The Dalit (down-trodden) constitute 16.5% of India’s population; however, their share in the country’s wealth is only about 7%. In contrast, the high castes own 45% of the country’s wealth, exceeding their population share of 21% (almost twice the population share). The Other backward Classes own about 21 % close to their population share of 36%.
Lacking income-earning assets, the Dalit earn their livelihood in daily-wage employment, but even there they suffer high unemployment because of discrimination. Due to low income, they remain steeped in poverty.
At every step, discrimination in market and non-market institutions is fettered to their feet. The high castes shun them in eateries, grocery, transport (car, jeep, auto- and cycle rickshaw). Bulk of the Dalit customers belong to their own caste. The Dalit find them faced with a macabre choice of closing down their businesses or operate them at a hand-to-mouth margin of profit.
What did BJP promise?
To win over the Dalit, the BJP appropriated BR Ambedkar even though his views sharply contrasted Hindutva which is a cornerstone of the BJP’s tacit ideology.
BJP’s 2014 poll manifesto makes tall promises to ameliorate the Dalit’s lot in a section titled `Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Weaker Sections: Social Justice and Empowerment’. It read: `The BJP is committed to bridge the gap, following the principle of Samajik Nyaya (social justice) and Samajik Samrasata (social harmony). The social justice must be complemented with economic justice and political empowerment _We will accord highest priority to ensuring their security, especially the prevention of atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes’.
The manifesto identifies specific areas for action including; “ecosystem for education and entrepreneurship”, “eradication of un-touchability at all levels”, “eliminate manual scavenging”, ”pull the people out of poverty”,” housing, education, health and skill development”, “focus on children, especially, the girl child with regard to health and skill development”.
The Modi government never allocated budgeted funds for the Dalit’s welfare proportionate with its 16.6% population share. The average allocation to the Scheduled Castes population for 5 years between 2014 and 2018 comes to a mere 7% which is about 10% points short of 16.6% Scheduled Caste population in the country.
According to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan 2018 (Dalit economic rights movement) these 10% points represent Rs 2752.72 billion. This low allocation has naturally affected several schemes.
Students forced to commit suicides
The low allocation affected government’s flagship educational schemes which were hyped in BJP’s propaganda. Even Dr. BR Ambedkar’s post-matriculation flagship scholarships, started in 1945, bore the brunt.
This scheme paved way for development of the Dalit’s higher education. It provided for day-to-day maintenance of poor students, including their fees. About 5.1 million students felt the crunch due to non-release or delay in payment of Rs 80 billion by Modi’s government. Non-payment of scholarships forced students to drop out of their colleges and universities.
Discrimination against marginalized students in education is an age-old problem. However, it shot into prominence after the suicide of a Dalit student, Rohit Vemula in the University of Hyderabad in January 2016, and of another Dalit research scholar, Mathukrishnan Jeevantham, in Jawaharlal University in Delhi in March 2017. No action was taken against Vice Chancellor or other authorities responsible for forcing them to commit suicides.
A glimpse of other atrocities
The actual situation caricatures the BJP’s rhetorical promises in its 2014 manifesto. The manifesto says, “We will accord highest priority to ensuring their security, especially the prevention of atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”.
The Una incident in Gujarat in the summer of 2016 makes bare the hollowness of the BJP’s promise. The incident involved criminal assault on four Dalit men for skinning cows by cow protectors (gau rakhshik). The fact is that the Dalit had not killed any cow but were skinning them after they were already dead. Abandoned, old cows languishing or roaming on roads is a common sight in India.
India’s National Bureau of Crime Report portrays a poignant picture of rising crimes against the Dalit. The crimes against women include rape, attempt to rape, sexual harassment, kidnapping and abduction to compel them to marry, assault or use of criminal force on women with intent to disrobe, and assaults to outrage their modesty.
In 2014, cases registered under Prevention of Civil Rights Act and Prevention of Atrocities Act was 40,401. They marginally decreased to 38,670 in 2015, 35,719 in 2016.
The Dalits are worse off
The BJP manifesto assured to develop policies and schemes in a manner such that it brings about a tangible improvement that could be seen as an indication of reduction in the gap between Scheduled Castes and others. The condition of the Dalit is worse than in previous years.
The BJP failed to fulfill most of the promises it made in it 2014 manifesto. The Dalit remain untouchable as centuries earlier. The promises of “economic empowerment with focus on education and entrepreneurship, and social empowerment by preventing atrocities” remain unfulfilled. Financial allocations during BJP’s rule were about 7% well below 16.6% proportionate with Scheduled Castes’ Share.
Atrocities against the Dalit in the BJP governed states rose manifold. Most offenders were set free with a slap on their wrists by the courts. The acquittal rate rose as the Supreme Court debilitated Prevention of Atrocities Act by taking out the provision of non-anticipatory bail, and action against officials without departmental inquiry, encouraging willful negligence in prevention of atrocities against the Dalit. The BJP’s rule made the Dalit more insecure than it already was in yesteryears.
Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been writing freelance for over five decades. He has served the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan for 39 years. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is the author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.