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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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CASTE DISCRIMINATION IN PUNJAB: MANIFESTATIONS & SOLUTIONS

Dr Rajesh Kumar Chander

The term ‘Dalit’ literally means poor and ‘oppressed’ person. Presently, it has acquired a new meaning to mean ‘those who have been broken, ground down by those above them in deliberate and active way’ (Zelliott 1978 cited in Shah and Others, 2006). Untouchability forms part of a complex discriminatory practice that imposes social disabilities on persons by reasons of their birth in certain castes (Human Rights Watch 1999 cited in Shah & Others, 2006: 13) During the first serious survey of castes in Punjab for the 1881 Census, Ibbetson came to discover that Brahminic influence was ‘probably never so strong in Punjab as in most other parts of India’. Ibbetson observed that the influence of Islam may have been one of the reasons (Ibbetson orig. 1916, rpt. 1987:14-15).

Punjab has the highest proportion of scheduled castes in their population (37%). Inspite of Punjab being a developed state, the status of dalits has not registered notable changes and is bereft of social, economic, political and cultural opportunities. They are still deprived of ownership of crucial assets like land, capital, etc., and access to basic social infrastructure (Punjab Human Development Report, 2004).

As per Punjab’s demographic profile, the state accounts for 2.4 percent of the country’s population. Among social groups, SCs constitute 37 percent of the population of the state, the majority of them (almost 60 percent) being agricultural labourers. Shockingly enough, among the cultivators, SCs accounted for only 4.3 percent of the total (Punjab Human Development Report, 2011). As per Human Development Report, 2011; the male literacy rate is 71.9 % and female literacy rate is 57.7 %. The literacy rate of dalit women is languishing at the bottom.

Manifestations of caste-based discrimination on Dalits:
Dalits are facing discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and humiliation in various public and private spheres. The manifestations of caste discrimination faced by dalits are discussed as under.

Landlessness:
Dalits (37%) comprise the highest proportion of total population of Punjab which is highest for an Indian state. But, they own only 2.74% of total land. Their landlessness is leading to their powerlessness.

Residential Segregation:
In a relatively developed state like Punjab which has an egalitarian ethos, dalits homes are normally located on the periphery and the western side (lehndey passe) of the village. Many villages in Punjab have Government schemes such as the Indira Awaas Yojana for dalit housing. While such programmes provide much needed financial subsidies to dalit households, as most of these homes are located at a distance from village, they end up reinforcing dalit segregation from the main village (Shah & Others, 2006: 74). Therefore, residential segregation is enforcing social exclusion.

Issue of Attached Labour:
The problem of ‘attached labour’ known as Sirri in rural Punjab is leading to exploitation of dalit agricultural labourers. As per a study conducted by Shah and Others in 2006, child labour in attached labour is also prevalent and it is leading to widespread oppression of young dalit children. The level of exploitation is extremely high in Sirri (Shah and Others, 2006:97). The phenomenon of attached labour is leading to dalit sub-ordination and vicious circle of poverty and deprivation.

Inadequate use of Shyamlat land:
In every village of Punjab, there are common property resources comprising of grazing land, fish ponds, etc. but the powerful landowning class usurps the land, thereby, denying the dalits to use these common resources for their upliftment and empowerment (Shah and Others, 100-101). Dalits who are already marginalised cannot utilize these valuable common resources for their survival and earning livelihood rendering them further marginalised.

Lack of Sanitation Leading to Degradation of Dalit Women
Lack of toilets in dalit homes makes them vulnerable to sexual assaults. A study conducted by Sulabh International has attributed incidence of rape with lack of toilets in homes. Also, dalit women feels humiliated and degraded as she has to go outside to attend to nature’s call.

Dalit women not only go to work in the fields of the large farmers but also collect fodder from there. While in most cases they get shouted at for entering the fields and cutting plants, some of them are also sexually abused. As a well-off dalit from a village in the prosperous Doaba region of Punjab asserted : ‘ As long as we remain dependent on the Jats for collecting fodder for our cattle, and our women keep going to their fields, there is no way we can uphold our dignity’. (Shah and Others: 2006:120-121).

Violence Perpetrated on Dalits
In March, 2013; there was an incident in Amritsar in which police personnel were mercilessly beating a dalit woman when she had complained of her sexual harassment to them. This news had become a national headline. Similarly, on 7th March 2004 in Punjab, a peaceful protest by dalits against the molestation of a dalit girl was violently lathi-charged by the police. The demonstrators, including women, were dragged, beaten and hit (Shah & Others, 2006:138). As per latest studies by Irudayam and others conducted in India, atrocities against dalits are increasing many fold and 80 % of violence against women is taking place on dalit women. Improving policing effectiveness is the need of the hour.

Religious Discrimination
The egalitarian ethos of Sikhism ensured that the freedom to enter Gurudwaras (Sikh Temples) was never an issue after 1920s. The ground reality is that out of the 12,780 villages in Punjab; there are separate dalit Gurudwaras in about 10,000 villages which is a very high proportion (Charchrari, 2000:33). The reasons for separate Gurudwaras is due to discrimination on one hand and assertion by dalits on the other hand.

Incidence of Inhuman Practice of Manual Scavenging
The inhuman and degrading practice of manual scavenging is still being practised in highly developed state like Punjab (Bhatia, 2012). The NHRC in its meeting held on February 20, 2014 has indicated that Punjab was among those states which were not a signatory to the declaration that manual scavenging is taking place. In an all-India meeting held on the issue, the GM, Scheduled castes Corporation had stated that as per a survey conducted in the year 2009, there were no dry latrines in the state of Punjab, out of the erstwhile manual scavengers, 3000 have been rehabilitated (retrieved from nhrc.nic. in/…/minutes_manual scavenging_march 2011_pdf). This implies that all the manual scavengers have been not rehabilitated.

Although 19 Indian states have certified that inhuman practice of manual scavenging is not taking place, Punjab along with 9 other states/UTs have yet to submit their action report to the NHRC as on February 21, 2014 (retrieved from nhrc.nic.in/dispArchive.asp?).

Impact of State’s Welfare Policy
Out of the Special Central Assistance (SCA), 100 percent of which was granted by the Union Government, only about 1 percent was released and spent during 2001-2002 (Awasthi, 2003). An overview of allocations and expenditure on various schemes over a period of 11 years, from 1991-92 to 2001-02, provided by Kundal, showed a shortfall of Rs. 1547.66 lakh, i.e., more than 50 percent of the allocation. The State’s welfare policies and programmes including reservations have not proved fully effective for the amelioration of dalits and dalits are getting benefits of reservations in lower level positions (Wangyal, 2003).

Poor quality of Education in Villages:
Education is considered to means of social empowerment and social mobility, Dr. Ambedkar being the best example. In comparison to the poor educational infrastructure in post-independent Punjab, things have improved significantly but there is a lot of scope for improvement. The lack of toilets in schools, inadequate infrastructure, unmanageably high student: teacher ratio and less number of teachers in schools are some of the grey areas. As per Ghuman, the poor school system in rural Punjab is reinforcing the caste and class divisions rather than integrating the different elements of society (Ghuman, 2009: 38).

It has been noticed that primary school enrolment rates of dalit children in the 5-14 age group have reached more or less the same as other groups in the respective states or region. But the dropout rate of dalit students is strikingly higher than that of non-dalits, due to their poverty and the discrimination that they frequently face in school. A study done by Kumar in 2007 also reiterates this point. The dropout rate is higher in rural than in urban schools, and for boys than for girls. The main reason for giving up is not a lack of desire for education; it is poverty and the need to contribute to the family income by either working for wages or looking after siblings and freeing other family members to take up wage work. Distance of the school from their residence, discrimination and negligence on the part of the teachers are also reasons why dalit children stay away from schools. (Shah and others, 2006: 46-47).

Atrocities against Dalit Women
Ruth Manorama, a dalit activist, refers to dalit women as “the thrice discriminated..... she is a dalit among dalits(quoted in Hardtmann, 2003:135) and rhetorically argues, “ Why are only dalit women paraded naked ? Why does the devdasi and bonded labour tradition exist among the dalits only? (The Tribune, 28 February, 2007) in Ghuman (2011: 38). Economic development of rural Punjab due to green revolution and other factors has not resulted in empowerment of dalits. Khalsa in his article observes that, “Punjab has no untouchability probably because of the impact of Sikhism, but I am ashamed to say that in committing atrocities on dalits, we do not lag behind” (Indian Express, August 21, 2000). In Punjab too like in rest of Indian, there are large scale atrocities on dalit women, be it rape, murder, kidnapping, molestation, etc.

Segregation Continues
Even in matters of death, dalits are being discriminated against as in many villages of Punjab, there are separate cemeteries/cremation grounds.

Caste Prejudice Abroad
The caste system is so resilient and dynamic that it has been exported abroad. Jat Sikhs residing in UK, USA, Canada also go for separate Gurudwaras, strict endogamous marriages, etc.

Solutions
The following solutions are suggested to curb the growing menace of caste and gender discrimination in Punjab.

– Dalits in Punjab should be provided land.
– Separation and segregation in residential and religious spaces should be tackled effectively.

– The problem of attached labour and child labour amongst dalits should be dealt with tougher laws and their enforcement.

– Providing flush toilets in every home should be the priority of the state.

– Atrocities against dalits should be curbed.

– The bottom-up approach of development should be implemented efficiently.

– Quality Education can be panacea of all our evils. Dalits education should be prioritised. Dalit Girls education should be given special focus as their dropout rate is extremely high.

– The village’s common land should be used equally by everyone and dalits , especially marginalised should be given top priority.

– Inter-caste marriages should be encouraged by the state by providing monetary compensation as in neighbouring Haryana.

– Police, judiciary and law-enforcement agencies should be sensitised in dealing with atrocities and crimes against dalits.

– Indians residing abroad should be sensitised to do away with ‘caste and gender discrimination’.

– Right practices and conduct are the need of the hour.

Conclusion:
In Punjab, the overall status of dalits, though relatively better than many other Indian states, is not as high as expected. The Sikh religion and social reform movements have played a pivotal role in upgrading the status of Dalits. Sikhism was a protest movement against upper castes discrimination and thus became popular in north India’s caste ridden society. Untouchability is less prevalent in Punjab but discrimination is still rampant. The exclusionary practices like residential segregation should be done away with and dalit education should be improved drastically. Dalits comprehensive empowerment coupled with change in other castes attitudes can nullify discrimination and prejudice. Inter-caste marriages are one of the best ways forward for the elimination of caste consciousness but reality on ground is different. The egalitarian ethos is the need of the hour as far as society’s overall development is concerned.

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Notes

– Awasthi, Surinder. 2003. Why funds for SCs remain unspent. The Times of India, Chandigarh, April 19.
– Bhatia, Kuldip. 2012. Punjab’s Shame: Manual Scavenging in eight districts of Punjab, The Tribune, September 27.
– Charchrari, Mohinder Singh. 2003. Lessons that can be learnt from Talhan episode, The Spokesman weekly’s Monthly Issue, July.
– Dumont, L.1998. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
– Ghuman, Paul. 2011. British Untouchables: A study of dalit identity and education. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
– Guru , G. (ed.) 2009. Humiliation: Claims and Context. Oxford University Press: New Delhi.
– Human Rights Watch.2003. Broken People: Caste Violence against India’s
– Untouchables. New York, Washington, DC, London, and Brussels: Human Rights Watch.
– Ibbetson, D.1916 rpt. 1987. Caste and Tribes of North Western Provinces (Punjab Castes). Delhi: Low Price Publications.
– Jodhka, Surinder S. 2002. Caste and Untouchability in Rural Punjab in Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 37, No.48.
– Puri, Harish K. 2004. (ed.) Dalits in Regional Context. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.
– Yagati, Chinna Rao. 2003. Dalit Studies: A Bibliographical Handbook. New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers.
– Shah, Ghanshyam, Mander, Harsh, Deshpande, Satish, Thorat, Sukhadeo, Baviskar, Amita, 2006. ed. Untouchability in Rural India. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
– Shukla, Rajesh, Jain, Sunil and Kakkar, Preeti. 2010. Caste in a different mould: understanding the discrimination. New Delhi: BS Books.
– Zaidi, Annie. 2006. India’s Shame in Frontline, September 22.
– Zelliot, E. 2001. From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement. New Delhi: Manohar www.ncrb.gov.in.

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