In 2013, five Dalit women were raped every day. Crimes against Dalits rose by 19% in 2014-2015. What needs to happen for us to change this reality?
When your cupboard is full of skeletons, and you open it, what emerges first is just sound. Then, skulls follow. Finally, bones.
We are experiencing right now the first stage after the opening of the cupboard. The skulls and the bones are yet to tumble out.
But tumble out they will, and tumble out they must. And when they do, we as a nation will have a catharsis that Germany experienced in the wake of the Second World War. We need it. We need the skulls to tumble out.
The horrific visuals of Dalits being tied to the back of a car and beaten mercilessly have once again exposed us to how barbaric we are, as a nation, as a people. Yes, I hear you moan: did I tie the Dalits; did I beat them with a rod? To which I say: neither did I. And neither did those who are reading this right now.
There comes a moment in a nation’s life when the crimes it has committed mount, they collect, drop by painful drop, and form a giant trembling wave that, like Vonnegut’s sequence, awaits a shore. India has escaped the moment of catharsis that Germany experienced. After the war ended, the victorious Allied forces showed in batches to the Germans visuals of the concentration camps, and what was found in them. The Germans looked away. Why? Why did the Germans, most of whom had not participated in the holocaust, why did they look away? Because that was their moment of catharsis. They as a nation, they as a collective conscience, realised the horror Germany had perpetrated. The Germans held each other’s hand and stood up. They faced the wave. And it changed Germany. For the better.
These cathartic moments come but rarely in a nation’s History. Spain, and Britain, and Portugal, and Belgium, and countless other colonial powers that subjugated millions, annihilated whole populations, destroyed continents, haven’t had them yet. Perhaps they never will. Collective conscious is impossibly hard to materialise. To stand and face the wave, to hear the shrieks of six million ghosts, to realise that one’s conscience has now amalgamated with the conscience of millions of others and must now answer as a collective, takes courage.
We as a nation need to face that wave. For too long, all we have done is tabulate the crimes against the Dalits. In 2009, 33,412; in 2010, 32,643; in 2011, 33,719; in 2012, 33,655; in 2013, 33,655; in 2014, 47,064. In 2015 – the numbers aren’t out yet but we’ll slot them; and we’ll slot them again in 2016, and in 2017, and in 2018, and every year that follows, till eternity. Crimes under the United Progressive Alliance, crimes under the National Democratic Alliance, crimes under a central government, crimes under a state government. We see these crimes as drops, and drops they are and will remain so, because we haven’t allowed them to be pulled together into a wave. We aren’t brave enough.
Five rapes were committed against Dalits every single day in 2013. One rape every five hours. Drop. A Dalit arrives for his wedding wearing a helmet because he is stoned by people who have lined up along the marriage procession. Drop. A Dalit digs a 40 foot deep well all by himself because he is denied water by the village. Drop. A Dalit is flogged. Drop. A Dalit is murdered. Drop. A Dalit’s shadow pollutes a passer-by. Drop. A Dalit drinks from a separate cup. Drop.
These drops have collected, like they have for centuries, for millennia, but they never made a wave. The making of the wave is conditional upon our standing up to face it. The wave is our catharsis. And that it why is has never formed.
We as a nation need to be hit by that wave. This is our moment of Truth, a moment that will define us and our future generations.
But is it easy? No. Not at all. In the 1960s, Dr Martin Luther King fought for civil rights, and he got them because they didn’t exist before. But we have the laws, we have the rights – there is no law we can fight for that doesn’t already exist, that doesn’t already promise equality in every shape and size. What, then, must one do?
You can fight for freedom that you don’t have; you can fight for laws that don’t exist; but how can you fight for something that is already guaranteed to you by the Constitution?
And this is where the solution appears right before our eyes, for it has been provided by staring hard at the question: the absurdity of fighting for rights that already exist.
Crimes against Dalits will never stop just because we have laws to punish those crimes.
The solution is to collect the drops, to form a wave, to stand, and to allow it to hit us. The solution is to have Dr BR Ambedkar’s books as an essential and binding part of school syllabus; the solution is to have a monthly lecture by a Dalit in every school, in every university, so Indian children get to hear and discuss what they never hear and discuss, at school or at home; the solution is to provide an incentive for a weekly swap of habitat for non-Dalit and Dalit families, in villages across the country; the solution is to have community lunches, feasts, festivals, outings; the solution is provide incentives, monetary or otherwise, for inter-caste marriages.
The solution is to feel ashamed at seeing the cataloguing based on caste in matrimonial columns. Two communities can co-exist peacefully, but more often than not, they don’t – human instinct is perfunctorily tribal. For lasting peace, there needs to be just one community. Yes, it may not drive away the bigotry or the prejudice totally, but it is a start, a beginning, something to aspire towards.
Vasudaiva kutumbakam. It is astounding how inspiring and scientifically correct this phrase is. And equally astounding to find the civilisation that gave us these magic words no longer believes in it.
The solution is cultural. The solution is not religious or political or constitutional.
The solution is to realise that we are all Manu’s children even without knowing who Manu was or what he wrote. The solution is catharsis, and catharsis is beautiful. Catharsis is to take pride in being shamed.
How has it happened that India, an 8,000 year-old land blessed with so much wisdom, has spouted so much barbarity? Science can explain, through population Genetics, the abrupt stopping of the mixing of the Indian population 2,000 years ago, at the time of the appearance of Manu Smriti.
But can Science explain our moral conundrum? Can it nudge us towards our catharsis?
No. Science cannot do that. It can only tell us our History. And it has told us in no uncertain terms that we stopped mixing our genes 2,000 years ago. And, separately, it has told us that the mixing of genes lies at the heart of the survival of a species. The more diverse we are, the more successful we will be.
There will never be another Ambedkar. But we wait for him. An army of a billion people waits for one man to guide us, and we do this because we are afraid to form a collective conscience, perhaps because of quasi-religious romanticisation of ekla chalo, walking alone, or of one man paying for all our sins, absolving us. And we forget, we forget that in waiting for a messiah, in refusing to heed the logic of evolution, the survival of a species, we risk a dwindling of our strength, of our army, until it is reduced to one man.
And an army reduced to one man is not the same as a one man army.
This article first appeared in newslaundry on Jul. 22, 2016.