The death of 14 poor women, one of whom belonged to an endangered tribe, after having had tubectomies performed on their under-nourished bodies at a State Govt.-sponsored sterilization camp in Chhattisgarh; the blinding of more than a dozen men at a 'charitable' eye camp conducted in Punjab; the vicious rape of a young woman in a Uber cab in the national capital; the hate speech spewed by a woman member of the Union Cabinet; the arson attack on a Church in Delhi. All except for the last that received rather perfunctory notice evoked the kind of reaction they deserved.
What is amazing, however, is that reports of a crime which fully one quarter of our population admits to committing, a crime that has been committed repeatedly over the last six decades, a crime that is based on nothing but complete and utter illogical prejudice and unforgivable inhumanity, have been greeted with indifferent unconcern. Perhaps the crime has become invisible because of its ubiquity; perhaps it has become acceptable because it is committed with such frequency; perhaps because it is a habit that we practice many times every day of our lives, it arouses no feelings of guilt, no sense of having done anything wrong.
The crime, of course, is the practise of untouchability that was outlawed by our Constitution more than six decades ago. Early findings of the most intensive survey to be made of the practice of untouchability and level of caste-prejudice prevalent in our country by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland (USA), the Indian Human Development Survey-II, are shocking revelations.
More than 42,000 rural and urban Indians living in all parts of the country were asked questions about their everyday behaviour: would they allow a Scheduled Caste person to enter their kitchen? Use their crockery and utensils? 27% of those interviewed replied in the negative. Even if we assume that every single person interviewed answered truthfully, we are still faced with the astounding fact that more than one-fourth of the total population of country accept the fact that in their very ordinary daily lives and routine, they practice untouchability for the same reason that their ancestors did in another day and age, before they had heard of democracy and equality and rights of citizenship.
The unchanging reason is the belief that the very touch of some is polluting. The pollution that accompanies their touch cannot be washed away, erased or removed. It is absolute, permanent and indelible.
Such pollution has, obviously, to be avoided at all costs. But it is also to be punished whenever it occurs because of its indelible and permanent nature. It is these 'punishments' that make headlines, that make us gasp that 'such' things still happen. It is these punishments that become the stuff of police complaints, investigations and judicial processes. And, surely, it is the widespread acceptance of the pollution that caused the punishment that ensures that the punishment itself goes unpunished. The statistics are so familiar that they no longer surprise - reported cases are about 25% of actual; FIRS lodged are about 25% of reported cases; prosecution that lingers over long years and decades is proceeded with in about 50% of cases where FIRs have been registered; and convictions do not exceed 10% of these.
Towards the end of his life, Dr. Ambedkar had begun to despair of the Annihilation of Caste ever occurring. He saw that changes in the law, reservation in jobs, reservation in legislatures and Parliament were doing little to bring this about. Appealing to logic and intelligence had proven futile again and again. He could only hope that inter-marriage between persons of different castes would become the norm and would bring about the longed-for change.
It is going to be a long-awaited one. According to this Survey, only 5% of all Indian marriages are inter-caste. Marriages in which one partner belongs to the Scheduled Castes would be even fewer in number. The ferocity with which such relationships are attacked, the killing, hacking, strangling and beating that those entering into such relationships are subjected to will ensure that this number does not increase in any meaningful manner in the foreseeable future.
Notwithstanding that all governments, state and central, are enjoined upon to encourage such marriages, the state government of Rajasthan announced on Dr. Ambedkar's death anniversary, December 6, that it was going to halve the cash incentive being paid to couples entering into an inter-caste marriage in which one partner belonged to the Scheduled Castes. This was being done because of 'false' claims being made. This should not come as a surprise. On the very next day, members of the new central government, to whose party the Chief Minister of Rajasthan belongs, made an impassioned plea for the Gita to be declared the National Book. The Gita is unambiguous on the issue of mixed caste marriages:
"1:42. The mixture of the varnas ensures hell both for the destroyers of the family and for the family itself, since the souls of the ancestors languish because of lack of offerings of rice and water."
1:43. "By the sin of these family-destroyers, who caused the intermixture of the varnas, the ancient caste and family virtues are ruined too!"
1:44. "We have heard, O Janardana, that those who destroy the family traditions go forever to hell."
The annihilation of caste seems heading into the mists of an unforeseeable future.