Make reparations to Dalits and Adivasis

Forced integration and forced compensations are the only way to battle the apartheid that they face


A Dalit protest in Ahmedabad last month.
A Dalit protest in Ahmedabad last month.

Indian society must make reparations to Dalits and Adivasis. I mean for the crimes of the present and past against them by Hindu society. And I mean monthly cash transfers to their Aadhaar and Jan Dhan accounts. The Constitution has tried, and failed, to bring about equality. The stubbornness of Hindus in not changing their behaviour is a fact. It is no good expecting them to reform. I am going to make no case for it while newspapers report unconscionable violence daily to a population with zero understanding of causality and responsibility.

Nor am I going to explain why this demand for compensation should be made and why it is justified and necessary. If you do not know what I am talking about and do not feel the same way, there is no point in my wasting time laying out the case.

I concluded long ago that educated, upper-class Indians are lacking in sensitivity, lacking in understanding, and are generally so bigoted as to be beyond reform. It is penitence by cash and not kind that they must be forced to offer. The conclusion I have reached is validated continuously through interaction. Even among the young Hindus of the upper class, meaning those in high school, I find the most repellent views. Closed of mind and beyond redemption.

Strongly prejudiced by colour, in love with themselves and their sanskriti (culture) and rejectionist about everything else as being Indian, as being of value, as being equal.

I am not going to spit out the obligatory “things under the Congress were also bad”. Under Hindutva, it has become worse, and deliberately so, and been applauded by a society focused on its narrow and selfish and irrelevant interests, like terrorism and separatism.

I would like to include Muslims to the list of those we are obliged to compensate. However, their societies are structured in a way that is different from that of Dalits and Adivasis. They include those like Gujarat’s Shia communities, which are drawn from well-to-do castes. Well-to-do doesn’t mean privileged, like Brahmin and Baniya mean privileged. Like upper class and Anglicized mean privileged.

And calling them well-to-do is not to say that these classes do not face, and have not faced, the full force of Hindu prejudice. They do and I have written before about what it is to be a Muslim in this country.

And another thing to do for Parliament after it legislates reparations. Not implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act reforms, especially the one forcing private schools to admit 25% of the poor, must be made punishable criminally. A few principals in jail would be more effective than expecting selfish parents’ unions to give up their privilege.

The same upper class which says reservations should be made on the basis of economics and not caste is blocking this reservation on the basis of economics.

There must be a law that forces the rich to make some room in class for the poor and Dalit and Adivasi members of Parliament across parties should make this a demand.

Thirdly, a law on effective affirmative action or reservation in the private sector. This should be forced on firms above a certain size. Indian society is incapable of understanding that it confuses privilege with merit. This privilege must be taxed. It cannot come free any longer.

Effective (because we will lie and cheat our way out of this as we have with the RTE) affirmative action or private sector reservations should be enforced and should be justiciable— and punitive in the event that it is not followed.

Like the amendment to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which makes inaction in registering a crime a punishable offence. This law is followed mostly in the breach but it is an instrument that is available and in time will become effective. The corporate apartheid against Dalits and Adivasis is a reality. It can no longer be only debated. Forced integration and forced reparations are the answer.

Of course, this money spent as compensation must come from programmes that will need to be stopped. We are a poor nation, yes, but one with totally misplaced priorities because these priorities are decided by the upper classes and their political choices.

Rs.1 trillion—which must eventually be paid to Japan—is better spent on 10 million Dalits than joyrides for a few corpulent and privileged Gujarati merchants with several other options to travel to Mumbai. Missions to Mars are cheaper per kilometre than an autorickshaw only in a nation ignorant of the fact that objects once in space remain perpetually in motion—for free.

An aircraft carrier is an offensive platform. What nations and peoples is ours setting forth to conquer? It is not needed.

There cannot be security against mythical foreign enemies before there is security within. Before there is compensation for the physical, economic insecurity that our vulnerable communities experience.

This nation is not self-correcting. It must be forced to behave. That is the only way.

Dalits and Adivasis and Muslims should unite on rigid and absolutist demands. With them will stand those who are willing, those who cannot sit around any longer and watch their continued persecution. The demand is for rightful compensation and it should be paid now.

Aakar Patel is the executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at aakar_amnesty.

Also Read: Aakar’s previous Lounge columns

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