A ten-year-old promised to guide me and my friends through a sleepy town in Karnataka. We were wandering through the place and soon reached the road that lead to a local temple and the little boy immediately removed his slippers. He stopped walking and asked us to pay an obeisance to the deity and promised to wait for us outside. When we egged on him to join us, the boy nonchalantly replied "I can't enter this temple, I am a Dalit."
A lawyer or a policeman could have quoted all the articles from the Indian Constitution which states otherwise, but the ground reality is, things have not changed in our country since the adoption of the constitution.
The recent 'Una Dalit atrocity' controversy is another example of how the members of so called lower castes are treated with contempt by those from the upper caste. Dalit youngsters from Una were mercilessly thrashed with rods after rumours emerged that these men had skinned a dead cow. These men were tied to car, stripped and then flogged by a mob of approximately 40 men in Rajkot, Gujarat.
What's even more shocking is that the media and our politicians remained silent for over a week. Of course politicians will now make a beeline to Una for political mileage, but this will be a meaningless exercise if no real change is witnessed on ground.
Caste system is a socio-religious issue and lawmakers will have to collaborate with religious leaders to tackle this issue. The caste system is a rigid religious classification that was based on occupation. While several stringent laws exist, change can happen only when people change their mindset and this change can be bought about by religious leaders who have the power to sway public opinion.
Every case of atrocity or assault that is reported must be carefully examined and speedy trial and appropriate punishment must be delivered. Dalit children and women must be educated as they are the most vulnerable group. While reservation in jobs and education exists, skill development programs must be conducted regularly for Dalit youth.
Dalit youngsters must be encouraged by political parties as political alienation will only lead to further insecurity. While Dalit ostracization has been effectively curbed in most of the urban areas, rural India has not witnessed any change and law enforcement authorities must take special care of this menace.