The unfortunate incidence of Hathras (UP) reminded the nation earlier similar atrocities against the women that occurred at Kathuwa, Unnao, Khairlanji and the division of society supporting the accused and victim apparently on the religious or caste lines. Death of George Floyd has shaken the world and many elite Indians who have registered their anger and sympathy. Many Indians have criticised and denounced the practice of racism in the Western World based on the colour of the skin. While we were reacting to the racist act in the USA, we failed to raise our voice in favour of the victims of racism in our own country. As per the data published by the National Crime Research Bureau, each day in 2019, 126 offences for atrocities against Scheduled Castes and 26 against Scheduled Tribes were registered (Data of unregistered or unreported cases is not known).
It is a fact that racism is practised throughout the world in one way or another, India is no an exception to it. Since, time immemorial the racism or discrimination amongst humans in India was based on the family of birth, which is commonly known as Caste. Human Rights to the so-called lower Caste were not recognised and they were treated in worst condition than the cattle. The cattle reared by the low caste people were permitted to drink water from public source but the owner was not permitted to touch that water. This resulted in the famous revolution by Dr B. R. Ambedkar known as the protest of Mahad in 1927.
Racism in India was even worst as it practised Untouchability. This fact was noticed by the Constituent Assembly and Article 17 was included as Fundamental Right declaring “Untouchability” abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden, the enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence.
During a discussion on Article 17 in the Constituent Assembly, Smt. Dakshayani Velayudhan, the Hon’ble Member made this prophetic statement, “The working of the Constitution will depend upon how the people will conduct themselves in the future, not on the actual execution of the law. So, I hope, that in course of time there will not be such a community known as untouchables and that our delegates abroad will not have to hang their heads in shame, if somebody raises the question in an organisation of International nature.”
It seems we Indians could not live to the expectations of Constituent Assembly therefore the Parliament made ‘The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955’ to provide punishment for the practice of Untouchability. The term ‘Untouchability’ was described as Religious Disabilities like prevention from entering into a place of public worship or preventing to use any watercourse as is permissible to others, Social Disabilities like not permitting to enter the shop, public restaurant, etc. or practising any profession, acquisition or occupation of any residential premises in any locality, in addition to other detailed Clauses. Refusal to admit any person to any Hospital, Education Institution or Hotel or discrimination against such person was made punishable. Refusal to sell goods or render services was also declared illegal. Compulsory labour like scavenging, sweeping, removal of the carcass, etc. on the basis of caste (Untouchability) was declared illegal. Provision for the imposition of the collective fine was also made, if, group of persons is found to indulge in such activities of practising Untouchability.
The framers of Constitution expected from us Indians that we shall abolish the practice of Untouchability and adhere to the Constitutional principles as expressed in Preamble i.e. Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, unfortunately, we failed to do so and enforcement of the Act of 1955 could not raise Constitutional morality of we Indians, therefore, considering the rise in the acts of atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on the basis of their caste and tribe, a more stringent law, the SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 came to be enacted wherein the term of punishment was increased, the definition of nature of atrocities was widened, the punishment was prescribed for the Public Servants for neglect in duty in enforcement of the law. Victim and witness protection programme was mooted. Provisions for preventive action were made and Anticipatory Bail was barred. State Government was shouldered with the duty to ensure effective implementation of this Act. The provision for the collective fine was continued and in addition to it, the power to take preventive action against a person or group of persons who threatened to commit such offence was added.
Despite the above two enactments, the practice of manual scavenging was going on thereby forcing a human being to carry human faeces on the head or touching it. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 was made making such practice an offence and even the Public Servants were made liable for punishment if they employ someone for manual scavenging.
The chronology of making different laws on the same subject of the abolition of Untouchability since 1950 till date shows that we could not abolish our practice of treating human beings differently on the basis of their family of birth, and this is the racism prevalent in India.
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The racism in India is having another ugly face i.e. religion. We have started treating members of different religion differently, recently a former member of Indian Cricket Team has pointed out that members of a particular religion were not permitted to occupy the house in some localities. A few days back, it was reported in some sections of Media that the Students of a particular religion were made to seat in a separate place. The long list of the victims of mob lynching because of religious identity is a scar on the Secular spirit of Constitution. The recent action against the Students in Delhi also speaks aloud. The recent developments point out that racism has now entered into the law enforcement wings of administration also. Unfortunately, we don’t have Special law to deal with Religion-based Racism.
The most surprising thing about we Indians is that most of us can’t see such rampant racism being practised in our own country but are moved by one incident in the faraway USA. Do we consider such racism as legitimate or we still don’t want to follow the Constitutional morality of treating fellow Indian as our brother or sister having equal rights? The more surprising is none of our Leaders utter a single word against such racism thereby giving their mute consent.
The experience of the last 70 years has taught us that the scourge of racism cannot be eradicated but can be abolished by inculcating the Constitutional values in our life.
In his address to Second Round Table Conference Dr B. R. Ambedkar has said. “India is a peculiar country and her nationalists and patriots are peculiar people. A patriot and a nationalist in India is one who sees with open eyes his fellowmen treated as being less than men. But his humanity does not rise in protest. He knows that men and women for no cause are denied their human rights. But it does not prick his civic sense to helpful action. He finds a whole class of people shut out from public employment. But it does not rouse his sense of justice and fair play. Hundreds of evil practise that injure man and society are perceived by him. But they do not sicken him with disgust. The patriot’s one cry is power and more power for him and for his class. I am glad I do not belong to that class of patriots. I belong to that class which takes its stand on democracy and which seeks to destroy monopoly in every shape and form. Our aim is to realise in practice our ideal of one man one value in all walks of life, political, economic and social.”
By Advocate Firdos Mirza
Practising Advocate, Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court