Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yadavendra Pratap Singh has been accused of harassing and brutally assaulting Dalit reporter Santosh Kumar, breaking his legs and threatening the journalist and his family with murder. Santosh works with Bahujan India 24 News, a Hindi news channel led by reporters of oppressed castes. He is the bureau chief for Jaunpur district, in Uttar Pradesh. Santosh said that he has been facing casteist attacks and threats since March 2021. The BJP leader is from the dominant Thakur caste, and has targeted Santosh and his family as they are Dalit, the reporter said. Santosh had also published news reports regarding the Thakurs’ harassment and abuse of Dalits in the village. Singh is the head of the BJP’s Maharajganj division in Jaunpur district.

Though the police registered a first information report Thakur in mid July, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code as well as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of) Atrocities Act, no action has been taken on it yet. Over the past few months, Santosh, his wife Reshma, and other members of the Dalit community in the area, have written numerous letters to local police and administrative heads, detailing the casteist violence they are facing and asking for support and help. Since 2o August, Santosh and his family have been sitting in protest outside the district collectorate in Jaunpur, demanding that the police arrest Singh and hold him liable for his crimes.

By Santosh’s account, which is detailed in the FIR, Singh began targeting the reporter and his family in late March, just ahead of the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh. The seat for Santosh’s village, Sawansa, is reserved for women. Reshma had stood in the election. Singh’s wife, Anamika, joined the electoral fray as well. Apparently upset that a Dalit woman had challenged his wife, Singh and his men threatened Reshma and Santosh, demanding that she withdraw her nomination. “They came and threatened my wife, and told me that if we fight the election, they will have us killed,” Santosh said. “We were rearing a goat, but he and his men took it away.”

On 26 March, Reshma wrote a complaint to the superintendent of police in Jaunpur, recounting the threats and abuse she faced. Singh and his men “used disgusting abuses and casteist terms,” she wrote. The Thakur men threatened to kill her for daring to fight the election and told her, “Your job is only to do manual labour.” Santosh said that even though the family called the police to report the harassment, no complaint was registered against Singh. Reshma’s letter alleged that Singh had used his position as a BJP leader to prevent the police from taking action. “For the safety of my life and property, my entire family wrote a complaint but nothing was done,” Santosh said. By law, the police is required to register any complaints of caste-based violence or abuse.

Reshma did not withdraw her nomination. Elections were held on 15 April, and Singh’s wife won the polls. Santosh alleged that Singh had rigged the votes to prevent Reshma from winning. He further alleged that in the weeks that followed, the Thakurs began harassing and assaulting the Dalits in the village. “People from our community, all those who voted for and supported us, were harassed every other day,” Santosh said.

Eventually, on 25 June, Sanjit, another member of the Dalit community in Sawansa, wrote a letter to the police superintendent of Jaunpur, saying that Yadavendra and his associates had been harassing Dalits. He recounted that Thakur men had entered his home and assaulted his family, using casteist slurs against him and his wife. The same day, Santosh ran news items on the Bahujan India website, concerning the abuse that members of the Dalit community had been facing.

The next day, the Thakurs brutally attacked Santosh. Santosh said that he and a friend had gone outside the village to purchase some medicines. “I was sitting behind the motorcycle that my friend was driving. When we reached the Delupur bridge”—located near the village—“Yadavendra and 14 other people were present there along with him, of which I knew ten,” Santosh said. The men attacked him and his friend. “Those people beat me so much that I fainted. They used casteist abuses and mother-sister profanities,” he said. “They broke both my legs. I suffered several serious injuries—it was a life-threatening attack.”

He informed his family, who immediately contacted the police. Despite his injuries, Santosh first visited the Maharajganj station to register an FIR against Singh. “The station-in-charge told us, ‘Remove the BJP leader’s name and we will take your complaint,’” Santosh told me. He refused to remove the name. Santosh said that the police officials then threatened him with dire consequences and told him that he would be implicated in a false case if he did not relent. “They abused me. They harassed me mentally. I was in a lot of pain, but I was not taken to the hospital until 2 am,” Santosh told me. The hospital staff refused to admit him, he said, until the rural police superintendent facilitated his admission. He remained in the hospital for ten days.

Santosh and Reshma detailed their ordeal, from the Thakurs’ continued harassment to the attack, to its harrowing aftermath, in letters to the district and state administration, as well as government bodies such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes state commission. On 17 July—over twenty days after the attack—the Maharajganj police filed an FIR against Singh and 14 associates. The report mentioned several offenses under the IPC, including rioting, robbery, causing grievous hurt, criminal intimidation; and under Section 3 of the Atrocities Act, which details the punishment for committing such offenses against a member of an SC or ST community.

In a letter to the state human rights commission, Reshma had also alleged that Singh had implicated Santosh in false cases, by forcing the domestic workers he employed to register complaints against the reporter. The Maharajganj police station registered two FIRs against Santosh, in June and in July, accusing Santosh of assault and intimidation. The reporter denied these allegations. “The complainants are also Dalits who work for Yadavendra,” Santosh said. (The Caravan has copies of Reshma’s letter and the FIRs against Santosh.)

Santosh and Reshma’s ordeal did not end here. Singh was not arrested on the basis of the FIR and the Dalit community continued to face abuse and harassment. “Every day, they would harass someone from my family,” Santosh said. On 20 August, some of Singh’s associates came to Santosh’s house. “They locked my wife and children in and beat them brutally. My whole family was attacked,” he said. When he approached the police again, he said, no further FIR was registered.

That night, Santosh began his protest at the district headquarters in Jaunpur. “I will fast unto death with my family,” he said. A poster hanging behind him listed the reasons and demands for his protest:

  1. Threat to the life of Santosh Kumar and his family and relatives from Maharajganj station in-charge.
  2. Yadavendra Pratap Singh and others, the main accused in the life-threatening attack on Dalit reporter, under FIR 120/2021 with Sections 147, 392, 325, 323, 504, 506, 427 and 3(2) (VA) under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, must be arrested.
  3. Dalit reporter has been implicated in a false case under FIR 122/2021 … which should be taken back.
  4. On 20 August, there was another life-threatening attack on the Dalit reporter and his family, in their home. A case should be register main accused Yadavendra Pratap Singh and he should be arrested.

When I called Singh, he denied all the allegations of harassment and casteist violence. He claimed that he, and his family, members and relatives had a function at their home on 26 June, and did not carry out the attack on Santosh. I called Santosh Kumar Rai, the station in-charge of Maharajganj police station, to ask about Santosh and Reshma’s allegations of police harassment and the case against Singh. “His complaint has been written. Right now, it is being discussed by the jurisdictional officer and appropriate action will be taken on it as per law,” Rai told me, and promptly hung up the phone. At the time of publishing, Singh had not been arrested, and Santosh’s protest was still ongoing.

Courtesy : The Caravan

Note: This news piece was originally punished in and use purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights objectives.