Untouchability Untouched by Laws

In 1949 India’s constituent assembly adopted constitutions which made discriminatory treatment based on caste illegal. But with the caste system so deeply rooted in Hinduism and India’s history, that discrimination continues to this day, and it afflicts some Indians worse than others. The caste system consists of a hierarchy with five social communities, four castes and a fifth group who were excluded from the caste system due to the impurities in their way of life. Officially known by the government as the Scheduled Castes, this fifth group refers to themselves as Dalit meaning “broken/scattered”. The Dalit were responsible for occupations deemed too low and impure for members of the castes and since marrying outside of your caste is taboo, it is almost impossible to escape the stigma attached to being Dalit. The rigid nature of the caste system is so ingrained in Indian society that even Gandhi went on hunger strike in 1932 to protest attempts to give the Dalit parliamentary seats.

Members of the Dalit are subjected to discriminatory hiring practices, refusal of service, and acts of violence in retaliation to performing “high-caste” actions. In 2018 two Dalit men were killed by high-caste Hindus for sitting cross-legged during a temple ritual, and thirteen-year-old boy was beaten for wearing “mojiris”, a traditionally royal type of shoe.

The violence and discrimination against the Dalit happen in spite of many Indian laws, including their constitution, the Untouchability Offenses Act of 1955, and the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. These laws are intended to prevent discrimination and to prosecute individuals who commit atrocities against the Dalit but they are often not enforced. In March of 2018, the Indian supreme court made a verdict diluting the power of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, resulting in large protests from the Dalit. The rights of Dalit is an important topic to investigate because of how it exemplifies how discrimination persists long after being technically outlawed. As India rapidly develops and becomes more of a world superpower it is necessary to call attention to the blatant inequality.