Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Indian Dalits “no longer tolerate the exploitation and domination of high castes”, Fr. Z. Devasagaya Raj, Secretary of the Office for Dalits and Tribals of the Indian Bishops Conference (CBCI) tells AsiaNews.
He is commenting on the protests of the Dalits of Maharashtra who have blocked the city of Mumbai for days. Emerging from a clash between former “untouchables” and Hindu radicals near Pune, they point out that “the ruling casts want to maintain the caste system of Manudharma [” laws of Manu “, the treaty of Hindu law that brings together the rules of living human, including the division into castes of society – ed.). They do not believe in the equality of people. So when the Dalits claim that their rights are equal to those of others, [the upper castes] try to repress them with violence. “
The protest dates back to last week, when the former “outcasts” defied the ideology of the supremacy of radical groups, supporting their right to live “as equals” in India. On January 1, as every year, about 300 thousand of them gathered in the village of Bhima-Koregaon, near Pune, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle fought in the homonymous village.
In 1918 the British crown army defeated the army of the local government dominated by Peshwa Bajirao II, of the high maratha caste. The story tells that the British victory was due to the participation of soldiers of the Mahar community, among those considered “untouchable”.
For this reason, the first of January is considered by the Dalits the day of victory against their masters. This year the celebrations were interrupted by hundreds of Hindu radicals waving saffron-colored flags [the color of the nationalists, ed.]. The extremists dispersed the Dalits by throwing stones. This was the spark that ignited violent protest on both sides. In the clashes, in which several dozens of cars were damaged and set on fire, a 28-year-old from the high-maratha caste was killed, hit by a stone while he watched the scene. From Pune, protests moved to nearby Mumbai, where on 3 January thousands of Dalits blocked the railroad tracks, interrupted public transport and caused the entire metropolis to be blocked.
According to Fr. Raj, “the victory of the mahar 200 years ago disturbs the social hierarchy. This is why [Hindu radicals] attacked the Dalits. The Maharashtra protests show that they are no longer willing to tolerate oppression”.
In India the caste division was abolished by the Constitution, but the discrimination of the Dalits is still rooted in society. They are forced to take on the most humble jobs and tasks considered degrading, such as the manual collection of excrement.
Government figures show that out of 1.2 billion inhabitants, 201 million belong to disadvantaged communities. About 60% of the 25 million Indian Christians are dalit. In 2016 the bishops admitted that discrimination is also present in the Catholic Church and approved a plan to overcome their marginalization.