Editorials for 17-April-2024

by Vajiram & Ravi

Urbanisation, No Liberating Force for Dalits

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1 min read

Why in News?

  • The role of caste in Indian society has long shaped the social and spatial organisation of communities across the country and this impact is evident in the way Indian cities are structured, with caste often serving as the primary language of spatiality in urban areas.
  • Despite such challenges, prominent Indian figures like R. Ambedkar and Jyotirao Phule saw urbanisation as an opportunity for Dalit liberation.
  • Therefore, it is important to understand Ambedkar's vision of urbanisation, the persistence of caste-based discrimination in urban spaces, and the continued challenges faced by Dalits and Muslims in terms of housing and public services in cities.

Ambedkar’s Views on Urbanisation

  • A Pathway to Liberation
    • B. R. Ambedkar, a prominent social reformer and champion for the rights of Dalits, held a vision of urbanisation as a pathway to liberation for marginalised communities in India.
    • He believed that the traditional social structures of Indian villages were inherently oppressive due to the entrenched caste system, which dictated individuals' social status and access to opportunities based on their birth.
    • Ambedkar argued that the Indian village was the "working plant of the Hindu social order," where caste-based hierarchies thrived, resulting in the subjugation and marginalisation of Dalits.
  • A Means of Dismantling Caste-Based Order
    • Ambedkar saw urbanisation as a means of dismantling the rigid caste-based order found in rural areas.
    • He envisioned cities as spaces where individuals could become anonymous among a sea of strangers, transitioning from a caste-based society to a more class-based one.
    • This shift from a system defined by genealogy to one based on the accumulation of resources or capital would, in theory, weaken the systems of caste oppression that were pervasive in villages.
  • Better Economic and Social Opportunities in Urban Areas
    • In urban environments, Ambedkar believed, Dalits would have access to new economic opportunities and the ability to engage in various forms of skilled labour, enabling them to improve their social and economic standing.
    • Cities offered the chance to break free from the constraints of village life, where caste often dictated one's occupation and social interactions.
  • Potential for Greater Political and Social Awareness
    • Moreover, Ambedkar saw the potential for greater political and social awareness in cities.

Urban areas were more likely to have educational institutions and opportunities for civic engagement, which could empower Dalits and other marginalised groups to advocate for their rights and participate in the democratic process.

Challenges in Urbanisation and Ambedkar's Optimism

  • Despite being a supporter of urbanisation for marginalised communities, Ambedkar was not naive about the challenges of urbanisation.
  • He recognised that caste-based discrimination could still persist in cities, as evidenced by his own experiences.
  • He struggled to find housing in Baroda and faced restrictions on entering certain sections of textile mills due to his caste.
  • Nonetheless, he remained optimistic about the liberating potential of cities, viewing them as spaces where individuals could navigate life with greater freedom and autonomy.

Persistence of Caste-Based Discrimination in Urban Spaces

  • Language of Purity-Pollution
    • One of the primary ways caste discrimination manifests in cities is through the language of purity-pollution.
    • This concept, deeply embedded in Hindu social practices, categorises certain foods, behaviours, and individuals as either pure or impure based on their caste.
    • For instance, a consumer survey in 2021 found that eating non-vegetarian food is a significant barrier to finding rental housing in India, reflecting a broader prejudice against certain castes who are more likely to consume meat.
  • Caste Segregation in Housing
    • The language of purity-pollution also extends to housing practices and as a result dalits and other lower castes often face discrimination when trying to rent or purchase homes in urban areas.
    • Landlords and housing societies may refuse to rent to them based on their dietary habits or perceived cleanliness, leading to segregation and the formation of ghettos.
  • State-Sanctioned Policies
    • State-sanctioned policies have played a role in perpetuating caste-based discrimination in cities.
    • For example, the Uttar Pradesh government issued regulations in March 2017 that banned the sale of meat near religious places and required meat shops to hide their products from pedestrians.
    • Similar policies in other states, such as Gujarat, have targeted meat-based street food, citing religious sentiments.
    • These measures implicitly reinforce caste divisions by labelling meat as impure and associating it with certain castes.

Ongoing Relevance of Ambedkar's Vision, Implications of Discrimination, and Its Impact on Public Spaces

  • Ongoing Relevance of Ambedkar's Vision
    • Ambedkar's vision of urbanisation as a path to Dalit liberation continues to resonate today, serving as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for social justice and equality in Indian cities.
    • His work underscores the importance of addressing both historical and contemporary forms of caste-based discrimination to create inclusive and equitable urban spaces.
  • Spatial Implications of Discrimination
    • These forms of discrimination have significant spatial implications, as they lead to the segregation of Dalits and other marginalised groups into specific neighbourhoods or areas.
    • Ghettos often lack access to basic services and infrastructure, further exacerbating the social and economic disparities faced by these communities.
  • Impact on Public Spaces
    • The influence of caste-based discrimination extends to public spaces as well.
    • Restrictions on where certain foods can be sold, for example, limit the ability of lower castes to participate fully in the economic and social life of the city.
    • Such policies contribute to a broader environment of exclusion and marginalisation.

Conclusion

  • Despite Ambedkar's vision of urbanisation as a path to Dalit liberation, Indian cities have fallen short of fulfilling this promise.
  • While transitioning to city life may have weakened some structures of caste oppression, these have morphed through language, state sanction, and policy, allowing caste to thrive in urban spaces.

This ongoing struggle underscores the need for continued efforts to address caste-based discrimination and promote inclusivity and equality in Indian cities.


Q) What is the caste system in Indian society?

The caste system in Indian society is a traditional social hierarchy that categorises people into distinct groups based on their birth. These groups, known as castes, dictate an individual's social status, occupation, and potential marriage partners. The main castes are divided into four varnas: Brahmins (priests and scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers), and Shudras (labourers and service providers). Additionally, there are groups known as Dalits or "untouchables," who have historically faced severe discrimination.

Q) What impact has the caste system had on modern Indian society?

The caste system has had a significant impact on modern Indian society by influencing social, economic, and political dynamics. Although the system is officially outlawed and the Indian constitution provides for equality and non-discrimination, caste-based prejudices and biases still persist. Discrimination against lower castes, particularly Dalits, continues to be a challenge. However, there have been notable efforts to address these issues, including affirmative action policies and social movements advocating for the rights of marginalised communities.

Source: The Hindu


Context

  • World Consumer Rights Day, celebrated annually on March 15, serves as a reminder of the importance of safeguarding consumers' rights globally.
  • However, the day often overlooks a significant group of consumers who face unique challenges - consumers with disabilities.
  • These individuals encounter various forms of inaccessibility in their everyday lives, from using mobile apps and shopping in supermarkets to dealing with customer support services.

The Everyday Struggles of Consumers with Disabilities

  • Transportation Difficulties
    • Booking a cab ride through a mobile app can be an arduous task for someone with a visual impairment.
    • If the app lacks accessible features such as screen reader compatibility, the user must rely on external help to book a ride.
    • This not only reduces their independence but can also lead to frustration and inconvenience.
  • Navigating Public Spaces
    • At the supermarket, tactile pavements and clear signage are essential for individualswith visual impairments or mobility issues.
    • Inaccessible buildings require them to seek assistance to navigate to specific sections, such as the electronic appliance area.
    • This dependency on others can diminish their sense of autonomy and slow down their shopping experience.
  • Accessibility of Information
    • When a visually impaired consumer purchases a product, the packaging may lack braille or other accessible formats to provide essential information such as usage instructions, warnings, or contact details for customer support.
    • Inaccessible information forces consumers to seek help from others, which can be both time-consuming and infringe on their privacy.
  • Dealing with Defective Products
    • If a consumer with a disability encounters a defective product, the process of seeking a replacement or refund can be particularly challenging.
    • Inaccessible customer support channels, such as hotlines without voice recognition software or online forms that are not screen reader-friendly, can complicate the process.
  • Navigating Customer Support
    • Companies may require complaints to be submitted in written form or via postal mail, which can be a barrier for those with physical disabilities or visual impairments.
    • This reliance on traditional, inaccessible methods often leaves consumers dependent on others to submit complaints on their behalf, leading to a loss of agency and potential delays in resolution.
  • Limited Choices and Options
    • In many instances, the inaccessibility of products and services leaves consumers with disabilities with limited options.
    • For example, they may be unable to access certain brands or models due to a lack of inclusive design features such as audio descriptions, closed captioning, or tactile buttons.

Potential Changemakers to Address the Challenges Faced by Consumers with Disabilities

  • Businesses
    • Designing Inclusive Products and Services
      • Businesses can start by recognising consumerswith disabilities as an integral part of their target market.
      • By incorporating inclusive design principles into their products and services, such as providing tactile buttons, audio descriptions, and screen reader compatibility, they can ensure accessibility for all consumers.
    • Accessibility Training
      • Companies can invest in training their employees on accessibility and inclusivity to create a more welcoming environment for all customers.
      • This includes training customer service representatives to better assist consumers with disabilities.
    • Collaboration with Advocacy Groups: Businesses can partner with disability advocacy groups to better understand the needs of consumers with disabilities and implement improvements based on their feedback.
  • Government Entities
    • Legislative Frameworks
      • Governments have the authority to enact and enforce comprehensive accessibility laws that mandate inclusive practices across industries.
      • These laws can set minimum standards for accessibility in public spaces, transportation, and goods and services.
    • Incentivising Accessibility
      • By offering tax credits or other financial incentives to businesses that implement accessible design, governments can encourage widespread adoption of inclusive practices.
    • Monitoring and Enforcement
      • Governments can establish agencies to monitor compliance with accessibility laws and issue penalties for non-compliance.
      • This oversight ensures that businesses are held accountable for providing accessible options.
  • Advocacy Groups
    • Raising Awareness
      • Advocacy groups play a crucial role in raising awareness about the needs and rights of consumers with disabilities.
      • Through public campaigns and educational initiatives, they can encourage businesses and policymakers to prioritise accessibility.
    • Providing Support
      • Advocacy groups can offer support and resources to consumers with disabilities, helping them navigate legal and bureaucratic challenges.
      • They can also provide feedback to businesses and governments on areas needing improvement.
    • Legal Advocacy
      • Advocacy groups can take legal action to hold businesses and governments accountable for failing to meet accessibility standards.
      • By pursuing lawsuits and formal complaints, they can drive change and set precedents for future cases.

Legal Reforms to Effectively Address the Challenges Faced by Consumers with Disabilities

  • Enhance Complaint Mechanism of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPWDA), 2016
    • The RPWDA is a cornerstone law that grants a variety of rights to persons with disabilities, including equality, accessibility, and reasonable accommodation.
    • Sections 43 and 46 of the Act specifically address universally designed consumer goods and accessible services.
    • Individuals can file complaints with Disability Commissions established under the Act.
    • While these commissions can issue recommendations for businesses and services to improve accessibility, their directives are often only advisory in nature, which may limit their effectiveness in providing redress.
  • Alignment of Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 2019 with RPWDA, 2016
    • Although the CPA offers robust enforcement and compliance mechanisms, it lacks dedicated rights for consumers with disabilities that align with the provisions of the RPWDA.
    • This absence may discourage some consumers from filing complaints with Consumer Commissions.
    • Aligning the CPA with the RPWDA would help streamline and strengthen protectionsfor consumers with disabilities.
  • Strengthening Accessibility Laws
    • Governments should consider implementing comprehensive accessibility guidelinesacross all sectors, from retail to transportation and digital services.
    • This would help standardise accessibility measures and ensure consistency in offerings.
    • Also, effective enforcement of accessibility laws is essential which includes establishing clear penalties for non-compliance and ensuring that businesses face consequences for failing to meet accessibility standards.

Conclusion

  • To create a more inclusive consumer experience for individuals with disabilities, it is essential to align the CPA with the RPWDA and raise awareness about the rights and resources available under these legal frameworks.
  • By encouraging businesses and governments to take a proactive approach in addressing accessibility issues, society can move toward a future where consumers with disabilities enjoy equal participation and independence in all aspects of life.

Q) What is the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016?

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, is a comprehensive law in India that aims to protect and promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. It provides various provisions for ensuring equality, accessibility, and inclusion of people with disabilities in different aspects of life, such as education, employment, and social participation.

Q) What are some key provisions under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016?

The RPWDA, 2016, includes several key provisions such as the prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities, the guarantee of equal opportunities, accessibility in public spaces and transportation, reservation in employment and education, and the establishment of special courts for speedy resolution of disability-related cases. Additionally, the Act expands the list of recognized disabilities from 7 to 21, providing wider coverage and protection for individuals with various types of disabilities.
 

Source:The Hindu