PUCL Bulletin, June 2002

Police and State atrocities on Dalits in Varanasi, UP

Interim Report by the Indian People's Tribunal

The Indian People's Tribunal (IPT) on Environment and Human Rights was invited by the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) to conduct an inquiry into the atrocities committed by the police and the State against the dalits in and around the areas surrounding the district of Varanasi. PVCHR has been working in the area with the dalits and through the year 2001, has been documenting and conducting fact-finding missions on police excesses in the area.

The IPT panel was headed by Justice K. Sukumaran (Retired Judge of the Kerala and Mumbai High Court) and included Dr. Kusum Singh, a professor from St. Mary's College, USA who has written widely on Dalit issues, Dr. Ambedkar, and Gandhi, accompanied by Deepika D'Souza, Sunil Scaria, and Devlyn Neunes from the IPT Secretariat from Bombay and Delhi. The panel visited the affected villages in and around Varanasi on 16th and 17th February 2002.

The itinerary of the tribunal included a site visit to Narketi, a remote village about 108 km from Varanasi on the first day. The following day the villages of Belwa and Babatpur were visited. Followed by a public hearing at which both the people and the government were given an opportunity to place their grievances before the tribunal. Although, as is the general practice of the IPT to send invitations to government officials and police officials to come and give their statements to the Tribunal, no one came and deposed personally in front of the Tribunal. The Tribunal learned that towards the end of the hearing that some documents had been brought to the premises by the Circle officer of Chetganj on behalf of the SSP of Varanasi.

The terms of reference for this inquiry were as follows:
1. To investigate into police firing on a peaceful protest.
2. Torture and illegal detention by the police.
3. Victimisation of dalits.

After studying the evidence from the reports presented to the Tribunal and hearing the oral statements of the people, the IPT made the following findings:
In the village of Narketi the villagers said that the members MCC had come to their village and held a meeting regarding the collection of Tendu leaves. The MCC told the villagers that they were to stop collecting Tendu leaves as they were being paid only Rs. 32/- while in the neighbouring states of Bihar and MP Tendu collectors were earning as much as Rs. 60/- per 100 bundles. The police getting wind of this meeting entered the village. There were several rounds of firing. The next day the police returned without giving notice or showing a warrant entered the villager's houses and pulled out the women, beat them mercilessly, especially on their inner thighs and breasts; they even beat a five-year-old child who happened to be standing by. The Pradhan and other elders were thrashed with lathis. The police then proceeded to raid the houses, broke their few possessions, demolished two houses and then stole their livestock.

The next day they returned and rounded up 12 people, six of whom where released the next day while six were detained and have been in prison since May 16, 2002 without any bail being granted. The wife of one of the men arrested was pregnant at that time. She told the tribunal how the police have returned repeatedly to the village and tortured her. Her belly was probed with a lathi and foul language was used against her and the other women. The Tribunal could find no justification for the detention in prison of six people from the 16th of May 2001 till date. The village is so remote that the IPT Panel reached the village with great difficulty. There is no road in the village, no school, no water for irrigation, no health centre for at least 25 kilometers. It is surprising that the local government has not ensured that even the most basic facilities have reached the village and when the village raised a legitimate demand of wage increase, the State unleashes a reign of terror.

At Babatpur the Tribunal was exposed to the brutality of the police. Due to an airport extension project several people lost their lands, some of whom were rendered completely landless. Though compensation amounts were fixed, these were yet to be given to the people. The villagers, including a large number of women had gathered to protest against ongoing construction work on a boundary wall of the airport extension project. They demanded that their compensation be handed to them first before any construction work commences. They then began to obstruct the work on the project. As a result the police who were present there in force resorted to firing at no provocation from the people resulting in the death of one person and bullet injuries caused to six people.

In the Badepur area of Belwa village where the lower caste community and dalits resided, blatant misuse of power was revealed to the Tribunal. The former Pradhan, (Mr. Rajendra Tiwari) of the village had occupied the position for 20 years. After the introduction of Women's Reservation he made his wife the Pradhan. However, she is a Pradhan in name only. In reality her husband continues to run things as before. She has over the period of five years not once stepped into Badepur area. Here the people were deprived of the right to education by being pressurized to send their children to the private school run by Rajendra Tiwari in the Government Health Centre in the village. People described how they were prevented from voting (and us some case even from getting photo identity card). Many people in the area have even been denied ration cards even though many of them would be classified as below the poverty line. An adivasi brick kiln worker also narrated how he was working as a bonded labour in the local brick kiln.

Durga narrated an incident in which goons of Rajendra Tiwari attacked her early one morning when she had gone to ease herself. On calling for help her husband came to her rescue, but he was badly beaten and suffered injuries on the head. He was taken to the police station and the officer in charge recommended that he be sent for an x-ray. After returning from the x-ray, they were taken to the police station and Durga's husband was kept in prison over night, being released only the following morning. Even though the police arrested three people in connection with the attack, Mr. Tiwari, through his political connections, brought pressure on the police to have them released.
Mukundilal, an elderly man who deposed before the Tribunal during the public hearing on the 17th of February at the Gandhi Vidyapeeth tearfully narrated how he had lost two of his sons in fake police encounters. He said that the police were killing innocents in the guise of claiming them to be naxalites. He stated how his son, Satyendra Harijan, was forcibly taken by the police just outside the Court at around 1 p.m. on the 7th of September and then declared dead in an encounter at 4:30 p.m. of the same day. Out of fear he now lives in a distant village and has to look after the large families of his murdered sons).
Vijay Kumar Jaiswal an auto rickshaw driver narrated at the public hearing how he was tortured by the station officer of Adampur Police station officer, who was in an inebriated State in the middle of the night. His clothes were removed and he was beaten with a hockey stick. He even showed the photograph taken of the ghastly wounds caused to his legs because of the beating.

Lalman from Piyari village stated on behalf of the dalits residing in that village an incident of the police resorting to unjustifiable barbaric behaviour. In another case, the police came with a tractor to pull down a statue of Dr. Ambedkar, which the villagers had erected in his honour in the village. The police and the local feudal lord began breaking the statue and loaded it into the tractor. The pleas of the dalits not to break the statue were not heeded. Even after the badly damaged statue was loaded onto the tractor the dalits requested that it be handed over to them. When their request was not granted the dalits then stood in front of the tractor and prevented it from leaving. At this the police and the local feudal lord along with his goons began chasing and beating up the dalits. Women who were present ran into their houses. But their doors were broken down and they were pulled out and beaten. Their household items were destroyed and looted. Several of the dalits were then arrested and implicated with false charges that they had attacked the police officials. Such atrocious behavior of the police cannot be justified on any grounds.

Findings of the Tribunal

  1. The police cannot resort to firing except in cases of self-defense. The police firing at Babatpur is totally unjustifiable. In the case of Narketi, a villager deposing in front of the panel stated that he heard one shot first, and is not sure who fired it, whether the naxalites or the police. This was followed by a series of shots. The return of the police the next day to beat the villagers, destroy their property and loot their livestock is completely illegal and unjust. Even in situations of war, the warring countries are guided by rules relating to prevention of abuse of human rights. The actions of the police on unarmed people should all the more be tempered down.
  2. A lot of injustices are perpetrated on the dalit and lower cast communities due to caste prejudice. The police who are supposed to be upholders of the law appear to be caste biased in their dealings with the dalits and lower communities.
  3. Brutality by the police cannot be justified on any grounds. Torture under detention, and going on rampage of beating up unarmed people, including women and children, without any kind of provocation is unjustifiable. The procedural guidelines for police behaviour, it would seem, are not known and definitely not adhered to.
  4. Lack of educational facilities for dalits and lower caste communities depriving them of their educational rights. Bonded labour thrives on illiteracy and the Pradhan of Belwa's deliberate attempt to deprive the dalits and lower caste communities from quality education is an example in point
  5. Despite gross human rights violations in the State, the State Government has not yet a 'State Human Rights Commission' in place.

Recommendations of the Tribunal

  1. There should be an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission into the police atrocities, which should be done within a reasonably quick time frame. If the police officers are found guilty appropriate action should be taken against them.
  2. If bail can be granted to murderers to allow them to stand for elections, then the 6 villagers from Narketi who on prima facie evidence seem to be victims of larger political forces, kept in prison since the 16th of May 2001 should be granted bail.
  3. Adequate compensation must be given to those who have suffered due to police atrocities and excesses. In the case of the acquisition of land for to the expansion of the airport, firstly the people should be compensated before the construction work begins. Secondly, one person from the families of those that have lost their land should be given employment by the Airport Authority of India.
  4. A State Human Rights Commission should be put in place immediately.
  5. There should be free and fair elections held in Belwa for the post of the Pradhan as the present Pradhan is only a puppet in the hands of her husband.
  6. A separate inquiry should be conducted into the whereabouts of Satyendra Harijan on September 7, 2001. Compensation should be given to his widow and children. Similarly in the case of the auto rickshaw driver and in the case of the beatings of the villagers of Piyari village an investigation should be conducted and the villagers should be compensated.

The villagers of Narketi have been needlessly made to suffer and been reduced to a State of penury by the police. An immediate investigation must be instituted and the villagers must be compensated not only for the injuries caused but also for the mental trauma undergone and the loss of property and livestock. If the government does not pay attention to its most deprived people, they will lose faith in the rule of law and be pushed to take up other means to achieve justice.

Justice K. Sukumaran, Indian People's Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, Mumbai.

-- Aloysius D'Souza

Home | Index