Lessons from the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre

Sylvia Karpagam

Sylvia pixThe Laxmanpur Bathe case has been discussed and dissected by dalits, activists, academicians and experts. In the meantime, for the intended audience of these discussions, dalit rapes, massacres and violations are as significant (or insignificant) as what the cat brought in that day. The Brahmin scholar aka academician, after hearing about the acquittal of 26 of the most violent men in the country, would, not unusually, wonder, at the next instance, what was happening about cricket in the country. In fact, pujas, weddings, travel abroad and cultural activities would notch a tad more in the interest ratings than the deaths of 58 apparently dispensable dalits.

Against this backdrop, it becomes clear that one waited too long. In fact, one waited for generations for someone else to give us back our rights and dignity.

Big mistake.

Waiting for generations for our 'masters' to feel pity

We first waited for years for our Brahmin landlords to feel pity on us. They never did. They trample on us, walk over the naked and raped bodies of our women and the dead and dying bodies of our children, they ravage us for every ounce of flesh and blood that they can extract and still bay for more. We allow them to plunder our bodies and our men's free labour and our children's minds. We allow our children to become slaves again and again and again for generations, as we were and our forefathers were. We let it happen, why? Why do we let this happen? Is it because we are afraid? Or is it because we think that one day these unkind self appointed masters would get some goodness in their hearts? Are we naïve, dalit brothers and sisters? Are we naïve?

Waiting for political representation

Later, we wait for our politicians to redeem us. We vote for them with alacrity, cowering before them with folded hands, begging them 'Hey lord, redeem us, save us." Instead the Chandradev Vermas, the Murli Manohar Joshis, the Sushil Kumar Modis, the Nand Kishore Yadavs, the Nitish Kumars, the Krishan Sardars, the Akhilesh Singhs and Kanti Singhs kick us aside after the elections and spit on us. Nero may have fiddled when Rome burnt but the men and women who promised us a myth called democracy dance not alone but with our very slayers - the macabre dance of death, when we are being massacred. Are we stupid, dalit brethren? Are we stupid?

The myth of justice

Then we run engagingly to our judiciary – a judiciary that is made up of those very same men and women who, at another forum, massacre us. 'Your highness' we beg and plead even as the funeral fires of our dearest loved ones are still smouldering. We clamour for justice and we realize that this is a word that sits heavily in our court of laws. Justice is a new language in our country and our judicial men and women are yet babies. They have a long, long way to go before they verbalise or articulate or comprehend these new words that their parents and grandparents never uttered. "What is this strange language of equality?" they ask each other. "Should men and women be treated equally? Worse still, should an untouchable brute be treated as landed gentry?" The judiciary in our country is appalled at these expectations. They feel obliged to uphold the traditional values of this country – namely that YOU – dalit, have no value. You are sub-human. This is the traditional value upheld by the invaders of our land. They think that you, the original inhabitant, not only have lesser rights, you have, in fact, NO RIGHTS. According to our judiciary, you are audacious to seek rights and therefore you must be taught an appropriate lesson. So that's how the VN Sinhas and AK Lals of this country think. Yet we wait with bated breath for the judgment and beat our breasts at the injustice when the verdict is finally delivered.

Protection – for whom and by whom?

In despair we call the police. They are not police in reality but gatekeepers. They throw open the gates for our abusers and lead them to our women. They watch in vicarious pleasure as we are ravaged. When we go again to them to claim our rightful justice, they drag us by the hair to the perpetrators. They shake their heads at our audacity. They tell us that we are pigs for daring to raise our voice against the feet that have kicked us for generations. They remind us, without mincing words or actions, that we are filth under the feet of the landlords. They, the baton wielders and lathi chargers, have been entrusted with protecting the rights of those who abuse us. Is this not visible to us? Are we unseeing? Do we have a problem with processing this information, brothers and sisters? Do these clear messages not penetrate our heads? We are not protect- worthy by the policemen and women of this country. They can and will drag us from street to street as a show of strength. A strapping big man drags a woman by her hair from street to street to show his strength.

A joke called civil society

The NGOs then arrive. They reek of the landlord's jaat. They tut-tut on hearing our story and try to pat our backs. When we offer them a share of our food they refuse. "Stomach upset' they say. "We will talk about you' they say. They offer to talk on the television and at international conferences. "We will mobilize you' they say and make us sign on a sheet, so that they can go back and claim their travel allowances and per diems. They talk about us over lunch; they put up our pictures on their office walls and describe us when their donors visit. They call us sometime, just to check.

Corporate media houses

The media comes sniffing at us. They want to know if we bled when we were raped and what was the colour of our blood. When we say it was red, they are surprised like they expected it to be black, or green. They sniff a little more. Sad as our stories maybe, we don't contribute to the target rating points or user rating potential of our media channels. In fact, their audience has asked that these occasional incidents should not be dramatized. 'Caste is a thing of the past' say the audience 'why should these media people make such a big deal of it." So the media don't make a big deal of it. If we expect that the media would cover our incident till we got justice, then we need to rethink our expectations. The media are extensions of the same corporate, class and caste arm that sees our exploitation as nothing out of the ordinary.

The Hindutva tentacles

The Ranvir Sena come at us. The Bhumihar Brahmin landlords come - not because they think we are weak. If they thought we were weak, they wouldn't spend time and money on forming a group to protect themselves. We are a threat – never forget that. Our voice, when we raise it, against oppression, is loud and reverberating. When we march forward asking for things that were hitherto unasked for – land, rights, dignity we shake the ecosystem as it exists now. We are a force to reckon and therefore we become the target. We become the target of a nameless violence as happened in Laxmanpur Bathe. Our women are feared because they will breed new warriors, our children are abhorred because the light of freedom shines in their eyes. We therefore become the target for untold violence.

So what do we do?

So then we rejoice at the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre. Every man, woman and child that died then becomes a testimony, becomes a truth. We are a force to reckon with. The massacre is taken as a landmark event in the history of dalit movements. It should be the historical baton that triggered a nation to action. The nation that belongs to the dalits. The nation that is the motherland of the dalits, the adivasis, the adi-dravidas, the adi-dharmis.

martyrs shall rise

So then, we run and we run and we pause and take a breath, a deep, deep breath and suddenly we understand, Oh dalit brethren we can run, but we cannot run far because of the shackles. Yes we have shackles on our feet and we have been brave to break them. When we break these shackles the hackles of our landlords rise. But the shackles on our feet are not as burdensome as the ones in our head. Let us break these, dalit brothers and sisters, let us run and run free on this land that is ours. And we do not run alone. Thousands run with us and our lives become a celebration. What joy freedom brings when it is snatched free from bondage!

Our freedom is the biggest fear that the perpetrators face.

We with our heads held high.

Running free.



Dr Sylvia Karpagam is a public health doctor and researcher. She is born from an inter-caste marriage between an adi - dravida father and naidu mother. Her own experiences of pervasive and insidious brahmanical discrimination informs her critique and she would like to use all the skills she possesses to fight caste and its manifestations as part of the larger movement of dalit bahujan friends and family.

Illustration by Unnamati Syam Sundar.

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