As the two major political parties of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress try to woo the Dalits for votes, they are turning a blind eye to a 23-year-old who died in the hospital after being beaten by upper-caste men for sitting on a chair and having food at a wedding. The incident took place in Uttarakhand’s Tehri district.
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The deceased’s sister, Pooja Das said her brother made the mistake of taking food from the same counter from where the upper-caste people were eating. Pooja said the brother had also sat on a chair next to them. “This infuriated them. They said this lower-caste person cannot sit and eat along with us. If he does, he will be beaten up.” Pooja revealed that the accused are threatening them to withdraw the case.
Caste discrimination goes back centuries in India. It involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) explains that caste systems divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups, whereby those at the bottom are considered ‘lesser human beings’, ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’ to other caste groups. With the 2019 Lok Sabha elections nearing its end, the BJP and Congress are tussling with Mayawati’s BSP for Dalit votes.
However, the most common critiques of the mainstream parties by Dalit politicians is that they only pay attention to Scheduled Castes (SC) during election time. And Thirumavalavan, Dalit leader of the Liberation Panther Party (LPP) in Tamil Nadu, rightly said “time after time, they have used Dalit people as vote bank, to be thrown away like a ‘curry leaf after eating’.” The ruling party’s relationship with Dalits cannot be overlooked. The Asia Dialogue points out BJP’s manifesto commitments that was rapidly implemented, was the ban on cow slaughter. “This move speaks to the continued upper-caste character of the party in ignoring the fact that Muslims and Dalits rely on beef for cheap protein and leather for their livelihoods.
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The beef ban did not hit the Dalits simply in terms of consumption and income, but in several cases, Dalits were subjected to violence by self-appointed gaurakshaks (cow protectors). The Asia Dialogue brings to fore one such notorious case where a group of young Dalits who were skinning a dead cow were set upon and thrashed in public by vigilantes. A BJP legislator opined that the Dalits were rightly ‘taught a lesson’. Moreover, the poor response of the authorities to this particular incident led to the uprising of Dalits in Gujarat and the election of Jignesh Mevani who is an outspoken critic of the BJP.
The outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will speak volumes of the many issues that Dalits face and most of all ‘who’ will uphold and safeguard their rights.