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The Opression of Shudras in India, Part II: Sections 1-3 of "Problems of Dalits

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

By the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

The views and opinions expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the creator of this blog and are the sole responsibility of the author. Essays expressing opinions similar to and counter to those of the creator of this blog are strictly for diversity and to start thoughtful and meaningful discussion.

This essay is taken from sections one through three of Resolution Adopted at the All India Convention on Problems of Dalits by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in New Delhi, India on Feb. 22, 2006.

1. A MARXIST PERSPECTIVE ON CASTE OPPRESSION

The thoroughly reactionary varna and caste system has hounded Indian society for thousands of years. India is the only country in the world where such a system came into being and still exists. The varna and caste system was sanctified by Hindu religion and by Vedic scriptures. This was the main reason for its consolidation. The notorious text, Manusmriti, codified the then prevailing social norms and consigned the shudras, atishudras and women to a thoroughly unequal and miserable existence. The distinctiveness of the caste system was that it was hereditary, compulsory and endogamous. The worst affected by the caste system and its social oppression have been the dalits, or atishudras, or scheduled castes. Albeit in a different way, the adivasis or scheduled tribes in India have also faced social oppression over the ages. The stories of Shambuka in the Ramayana and of Ekalavya in the Mahabharata are classic testimonies of the non-egalitarian nature of Hindu society in ancient India.

Along with the curse of untouchability, the dalits had no right to have any property. They had to eat the foulest food, including leftovers thrown away by the higher varnas; they were not allowed to draw water from the common well; they were prohibited from entering temples; they were barred from the right to education and knowledge; they had to perform menial jobs for the higher castes; they were not allowed to use the common burial ground; they were not allowed to live in the main village inhabited by the upper varnas; and they were deprived of ownership rights to land and property, leading to the lack of access to all sources of economic mobility. Thus, dalits were subjected to both social exclusion and economic discrimination over the centuries. In one form or the other, this continues even today in most parts of the country.

As Comrade B.T. Ranadive pointed out “the three powerful class interests, the imperialists, the landlords and bourgeois leadership were acting as the defenders of the caste system, by protecting the landlord and pre-capitalist land system.” It will be seen from here that the interests of the bourgeois class rested in maintaining the status quo. There has been no basic change in caste system after nearly 60 years of independence after independence as the bourgeoisie compromised with landlordism fostered caste prejudices. After independence also, the basic structure of land relations, overhauling of which would have given a blow to untouchability and the caste system has not been changed.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw great social reformers like Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, Sri Narayan Guru, Jyothiba Phule, Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy Naickar and others. These social reform movements conducted many struggles against the caste system, caste oppression and untouchability in many ways. But, despite the struggles against caste oppression, the social reform movement did not address the crucial issue of radical land reforms. It got delinked from the anti-imperialist struggle. The Congress-led national movement on its part, failed to take up radical social reform measures as part of the freedom movement.

Diametrically opposed to the progressive role of the reform movement was the thoroughly reactionary role on social issues that was played by the RSS and the Sangh Parivar ever since its inception. Apart from its rabid communal ideology, the RSS adopted a Brahmanical stance right from the beginning. With this understanding, the RSS opposed the amendments to the Hindu Code Bill after independence. The BJP’s opposition to the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations was also on this basis. Wherever the BJP is in power in the states, atrocities on Muslims, dalits and adivasis have increased markedly. At the same time in some areas, they sought to pit the poor people belonging to dalits and tribal community against Muslims and Christians. So, the fight against caste oppression and communalism are interlinked. The experience clearly shows the need to link the fight against caste oppression with the struggle against class exploitation. At the same time, the class struggle must include the struggle for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of social oppression. This is an important part of the democratic revolution.

2. THE CPI (M) ON THE CASTE QUESTION

The CPI(M) Programme updated in 2000 succinctly summarises the caste question as follows: “The bourgeois-landlord system has also failed to put an end to caste oppression. The worst sufferers are the scheduled castes. The dalits are subject to untouchability and other forms of discrimination despite these being declared unlawful. The growing consciousness among the dalits for emancipation is sought to be met with brutal oppression and atrocities. The assertion by the dalits has a democratic content reflecting the aspirations of the most oppressed sections of society. The backward castes have also asserted their rights in a caste-ridden society.

“At the same time a purely caste appeal which seeks to perpetuate caste divisions for the narrow aim of consolidating vote banks and detaching these downtrodden sections from the common democratic movement has also been at work. Many caste leaders and certain leaders of bourgeois political parties seek to utilise the polarisation on caste lines for narrow electoral gains and are hostile to building up the common movement of the oppressed sections of all castes. They ignore the basic class issues of land, wages and fight against landlordism, which is the basis for overthrowing the old order. “The problem of caste oppression and discrimination has a long history and is deeply rooted in the pre-capitalist social system. The society under capitalist development has compromised with the existing caste system. The Indian bourgeoisie itself fosters caste prejudices. Working class unity presupposes unity against the caste system and the oppression of dalits, since the vast majority of dalits are part of the labouring classes. To fight for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of social oppression through a social reform movement is an important part of the democratic revolution. The fight against caste oppression is interlinked with the struggle against class exploitation.”

The Political Resolution of the 18th Congress of the CPI(M) held in 2005 gives concrete guidance to the Party to take up caste and social issues. In the section titled “Caste Oppression and Dalits”, it says, “The caste system contains both social oppression and class exploitation. The dalits suffer from both types of exploitation in the worst form. 86.25 per cent of the scheduled caste households are landless and 49 per cent of the scheduled castes in the rural areas are agricultural workers. Communists who champion abolition of the caste system, eradication of untouchability and caste oppression have to be in the forefront in launching struggles against the denial of basic human rights. This struggle has to be combined with the struggle to end the landlord-dominated order which consigns the dalit rural masses to bondage. The issues of land, wages and employment must be taken up to unite different sections of the working people and the non-dalit rural poor must be made conscious of the evils of caste oppression and discrimination by a powerful democratic campaign. There are some dalit organisations and NGOs who seek to foster anti-communist feelings amongst the dalit masses and to detach them from the Left movement. Such sectarian and, in certain cases, foreign- funded activities must be countered and exposed by positively putting forth the Party’s stand on caste oppression and making special efforts to draw the dalit masses into common struggles.”

In the section titled “Fight Caste Appeal”, the Political Resolution says, “The intensification of the caste appeal and fragmentation of the working people on caste lines is a serious challenge to the Left and democratic movement. Taking up caste oppression, forging the common movement of the oppressed of all castes and taking up class issues of common concern must be combined with a bold campaign to highlight the pernicious effects of caste-based politics. The Party should work out concrete tactics in different areas taking into account the caste and class configurations. Electoral exigencies should not come in the way of the Party’s independent campaign against caste-based politics. Reservation is no panacea for the problems of caste and class exploitation. But they provide some limited and necessary relief within the existing order. Reservation should be extended to dalit Christians. In the context of the privatisation drive and the shrinkage of jobs in the government and public sector, reservations in the private sector for scheduled castes and tribes should be worked out after wide consultations.”

3. THE POSITION OF DALITS IN INDIA TODAY

According to the 2001 census, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 per cent of the total population of India, that is, they number over 17 crore. Scheduled tribes comprise 8.2 per cent of the population, that is, they number over 8 crore. Both together constitute 24.4 per cent of the Indian population, that is, they together number over 25 crore. The six states that have the highest percentage of scheduled caste population are Punjab (28.9), Himachal Pradesh (24.7), West Bengal (23.0), Uttar Pradesh (21.1), Haryana (19.3) and Tamil Nadu (19.0). The twelve states that have the largest number of scheduled castes are Uttar Pradesh (351.5 lakhs), West Bengal (184.5 lakhs), Bihar (130.5 lakhs), Andhra Pradesh (123.4 lakhs), Tamil Nadu (118.6 lakhs), Maharashtra (98.8 lakhs), Rajasthan (96.9 lakhs), Madhya Pradesh (91.6 lakhs), Karnataka (85.6 lakhs), Punjab (70.3 lakhs), Orissa (60.8 lakhs) and Haryana (40.9 lakhs). Almost every socio-economic indicator shows that the position of scheduled caste families is awful. In many cases their plight is getting worse. Let us have a look at some of the major indicators.

LAND: In 1991 70% of the total SC households were landless or near landless (owning less than one acre). This increased to 75% in 2000. In 1991, 13% of the rural SC households were landless. However, in 2000 this saw a decline and was 10%. As per the Agricultural Census of 1995-96, the bottom 61.6% of operational holdings accounted for only 17.2% of the total operated land area. As against this, the top 7.3% of operational holdings accounted for 40.1% of the total operated area. This gives an indication of land concentration in the hands of a few.

FIXED CAPITAL ASSETS: In 2000, about 28 % of SC households in rural areas had acquired some access to fixed capital assets (agricultural land and non-land assets). This was only half compared to 56 % for other non-SC/ST households who had some access to fixed capital assets. In the urban areas, the proportion was 27 % for SCs and 35.5 % for others.

AGRICULTURAL LABOUR: In 2000, 49.06 % of the working SC population were agricultural labourers, as compared to 32.69 % for the STs and only 19.66 % for the others. This shows the preponderance of dalits in agricultural labour. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of agricultural labourers in India increased from 7.46 crore to 10.74 crore, and a large proportion of them were dalits. On the other hand, the average number of workdays available to an agricultural labourer slumped from 123 in 1981 to 70 in 2005.

CHILD LABOUR: It is reported that out of the 60 million child labour in India, 40 % come from SC families. Moreover, it is estimated that 80% of child labour engaged in carpet, matchstick and firecracker industries come from scheduled caste backgrounds. The tanning, colouring and leather processing, lifting dead animals, clearing human excreta, cleaning soiled clothes, collection of waste in slaughter houses and sale of toddy are some of the hereditary jobs generally pursued by Dalit children.

PER CAPITA INCOME: In 2000, as against the national average of Rs. 4485, the per capita income of SCs was Rs. 3,237. The average weekly wage earning of an SC worker was Rs. 174.50 compared to Rs. 197.05 for other non- SC/ST workers.
POVERTY: In 2000, 35.4 % of the SC population was below the poverty line in rural areas as against 21 % among others (‘Others’ everywhere means non-SC/ST); in urban areas the gap was larger – 39 % of SC as against only 15 % among others. The largest incidence of poverty in rural areas was among agricultural labour followed by non-agricultural labour, whereas in urban areas the largest incidence of poverty was among casual labour followed by self-employed households. The monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) for all household types was lower for SCs than others.
EMPLOYMENT: In 2000, the unemployment rate based on current daily status was 5 % for SCs as compared to 3.5 % for others in rural and urban areas. The wage labour households accounted for 61.4 % of all SC households in rural areas and 26 % in urban areas, as compared to 25.5 % and 7.45 % for other households.

RESERVATIONS: 15 % and 7.5 % of central government posts are reserved for SCs and STs respectively. For SCs, in Group A, only 10.15% posts were filled, in Group B it was 12.67 %, in Group C it was 16.15% and in Group D it was 21.26 %. The figures for STs were even lower, at 2.89 %, 2.68 %, 5.69 % and 6.48 % for the four groups respectively. Of the 544 judges in the High Courts, only 13 were SC and 4 were ST. Among school teachers all over the country, only 6.7 % were SC/STs, while among college and university teachers, only 2.6 % were SC/STs.

EDUCATION: In 2001, the literacy rate among SCs was 54.7 % and among STs it was 47.1 %, as against 68.8 % for others. Among women, the literacy rate for SCs was 41.9 %, for STs it was 34.8 % and for others it was 58.2 %. School attendance was about 10 % less among SC boys than other boys, and about 5 % less among SC girls than other girls. Several studies have observed discrimination against SCs in schools in various forms.

HEALTH: In 2000, the Infant Mortality Rate (child death before the age of 1) in SCs was 83 per 1000 live births as against 61.8 for the others, and the Child Mortality Rate (child death before the age of 5) was 119.3 for 1000 live births as against 82.6 for the others. These high rates among the SCs are closely linked with poverty, low educational status and discrimination in access to health services. In 1999, at least 75 % of SC women suffered from anaemia and more than 70 % SC womens’ deliveries took place at home. More than 75 % of SC children were anaemic and more than 50 % suffered from various degrees of malnutrition.

WOMEN: While dalit women share common problems of gender discrimination with their high caste counterparts, they also suffer from problems specific to them. Dalit women are the worst affected and suffer the three forms oppression — caste, class and gender. As some of the above figures show, these relate to extremely low literacy and education levels, heavy dependence on wage labour, discrimination in employment and wages, heavy concentration in unskilled, low-paid and hazardous manual jobs, violence and sexual exploitation, being the victims of various forms of superstitions (like the devadasi system) etc.

SANITATION: Only 11 % of SC households and 7 % of ST households had access to sanitary facilities as against the national average of 29 %.

ELECTRICITY: Only 28 % of the SC population and 22 % of the ST population were users of electricity as against the national average of 48%.

ATROCITIES, UNTOUCHABILITY AND DISCRIMINATION: During 16 years between 1981 to 2000 for which records are available, a total of 3,57,945 cases of crime and atrocities were committed against the SCs. This comes to an annual average of about 22,371 crimes and atrocities per year. The break-up of the atrocities and violence for the year 2000 is as follows: 486 cases of murder, 3298 grievous hurt, 260 of arson, 1034 cases of rape and 18,664 cases of other offences. The practice of untouchability and social discrimination in the matter of use of public water bodies, water taps, temples, tea stalls, restaurants, community bath, roads and other social services continues to be of high magnitude.

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3 Comments
  1. Saturday, August 4, 2007 10:32 pm

    I was just overlooking the report and got much informations on the particular topic… Thus, I must appreciate your effort…

  2. ripujit permalink
    Friday, January 18, 2008 3:43 am

    Very well written article, interestingly the lower caste people still face issues in the private sector & IT companies too. Despite the educated & reaching upto to reasonable ranks the Lower castes are still looked down upon. Hope it will be better in coming years :)

  3. Rajkumar permalink
    Friday, July 18, 2008 1:05 pm

    It is suspected that CPI[M] is corrupting marks of scheduled caste students in calicut university kerala. This party members threatens many students not to give formal complaints on such issues.

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