The Ambedkar House in London is a fitting memorial to Dr Ambedkar and his remarkable legacy to social and economic reforms for India. We, the Dalit diaspora in the UK who have benefited from Dr Ambedkar’s reforms in India, are proud to be associated with this important memorial to Babasaheb Ambedkar funded by the Government of Maharashtra that you have visited today. We request you support our proposal that the Government of India lobbies the UN to mark 14 April as an International Day of Equality in memory of Dr Ambedkar.
Dr Ambedkar was instrumental in ensuring India has a robust Constitution following Independence. The Constitution secures for all its citizens the fundamental rights to justice, liberty and equality and promotes fraternity. We are, however, deeply distressed that, under your Government, India’s Constitution is under serious threat and is being watered down – particularly when it comes to ensuring justice, equality of treatment and equality of opportunity for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Minorities, (Dalit) women and girls in India.
Dr Ambedkar wanted to see the annihilation of Caste – the social evils of which have existed for thousands of years. Over 90 years since Dr Ambedkar’s 1936 speech on this top, we have yet to see his vision realised. Untouchablity was abolished in the 50s but people continue to practise it as if nothing ever changed and minds never moved on. A recent survey by Social Attitude Research India of 8,065 people has confirmed this. The survey found 50 per cent of respondents in urban Rajasthan admitted to practising Untouchability; as did 48 per cent in urban UP and 39 per cent in Delhi.
India’s National Crime Records Bureau states that between 2006 and 2016, the crime rate against Dalits rose more than eightfold. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report in 2010 on the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes found that on average three Dalit women are raped and two Dalit houses are burnt down every day. A recent example includes burning down of over 50 houses belonging to Dalits in Saharanpur, UP, where Dalit men were beaten up and their women molested. Instead of the police taking swift and stern action against the culprits, a number of Dalit were arrested who saw fit to defend themselves. A young lawyer Mr Chandrasekhar Azad-Rawan, president of the Bhim Army was also arrested and after ten months he remains in custody despite the Allahabad High Court granting him bail. This is a blatant action, by the authorities, to silence him and curtail his democratic human rights. We call upon the BJP Government in UP to release him immediately and without conditions.
The 2010 NHRC report also found: Dalit children are made to sit separately while eating in 39 per cent of government schools; Dalits do not get mail delivered to their homes in 24 per cent of villages; and Dalits are denied access to water sources in 48 per cent of India’s villages because Untouchability remains a stark reality. Cremation grounds in rural India are still segregated on caste basis. This is outrageous and unacceptable in one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The economic development and aspirations of India must extend to all its citizens, more so to the underprivileged.
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is helping social boycott victims challenge communities’ corrupting practices and violence and atrocities against them. The legislation has provided an alternative route to the medieval justice system – the local Panchayats. We are alarmed to witness watering down of the law following the ill- advised Judgement by India’s Supreme Court (SC) thanks to the Government’s failure to present the right aspect of the PoA1989 to the SC on time. Hundreds of thousands of Dalits were forced to raise their voices against this on 2 April 2018 in the “Bharat Bandh”. The peaceful protests resulted in the death of nine Dalits. We question the lack of police protection. Since the April protest, we have had reports of police brutalities against Dalits with police officers shamelessly knocking over motorbikes and auto rickshaws in attempts to pin the damage on the protestors – and worse including ‘slapping’ with their hands and long wooden batons.
We call on you to issue a Government Ordinance to return the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act prior to the SC Judgement and to ensure it is implemented without prejudice. We also call on your Government to provide justice for families of the Dalits who died or were injured whilst peacefully protesting on 2 April. We call on your Government to release the thousands of Dalits arrested and jailed for protesting and exercising their democratic rights at the April Bharat Bandh and the January Maharashtra Bandh. We call for the arrest of Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, and Miland Ekbote, President of Samasta Hindu Aghadi, who allegedly orchestrated the clashes and inflammatory speeches during the marking of Bhima Koregaon anniversary.
On social reforms, we ask that your Government implementation the measures in The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 fully. This legislation was to be a deterrent to manual scavenging but is failing due to the lack of proper implementation of the law by the authorities. Alongside this, we call on you to consider and deal with the negative health and social impacts of the coal mining in Chhattisgarh. This is forcing the displacement of Tribal and Adivasi people. The few who choose or have no alternative but to remain, face life-threatening health impacts.
Finally, we are appalled at the horrific experience of Dalit girls and women seeking justice in cases of rape. Human Rights Watch’s report November 2017 report “Everyone Blames Me – Barriers to justice and support for sexual assault survivors in India” includes examples of local village councils deterring them from reporting cases of rape by higher caste men. The experience and failure in the ‘Beti Bachao’ campaign has failed the Unnao gang-rape survivor in UP where the BJP Government and the police authorities’ have acted in an insensitive and outrageous manner towards the survivor and her family resulting in her father’s death. We are again horrified by the gang-rape and murder of the eight-year-old Asifa, in Jammu and Kashmir. We demand justice for the Unno rape survivor and justice for Asifa who did not survive. Dr Ambedkar said “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.” Women and girls in India can only progress if they are nurtured, educated, respected, protected and provided justice. We demand special and robust and rigorous measures by your Government to safeguard women and girls in India and provide speedy justice.
Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance; Bhagwan Valmik Sabhas in the UK; Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK; Indian Workers’ Association GB; Indian Scheduled Caste Welfare Association; Kanshi TV; Ravidassia Community in the UK