Mobs roaming the streets and creating mayhem. Widespread rioting. Police cars and public buildings set on fire. Stores looted. All this in the wake of the inhumane treatment and brutal murder of George Floyd, an African-American, at the hands of the Minneapolis police in the US. Such police brutality was happening not for the first time, mind you, against African-Americans, with several such recorded incidents in the past and god knows how many unrecorded ones we did not hear about.
Yet, I was thinking to myself, “This is wrong, the rioting, looting and arson. It should not be happening. Ends do not justify the means. Have they forgotten the nonviolent methods of resistance of Martin Luther King?” Only to change my mind shortly, thereafter, after reading and listening to a few voices of African-Americans, particularly that of Trevor Noah, a political commentator and current host of The Daily Show, an American satirical news programme.
The main point they were making was that once the people charged under the Social Contract to protect the citizens, namely, the police, were themselves violating their rights and taking their lives in a systematically biased manner, then all bets were off. The affected citizens did not have the obligation to abide by the rules of society under such Hobbesian condition of Nature.
Life for the Black people was indeed being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” even under the Social Contract. The irony and paradox was not lost on the Black folks who had now decided to take their destiny into their own hands, in opposition to the Leviathan, a recourse though not permitted in Hobbes’ theory of Social Contract, is permitted in Locke’s account of the Social Contract. Locke theorises that since governments exist by the consent of the people in order to protect the rights of the people and promote the public good, governments that fail to do so can be resisted and replaced with new governments.
Now, you may well say, “Pray, who are the George Floyds of India? They simply do not exist.” I have only a one-word answer to that: “Dalits”. The Dalits are at the receiving end of injustices upon injustices, especially more so in recent times. The upper castes see them as sub-human, and so they have no sympathy or empathy for them. After all, at one time, even their shadows were supposed to pollute the upper castes.
Thousands of Dalits are the victims of rape, rioting, grievous hurt, murder, kidnapping and abduction, arson, etc, every year. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, in all of India, 40,801 atrocities against Dalits were reported in 2016, up from 38,670 in 2015.
Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law in one of its reviews of India’s periodic reports (16th to 18th) under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) noted that “Caste divisions in India dominate in housing, marriage, employment, and general social interaction — divisions that are reinforced through the practice and threat of social ostracism, economic boycotts, and physical violence. … [Moreover,] Dalits, or so-called untouchables (scheduled castes in Indian legal parlance), [are subject] to a lifetime of discrimination, exploitation and violence, including severe forms of torture perpetrated by state and private actors in violation of the rights guaranteed by the ICERD.”
According to India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), widespread custodial torture and killing of Dalits, rape and sexual assault of Dalit women, and looting of Dalit property by the police “are condoned, or at best ignored.” A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report opines that the problem seems to be “a lack of political will and immunity laws that shield those responsible for human rights abuses from prosecution, allow the problem of torture and other forms of custodial abuse to continue unchecked.”
Human Rights Watch
The HRW notes that “Dalits’ fundamental civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights are routinely violated by state actors and private individuals”, and goes on to add that:
•Cases of discrimination brought by Dalits are not properly pursued by police, prosecutors and judges, as evidenced by the high rate of acquittals and the large number of pending cases.
•The police have systematically failed to protect Dalits from acts of looting, arson, sexual assault, torture, and other inhumane acts.
•Dalits’ political rights have been denied through booth-rigging and booth capturing, denial of access to polls, intimidation and violence by upper-caste men. Furthermore, there is police abuse of Dalit activists, retaliatory attacks by private actors, and social and economic boycotts against Dalits.
•“Untouchability” dictates where Dalits must live, thus denying them freedom of residence.
•Strict prohibitions deny the rights of Dalits to marry and choose their spouse.
•The right to own property is systematically denied to Dalits as they suffer from landlessness and forced evictions.
•Dalits are forced to work in “polluting” and degrading occupations, such as manual scavenging, and are subject to exploitative labour arrangements.
•Dalits are often refused admission to hospitals, or access to healthcare and treatment, and those who are admitted receive discriminatory treatment.
•99% of Dalit students are enrolled in government schools that lack basic infrastructure and resources. Dalit children are subject to hurdles and abuse from teachers and fellow non-Dalit students, including segregation.
This being the case, unless the Indian society as a whole gets its act together, not only will this situation continue, but what is more, it raises the strong possibility of retaliation by Dalits as a community, similar to the incidents happening in the US after the George Floyd case, since they will no longer feel obligated to abide by the Social Contract that is systematically oppressing them.