In the ongoing Uttar Pradesh elections, every time the BJP talks of improved security of women and daughters, the Opposition tosses the Hathras incident, where a Dalit girl was allegedly raped and killed by four upper caste men, at it.
While the BJP has replaced its sitting MLA, the political capital of the incident is being cashed by Opposition parties. The lawyer of the victim’s family, Seema Kushwaha, has become the national spokesperson of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and is campaigning in the region.
Pradeep Chaudhary, who shielded RLD chief Chaudhary Jayant Singh from police batons when he went to meet the kin of the victim after the incident, has been fielded by the party from the adjoining Jat-dominated Sadabad constituency.
Two-word Hindi slur
In Boolgarhi, however, the electoral noise is muted. What one overhears is an upper caste man addressing a Dalit, a cousin of the deceased, with a two-word, pointed Hindi slur that loosely translates to “you, thankless ration devourer!” The cousin refused to talk, while his father, one of the few present during the alleged forced cremation at the dead of night, said, “there is no point speaking about it in the current atmosphere. We are waiting for the time to pass by.”
In villages, said a local social activist, where the Dalit voter was in minority, it was silent because he didn’t want to take on the might of Thakurs as they have become to signify the face of the BJP rule.
The family is still living under the security cover and the brothers of the deceased said they were safe as long as they were protected by CRPF men. “We are keeda makoda [flies] for the upper castes in the village whom they would crush at the first opportunity,” said the elder brother, pointing to the huge mounds of cattle dung outside the house. “Even the security men have complained about the stench but ‘they’ want to show who runs the show here.”
The case, he said, had not been fast-tracked as promised and the government lawyer was using delaying tactics. “We were promised a government job and a house but now the government seemed to be going back on its promise,” he noted. The younger brother said their life was stuck and would like to resettle somewhere in the NCR (National Capital Region). “We were offered ticket by a political party but we are not interested in politicising the issue. We just want justice for our sister,” he added.
A BSP stronghold
Boolgarhi falls in the Hathras reserved constituency, which has been a stronghold of the BSP. It had won the seat four times in the last six elections. The BJP has held the seat twice.
Keeping in mind the emotions of the electorate, sitting MLA Harishankar Mahor has been replaced by Anjula Mahor, former Agra Mayor. Hailing from the Kori community, she is being presented as a Dalit woman who stands a good chance to become a minister, a first for Hathras, if the BJP returns to power. However, old-timers say she is being seen as an outsider by a section of the party cadre.
The BSP has fielded a seasoned party man- Sanjeev Kaka, while the Samajwadi Party (SP) has relied on a BSP turncoat Brij Mohan Rahi, who finished second in 2017.
Ms. Kushwaha deflected the question on BSP supremo Mayawati’s absence from the scene when the incident happened. “The BSP is the only party that can provide security and justice to not just Dalits but the Sarva Samaj.”
Local observers said the issue could not gain much currency in elections because of the caste equations seem to be helping the BJP. “The victim belonged to the Valmiki community that traditionally voted for the BJP and don’t seem to be shifting in large numbers. That’s why the Jatavs who are in larger numbers don’t usually vote for the Valmiki candidate as they considered them pliant to Hindutva agenda of the ruling party,” said a senior journalist of a Hindi newspaper, requesting anonymity.
However, former Minister and Congress heavyweight Shyoraj Jeevan had a different take. A Valmiki, Mr. Jeevan said the Opposition parties had done injustice to the Valmikis by putting up Jatav candidates. “The community is now anguished with the BJP and it could be seen in the way BJP candidates are avoiding campaigning in Valmiki localities in the region.”
Past record notwithstanding, he felt, a chunk of Dalit vote would shift to the SP. “The SP-RLD have crushed us in the past but the idea is to control a big snake with the help of a small snake charmer. I don’t see the Congress having a problem with that.”
Tough fight in Sadabad
In Sadabad, Mr. Chaudhary is giving a tough fight to Ramveer Updhayay, the face of the BSP’s Dalit-Brahmin social engineering, who shifted to the BJP just before the polls. While Mr Chaudhary is relying on the newfound Jat-Muslim chemistry, Mr. Upadhyay is assured of the Brahmins and Thakurs. He is also expected to wean some of the Jatav vote bank from the BSP because of his past connections with the community and he is also known to splurge during elections. The BSP has once again made an astute tactical choice by fielding a Brahmin Avin Sharma, son of the mentor of Mr. Updhayay. For a change, here the BSP candidate is expected to hurt the prospects of a star BJP candidate.
Back in Boolgarhi, upper caste families have now reconciled to the fact that the one of the boys was responsible for the rape and murder but insist that the other three had been falsely implicated. “The people whom you are not supposed to touch, how could you get into an affair with their girl,” said Ram Pal Singh, a Thakur farmer, praising the victim’s father as a simple man who respects caste hierarchy.
On the stench around the victim’s house, local advocate Sanjay Tiwari said there was nothing wrong as these are designated pits around the house. “Even officials can’t change their position. It is the family that has encroached on the village land.”
Farmer Om Prakash Sharma, whose son is a government servant, is assured of a BJP victory because of Ram temple and Article 370. “No court can pass an order if the government was adamant on delaying a case. We should learn to give credit where it is due.”
SC/ST Act dilution
However, he disapproved of the amendment brought in by the Central government to nullify a Supreme Court order diluting stringent provisions in the SC/ST Act. “It showed that the BJP also believed in appeasement. In this region, upper castes have suffered because of the Act during the BSP rule,” he said.
Mr. Tiwari said the Brahmins wanted to teach Mr. Upadhyay a lesson for when he was with the BJP, he sided with the Jatavs in contentious issues.
Mr. Sharma’s aged mother had different concerns. “Even if Modi-Yogi cut their eyes and ears off, they will keep singing their praises. They don’t see these stray cattle that force us to spend nights in the open. They don’t feel shy about sending women of the house to the fields at night. Is it justified?”
Chhuttan Singh, a Thakur farmer, said he didn’t mind spending nights in the fields for it is better than leaving their cattle and other valuables at the mercy of ‘kachchadhari’ gang (gang of underwear donning thieves) that used to operate in the region during the SP rule. “We don’t mind putting in long hours in the field,” he said with a straight face, as one looked at the elaborate network of iron fencing, machanas and jute sacks in the fields to prevent the raid of stray cattle.