Some six years ago, I wrote a piece on the astounding number of ‘Untouchables’, or Dalits, to give them their Indian title, in the country which proudly advertises itself as ‘the largest Democracy in the world’. Largest, it may well be; but Democratic? No Way! Allow me to explain.
India is one of the world’s most heavily-populated countries, being second only to China in numbers, but apart from the well-known political and public figures, there is little awareness amongst the wider public in how India governs itself, both in terms of religion, politics and social structure. The main religion in India is Hinduism, and the social structure which has emerged from this belief structure is the “Caste” system, whereby a religion is allowed to dictate that people are only allowed to do certain jobs, marry certain women, and even are dictated how they are treated after their deaths. For the upper circles, who are known as ‘Brahmin’, the professions are religious priests, political and military leaders; land owners are from the ‘Kshatriya’ caste, the vast majority of laborers, artisans and technicians are ‘Shudra’; but the one “Caste” which is not well publicised or even acknowledged are the “Harijan”, otherwise known as the Dalits, or “Untouchables”. These people, sentenced by, and at birth, to be sewage workers, cleaners of filth and human refuse, number some twenty percent of the population, and in a country which prides itself upon it’s democratic roots and government, it is indeed a strange commentary that one-fifth of it’s population is barred from rising out of the sewers and into everyday life!
Although the actual discriminatory process against the ‘Dalits’ was outlawed by the first Independent Indian parliament, in practice this abuse of their ordinary rights as human beings has persisted, and in many areas grown stronger, as the ruling Hindu parties, whether in or out of power, all subscribe to the casual barring of some 220 million Indians from just about all state higher education, all technical education, most jobs which are not akin to the allegedly “unclean” tasks such as sewage workers or latrine cleaners. In many cafes or restaurants, separate glasses are kept for the Dalits, just in case a ‘higher caste’ person is defiled by contact with a “Dirty Dalit”. One Dalit who managed to attain a higher education was severely beaten by his classmates for daring to achieve a higher marks than they did. A practice for certain ‘higher-caste’ people in earlier times was to actually send servants down a road to ensure that they would not be contaminated by a Dalit’s gaze, never mind his presence.
One of the two most famous ‘Untouchables’ was Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, a mild-mannered but strong opponent of all discrimination, who was elected to the Constituent Assembly by the Bombay Legislature Congress Party. Dr Ambedkar joined Nehru’s Cabinet. He became the First Law Minister of Independent India and helped write India’s Constitution. His one regret was that he did not persuade Ghandi to support stronger anti-discrimination legislation, but his attempts were blocked by strong Hindu opposition. In his later years, he saw that opposition to the emancipation of his fellow ‘Dalits’ become further entrenched, despite the supposed end of discrimination.
The other political firebrand was one Kanshi Ram, who attempted to build his own political power base within the ‘Dalit’ community, and in fact managed to engineer the election of a Dalit woman, Mayawati, as chief minister in Uttar Pradesh, but has since accepted before his death that no one “Untouchable” organization is capable of coming to terms with the aspirations of a quarter-billion people!
So the next tactic of hundreds of thousands of Dalits is to convert to Buddhism; the thinking being that if they are no longer ‘Dalit’ in practice, they cannot be discriminated against, and it would be seen as doubly illegal for any to discriminate against a separate religion. They seem to have struck a nerve, because Hindi political parties in several Indian states are preparing legislation which would prevent any Hindu departing from their religion and accepting another God. Rajahstan and Madyha Pradesh have already introduced civil laws which would prevent any Dalit from leaving Hinduism without registering first with the state government, and Gujarat, a hardline Hindu state, is considering introducing a law which states that Buddhism is a version of Hinduism, so desperate are the traditional Hindu people to keep in servitude millions of their fellow countrymen.
So here we stand, in the second most populous country on Earth, with the prospect of ‘affirmative action’ as one political solution proposed for all commerce in India, where any factory, office or workshop would have to employ a percentage of ‘Dalits’ in order to comply with the law, when it is almost universally accepted that ’Quotas’ never have, and never will, work. Why ‘affirmative action’? Because it’s a politician’s dream, to lay the burden for their stupidity and cupidity on someone else’s shoulders, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t grasp the thorny problem of stating, “No discrimination based on birth, color, belief or way of life is lawful, and thus shall not be allowed!” That is the solution, but it will be many years before the wider world sees an Indian “Untouchable” as a possible Prime Minister, if ever!
I write and recollect this post because, unknown to myself and probably 99% of the population of Great Britain, this disgusting philosophy is both resident and thriving in our cities and towns. According to an item broadcast at 01.30 minutes into the programme on today’s ‘Sunday’ on BBC Radio 4, the Coalition Government has purposely delayed even publishing legislation covering ‘Caste Discrimination’ until after the next General Election. There are some one million Hindus resident in Great Britain, and in the past I have commented on the ’fact’ that they seem to have merged into our British society with minimum difficulty, with the sole exception of changing our burial laws to allow their open-air cremations in accord with their own custom and religion. It now has emerged that some 400,000 Indians living in these Islands are discriminated on a daily basis because of their BIRTH, and hence because of the presumed ‘Caste’ and place in the rigid hierarchy of some weird religious writings, all of which, incidentally, were composed by, guess who? The Brahmins, otherwise known as the very top of the heap, and it is some ‘heap’, in daily Hindi life.
I listened to the weasel words of the Brahmin contributor to that Sunday Programme, and I could not help comparing my thoughts to those of the great Playwright and Author himself, when he wrote, “Firstly, lets kill all the lawyers’” Not, of course, because I wished that man evil, but because he spoke of the ‘great complexity’ of the problem; of the ‘great difficulty’ in removing this disgraceful, lunatic and truly hurtful religious discrimination from a large number of people who are suffering innumerable insults because of who their antecedents were some centuries ago!