How many deaths will it take for the government to say that too many Dalits have died?
The recent massacre of a Dalit family in Javkhed tehsil of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra has brought into sharp focus the atrocities and cruelties heaped on the marginalised lower castes under the watchful eyes of the authorities.
More than a fortnight since three from a Dalit family were hacked and burnt, there has been no action from the police. Now that the newly formed state government has settled down after a grand oath-taking ceremony, perhaps the new Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis will find time to look into this burning issue which has seen tempers rise across the state as various Ambedkarite groups storm district collectorates in protest.
While the authorities’ apathetic response to this latest instance of barbarism against lower castes is indicative of what is wrong with the law and order in Maharashtra, the otherwise vocal and active human rights groups’ deafening silence baffles. While the inhuman cruelty is in itself astounding, this acquiescent silence by opinion-makers makes one wonder about their commitment to justice and equality.
It, of course, doesn’t help at all that the Ambedkarite movement sees itself divided into splinter groups. While white-collared, university-educated groups give us theories, their criticism rarely amounts to more than intellectualisation, much of it hardly new or useful. They masquerade as Leftists spouting the Communist Manifesto or feminists regurgitating their readings on caste and gender without understanding ground realities which they were never a part of, to begin with.
The second group prefers headline-grabbing direct action with nary a thought to the consequences. Ever ready to block trains, traffic and burn effigies, they seem to have nothing in common with the first group. Sadly though, their actions seem like resistance to the system for the sake of it. It’s often little more than a competitive rebellious posturing to grab space as the messiahs of Dalits. What’s worse, these a-law-unto-themselves groups don’t take it too kindly when they are held responsible for their misadventures which often complicate and compound issues without doing anything for the case at hand or the larger cause.
Though both groups feel that they are keeping the resistance alive, they lack both the necessary creativity and imagination for helpful initiatives.
Sadly, their twin follies are helping in pushing angry Dalits towards ultra-Leftism just like it did in the era of Dalit Panthers. A similar issue arose when Dadasaheb Gaikwad started his land agitations when writer-activist Raja Dhale — one of the original members of the Dalit Panther, started in April 1972, alongside Namdeo Dhasal and Arun Krushnaji Kamble — had directly branded the agitationists communist.
In recent times the way the Maharashtra home department has gone after the artistes of the Kabir Kala Manch — incarcerating and torturing them — is indicative of the same malaise. As it was in the case of the Khairlanji massacre of September 2006 when four members of a Dalit family were paraded naked in public, sexually assaulted and killed. While the then government and the media only woke up to the incident after rioting by Dalits in Nagpur, there have been allegations that the local police shielded the alleged perpetrators. A government report on the killings, prepared by the social justice department and YASHADA — the state academy of developmental administration — even implicated top police officers, doctors and then local BJP MLA, Madhukar Kukade for the cover-up and hindrance to investigations.
The ease with which the erstwhile both-feet-firmly-in-the-mouth state home minister RR Patil called the Ambedkarite protests against the incident as Naxalite-driven created a sort of blueprint for the state’s cookie-cutter response from Khairlanji to Kharda, and now to Javkhed. The administration simply finds it convenient to deflect anti-caste agitations by branding them Naxalite or just ignoring them.
Wherever there are cases of direct caste violence, Dalit population is in extreme minority and the killings are often ‘demonstrational,’ underlining the superiority and power of the dominant caste. In many cases, members of the political party involved, also have the home ministry under their command.
It also cannot be mere coincidence that such instances of caste violence spiral just around elections, to show caste dominance. The Kharda incident in May and the recent Javkhed incident are both examples of this.
Also typically inquiry committees appointed in each of these cases adhere to extreme confidentiality, and never reveal any cognisance taken of the deliberate destruction of important evidence. In the case of Khairlanji for example, the allegation of gang-rape itself was removed in the investigation.
In fact, most cases see women, who form the ‘marginalised among the marginalised’, as the worst victims of caste atrocities where the upper castes uses rape and sexual violence to shame them and the community.
Typically police investigations raise questions about the women’s character in a bid to dilute the charges and on the other hand protestors and activists who lead the charge against such violence are often wrongly labelled “Naxalites” by the police in a bid to silence them.
Orthodox savarna ideology continues to manifest not only in flashpoints like attacks and killings but also in everyday life, as borne out by the opposition to backward classes seeking education. Inter-caste marriages are still frowned upon as they serve as a direct attack on the caste system in ‘progressive’ Maharashtra!
Caught between caste-persecution and arrogant administrative apathy, the average Ambedkarite is caged in an inescapable labyrinth. If society and administration continue to deny her/him a non-violent, democratic platform to address grievances even as caste atrocities continue, it won’t be long before this leads to an explosive outburst from the downtrodden and oppressed.
The author is a noted Marathi poet-columnist who has published an anthology of poems on caste, exploitation and society (Delete Kelela Saara Aakash — All Of The Deleted Sky)
Fri, 7 Nov 2014,
Mumbai , dna
Translated by Gaurav Somwanshi