05 July 2006

Modern-world superiority

As long as there’s a world with people, I suppose, there is going to be exploitation of people by people. It has been so throughout history – slavery, European colonisation, the caste system in India, Hitler’s genocide – and continues to be so even now in various parts of the world under various guises of social, political and economic superiority. For, some people believe they are superior to others.

Take the First World countries, for instance, the rich nations of the capitalist West, the ruling aristocracies of the modern world. They not only consider themselves to be the most accomplished societies of our times, they actually enforce their ideologies and expansionist theories through economic and political manoeuvring to uphold their establishments.

Are they opportunists? Is this a survival strategy? Or, is this exploitation of other countries, markets and people based on the belief of individualism, of one group of people believing they are superior to others and, thus, establishing their dominance in the world? Maybe the answer constitutes all of these questions.

The guises of modern-world superiority take on many forms: ethnicity, religion, social position due to heredity or by decree, military strength, wealth, an accomplished culture, or the economic demands of the time. Typically those based on ascribed or inherited statuses… and not those based on equality or those following national constitutions or human rights charters.

India, within its own boundaries, offers one such tragic example to the world: the exploitation of the Dalits based on the Hindu caste system.

The Dalits (or outcastes) constitute a large group of people (over 170 million – 16% of India’s population) belonging to the ‘shudra’ caste, the lowest of the four Hindu castes. They make up people whose occupations involve lower-order tasks of society such as clearing waste or dead bodies, working with leather, scavenging for refuse, peasants and labourers. The Hindu caste system classifies them as ‘untouchables’.

According to the Constitution of India, it is illegal to discriminate anyone on the basis of caste. Still, the caste system is a reality in India today, and untouchability is still a part of the daily lives of millions of Dalits. They are shunned by society and have no choice but to stick to their own communities in the outer fringes of civilisation.

The Dalit population is still disproportionately below the poverty level, both in rural and in urban India. They have significantly higher rates of unemployment and landlessness than non-Dalits, and less access to educational, administrative and judicial resources. Discrimination against Dalits is common and atrocities against them are rampant in various corners of our country.

India may be the largest democracy in the world, but modern-world superiority has its own unique way of operating here. And, the tragedy is, nobody knows when and how it’ll all end. I guess, when it comes to notions of equality, amity and social well-being, there is still progress to be made even in the world’s largest democracy.

[Citation & following quotes from Friends of South Asia (FOSA)
http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/

Extensive list of atrocities against Dalits documented on website of National Campaign of Dalit Human Rights
http://www.dalits.org/atrocities.html and a special report on Dalit houses being burnt down in Gohana can be found at http://www.dalits.org/Gohana1.htm.

In his presentation ‘Dalits and Globalization’ delivered at the World Social Forum held in Mumbai, Professor S K Thorat presented important data on socio-economic indicators of the Dalits. In 1999-2000, nearly 75% of the Dalits were landless or near landless; 65% of Dalit households were dependent upon wage labour; the literacy rate for Dalits was around 37% as opposed to 58% in non-Dalit; 43% of Dalits were below poverty levels, almost twice as many as the non-Dalits. During 1980-2000, a total of about 300,000 cases of human right violation and atrocities were registered by the Supreme Court with the police.]

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