A nationwide uproar was heard in March and April 2018 due to the supreme court order to dilute stringent provisions mandating immediate arrest under Scheduled Tribes/Scheduled Castes (ST/SC) atrocities act.
Although the law was established in 1989 in the wake of growing crime against the SC/ST communities, many emerging instances of its misuse have surfaced. The new order was passed with the objective to protect innocent civilians reported under false cases from facing legal actions and framing.
The courts’ rule did not intend the dilution of the act in itself but only the immediate arrests of the accused under the act yet, mass protests were carried out by people labelled “Dalits”, in various states. The opposition was strong enough to lead enforcement of a curfew in several regions. But why was this law implemented in the first place, Indian history has an answer.
According to some theories, long ago around 1200 BC, the occupation was considered as a criterion that would define the status of an individual in the society. Priests and teachers were placed the highest in this social strata and were called the Brahmins, then came the warriors and rulers who were named Kshatriyas, then the Vaishyas who were farmers, traders, and merchants and finally the Shudras who were labourers and peasants. But there existed another class, one which was so low that it was excluded from the caste hierarchy itself. The people of this class were given lowest fundamental status in the society and the tasks that were too polluting for the Brahmins and other higher classes. They were forced into the tasks like cleaning up after funerals, cleaning of the sewers and toilets. And because of the type of work they were forced into, they were considered ‘the Untouchables’.
They remained highly discriminated and with no dignity for centuries. Their work gave them the status of “polluting” and the Brahmins felt obliged to bathe even if a shadow of an untouchable fell on them. Needless to say, they were gravely ostracized and were denied human and social rights. They are referred to as Dalits in modern India. Even though their name has changed but their underlying identity is still the same in the minds of the so-called high caste individuals. Untouchability has been considered to be the worst form of discrimination in humans.
Even though the caste-based discrimination has been on the decline and has virtually disappeared over the years after independence, there are people still facing atrocities and prejudice because of the historical insult to their identity.
In India, it was the Dalits. In America, it was the Africans labelled ‘Blacks’ who could be legally carried into slavery and the lives of whom were sold by the Democratic law. The 1857 Dred Scott law stated “Blacks were not people, but property” and “Blacks have no right that the white man has and the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
We all know how they were treated. The colour of their skin came in front of the eyes of their enemies before their human spirit. Jews in Germany were systematically executed in parts of Europe just because they were from another race and because their executioners ‘believed’ themselves to be far superior.
Throughout history, there have been failed examples of Humanity, at the hands of Human ambition. The human standards of judgment have proved to be dangerously superficial. The colour of a face impairs the viewer’s ability to envision a human heart. The creed, ethnicity, occupation and sadly the complexion of their skin is realized first and above the fact that they are humans beings. There have been mere Humans in the past who have failed to recognize their fellow humans and used their uniqueness and divergence as a tool to oppress them.
The insight of the Indian government is commendable in formulating the law to protect its marginalized communities and also in modifying the act to disallow its misuse. Although I do not support the masses who protested against the supreme court order, their outrage indicates to the fact that prejudice still continues against communities named inferior in the past just because of the greed of power and authority in their tyrants. Jews are still attacked and Africans still face humiliation. The victims of social neglect still face prejudice in the form of social insecurity and threat to life. With such flaws in our comprehensions, unconditional love and brotherhood can never thrive in our world.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character“. –Martin Luther King, Jr.
As Dr Martin Luther King Junior pointed out, there is no difference among us except the content of our character endowed by our Creator. He sees us as humans, so should we.