Dalits at Gata village in Rajasthan's Tonk district were prevented from cremating the body of an old woman at the public crematorium, as the people belonging to the dominant Jat community destroyed the funeral pyre and allegedly threatened the family of the deceased. The small Dalit community has cited it as an instance of the continuing caste-based discrimination in the village.
When the police intervened after Dalits staged a protest, Phula Devi’s body was cremated on the ground instead of the platform with tin shed where the funeral rites are usually performed. Police registered a first information report on December 23, four days after the incident, following a rally taken out by Dalits at Tonk district headquarters.
The FIR has named Tonk District Congress Committee president Laxman Chaudhary as the main accused and included several of his relatives, including four women, among the 14 other accused.
The case was registered at Peeplu police station under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly) and 297 (trespassing of funeral ground) of Indian Penal Code and various sections of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
A fact-finding team of Jaipur-based Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR), which visited Gata earlier this week, has expressed concern over the atmosphere of fear prevailing in the village and alleged that the police were under pressure not to take action in the case. “Despite the FIR specifically naming 15 accused persons, none of them has been arrested so far,” CDR Director Satish Kumar said.
Mr. Kumar said the police had not invoked Sections 4 and 7 of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, which dealt exclusively with the offences arising out of untouchability. He said though Dalits were facing discrimination as a routine affair, including not being allowed to ride a mare in wedding processions, they were earlier cremating the bodies at the common funeral ground.
‘Law will take its course’
Niwai MLA Prashant Bairwa, in whose constituency the Gata village is situated, told The Hindu on Thursday that some dominant castes were intimidating Dalits to retain their “influence in the social hierarchy”. “The law will take its course in connection with Mr. Chaudhary, who has been named in the FIR,” he said.