Scientists familiar with the chemistry of the human body must be bewildered at the phenomenon of caste in India. Studies of DNA show that in every region, the difference between individuals is negligible in scientific terms, while overall there is a remarkable commonality between the different castes, communities and regional groups, which meld into the population pool of what will soon become the most populous country on the planet. However, it is not science but less rational beliefs that are behind much of the societal problems still remaining in India. That the Dalit community is as vibrant and as gifted as any other, has been shown by the performance of thousands upon thousands of Dalit engineers, teachers, scientists and doctors. What is needed is affirmative action, and if the reservations seen as temporary by the framers of the Constitution of India are still extant, the reason for that lies in the fact that even after nearly seven decades of freedom, there exist all too many pockets of this vast country where Dalits are subjected to differential treatment that is sometimes of a kind not worthy of the traditions of a land with a history spanning more than 5,000 years, and which has retained much more of the core elements of its culture across this period than any other civilisation save that of the followers of the Jewish faith and, to an extent, the Chinese people. Any individual who treats Dalits differently from others is exhibiting traits that are certainly un-Indian, indeed anti-Indian.
In such a context, there have been a chain of actions highlighted in national and international media during the past year, which involve those belonging to the Dalit community. Such vile behaviour is not peculiar to any single state but spans the country, including a state such as Kerala with its 100% literacy. The state of Gujarat is home to giants of the history of India such as Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, and has in 2014 bestowed on the nation its second Gujarati Prime Minister after Morarji Desai. The people of Gujarat are known for their industry and over the past decade, of a nil record of serious communal incidents. Hence the shock at seeing images of a group of citizens from the state whom to call goons would be an understatement. They were videographed in the act of beating up a group of Dalits who were doing something that is perfectly lawful, and indeed the basis for the leather industry, which gives forth a bounty in exports and in employment. Rather than send such miscreants to jail, creative punishments need to be prescribed, such as spending the next five years of their lives dealing with the remains of cattle who have perished for one cause or the other. They can be taken from location to location where such a situation is encountered, so that in such a manner, they can offer recompense to society. At the same time, a hefty financial punishment needs to get levied as well, payable (minus tax) to the victims. Only such punishments will deter those who are socially delinquent from further acts of un-Indian behaviour such as violence towards the underprivileged. Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to take the initiative in ensuring that a system of punishment gets introduced, which substitutes for the colonial legacy of “Jail Bharo”, and which will reduce and finally eliminate actions and activities as unspeakable as atrocities against Dalits.