Swachh Bharat and caste-based oppression cannot co-exist
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi regales the Indian diaspora in the US, his ministers are wielding brooms and queuing up for photo-ops. That’s their way of showing commitment to the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” to be launched on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Prime Minister has called upon the country’s citizens to make India clean by 2019, Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary. The biggest tribute Modi could pay to Gandhiji is cleaning the real filth in our society — untouchability and caste-based exploitation. Last month, in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district, two Dalit children were beaten and expelled from school for drinking water from an earthen pot meant for their upper caste teacher. But the biggest blot comes from reports of a temple being cleansed after it was visited by Bihar chief minister Jitan Manjhi, who belongs to a lower caste.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the rate of crimes against Scheduled Castes grew to 19.6 per cent in 2013 from 16.7 per cent in 2012 and against Scheduled Tribes to 6.5 per cent in 2013 from 5.7 per cent in 2012. The practice of manual scavenging, or cleaning human excreta by a lower caste community, persists. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, terms this practice as “one of the worst surviving symbols of untouchability”. At the NRI-funded Madison Square Garden event, Modi invoked the memory of Gandhiji, referring to him as the “most-famous NRI”. But can Modi deliver a Swachh Bharat free of caste discrimination?
That would be the best tribute to Gandhiji!