One of the most severe hate crime laws in the world, India’s Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA) seeks to punish and deter violence against Dalits (ex-untouchables) and Adivasis (tribals). However, worries over its efficacy in tackling historical oppression rule popular discourse in India and the international humanitarian community. The Dalit minority in South Asia has endured centuries of prejudice, marginalisation, stigma, and violence. And the phenomenon of prejudice based on ancestry is what causes this violence.
Violent attacks against Dalits (ex-untouchables) have recently increased; A horrific video that has gone viral on social media platforms shows a group of guys severely beating and kicking a lady while she cries and screams while being surrounded by onlookers. According to sources, a distressing video of the violent incident in UP shows a Dalit girl being exposed to excessive abuse in an open field next to a water body on the suspicion that she desecrated the water for upper class Hindus by bathing in it. The disclosure of such incidents and depressing statistics on caste atrocities has once again exposed India’s facade of social and economic growth and shown the fundamental problems with Hindutva ideology. It has put a spotlight on the Indian judicial system’s inability to promote social equality and stop discriminatory violence.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) recently issued annual report, which was published on August 29, 2021, compared to 2020, atrocities and crimes against scheduled castes increased by 1.2%. (50,291 cases). The biggest percentage of Scheduled Caste (SC) atrocity cases were reported in Uttar Pradesh (13,146 cases), accounting for 25.82%, followed by Rajasthan (14.7%, 7524 cases), and Madhya Pradesh (14.1%, 7214 cases). 70.8% of incidences of atrocities against scheduled castes were recorded by the top five states mentioned above.
Tens of millions of Dalit men, women, and children work as agricultural workers for a few kilogrammes of rice or wheat per day because they have little land of their own to produce. The majority of people are on the verge of famine, barely able to feed their families, unable to send their kids to school, and trapped in a cycle of debt that is passed down from generation to generation. When the day is over, they return to a shack in their caste-segregated Dalit community that has no power, miles away from the nearest water source.
Moreover, upper caste Hindus restrict them from going into places of worship, using public drinking fountains, or wearing shoes when with other Hindus of their caste. Scheduled castes are forced to clean human excrement, dig the village cemeteries, wash and use separate tea tumblers at tea stalls, etc., all because they are considered “untouchable” due to their caste status and hence pollute. However, every attempt to overthrow the established social order is always greeted with violence or financial reprisals.
Similarly, women are the primary targets of gendered violence in all patriarchal societies, and in a nation like India, Dalit women are particularly at risk since ruling castes employ sexual assault to maintain caste identity. The following graph shows the statistics of violence against Dalit women in India from 2011 to 2021.
Crime Against Dallit Women in India 2011 To2021.
Source: NRCB reports from 2011=2020 and Jayant Pankaj 27 Jan, 2022, “Brahmanism, Socio-Economic Factors, Rise in Assertion: Why Anti-Dalit Violence Continues to Grow”
Although untouchability was outlawed by India’s constitution in 1950, the Atrocities Act is the first statute to specifically classify all verbal, physical, and “political, ritual, or symbolic violence” against Dalits and Adivasis as crimes or “atrocities.” But despite numerous revisions and three decades since its first introduction, the act has not resulted in a significant shift in society. highlighting the fact that very few cases filed under the Atrocities Act result in convictions and that most never ever reach the courtroom.
To sum up, Dalit injustice results in severe pain and suffering that spans generations. Stigma accompanies a person from birth until death and has an impact on every element of life, including access to justice, housing, employment, and political engagement. Women and girls are frequently the targets of sexual assault, human trafficking, and they are particularly susceptible to early and forced marriage, bonded labour, and negative cultural norms, making Indian society a difficult place to survive.