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PUCL Bulletin, February 2007

Khairlanji's dalit victims want justice with dignity

-- By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

[ Also see, In Khairlanji's aftermath, a brutal state response ]

The fire of Khairlanji in Bhandara district of Maharastra refused to recede and has now reached Delhi. At the India Social Forum 2006, Dalit organizations led by National Conference of Dalit Organisations, NACDOR, held a strong demonstration at the Jantar Mantar where a large number of human rights activists, Dalit activists from different parts of the country expressed deep anguish and wanted immediate punishment for the tormentors of the heinous crime against humanity.

Chhaya Khobargade, who has been actively involved in the agitation, felt that the congress government has not taken any action against the guilty. Instead it is taking action against the activists' who have been staging protest against the incident. 'If the Maharastra government does not take action against the culprits, the situation would go out of hand,' she warned.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Nitin Chaudhury, Convener, NACDOR, Maharastra asked the R.R. Patil, deputy chief minister of Maharastra must apologize to the Dalit community for his irresponsible utterances. Former Union Minister Sanjay Paswan also expressed his solidarity with the agitating members.

At the Dalit sector meeting in ISF2006, Mr Ashok Bharati, Convener, National Conference of Dalit Organisations expressed deep anguish over the attitude of Maharastra government which he termed was no different than the fascist government of Gujarat led by Narendra Modi. Bharati warned that Dalits would not rest silently if there dignity continues to be attacked by the upper caste goons. He also blamed the organizers of the World Social Forum with prejudices against the Dalits.

While protests in Delhi continue, and more so because United Dalit Student Forum in JNU along with other students organizations are planning massive protests against Mahrastra government's inaction. In Bhandara people expressed their anger against the visit of Chief Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh who offered a job to the relative of the deceased family. 'We want honour and dignity and not job, was the categorical answer from the family. It is the tribute to Ambedkar's campaign for human Rights and dignity that dalits consider it too small to bargain a massacre of a family with a job. That may be possible in the Hindu system and not with enlightened Ambekarite Buddhists.

It is beyond any body's belief how four family members of Buddhist Dalit family were butchered to death mercilessly by the upper caste hegemonists of Khairlanji village who wanted to grab the land of this Dalit family. 'The Panchayat had already taken over about 2 acres of land in the name of common passage for the village and the upper caste were pressurizing that the family also get out of remaining 3 acres of land, says Sujata Parimita, a women's rights activist from Mumbai. How brutal and inhuman could these upper caste be, is reflected in the nature of the killing. Surekha (44 years), her daughter Priyanka 18 years, sons Rakesh 23 years and Sudhir, 29 years were first pulled out from their hut and stripped naked. According to Sujata and Chhaya Khobargade, 'these women were stripped naked by the upper caste women'.

Those women's right activists must understand who say that 'women do not have caste. Not all women are equal. Upper caste women can never understand the plight of Dalit women from their caste prism and would have to shed those prejudices before claiming to work for women's right movement of all. Surekha's sons were also stripped and asked to rape their mother and sister when they refused to follow, they were hacked to death. One of the son named Sudhir was a physically challenge person. Later, the mother and daughters were also raped and killed. Their bodies were found next day with brutal marks of killing on their body, lying naked.

Now, the attempt to wash the entire thing has already begun. The police say that they are not getting any eyewitness of the event while the medical report does not make a rape case. It is shocking beyond doubt, as Sujata Parimita says, 'When the Delhi High Court cold send Santosh Singh to the gallows using circumstantial evidences, why is police in Bhandara not doing its work and collecting the circumstantial evidences. Moreover, some of the family members including Surekha's cousin Siddhartha Gajbhiye have already told police what he saw on that fateful day. What does the naked body indicate?'

The upper caste feudal police is not interested in resolving the crisis. Siddhartaha was a political activist and living in another village and Surekha had contacted him to help her as the upper castes were putting a lot of pressure on them to relinquish the 3 acres of land that they possessed. To get rid of the intervention, the villagers alleged that Surekha had an illicit relationship with Suresh. But even if that was true, why the hell these upper castes were concern about that?

Complaints were lodged to the police and yet no action was taken. Dalits waited for so many days -- no media or the government officials visited them. It took nearly over a month and half when the patience of the Dalits boiled. And what one saw in the streets of various parts of Vidarbha was this Dalit frustration with rule of law. The government did not act but tried to shield its officials and politicians involved in the case.

It is more shocking that the high profile Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil was busy issuing statements on two counts. One his party has been going overboard over party president Sharad Pawar's alleged 'insult' by the Australian players. 'We respect our elders', was the general cry of the political activists in Maharastra. 'We must make the Australians apologize for they do not know what actually the culture is? 'If the Australian media had known and seen the Bhandara incident and how Indian media reports then they would have probably said that 'your culture is to publicly rape a woman and her daughters in front of her sons and do not ask for justice.' That atrocious upper caste prejudice is still prevalent in Mahrastra and that there is no outrage in the country is itself an outrage. This incident is a grim reminder of how our social system functions and whether the Dalits should now not blow up that super structure of democracy which gives one person equal voting right to elect our parliament or assemblies yet do not consider them equal.

R R Patil ordered a CID inquiry into the Nagpur incident but not what happened at Bhandara's Kharilanji village. Every body knows how an inquiry proceeds to save the skin of the political leaders. State CIDs are nothing but government's own mindset and Patil has already said that the entire incident of fire and rioting in Nagpur was orchestrated by the Naxal groups. Politicians seldom introspect therefore to expect that Patil and his cohorts would respond responsibly on the issue would be miraculous.

But Dalits taking the street for justice is not new in Maharastra particularly in Nagpur. The state apparatus has always shielded the corrupt upper caste officials, goons who exploit Dalits. There is pain and anguish and to say that it is the work of Naxals is again to relieve oneself from the responsibility. Maharastra's police is considered to be efficient yet it could not fill a sense of confidence among the Dalits. The political class did not find time to visit the place. In fact some of the people have blamed a BJP MLA's involvement in the entire incident.

In the 50th year of Dhammachakra Parivartan, thousands of people have already embraced Buddhism and standing tall with their new found enlightenment. The Bhotmanges family of Khairlanji was also a Buddhist and learnt to live with dignity which was not accepted by the upper caste Hindus. Their assertion was attacked in the most fascist manner of any system. One does not find parallel to such cruelty, may be during the Nazi assault on the Jews at the concentration camps in Germany.

The government is discussing things in home ministry about the growing influence of Naxalites in Chandrapur and other parts of Maharastra. This year during the 50th year celebration of Ambedkar's conversion, our friend Sunita Narain of Danish Publications, Delhi was arrested by Chandrapur police for 'clinching' evidence of her 'linkages' with the Naxalites. Sunita has a book stall, at the festival ground, which include Bhagat Singh's memoirs, a book written by Babu Ram Bhattarai, Nepal's Maoist leader, some others like Dr Ambedkar's work on riddles of Hinduism etc. She was released only on the condition that she would be available for further interrogation.

One would ask the ministers in Maharastra whether selling literature of revolutionaries any crime and as reported by Sunita, the police officer was asking her 'Why she sale Bhagat Singh when India has already become a democracy'. Yes, India is a democracy of the upper castes where they learn Gandhigiri from a Bollywood film but do not use it in their public life. Even Gandhi would have wept and cried seeing his 'followers'.

Dalits love literature. It is beyond doubt that Dalits today read much more than the upper caste Hindus study. All the revolutionary writings are liked by Dalits. Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar has given them strength of conviction and character and therefore they go crazy to read literature of revolution. Dalits are going for revolution. Embracing Buddhism is itself a revolt against the dominant caste culture of India. Dalits have saved Indian democracy. When the upper castes were busy in their work and money, Dalits voted in the slums and streets. What did they get in return? That their leaders are also purchased and co-opted by the mainstream. Dalits respect constitution of India because Dr Ambedkar drafted it. Anything that links Dalits to Baba Saheb has an emotional value.

We gave a political constitution which suggested two people are equal but in social life, what Ambedkar mentioned during those days, that the two people are not equal. Manu Smriti still rules India.

We must not forget how the Dalit women in Nagpur taught Akka Yadav a lesson of his life. Yes, Yadav was a local goon who would go to any house and ask for the prettiest girl to entertain him. For long the Dalit women tolerated his activities. Also, they realized well that the Akka Yadav had wide political connections and would get release once arrested. After lots of protest Yadav was arrested but the activist got to wind of the police that he might be let off to torture them again. And the massive crowd that swelled in the campus of the local court in Nagpur where Police brought the accused in the van, the crowed attacked Yadav and his friend and killed them on the spot. That was social justice that Nagpur women wanted for them. They were not interested in long arm- twisting tactics of the court and the police which ultimately made them victims and hence they killed the notorious gangster. Very unfortunately the Maharastra government has not learnt any lesson from the same.

It still feels that delay is the best way as people would forget the incident. It would be foolish to think in those terms. The anger of the Dalits in the Maharashtra is for dignity and honour and no government can do away with it. The golden edifice of Indian democracy would not survive if Dalits do not get justice in India. They have already tolerated humiliation heaped upon them related to their integrity, merits, reservation and everything. It is a wake up call for the government failing which they would only lose their credibility and masses would follow what they believe in like what happened to Akka Yadav. Government must not wait and act immediately to get the victims justice otherwise it will have to heavy price for which India at the moment is not prepared and cannot afford.


People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014