Of Caste Massacres and Judicial Impunity: Bloodstains in Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe...

 

Anand Teltumbde

(Text of the Third Comrade Naveen Babu Memorial Lecture, delivered by Anand Teltumbde) 

At the outset let me thank DSU for giving me this opportunity to pay my homage to comrade Yalavarthi Naveen Babu, who was martyred at the young age of 35 in Andhra Pradesh. I personally knew Naveen as a young man bubbling with revolutionary zeal and energy as an editor of Kalam, the organ of the AIRSF formed in 1990 and an organizer of the International Seminar on Nationality Struggles in Delhi in February 1996, which I attended. The last I met with him was in Chennai just a few months before his martyrdom. I complement DSU for instituting this memorial lecture, which would help young students in JNU to see how one of their own had lived and died for the cause of Indian revolution.

If Naveen had been living today, he would have been in forefront in protesting against the obnoxious pattern of judgements coming from Patna High Court in the cases of massacre of Dalits taken place in 1990s. As such, the topic decided for this memorial lecture is quite in tune with the memory of this revolutionary.

All of you know Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe, the small obscure hamlets in Bhojpur and Arwal districts of Bihar respectively, which were catapulted to the world map in mid 1990s for their infamous massacres of Dalits. About Laxmanpur Bathe massacre, the then president of India, K.R. Narayanan, had expressed his indignation saying it was a 'national shame'. Unfortunately, Laxmanpur-Bathe was not to be the lone such shame; there were scores of them before and after Laxmanpur. A quarter century since, the process of law has reached to put a lid on these cases, reminding Dalits of the laws of Manu after 86 years they had burnt Manusmriti in Mahad and after 63 years the country had installed Bhimsmriti in its place. It only wakes them up to the hollowness of such rhetoric which unfortunately informed the Dalit movement after Babasaheb Ambedkar, during the last 56 years. It verily tells us that nothing has changed; if at all, it has changed only for worse. Worse, because in Ambedkar's time Dalits, approximately were a homogenous mass, appeared like a giant getting up from his deep sleep of millenniums; now it is a hopelessly fragmented mass, splintered into classes and subcastes, pretending to be awake but actually in self imposed stupor to the reality around.

Most infamous early caste atrocities are associated with the communist movements and although their victims were all Dalits, the mainstream Dalits hesitated to identify with them as such. They demonstrated how caste and class (in a familiar sense; I would tend to incorporate caste within class and do away with this duality) intersected in an indeterminate complex web. No one would say, including communists that the goriest attacks on Dalits were purely class retribution and there was no caste angle to it. Far from it, the fact remains that these atrocities had happened because the victims were Dalits. The same question can be put to the protagonists of caste. Was it entirely because of caste? Only fools could say yes. Before this caste-class cauldron flared up in central Bihar in 1990s, it had all begun in down south in a place called Kilvenmeni way back in 1968 as a product of the changes in political economy that befell in the country during the first two decades after the transfer of power in 1947.

The very first case of the new genre of caste atrocity, as I have been calling them, happened on a Christmas Day in 1968, when 44 Dalit agricultural farm labourers and their family members, including women, children and old men, were brutally burnt alive in Kilvenmani, a small village in today's Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu. Kilvenmani and surrounding villages in erstwhile Thanjavur district had a considerable population of landless agricultural labourers, mostly Adi Dravida Dalits, and most agricultural lands in the area belonged to temples and absentee landlords. This feudal formation was an ideal ground for the communist movement to experiment with the peasant struggle. As such from the 1930s itself, the communists under the CPI had begun working in Tanjavur district and had become quite strong in the area with the following among the tenants and landless labourers, who were organized as farm workers union. After the split in the communist party, the leadership of the area had gone to the CPI (M). On the fateful day, the tragedy followed an agitation over the demand from the farm workers for an increase in wages. The haughty landlords rejected the demand. One G. Naidu, a landlord from a nearby village, was the President of Paddy Producers Association of East Thanjavur, who took the leading role in suppressing workers' strike during the harvest season. On the day of the incident, a hit man of G. Naidu was killed in a scuffle with workers. It enraged landlords to retaliate. As per the celebrated account of noted Anthropologist Kathleen Gough, (Read Kathleen Gough, "Indian Peasant Uprisings", Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 8, 1976) the landlords reached the Dalit hamlet in their cars followed by tractors carrying some 300 people laced with knives and guns in the night. They surrounded the Dalit settlement and began to shoot and knife people. People ran helter skelter to the paddy fields. They herded remaining people, mainly women and children, into a small hut and set it on fire, burning all the inmates alive. The victims of Kilvenmani included 28 paraiyars and 16 pallars (all Dalits). Sixteen of the dead were women, five men and 23 children. Gough's chilling account of the incident would still send shivers down anyone's spine.

After the incident the local police arrested 23 landlords. The district court acquitted 15 of the accused and sentenced the rest to various terms of liberal imprisonment ranging from one to ten years. The case went to appeal in the Madras High Court, where all the accused were released. In its judgment, the court simply said: "The rich landlords could not be expected to commit such violent crimes and would normally hire others to do while keeping themselves in the background." While the landlords who had personally brought and led the killers killing 44 Dalits, in an unprecedentedly horrific incident, several Dalit workers were duly tried for the murder of the hit-man and awarded various jail terms. Gough reports: "Twenty-two harijans from in or near [Kil]Venmani were jailed for 2 months without trial on suspicion of violence. Eight Harijans from [Kil]Venmani, all of whom lost close relatives in the fire, received jail sentences for the alleged murder of P. Padaiyacchi (the hit-man), one being sentenced to life imprisonment and actually imprisoned for seven years. One of the remaining Harijans received five years' rigorous imprisonment, three of them two years, and three, one year." Kilvenmani thus had set the tone inaugurating the new genre of caste atrocities, which would be followed for a long time. Gough clairvoyantly observed: "Many more can be expected before India's agrarian exploitation is overcome."

How and why did Kilvenmani take place? If we want to make sense of history for our struggles, then such questions assume importance, not just their narratives. Kilvenmani should be seen as the product of the momentous change that was befalling the country side. After the transfer of power, the new ruling dispensation under Jawaharlal Nehru went full blast in its treachery against people. While people aspired for 'land to the tillers', and end to their bondage and misery under feudal lords, the rulers wanted to make India congenial for the incipient bourgeoisie, duly accommodating the interests of landlords but cheating people at the same time by projecting itself as ideologically socialist and thereby pro-people. This treachery skillfully ran through everything including the very making of the constitution itself. On the one hand, the Constitution spoke of high sounding ideals but on the other rendered those sections (for example, Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution) ineffective which were meant to achieve them. On the one hand the Constitution provided a lofty vision and on the other, the regime adopted the entire colonial structure of governance. What interfaced with common people were the same old oppressive bureaucracy and Indian Penal Code, drafted by that shrewd colonial strategist Thomas Babington Macaulay.

The notion of Nehruvian socialism lazily associated with Nehru regime was actually to support the bourgeois plan. Signaled by the increasing militant anti-British activities, the British capital had started leaving the country after 1931, which process grew in volume during and after the Second World War, particularly following the Quit India campaign in August 1942. Actually, it did not always take the form of the outright folding up of undertakings; it was sometimes just in the form of the liquidation of entire holdings or their transfer to Indian hands. [It is estimated that Rs. 13.5 billion worth of British capital had slipped out between August 1942 and July 1948. See, Vivek Chibber, Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2003, p. 107.] One can see the instrumental role of the Quit India movement in strengthening the Indian bourgeoisie to take over British firms. Although the transfer of power would open up sea of opportunities, they still did not possess the strength to mobilize required capital and more importantly to manage political aspects. Taking stock of these things, eight big industrialists and technocrats of the day [Purushottam thakurdas, JRD Tata, GD Birla, Ardeshir Dala, Lala Shri Ram, Kasturbhai Lalbhai, AD Shroff and John Mathai] created a Plan in 1944 [later published in 1945 as memorandum Outlining a Plan of Economic Development for India, Parts One and Two, Penguin, Hammondsworth, 1945] that included all that came to be associated with Nehruvian socialism. Actually, the idea of this Plan had born in December 1942, in the aftermath of the great success of the Quit India movement for the Indian business. This plan that would be known as Bombay Plan presented the 15-year investment horizon with the aim of doubling the per-capita income and trebling the national income.

Formally, Nehru did not accept the Bombay Plan, but as it stands, our first industrial policy statement as well as our three five year plans could be seen to have been informed by this Plan. The very source of the five year plans, which for the people and the world projected India into the Soviet camp, (and alarmed the capitalist camp during the cold war era) as they were then associated with socialist planning, could be seen in this Bombay Plan. Curiously, it was adopted while the Constitution was still in the making. All the noises in favour of the poor and depressed; rhetoric of reducing inequality and public sector scaling commanding heights, etc. are to be found in the Bombay Plan.

Merely adopting the investment plan was not however enough unless the actual sources of savings, supply and demand and politics also were aligned. From this perspective, the vast countryside assumed great importance. Taking cue from the peoples' aspirations for land reforms, often voiced during the freedom struggle, a programme of land reform was undertaken. If the intention had truly been to distribute land among the landless, it could have been executed centrally in one stroke but it was done though a plethora of convoluted land ceiling legislations in states, the resultant effect of which would be to create a class out of the populous shudra caste, which would act as political ally of the national bourgeoisie at the centre. This strategic masterstroke replacing the entrenched feudal class from the minority upper castes by the class with most populous caste base transformed the entire configuration of the rural India. With an alibi of wide spread hunger, which indeed was a reality, the government brought in the capitalist strategy of Green Revolution, which besides hugely enriching the newly created class of rich farmers, seeded capitalist relations in the vast countryside. It brought in money economy and created markets for inputs, outputs, implements, services and credit. In caste terms, it pushed out erstwhile high caste landlords and installed rich farmers of shudra caste in their place, effectively transferring the baton of Brahmanism in villages from a minority to majority base. With the collapse of traditional jajmani relations of interdependence of village people, Dalits were reduced to be rural proletariat, utterly dependent on the shudra caste rich farmers for their farm wages. This new paradigm soon gave rise to wage struggles, which flared up under communist leadership in certain pockets. Kilvenmani was its earliest expression.

The golden era of capitalism, which had begun with the devastation of the world in the World War II and ran for two decades until mid-1960s during its reconstruction started throwing up inherent contradictions of capitalist system by the ending years of the decade. It manifested in the form of various social unrest all over the world. Many movements during the latter half of the 1960s including Naxalite movement in India also should be included among its manifestations. The movement born out of a minor clash between landlords and tenants in a remote corner of the country acquired its strategic focus on countryside inspired by the Chinese revolution. With its anti-feudal, anti-imperialist slogans, it attracted large mass of rural poor, particularly Dalits wherever it reached. Central Bihar, where class polarization coincided with caste divisions, soon came to prominence because of its armed clashes. As per the data compiled by my friend Prakash Louis, there were more than eighty massacres where the victims have been the farm labourers belonging to the lower castes and the perpetrators were the upper caste landlords. These attacks did not go unanswered and there were massacres of the upper castes too but they hover around just 15 in number, less than one-fifth of the total. In one such incident, the Bara Massacre, in Gaya district, the MCC (Maoist Communist Centre) cadres killed 35 persons of the Bhumihar Brahmin caste (landlords) known to have links with the Savarna Sena (a precursor to the notorious Ranveer Sena) in February 1992. It led to the invocation of TADA by the then Lalu Prasad Yadav government in Bihar. In 2001, the special TADA court and the District and Sessions Court in Gaya awarded death sentences to several of the accused. Some of which were read down to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court in 2002. The lower caste people accused in the Bara Carnage case for killing upper caste villagers met very different destinies from that of the upper caste landlords who executed most other carnages in Bihar where the victims belonged to lower castes. It told a very disturbing but the original tale. It is almost a rule: if you are a lower caste villager who participated in the killing of upper caste militia men, you were sure to get a death sentence, or life imprisonment. However, if you are an upper caste militia man killing lower caste people, you are quite likely to walk free. After all, hasn't Manu's code prescribed differential punishments for different castes committing the same crime?

With the lower caste retaliation in Bara, the frequency of upper caste attacks became frequent. Landlords floated many senas [see for the comprehensive list Prakash Louis, People Power: The Naxalite Movement in Central Bihar, Delhi: Wordsmith, 2002], which began enacting Dalit massacres. On 11 July, 1996, some 150 men belonging to Ranvir Sena armed with guns, swords, sickles, and lathis surrounded Bathani Tola in Bhojpur district's Sahar block in Central Bihar and ruthlessly hacked the Dalits in the broad daylight at around 1 pm. As the terrified villagers ran to hide themselves, the men started burning houses. They entered the mud huts, pulled out women and children, slit their throats, shot them, and stabbed them with swords. 11 women and 9 children, including an infant, and 1 man were killed. The dead were all Dalits and Muslims. The survivors and eyewitnesses recognized the attackers and named them clearly in the FIR, as these were men from their own villages who had not even tried to hide their faces during the attack. An FIR was lodged against 33 people the day after the massacre. In all, the Bhojpur police framed charges against 63 persons in October 1996. The accused were convicted by the Sessions Court, Ara and sentenced three persons with capital punishment, and the remaining twenty with life imprisonment in May 2010. The case went into appeal to the Patna High Court. In July 2012, a Division Bench of judges Navneeti Prasad Singh and Ashwani Kumar Singh cited "defective evidence" and acquitted all of them. In their judgement they said, "We regret such a ghastly incident took place. However, the investigation was not fair. Apparently, the investigation moved in a particular direction – far from the truth, not above suspicion." The counsel for the witnesses in the Bathani Tola, Anand Vatsyayan, expressed his surprise saying, "The evidence at hand was more than sufficient to uphold the judgement passed by the Ara sessions court.... The Supreme Court guidelines in the event of a massacre are quite clear. The eyewitnesses need not remember all the names. And, of the six prime witnesses questioned in this case, all had conclusively pointed fingers at the persons convicted by the lower court." But who do you say all this and to what avail?

Laxmanpur-Bathe was another site of a massacre, where 58 Dalits were killed by the upper-caste Ranvir Sena on the night of 1 December 1997. The village, just 125 km from Patna along the banks of river Sone, was targeted because Ranvir Sena members believed the Dalits there, mostly poor and landless, were sympathizers of the Maoists who had killed 37 upper caste men in Bara. Ranvir Sena, a militia of upper caste landlords, was created by Bhumihars to take on the Naxalites, mostly who had several Dalits as foot soldiers. In April 2010, 13 years after the massacre, the District and Sessions court in Patna convicted 26 persons for the Laxmanpur- Bathe massacre. The court gave death sentence to 16 convicts and life imprisonment and Rs. 50,000 fine for 10 others, for murder, criminal conspiracy and atrocity. In the judgment the court noted that the massacre was "More than the 'rarest of the rare cases', it was a heinous crime." At the same time, 19 other accused were acquitted for lack of evidence. The conviction by the lower court, in fact, came after the High Court's intervention to expedite the trial which was not moving. Eventually the judgement came after 11 years of the massacre. Within that period, Ranvir Sena carried out series of attacks in Rural Bihar, which resulted in 38 out of 91 eye witnesses turning hostile. The Patna High Court Division Bench comprising Justices V.N. Sinha and A.K. Lal acquitted on October 9, 2013 all the 26 convicts. In their judgement they said, "since the prosecution failed to establish the charge against the Appellants beyond reasonable doubts, they stand acquired."

In fact these cases were not the isolated instances of the culprits getting scot free in the High Court. Actually, the cases that were decided by the Patna high court present a pattern that the lower courts after years convicting some accused and the High Court acquitting all of them for want of evidence. This happened four times in quick succession that all the accused in massacre cases were acquitted by the High Court. Earlier in July 2013, 9 of the 10 persons convicted by a special district court for killing 34 Dalits at Miyanpur village in Aurangabad district were acquitted by the Patna High Court. In March 2013, all the 11 accused convicted by a lower court for the massacre of 10 CPI-ML sympathizers at Nagari village in Bhojpur district in November 1998 were acquitted by the High Court. Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur-Bathe were just the repeats.

It is not in Bihar alone. One can easily discern an interesting pattern in the judgements on the infamous caste atrocity cases irrespective of the states, courts or the judges. Under the pressure created by the public outcry, the lower courts generally drop charges against key criminals and award the remaining convicts salutary punishments which may not be technically warranted by the kind of case prosecution presented. The prosecution's case will of course be based on shabby investigation police provides, notwithstanding his/her ability vis-à-vis the defendant advocate. Invariably, the convicts would go to the higher court in appeal against the judgement. By then the public outcry would not only have died down, but also the case would have completely faded away from the public memory. The higher court would take hard look at the case before it and would land up reducing the punishments if not altogether discharging the convicts. In many ways Khairlanji is an exemplary case to illustrate contemporary processes in this context and hence I had written a book and followed it up with a few write ups.

To recount, in Khairlanji, a Dalit mother and her young daughter and two sons were lynched by the upper caste village mob to death as the culmination of a long standing conflict which overtly had its roots in the land dispute. The culprits with their connections with local politicians and state administration, tried to suppress the case as a collective punishment meted out by the outraged villagers to a defiant woman of loose character. But somehow it came to limelight and burst out into a spontaneous statewide agitation. While the government came down heavily against the agitators, labeling them as naxals, it had to invite CBI to investigate and designate the session court at Bhandara as the 'fast track' court for its trial. The state however managed not to lose its control over the outcome and appointed its own prosecutor ignoring an advocate suggested by the activists' group that had brought the incident to the fore. The investigation done by the local police was intentionally lackadaisical. The fast track court, which was constituted on the premise of the application of the Atrocity Act (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989), came to the conclusion that there was no caste angle to the crime (and hence this Act did not apply), there was no outrage of women's modesty and it was not a premeditated crime. Thus, it painted this gory atrocity as a simple crime that gets committed in a feat of rage. The initial story of 'loose character' was transformed into a case of revenge by the villagers against the witness the mother and daughter stood against the culprits in a case of beating of a man from neighouring village that sent them to jail. (As a matter of fact, they did not go to jail for even for a minute and were given bail, which rather led to their attacking the victims). Although, the case was completely punctured, taking away its foundational content, the verdict succeeded deflecting attention from it by awarding death to six of the eight accused and life imprisonment to two on the ground of their young age. Mind it, the crime was committed by a collective of all caste Hindus in the village. Initially 70 odd people were named, it dropped down to 40 odd and ultimately to just 11. Of these, eventually only 8 were convicted. If one compares the names of the convicts with the names in the original FIR, one would clearly see that the main culprits were already taken out and the convicts were ordinary people, who may at the most be marginally involved in the crime.

The judgement was foolishly hailed as the landmark judgement because it was for the first time that deaths were awarded in the case of a caste atrocity. The Dalit leaders had publicly celebrated it by distributing sweets. Ramdas Athawale, a Dalit leader who was with NCP, the party which had local linkage with the culprits and had control over police, felicitated Ujwal Nikam, the high profile public prosecutor in the case, ignoring the fact that not many years ago, he had stood in defence of Manohar Kadam, that infamous butcher of Ramabai Nagar. Athawale has since graduated to join the alliance with Shiv Sena, the party of Bal Thackeray, the rank hater of Ambedkar and Ambedkarite Dalits to get himself a Rajya Sabha seat. [Anyways, as I speak, almost all Dalit leaders are joining the BJP, which until recent years was accused by them as the party of Brahmans for Brahmanism] Dalits, who have been observing the anniversary of Ramabai Nagar martyrdom every year, magnanimously ignored this misdemeanor of their leader. But should they have rejoiced at the broad depiction of the case as a mere crime committed in a huff? Khairlanji had a heavy context of a decade long caste conflict, for anyone to see but unfortunately the prosecution failed to present it to the court. Rapes as reported by fact finding teams was out of bounds because of the lacuna in post mortem, but the women's naked corpses cried aloud that their modesty was outraged. The prosecution failed to establish what was so obvious. It also failed to show that it was planned when the villagers knew that Surekha and Priyanka had identified the assaulters of Siddharth Gajbhiye to the police. Having taken out all winds of its sails, the court still punished as many as six persons with death sentence. The way the case was made out, surely the death sentence was unsustainable. But Dalits celebrated it by distributing sweets, following their jubilant leaders!

The case went to the High Court to confirm the death sentence, and also to deal with four appeals (two by CBI and two by the accused). The High Court verdict came out on 14 July 2010. As expected, the justices AP Lavande and RC Chavan of the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court commuted the death sentence of six convicts to 25 years imprisonment. Basically, the court did not think it was the "rarest of the rare" case and confirmed that there was neither caste angle nor any planning involved in the crime. Expectedly, it caused flutters among Dalits, who had rejoiced at the previous verdict of the Bhandara Sessions court unprecedentedly awarding death to six of the eight accused. As expected, the state government came forward and filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the commutation of death sentence. The case is pending in the Supreme Court for the last three years and it is anybody's guess what would happen to it. Recently, we have formed a committee in order to support the husband of the woman, the lone survivor of the family. But without resources, it may be uphill task to drive it.

Quite like Khairlanji judgement which said that the killing of Dalits did not have anything to do with caste, or conspiracy and the women's naked bodies did not involved assault on women's modesty, the Patna High Court in its Laxmanpur-Bathe judgement considered this one of the worst massacres in the history as just a casual accident. It directed the State to pay compensation to the next of kin of the 58 deceased and 4 injured of Laxmanpur-Bathe from its fund. The Court ordered the trial court to calculate the amount of compensation after taking into account the age, income of the deceased and the injured in the light of the provisions of Section 163-A and II Schedule of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. [State of Bihar v. Girja Singh, Death Reference No.5 of 2010, Decided on 9/10/2013] It only showed monumental insensitivity in comparing such a abominable caste carnage with something in the nature of a rather unfortunate automobile accident.

These judgements outraged conscience of many well meaning people but in this country of 1.3 billion they constituted not even a drop in the ocean. Barring a few notable exceptions of The Hindu, Times of India and few others, the reaction of the media was muted. For it the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, 'the god' was far more important than Laxmanpur-Bathe judgement. The news of the former that came two days later than the judgement, totally eclipsed the Laxmanpur-Bathe. Commenting on the verdict, columnist Kuldip Nayar said: "An upper caste judge has released all the accused on the plea that there was no evidence. It is a travesty of justice...If the High Court judge did not find any evidence, he could have constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to work under its supervision to hold a fresh probe...What has happened at Laxmanpur is the fate of Dalits all over the country. The equality before law, enshrined in the Constitution, is a farce." It was the most apt reaction from a respected journalist.

Only three political parties – CPI (ML-Liberation), CPI(M) and Aam Aadmi Party formally expressed criticism of the Patna High Court verdict. Other parties either kept mum or tried to bake their political bread on the fire of indignation the judgement caused. Sharad Yadav, president of the JD(U), the ruling party in the state, demanded higher reservations for lower castes in the Judiciary. It is noteworthy that Nitish Kumar, the chief minister belonging to his party had disbanded the Justice Amir Das Commission of Enquiry set up to look into the links and the patronage that the Ranveer Sena militia had within the political parties in Bihar just within six months of his coming to power in November 2005. The links between Ranveer Sena thugs and politicians that the Amir Das Commission investigated cut across party lines, and included patronage networks deep within the BJP, the RJD, JD(U) and the Congress. Interestingly, Laxmanpur-Bathe or Batani Tola, as in every other case of caste atrocity, exposed the collusion between all mainstream parties. Indeed, it needs to be understood that they are all together as political class in contradiction with people.

Incidentally, Brahmeshwar Singh Mukhiya, the founder of Ranvir Sena who came to be known as the Butcher of Bathani Tola, was never tried for his role in the Laxmanpur-Bathe or for that matter, in any other case of Dalit massacre. In Laxmanpur-Bathe, the case against him was closed as he was said to be 'absconding' and 'untraceable'. Actually, he was ensconced in the secure environs of Ara Central Prison at that time in some other minor case. Such a degree of shamelessness goes unaccounted in the country! He was rather acquitted and went on to form an organization called Akhil Bharatiya Rashtravadi Kisan Sangathan. He met with justice only after he came out of jail (He was murdered on 1 June, 2012 by six unknown assailants) like his counterparts in other atrocity cases such as G Naidu of Kilvenmeni or Ramaiah of Karamchedu.

Where do we go from here? As we have seen, the judgements in Laxmanpur-Bathe or Batani Tola cases are not in any way isolated instances of the bias of judiciary. It is a classic instance of pervasive caste virus in the country from which judiciary, as any other institution, cannot be immune. There is absolutely no doubt that these are condemnable judgements, notwithstanding the role of investigation and prosecution in spoiling the case. The judges had option to order SIT investigation, as Kuldeep Nayar commented, if they suspected foul play in investigation. But to conclude summarily dismissing the witness of survivors was the height of prejudice. The antidote to such prejudice cannot be reservations in judiciary as the likes of Sharad Yadav would think. It is not that the Dalits have not seen Dalit judges so far; they have even seen the chief justice of the Supreme Court from their caste. Can they say it made any iota of difference to justice to Dalits? This representation logic based on caste identity has emotional appeal but has really never worked. The politicians have made reservations as a weapon to deal with people at large but it is high time the latter had understood their game plan. It is high time, this reservation-philia is rethought by the people. A properly formulated scheme of reservations as an exceptional measure in favour of some exceptional people, as it was initially conceived during the colonial times, could surely contribute to not only social justice but also to the annihilation of castes. But the post-colonial scheme is an intrigue not only to preserve the caste system but also to aggravate it in the interests of the ruling classes. Laxmanpur-Bathe, Bathani Tola or Khairlanji or Kilvenmani, expose many an aspect of the system. But do we care for them? I hope your answer to this question will be yes.

If we do care, we are necessarily led to ponder annihilation of the caste virus, which has kept us divided in innumerable ways. This is the key problem of this land. Unlike the prevailing stereotype, the caste virus cannot be seen in terms of religio-cultural matter to be dealt with with some reforms or as an aspect of backwardness to be removed by the application of some remedial patch like reservations. It has corrupted every aspect of life, right from our individual selves to the modern institutional structure. Using the computer analogy, this virus cannot be removed unless we reformat our hard disk, the social structure through a thoroughgoing revolution. When we are rightly agitated over the miscarriage of justice to the Laxmanpur-Bathe or Bathani Tola victims, we should not merely attribute it to the caste prejudice of the judges sitting on the bench alone. This prejudice pervades everywhere and is well integrated with the system. While the existential struggles should go on challenging them as they are seen, we must be clear about its mechanics as well as dynamics. It will tell us that the real solution to Bathani Tolas or Laxmanpur-Bathes lies only in the annihilation of castes. I could end with my favorite aphorism: no revolution is possible in this country unless Dalits as the organic proletariat of this land joins the revolutionary forces and emancipation of Dalits also is not possible unless they are supported by those forces. This is the unified theory of Indian revolution. While it is easy to propose the strategy to implement this strategy in terms of orienting the Dalit movement along class line and conversely the left movement to internalize the goal of caste annihilation, implementing this strategy would entail huge amount of creativity and commitment. May Naveen's memory inspire you to come forward to take up this historic task! Thank you.

~~~

 

[Courtesy: DSU JNU, March 10, 2014]