Whether in India or in Pakistan, a Dalit is a Dalit

Damisha Salim

The mob dragged Surekha, Priyanka and the two boys, one of them partially blind, out of the house. The boys were ordered to rape their mother and sister; when they refused, their genitals were mutilated, and eventually they were lynched. Surekha and Priyanka were gang-raped and beaten to death. The four bodies were dumped in a nearby canal, where they were found the next day. 

Quoted above (p. 19) is a heart-wrenching excerpt from The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste, the Debate Between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi penned by Arundhati Roy. It was originally published in 2014 as an introduction to the annotated edition to Annihilation of Caste, the text of a presiding speech written, but never delivered, by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in 1936 for the Annual Conference of Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (Forum for Break-up of Caste), Lahore. It was published as a separate book in 2017. Seeking to examine the public-political debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi on the practice of caste, Roy analyses the caste system in India in the context of both the present and the past. And, in doing so, she also reveals horrific details about this system; a system of institutionalized persecution and injustice.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the caste system, as Ambedkar calls it, is “‘an ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt’” (Roy, 2014, p. 24). In Hinduism’s founding texts, the system is known as chaturvarna (the system of four varnas). Explaining what it means, Roy (2014) writes,

The approximately four thousand endogamous castes and sub-castes (jatis) in Hindu society, each with its own specified hereditary occupation, are divided into four varnas—Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (soldiers), Vaishyas (traders) and Shudras (servants). Outside of these varnas are the avarna castes, the Ati-Shudras, subhumans, arranged in hierarchies of their own—the Untouchables, the Unseeables, the Unapproachables — whose presence, whose touch, whose very shadow is considered to be polluting by privileged-caste Hindus. (p. 24)

At this point, it is important to clearly articulate that, in this article, I use the word ‘Dalit’ to refer to the people who, according to the caste divisions, belong to the avarna castes – the outcastes, the untouchables. The term has its roots in Sanskrit (Dalit Christians, n.d.) and means ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ (MRGI, n.d.). In the 19th century, it was adapted to refer to the people who did not belong to any of the four varnas; the term rightly reflecting their downtrodden status in the society (Dalit Christians, n.d.).

Dalits, owing to their ‘polluted being’, were and are subject to discrimination in the Indian society. They constitute the lowest rank in the economic pyramid, taking up low paid jobs including their ‘hereditary’ role as manual scavengers. Providing a vivid description of their ordeals, Roy (2014) notes,

In addition to being forced to live in segregated settlements, Untouchables were not allowed to use the public roads that privileged castes used, they were not allowed to drink from common wells, they were not allowed into Hindu temples, they were not allowed into privileged-caste schools, they were not permitted to cover their upper bodies, they were only allowed to wear certain kinds of clothes and certain kinds of jewellery. Some castes, like the Mahars, the caste to which Ambedkar belonged, had to tie brooms to their waists to sweep away their polluted footprints, others had to hang spittoons around their necks to collect their polluted saliva […] In many parts of India, much of this continues to this day. (pp. 24-25)

Moreover, the crimes perpetrated against them by the people belonging to the upper-castes include unapologetic physical assault, butchery, molestation, and rape. Treating Dalits with basic human decency is polluting, but molesting and raping their women is pure.

I remember being deeply disturbed when I read Roy’s account of the perpetual oppression of Dalits; my insides burning with a sense of utter disgust and sorrow. “And this is presumably the world’s largest democracy,” I scoffed angrily. Of course, caste is just a ‘Hindu thing’; it only belongs in India. Of course, this is the Islamic Republic; there is no caste here.

However, the plight of Dalits, it is very important to understand, is neither about a country nor about a certain religion. It is only about being a Dalit. A Dalit is a Dalit, no matter which region of the world they reside in and what religion they practice. The oppressive and discriminatory treatment of this section of the human (emphasis added) population transcends all boundaries of religion, culture, and space. Dalits do not live in India only, there are Dalits in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. There are not only Dalit Hindus, there are Dalit Muslims, Dalit Christians, Dalit Sikhs. Surekha and her family were Dalit Buddhists. They had converted to Buddhism to escape the discrimination and oppression practiced against the outcastes, but how did they end up? Butchered. Raped. Surekha had a dual crime: she was a Dalit and a woman.

Let us talk about Pakistan now. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to be precise, has never really acknowledged caste-based discrimination. But, remember the case of Aasia Bibi? The woman who had been sentenced to death for allegedly criticizing the Prophet (p.b.u.h). Who was she? A Christian. And, a Dalit. What sparked the altercation that led to her supposedly blasphemous remarks? She, an untouchable, polluted Dalit Christian, drank water from a communal cup that was exclusively Muslim (Zakaria, 2018).

Pakistan’s first minister for Law and Labor, Jogendranath Mandal, was a Dalit Hindu. He is considered to be one of the most influential figures in the Pakistan Movement. He had joined Muslim League in 1943 and worked in the Bengal Legislative Assembly. His support for Muslim League was based on the fact that he saw the interests of the Bengali Muslims to be broadly similar to those of Dalits in Bengal, both the groups being victims of the upper-caste Hindu chauvinism (Mandal, n.d.). Despite his reservations, he remained loyal to the struggle of Pakistan, primarily on the account of the League’s promise of equal treatment of minorities in the new state. His support for the League indirectly brought with itself support from Dalits. However, disillusioned by the discriminatory attitude of the newly established Islamic state towards the Hindu minority in general, and Dalit Hindus in particular, in both East and West Pakistan, he resigned (Mandal, n.d.), and subsequently migrated to India, in 1950. His detailed resignation letter to then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan is an insightful read on the matter.

In Pakistan, like India, Dalits are officially classified under the category of ‘Scheduled Castes’. In 1956, the Government of Pakistan had officially recognized scheduled castes in the country (Rehman, 2020). In November 1957, the Ministry of Law had released a list of about 40 castes and tribes[1] designated as scheduled castes and tribes (Jaipal, 2012). Majority of Dalits belonging to these castes are Hindus and Christians. According to the 1998 census, the number of scheduled caste people in the country is 332,343 (PBS, 2011). This, however, only accounts for Dalit Hindus, who complain of census-based discrimination against them i.e. deliberate underreporting of their actual numbers. They claim to constitute a much larger portion of the Hindu population (approx. 2.4 million) residing in Pakistan: approximately 2 million (IDSN, n.d.). What do you do when you do not want to acknowledge discrimination? You make those you discriminate against non-existent. The estimated Christian population of the country is 4 million, majority of them are Dalits who had converted to Christianity in hopes of escaping the horrors of caste, but in vain (Jacobsen, 2011). In the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, majority of Dalits are forced into bonded labor, primarily in the agriculture and brick-making industry (IDSN, n.d.). Though bonded labor has been outlawed in the country, but the neglect of law is nothing new and the downtrodden are seldom cared about. Moreover, about 80 per cent of manual sewers, sweepers, and cleaners in Pakistan are specifically Dalit Christians (Rehman & Abi-Habib, 2020).

Sexual abuse of Dalit women is rampant (IDSN, n.d.). How interesting it is to note that Dalit women are untouchables because they are Dalit, but, in ‘special’ instances of molestation, abduction, and rape, they are undisputedly touchable because they are women. Dual discrimination against Dalit women because they have committed a dual offence: they are both Dalit and women. And, let me add a third variable to this oppression equation for them. Religious majoritarianism. In Pakistan, Dalit girls and women, including those who are married, fall victim to forced religious conversions under the guise of marriage of choice or, in other cases, are conspicuously forced into marriage, after being converted, to settle unpaid debt of their families. They are abandoned after sexual exploitation, sold off, or are forced into prostitution (Arantes, 2018).  Google “Aarzoo Masih” for the most recent case of abduction and forced conversion and marriage of Dalit girls and women in Pakistan.

Further exasperating is the fact that all the abuses against Dalits, including forced conversions and marriages, are perpetrated with sheer impunity. No protection. No justice, even after years. The unresolved case of Manu Bheel is a testimony in this regard. Manu is a Dalit who was freed from bonded labor in 1996 and, along with his family, had started to work as a wage laborer thereafter. However, in 1998, nine of his family members were abducted by his former Muslim landlord; Manu is still unaware of their whereabouts (IDSN, 2015). Concerning forced conversions and marriages, the police is often reluctant to register an F.I.R. (Ackerman, 2018). Even when an F.I.R is registered and the case is taken to the court, the law against forced marriages doesn’t help, for, now that the woman or girl is a Muslim, it is impossible for her to revert back to her former religion (Arantes, 2018). Certain so-called champions of Islam in the country believe it would bring disgrace to the religion. In the case of young Dalit girls, their age, which, in most cases, is below the official age for marriage, is ignored (Arantes, 2018). The case usually resolves in favor of the perpetrators on the pretext of the girl or woman accepting Islam out of her own ‘free’ will (Ackerman, 2018). Of course, when jannah is awaiting the groom and his family, how is the judiciary supposed to punish them?

A lot more can be written on this topic for the kind of human suffering involved is endless. In fact, a lot more should be written about Dalits in Pakistan because there is little discourse on it, primarily because Dalits are usually associated with Hindus only. Since, based on the popular narrative of two-nation theory, Pakistan is an Islamic country, the pure homeland of Muslims, and India is where the Hindus live, this usual, but incorrect, exclusive association of Dalits with Hindus leads to a perpetual denial of their existence and, consequently, their plight in Pakistan. However, it must be noted that, though the dynamics of discrimination and abuse against Dalits may vary, the persistence of it cannot be denied in either of the countries. Whether in India or in Pakistan, a Dalit is a Dalit

[1] 1. Ad Dharmi 2. Bangali 3. Barar 4. Bawaria 5. Bazigar 6. Bhangi 7. Bhanjra 8. Bhil 9. Chmar 10. Chanal 11. Charan 12. Chuhraor Balmiki 13. Dagiand Koli 14. Dhanak 15. Dhed 16. Dumna 17. Gagra 18. Gandhila 19. Hala-Khor 20. Jatia 21. Kalal 22. Khatik 23. Kolhi 24. Kori 25. Kuchria 26. Mareja or Marecha 27. Megh (war) 28. Menghwar 29. Nat 30. Odh 31. Pasi 32. Perna 33. Ramdasi 34. Sansi 35. Sapela 36. Sarera 37. Shikari 38. Sirkiband 39. Sochi 40. Wagri.


Ackerman, R. (2018). Forced Conversions & Forced Marriages in Sindh, Pakistan. CIFoRB, The University of Birmingham. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/ptr/ciforb/Forced-Conversions-and-Forced-Marriages-in-Sindh.pdf

Arantes, P. L. (2018). Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages in Pakistan: Submission on Early Childhood and Forced Marriage in the Context of Humanitarian Settings, Pursuant to the Resolution 35/16 of the Human Rights Council (WRGS/COW/Res 35/16). International Dalit Solidarity Network.

Dalit Christians. (n.d.). Origin of the word “Dalit”. http://www.dalitchristians.com/Html/dalitmeaning.htm

International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN). (n.d.). Pakistan. https://idsn.org/countries/pakistan/

International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN). (2015, January 19). Pakistan: Manu Bheel, Sindh Province. https://idsn.org/pakistan-manu-bheel-sindh-province-2/

Jacobsen, D. (2011). The World’s Christians: Who they are, Where they are, and How they got there. Wiley-Blackwell.

Jaipal, R. (2012, November 9). In Pakistan, Dalits known as Scheduled Castes. In Pakistan, roughly 3 million is the Dalits Population. The SCs belong to [Post in SCRM: Scheduled Caste Rights Movement Pakistan Facebook Group]. Facebook. https://m.facebook.com/notes/scrm-scheduled-caste-rights-movement-pakistan/who-is-scheduled-caste-dalits/556214234394681

Mandal, J. (n.d.). Jogendra Nath Mandal’s Resignation Letter to Liaquat Ali Khan. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. https://www.spmrf.org/book/jogendra-nath-mandals-resignation-letter-to-liaquat-ali-khan/

Minority Rights Group International (MRGI). (n.d.). World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples: Dalits. https://minorityrights.org/minorities/dalits/

Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). (2011). Pakistan Statistical Yearbook 2011. http://www.pbs.gov.pk/sites/default/files/other/yearbook2011/Population/16-16.pdf

Rehman, Z. & Abi-Habib, M. (2020, May 4). Sewer Cleaners Wanted in Pakistan: Only Christians Need Apply. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/04/world/asia/pakistan-christians-sweepers.html

Rehman, Z. (2020, May 3). Call for Representation of Scheduled Castes on National Minorities Body. The News International.


Roy, A. (2014). The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste, the Debate Between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi. In S. Anand (Ed. & Annot.), Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition, B. R. Ambedkar (pp. 17 -179). Navayana Publishing.

Zakaria, R. (2018, October 16). A Death Sentence Over a Cup of Water?” The New Republic. https://newrepublic.com/article/151723/death-sentence-cup-water


Nature and Us — climate change under a Marxian perspective

Author: Muhammad Ashar Khan
Dated: 19-11-2020

Theory of alienation is a central part of Marx’s critique of Capitalism. It explains how capitalism detaches humans from their existence and nature. It also provides deep insights into how capitalism can unravel nature, both in a physical and spiritual sense. Reading the theory today can help us understand capitalism’s role in climate change, and how the current system of political economy can unleash a global catastrophe.


Alienation theory is a fundamental part of Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism. Marx argues that capitalism, in essence, is an exploitative economic system that perpetuates inequality between classes. It stratifies society into two main classes with opposing/clashing interests (i.e. the bourgeoisie and the proletariat). The bourgeoisie are the owners of the means of production while the proletariat refers to the working class. It, therefore, makes social cohesion impossible. Furthermore, it alienates them from their immediate surroundings — from the very nature that sustains them.

Another of Marx’s ideas, central to his critique of capitalism, is that of ‘forced labor’. He explains how capitalism externalizes humans from their reality, which makes them incapable of challenging a system that goes against human nature. He argues that capitalism divorces humans from their intellectual function by mandating repetitive tasks to maximize production. As a result, not only does it suppress human’s ability to think creatively, but also divorces them from their spirit. Human spirit for Marx is the ability of (wo)men to develop social bonds with fellow human beings for collective societal progress, instead of endeavoring to maximize personal benefits.

Under the light of the above arguments, this brief essay underlines how capitalism alienates humans from nature and their essential existence. It also aims to highlight the detrimental and catastrophic impact of such ideology on nature, and how its resultant unraveling of the global ecology is propelling us towards an existential crisis.

Estrangement from Nature
Humans, just like other species, depend on nature for both biotic and abiotic (intellectual, spiritual, financial, and so on) sustenance. We derive resources from nature that enable us to develop, produce, and grow. Thus, nature holds indispensable importance in our lives and without it our survival is inconceivable.

A reading of Marx’s work on ‘labor alienation’ in the 21st century, underlines an interesting fact about capitalism i.e. it inherently leads to estrangement from nature and natural spirit . By emphasizing on the accumulation of wealth and maximization of profits, Marx explains, capitalism commodifies nature and makes it a source of exploitation (Marx and Engels 2002). Man lives on nature, he explains, which means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange until he/she dies. That [(wo)]man’s physical and spiritual existence is linked to nature indicates that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature (Marx and Engels 2002).

He lays the foundations of the idea of an umbilical relationship between humans and nature. By establishing that humanity and nature are inseparable, Marx refutes the anthropocentric view of nature as a resource that can be exploited for human benefits. Nature, for Marx, is not only an integral part of our biological existence, but it also sustains us economically. Every species that contributes to nature has a vital role in its operations, and disturbing it can unleash a cascading effect that can potentially disrupt the ecosystem.

Furthermore, Capitalism fosters an environment of deception and misinformation. This is fairly evident in the current global political atmosphere. Right-wing conservative politicians who often espouse the mantra of free-markets and advocate exponential economic growth through deregulation of fossil fuel industries, turn a blind eye to its severe consequences. These mantras are received positively by the masses who are often unaware of their long-term consequences. Such ignorance is well highlighted in Marx’s theory, where he argues that how the bourgeoisie class lures the working class into the façade of economic growth via an exponential increase in production until the latter becomes completely ignorant of detrimental consequences of such economic growth.

The global emphasis on unabated economic growth through the exploitation of natural resources also undermines the fact that an ecological imbalance can jeopardize millions of lives. Global warming is a clear manifestation of the self-destructive nature of the current system. Due to the inequality it has fostered, the top 1 percent, who have amassed most of the global wealth and are the major contributors of greenhouse gases, are at the helm of decision making, promoting policies that fit their profit models (Harvey, 2020). Their undiminished expansion reflects how capitalism is the root cause of global climate inequality. This leads the discussion to another point of Marx’s alienation theory: human to human alienation.

Human-to Human alienation

In the manuscript, Marx argues that capitalism has turned humans into “object[s] of production” (Marx and Engels 2002). This means that under capitalism humans are treated as machines destined to perform repetitive tasks as their labor. Thus, because capitalism disregards humanity’s uniqueness of thinking creatively, humans become devoid of their spirit— the spirit of ingenuity, artistry, and the sense of brotherhood. Not only does this lead to them becoming slaves of the system, but they also lose their ability to resist exploitation.

As we internalize the norms of capitalism and strive to amass wealth, we become increasingly alienated from our fellow beings. It means that when one person competes against another to achieve the same goal, both become ignorant of the detrimental consequences of such competition. On one hand, the cleavage that arises from this system is reflected in the inability of the proletariats to opt for collective resistance against capitalist exploitation. The bourgeoisie class, on the other hand, has seized this opportunity to divide proletariats, pitching them against one another, to curb any potential of a revolution that can challenge their exploitation.

Even though the threat of climate apocalypse is becoming increasingly imminent, we are still unable to take any decisive action. Not only is this the consequence of a weakened proletariat class, but it also shows how capitalism disconnects humans from their societal structure – alienating them from each other.

For example, only 147 multinational corporations that control over 40 percent of the global economy are the major source of carbon emission. However, their political clout often enables them to halt any progress towards protective legislations (Vossole, 2012). The working class, on the other hand, cannot challenge their political and economic imperialism, because we are ever more divided.
Lastly, it is imperative to underline that a massive inequality exists between the major contributors to environmental degradation and those who are directly affected by it. Countries in the Global South are at the gravest perils of climate crisis while the developed countries are the major contributors to carbon emissions (central cause of climate change).


As a result of the hegemony of neo-imperialist forces, we find ourselves unable to collectively resist the imminent disaster. This is mainly because the proletariats of the Global North are often ignorant of the problems their counterparts in the developing countries face, and thus, lack a cohesive force of unity, paving the way for the behemoth spread of capitalism. The alienation of the proletariat class from each other and their impotence to challenge the bourgeoisie structure is the primary reason why capitalism has emerged as an invincible ideology that dictates the direction of the global political economy.

Marx’s critique, therefore, is crucial to understand the connection between environmental degradation and capitalism. Contemporary writers like John Foster have developed Marx’s ideas by identifying the ecological rift between man and nature as a source of capitalism (Benton, 2018). This makes Marx’s work the focal point of alternative ideas that can be used to save nature from the effects of the current economic order — or disorder.

The Marxist blend of spiritual and material systems of political economy can, at least, provide us the direction for a change that is essential for saving our present and future. Marx’s work not only negates the “no alternative” idea, but it also sets forth the foundations of a “Green New Deal” (Holden, 2019) that can remedy the present-day situation. And it will not be the first time humanity shall embrace a new, we did this in the 1930s by reexamining capitalism under Keynesian macroeconomic ideas and — cannot stress enough— we need to do it once again.


Benton, T. (2018, June 5). What Karl Marx has to say about today’s environmental problems. The Conversation, p. n.p. Retrieved 6 27, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/what-karl-marx-has-to-say-about-todays-environmental-problems-97479
Harvey, F. (2020, September 21). World’s richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, says Oxfam. Retrieved from The Guardian : World’s richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, says Oxfam
Holden, E. (2019, February 11). What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society? Retrieved from The Guardian : https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/11/green-new-deal-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-ed-markey
Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. 2002. “Other Writings of Marx and Engels.” In The Communist Manifesto: A Road Map to History’s Most Important Political Document, ed. Phil Grasper. Penguin, 149–53.
Vossole, J. V. (2012). Global Climate Governance: A Legitimation Crisis: Capitalism, Power, and Alienation. Fernand Braudel Center, 35(1), 1-27. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.com/stable/43233909