DC | Kancha Ilaiah |  December 06, 2014, 00.12 am IST
Even today, upper caste Indians practise the sin of treating a fellow being as untouchable. Representational picture

Even today, upper caste Indians practise the sin of treating a fellow being as untouchable. Representational picture

Do Indians have the moral right to express outrage over the Ferguson incident? No. None whatsoever.

Twentieth century India, for all its claims to the world about discovering water on Mars, ending polio, is guilty of the worst crime against humanity at home.

Even today, upper caste Indians practise the sin of treating a fellow being as untouchable. And, instead of teaching children that all human beings are equal, parents of upper caste children are dedicated to training an army of upper caste next generation bigots.

The practice of untouchability brutalises human self beyond repair. The nation’s energies are being destroyed by this practice, which has spiritual, moral, ethical  and  ideological sanction of the Hindu religion.

In a school in Kuppegala, Karnataka, where the progressive backward class chief minister Siddaramaiah himself studied, the non dalit parents (including the OBC parents) want their children not to touch the food cooked by the school’s dalit cook.

In the Kuppegala school, which is just 35 kilometers from Mysuru, parents of upper caste students created a ruckus against the school authorities for allowing a dalit woman to cook the midday meal. This is not an isolated incident.

All over the country upper caste parents have been objecting to food being cooked by dalits, and don’t allow their children to sit with the rest of the students and eat.

This is just one form of humiliation, barbarity being practiced with impunity in schools against the young minds born in dalit families.

Mr Siddaramaiah must, like Abraham Lincoln, launch a movement where only dalits cook in every village school.

And all those upper caste parents who do not want their children to eat that food must be asked to withdraw their children immediately.

In fact, if a campaign of “eating food cooked by dalit hands” is not launched on the lines of Swachchh Bharat, the dalits of India have every right to revisit the demand of their own nation, as their modern prophet B.R. Ambedkar put forth much before the Independence.

If a mother teaches her child to practice untouchability in the school where the so called upper caste child studies, the nation must reserve the right to punish that mother with a life in prison.

Till now no national political party, no social organisation has taken up the campaign against the practice of untouchability because it is in the life blood of our nation.

It is a known fact that most children who go to government schools come from the SC, ST, OBC background.

Some poor upper castes, including Brahmins (in states like Orissa and Uttaranchal), also send their children to government schools.

There were reports that in Orissa Brahmins parents asked the school authorities not to serve food to their children, however poverty ridden they may be. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Jat and Bhumihar parents too asked their children not to eat in their schools.

Human untouchability cannot, and should not be allowed to be practiced. But the malady runs very deep.

Few years ago, when starvation deaths were taking place in displaced villages on banks of river Krishna, in Telangana, some of us started free food centres in three most needy villages Somashila, Malleswaram and Manchalakatta.

The starving upper castes refused to eat food from the common kitchen (the food was deliberately cooked by dalits only). Some of them argued that they preferred death to food cooked by dalits. But the organisers did not relent. Finally they had to eat to survive.

This is one issue in which the country’s religious leadership plays a key role.

All priests, pastors and mullahs must go to Dalitwadas and eat food cooked in their homes. If Hindu priests eat only vegetarian, let there be only vegetarian food, but it must be cooked by dalit families.

Hindu organisations must know that this disease has Hindu scriptural basis. It survives through religious and social practice. Even Indian Chris-tianity has imbibed this practice.

All those castes which come under the net of preferential treatment of reservation, old age pensions, medical benefits from the state must be asked to give an undertaking that the beneficiaries will not practice human untouchability including that of body, food, shelter.

Particularly the OBCs, who enjoy benefits of the welfare state particularly education and job reservations, meant to remove any form of discrimination and create a level playing field must assure the state that they would not practice untouchability, at homes, school, college or offices.

All three wings of the Indian state legislature, executive and judiciary treat “untouchability” as a historical, social heritage, therefore, it should not be attacked harshly.

There are a huge number of people sitting in these institutions who themselves practise untouchability in one form or the other.

One central university allowed a Brahmin professor to dig his own well for drinking water as he did not want to drink common pipe water available in the campus as that would be touched by shudras and dalits. This is the worst form of modern Manudharama being practised by educational institutions.

The judiciary is very conservative on this front. It does not treat untouchability as a legal problem but treats it as social problem. There are hardly any judgments directing the states to take harsh measures on this issue.

The state leaves this problem to the SC commissions. These commissions of the state and central governments cannot solve this problem as it requires political commitments, civil society reform that begins at the Hindu temple.

The Central government must realise that it can’t allow this issue to become international, like the problem of racism. It needs to sharpen the tools for its abolition, and ensure that all wings of the state come down very heavily on all those who practise untouchability.

The fight against this barbarity cannot be left to the victims themselves. These victims are rendered, particularly at the village level, so powerless that they do not have the means or the energy to react, or even report. All of us outside that victimised community must take respon-sibility to abolish untouchability in all its forms.

The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad