Saturday 14 April 2018, by
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impassioned statement on Sunday, August 7, 2016 could have done a sea of good in placing India’s tens of thousands of Dalit and tribal people in a zone marked by high security and dignity: “If you want to attack, attack me, not Dalits.”1 He further resolved about one-and-a-half year ago, as quoted by the media, as saying: “We should put a full stop to it. You can shoot me rather than target the Dalits.”2 Every word uttered in public space by the Prime Minister of India should assume biblical significance and ramification for his government and those ruling the States and UTs irrespective of their political hue. Sadly, the aforesaid appeal did not. This has rather driven a sense of cynicism among the Dalit and tribal communities. They now nurse a feeling that even their Prime Minister cannot be taken on his face value! His utterances were calculated for public consumption, not for official action or initiatives as desired.
To speak plainly, this is a bad lesson and a deplorable realisation for the vast unsophisticated, inarticulate and credulous masses of the country about his government. Security and protection of administration and justice elude them as ever. They will henceforth not believe their Prime Minister nor will they take him at his face value. The Prime Minister has forfeited his goodwill among the poor and innocent people, who are exposed to atrocities, discrimination and violence and denied of justice.
How and why so? Pradeep Rathod, 21, had bought a horse about two months ago. He was threatened ever since by some of his co-villagers, reportedly Kshatriyas, of dire consequences. He was told peremptorily to sell off the noble animal. He did not. The disobedience did not perhaps go well with the proud community. Pradeep and his father, Kalubhai Rathod, rode to and fro their farm. So, he was killed soon.3 alongwith the gruesome consequences as threatened. The horse too was hacked into pieces like his master. This occurred in Timbi village in Umrala tehsil, district Bhavnagar, Gujarat.
The Prime Minister’s goodwill about “we should put a full stop to it (killing)” does not carry an ounce of weight in the backyard of his stable, does it? The Wire has reported with banner headline, “One Year on, ‘There Is No Justice’ for Una Flogging Victims”. No elabo-ration or elucidation is warranted as to how serious even Gujarat is about the Prime Minister’s sacred desire of protecting and securing the vulnerable Scheduled Castes and Tribes. They were promised action within two months. All the accused are bailed out by now and expectedly will cast a malefic influence at every layer of administration, politics, not to speak of the judiciary to the detriment of justice for the victims. A global audience had a unique opportunity to watch the flogging of five Dalit youths at Una of Gir Somnath district in presence of the Gujarat Police in attendance as curious onlookers. They did not intervene. That something as primitive a spectacle as flogging of five persons tied in one pack could publicly be committed again in the very backyard of the Prime Minister’s stable is simply eyepopping and incredible! This occurred on July 11, 2017 after the Prime Minister declared the holy crusade favouring protection for the Dalit and tribal. This has undermined his standing not only in the eye of the people of the Republic that had solemnly resolved long ago to secure to them inter alia justice, equality and fraternity assuring not only the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation but also of the global audience. What is today at stake is the very “unity and integrity of the nation”. The proud and the privileged can show apathy and neglect for the Dalit and the tribal who account for 300 million, if not more. The tragic lesson of history unfolding in 1947 leading to the partition of India did not guide the countrymen. The untouchables, who converted to Islam in the face of unprecedented discrimination, deprivation, injustice and oppression, provided the much-needed majority of the population over the Hindus. (‘Is partition and Pakistan a Hindu gift to Jinnah?’ http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article6825.html)
The Upper House of the Indian Parliament was told on July 26, 2017 that atrocities against the SCs in Gujarat saw a rise to the tune of 31 per cent—from 1009 cases in 2015 to 1321 in 2016. The national record of atrocities against SCs showed an increase of six per cent—from 38,564 in 2015 to 41,014 in 2016. In terms of number of cases, with 10,457 cases Uttar Pradesh topped the list of cases, followed by Bihar (5701), Rajasthan (5134), Madhya Pradesh (5123) and Andhra Pradesh (2343) in that order.4 In 2012, The Daily Mail, October 7, shamed the Haryana Chief Minister thus: Hissar Police Range, with no fewer than 94 rapes, topped Haryana’s ignominious list, followed by the Karnal (92), Rewari (89) and Rohtak (87) Police Ranges, which covered former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s home town.5
The State of Gujarat seemed to travel in the same boat of shame with Haryana sans the international media glare as above. An RTI query revealed that rape of Dalit women registered 500 per cent increase since 2001 in Gujarat over the last 13 years, reaching the highest level in 2014, higher by 500 per cent since 2001.6 During this interregnum Narendra Damodar Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The discredit for the state of affairs cannot, therefore, be apportioned on anybody else.
The international media is pretty focused and has been building the country’s image as a savage nation that cannot protect with humanism the dignity of its autochthonous citizens who aggregate in millions. A decade ago, the American Congress as well as European Parliament had passed critical resolutions, highlighting India’s grossest failure and appealed to the government for securing dignity and protection to the Dalit and tribal communities as enshrined in our Constitution. Our country-men had perhaps little knowledge about such a development in those countries simply because it was a shame for them to highlight a blame harped on India. A Hindu representing Britain in the European Parliament had opposed the resolution because she felt the culture at her ancient home was under attack though the resolutions were drawn up on the basis of official documents. The Indian media dominated by similar elements share the same sentiments.
A columnist in a national English daily of the country recently analysed the plight of Dalits’ injustice and observed that “India has over 180 million Dalits. A crime is committed against a Dalit every 15 minutes. Six Dalit women are raped every day. Over the last 10 years (2007-2017), there has been a 66 per cent growth in crime against Dalits. Further, data from the National Crime Records Bureau, on which the Supreme Court based its recent judgment that sought to protect public servants and private citizens from arbitrary arrests under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, show that the rape of Dalit women has doubled in the last 10 years. The figures represent only a tip of the iceberg since most Dalits do not register cases for fear of retaliation by the higher castes. Even if a case reaches the court, the most likely outcome is acquittal due to caste biases at every stage.”7
The Dalit and tribal communities continue to live under a thick blanket of caste prejudice and persecution, marked by bigotry resulting in atrocities, injustice, indignity and discrimination from one end of India to the other. Their education, which alone is capable of their emancipation, has become their chosen target. Any Dalit or tribal student with promise or potential invariably invites the ire and hatred of the upper-caste students, teachers and administrators. The plight of Rohith Vemula has been experienced by many Dalit and tribal students of the AIIMS, IITs, IIMs, Central Universities, IISCs, engineering, management and medical colleges of national repute and this has been testified again and again over the decades. Yet their persecution has not stopped.
Employment in the government sector has dried up with lakhs of openings remaining vacant across the board under the Central or the State governments and their autonomous bodies or attached offices. On top of the same, reservation in jobs stands threatened facing abolition. Interestingly, the political reservation, I have very strong reasons to believe, will continue as it is critically useful. The SC and ST representatives rarely stand up to publicly promote and/or defend the causes of the communities/tribes they are supposed to represent. They are mortally afraid to speak and uphold their rights and dignity for fear of incurring the displeasure of the upper castes who are numerically superior to the SCs and STs in every constituency. With overzealous actions and utterances, if any, favouring their own constituencies, no SC or ST can hope to win elections with the growing number of unhappy upper-caste voters. The social construction of India is such that no action to benefit the reserved communities is possible without instilling ill-feeling in or rubbing the feathers of the upper castes. They take strong umbrage at everything calculated to help the underdogs move upward or live with dignity.
In the Kasganj district of UP a case for taking out a Dalit marriage procession, fearing opposition from the dominant castes, has reached the Allahabad High Court. The opponents of the Dalit barat feel their dignity would be undermined if such a procession was allowed. A Dalit with a moustache, an upper-caste pride and exclusive privilege, drives them into murderous rage. A Dalit youth was brutally killed in the temple town of Shirdi in Maharashtra over his mobile ringtone of a song on Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.8 A Dalit has been murdered, yet again, in Gujarat because he saw the garba dance. In the Hindutva theatre, this is perhaps an unpardonable offence to invite death of the Dalit intruder. On October 2, 2017 Jayesh Solanki, 21-year old Dalit, reported BBC, was killed ‘for watching a Hindu celebration’. In the end, therefore, we can conclude that any Hindu can use any issue, any flimsy ground, to harm, hurt even murder a Dalit. They block his avenue for upward mobility and finish his career remorselessly.
A 20-year-old Dalit woman from Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district has alleged that she was gang-raped for months and forcibly made to abort her five-month-old foetus, which she brought wrapped in a bundle to the Superinten-dent of Police’s office in her desperate effort for justice. The Superintendent of Police, Rajesh Hingankar, said several cases have been registered against Neeraj Pandey, his brother Dheeraj Pandey and their accomplices, Prem Singh and Rajkumar, and Sapna Pandey, a nurse who helped in the abortion. “Cases under rape, kidnapping, criminal intimidation, SC/ST Act [Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989], Arms Act and other sections have been registered against the accused,” Hingankar said.9 Sub-Inspector R.P. Tewari, however, reported a Bengali daily of Calcutta, found many discrepancies in the victim’s statement!
The Supreme Court has displayed admirable concern for the innocent people being harassed and arrested under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 in its recent verdict on April 2, 2018. The Apex Court is not against the special Act. But with a grand caste axis in place, as in the case of the Satna Dalit girl, seeking justice could not convince the police with her bag of aborted foetus about the crime committed against her by Neeraj Pandey, Dheeraj Pandey and their accomplices, Prem Singh and Rajkumar and Sapna Pandey, who would benefit with a Sub-Inspector of Police like Tewari there. Such instances are not few across India to frustrate justice for the SCs and STs. The country’s custom, practices, social institutions place certain sections in a high pedestal against punishment. They take advantage of the same against the struggling millions whose upward mobilisation they strongly hate and detest.
A greatly concerned Greek-French writer and thinker about the sharp decline of the Hindu strength, Maximiani Julia Portas (September 1905—October 1982) under a pseudonym Savitri Devi Mukherjee, known as the priestess of Fuehrer Adolf Hitler, issued a stern warning to the Hindus 1939:
“It is for social reasons, and, practically, for social reasons alone, that thousands of Hindus have abandoned the Hindu fold.” The social reasons identified by her were three at work which, during the last centuries, were the cause of an enormous numerical loss for Hindudom:
1. The denial of elementary social rights to the majority of Hindus.
2. The strictness of social rules, within the Hindu fold (resulting in the too-easy out-casting of transgressors).
3. The refusal of the Hindu fold to re-accept those who wish to come back to it, not to speak of those who may wish to join it, without themselves or their forefathers having belonged to it before.
“Unless and until these three main causes of disintegration are removed, Hindudom will not be able to face the increasing dangers to which it is exposed. And, if it cannot remove these sources of weakness, Hindudom, in spite of its value, will ultimately be crushed. This is the bitter truth that must be spoken, and understood at once and now; tomorrow might be too late.”10
No sane counsel instils any sense in them. On the contrary, they have discovered hundreds of ways to harass, humiliate and incarcerate the Dalit and tribals.
In the face of relentless and savage perse-cution the latter have, with their backs to the wall, demonstrated their unflagging deter-mination and commitment through their all-India protests on April 2, 2018 how strongly they detest discrimination, hatred, injustice, marginalisation and apathy. At least nine persons were killed and hundreds injured on Monday (April 2) in violence across several States during a nationwide bandh against the alleged dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Nobody should see politics in it. The victims of India’s social, cultural, political and economic harrow running over them would no longer hesitate to sacrifice their life for their own uplift and mobilisation. This is but only natural. If a calm sea turns turbulent, the waves become devas-tating.
Dr B.R. Ambedkar has become a convenient tool or a symbol for grabs to the political class for use against warring opponents. None has demonstrated real commitment to his objective and philosophy and reform in every aspect of the society to move forward. The Dalit and tribals are an extremely neglected and discriminated lot and the country will rue for this in the long run. If the country develops leaving them at the base, the base will remain weak, brittle and vulnerable to sustain the weight and onward march of the glamorous edifice. With a vast discontented population in a state of marginalisation is decidedly the most serious danger for India. Let the rulers not be blind to see the consequences of such a danger in future.
1. The Times of India, “PM Modi slams attack on Dalits: ‘If you want to shoot, shoot me…’” August 7, 2016. The Huffington Post, dateline Hyderabad, August 7, 2016 “If You Have To Shoot, Shoot Me, But Not My Dalit Brothers”.
2. The Hindu, August 7, 2016.
3. Indo-Asian News Service, March 31, 2018, “Dalit Man Killed in Gujarat For Riding Horse, Say Police”.
4. News 18.com, October 6, 2017, “Gujarat Among 5 Worst States in Atrocities Against Dalits”.
5. The Daily Mail, ‘Haryana’s rape shame: Registered cases show two women are attacked in State every day”’, October 7, 2012.
6. The Indian Express, March 8, 2015.
7. Faizan Mustafa, “Sending the wrong signal: SC order in SC/ST Act” in The Hindu,March 29, 2018.
8. The Hindu, ‘Dalit youth killed for keeping Ambedkar song as ringtone’, May 22, 2015.
9. Hindustan Times, April 5, 2018, ‘Madhya Pradesh: Dalit woman alleges rape, brings aborted foetus to SP office’.
10. Savitri Devi, A Warning to the Hindus, Calcutta 1939, p. 81.
A retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, A.K. Biswas, Ph.D, is a social anthropologist and commentator