Ambedkar And Human Rights Education

New Paradigm For Social Revolution of India

 

By HENRY THIAGARAJ (a talk at a JNU Seminar)

 

            Last Year, the 50th anniversary of India's Independence was celebrated.

There were some Dalits who paraded without shirts or wore black shirts on last

August 15, to show they have not got the benefits of freedom and courted arrest.

The same period many newspapers and periodicals including Economic and Political

Weekly published articles by great scholars that the benefits of development and

education has not reached the Dalits, who are the poorest of the poor in India.

 

            This year the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights by the United Nations is being celebrated.  It is obvious that many Dalits

in rural areas do not know the word Human Rights as they have been living in

'dehumanised' conditions for thousands of years.

 

            Human Rights in India has been the pre-occupation of upper caste Hindus,

lawyers and urban elitist scholars who are concerned with civil liberties.  Till

recently the societal violence inflicted on Dalits have not attracted the

attention of the people dealing with Civil Liberties.  When I mention that every

hour two Dalits are assaulted, everyday three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits

are murdered, and two Dalits houses are burnt-people are shocked.(This is based

on Welfare Ministry's Report to the Parliament!)  The Hindu newspaper last year

(11.08.97) mentioned that more than 300 Dalits were already killed in intercaste

violence in the first six months of 1997.  It was 490 in 1996.  In other words,

the societal violence on Dalits is increasing! In Tamil Nadu, where I live, the

caste clashes and police oppression are on the increase.

 

            I would like to recall here the words of Babasaheb Dr.Ambedkar.  "The

Hindus practise injustice and tyranny against Untouchables only because they are

weak. Firstly Untouchables cannot face social and religious persecution, so long

as they remain weak and divided.  Secondly, they do not possess enough strength

to face the tyranny.  With those two conclusions, the third one automatically

follows.  That is the strength required to face the tyranny needs to be procured

from outside."

 

            In my view, the strength required to face the tyranny of Hindu casteism

comes from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is imperative to build

a strong international network to support the Human Rights Movement among the

Dalits of different cultural, political, religious and linguistic groups through

education on Human Rights.  By being united for Human Rights we can organise

Dalits.  This should be a priority declaration for each one of us to empower

people to gain their legitimate rights through Human Rights Movement.  Though

casteism is unique and peculiar social phenomenon, it cannot be justified as a

particular cultural problem.  All violence against Dalits and violations of Human

Rights of Dalits came under the preview of the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights - which the United Nations insist is really universal and applicable to

all countries irrespective of their particular cultures.  To me, Dr. Ambedkar is

the true champion of Human Rights in India, and pioneer of human rights advocacy.

When Baba Saheb said "educate" I am sure it is in broader sense of providing a

humanistic education, not merely academic, an education of life, which will make

Dalits restless or to agitate and to unite.  The problem of Dalits, who are

divided on the basis of occupation, community, culture, language, etc. can be

resolved if the Dalits have learnt that we are human beings first, and we have to

respect our fellow Dalits who are born as human beings and the paradigm of

relationship is respect for human dignity and the paradigm for growth is respect

for (human) dignity of labour, which is naturally found in every Dalit Village.

  Prof. Kancha Illaiah yesterday pointed out that a Dalit village portrays

equality centered productivity, an embryonic creativity, human values, a

democratic civil society - all of which need to be strengthened.

 

            The United Nations Human Rights Division is now emphasizing the right to

development, which includes the right to accessible drinking water, shelter,

food, etc.  On this criteria alone, Indian Dalit people who are denied of

development opportunities, denied of access to drinking water, shelter accessible

roads, etc. can easily claim universal application of Human Rights to their life

and seek protection.

 

            The United Nations is also dealing with contemporary forms of Slavery

which includes agenda items like bonded labour, child labour, sexual exploitation

of women and prostitution.  It is estimated that two million children are working

in hazardous industries and most of them are Dalit children.  Whether it is child

labour, bonded labour, sex-exploitation, prostitution, rape the most affected

people are Dalits.  Under the title of Contemporary Forms of slavery,

discrimination of Dalits based on caste should be studied in the context of the

Human Rights charter of the United Nations.  Human Rights integrates democracy,

development and environment.  It has become a most powerful tool of education.

It covers rights of child, rights of women etc.  In teaching Human Rights to

Dalit people as a method as a method of adult education through the medium of

street plays, cultural shows, songs etc.  We find the shift from dehumanised

condition to human dignity is fast.  We noticed once Dalit women asserted that

they are human beings and their dignity should be protected that they refuse to

be sexually abused by their upper caste land owners - who kept them as bonded

laborers.  This type of grass-root human rights education will bring a social

revolution faster to the satisfaction of all people.  The right to knowledge and

education and researching into our own Dalit heritage.  The indigenous wealth of

spirituality, human dignity, environmental consciousness gives us a great sense

of self-esteem and the ability to embrace all humanity.  In order to create a

casteless society and to find true liberation, first Dalits have to realise their

humanity and human dignity and free themselves from many oppressing forces within

and limiting controls of mind-set.  Here I would like to recall the words of Baba

Saheb Ambedkar on WHO IS A FREE MAN ?

 

            "I call him free who with his conscience awake, realises his rights,

responsibilities and duties.  He who is not a slave of circumstances and is

always ready and striving to change them in his favour, I call him free.  One who

is not a slave of usage, of customs, of meaningless rituals and ceremonies, of

superstition and traditions, one who has not got blind faith in the teachers of

saints and religious teachers, simply because these have been passed from

generation to generation, whose flame of reason has not been extinguished, I call

him a free man.  He who has not surrender his free will and abdicated his

intelligence and independent thinking, who does not blindly act on the teachings

of the others, who does not a accept anything without critically analyzing and

examining its veracity and usefulness in the light of the theory of the 'cause

and effect', who is always prepared to protect his rights, who is not afraid of

ridicule and unjust public criticism, who has a sound conscience and self-respect

so as not to become a tool in the hands of others, I call him a free man.He who

does not lead his life under the direction of others, who sets his own goal of

life according to his own reasoning, and decides for himself as to how and in

what way life should be led, is a free man.  In short a man who is master of his

own free will, him alone I consider a free man. I call him free who with his

conscience awake, realises his rights, responsibilities and duties.  He who is

not a slave of circumstances and is always ready and striving to change them in

his favour, I call him free."  BABA SAHEB Dr. B.R. AMBEDKAR, Speech delivered on

May 31, 1936 Mahar Conference held at Bombay

 

            In Dalit Liberation Education Trust in Chennai, we provide Human Rights

Education to Dalit people, providing an awareness into human dignity, we provide

an opportunity to create a new social order based on dignity of human life and

respecting human rights, which we believe will bring the social revolution in

India.

 

            Our mind works like Rearview Mirror, which is useful as a reference

point, to look into the past, to look at history. Only as a reference point and

not to live all our life in the past. Our life is in the future - The goal to

reach, the vision to realise.

 

            In this National Seminar on "Ambedkar In Retrospect", I want all of you

join me to take Dr. Ambedkar to 21st Century - Ambedkar in futurospect - to

create a New India from caste discrimination, in fact we are all capable of

creating a new humanity and a new world order!

 

 THANK YOU!

 

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Annexure 2

 

FROM AN ARTICLE ON DALIT ISSUES FOR INTERNATIONAL GROUPS

 

            Discrimination against Dalits in India is the major human rights issue of

the current era.  It is more serious and worse than apartheid was in South Africa

and affects far more people.  Here it is not colour but the place of birth, the

community in which one is born , that is the basis for discrimination .The

socio-economic situation of the Dalits has been aptly described by our great

leader, Dr. B.R.  Ambedkar as "dehumanising conditions" in which people have

lived for over 2000 years.

 

            The anguish of 200 million Dalit people of India who are afflicted by

discrimination and societal violence is not reflected in the world, not reported

the world media which specialises on coverage of events in Europe ignoring

justice issues in Asia .  We plead that citizens of the world concerned with

justice give serious consideration during this year ( the 50th anniversary of

UDHR) to the plight of the Dalits. The Dalit people were denied their legitimate

development; they live even today in segregated colonies, without any development

opportunities. At the time of publication many highly reputable scholars wrote to

the newspapers, particularly to The Economic and Political Weekly, about the sad

neglect of Dalits in the development process of India and the urgent need to

uplift the people living in discriminatory and degrading conditions especially

during this significant period of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Indian

Independence.  TIME magazine on 20 October 1997 brought out a special cover

picture article on Dalits which requires serious study by every scholar concerned

with discrimination.

 

            The socio-economic situation of the Dalits is well described in an

article published in the Dalit International Newsletter of June 1997 by the

Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes , Mr.

H.  Hanumanthappa, Member of Parliament:  "The Dalits are in different stages of

socio-economic development and are engaged in divergent forms of work for their

living.  The practice of such traditional unclean occupations as scavenging,

carrying night-soil, removing dead animals, leather work, beating of drums, etc.

gave them a low position in the traditional caste hierarchy and they are viewed

as occupying the lowest rung of the social ladder.  The vast majority of Dalits

are landless and work as agricultural labourers and wage earners to eke out their

livelihood.  Dependence on upper-caste landowners for agricultural labour and

perpetual subjugation force many of them to live as bonded laborers".  "On the

educational front the Scheduled Castes lag far behind the general population of

India.  The general literacy rate in 1991 was 52.19% while the literacy among the

Scheduled castes was only 37.41%"."The condition of the Dalit women is

particularly deplorable.  They are doubly under-priviledged being women belonging

to the Scheduled Castes.  Female literacy among the Dalits is as low as 7.07% in

Bihar, 8.31% in Rajasthan, 10.69% in Uttar Pradesh and 18.11% in Madhya Pradesh.

They constitute the major work force doing hard manual labour and engaged in

agricultural operations and their exposure to outdoor work and interaction with

the cunning employers make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation.  Abject

poverty forces Dalit women to become victims of Devadasi, the institutionalised

prostitution system prevalent in certain parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka".

 

            In addition to the above, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in

its recently released Annual Report made the following observations :"The

Commission considers it deeply offensive to human dignity that the degrading

practice requiring the manual handling of night soil is still allowed to continue

in our country, fifty years after independence"(5.25)  "Despite the launching of

nation-wide scheme in March 1992 to free those engaged in such work, and to

rehabilitate them in other occupations, implementation has remained dismal.  The

Commission felt it should intervene in this matter"  (5.26)"Though the Act itself

has been passed in 1993, the Commission observed that it was, for all practical

purposes lying dormant, little follow-up action having been taken". (5.27)The

Commission is concerned at the fate of those who pay the price for 'development'

whether through the undertaking of mea- projects or as a result of economic

policies that, advertently or other wise, have the effect of marginalising the

most vulnerable sections of society", (5.22)"The Commission is only too well

aware that, when it comes to the weakest sections of society, there is a tendency

to relapse into inaction.(5.28) Further the National Human Rights Commission has

stated:  "The National Workshop was held in August 1996 on Human Rights and

Societal Changes with reference to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes jointly

organised by the National Human Rights Commission and Dalit Liberation Education

Trust.  The Workshop noted that 'despite the existence of the Protection of Civil

Rights Act 1976, the violation of human rights of Dalits had increased'.  The

implementation of the Act left much to be desired; investigations into atrocities

against Dalits were often inadequate' or biased.  The Workshop also noted that

the conviction rate of perpetrators of atrocities against Dalits was very low and

that there was a need to plug the loop holes that permitted this.  Mention was,

very often, made to the frequency of atrocities resulting from disputes over

land, and the need to implement land reforms diligently.  Above all, the workshop

called for greater sensitization of all the agencies of government, the judiciary

and law enforcement machinery in particular, to the special problems posed in

protecting the rights of Dalits'.

 

            Atrocities and Violences : Because of discrimination and their segregated

living, the violence on Dalits is increasing.  This rise of violence on Dalits is

graphically stated by the leading newspaper, The Hindu ( dated 11.08.97 ) in an

article by a well known journalist ,Prem Shankar Jha.  More than 300 Dalits were

already killed in inter-caste violence in the first half of 1997 against a

similar number in the whole of 1995 and around 490 in 1996.  Here we would like

to quote the Member of Parliament, Mr. H.  Hanumanthappa, Chairman, National

Commission for SCs and STs:  "The Scheduled Castes are victims of the age-old

practice of both untouchability and the numerous forms of social disabilities

arising from it.  This social evil is virulent in interior rural areas where

education has not made much way and the Scheduled Castes are completely dependent

upon the mercy of the local upper caste population for their living.  They are

segregated from the main village and reside in separate hamlets located away from

the main habitation, denied entry in temples/places of public worship, ponds,

hotels and tea-stalls, hair-cutting saloons, grocery shops, etc.  They are not

allowed the services of priests, washermen and barbers.  There is resistance

against a Dalit marriage procession walking through the main Village Street.  The

Dalits constitute the weakest of the weaker sections of the society.

Landlessness, a low level of literacy, and social discrimination arising out of

the practice of untouchability not only account for their miseries but are also

factors contributing to perpetration of atrocities against them.  They are

victims of atrocities, which include heinous crimes like murder, grievous hurt,

rape, arson, etc.  "During 1995, the number of reported cases of atrocities

committed on the Scheduled Castes in the country was 35,262 which included 688

cases of murder, 2156 grievous hurt, 1143 rape, and 729 arson cases.  The maximum

number of 14,966 cases of atrocities on Dalits were reported from Uttar Pradesh,

followed by Rajasthan (5,204 cases), and Madhya Pradesh (4,387 cases).  Taken

together, the number of atrocities in these three States accounts for 69% of the

total reported atrocities committed in the country".  The Special Rapporteur on

the Contemporary Forms of Racism and Racial Discrimination has drawn attention to

allegations about the riots in Mumbai in his report.  The Government must be

persuaded that the findings of the Gundewar's Commission appointed by the

Maharashtra Government, investigating the shootings in Ramabai Colony on

11.07.97, should be made public.  The Officers found guilty of killing and

injuring hundreds of Dalits should be prosecuted.  The Government of India must

be persuaded to take a strong political stance aimed at bringing the State

Governments to respect Human Rights, to check human rights violations and to

reduce oppression by the State Police.

 

            The UN Special Reporter on Religious Intolerance has published a report

on his visit to India vide Document Ref. No:E/CN.4/1997/91/Add.1 dated 14.02.97,

which refers to the Report of Extra Conventional Mechanisms.  In para 61 it has

been mentioned that the Secretary of the Ministry of Law, of the Government of

India has accepted "loss of privileges of Dalit Christians" and the proposal to

remove discrimination against Dalit Christians was before Parliament.  We would

like to bring to the attention of all our friends that the Government of India

has not yet introduced the proposed law to remove discrimination on the Dalit

Christians in the Parliament for more than one year. We plead with you,

friends,to impress on the Government the need to remove the discrimination

against Dalit Christians in view of Article 27 of the International Covenant of

Civil and Political Rights which makes it obligatory on the States that have

ratified the Covenant "to ensure that all individuals under their jurisdiction

enjoy their rights; this may require specific action to correct inequalities to

which minorities are subjected".  Therefore the legitimate demand of the Dalit

Christians to remove discrimination against them should be immediately attended

to because of their long standing struggle for equal treatment before the law.

The Indian Constitution says there should be no discrimination on the basis of

religion and yet Dalit converts to Christian faith are discriminated by a

Presidential Order, though in rural areas the share the same plight, the violence

and social oppression imposed on all Dalits.

 

            It is ironic that as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights, the State of Tamil Nadu has brought a draconian

legislation which will make police oppression supreme - specially when it seems

to aim at the minorities in the State of Tamil Nadu.  It is hoped that the

President of India will not give his consent to this oppressive Act.

 

            India has the third largest scientific and technical and manpower in the

world.  India uses its scientific knowledge and progress for nuclear test

explosions.  The Indian Government should be persuaded to use the same scientific

knowledge to solve the problems of the people to remove poverty and

discrimination to respect the right to development of the 200 million Dalits.

Next to the African Continent, the question of Discrimination of Dalits in the

Indian sub-continent must receive the attention of the world opinion leaders, who

stand for protecting the Universal Human Rights of the people.  It is very

important to study discrimination based on untouchability and caste in the South

Asian Region.

 

            The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights is now placing great emphasis on

the right to development. Millions of Dalits have been denied development

opportunities by discriminatory social and religious 'customs' for centuries.

The Dalit people who live in abject poverty as landless agricultural labour and

in lowly occupations will come under the purview of this right to development. It

is very significant that UNDP during this 50th Anniversary of Declaration of

Human Rights published a policy statement early this year entitled "Integrating

Human Rights with Sustainable Human Development".  The problem of Dalits, like

any other deprived people, should be studied in an integrated manner including

human rights, ecology and sustainble development.  We plead with UNDP and other

specialized Agencies like UNICEF, ILO, in India to reorient their projects to

protect the Human Rights of the Dalits, to improve their socio-economic

conditions in the light of latest UNDP policy guidelines to uplift the Dalit

people from their down-trodden life.

 

             I would like to point out the importance of social education to prevent

societal violence and violations of human rights.  The Christian minoriteis in

India have contributed greatly to the educational advancement of the country.

Likewise we would like to play a positive role in providing the educational

inputs that will remove discrimination and protect human rights.  It is for this

purpose that we are setting up a training centre which we hope the international

community devoted to justice and development will support as this training center

can be an Asian Institute which can provide an in-depth experience for young

people to create a new humanity free from violence and discrimination as they

face the challenges of the next millennium.  Our Center will provide leadership

training for Dalits as well as in building bridges amongst and between minority

groups and with majority communities in our country.

 

            Let me conclude with a quote from the Nobel Laureate Dr.Martin Luther

King,Jr., the great civil rights leader:

 

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of

destiny, whatever affects one, directly affects all indirectly".

 

Thank you, my friends!

(end)                                                 Henry Thiagaraj,

Founder-Director                HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION MOVEMENT OF INDIA

                                                 Wednesday, July 29, 1998.