‘We’re Served Foods Like Dogs’: Why It’s Not Easy to be a Dalit Even in 21st Century India

We take you to Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah (who are at the helm of affairs in the Centre these days), where crime against Dalits are highest in the country.
Recently in Kalol, the police registered a case against a person under the Atrocities Act for obstructing a Dalit groom from riding a mare and assaulting him.
Recently in Kalol, the police registered a case against a person under the Atrocities Act for obstructing a Dalit groom from riding a mare and assaulting him.

New Delhi: People in urban India often claim that caste-based discriminations are a phenomenon of the past and don’t exist in modern-day India. But does this statement accurate to reality?

According to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were over 57,000 crimes against Scheduled Caste (SC) communities nationwide in 2022, with an average of 158 instances per day.

This represents a 35% rise compared to the figures from 2018.

Over 57,000 crimes against SCs were reported nationwide in 2022, with an average of 158 cases per day.

Over 9,178 incidents of crimes against Dalits have been reported in Gujarat over the last seven years.

When we consider the horrors committed against Dalits, what comes to our mind — probably, just acts of violence? How can you make sense of a situation when living a seemingly normal life requires courage and defiance?

We take you to Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah (who are at the helm of affairs in the Centre these days).

This is the story of Bhupatbhai Kannubhai Sekhaliya who is fighting for the right to lead a normal life. He shares with us his experience of being repeatedly hurt and explains why, for him and other individuals like him, living a seemingly normal life may truly be a privilege.

He lives at Mota village in the Banaskantha district of Gujarat. His family consists of his parents, wife, a son and two younger brothers.

To raise him and his siblings, his parents suffered hardships. They worked as labourers and faced harsh circumstances. He drives an auto rickshaw to earn a livelihood.

Driving an auto rickshaw depends a lot on luck. He earns some days Rs 500, while on other days only Rs 100 or even less. However, together with his siblings, he manages everything. His parents also contribute their bit.

Bhupatbhai’s cousin Atulbhai Virabhai Sekhaliya, also a resident of the same village, was getting married. His real brother — who is an Army officer — wanted to ensure that the groom rides a horse during the wedding procession. This allegedly infuriated the dominant Rajputs. 

The ‘upper caste’ people supposedly believe that a Dalit sitting on a horse (as part of rituals) for a wedding procession would undermine their dominance and upset the social structure. 

“According to them, a Dalit can neither ride a horse for a wedding procession, nor wear a turban,” alleged Bhupatbhai while talking to The Mooknayak. “Why can’t Dalit sit on horses?” he asked.

Bhupatbhai's brother Jigar
Bhupatbhai's brother Jigar

There was an uproar over this with “threats” that it could lead to “bloodshed and murder”. Considering all this danger, they decided not to bring the horse as they did not want their dear ones to lose their lives. Yet, the Rajputs were allegedly not satisfied and threw stones on the wedding procession. 

“We filed a police case against them for pelting stones on us. We stood with our brothers in filing an FIR (first information report) against the violence. We accompanied them to meetings because of safety concerns,” he narrated. 

After getting to know that Atulbhai, Bhupatbhai are cousins, the Rajputs allegedly began targeting later and his brother Jigar because of them being too involved in the case. 

“They (the Rajputs of his village) started harassing my younger brother, Jigar. He was harassed wherever he went. I too was threatened several times. But they eventually targeted my brother. They threatened and told him one day, ‘You have an attitude. You wear glasses and good clothes. We will teach you a lesson. Don’t forget, we are Rajputs’,” he alleged.

He said Jigar heard it and came back home, avoiding any confrontation. “They warned me too, saying, ‘Your brother is crossing the limits. Therefore, tone him down. Otherwise, we will kill and throw him on railway tracks. You people have filed a case against us earlier as well, but what happened? You could not do anything to us. You cannot harm us in any way. You are a speck in the dust’,” narrated Bhupatbhai — father of a young child.  

On the late evening of May 30, 2023, he said, a group of youngsters allegedly dragged Jigar to the outskirts of the village. 

“Around 15 young men severely thrashed him until he lost consciousness. We came to know about it when our mother went to call Jigar for dinner and spotted him being beaten. When she intervened, even she was not spared. She too was thrashed brutally,” he described, saying his mother sustained injuries to her hand and head. 

The head injuries still persist, he said, and she is under medication. 

They rescued Jigar and brought him home and informed the police. “We were asked if we wanted to file a case. I told the police that I would file a court case as they tone down the complaint and make the case less strong to ensure that the accused walks free easily,” he said. 

Bhupatbhai said his brother was beaten for no reason, and he wants justice to be done to them. 

They mother-son duo were admitted to the Palanpur civil hospital for 15 days. Surprisingly, despite Jigar suffering grievous injuries, as alleged, his medical report did not indicate any sign to suggest the same. 

“It was tampered with by the doctors who were compromised. They might have been offered bribes,” he alleged. 

It has been seven months since the case was filed, but no justice has been served to them.

“The accused were not arrested even for a day. Whenever we ask the SP (the superintendent of police) and the Dy.SP. (deputy superintendent of police) concerned about the status of the case, they say it will be taken care of in accordance with the law,” he narrated, saying that the Rajputs control the administrative system.

‘Is This Any Life at All?’

Caste matters, says Bhupatbhai, adding that they are alive, but living a slow death. “We feel deeply hurt, but what can we do?” he asks.

“In our village, barbers from other castes don’t cut Dalits’ hair. We cannot drink water from pitchers of the ‘upper caste’ people. We cannot sit on their cots. We have to take permission before crossing their fields. Dalits face massive discrimination,” he described.

Describing the extent of unequal lives in his state, he further said, “No one respects us. An ‘upper’ caste’s child will sit on a chair; whereas, Dalits, even if they are elderly people, will have to sit on the floor. Untouchability is highly prevalent here.” 

If a Dalit elder goes and sits in a public gathering, he said, the ‘upper caste’ people leave — arguing that they cannot sit with Dalits. “They don’t let us enter temples. They say it gets impure,” he said.

He said they work in the fields owned by ‘upper castes’, but have to carry their own water pots and utensils in which they are served food. And that too is served from a distance. 

“They serve us food like dogs are fed. You see dongs sitting outside a house, we are also made to sit like that and given food,” he said, adding that the Dalits suffer every time. 

If anything goes wrong, he said, the socially outcasted have to bear the consequences. 

“We often have to tolerate the injustices and remain tight lipped. What can we do? We overlook all these things to survive. We have to do everything out of compulsion. You need to work to earn money. By doing such menial work, we all contribute to manage the expenses somehow. If we object to anything, we won’t get work. We tolerate all these unjust behaviors with smiles just to survive. They always try to degrade us by raising pity issues,” he described the community’s everyday sufferings. 

According to Bhupatbhai, people belonging to ‘upper castes’ don’t want Dalits to grow a moustache and wear fashionable clothes or shoes.

“In our village, the Rajput community is dominant. To bring a horse (as part of rituals) for a wedding procession, we need to take permission from ‘upper’ caste people. They hatch a conspiracy: they first allow us to bring a horse, but on the wedding day, they will create tensions and not allow us to carry out a procession,” he alleged.

Bhupatbhai said he is fighting for rights. “We should be able to live with equality. We should have equal rights to be elected as a village head. No one should call us, using derogatory terms such as ‘Dedha’, ‘Kona’, ‘Harijan’, etc. These words are used to demean us,” he added. 

What the whole village can do, he said, the Dalits should be able to do too. “We should be able to take out wedding processions on horses, get hair cut, wear good clothes and when we go to work in the fields, we should get proper food,” he said.

However, he said, sometimes, he feels like this life is not worth living. “We are all human beings, they also have a body like us. So, when will the issue of casteism be resolved?” he questioned.

Recently in Kalol, the police registered a case against a person under the Atrocities Act for obstructing a Dalit groom from riding a mare and assaulting him.
Dalit owned Fair Price Shop Boycotted in Gujarat, Owner attempts Suicide

Gujarat has Lowest Conviction Rates

Gujarat has a population of 7.16 crore (71.6 million), of which 6.7% are Dalits. In the past seven years, 9,178 incidents of crime against Dalits have been reported in the state in the last seven years. 

According to the NCRB, the state recorded 1,425 cases of atrocities against the community in 2022, or four cases per day on average.

The state’s largest city, Ahmedabad, reported 189 cases every day — highest among all metropolitan cities in the country. 

Surprisingly, despite the high prevalence of cases related to atrocities against the SCs, Gujarat has the lowest conviction rates in the nation, with a pitiful 5.8%.

Kantilal Parmar
Kantilal Parmar

Anti-Atrocities Law Being Ignored?

Kantilal Parmar is an activist associated with Navsarjan — a trust dedicated to offering legal support and fostering awareness with the socially outcast community.

He used to be just another Dalit, oblivious to his rights, but today he illuminates the changing trends in the state’s caste dynamics.

“Gujarat is witnessing increased cases of violence against Dalits almost every day. In the past, untouchability practices would go unpunished. But because of increasing awareness, people are now noticing it. They are reporting crimes committed against them,” he stated.

He added they carried out a three-year study on untouchability practices in 1,589 communities. The report revealed 97 different types of untouchability against Dalits, all of which are allegedly practiced by members of the ‘upper caste’ communities. 

“Whenever a young Dalit person discovers his rights, he or she demands. Once it is denied, he speaks up against equality. It hurts dominant castes who feel that the Dalits are attempting to undermine their ‘superiority; and ‘hegemony’. It is in such situations that violence often begins,” he said, explaining the reasons behind the rise in crime against the SCs in the state.

He alleged fundamental rights provided by the Constitution, whether the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 or the PCR (Protection of Civil Rights) Act, 1955, are not properly implemented.

According to Section 16 of the Atrocities Act, he said, there should be a State Vigilance and Monitoring Committee chaired by the chief minister with 20 members.

This committee should keep an eye and meet every six months to ensure the implementation of the legislation across the state. 

“It has been more than a year, but the committee has not even been formed. There has been no review of its meetings. Also there is no review of whether the law is being implemented or not,” said Parmar.

The Dalits, according to him, are faced with two-pronged problems. They have to fight against the government, the police as well as the oppressors. 

He also highlights something new — a different pattern in the caste dynamics that he is noticing in the state.

“Our survey indicates that the dominant castes are Brahmins and Kshatriyas. But when we talk about caste-based violence in Gujarat, the OBCs (Other Backward Classes) are committing the maximum number of atrocities against the Dalits. Even they have started considering themselves as ‘upper castes’. We collected data for five years, and from each FIR, we extracted the caste of the people who were committing crimes against the Dalits. So, it turns out that more than 50% of the atrocities are being committed by OBCs,” he revealed.

Recently in Kalol, the police registered a case against a person under the Atrocities Act for obstructing a Dalit groom from riding a mare and assaulting him.
Study Reveals Why Dalits, Tribals, and Christian Workers from Odisha Prefer Kerala Over Gujarat

A study revealed that 34% accused in crime against Dalits belong to the OBCs like Patidars or Patels, while 32% belong to the Kshatriyas and 7% were Brahmins.

An untouchability-free India is envisioned in Article 17 of the Constitution. However, the implementation of Article 17 is not visible. 

“Wherever you go in India, untouchability practices are prevalent,” he said. 

“We have the right to live life with dignity under Article 21. But dignity is nowhere to be found. We are forced into caste-based occupations. We are forced to do sanitation work. Many Dalits die while cleaning the sewage. The government should create awareness against caste discrimination. Like campaigns such as ‘Save the Daughters, Educate the Daughters’ and ‘Covid-free India’, a drive should also be initiated to make India free of untouchability and caste-based violence,” he said.

He said Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar (Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar), who drafted the Constitution after independence, is their icon. “Earlier, we could not fight. But now, we can fight for our rights only because of his teachings,” he concluded.

Also Read-

Recently in Kalol, the police registered a case against a person under the Atrocities Act for obstructing a Dalit groom from riding a mare and assaulting him.
Remember Una Flogging? Let’s Know What Changes the Barbaric Incident Brought in Victim’s Life
Recently in Kalol, the police registered a case against a person under the Atrocities Act for obstructing a Dalit groom from riding a mare and assaulting him.
Gujarat: Dalit cremation challenges spotlight deep-seated caste struggles beyond life

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless