Less than 2 per cent of Dalit households in India own a car. But none of them perhaps owns a Mercedes Benz. Except the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, who has one parked in his garage as part of the perks that come with the President’s office.
On the plus side however, 50.9 per cent have access to a bank and the technological revolution has ensured that 61 per cent of Dalit households now own a mobile in urban India. It’s not known how many of these fall into the category of smartphones. The Census is silent on this. But we know that in rural areas, the bicycle – owned by 45.6% homes – and the mobile – owned by 42.8 per cent homes – is now deemed equally important. In most of these cases. a cycle and a mobile is used by several family members, usually the male heads of the family.
This would be a relatively rosy picture if it were not for other social and economic indicators. According to 2011 Census figures released on the SC households by amenities and assets by the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner recently, 79 per cent of Indian Dalits live in one to two room mud-house accommodations, with four to eight other family members packed into a tiny space.
What is worse is that as many as 16.4 per cent in the rural areas and 20 per cent in the urban spaces conduct their life in the shadow of asbestos roofs. Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen. According to International Agency for Research in Cancer, there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes mesothelioma (cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen) and cancers of the lung, larynx and ovary. The Indian National Institute for Health and Family Welfare estimates that there has been considerable secondary exposure to asbestos used in construction, resulting in higher incidence of cancer for those living and breathing under asbestos roofs.
In the unequal landscape of customary and caste equations, lack of access to potable water in rural areas remains a major concern. The Census figures for 2011 reveals that in 90 per cent of cases, lakes, ponds, tanks, wells and tube-wells remain out of reach for the scheduled caste population living in the villages.
A study done on monopoly of water use in Bihar found that most tube-wells are owned by landowners who participate in a water market, selling water to marginal farmers at exorbitant rates. The access to tube-wells for domestic use in such cases is also curtailed. This is borne out by 2011 Census data which shows that only 7.7 per cent households belonging to scheduled castes have access to tube-wells and only 9.4 per cent have access to a well.
The Census survey figures confirm that (where available), most of the scheduled caste homes in villages are dependent on handpumps erected by the local administration, NGOs and private institutions. Overall, 47 per cent of such households have such an access and a quarter (24 per cent) trudge long distances to fill their containers that adds to the physical and mental stress of the people, especially women who waste considerable energy and time on such chores.
On August 15, the nation will celebrate 70 years of Independence. It is tragic that in all these years, only 19 per cent of scheduled caste homes in rural areas have access to tap water, a basic requirement for survival. The situation is somewhat better in urban settlements where municipal infrastructure ensures delivery to 58.7 per cent of scheduled caste households. In the countryside meanwhile, the condition of Dalits requires to be addressed. Democracy is meaningless without equal access to right to life which includes roti, kapda and makan with basic amenities.