EPW Vol. 49, Issue No.23, june 7, 2014
India has never been the democracy as it is made out to be. It has been a pure plutocracy. But for dalits, it is worse; it has been a veritable rule of demons - a demonocracy.
As the much flaunted “Dance of Democracy” had reached its high pitch in the media, 201 million dalits in the country were experiencing another low of their existence, encountering a veritable dance of demonocracy. Democracy anyway has been a far cry for them; in this alien tamasha, they wondered whether they should continue calling this country their own.
“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 ever since Hillary Mayell coined it while writing in11 years ago. Well, today these figures have to be revised upwards; as for instance, the rape rate of dalit women has shot up from Hillary’s 3 to well over 4.3, a whopping 43% rise. What annoys one is the duplicity even of the country’s saner population – it had admirably raised a storm over the brutal rape of a Noida girl two years ago – in keeping silent over the horrific rapes of four minor dalit girls in the Jatland of Haryana or a honour killing of a dalit schoolboy in Phule-Ambedkar’s Maharashtra. There could not be any possible explanation for it but for that vile word – caste. If this is the state of the minuscule population in the country that could be called sensible, what should dalits expect from the sea of insanity deeply poisoned with caste and communal venom?
Real Nirbhayas of Bhagana
On 23 March this year, Bhagana, a village just 13 km from Hisar in Haryana and barely a three-hour drive from the national capital, was added to a long list of infamous places associated with ghastly atrocities on dalits. That evening, four dalit schoolgirls – one aged 13, two 17 and one 18 years – while urinating in a field near their homes, were set upon by five men belonging to the dominant Jat caste. They drugged and gang-raped them in the fields and carried them off in a car. They were perhaps raped the entire night and were left in the bushes outside Bhatinda’s railway station across the border in Punjab. When their families approached the village sarpanch Rakesh Kumar Pangal, who is also related to the criminals, he could tell them that the girls were at Bhatinda and would be brought back the next day. Heavily sedated and in deep pain, the girls had woken up in the bushes the next morning and walked up to the station for help but had to wait without any until 2.30 pm, when Rakesh and his uncle Virender had reached them along with their families. While the families were asked to leave by train, they were put into a car and driven to Bhagana. En route Rakesh abused them, beat them and tried to threaten them to stay silent.
As they reached, dalit boys surrounded the car and rescued the girls from the clutches of the sarpanch. The next day, the girls were taken to Hisar general hospital for medical examination, which inexplicably dragged on from the morning till 1.30 am. The doctors, as per the girls, had carried out the humiliating and much criticised two-finger test for virginity which stands banned by the government in dealing with rape victims. Only with pressure from more than 200 dalit activists and confirmation of rape in the medical report did the police at Sadar Hisar police station file a first information report (FIR) under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, excluding Rakesh and Virender’s names, despite the girls naming them in their testimonies.
Even such a shocking crime failed to move the police. Reminiscent of Khairlanji, it is only when public protest exploded with over 120 dalits agitating at Hisar’s Mini Secretariat and the 90 dalit families from Bhagana, including girls, beginning their sit-in at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar since 16 April, did the Haryana police wake up and arrest the five rapists – Lalit, Sumit, Sandeep, Parimal and Dharamvir – on 29 April. Apart from demanding justice, the dalits of Bhagana simply could not go back for the fear of being killed by the Jats. Rather than heeding to these dalit demands and fast-tracking the judicial process, the Hisar district court is already engaged with the matter of releasing the criminals. Although these brave girls, the real nirbhayas, themselves have been narrating what befell them to the public, interestingly media has not cared to observe the code of not revealing the identities of the rape victims they so meticulously did in the case of non-dalit nirbhayas. The media, busy making mountains out of molehills of silly statements of politicians, did not find it worth their while to carry the simple news of this ongoing agitation, leave apart anchoring a campaign as they did in most rape cases where the victim was a non-dalit. One hates to speak this language, but the media’s own behaviour demands it.
An earlier fact-finding report of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights and the Association for Democratic Rights –This Village Is Mine Too: Dalit Assertion, Land Rights and Social Boycott in Bhagana (September 2012) – suggests that the Bhagana rapes are not mere bestial sex-crimes. Rather, they were committed in order to teach a lesson to dalits who have been protesting against the takeover of their land, water and even burial grounds by Jats in the village and oppressing them.
Another Shame on Maharashtra
The Jats in Haryana with their obnoxious khap panchayats have been infamous for honour killings but in a distant Maharashtra that nauseatingly claims the legacy of Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar, the beacons of social reforms in the country, a 17-year-old schoolboy of a poor dalit family was brutally done to death in broad daylight on 28 April, in the thick of general elections, just for speaking with a Maratha girl. The gory incident happened in village Kharda in Ahmednagar district, barely 200 km away from Pune where Phule had lit the fire of revolt against brahmanism. A fact-finding report of the Dalit Atyachar Virodhi Kruti Samiti revealed the brutal manner in which Nitin Aage, son of Raju and Rekha Aage, a landless dalit couple who earned their living by crushing stones for a small mill and lived at the edge of the village in a tin shed, was lynched by Sachin Golekar (21) and his friend and relative Sheshrao Yeole (42), both from a rich and politically connected Maratha family of the village. Nitin was caught in the school, beaten mercilessly in its premises, dragged to a brick kiln owned by the Golekar family, tortured by putting embers in his lap and pants, killed and then strangulated so as to camouflage it as a case of suicide. The Golekar girl, who was in love with Nitin, reportedly tried to commit suicide, and it is feared that she may meet the fate of Nitin at the altar of caste.
Under pressure of local dalit activists, the police have registered an FIR after the medical examination of Nitin’s body the next day, charging the accused of murder, causing disappearance of evidence, unlawful assembly and rioting under the Indian Penal Code and under the Section 3(2)(5) of the Prevention of Atrocities Act and also the Section 7(1)(d) of the Protection of Civil Rights Act. The police have arrested 13 persons including the two main culprits and a minor boy. But dalits do know by now that no wealthy upper-caste person ever gets convicted in the country for a crime against dalits. The Golekars with their riches and connections with one of the most unscrupulous political outfits, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), may not stay any longer in jail. After all, what happened in the scores of equally gory caste atrocities that took place in recent years in this single district dominated by NCP bigwigs? What happened to the murderers of three dalit young men, Sandip Raju Dhanwar, Sachin Somlal Dharu and Rahul Raju Kandare of Sonai village in Nevasa taluka, which also was a case of “honour killing”? What happened to the killers of Janabai Borge of Dhawalgaon who brunt her alive in 2010? What happened to those who raped Suman Kale and then killed her in 2010 or to those who killed Walekar and cut him into pieces or to the killers of Baban Misal in 2008? This long list does tell us that in each of these atrocities the real culprit was some rich and powerful person, but far from being convicted, he was not even named.
A Wake-up Call
The colossal human tragedy of Raju and Rekha Aage who lost their only son in so cruel a manner will just be a digit added to the “murder” count. The tearing traumas and permanent scars on the lives of those innocent Bhagana girls will be reduced to a one-plus “rape” count in the National Crime Records Bureau statistics. The enormous activist input that transformed these human tragedies into statistics, without which they would simply be forgotten, is just lost. The atrocity statistics produced by such social processes still hover well above the 33,000 mark every year. Using these official statistics, one can modestly see that more than 80,000 dalits have been murdered, more than one lakh dalit women have been raped and over 20 lakh dalits have suffered one or the other crime during the six decades of our constitutional regime. Not even wars can rival these numbers. While dalits are conditioned to see the proverbialbrahman behind their woes, the reality is that the very secular intrigues of this regime have created the demons that lynch and rape dalits with impunity.
It is this regime that has intrigued to preserve castes under the alibi of social justice; it resorted to land reforms with a redistribution alibi but actually carved a class of rich farmers out of the populous shudra castes; they brought the green revolution with feed-all alibi but actually opened up a vast rural market for capitalists. It is this very regime that brought in reforms with the trickle-down alibi but actually imposed a social-Darwinist paradigm. These six decades are fraught with such intrigues and treacheries against the masses in which dalits have been the main sacrificial lambs. India has never been the democracy it is made out to be. It has been a pure plutocracy. But for dalits it is worse; it has been a veritable rule of demons, a demonocracy.
When will dalits wake up to these realities? When will dalits rise and say enough is enough!