A protest in the Indian state of Gujarat’s largest city, Ahmedabad, on Sunday by thousands of Dalits — members of India’s lowest castes — has brought to a head the contradiction between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of economic opportunity for all and a politics of division driven by right-wing Hindu ideology.
The protest was called after four Dalits skinning a dead cow — a scorned task relegated to the long-oppressed group — were set upon by cow-protection vigilantes on July 11 near Una, Gujarat. The gang stripped the Dalits to the waist, chained them to a car, and beat them for hours while the police and others looked on.
The cow, sacred to Hindus, has become a lightning rod for the Hindu right under Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government. Mr. Modi himself has exploited the cow slaughter issue at rallies. The B.J.P.’s president, Amit Shah, has boasted, “Wherever there is a B.J.P. government, there is a ban on beef.” On Sunday, a B.J.P. member of Parliament, Raja Singh, declared, “I extend my full support to all those who take it upon themselves to teach those few Dalits a valuable lesson.”
The result is lawless vigilantism. Last September, a Muslim man whose family was suspected of eating beef was killed by a mob. In March, two cattle traders were lynched in the state of Jharkhand.
Dalits have refused to handle dead animals, whose rotting carcasses are piling up, until they are given assurances that they will not be attacked and that their longstanding oppression will be addressed. Though aspirations and educational levels have risen among Dalits, they still face terrible prejudice. In January, a Dalit Ph.D. student committed suicide after caste-based hounding.
In 2014, Mr. Modi, who ran Gujarat for over 12 years, won India’s national election by a landslide on a promise to transform all of India on the Gujarat model of economic development. Protests last September by middle-class Patels, angered by a lack of jobs, indicated that even those who should be doing well in Gujarat are struggling.
On Monday, Mr. Modi’s handpicked successor, the Gujarat chief minister, Anandiben Patel, resigned, a sign of the B.J.P.’s concern that the turmoil in Gujarat will harm the party in state elections next year and national elections in 2019. That could very well happen if Mr. Modi does not break his shameful silence on cow vigilantes, and reset his political compass on a course of economic opportunity, dignity and justice.
People protest Prime Minister Modi's shameful silence on cow vigilantes in Gujarat after Dalit men were stripped and beaten. New York Times Editorial Board
Data on Rising Crimes Against OutCastes — Why Crime Is Rising Against India’s Lowest Castes And Tribes — Highlighting India's Caste Problems in Numbers, Figures, Charts and Graphs! (Interactive Charts & Graphs)
Consider crimes against Dalits. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that crimes against Dalits increased from less than 50 (for every million people) in the last decade to 223 in 2015. Among states, Rajasthan has the worst record although Bihar is a regular in the top 5 states by crimes against Dalits. Gujarat had a rate lower than all-India average (for crimes against Dalits) in 2011. It has crossed the mark since then.
How Dalit anger against the government found expression in the Ambedkar Bhavan and Una protests —
The rally against the historic building's demolition in Mumbai also united anti-BJP forces in one voice.
OutCaste women face particular issues. These women are often victims of human trafficking and sexual violence where their perpetrators are rarely convicted. They are denied access to education, women’s health care, and other services a woman needs to live. The subordinate position of the OutCaste women continues to be perpetuated by the lack of assistance from public and government officials.
Indian government once again attempted to silence discussion of women’s issues by banning “India’s Daughter,” a stirring documentary that revisits the savage 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old Delhi woman.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu called the film “an international conspiracy to defame India.”
Just a few weeks after the 2012 Delhi Rape Case, a 17-year-old Indian girl who was gang-raped committed suicide, apparently because police would not file an official report on the attack. A year later, a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped, set on fire, and two months later died of her injuries. During those two months, the police did not file a crime report. More recently, The Indian Express reported that a 6-year-old girl was sexually assaulted with an iron rod by a security guard.
Often, women who suffer violence stay silent because they have no faith in India’s justice system.
India’s southwestern state of Kerala, noted for its high levels of social development, exhibited markedly different patterns in the 2014 election from most other parts of the country. In Kerala, parties on the far left did quite well, as did the center-left Indian National Congress, whereas the center-right BJP performed quite poorly, as did regionalist parties. To understand the electoral geography of Kerala, it is necessary to examine religion and caste.
The Ezhavas, the most numerous of all the Hindu groups in Kerala, are also the most puzzling of its peoples. Subdues by centuries by the Brahmins and the Nairs, regarded as outside the four-fold caste system, they nevertheless retained a pride even in their position as the leading caste of the outcastes, and during the nineteenth century developed a great will to rise above the limitations which society had laid upon them … . The Ezhavas sought education, even established their own schools… . Fortunate Ezhavas took to business and the Congress Party: unfortunate ones to radical rebellion, for the poor Ezhavas have long formed the dedicated core of the Communist Party in Kerala. … No group anywhere in India has so successfully, by its own efforts, removed itself from the double stigma of untouchability and ex-untouchability.
Statistics from National Crime Records Bureau's Crime in India 2012 report plotted on a map of India to highlight which Indian states have the highest rate of crime against women. The rate of crime against women means the number of crimes against women per one lakh population of women. The statistics from the 2011 Actual Census (Provisional) women population have been used to calculate the crime rate.
On 25 March 2007, Awadkesh Kumar, 24, was hit by gunshots fired by members of the dominant caste in his community. Awadkesh was semi-unconscious for five days and lost both eyes. Four arrests were made, but the court case is still pending. Meanwhile, Awadkesh is unable to feed his family and relies on the help of neighbors.