Under the rule of an extremist monk since 2017, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has become the laboratory of "Hindutva", an ideology that advocates Hindu supremacy. Since then, violence has multiplied in this state against religious minorities and "impurities", especially the Muslim minority and the Dalit caste (untouchables), and if the latter class began to move and organize itself to defend its rights, has the untouchable revolution begun in India?
With this introduction, the French newspaper "Le Figaro" opened a lengthy report, in which its correspondent Celia Mercier tried to shed light on the suffering of the Dalit class, who hold the lower professions and are constantly subjected to violence, so that a quarter of the crimes recorded in the country in 2021 were against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.
A community of untouchables is responsible for cremation and rituals held at the site of cremation for a thousand years along the Ganges, to permanently free the souls of the deceased from the cycle of reincarnation.
Mithun Chowdhury, a member of this caste, says, "We are all tired of this work; it drives you crazy at the sight of decomposing corpses and rotting bodies, burned by flames and suffocated by smoke. Anyway, with this job you won't live long."
A Dalit member subjected to police violence during anti-discrimination protests (Reuters)
Discrimination and exclusion
Mithon would like to stop this work, but this is their way of living, and their "unclean" funeral ritual profession puts them on the margins of society: "No one comes to our homes and shares with us our food cooked on the fire of the crematorium, and we do not go to the upper classes, do not drink their water, and stay at a distance from them. Even when a Brahman (upper class) pays us money, he throws it into our hands without touching us, even though at the hour of death, whatever your caste, you will find yourself in the hands of the untouchables for the last ritual."
The untouchables in India share the suffering of apartheid, called Dalits, and represent 16% of the population, and are forbidden to them the functions of the four genetic social classes of the Hindu religion, so they are not priests, warriors, merchants or servants, because they are historically considered "impure", and they are at the bottom of the social ladder, and work in degrading professions, such as shoemaking, tanning, garbage collection, washing clothes and hunting.
Although the 1950 Constitution, whose architect was Bhimrau Ambedkar of the untouchables, formally banned caste discrimination, abolished ostracism, reserved Dalits for public service positions, university places, and council seats, and theoretically allowed them social ascension, the bitter reality is that Indian society is still governed by a strict caste system.
Dalits gathered during protests across India (Reuters)
With the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power in 2014, the situation has gradually deteriorated, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch, which believes that the BJP "aggressively promotes a Hindu ideology that puts religious minorities, Dalits, and tribal communities at increased risk of discrimination and violence."
While his Government's crackdown had targeted the Muslim minority in particular, it had also fuelled societal divisions. The case of the village of Hatras in 2020 sums up the placement of Dalit under the rule of Yogi Adityanath, according to Mina Kotual, founder of the Mooknayak website, that 4 Takur men raped a Dalit girl and died because of them, but the local police, who were slow to register the complaint, denied that the rape happened and burned the girl's body without informing her family, and instead of condemning the crime, Yogi Adityanath said that the protest against the case was an "international conspiracy" to tarnish the image of his government.
The moment Dalit members were arrested during protests over their conditions (Reuters)
Satya Bharti, 30, a Moknayak reporter from Dalit who travels with his phone camera and microphone, said: "Through my fieldwork, I have realized how deep the discrimination is, especially in the villages. Sometimes I don't remember my class when I report, otherwise I wouldn't have been well received in certain interviews," he said, adding that "the rise of the BJP has fueled divisions in recent years and increased tensions between Dalits and Takurs who want to extend their power and superiority."
The young journalist recounts the beatings, rapes and murders, noting that a young Dalit man was brutally beaten for touching an upper-class man's plate during a wedding, and that a Dalit wedding procession was attacked by about 50 upper-class people.
Social segregation continues to manifest itself in many forms, as there is an invisible boundary separating Dalit homes from other residences, with the access of these outcasts to public wells, temples and some shops, and their children at school being insulted, with their victims difficult to obtain justice, despite the enactment of a specific law to prevent crimes against Dalits in 1989.
This is how Dalits live on the margins of society (Anatolia)
New Defenders of Rights
Because of the slow procedures and the daily struggle of lower-class workers to follow up on their complaints, often forcing them to compromise, Chandra Shekhar Azad, 36, a Dalit lawyer, established what he called the Bhim Army or Bimrau Ambedkar Army in 2015 in North Uttar Pradesh, whose forces organize demonstrations and rush to support victims in the event of an accident, and to force the police to investigate, but "the police and the authorities are on the side of the accused and not the victim. However, the presence of this organization in the area is discouraging to the attackers," the lawyer said.
Chandra Shekhar Azad, who set up a political party in 2020, which sees this as "the only way to really change things", says the authorities have spread their tentacles to counter his unwanted activity: "In Uttar Pradesh alone there are 31 charges against me. The state is trying to silence me, and my applications for a passport are systematically denied."
Dalit protests burn an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Reuters)
"End the humiliation"
Because schools are a place of violence and humiliation, the reporter says, the Bhim Army conducts fieldwork to educate children. "We have set up more than 300 schools to provide educational support, trying to educate our community so that they can face the challenges of the outside world. The courses are delivered by volunteers, who give lessons in math, science and English after school hours. Dalits are not weak, we must fight to get our constitutional rights right."
The correspondent referred to demonstrations organized by women from the "Falmiki" caste who had to empty dry toilets for the upper floors manually, before installing modern toilets, and a 1993 law theoretically banned this indecent work, but no help came from the state.
Protesters are marching forward chanting "Stop killing us". Mayank Jingyot, 32, a member of an NGO and organizer of the demonstration, said: "Our society must regain its dignity, and we can no longer accept the death of Dalits because of this act. Long live Ambedkar!" , referring to their leader who elevated them in the constitution.