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Minorities in India.docx 6 Smp

Minorities in India.docx 6 Smp

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Minorities in India
Dalits by Palak Mathurand Jessica Singh
Minorities in India
By Palak Mathur and Jessica Singh
 A minority is a sociological group that does not constitute a politically dominant voting majorityof the total population of a given society. In socio-
economics, the term ―minority‖ typically
refers to a socially subordinate ethnic group. Physical existence of majority and minority groupis an outcome of the differential treatment which the groups are experiencing
one enjoying theprivileges whereas other being deprived of such privileges.In India, we have minority groups that can be identified in terms of religion, caste, creed andrace. Dalits are one of them. Dalit is a term for a group of people traditionally regarded asuntouchables(outcastes
)or of low caste. The word ‗Dalits‘ comes from the
 Hindi root
means ‗held under check‘, ‗suppressed‘ or ‗crushed‘ — 
or, in a looser sense, ‗oppressed‘. Theusage of the term ―Dalit‖ seems to have originated from the
 Arya Samaj and their
(―improvement of the downtrodden‖) program. The Arya Samaj began the
 All IndiaShraddhanand Dalitodwar Sabha
to improve the lot of Dalits.The Constitution of India provides for Fundamental rights, which include freedom of religion.Clauses also provide for Freedom of Speech, as well as separation of executive and judiciary andfreedom of movement within the country and abroad. It is often held, particularly by Indianhuman rights groups and activists that members of the Dalit or Untouchable caste have sufferedand continue to suffer substantial discrimination. Although human rights problems do exist inIndia, the country is generally not regarded as a human rights concern, unlike other countries inSouth Asia. Based on these considerations, the report Freedom in the World 2006 by FreedomHouse gave India a political rights rating of 2, and a civil liberties rating of 3, earning it thedesignation of free.In constitutional terms, Dalits are known as scheduled castes. There are currently 166.6 millionDalits in India. The constitution requires the government to define a list or schedule of the lowestcastes in need of compensatory programmes. These scheduled castes include untouchableconverts to Sikhism but exclude converts to Christianity and Buddhism; the groups that areexcluded and continue to be treated as untouchables probably constitute another 2 per cent of thepopulation.
Historical Context
 The roots of Dalit oppression go back to the origins of the caste system in Hindu religion. Thephilosophy of caste is contained in the Manusmriti, a sacred Hindu text dating from the second
century BCE. The dalit‘s pariah status derives its strength and justification from religious texts.In the Manusmriti, the dalit is described as ―polluted,‖ in the same way as a menstruatingwoman, a widow, or a person who has recently been bereaved is polluted. The dalit is ―unclean‖from birth. While the ―untouchability‖ of the menstruating woman or the bereaved is temporary
and he or she can escape the Untouchable condition after the period
of ―pollution‖ is past, thedalit can never escape his status: he is perpetually filthy. ‗Untouchable‘ outcast communities
were forbidden to join in the religious and social life of the community and were confined tomenial polluting tasks such as animal slaughter and leather-working. The introduction of Islam toIndia from about the thirteenth century AD led to widespread conversions by many low-caste
and ‗untouchable‘ groups, and by the mid
-nineteenth century about one quarter of the populationwas Muslim.During the struggle for Indian independence two different approaches emerged for theimprovement of the situation of the people now known as Dalits. The first was led by MahatmaGandhi, who believed in raising the status of Dalit people (or, as he preferred to call them,Harijans) while retaining elements of the traditional caste system but removing the degrading
stigma and manifestations of ‗untouchability‘. The other approach was led by Dr Ambedkar, alawyer and himself an ‗untouchable‘, who believed t
hat only by destroying the caste system
could ‗untouchability‘ be destroyed. Ambedkar became the chief spokesperson for those‗untouchables‘ who demanded separate legal and constitutional recognition similar in status to
that accorded to Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. However, this was opposed by Gandhi andAmbedkar eventually gave up the demand. After rejecting Hindu values, in 1956 he converted toBuddhism and was later followed by a large number of converts.
Current Status
 After independence, the Indian constitution abolished untouchability in law. Today Dalit politicslargely centres on the just dispensation of the affirmative action benefits granted to them underconstitution. Various laws were made that were derived from Constitution like the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955/1976 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. However, these laws remain ineffective in their implementation.Politically, dalits have not been able to participate in mainstream debates and discussions despitethe system of much-debated reservations that works both at national and state levels. Almost 90per cent of Dalits live in rural areas. Economic exploitation remains their most acute problem.They are almost all marginal farmers or landless labourers. Large numbers migrate to cities or tolabour-scarce rural areas in different parts of India. Many are in debt and are obliged to work-off their debts as bonded labour, despite the fact that this practice was abolished by law in 1976. Inthese cases a labourer takes a loan from a landlord or moneylender and in return agrees to work for that person until the debt has been repaid. In practice such debts are difficult to repay asinterest rates are high and poverty forces the labourer into deeper debt. The debt can then bepassed on to the next generation and it is almost impossible to escape the cycle of bondage. Insome areas many high-caste landlords pay their Dalit labourers minimum wages in cash or food,or nothing at all; resistance is frequently met by violence, sometimes resulting in the death orinjury of the victim. Mob violence against Dalit communities is frequently reported, sometimes
led by landlords, and has been especially noticeable in situations where Dalit workers have joined labour unions or made progress in gaining education and economic mobility.The empirical evidence shows that their capability deprivation with regard to other caste groupsis higher. Recent data from Census 2001 shows that the literacy rates for the SCs was as low as55 percent, compared to a national average of 69 percent. Similarly, the life expectancy estimatesfor 1998-99 show that at national level, the life expectancy for Dalits was 62 years and 66 forother castes. The infant mortality rate among the SCs was around 83 per thousand live birthswhich was considerably higher than for the other caste (68 per thousand). The percentage of under-nourished children at national level was 54 percent for the SCs, and 44 percent for thenon-SCs. An average of 44.15 percent of Dalits households did not have access to health careservices, while this figure amounted to 37% for other households.Similarly, in terms of access to property or resources, such as ownership of agricultural land,56% of Dalits owned less than one acre (of which 47.5% owned less than half acre). Landlessand near landless (that is, those owning less than one acre) put togetheraccount nearly 70% of the total Dalits in 1991. Dalits have also witnessed an increase of 2.4 percent in crime (from 26,252 cases against Dalits reported in 2003 to 26,887 cases in 2004.Reservation has been in existence since its inception without any interruption. This has helped increation of new educated Dalit middle class, but this is relatively and proportionately very low.The majority of Dalits still fail to utilize the privileges under this scheme.A majority of Dalit Children in both rural and urban areas do not attend schools. Thougheducation documents assure us that schools are available within walking distance to all childrenin rural areas, this does not even hold if one looks more closely at official statistics. Further,given the spatial segregation of Dalit communities in villages and among them specially thosewho traditionally remove night soil and the fact that schools are located within the upper casteareas, the question of how socially accessible schools are is also relevant.
Dalits and Religion
 Dalits are not limited to the religion of Hinduism, but they are present in other religions too.
Muslim society in India can also be separated into several caste-like groups. Incontradiction to the teachings of Islam, descendants of indigenous lower-caste converts are
discriminated against by ―noble‖, or ―ashraf‖, Muslims who can trace their descent
 to Arab, Iranian,or Central-Asian ancestors. There are several groups in India working to emancipate them from upper-caste Muslim discrimination.The Dalit Muslims are referred to by the Ashraf and Ajlaf Muslims as Arzal
or ―rituallydegraded‖. They were first recorded in the 1901 census as those ―with whom no other 
Muhammadan would associate, and who are forbidden to enter the mosque or to use the public
 burial ground‖. They are relegated to ―menial‖ professions such as scavenging and carrying

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