Supreme Court: Caste discrimination is holding up India’s progress

India’s Supreme Court is pushing local law enforcement and state Governments to stop caste discrimination by clamping down on discriminatory practices. Recent verdicts include a ban on using different cups for Dalits in tea shops in Tamil Nadu, cracking down on caste-based violence across the country and outlawing the use of derogatory caste names.

In a case of discriminatory name calling The Supreme Court bench stated that,

“A large section of Indian society still regards a section of their own countrymen as inferior. This mental attitude is simply unacceptable in the modern age, and it is one of the main causes holding up the country’s progress.”

In another case, the Supreme Court has called for criminal proceedings and harsh judgments on tea shop owners maintaining a system of using different cups for Dalits than for other castes. Police in Tamil Nadu have also launched an awareness raising campaign against the so called ‘two-tumbler system’.

There have also recently been numerous cases of violence against Dalits that have seen harsh judgements from the Supreme Court, including a judgment directing state governments to hold administrative and police officials accountable for caste discrimination of all kinds, and action from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.  

In a Gujarat village, Dalit villagers who have been ostracised because they dared to enter the village temple have reported the incident to the National Human Rights Commission. They were denied access to upper caste shops and services and as a result decided to unite and become self sufficient to stop the discrimination against them having the desired effect.

Manjula Pradeep, Director of Navsarjan, an NGO working for Dalits’ rights, explains that it is common in Gujarat that Dalits are not allowed to enter village temples, do washing in ponds, and visit ration shops, etc. and says that, “In many villages, the upper caste communities have deprived Dalits of accessing drinking water.”

A similar situation exists in Orrissa where Dalits are now also seeking legal redress for the discrimination against them. In a village in Bhubaneshwar villagers were ostracised because a member of the Dalit community attempted to register an assault against him with the Police. Village representatives have now travelled to Delhi to explore possibilities for legal action against the upper caste boycott.

The increased support from the judiciary and police are important for Dalits struggling to fight discrimination in their villages and local settings.

However, Vincent Manoharan, a founder of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) cautions that the problem remains with the implementation of such judgments by state actors.

“Many such judgments are delivered, circulars and advisories are issued – but untouchability practices continue to remain and reign in villages,” says Manoharan, “Unless there is a strong political will, a clear bureaucratic commitment and cracking down of the willful negligence of duty bearers, these practices could  not be checked effectively. However, this judgment on the ‘Two Tumbler system’ will be an additional weapon in the hands of Dalits and Dalit organisations to intensify their challenge and struggle.”

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