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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 30, July 16, 2011

Ban on Temple Entry for Dalit — A New Charter Needed

Wednesday 20 July 2011, by A K Biswas

A Hindu temple at village Ranapada in Puri district of Orissa on June 25, 2011 refused entry for worship by P.L. Punia, the Chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Castes. The Commission is the national watchdog for safeguarding the dignity and interests of the 200 million Scheduled Castes. Undoubtedly he was ill-advised to go to the temple, thereby inviting indignity upon himself. By his misadventure the Chairman has subjected himself to untoucha-bility and humiliation. Under Article 338 of the Constitution, the duty of the Commission is “to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Castes under this Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards........” The head of the national watchdog has undermined the dignity of the office he holds in the estimation of the Scheduled Castes themselves. This has, I guess, never happened before and, therefore, is an unfortunate but avoidable development. If a constitutional entity could be outraged so nonchalantly in a remote village, the Dalits in millions stand exposed to worse battering without any remedy which, in any case, is non-existent for them across India.

All Hindus and Dogs Free to Enter Temple:

A Historical Perspective

Mahatma Gandhi had requested Dr Ambedkar to lend his support to Dr Paramaribo Subbarayan (September 11, 1889-October 6, 1962) in his Temple Entry Bill on February 4, 1934.1 Dr Ambedkar declined to associate himself with a Bill which, without penal provision, was impracticable. He later issued a momentous statement of historic significance for the untouchables on February 14, 1933.

“Not very long ago there used to be boards on club doors and other social resorts maintained by Europeans in India, which said ‘Dogs and Indians’ are not allowed. The temples of Hindus carry similar boards today, the only difference is that the boards on the Hindu temples practically say: ‘All Hindus and all animals including dogs are admitted, only Untouchables are not admitted’. The situation in both cases is of parity. But Hindus never begged for admission in those places from which the Europeans in their arrogance had excluded them. Why should an Untouchable beg for admission in a place from which he has been excluded by the arrogance of the Hindus? This is the reason why the Depressed Class man who is interested in material welfare should be prepared to say to the Hindus, ‘to open or not to open your temples is a question for you to consider and not for me to agitate. If you think, it is bad manners not to respect the sacredness of human personality, open your temple and be a gentleman. If you rather be a Hindu than a gentleman, then shut the doors and damn yourself for I don’t care to come.’”

P.L. Punia did not learn the lesson: “ I don’t care to come.”

Hindu temples are the head-springs of hatred, superstition and orthodoxy, which they esteem as ancient cultural values endowed to them by generations of sages and seers. So those values, though antiquated and obnoxious, are imbued and respected with abiding care from generation to generation almost with inflexible rigidity and unswerving dedication. Mandarins of these fortresses, however, are opportunistic in dealing with sovereign power as hobnobbing with them brought, in its train, immense fortunes. The last British Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, visited the Lord Jagannath Temple, Puri. He accompanied a Member of his Executive Council, Dr B.R. Ambedkar. While the holy men and the high priests accorded a red carpet reception in the Jagannath Temple to Lord Mountbatten, the untouchable Dr Ambedkar was denied entry. Prof Madhu Dandavate, who was the Finance Minister in the Janata Dal-led government in 1989-90 highlighted this fact while deposing before the Backward Classes Commission, popularly known as Mandal Commission. This event under-lines the bonhomie subsisting between the two poles—the puritanical priestly class on the one hand and the beef-eating alien rulers on the other. The British policy of appeasement in the Jagannath Temple, Puri, though a recorded fact, is little focused in historical discourses. The priests too reciprocated their good gesture by handing over the Koh-i-Noor, the precious world famous diamond to the British Crown. A cryptic comment by the official chronicler of the British Empire, Sir Hunter, ICS, is eloquent in this behalf. “(Maharaja) Ranjit Singh bequeathed the celebrated Koh-I-Noor which now forms one of the Crown jewels of England, to Jagannath.”2

Hindus suffer no qualms of conscience to harm, hurt, humiliate or outrage a Scheduled Caste, man or a woman. With no education and material wherewithal, they are extremely vulnerable to molestation, exploitation and humiliation. According to the National Geographic, a magazine of international standing, “Nearly 90 per cent of all the poor Indians and 95 per cent of all the illiterate Indians are Dalits.” Either in fields or forests, schools or colleges, market- places, offices or court premises including Indian Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi they are exposed to the dangers of being targeted with impunity. The magazine further observed: “Enforcement of laws designed to protect Dalits is lax, if not non-existent, in many regions of India. The practice of untouchability is strongest in rural areas where 80 per cent of the country’s population resides. There, the underlying religious principles of Hinduism dominate.”3 The structural violence against the Dalits is so all-pervasive and unfailing that none of them is safe or secure in any position—high or low, menial or intellectual, the latest victim being the Chairman of their national watchdog.

Eleanor Zelliot is the Laird Bell Professor of History, Emerita, at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA. Known for her researches and writings on India’s untouchables and on the movement led by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, she observes: “The official statistics for the decade 1990–2000 indicate that a total of 285,871 cases of various crimes against Dalits were registered... under the Anti-Untouchability Act the Prevention of Atrocities Act. These include 553 cases of murder, 2990 cases of grievous hurt, 919 rapes, 184 kidnappings/abductions, 127 robberies, 456 cases of arson, 1403 cases of caste discrimination and 8179 cases of atrocities... These official figures only capture the tip of the iceberg.” On an average, statistically speaking, 28,587 crimes were committed against them annually during the decade. This is an understate-ment of the grave situation, favourable to the oppressors as it is based on official record.

However, the observation of Peter Tatchell, on the other hand, gives some impression of enormity of the offensive against the Dalits of India: “Over 100,000 cases of rape, murder, arson and other abuses against Dalits are reported in India each year.”4 He further added: “Some States record conviction rates as low as 2-3%. Moreover, the police themselves are sometimes the perpetrators of abuses against Dalit people. Human Rights Watch confirms that police officers have been guilty of detaining, torturing and extorting money from Dalits.”4 So we can say, daily 274 crimes are committed against Dalits. Dalit Human Right Watch is held with scant respect, if not contempt, though NGOs are other-wise lauded as civil society, which is capable of challenging the Union Government these days on issues other than the interest and security of the disadvantaged Indians.

That the state machinery, especially the police, exhibits gross negligence towards the Dalits with impunity is no insinuation as such. In a query raised by the Chief Justice of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh on a Public Interest Litigation case, filed by Sakshi Human Rights Watch, to the State Police Department, it admitted to 14,452 cases with delayed filing of chargesheet beyond the stipulated period of thirty days as per the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Protection of Atrocities) Act 1989. This means insurmountable impunity resulting in denial of justice to the victims of violence. The High Court was informed that out of these cases, 3281 cases were not chargesheeted due to delay in getting approval, legal opinion and superior’s order; 1464 cases were delayed because of ‘more Witnesses’ in the case; 1873 cases were delayed due to delay in obtaining caste certificates; 2934 cases were delayed as there was delay in the collection of documents and evidence; 1212 cases due to delay in receipt of Wound Certificates, Medical Certificates and Post-mortem Report; 1006 cases due to apprehension and absconding of the accused; 662 cases due to delay in tracing and examining the witnesses/ victim; 613 cases due to delay in the busy schedule of officers/ work pressure; 169 cases due to the transfer of the officer; 78 cases because of these being investigated by the CID/CBID and 48 cases because CD files were not available. These facts are yet another admission to the gross negligence of the state machinery, especially the police, in causing the impunity.5 This is simply dereliction of duty of the police. This amounts to hostility coupled with apathy towards the Dalit and tribal communities of the State Police. And this marks a uniform as also universal attitude of police to the Dalits and tribals across India. They do not comply with the basic provisions of the Act designed to protect the most vulnerable sections of the society, numbering 300 million. The malaise is deep-rooted and incurable, if not beyond redemption.

Supreme Court Helpless to Safeguard Valmikis of Jatland?

The infamous Mirchpur massacre in Haryana where some 50 Valmiki homes were attacked and burnt down by the dominant Jats is pending before the Supreme Court for hearing. A Division Bench, comprising Justices A.K. Ganguly and G.S. Singhvi, brutally flogged the Haryana Government as no arrests of the accused were made by the local police. In a ballistic observation, Justice Singhivi noted: “If those responsible for committing atrocities could not be arrested then what right does the Director-General of Police have to continue in office? If the Haryana Police is incapable of arresting those wanted in the Mirchpur violence, then we will ask some paramilitary forces to arrest them.”6 No police personnel, howsoever high and mighty he might be, could survive such acerbic indictment of the Apex Court if he did not enjoy filial camaraderie of the ruling clan, could he? The Supreme Court has just pointed a finger to the general decadence in the police administration. This condemnation of the Haryana Police strangely has not created the tsunami it was expected to in the centres of power for reasons not intelligible to the common man. Did the highest court have the apprehension of being flouted? Why else did it call for drafting paramilitary forces in the given case? The liberation of the Dalit and tribal communities is not in sight yet.

Indian foreign policy gets smeared for violence, the practice of untouchability and discrimi-nation against Dalit and tribal people at home. The government often pressed gifted men and women into services before international forums to tell lies, which fortunately nobody believes as correct. In the World Conference of Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia at Durban in September 2001, for instance, Omar Abdullah, India’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, accused Dalit activists and non-governmental organisations from India of “highly exaggerated and misleading propaganda”. He wanted the Conference and the global community to believe that the NGOs and Dalit campaign was “often based on anecdotal evidence regarding caste-based discrimination in India”. The plight of 300 million people could not be more precarious; alas! their government could not acknowledge their status in the international forum. But the fact remains that the US Congress and European Parliament had passed detailed resolutions in 2007 on untouchability of the Dalits and tribal communities in India and offered solution to eradicate the menace. Nobody knows what were the fates of those resolutions. The developed nations wanted to extend helping hands to solve the problems of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty of the Indian untouchables. That would help liberate the Dalit and perhaps was an unwelcome idea.

Taunts Getting Louder

Hundreds of youths from Scheduled Caste communities protested and unfurled banners and placards against the genocide of Dalits and Muslims in India in Karachi sometime back. The demonstration was led by a three-member steering committee of the Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan (SCFP), including Surendar Valasai, besides Gianchand and Bherulal Balani, both ex-Members of the Provincial Assembly in Sindh from the Scheduled Castes. A press release distributed at the demonstration said: “Dalits or Scheduled Caste communities of Pakistan are the successors of those Dalits of united India who chose to follow a liberal Muslim, Quaid-e-Azam, instead of a secular Hindu costumed in Brahmin wardrobe, physically and spiritually, 55 years back. Dalits form 70 per cent of population counted as Hindus in Pakistan.” The demons-trators underlined in their press release: “During the period which India calls independence, 3 million Dalit women have been raped and one million Dalits massacred. This is 25 times more than the number of Indian soldiers killed during the wars it fought after independence. (The Pioneer, January 30, 2000) Even today more than 60 per cent of Dalits are landless. Over 40 million of them are bonded labourers. Dalits are the worst victims of labour coercion.”7

Our authorities are afraid to admit what the people the world over knew well long back. They are not mortally afraid of the Dalits and tribals. They are genuinely afraid of the backlash of the Hindus, who, though, tomtom their liberal pretension globally.

A Working Proposal for Dalit De-addiction

In the backdrop of his personal bitter experience at Ranapada, the head of the national watchdog of Dalit interest and dignity might launch an educational project to de-addict those who still nurse ambition as also religious infatuation to offer worship in Hindu temples. They might be taught to junk their temptation of visiting Hindu temples and re-learn the dignity of “sacredness of human personality” inherent in them. That might make them better human beings, by discovering the futility of their temple-centric journey. They have to safeguard their own dignity and self-esteem. No law can challenge the divine law of the Hindus who consider hatred towards the untouchable is part of their divine ordinances. For the Dalits, the first and best alternative is to discard any desire for worship in Hindu temples to honour their sacredness of human character.

There will be many Dalit NGOs and volunteers to join in the de-addiction campaign. The govern-ments, States and Central, will be greatly relieved of precautionary law and order arrangements over unnecessary confrontations between the Dalits and the upper-caste Hindus for temple entry. The government may be asked to finance this project.

References

1. Paramaribo Subbarayan was an Indian politician, freedom fighter and diplomat and was the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency, India’s ambassador to Indonesia and Union Minister of Transport and Communications in Jawaharlal Nehru’s government. He is the father of General P. P. Kumaramangalam, who served as India’s Chief of Army Staff, and politician Mohan Kumaramangalam.

2. W.W. Hunter, A Statistical Account of Bengal, vol. XIX, (District of Puri and The Orissa Tributary States, Trubner and Co.,, London, 1877.

3. National Geographic, October 28, 2010.

4. Peter Tatchell, The Guardian, London, September 17, 2008, “Is this 21st-century apartheid? 170 million Indians declared ‘untouchable’”.

5. Writ Petition Filed by Sakshi-Human Rights Watch on the non-implementation of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act in AP High Court, WP No. 1019 of 2006.

6. The Hindu, ‘Supreme Court slams Haryana over Mirchpur’, April 21, 2011.

7. The Daily Star, Sunday, May 30, 1999.

The author is a former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He may be contacted at atul.biswas@gmail.com for comments and observations, if any.

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