(This is a slightly revised version of an article written in 2006)
The publicity that was given to the incidents of burning of five railway bogies and vandalizing of a hundred bus windows was not extended to the massacre of four members of a single family. The upper caste media widely, and intentionally, publicized that an angered Dalit community had gone on a rampage as a result of the desecration of Ambedkar's statue in Kanpur. But, the gruesome incident in Khairlanji village of Bhandara district, Maharashtra, in which the family of Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, comprising his wife Surekha, daughter Priyanka and sons Roshan and Suresh were subjected to inhuman violence, remained unknown to the world outside the village for two whole months after it happened, thanks to a very 'vigilant' media.
The family was paraded naked in front of all villagers who ordered Roshan and Suresh to rape their mother and sister publicly, and when they refused, mutilated their private parts. Later, they gang raped Surekha and her daughter Priyanka openly, inserted sticks in their vaginas, killed all the four members of the family and threw them on the outskirts of the village. The fact that this horrific incident was picked up by the upper caste media only two months later provides ample evidence of their hardcore, discriminatory attitude.
The attacks on Dalits are not a new thing. Karamchedu, Chunduru, Neerukonda, Padirikuppam, Vempenta, Kanchikacherla and the recent Lakshimpeta in Andhra Pradesh, Kilvenmani, Melavalavu in Tamil Nadu, Shankar Bigha and Laxmanpur Bathe in Bihar, Jhajjar, Gohana, Mirchpur and the increasing acts of violence against Dalit women in every block in Haryana and Khairlanji in Maharashtra - and many other incidents which are yet to come to light are humiliating and insulting the constitutional democracy of this country.
Through their own efforts, some members of the Dalit community - which was subjected to oppression, exploitation and humiliation for thousands of years and which remained estranged from village, school and temples, lived as untouchable, unseen – are now garnering education, some livelihood. But the prospects of their endeavours to live as human beings are becoming questionable every day. Every incident in which the Dalit community shows its self-respect is met with bloodshed.
The inhuman culture which is not willing to accept fellow men as human beings still dominates this society. The evil social mechanism, the inhuman caste system, crushes down mercilessly even small efforts by Dalits to safeguard their identity. There is no single incident of any Dalit attacking and killing anyone in Indian history. Dalits are still maintaining restraint by exhibiting faith in laws and the constitutional system though they are attacked continuously. They did not resort to retaliatory attacks anywhere in the country. Consequently, legislations and the systems for implementing these legislations face a great crisis and stand behind the upper caste oppressors. This fact was proved in every incident of attack and carnage on Dalit community.
Today, protection of Dalit human rights is a million dollar question. No single accused who was involved in mass killings of Dalits across the nation, ever received any type of punishment. That means, given this context, every Dalit should think of his/her security. The blunt courage that remains after every hope evaporates is a big asset for Dalits. From now onwards, perhaps the guiding principle for Dalits to tackle unlawful violence should be to follow the course suggested by Sant Tukaram in this abhang:
'To a good man, we will even give our loincloths. But for a bad man, we will have our sticks ready'
Though Article 14 suggests equality, Article 17 article bans untouchability, Article 21 provides the right to live and the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities), 1989, safeguards the interests of Dalits, why are we today thinking that the above stated laws are not sufficient, why has protection of Dalits become a nightmare? Why are the accused in the Chunduru massacre - in which 26 Dalits were chased and hunted with hunting sickles, their bodies chopped into pieces and packed in gunny sacks to be thrown in the Tungabhadra canal passing through the village – roaming scot-free for the past 13 years? Fully engaged in their businesses and producing movies? Are the laws of this nation not applicable to these people?
This is an upper caste, predatory, Brahminical state. Laws and systems of this nation will not dare to cross the line drawn by the anti-Dalit Manu. Therefore, the father of our constitution Dr. B. R. Ambedkar stated that: "any legislation which is not accepted by the civil society will become useless." He further added that "I buried Manu in constitution and legislation, but he is still alive in the society." I think, every Dalit, who wishes to protect Dalit human rights, should understand from that what his duty is.
It is 50 years since Bodhisatva Baba Saheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism. Protection of Dalit human rights has become a problem and come to the forefront only because of negligence towards his ideology, principles and not accepting his fighting spirit in practice. The upper caste ruling classes are protecting the accused in Dalit atrocities cases. Courts and the administrative machinery are influenced by inducements. Consequently, a strong belief that "nothing will happen if we kill Dalits" is gaining strength day by day.
There is no need for new laws to protect Dalits from attacks if present existing laws are implemented effectively. We can infuse confidence among Dalits if that is done. But the role played by the Law Ministry and the police machinery is very regressive. Charge sheets were not issued in 14,000 cases out of 24,000 cases registered under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, from 1995 to 2006. The accused who must stand behind bars are kept away from jails and are threatening the Dalit victims. Of the remaining 10,000 cases, most of them were closed because of lack of proper evidences. There is no progress in other cases. If anyone still has any faith in police and the courts, then it is nothing but their foolishness!
In these circumstances, the responsibility of protection of Dalits is on Dalits themselves. An independent Dalit movement should emerge from Dalits themselves. But, the Dalit who managed to secure education, jobs, two meals a day and clean clothes to wear is "forgetting his caste after filling his stomach." The people who forget their community and Ambedkar will remain as traitors. The Dalit leaders become MLAs and MPs by utilizing political reservations, and act as domestic animals for the upper caste dominated political parties. If any injustice is done to any of them, only then will they growl that the injustice happened because of their Dalit background. This has become a common affair. There is no exception among the bourgeois party Dalit leaders. Commenting about such people, Dr. Ambedkar observed: "I thought that the one who gained advantage out of reservations will stand behind his fellow Dalit in all round development, but instead a self feeding clerical herd formed."
But still, there are some signs which kindle some optimism. The Dalit student community understands all aspects in the right perspective, and the best example in this regard is the right manner in which they responded during the recent Golden Jubilee celebrations of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's Dhamma Deeksha. It was after that event that the four members of Bhaiyalal Bhotmange's family in Khairlanji were brutally killed by an unruly mob led by local RSS leader Bhaskar Kawad. After this incident, whole nation should bow down its head in shame. The family of Bhaiyalal Bhotmonge had converted to Buddhism a year earlier (on the same day, 14th October, the anniversary of Baba Saheb's conversion). This had become indigestible to the local Hindu RSS mob.
The attacks, killings, atrocities, robbery and oppressions are not unplanned affairs. These are carried out as part of perfectly devised plans. Vicious casteists who are jealous of the development of the Dalit community, here and there, are resorting to attacks on Dalits. It is part of the plot to reintroduce untouchability and an ancient racist doctrine in this country.
Humiliating Ambedkar is nothing but humiliating the nation. In 2006, fifty years after the departure of the great leader from this physical world, there is a need for retrospection, to examine to what extent we have traveled in his path. We should all rededicate ourselves towards the inherited fighting spirit of Dr Ambedkar who sacrificed everything for the development of this nation and for annihilation of caste in this country.
Karthik Navayan is a human rights activist.