and living areas, the upper caste students
this reporter spoke to say there is no such policy. ``If at all they
eat and live together'', said Sudhir Kathuria, ``it is because they
like sticking to their own community''.

Today, Vikram, Rakesh and several other Dalit students are on
dharna. After years of discrimination, they say they have had
enough. The last straw was the violent attack on them by some
upper caste students on February 22. UCMS authorities insist it
was a run-of-the-mill fight between students but the fact is several
Dalits were badly beaten. The hostel PA system was used to as
all `general category' students to assemble. The turban of Dr
Jaswant Singh, a gentle, small-built Dalit, was pulled off and he
was punched and kicked. Another Dalit intern, Balwinder Bhatti,
hid himself but the mob ransacked his room.

When this reporter went to talk to the Dalit students, they were
suspicious. It was only gradually that their complaints poured out.
Stubbornly, reluctantly. More than anything, it is the perceived
discrimination from the faculty that rankles. A tall, intense
twenty-something, Vikram had topped his school and had never
before experienced casteism. ``My parents say `thoda seh lo;
but become a doctor at any cost','' he said, wistfully twisting his
stethoscope this way and that.

The son of a driver, Vikram hasn't graduated despite being at
UCMS for eight years. Like many SC students, he has frequently
been made to repeat exams. If the intake of reserved students is
22, only four graduate on time.

``We study as hard as anyone else but it is the faculty's casteism
which is holding us back,'' said a Dalit student. Ram Das, a final
year student, had just appeared in an exam. ``The first question
the examiner asked was `Are you a bania?'. When I said no, he
said `Then what? Are you from reserved category? What is your

``If an exam begins like this'', said Ram, ``we get demoralised,
nervous. How are we supposed to cope?''

(The names of the students have been changed.)


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Last updated: February 22, 2000.