The Constitution that ‘We, the People of India’ gave to ourselves over half-a-century ago abolished untouchability (Article 17) and its practice in any form was made punishable in accordance with law. In 1955, the Protection of Civil Rights Act was introduced in order to give life to the Constitutional mandate. Three decades later, when it became more than obvious that this law had failed miserably in checking the indignities of caste, a fresh and more stringent piece of legislation, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, was brought into existence.
Today, more than five decades after the constitutional directive, the obnoxious age-old practice continues unchecked, its extreme form manifesting itself as atrocities against Dalits. The perpetrators of this outrage may act more brazenly in rural and semi-urban areas, but even urban India is by no means free from the scourge. Every day, two Dalits are murdered, two Dalit homes are burnt, two Dalit women are raped and two Dalits are assaulted. How are such widespread rights abuse possible despite the enactment of laws specifically aimed at addressing this malaise? Our cover story this month uncovers the root cause of the problem: in state after state, rampant caste-bias on the part of the police and prosecutors ensures that most cases of atrocities are dismissed by the lower and even the high courts on technical grounds. In innumerable cases, judges have passed severe strictures against the errant police while ordering acquittal of the accused. But this is of little use for while the perpetrators of caste crimes roam free, policemen guilty of misconduct get promoted. Among other things, a more proactive role by the judiciary is the need of the hour.
We pride ourselves on being the world’s largest democracy. If anything, we should be ashamed of the huge mismatch between our Constitution and our conduct, between the justice and equality that the former promises and our polity that remains heavily loaded against the weak and the vulnerable: minorities, Dalits, women, the poor and the underprivileged. Though the cover story this month highlights the problem of unpunished caste crimes in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, other states are no less guilty. In the coming issues of CC, we will highlight the gravity of the problem in other states.
Since the 70s, the Saudi monarchy is known to have invested considerable funds in certain Muslim organisations and institutions across the globe, including India. Such largesse however is not in the service of Islam but is self-serving. ‘Wahhabism’, a puritanical, rigid, insular and intolerant version of Islam has been at the service of the Saudi royal family since its rise to prominence. Faced with threats to itself –Arab Nationalism, the anti-monarchy ‘Islamic Revolution’ in Iran, growing democratic aspirations among Muslim masses – in a bid to perpetuate themselves, Saudi rulers have sought to strengthen Muslim organisations and institutions across the globe whose worldview is close to that of Wahhabi thinking. In India this has meant the growing clout of sects like the Ahl-e-Hadith and the Deobandis at the cost of other Muslims who take pride in India’s syncretic tradition. As our special report points out, "some Ahl-i Hadith scholars insist on the need for Muslims to have as little to do with the Hindus as possible, for fear of the ‘deleterious’ consequences this might have for the Muslims’ own commitment to and practice of Islam". To say the least, this is bad news for anyone concerned with bridging the growing Hindu-Muslim divide.