A vertical division between Dalits and Savarnas over Ambedkar Jayanti rally caused the riot. Dalits, minority there, were attacked by the whole village. Their ration-water stopped. Refused to sell the goods from the local store, denied any employment in the village. Their electric connection was cut down. Denied even MNREGA assured employment. The Dalits in the village sought employment from villages 15-20 km away, commuting daily. Still, for emergencies arising late at nights, their kids’ schools – they didn’t see any way out of it. Newspapers eventually caught up the issue. Complaints were registered from the police and the government. Yet, things couldn’t improve. When I visited that village, a 65-year-old elder said in a shocking voice that it was unbearable, “Saheb, humanity isn’t left in this village anymore. We have suffered a lot for ages only to avoid clashes with upper castes, but now we do not want to live in this village. Saheb, give us another nation!
(Incident 1, Vairagad (Dist Buldana), Year 2015)
A boy studying in a city comes to visit his native place during holidays. One day, he gets out to roam, wearing his new jeans, t-shirt, and eye-wares. Upon being teased by some upper-caste boys at main cross-road of the village, the boy asks what he did to be insulted in such manner. One of the upper-caste boys objects that ‘these people’ now care for insult and things escalate from there. Within next few minutes, a group of 50-60 gathers around, undresses the boy, parades him through the village naked while beating him around. When the boy goes to the police station, he finds a complaint against him already registered for ‘harassing upper-caste girls’. Cops make him choose between registering an atrocity act or not, in the return of withdrawing an earlier complaint. The boy does not register any complaint at all.
(Incident 2, Shindi (Dist Beed), Year 2016)
Son of a reputed and powerful farmer rapes a 15-year old daughter of a laborer. Upon complaining, the farmer shamelessly calls it an act of kids, not to be taken seriously. The laborer is offered thousand rupees for his daughter’s clinical visit and shown a dream of enlisting his name in an upcoming housing scheme, provided he stays mum on the issue. This atrocity never reached any steps of the law, and never ever will.
(Incident 3, A village in Beed Dist, Year unknown)
These are not the only atrocities that didn’t reach up to police stations. Only 10-15 atrocities break out of our villages’ financial-social-political iron-frame. I’d like to mention a memory of IAS Shankaran, who drafted atrocity act. Its first draft was objected by many for the sole reason of its chances of being misused. To them, Shankaran had said –
Caste is very violent and dangerous matter for Dalits. If a Dalit comes to any police station with an atrocity complaint, he/she is already being too brave. Unless something is too intolerable, nobody would dare step into the police station. This is how the draft is derived out of and that’s why the provisions are the way they are.
Even though there is no official study or survey ever done to study the exact percentage of how many atrocity crimes are actually registered at police stations out of crimes that take place, with my personal experience with our social system, their daily interactions, their values and other such social workers’ who work on atrocities, I can say that hardly tenth of total crimes are ever registered at the police stations. 90 percents of such crimes are suppressed in villages to avoid any ruckus.
Our villages are developed in favor of suppression of crimes, under the honorable guise of the financial, political and social structure. Most Dalits in our villages are still depended over upper-caste lords, despite working difficult hours. The farmland distribution in India cries inequality. In Maharashtra, 20% families hold 62% of land ownership. Bottom 20% and some in middle hold respectively 0.041% and 0.12% of the land. Dalits are cornered on economic, social and psychological fronts for even discussing honor and rights. Initially, they are tested with minor offerings, like the father in above mentioned incident 3. If not influenced, they are pressured by local people who hold enough social and political position, sometimes by local Dalit leaders themselves. The arguments made for persuasion cover threats on multiple fronts including – ‘Why blow the issue up?’, ‘Village’s matters should be resolved in the village only’, ‘Won’t you ever need their support tomorrow?’ and sometimes direct ‘You are causing trouble to your whole community’. If someone still persists, they are cut off from basic needs such as ration, water, employment; even travel from private vehicles. Threats take direct approach to – ‘Will see when you come to work tomorrow to us’, ‘Where else are you going to go?’, ‘You have to stay in village only’; or sometimes ‘Doesn’t matter if its apple on knife or knife on apple, apple is the one that gets cut into the pieces’.
This surrenders Dalits to ‘The System’ subconsciously, making them think that their oppression is a part of their living, rendering his protest useless over the time. This is the reason why being called by caste, getting insulted, not being allowed in temples, not allowed basic amenities or employment options are not taken as crimes by victims themselves, let alone the oppressors. Only cases where a Dalit can’t bear the situations any longer AND he has the support of somebody with enough social or political stature, he can dare to step in the police station.
Late Home Minister R. R. Patil had launched a dreamy ‘Mahatma Gandhi Dispute-free Village’ scheme. Villages were awarded some amount if no crimes were registered under their jurisdiction. Ironically, Khairlanji had won one such award. Cops weren’t keen to register complaints, would ask the recommendation from the committee overlooking these matters. With hardly any Dalit representation, such committees became ‘government sanctioned Khap panchayats’ for Dalits.
For the severity of the oppression, One should take a look at the kind of crimes reported by Dalits, in NCRB’s archives from 2006 to 2016, merely a decade. This decade itself saw total 8939 atrocities, which includes 127 arson, 235 kidnappings, 347 murders and 1246 rape cases, also molestations, dacoity, and attempts of murder. Problem is, out of these only 1012 cases saw the actual trials, while only 106 cases ended in convictions. Yet, this low conviction rate is shown to prove misuse of the law itself, by people pushing propaganda.
A completely helpless, powerless person conspires against village’s powerful people, is the most baseless and ludicrous claim one can make. When Dalits are scared for their life to register actual atrocities, who will dare to register crimes that never took place at all? Those who understand the politics and connections between village structure and caste-based economics can never agree with such claims. With such low conviction rate, would anybody disagree with atrocities in Khairlanji, only because it didn’t end in convictions? With the recent court ruling over misuse of atrocity law, due to low conviction rate, such assumptions are taking visible form. It is safe to say that societies, cops, and judiciaries around the globe are prejudiced over the social matters of religions, castes, races and genders.
Islamabad High Court banned Valentine’s day, calling it anti Islam, shows that convictions have nothing to do with the validity of any incident at all. Convictions hugely depend upon investigations, the evidence presented during the trials, testimonies of witnesses and the conclusions courts derive out of all these. This has been the reason for low conviction rates in crimes like sexual harassment, domestic violence or racial discrimination, worldwide; yet no court has on record ever stated that the laws are being misused.
During Maratha Morchas, when misuse of atrocities act was debated in communities and even on mainstream media, Rashmi Rajput of Indian Express inquired Maharashtra Police under RTI, only to find that no fake atrocity complaints were ever registered in Maharashtra. Still, we see the rise in such claims everywhere. This must be due to the social structure of our villages, due to the overall acceptance of caste hierarchy, due to denial of equality to dalits – forcing dalits to mind their stature, as can be seen in most places.
Communities played the role of the identity since the dawn of the civilizations. In present conditions of equality, a person is entitled to his rights and space with the identity of the community he belongs, which is denied to most Dalits and tribals in India. Brahminical systems of this country identify Dalits at the lowest levels of our society. Lobbies representing higher castes play the role of policing to make sure that Dalits do not rise above their existing level.
The constitutional law of this country sees all men equal, in regards to their statures and rights, while actual social limitations restrict Dalits, tribals, and women from equalities, considering them as low-lives. Problem with us is, these social limitations often override our constitutional laws, as we can see in the cases of secularism and equalities. Conditioning of casteism over the minds of our society refuses to ‘grant’ equality to such sections of the society, as this is the only way their minds have been cultivated.
Those who were discriminated on caste base for denying opportunities to progress and to equality have been provided with constitutional rights of equality, which is considered as pampering of Dalits.
John Bordley Rawls, an American moral and political philosopher in the liberal tradition, in his paper on Distributive Justice presents the idea of ‘Justice System’ as the one where the bottom-most of the society benefit the most. That is where our Dalits, tribals, and women are right now. If the justice system of the country is not fair to them, injustice is what they will always be left with. That’s why their issues aren’t limited to particular laws, but with social, the caste-based structure of the society and mainly patriarchy. After all, cops, courts and political systems are no bestowed upon us from heaven, they rise from the same social systems we live in.
This article first published on Divya Marathi.
(Keshav Waghmare contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed, references cited are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Netive.in.)