While the United States remains consumed by political problems, and Europe by security issues, a once-in-a-millennium movement is taking place in my country, India.
This movement could trigger the single, greatest advance of civil rights in a thousand generations, yet the world is barely noticing.
India’s “untouchables” – or Dalits – are revolting against the centuries-old discrimination of the caste system. They are storming the streets by the tens of thousands, burning busses, blocking highways, and even holding “beef festivals” as a sign of protest.
India shakes as she never has before. And it all began in Gujarat, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.
n early July, seven Dalit teenagers were rounded up by a group of so-called “cow vigilantes” on the allegation that the Dalits had killed and skinned a cow. The caste system, which discriminates against Dalits, consigns them by birth to dispose of the bodies of dead animals. Dalits, therefore, skin already dead cows in order to sell their leather to tanneries and then dispose of their carcasses. Consequently, radicals punish them – often violently – for doing so. It’s a vicious cycle.
The radicals seized four of the young Dalits, stripped them naked, and shackled them to a car. They beat them with metal rods in full public view, as policemen stood by silently. A video of the incident was uploaded to the internet. In it the attackers take turns whipping the helpless teenagers, who are seen begging them to stop.
Dalits then began dumping dead cows in town centers, challenging the authorities to skin and dispose of the bodies themselves. The Indian state of Gujarat ended up littered with the carcasses of dead cows since upper caste Indians will not engage in the “dehumanizing” task of disposing of them.
Not at least since Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s time — during the country’s fight for independence — have we felt these agitations in our ancient culture. India has never seen such public outrage by Dalits.
For thousands of years, the “untouchables” of India have been abused, disenfranchised, raped, murdered, and harassed. They have been treated as below animals and have been ostracized to suffer in the shadows. Their plight has been the worst in the world, and the world has largely ignored it.
And though India’s constitution bans the practice of untouchability, Dalits are still subject to inhumane violence and treatment on a daily basis.
In July we learned of a young Dalit woman who was gang-raped twice by the same men—once in 2013 and once last month. The attackers, three of whom were never arrested and two who were released on bail, stalked the woman from one town to another to intimidate her against seeking charges. When it was clear she was not stepping back, the men gang-raped her again.
Every day Dalits are victims of senseless violence.