Caste in Legal Education: A Survey of Law Schools in Delhi

AuthorSameena Dalwai
Published date01 January 2018
Date01 January 2018
Subject MatterEssay
Caste in Legal Education:
A Survey of Law Schools in Delhi
Sameena Dalwai1
This article considers the connection between legal education and imparting of justice vis-à-vis caste
crimes in India. It argues that failure of law to offer justice to survivors of caste crimes is linked with the
failure of legal education to offer an understanding of caste and gender to its students. From a survey
of three law schools in Delhi NCR, this article raises questions about the knowledge of caste that law
students possess. It examines this data in the light of what must be known and taught to the future
lawyers to prepare them as unbiased and effective officers of law. The article begins with an anthology
of caste crimes in the past few decades, setting off a detailed discussion on why understanding caste is
imperative to justice machinery in India and hence to legal education.
At the onset of building a sovereign republic in 1951, India gave itself a Constitution that guarantees
equality to all its citizens. It was the euphoria of time, of overthrowing the British empire and getting the
reigns of the nation into their own hands that compelled the Indian ruling elite to fulfil the promise of a
free, just India through law. Moreover, Dr Ambedkar, the maker of India’s Constitution, was also the
leader of the untouchables, the lowest in the caste hierarchy, and was fervently committed to employing
law as the tool of justice. In this sense, the Indian Constitution can be seen as a revolutionary document
that tries to replace the Brahminical scriptures and the practices of inequality and oppression that they
tried to perpetuate. In this sense, the Constitution tried to create a secular democracy out of a feudal
caste-ridden India.2 It removed all legal disabilities to the lower strata of society, minorities, women
and added special provisions and safeguards to ensure not just formal but also substantive justice.3
Thereafter, specific legislations were passed to address particular issues.4
1 Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School, Haryana, India.
2 Dr Ambedkar’s speech in the Constituent Assembly, Friday, Nov. 25, 1949,
htm (last visited Sept. 5, 2017).
3 Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states that ‘The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection
of laws within the territory of India’. Article 15 (1) states that ‘The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of
religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them’. Article 16 (2) states that ‘No citizen shall on grounds only of religion, race,
caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment
or office under the state’. Article 17 abolishes untouchability and states that ‘Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form
is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law’.
4 For instance, the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
5(1) 60–75
© 2017 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2322005817730153
Corresponding author:
Sameena Dalwai, Sonipat Narela Road, Near Jagdishpur Village, Sonipat, Haryana 131001, India.
Dalwai 61
Yet, the legal machinery is yet to imbibe the Constitutional values. For justice to prevail, it is vital that
officers of law operate as unbiased entity rather than members of their social, political groups. It should
not matter who they pray to or who they vote for. When they are in their uniform, they must uphold the
law. However, this does not happen in practise. According to their personal experiences and location in
the social ladder, individuals develop a way of viewing the world. When these individuals become part
of the police, army, lawyers, judges, they carry their worldview into the office, police station, court,
behind a gun. For instance, police have been guilty of prejudice against Dalits, Muslims and other
minorities with devastating outcomes. During Bombay riots in 1992, the Mumbai policemen—it was
noted—were reading the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana that published calls to eliminate Muslims and
how this was the time to teach them a lesson for all their sins. The officers of law then responded to these
impassioned calls and acted like the soldiers of Hindutva within the apparatus of the State and were
indicted by the Srikrishna Commission.5 In Gujarat pogrom in 2002, the police returned the escaping
Muslim families to the bloodthirsty mobs, stating ‘we have no orders to save you’.6
In 2008, Human Rights Watch found that the discrimination and violence against Dalits and Adivasis
continued and the authorities’ duty bound to implement law failed to protect them.
Dalits and indigenous peoples (known as Scheduled Tribes or adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclu-
sion, and acts of communal violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a strong basis
for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented by local authorities.7
Crime statistics corroborate this observation. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB),
47,064 cases of crimes against Dalits were registered in 2014. This is a significant increase from 39,408
in 2013 and 33,655 in 2012. NCRB statistics show that 2,233 Dalit women were raped in 2014, up from
2,073 in 2013, 1,576 in 2012, 1,557 in 2011, 1,349 in 2010 and 1,346 in 2009.8 Whether the actual
number of crimes against Dalits has increased or not, the number of such instances being reported has
certainly increased. This means that there is an increasing need for the Indian legal system to take
cognizance of the violence faced by India’s Dalits.
When society continues to be severely caste ridden and oppressive, law is the promised recourse. But
when does the law perpetuates the culture of impunity? When do the law enforcement agencies protect
the offenders and silence the victims? A detailed report by the National Campaign on Dalit Human
Rights and National Federation of Dalit Women shows that out of the 500 Dalit women interviewed
across four states in India, only 13 per cent could get their criminal cases registered and only 0.1 per cent
got any justice. Dalit women were threatened by upper-caste abusers with expressions of ‘You will go to
the police? Police station is extension of our homes’, making evident the nexus of societal and state
power. Police actively blocked 17.5 per cent Dalit women who wanted to file cases of gang rape, sexual
exploitation, murder, grievous injury and economic blockade. Apart from direct refusal to lodge FIRs,
police weakened the prosecution cases by not applying relevant sections, not conducting mandatory
investigation, ill-treating the victims and their families and refusing to protect the witnesses. A stark
example of the biased role of police is the way the Atrocity Act is applied to legal cases involving a Dalit
5 See Human RigHts WatcH, 8, 2 (C) india: communal Violence and tHe denial of Justice (Apr. 1996).
6 communalism combat, india: genocide, guJaRat 2002 (Special Issue, Mar.–Apr. 2002),
7 Human RigHts WatcH, WoRld RepoRt 2008 (2008).
cms (last visited Sept. 5, 2017).

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