Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Dalits and Durban

DALITS AND other non-governmental organisations have done their best to focus attention on `casteism' but due to lack of well- thought-out strategy and organised broad-based national voice, compounded by the unhelpful and obdurate attitude of the Government of India, `casteism' and its manifold manifestations were not included in the final declaration at the recent World Conference Against Racism in Durban. The fact is that `casteism' is more vicious and dangerous than racism and it has crippled India's polity and society and continues with greater vigour even after 50 years of Independence. The worst victims of `casteism' are the dalits with its pernicious practice of untouchability.

The dalits and their organisations and other non-dalits concerned about the well being of these suppressed millions should not despair. Instead, they should think seriously and take concerted measures to consolidate and continue the struggle, for this struggle is a long one for human rehabilitation, human dignity and human rights. Clubbing the problems of religious minorities with those of dalits is not proper since the dalits' problems are more basic, more complex and more urgent calling for greater attention and action.

Political reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (dalits) has been achieved fully. Reservation of seats in Parliament and in State Assemblies has been continuing, thanks to the Poona Pact between Gandhiji and Dr. Ambedkar. No political party or government will do away with this. They will be forced to extend it every 10 years. The result is we have today as per information available 76 SC and 46 ST Members in Parliament out of a total of 543, and 556 SC and 529 ST Members in State Assemblies in the country out of a total 4,037 seats. If only these elected members assert and agitate, and discharge their duty, as envisaged and expected of them by leaders like Dr. Ambedkar, the position is bound to be different. Unfortunately these members belonging to different political parties are more loyal to the parties than to the millions of dalits whom they represent. They seem to have become silent and voiceless surrogates of the parties. They should unite on a common platform with a common programme involving the issues and problems of the SCs and STs.

There could be a federation of all the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes organisations for collective thinking and joint action in coordination with well-meaning and bonafide NGOs and non-dalit organisations.

State Governments should have necessary political will and determination to implement the several socio-economic measures effectively. District administration should be made fully accountable for any lapse in this regard, particularly in regard to prevention of atrocities on the SCs and STs.

There has been no structured, effective and systematic monitoring of the implementation of the several Acts and measures intended to benefit the SCs and STs.

The National Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission which is a constitutional body should be more effective and should be the real ``watch dog'' for the progress of these people.

Today the progress is tardy coupled with indifference and casual attitude. Effective monitoring system should be in place.

There is an urgent need for the Prime Minister to convene a conference of all the Chief Ministers of the States to discuss the issues and problems concerning SCs and STs. Otherwise the dalit millions will lose faith in constitutional means, so dear to Dr. Ambedkar, and take to other means to shake off tyranny, injustice and oppression. They have suffered long enough and urgent action is required to give them total emancipation.

A. PADMANABAN

Former Governor, Mizoram

Source: The Hindu, September 25, 2001

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