New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) Dubbing the increasing incidents of atrocities on the Dalits as a “challenge before Indian society”, the Union government on Thursday voiced its committment to prevent such crime by empowering the community economically and socially through development.
Replying to a five-hour long debate in the Lok Sabha on the issue, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh sought the cooperation of all political parties and the state governments in this respect.
Rajnath’s response came after the government came in for strident criticism in the Lok Sabha from the opposition, which claimed that the Dalits had lost confidence in it.
Not satisfied by the goverment response, the Congress staged a walkout.
“There should be no politics over this issue. We should take it as a challenge to end this injustice,” Singh earlier said.
“People from various castes and communities in India live together. Our ancestors believed in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (world is one family),” he said.
The minister said atrocities against the Dalits must end and all should work towards it.
Admitting that the Dalits were lagging behind economically, Rajnath said that despite all sorts of problems and social evils pitted against them, they never asked for a separate country.
“Their contribution is immense to the country,” he said, adding that atrocities against them were a result of “distorted mentality”.
He said that the ancient Indian society — when there was no untouchability or any other social handicap against the Dalits — should be our model for the present-day society.
“Humanity has to be considered supreme over other things,” he added, saying that various measures were being taken to ensure a respectful life for the downtrodden in the country.
The debate was held following outrage over the incidents of flogging of Dalits, including four youth in Una town of Gujarat, by cow vigilantes.
Singh said that law and order is a state subject and his ministry had issued an advisory to the states to take strict action against those involved in committing crimes against the Dalits in the name of cow protection.
On criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not speaking in Parliament on the issue, Singh sought to know from the opposition how many Prime Ministers in the past have spoken on every issue.
He said the Constitution has provisions to empower the Dalits, but there is a need to do more in this regard.
Initiating the discussion, Communist Party of India-Marxist member P.K. Biju from Kerala claimed a substantial increase in atrocities against the Dalits whereas the community had not seen any improvement in their condition on education and social parameters.
Biju, representing Alathur constituency, said over 37 per cent of the Dalits in the country live below the poverty line while at least one Dalit is attacked every 18 minutes.
“You have enough provisions to protect the Dalits in the country, but who will protect us?” he asked and urged Modi to emerge as a “true custodian” of the people.
“I request the Prime Minister not to confine (himself) to only giving statements but also show action,” Biju said.
There is a need for “political will” to control incidents of violence and atrocities against the Dalits, he said.
Intervening in the discussion, Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said political parties should introspect and not politicise the Dalit issue.
He called for spreading social harmony.
Congress members Jyotiraditya Scindhia and K.H. Muniyappa said that atrocities against the Dalits have increased ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government came to power at the Centre.
Scindhia said: “The BJP had given the slogan of ‘Congress-free India’ but now they want ‘Dalit-free India’.”
Muniyappa said: “The community has lost confidence in the government. This will be reflected in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” he said.
He demanded special schools for Scheduled Castes and Tribes students on the pattern of Navodaya Vidyalayas.
BJP members Udit Raj and Arjun Ram Meghwal defended the government, saying the Modi government had initiated schemes for the social and economic uplift of the community.
“The root cause of the atrocities is the social thinking of the people and until it changes, the problem cannot be addressed,” Udit Raj said.
Meghwal, Minister of State for Finance, said the Modi government is focused on the economic uplift of the Dalits.
“‘Mudra Yojana’, ‘Stand-up India’ and ‘Startup India’ programmes are initiated for the economic uplift of the Dalits. No previous government thought of this. The social uplift of the community is not possible if they are not economically sound,” he said.
The minister said the opposition parties are raising such issues because the Dalits are coming closer to the BJP.
Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress said there is no dearth of laws in the country to prevent atrocities against Dalits but there is lack of strict implementation.
He called for setting up special courts in the country for trials of criminal cases of atrocities against the Dalits.
Bhartruhari Mehtab of the Biju Janata Dal stressed the need for social reforms to find out a solution to the problem.
He said law alone cannot prevent atrocities against the Dalits but there must be a fear of law among wrong-doers.