Paul Divakar, of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), talked to Ravi Chandran of Dalit Camera: Through Un-touchable Eyes in Hyderabad recently. The first part of the excerpts of the interview are produced below:
Dalit Camera: Sir, could you speak about the recent spate of rapes, in Haryana?
Paul Divakar: Rape is the most heinous form of crime, and normally used as a tool of both patriarchy and caste. Whenever you want to put people in place, whenever you want to quell any assertion, whenever you want to teach a Dalit, or a community to behave themselves, (it has been) the mode the dominant castes have used in India. Primarily hitting against women, and hitting through sexual assault.
So, rape has been the most favourite weapon and in addition to that, of course, we have burning of houses, assault and murder and things like that. If you see the nature of the occurrence of these (rapes, violence against dalit women)—our statistics, the statistics compiled by the NCDHR which has been looking at these atrocities against Dalits, nationally, for the last decade or so, say: there is no state which can say we've done excellent, no state which can say, we're the worst.
You'd be surprised — now that so much is coming out of Haryana, it is bad, but it is also of different nature altogether. But still, when you look at Bihar, when you look at Madhya Pradesh, when you look at Andhra Pradesh, when you look at even Karnataka, the nature of violence against Dalits, hitting at the modesty of women, and using violence against women as a weapon to quell Dalits has been the same.
But where does Haryana differ is the way the media has taken this up in the recent past. That's number one. Number two is the lack of shame among the wider society, which you find at least in the other states. Where the wider society has grown to a level where they're beginning to express solidarity (with the victims). But here you see, in Haryana, it's the external groups that have come.. and they're the ones who are strengthening the community rather than any internal, social organization. I think that's the major difference that you see in Haryana.
Dalit Camera: Could you give us a picture of the status, statistics (of atrocities on Dalit women) of different states that you were talking about earlier?
Paul Divakar: There are different statistics. For example, in Haryana there have been 418 cases registered, (in the) whole of last year. In a way, it is a very false figure. Because it represents only the number of cases that are formally recognized and registered. Our experience shows, for example even in a case like Dabra, which took place on 9th of September, (it was only) after an angry mob demanded and did a dharna on a very large scale, only then the case was registered. Till then the case was not registered.
Now, why is it that the police are so negligent? So, if you look at this (more closely), there's a very huge variation between the number of cases that are actually happening and the cases that are formally registered, cases that even enter the portals of justice. So, there's a huge variation, you can't really take (these numbers as representative of the reality).
It is a very political factor as to how many cases are allowed to be registered. For example, there is another factor that we must also take into consideration — some cases are crimes committed against SCs or STs which are different from crimes that are registered under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which is a very special act.
Now there are politics also that determine why the state does not want to register (cases) under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. By registering under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act the whole nature of the case changes. It strengthens the victims, it gives them the support for trial, it enhances the punishment, it strengthens the agency of the victims. Whereas (with cases registered as) crimes against the SCs, you lose all the special measures, the protection of the victim is not at all (a concern) in the nature of these cases.
So to take these cases as indicators at a particular point makes no sense. What we are saying is that the nature of rape across the country could be almost, with small variations, as a weapon that is used against the Dalit woman specially, is the same. It is the same in nature across the country. Right from Jammu to Tamil Nadu; in Tamil Nadu and in Kerala, you'd be surprised, you'd think that the violence against Dalit women is less (but it is the same); it is the same in Karnataka, Maharashtra and across West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. So we cannot get into it (the differences).
But what happens when an atrocity takes place — for example, in Haryana what we found is that there's a massive impunity, which is much more than you find in the other states. Now, what is this impunity? It is there in other states, but in Haryana, we have seen the police totally in cahoots with the perpetrators. They are the ones who mediate. We have had instances where they have threatened to foist false cases; which also happens in other states. They have threatened victims that once they file the cases they will have to end up settling for 'compromises'.
They are almost threatening them, and therefore facilitating a kind of compromise between the dominant caste and the victims. And this has been reported to the SC Commission and also the state authorities that you have to make the executive machinery, specially the police, much much more into seeing that it increases the little confidence among the people by taking instant action against the perpetrators.
Dalit Camera: Could you talk about the observations the fact finding team which visited Dabra recently?
Paul Divakar: National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, along with AIDWA, and some progressive women's movement leaders had visited the place (Dabra), talked to the victims,. We don't call them victims, we actually call them survivors. The human rights defenders also talked to the state (officials).
After the incident happened on the 8th of September (9th), for nine days she (the survivor), out of fear, withheld (the information). Later, she told the mother, the mother informed the husband who went and asked the Jat community leaders (about it). How cruel it is. They not only told him to keep quiet but threatened him that if he ever speaks about it, the pictures that they have taken (they showed him the pictures) - they will send that MMS right across the country. And this had really got him into a false sense of dignity and all that and he saw no way and took (his own life).
To protect his daughter's dignity he thought he could give up his life and so he committed suicide. Now the suicide happened on the 18th of September. From 18th of September to the 21st – three full days or four days – no action was taken. And it was the (Dalit) community which had taken this up, with some of the social activists there, strongly raising it. Until then no arrests were made, FIR was not registered; (after it was taken up) the FIR was registered, arrests were made.
But there is another incident behind this, an incident which happened one year ago in Mirchpur. In Mirchpur, I think you might recall, that a father, and his daughter were burnt alive. The whole incident happened primarily because a dog, from the Dalit basti, barked (at a Jat). A dog is more egalitarian, it barks at both Dalits and non-Dalits. So if it barks against non-Dalits, (against someone) from the Jat community.. Such a very inhuman or sub-human being he was, he thought – why is the dog in the Dalit basti barking at the Jats? A very inhuman kind of a thing (reaction).
And they came back with a huge Jat crowd, and you know the whole story. They tied the girl and the father and threw them into the flames and locked the whole house and set fire again to the surroundings. They died. Burnt alive, actually. One is the heinousness of the crime – one level of heinousness of it. Now if you look at the next level – it is not only that.. See, normally in other places after committing the crime, there's remorse. A little bit of shame. Which they feel when they later go to the politicians.
Here, they felt that they have done the right thing. And when the case (came up) – there was one Dalit lawyer who actually dared to stand up against them. And when the case came up before the magistrate – the Jat crowd, 300 of them (were there); there were 4 or 5 witnesses in the trial who were arguing for the arrest of the accused; the three hundred strong mob attacked the court. In the bar room, they attacked the lawyer and the father, and made any chance of justice, or access to justice impossible.
It was there, that we intervened through a senior advocate, Colin Gonsalves, in the Supreme Court and made an appeal saying that there is no possibility (of justice), under this jungle law, there's no possibility. So the whole case was shifted from Karnal to Delhi. We asked for it, for protection, in Delhi.
So it was a big thing, but there was a precedent so therefore the case was shifted from Haryana to Delhi. And in Delhi also they started the same kind of a thing of..threatening. Of course, there was police protection, there were gunmen, and several things were taking place. Now, if you look at this, it could have happened only in Haryana. Such open, unabashed practice of not only committing the crime but following through to see that nothing will hamper the khap panchayat. That is the caste, Manu Dharmashastra to be carried out. Because they see it as their dharma to continue to do this.
Somehow, upholding these casteist laws, which are not even the natural principle of justice, not the Constitution, seemed to be extremely prevalent in these parts of Haryana and in the north. And that is the reason where the visibility of these cases is coming up, and inability of the wider society to stop this also you see more in Haryana.
Please read the second part of this interview here.
Transcribed by Kuffir.