The caste system is severely ingrained in Indian society. Caste-based divisions have been comfortably normalized in everyday life, and the society is blind to how the basic human rights and dignity of millions of fellow Indian citizens are perennially under threat from caste-based discriminatory practices. By refusing to speak out against these injustices, a large part of society is directly complicit in the perpetuation of caste-based discrimination and violence at this day and age. Even today, certain Dalit communities such as Valmikis are being forced to perform dehumanizing jobs such as manual scavenging, the act of cleaning human excreta with one’s bare hands, which is in violation of the Indian Constitution and orders of the Supreme Court. Even amongst the educated middle-class residing in cities, cleaning jobs, ranging from sweeping the streets to janitorial services in homes and institutions, are considered the exclusive domain of Dalit and OBC communities. This well-established prejudice is aptly highlighted by a recent incident at the Human Development & Research Centre (HDRC), St. Xavier’s College Campus in Ahmedabad.
An advertisement was issued in April 2016 by HDRC for a vacancy for the posts of sweepers at the St. Xavier’s campus. The advertisement contained an added clause that preference would be given to people belonging to the general category including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Baniya, Patels, Jains, Saiyed, Pathans, Syrian Christians and Parsis. One purpose of the advertisement was to highlight the disproportionate involvement of Dalit and OBC workers in such jobs and to make an attempt at emphasizing the privilege enjoyed by the upper castes and communities. Importantly, no upper caste person belonging to any religion was forced into this job; the choice to apply was entirely up to the individual and neither was anyone excluded from the posted job. However, as per reports, the advertisement enraged groups like the Brahmo Samaj, the Rajput Shaurya Foundation and the Yuva Shakti Sanghatan, who retaliated with violence, vandalism and destruction of property. On June 22nd, workers from these groups forcefully entered the St. Xavier’s college campus, vandalized it, terrorized people in the area and demanded that an FIR be registered under section 153A of the Indian Penal code against Prasad Chacko, the director of the HDRC. The vandals terrorized the campus despite the presence of the police who, although summoned to dissipate the tension, stood as bystanders. In fear of further backlash and an attempt to alleviate pressure, the secretary of the board of HDRC has issued an apology to those that may have been hurt by their advertisement.
The incident highlights the systemic discriminatory attitudes that continue to ensure that our cleaning jobs are performed only by certain underprivileged communities. Any attempt at breaking the status quo, even when it is fully consistent with India’s constitutional guarantees, is met with violence and retribution. The inaction of police only serves to reinforce the notion that the very people appointed to protect our freedoms are complicit, or at best, passive observers, in the daily injustices that are propagated by our society. The indifference and inaction of the millions of privileged Indians only provides more fuel and impunity to those that actively promulgate caste-based oppression.
AID condemns the recent actions of vandals who terrorized the HDRC campus, and condemns the structures that exist in our society that preserve and promote caste-based systemic oppression. AID also stands firmly in solidarity with the people and organizations fighting against widespread caste-based injustices.