The images of two innocent Dalit girls hanging from a tree in Katra village in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh and a crowd of spectators looking bewildered at them best describes our national character. We can endure any amount of ignominy, can stand any level of injustice, and tolerate any kind of nonsense around us with equanimity. It is no use saying if those girls were our own daughters or our own sisters, we would still stare at them, bewildered and resigned like anyone in that crowd did. In just the past two months, while we as a country were busy playing fiddle to Narendra Modi and his promise of acche din, there have been a series of gory rapes and murders of Dalit teens across the country.
But beyond the residual anger, there is hardly any real concern for these atrocities. The rulers are not concerned, the media is hardly interested, and then there is indifference of the progressive lot and Dalits’ own frigidity towards them. It is shameful that we take the rape and murder of innocent Dalits as an adjunct of our social environment and forget about them.
Rapes aren’t Manu-ordained
Whenever we speak about castes, we bury our neck ostrich like into sands of mythic past and blind ourselves to our own times where contemporary castes have been constructed. All the stereotypical theories that are in vogue either promote inaction or intoxication with one’s caste identity – a veritable suicidal instinct. They absolve our rulers of their dirty intrigues that enlivened castes into modern times, with the alibi of social justice. The Constitution outlawed untouchability but not castes. It was not social justice but the ability of castes to splinter people that made the post-independence rulers wanted castes to survive. The reservations in an equality-aspiring country could be an exceptional policy, which it was as instituted by the colonial rulers. The scheduled castes, as identified on a solid criterion of untouchability in 1936 were such exceptional people wanting an exceptional policy. But during the constitution making, it was made open-ended, first by extending it to the tribes by creating a separate schedule with fluid criteria and then to all others that could be identified by the State as ‘educationally and socially backward’. The latter was appropriately used by our rulers in 1990 in the form of Mandal reservations taking the lid off the can of caste worms.
This and their other intrigues have created the modern monsters who unleash caste atrocities on Dalits. With the rhetoric of socialism, they systematically drove the country in capitalist direction. Right from clandestinely adopting the Bombay Plan drawn up by the big capitalists in January 1944 as our first three five year plans, giving an impression that India was truly embarking on a socialist path, to implementing the calibrated land reforms and rolling out a capitalist strategy of Green Revolution, which together created a class of rich farmers out of the most populous shudra caste-band, as a rural ally of the central bourgeoisie. The erstwhile upper caste landlords were replaced by the rich farmers assuming the baton of Brahmanism. Dalits on the other hand, were reduced to be the rural proletariat, with the collapse of the traditional jajmani ethos of interdependence, utterly dependent on the rich farmers for farm wages. It soon gave rise to wage struggles, which were responded to by culturally unsophisticated new custodians of casteism by unleashing terror, using a weird amalgam of caste and class that precipitated into gory atrocities starting from Kilvenmani in Tamilnadu in 1968 to their intensification today in the age neoliberalism. The shudras which were potential ally of Dalits (ati-shudra) in the schema of Jotiba Phule were made the oppressors of Dalits by the intrigues of the new rulers.
Atrocities are not statistics
“Every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched”, has become a catchphrase since Hillary Mayell had coined it while writing in National Geographic full 11 years ago. Well, today these figures have to be revised upward as for instance, the rape rate of Dalit women has shot up from Hillary’s 3 to well over 4.3, a whopping 43 percent rise. Even the sensex has its ups and downs but the atrocities on Dalits have only shown rising trend. Still it fails to shame us. With characteristic cool we carry on with our business, occasionally demanding stringent legislation knowing well how the Atrocity Act also has been rendered toothless by the justice delivery system. Right since this Act was promulgated; there have been open demands for its repeal by the casteist outfits. Shiv Sena in Maharashtra for instance, made it as a centerpiece of its electoral campaign in 1995 and the Maharashtra Government literally withdrew 1100 cases registered under the Act.
The reluctance to register crime against Dalits under this Act is proverbial. Even in Khairlanji, which even a layman identified as a caste atrocity, the fast track court did not find any caste angle to apply the Atrocity Act. Despite the glaring fact that the entire village attacked the Dalit family in concert torturing, raping and murdering a woman, her daughter and two sons, and that the women’s dead bodies were found naked with assault marks all over them, the trial court did not find a case of conspiracy or outraging women’s modesty. Even the high court did not feel it worthwhile correcting this abominable observation. Such travesty of justice is a legion in atrocity cases. The entire justice delivery system, right from police to judges is fraught with such glaring anomalies. In the very first case of Kilvenmani, wherein 42 Dalit labourers were burnt alive, the Madras High Court had observed that the rich landlords, who owned even a car could not be committing such a crime and acquitted them. The least said about the police in India, better it is; most of them being the criminals in uniform. They come clearly against Dalits in every case of atrocity. Whether it is faulty investigation and/or incompetent prosecution, even the courts have been suspect in creating an insidious pattern of judgements. Recently, the Patna High Court stunned the world acquitting all the criminals of Ranvir Sena in case after case of Dalit massacres that came before it. The Andhra Pradesh High Court also did the same in the infamous Tsundur case, where all the convicts by the lower courts were acquitted after years of running.
It is this trend set by the justice delivery system that emboldens the criminals to commit any atrocity against Dalits. They do know that they would never be punished. Firstly, they see Dalits, who are dependent for their survival on them, would not ordinarily dare to go against them. Many cases of atrocities thus have still birth, mostly in remote parts of the country. But if they do not, the real culprits escape the police net and their minions are made to undergo the judicial process. The police manage it by deliberately leaving investigation faulty; the case is presented by incompetent prosecutor and ultimately ends in indifferent to biased judgement. This process thus becomes quite reassuring to the criminals.
Can one imagine the temerity of the rapists in Bhagana where four teenage Dalit girls of 13 to 18 years age could be brutally gang-raped entire night and thrown up into bushes in the adjacent state, still hoping that everything would be hushed up? Can one imagine their pain in braving their dishonor, sitting in the capital along with their parents demanding justice for months and no one taking note of them? Can we imagine the subtle casteism of the so called progressives in the country who raised a nationwide fury over a rape and murder of a non-Dalit girl, naming her nirbhaya, but keeping silent over the plight of these Bhagana girls? Can we imagine the suffering of a 17 year Dalit school boy, Nitish of Kharda village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, the plight of his poor parents whose lone son he was, when he was beaten to death in broad day light just because he dared to speak with a girl who belonged to the dominant community? And can we imagine what might have befallen those two innocent girls who were devoured by the criminals entire night and then hanged to death? And these are not the only cases. There have been scores of such cases of atrocities in both these states that happened during the last two months but did not find much space in media. Can one imagine the perpetrators committing such heinous crimes without the support of the politicians? In all these cases the criminals are nakedly protected by the political biggies of the Congress in Haryana, the Samajwadi Party in UP and the NCP in Maharashtra.
The lynching of black men in the US led to the black youth taking up guns and teaching the whites to behave. Do the casteist criminals want this specter to come alive in India?