'Neoliberal mantra has left the Dalits in a miserable state'

Written by: Shubham Ghosh

India has emerged into a fast-developing nation and often termed as the future destination of the world. But amid all the economic highs, the conditions of the Dalits in the country have improved a little, socially and economically. OneIndia News continues with its conversation with scholar-activist Dr Anand Teltumbde on these issues.

Dr Teltumbde is a scholar-activist associated with various peoples’ movements for over last three decades. He is also associated with the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR). He has written extensively and lectured widely in India and abroad. He is an alumni of IIM, Ahmedabad.


OneIndia: The spate of violence against the Dalits (Bathani Tola, Khairlanji and many others) and little action against the culprits show that the Indian state has not taken their causes seriously. Even the judiciary has failed to provide them justice in most cases. Your views on this.

Dr Teltumbde: The trend of atrocities against the Dalits was unclear in the 1970s and 1980s but it has been constantly rising under a state that supports neoliberal economic reforms. It is not the casteist forces in the civil society (which is not so civil, anyway) but the state itself that encourages incidents of atrocities. I have talked on these facts in my book on Khairlanji.

The chain of events that follow the atrocities does enough to ensure that the Dalits remain deprived of justice. To start with, the police do not register the cases of atrocity and even if they do, they do not apply the relevant clauses. Even if that is done, the police do not carry out proper investigation and deliberately create a defective evidence. When the case goes for trial, the prosecutor does not pursue them in the right spirit and the judiciary thereafter could even end up being biased. These days, a new trend is visible.

If any atrocity fuels public protest, as Khairlanji did, the lower courts deliver 'political' justice, i.e., they will deliberately award harsh punishments like 'death' without much support of evidence. When the case goes in the appellate court, it does not find any basis and either lowers the punishment or acquits the accused. By then, people mostly forget about the incident and even if further appeal is made, the actual criminals manage to escape. In case the judgment goes against the criminals, their masters take care of them. Moreover, since the process usually runs over a decade or two, the judgement anyway loses its value.

We expect too much from the judiciary, which it may be said to its credit has not done badly This insofar as general issues are concerned. While the other two wings of the state, viz., legislative and Executive, have almost colluded to facilitate the loot of the country, the judiciary has stood fairly independent and did its job better at least relatively speaking. But how can it also remain uninfluenced by the ideological environment. After all, what special stuff the judges are made of? They also come from typically middle to upper caste / class backgrounds and share large part of culture with their legislative and executive counterparts. If we take stock of their judgments, we cannot miss out neoliberal influence on them.

Take for example the TA Pai case in which the full bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the private people could pursue education as occupation and have all freedoms associated with it. This judgment has practically legitimised the crass commercialisation of education. I am sure you can easily cite dozens of judgments of this kind. But I say, this is still better when the matter is secular. When it comes to caste, the hell breaks loose. Many judgements clearly show casteist biases. For instance in the Bhanwari Devi case, the judge had dismissed the case saying that it was improbable that an upper-caste person rapes a low-caste woman. Most judgements involving caste atrocities dismiss the fact that the crime was caste-based and thereby make the Atrocity Act, which was considered as the only Act with teeth, inapplicable. If even it is not expressed in blatantly in such a form, the bias in the judgment cannot be hidden.

OneIndia: Lack of prospects for Dalits in other socio-economic areas like education, health, job, also reflect their woeful state. But the fact is: This is 2012 and not 1970s or 1980s when the Indian society was more of a closed entity. Today, democratic and civil rights forces are more assertive and if the Indian state continues with its exclusive stand, disaster won't be far.

Dr Teltumbde: There is a social Darwinist logic at work in this era of globalisation. The neoliberal paradigm does not support the government to indulge in economic activities and wants it to release whatever good and services it was providing to the people, to the market. They will create pro-people noise but will eventually toe the neoliberal agenda. The underscoring logic is: "If you have money, you can have whatever you want. If you do not have it, you need not crib. If you crib too much, you could be stamped as Naxalites and encountered." This has left the Dalits in a miserable state. They might appear better off than their ancestors, but that is only the surface reality. If you take stock of the resources at their disposal, they might be far worse off than the previous generations.

Today in 2012, when we find neoliberalism as a well-entrenched ideology shared by all classes, ranging from the top to lower-middle, it might appear more open but in fact they are more deleterious to the lower classes that are fast becoming invisible.

I would not agree that the democratic and civil rights forces are more assertive today than say in 1980s. I have been an intimate part of the civil rights movement from its inception. We find issues galore of civil rights violations today that we are utterly incapable of handling; we find totally suffocated to voice them; in fact we find ourselves at the crossroads faced with the problem of our existence itself. Our entire activity was premised on creating public pressure with the help of media.

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