Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe

By Nikhil Verma

On June 2014, a tattered body with a swollen face was dumped in a shopping cart in North Paris. After having found the lying body on the road, Ion Vardu Sandu, 49, a Roma mechanic, said that “he was barely breathing, and his eyes were closed.” In the following sentence, he added “but he was also a notorious thief. Teens like him steal and give Romani people like us a bad name.” The body belonged to a 17-year-old Roma known as “Darius” and who went into a coma.
Two months earlier, more than 7000 kilometres away, in the village of Kharda, India, Nitin Aage, a 17-year-old boy was found hanging on a tree. Nitin was a ‘Dalit’, and his only mistake was to speak to a girl from an upper-caste community. All 13 men who were accused of Nitin’s murder were acquitted in 2017.
But what killed Darius, Nitin and million others like them? Is it the dehumanisation, the stigma or the fear of loss of dominance? While the magnitude of the violence varies, the undercurrent remains the same. A similar social hierarchy can be observed in other parts of the world. The condition of Buraku in Japan, African-Americans in the US, Osu in Nigeria – groups that also suffer prejudice in their respective countries – also mirror the terrible condition of ‘Dalits’ in India, and ‘Roma’ in Europe. Racial and caste discrimination manifest themselves in ways that are demeaning to the core of human existence.

Caste & Race

In an essence, caste and race are contemporaries. Segregation, discrimination and violence along with a social status determined by birth occur in these societies. The Indian discriminative order is based on the notion of ‘Sanctioned Impurity’ often reiterated through menial jobs such as manual scavenging and leather tanning by Elitist Brahminical upper-caste forces; the African-American varies and is based on the notion of an inferior subhuman race and often reiterated through violence – termed as untamed ‘savages’ by European settlers who encountered native population.
However, in terms of similarity, both ‘Dalits’ and ‘Roma People’ stand at the lowest level of the socio-economic hierarchy in respective continents of Asia and Europe. Both groups are intentionally excluded from consumer markets, employment and housing. Both ‘Caste’ and ‘Race’ impose enormous barriers in civil and political rights.
Babasaheb Ambedkar and Martin Luther King Jr. were fighting against the oppression of their own kind. But while King was able to humanise white people, Ambedkar couldn’t emulate the same in the Indian ethos due to Gandhi’s intervention on a multitude of legislative and social fronts – most famously his persistence to keep Dalits in the Hindu fold by denying them a separate electorate, the communal award and subsequently blackmailing Ambedkar to sign the Poona Pact through his hunger strike[1]. While political activism has been able to consolidate ‘African-Americans’ in the US, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Indian social fabric.
This is evident from the fact that Dalits sit separately in government schools in 37.8% of the villages. In 27.6% villages, Dalits were prevented from entering police stations, In 25.7% of the villages, they are prevented from entering ration shops, and in 33% of the villages, public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes.
In the case of Roma, there is pervasive illiteracy or semi-literacy (e.g., half of Roma adults in Greece, 35% in Portugal, and 25% in France report being illiterate) and extremely low-rates of completion of secondary schooling (from 77% to 99% of surveyed Roma across 11 European countries do not have an upper secondary school diploma). Continue reading “Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe”

Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity”

By Nikhil Verma

The Hidden Indian ‘Apartheid’

In October 2015, two three-year-old kids were set on fire and torched inside a house along with eight adults of the same family in the Indian town of Ballabgarh, Haryana. [1]
Similarly, in 2010, a polio-stricken teenage girl was torched while she was sleeping, her elderly father who went to save her was also locked by an upper-caste mob until both of them were charred to death. The spokes of the rusty handicap tricycle which was meant to assist the polio-ridden condition of the obliterated girl laid darkened in the corner. These are not excerpts of stories from Auschwitz, these are everyday stories from Modern India – so-called progressive India.
These are narratives of caste-based violence and atrocities which occur without any fear of prosecution in India. In both stories, the perpetrators belonged to ‘Upper-Caste groups” i.e. the ‘Caste Elites of India’, whereas both the families on the receiving end belonged to the most socially stigmatised community of Indian society – “The Untouchables” which are now mostly recognized as “Dalits”. The word ‘Dalit’ means ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ (recognized as Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes under the Indian Constitution).

In India, such heinous crimes against ‘Dalits’ are not an exception but rather a norm. Moreover, such crimes are committed with impunity which is made evident by the conviction rate which stands at 5.3%.[2] ‘Dalits’ cover almost one-fifth of the Indian population with 200 million people which is bigger than the combined population of Germany and France. Such a large population experiences caste discrimination in forms of sexual assault, physical violence, forced prostitution, manual scavenging, and denial of most basic human rights. This is tribalism of the highest order and the international community is not paying enough attention to it.

Despite the fact that caste discrimination is outlawed in India since 1947, it is omnipresent in India and the situation is not showing any signs of progress as the crimes against Dalits have increased by 66% and the rapes of ‘Dalit’ women doubled between 2007 and 2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Continue reading “Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity””