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There is a burden of a ‘stigmatized
ethnic identity’ (Berreman, 1971) that both rich or poor lower castes or Dalits
have to suffer which is propagated by the state. Upper castes (and
polity members) use and justify various forms of abuse as mediums to ensure
adherence to caste­-based norms and traditions by the lower castes. The
practice of untouchability, a form of abuse, takes place that ends up creating
an identity crisis. Untouchability is reinforced by state allocation of
resources and facilities? separate facilities are provided for separate caste­-based
neighbourhoods. Dalits often receive the poorer of the two, if they receive any
at all. In many villages, the state administration installs electricity,
sanitation facilities, and water pumps in the upper-­caste section, but
neglects to do the same in the neighbouring, segregated Dalit area. Basic
amenities such as water taps and wells are also segregated, and medical facilities
exist exclusively in the upper­-caste colony (Sen, 2013). This practice creates
a space between an individual belonging to a lower caste and an overall system
that seems to be working against his identity. As some try to escape the
identity that was thrust upon them by creating new opportunities, a system of
traditions, customs, government policies and society reminds them of who they
truly are in regards to their caste. Another way we see structural violence
taking place are physical attacks often take the
form of collective punishment, where entire communities are punished for the
perceived transgressions of individuals who seek to alter established norms or
demand their rights. Dalit or lower caste communities condemn and suppress
individual voices and actions for the “collective good” of the
community. A report by the National Commission of Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes states, “Whenever Dalits have tried to organise
themselves or assert their rights, desires and identity, there has been a backlash
from the feudal lords resulting in mass killings, gang rapes, looting of Dalit
villages.” Policy initiatives have not been accompanied by social
integration and tolerance across caste lines in India. A society that is
divided along caste lines, capitalism, with its emphasis on profit­seeking,
completely alienates an entire section that has no share of the pie, in this
case, the aspiration youth of the lower castes or Dalits (Berreman, 1971). 

I find a way to explore the state’s relationship with
caste (or hierarchy) by contrasting Talal Asad work to the concept of rights
people are given by the state. I find Asad’s argument to support the claims of
structural violence from the state to its citizenry.  Asad analyses the historical roots in his What
Do Human Rights Do? An Anthropological Enquiry by comparing the concept of
natural law in Latin Christendom as what some would say the basis of human
rights that led to what is referred to as ‘natural right.’ This concept of
natural right, as Asad would argue, made it realistic for political
philosophers like John Lock to invoke natural rights against the state. I begin
with this and compare it in contrast to the concept of Dalit rights and the
reciprocation that they have received from the state. The inequality that we
see that exists between upper-castes and lower-castes has stemmed off of
religion, namely ancient texts in Hinduism that created the system of Caste,
thus the inequality that existed above them. The concept of natural right that
is referred to as the right by birth that is a concept deprived to members of
lower caste within societal systems in India. But an argument can also be
extended to John Lock’s argument to invoke natural right claims, because the ‘right
by birth’ concept would be disputed by believers in the caste-system. But the
state, as Asad himself argues, has a significant influence in rights given to
inhabitants and citizens. The role that the states play to providing rights is
essential. In fact, the State, especially in India’s case towards Dalits, has
the ability to enforce ‘natural right.’ Asad argues, which has been, again,
seen with the action against separatist movements of the Maoists as well as
Kashmir from India, can according to their belief concede if it has violated
rights to better them or enforce rights that suit to their needs. Asad argues
that “states can and do use human rights discourse against their citizens — as
colonial empires used it against their subjects — to realize their civilizing
project.” (Asad, pg. 7) There is no better example of the Government of India—irrespective
of what party is in power—doing this in their policy towards Dalits and
appeasements towards them. For example, when the Government of India wanted to
develop land in the eastern part of India that used natural resources and was a
point of contention due to the insurgency caused by the Maoist rebellion, the
Government of India enforced the Armed Forces Special Powers Act1 for the sake of
controlling violence in the statehood has ended up being enforced in the state
for almost 60 years while private companies, under the protection of the army,
have used Manipur’s natural resources. This is not to say, however, that this
was the Government of India’s only objective in declaring AFSPA, but it does
enforce Asad’s argument on states having a very extensive control on declaring
and using the pretext of human rights for their own gain.2

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An interesting point that Asad brings to discussion
that I see correlating quite significantly with the Government of India’s and
its basic interaction with rights of individuals is Asad deconstructing Article
25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which lists out the basic
rights. Asad states that the ensuring that these rights can be made possible is
a responsibility of the specific state through its right to govern the ‘national
economy’ (Asad, pg 7). Asad uses the case of Iraq’s failure to provide for its
citizens, because of the sanctions in place. I find this argument to carry some
weight, but I think of it in the context of India: why has the state of India
not been labeled as abusing human rights in relation to the exploitation of the
general public of where Maoist rebellion or deprivation of Dalits have
occurred? Is this not what we would consider structural violence?

Act constituted by the Government of
India which gives armed forces powers of search and seize:


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