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Posted at: Oct 6, 2018, 12:03 AM; last updated: Oct 6, 2018, 12:03 AM (IST)STOP CASTE DISCRIMINATION

Abhorrent caste schism a blot on society

Col Dilbag Dabas (Retd)

“Mirchpur is yet another grim reminder of the complete absence of equality and fraternity in Indian society as noted by Dr Ambedkar in 1949,” says a Delhi High Court Bench (a front page report in The Tribune, dated August 25, 2018). 

“Dalits get justice, but still a long march to equality, fraternity,” says an editorial in The Tribune dated August 27, 2018.

As a young subaltern in early seventies, I called on my uncle, who was a   teacher in a primary school in a small village in Hisar district bordering Rajasthan. While going around the school, I observed that in classrooms the students sat in four rows. Three rows were close to each other on one side while the fourth was unusually apart. Students in three rows sat on mats but those in the fourth sat on the floor. The three rows had a sufficient gap between each other but the fourth row was crowded. To me it looked odd. I asked my uncle “what is all this, looks like segregation”. He replied: “Ye teen line Jaaton ke bachchon ki hain aur chaothi line mein Harijanon ke bachchey baithey hain”. Dalits were then called Harijan. The reply was disturbing but there was something more to disturb me even more. In the centre of the school courtyard, I noticed three well polished ‘matkas’ (clay pitchers) under a tree, with wet sacks wrapped around them to keep the water cool, and a steel glass kept nearby each of them. I also saw an old ‘matka’ in a distant corner in the open with no wet sack. It just had an old aluminum glass chained to its neck. I looked at my uncle, “same here?” and he nodded. 

During lunch break students ate at designated eating places, as per their castes. I went inside the teachers’ room to eat. From the window, I noticed two men sitting on the chairs outside and eating food. I asked “and who are these two eating outside?” The uncle said, “Yeh bhi master hain lekin Harijan hain”. I asked, “Why this inhuman segregation throughout?” He replied, “Jab tak log sikshit nahin honge, ye yun hi chalega”. I also asked, “Don’t students play games with each other?'. He said, “Nahin, kyonki dono dartey hain — Jat haarne se, aur Harijan jeetne se”. 

The segregation was imposed not because of the dogma passed on to the upper castes by their ancestors. Lack of education and consequent unawareness thwarted them from understanding its pitfalls and overcoming them. But deep down, there was undeniable social connect between the two since they knew that they were inter-dependent. Unlike the present times, in those days, atrocity on lower castes and minorities was unheard of. Secular fabric and compassion among communities was, by and large, intact. 

I went to the same school again after 26 years. It was now a high school. I noticed no segregation, no separate matkas and no separate eating places. All students sat together and ate. Some even shared ‘sabji-roti’ with each other. On the playground, students rubbed shoulders with each other. None was afraid of winning or losing. All teachers, irrespective of their castes, ate together in the teachers’ room. The ‘Eklavyas’ had become part of the mainstream or so it seemed. 

The new education policy of 1986, implemented and monitored by the state and Central governments, made a difference. Haryanvis throughout the state gradually realised the importance of ‘siksha’ and slowly and steadily shunned the dogmas. In Haryana, in those times, inter-caste or inter-community clashes did happen but rarely and mostly to settle personal scores but never in perpetuity to signal a divide. 

The oppression of Dalits and minorities by the self-styled custodians of the majority make headlines almost on a daily basis. Condemnation of such inhuman acts is too little too late, and often vague. Successive governments had done their bit to uplift the underprivileged irrespective of their religious identity, but security to the targeted groups and communities needs to be taken seriously. 

(The writer is a veteran Gunner, 6 Field Regiment)


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