Print edition : November 19, 2004

A Dalit protest in Bangalore. - K. GOPINATHAN

THE multi-pronged strategy adopted by the state in the past five decades and more in order to put an end to the discrimination and violence against Dalits has proved to be inadequate. Its failure is not only because of the operational inefficiency of the governments at the Centre and in the States. The lack of political will on the part of the ruling elite and the reluctance of substantial sections of civil society to see the reality and shed their "traditional prejudices and privileged positions" are also to blame for it.

Saxena's recommendations include measures aimed to make the state "demonstrate stronger will, greater vigour, effectiveness and urgency in implementing its programmes and policies" in order to remove the sense of alienation the Dalits feel. The question of how "the resistance of civil society" to this process of social transformation can be arrested has also been addressed. The role of "all the three stake holders, that is, the state, civil society and the S.C.s" in ending discrimination and bringing about social equality is highlighted in the recommendations.

The most significant of the hurdles that the state faces in setting right the historical wrongs against Dalits are the implementing agencies' bias against this marginalised section and their gross indifference to the plight of victims of atrocities by casteist oppressors. This can be resolved, the study suggests, "by reviewing/reiterating instructions, guidelines and policy articulations as a renewed reminder to state agencies about what they are expected to do". Such unambiguous expression of political will by the state will help agencies realise their need "to act sincerely and firmly". Educating key personnel on relevant laws and programmes, besides helping them update their skills, will prevent them from feigning ignorance of the law or lack of skills as an excuse for lack of performance, the report says.

Arranging for regular monitoring of the officials' functioning in order to ensure their accountability is also among the recommendations. Interestingly, the report suggests that the government make alternative arrangements by mobilising non-governmental organisations (NGOs), human rights activists and "even empowered individuals" to serve as support structures with a view to pressuring government agencies to act. A series of bold initiatives to counter "the bias reflected in the attitude and behaviour of officials and even political authorities" has also been recommended.

As regards civil society, the report observes: "Since the entire set of measures [the government takes]... impinge upon relationship of S.C.s with the rest of civil society, the attitude and response of the civil society affects in a major way the ability of the state to deliver its promises and assurances... . The civil society, by and large, has continued to be hostile to the Scheduled Castes, more openly in rural areas but less demonstratively in urban areas."

To meet this challenge, the study has come out with a two-pronged approach. Even as attempts are made to sensitise dissenters on the need for social equality, the government should be tough on "hard-liners in civil society, who continue with their atrocious behaviour towards S.C.s". Strict enforcement of laws and firm implementation of measures in support of Dalits will help punish and isolate these hard-liners, says the report. The report, however, gives considerable importance in its recommendations to "help disengage Scheduled Castes from the existing relationship of a degrading and humiliating nature with the civil society... and at the same time give a signal to the civil society that it should desist from enforcing these relationships".

The report wants Dalits to gain awareness about their rights and entitlements, use the available channels and mechanism to obtain relief or justice when faced with their violation, increase their participation at all levels, promote organisations and build alliances that support their struggle and acquire the needed skills to negotiate a more honourable deal for themselves. "The other consideration has been to strengthen their bargaining power in the unequal economic relations they are confronted with, by seeking to reduce their vulnerability through focussed execution of regulatory and development programmes in a convergent mode," the report states, and adds: "These measures would help them assert themselves rather than acquiesce in illegal and unjust compromises and thereby enable them to move forward slowly towards a more liberated existence."

Saxena has also recommended a set of measures, which will create support systems for Dalits, both within the government and outside. The report says that when the state itself resorts to violence against Dalits "not sanctioned by law", there is no protection available for them "because the police and security forces become both the actors and the adjudicators of their action".

This, the report says, leads to a situation in which "there is inaction all along the hierarchy" and at times even refusal to register complaints. "That is why," the report explains, "considerable space has been given to creating alternative arrangements, outside the police and security establishments largely, for complaints of S.C.s to be entertained and for moving appropriate level in government agencies into action and, as a last resort, for watchdog institutions themselves to take up the investigation." The study has considered this necessary "to enforce greater accountability in the law and order machinery, primarily the police, against unjustified action".

The report also gives considerable importance to issues relating to Dalit women, "who suffer the most because in their case violence against them is compounded with indignity and humiliation". They are additionally subjected to sexual offences "to break their own morale and the morale of their male folk and the community".

Another significant aspect of the report is that it pays attention to the cultural aspirations of the Dalit community, an area most neglected. "Perhaps their `outcaste' status and total marginalisation in the society in which they are integrated, virtually as `non-persons', has denied them the capacity to create their culture," observes the report, and recommends steps to strengthen Dalit culture.

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