PUCL Bulletin, March 2001

Uttaranchal:

Tragic Case of Chandra Ram

By Suvarna

In May 1999 a 12-year old Dalit boy called Ramesh Ram, son of Chandra Ram, was murdered by means of food poisoning administered by two members of Thakur and Darbar community. It was alleged that poison was administered in boiled potatoes, which he was forced to eat at the shop of Bahadur Singh. All this happened in Kanyali Kot, a small village in Bageshwar district. Following this event, a frightened Chandra Ram left his house- a small pucca hut - in the village to live with his brother Khadak Ram in Billaunasera, near Bageshwar. At the instance of several Dalit leaders and social workers a petition was filed on behalf of Chandra Ram against Rajendra Singh and Pravin Singh who are both still at large. Bahadur Singh, the shop owner, was arrested and released on bail later on.

I came to know about this incident in May 2000, one year later after the event took place, when Shri Ramesh Prakash, a Dalit social worker, turned up to see me at Shri Majilal's house accompanied by Shri Chandra Ram. I had to leave that very day, hence I could not follow up the matter at that time. On my returning to Ahmedabad I briefed several sensitive and activist friends like Prakashbhai, Nayanaben, some Dalit leaders like Martinbhai, Rashtrapalji, President of Gujarat PUCL, Prof. Pathak, and a Dalit littérateur, Shri Chandubhai, regarding this case and sent all the relevant details to the PUCL at Delhi, which in turn contacted NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) so that the latter could undertake the requisite enquiry of this matter.

In September 2000 I again went to Bageshwar in order to help Chandra Ram rehabilitate in Kanyali Kot and also to find out the truth of the whole matter. Before leaving Delhi for Bageshwar I met Chhibbar ji of PUCL and Mishra ji of NHRC. Both the gentlemen promised me to accord full cooperation in pursuing this matter.

Immediately after reaching Bageshwar, I visited Hariprasad Tamta Library, which houses office of Ramprasad Tamta, an ex-MLA. Mr. Tamta and Mr. Ramesh Kumar, Secretary of Mr. Tamta, broke the good news of Chandra Ram having received Rs. 75,000 from the Government of Uttar Pradesh by way of compensation. Naturally I was greatly pleased to hear that. But my happiness turned into sorrow when I learnt from them that all Chandra Ram's money was finished. 'How?' I refused to believe it! 'He says he had to pay the debts which were long overdue', said Tamta ji.

I decided to follow up the matter. I went to Chandra Ram to find out the truth. Accompanied by Mr. Ramesh, I went to Billaunasera to Ramesh Ram's brother's shop, where both the brothers worked as locksmith making about Rs. 50 each per day. I asked Chandra Ram about the money. His brother blurted out, 'Bahen ji, all those leaders and social workers that claimed to help him file the petition, took away the money.'

'That's not paying debts, that's embezzlement' I could not mince words. 'Why did not you request an honest Dalit or Savarna leader to mediate and handle it?'

'We are illiterate. And they made us do what they really wanted to' Chandra Ram said to me.

I requested Chandra Ram to show me his pass book and accompany me to his bank. I found out that Rs. 72000 were already withdrawn and all that just within a week! One withdrawal of Rs.65000, was made on July 25, 2000. Next day, i.e., on July 26, 2000 another withdrawal of Rs. 5000 was made, followed by still one more withdrawal on July 31, 2000, of Rs.2200/-.

I refused to subscribe to the theory of debt because, as I have mentioned above, last year Chandra Ram and his brother Khadak Ram had worked as locksmiths and made Rs 50 each per day. Chandra Ram brought a list of the expenses 'he made'. The list was hand-written by a Dalit leader, Mr. Narendra Arya.
I will reproduce the 'list' below:

1) From 8.7.1999 to 8.7.2000
7,000.00: Rent: Rs. 500 per month. (In all for 14 months". (from the list) {Glaring Discrepancy: It is 12 months from 8.7.99 to 8. 7. 2000 and not 14 months.

Chandra Ram Ji himself took me to his dwelling place - there are two adjoining small rooms with shuttles in Billaunasera - where he lived after leaving his own hut like home in Kanyali Kot and told me that together the two rooms cost Rs. 300 per month only. This makes Rs. 3600 by way of rent not Rs. 7,000.}

2. Food, medicine, clothing, schooling etc., for 14 months for the family of 15 members. 30,000.00
{Discrepancies:
1. I met all the members of Chandra Ram's family. Everybody's clothes were torn and very old.
2. Nobody went to school for the whole year as Kanyali Kot the place where the School is located
is miles away from Billaunasera where the family has been residing.
3. Why was feeding all the 15 members Chandra Ram's responsibility? His brother worked as locksmith and Chandra Ram helped him in his shop. Both the brothers made Rs.50 each per day. There is no mention of this crucial fact in the 'list'.
4. The list includes 'medical expenses' But entries # 4,5,6,7,8,9,10 for Rs. 6210 are shown as expense incurred on doctors. Does it mean that doctors billed him for checking only and never gave any medicines?}
Besides this, an amount Rs. 7688 is claimed by the Co-operative Bank, which had advanced a loan to Chandra Ram. Only this amount is justified and true. Everything else seems fishy and unexplainable.

Even so, if you add up the entire claimed amount, it comes to Rs. 53160 + Rs. 7688 = 60848 loan from the banks. But Chandra Ram had received Rs. 75000. What happened to the balance of Rs. 2000 (Rs. 3000 is still in his account at the bank)? Chandra Ram is completely illiterate. Those who embezzled his money have unscrupulously taken advantage of his ignorance and illiteracy.

It is more than obvious that big fraud and irregularity have taken place in this case. In May 2000, during my visit to Bageshwar, quite a few social workers and concerned citizens had warned me against associating with one dalit leader, Shri N, who had amassed wealth shamelessly by 'helping' Dalits and disadvantaged people. The deputy Collector of Bageshwar, Mr. Tyagi, lamented this and sadly shared the information that he had, with me, saying he heard that three persons had taken away all Chandra Ram's money. In short, this is a clear-cut case of a Dalit being robbed by his 'leader'. I feel that this needs a thorough inquiry to find out the truth of the matter.

A close friend of mine asked me after this sad event, 'Do you think that your concern and commitment for Dalits will now lessen? Do you feel frustrated that much'? My response was: 'I am very sad and angry but as for concern and commitment for Dalits, believe me, they have now increased a whole lot more than before because I [now know] first hand that they are so badly helpless. And so the responsibility of all egalitarian and humanitarian folks has augmented. Now we will have to go to the root of the whole corrupt system.'

In this connection I talked with Shri Chandubhai Melina, an authority on dalit Sahitya and a journalist. Chandubhai, we will go to the root of this problem but I have observed a tendency among people at large that when a Dalit leader is corrupt they criticize him bitingly and single him out. They seem a little forgiving about Savarna leaders. Isn't it? He replied, 'you are right but being a Dalit myself, I would advise all fellow Dalits to follow the example of honest and sincere Savarna leaders not corrupt lot of them. Otherwise uplift of Dalits will remain an impossible dream',

Let us hope all Dalits and non-dalit leaders follow Chandibhai's advice.

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