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Are we missing a key component of caste discrimination in India’s water discourse?

caste discrimination

This article underscores the critical intersection of caste discrimination and water access in India. It highlights the glaring gap in acknowledging caste as a significant factor in discussions about water rights. Some time back, nine-year-old Dalit boy Indra Meghwal was beaten to death for drinking water from a pot reserved for his upper-caste teacher. This is a stark reminder of the persisting caste-based atrocities related to water access.

Untouchability is legally abolished in India. Despite this and the existence of protective laws like the Prevention of Atrocities Act, caste-related violence continues. This is true especially in the context of water. The discourse on water-related issues in India, however, largely neglects caste dynamics. The dominance of upper-caste scholars in environmental studies perpetuates this invisibility. This is because they lack the live experiences of the marginalized communities who face caste discrimination in their daily interactions with water and the environment.

The human influence on the hydrological cycle cannot be understood without considering the deeply ingrained caste structure. There are modifications and stresses imposed on the hydrological cycle by human activities, such as water importation and groundwater extraction. These are intricately tied to social, economic, and political factors.

Confront the C word

Confronting caste is essential to addressing justice and sustainability concerns regarding water in India. In fact, caste influences the entire water cycle. This is demonstrated by topographic inequalities that align with caste hierarchies, impacting vulnerability to natural hazards like flooding. Many a times, the fact that topographic maps correlate with caste hierarchies is seldom addressed in environmental discussions. The connection between caste and access to water is further illustrated by recent incidents where Dalits were targeted and murdered for challenging caste boundaries related to water consumption. It highlights the increase in atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes related to conflicts over access to drinking water sources.

The invisibility of caste in water-related discussions is a major obstacle to achieving justice and equal rights of access to water. It is time to reimagine the human-environment relationship. This discussion should stress on the need to recognize caste as a fundamental element linking the physical and social dimensions. Until this is addressed, the water cycle in India will remain broken for the marginalized communities, particularly Dalits, perpetuating a cycle of injustice and inequality.

Doulton believes in equality of water distribution and sustainability for a better world. Our products reflect our ideology with water savings, zero electricity usage and eco-friendly ceramic candles.

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