The caste system is not just a historical shame that divided Indians and trapped our potential, we are still struggling to get out of its dark shadow. Equality and social justice, were the promises of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Constitution, but even today, the persistence of caste blights many lives.
Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar in Hyderabad University, was driven to suicide, for speaking against a world, where “the value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility – to a vote, to a number, to a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.” I can only quote Rohit Vemula’s vision of a world where human beings can be truly valued “as glorious things made up of stardust, in every field, in studies, in streets, in life and in death”.
In a hierarchical context, achieving equality takes an extra effort. Right from universal adult suffrage, the Congress party has aimed to establish the equal worth of every individual, and to combat social discrimination. Land distribution, expanding access to education and employment through reservations, boosting and supporting Dalit voices in politics, are a part of this effort.
Caste is a denial of equal opportunity, and we have tried to widen possibilities for Dalits at every chance we get. Dalits still face higher barriers at every level of education; they often lack the strong networks needed for entrepreneurship. To take one example of our efforts to correct this, it was a Congress government that mandated a part of government procurement from Dalit businesses, in small and medium enterprises.
Achieving one’s potential is possible only when one is free from threat and discrimination. It was Congress leadership that announced the Prevention of Atrocities Act to combat caste-based crimes, and it was a Congress government that reserved seats for SC/ST citizens in panchayats and as panchayat heads. Making these rights real, and defending them from the socially powerful, is an ongoing effort. Dalit women, in particular, face a double challenge. But this struggle is one that I am wholly committed to, as is the Congress party.
We will raise our voices at any attempt to constrict Dalit dignity and power, whether on a campus, a workplace, or in the streets.