A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members, Mahatma Gandhi once said. One of the fears of the Dalits, was how the Dalits would be treated when India becomes a democracy. The availability of education and the impact of education are very much at the core of this desired social transformation. Dr Kancha Ilaiah, Director, Center for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, spoke to Blessy Mathew Prasad on the various steps taken for the emancipation of Dalits.
How far have the Dalits come?
By the time of independence, untouchability was rampant and education was almost nil. The change came out of two factors — One, the adult franchise, for which Ambedkar was responsible. The second major thing that he achieved was the principle of reservation.
Is there still discrimination?
Discrimination has to go from all spheres of life from the very roots. Religion is a key in abolishing discrimination. The roots of discrimination, untouchability and caste formations go into religion. Now, it is here that the Hindu religion is not a reformed religion to the extent that it can give complete equal rights to Dalits or backward classes. It has created a huge system of manipulation. How long can you keep them under the control of spiritual Sanskrit hegemony in the temple and English hegemony by means of private education in civil society? This is going to end up in a major clash in the next few decades.
What is the way forward here?
Everyone wants to become middle class. Aspirations are good in a liberal democracy. But aspirations have to be met. So, they should completely attack the dual mode of education. Government schools teach regional languages, while private schools teach English to whoever has money. So I suggest that all Dalits come out together on the streets to protest for the entire education system to be in English. It may create chaos. It doesn't matter. You don't allow them to speak to God in Sanskrit, now you don't allow them to speak to judges in courts. Courts operate in English all over the country. People don't understand what is being said on behalf of them. This has to be broken.