‘Should we Dalits not fall in love?’


Rahi Gaikwad and Sukanya Shantha

"Should Dalits not fall in love?" asked Shahaji Sonawane in an impassioned plea for justice for his 16 year old son Swapnil, who was brutally done to death by caste Hindus from the OBC Agri community on July 19. Swapnil was killed for being in a relationship with his childhood friend. His family, unaware of the relationship until Monday, is yet to come to terms with what unravelled in less than 24 hours that left their teenage son dead. "He had not killed or ill- treated any one. He was just in love. Only if we had known about his feelings, we would have tried to help him through this. They suddenly (the accused) came, abused us all and killed my son. They did not even give us an opportunity to respond to the situation," said Gouri Sonawane, Swapnil's mother, who had to be hospitalised for two days soon after the incident. "I have not been able to mourn my child's death yet. Not until my son's murderers are punished."

swapnil sonawane 3

According to Sonawanes, on July 18, the girl's family learnt about their relationship. It was Swapnil's first day at DY Patil College at CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai, where he had secured admission in Commerce stream. They had studied together at Nerul's Nutan Marathi Vidyalaya until class 10th. But chose different colleges."On the 18th, the girl's family learnt about their relationship, which they bitterly opposed," recalls Shahaji. Swapnil was accused of storing her photographs in his mobile phone. On this issue, her brother Sagar Naik assaulted and dragged Swapnil to the Nerul police station. Sagar and 10 others including the girl and two other minors have been booked and arrested under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2015 for abduction, murder and casteist slurs.

Police apathy: "Police's inaction killed our son"

"The police gave Swapnil's phone to them to delete the photos. The girl's family even destroyed the SIM card and confiscated the phone," his mother Gouri told RTI at the Sonawane residence in State Bank of India colony at Nerul on Saturday. "The police wanted us to sign an undertaking that no one would be responsible if anything happened to Swapnil. I said how could we write such a thing? Finally, Swapnil pledged that he would not meet the girl or would be seen in her area."

The Sonawanes believe if the police had responded to the situation impartially and had understood the seriousness of the threat, their son would have been alive today. "The police made the biggest mistake. There was 101 per cent solution to this situation. This case would have been normal, had the police acted in the first place when we went to complain. It is not enough to suspend them. They should be made the accused in the case," said Swapnil's relatives."They abused us right in front of the police at the police station. Instead of controlling the situation, the police acted at the behest of the killers," said Gouri.

swapnil sonawane 1

The family has also complained of being threatened at the police station. As the two families were disputing at the police station, two police personnel present warned the Sonawane family of a "Sairat-like bloodshed." The police duo, comprising a woman sub-inspector Sonali Rajguru and assistant police inspector Yogesh Mane, have been suspended for dereliction of duty and the crime branch of Navi Mumbai police is presently investigating their role in the murder.

An abrupt end

Swapnil's written pledge did not quell the caste animosity. Fearing for their son's life, on July 19, Swapnil and his father went back to the police station. "We tried to have a complaint registered. If not an FIR, at least a non- cognizable offence registered, since we anticipated these men would strike back anytime. But the police refused to pay any attention to our pleas," Gouri said. While the trio tried to get the complaint registered, a group of 15- 20 men including the girl's brother had reached the Sonawane's residence. Since Swapnil's younger sister was alone at home, the family immediately returned to the house. "The police knew what awaited us at home. One of them also said, 'You go home and see what happens in half an hour,'" Gauri said. She further alleged that the family had also asked the police for protection. Instead, it was provided to the girl's family. This allegation is a part of Gouri's statement and is being investigated.

The group that had gathered outside Sonawane's house heckled the family members asking them to come to the girl's house to discuss and put an end to the matter. Swapnil arrived on the scene. Surrounded by those boys, Swapnil, his father and mother left for Dharave area, two- kilometres away, where the girl lived. "They surrounded us from all sides ensuring we do not run away. SBI colony has several entries, but they ensured we took the route they had chosen and do not give them a slip," said Gouri.

When they reached the girl's residence, her family started hurling casteist slurs at them. "They said, 'You 'Mahars', do you have any aukaat (level)? Your son is dark and our daughter is fair. You are from the slums and she stays in a palace.' Then they started beating us," Swapnil's father Shahaji Sonawane told RTI.

The girl's family demanded an apology from Swapnil and asked him to touch her feet and address her as Tai (sister). As Swapnil bent down to do so, the girl's father Rajendra Naik kicked him on his stomach. A scared Swapnil began to run, but was chased down and thrashed by a group of people. He was rushed to the DY Patil hospital with injuries on his private parts, head, neck and leg, but was declared dead on arrival.

"If I had any inkling of what those people had in mind, I would never have gone to their place. Swapnil was my heart, my right hand man. I would have taken him anywhere, even to the US, but I did not have the time to do anything. Everything happened so 'phataphat' [quickly]," said father Shahaji, who works as a clerk in the SBI.

"Is it a crime to love?" asked mother Gouri. "We could have even advised our son, counselled him, but they did not give us a chance to do anything," she rued.

Swapnil, Sairat and Ambedkar

None in the Sonawanes' extended family had had an inter-caste marriage. "The society has not changed even today. Lovers unite in movies, but that is not what happens in real life. Even the Agris must have watched 'Sairat'. As for us, we would have happily accepted anyone from other castes," said Sunita Sonawane, Swapnil's cousin.

Swapnil's parents hail from the impoverished suburbs of Mankhurd and Govandi and made their way through a bank job to a clean and leafy bank quarters. Dr. Ambedkar's photos and figurines of the Buddha mark their Ambedkarite roots, to which Swapnil too held on dearly, sporting an Ambedkar badge on his shirt. "He forced me to make a gold locket with Babasaheb on it. He would wear it over his shirt collar with pride. Last week he was trying to cajole me to get him a gold locket with Ambedkar on it. I had told him I will soon make it," Gouri recalled, as her eyes welled up.

As a teen, he was full of life, who loved to travel, enjoyed delicacies such as 'momos' and 'shawarma' and was popular in his ample friend circle. Swapnil wanted to become a train motor engineer. "He loved trains. He would spend hours looking at videos of train on the YouTube," said Shahaji proudly. His friends have been visiting the family every day. "They are still in a state of shock. One of his closest friends was hospitalised along with me," Gouri said.

swapnil sonawane 2

The case is a cruel reminder of the shocking presence of caste in urban cosmopolitan spaces. "Caste is so strong on the ground that people are ready to kill their own children over inter-caste marriages. We hear of these things in UP and Bihar, but it has now happened here," said Avinash Sonawane, Swapnil's cousin.

The family said they will fight till the end. They have been appealing to everyone who have met them since the tragic incident. "Help us in getting justice for Swapnil so that no other person meets the same fate as him," appealed Swapnil's grandmother to Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale, who visited them at their residence on Saturday. Athawale has assured the bereaved family of his ministry's support. He will meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday demanding a CID inquiry into the incident, fast tracking of the trial and strict punishment for the suspended police personnel whose negligence aggravated the situation leading to Swapnil's death.

Another victim

Lovers just until last week, the girl is today named as one of the accused of murdering Swapnil. As a minor child, she was sent to the Children's home at Bhiwandi on her arrest. The Sonawanes, while they do not accuse her of any direct role in Swapnil's murder, feel she should not have ventured into this relationship when she very well knew her family. "If one has the courage to love, one should also show the same courage when in difficulty. The girl was right there when they beat Swapnil. But she did not intervene," rued Gouri. "May be she was too scared and could not speak up," wondered Shahaji. But for now, Sonawanes are not in the mood to forgive the girl.

~~~

 

 Rahi Gaikwad is a Mumbai based independent journalist. Sukanya Shantha is a human rights researcher working with Amnesty International India.

Other Related Articles

Babasaheb’s Statue Vandalized: Bengal’s Realm of Caste maliciousness
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
   Pinak Banik On the midnight of 29th May, a marble bust of Babasaheb Ambedkar was found disfigured. This statue was installed 17 years ago inside the Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Sishu Uddyan... Read More...
Oppose the scrapping of financial aid to SC, ST students in TISS
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
    Statement Against the arbitrary note by Registrar (TISS) deciding to discontinue DH and Hostel to eligible GoI-PMS SC/ST students "Lack of education leads to lack of wisdom, which leads... Read More...
Global Bahujan Movement - Dr. Manisha Bangar's North America Tour April - May 2017
Friday, 09 June 2017
  Round Table India Dr. Manisha Bangar has just returned from a trip to the US and Canada, where she gave a series of talks about Ambedkarism, and the state of the caste struggle in India. Dr.... Read More...
Understanding the Intersections of Gender and Caste Discrimination in India
Wednesday, 07 June 2017
  Kamna Sagar The caste framework in India has stood out as the biggest element of social stratifications. Caste, class and gender are indistinguishably associated, they speak with and overlap... Read More...
Now on Smashwords – What Babasaheb Ambedkar Means To Me
Thursday, 01 June 2017
  The Shared Mirror Publishing House Our new book What Babasaheb Ambedkar Means To Me is now available on Smashwords – Ebooks from independent authors and publishers The ebook... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

From Breast Tax to Brahminical Stripping in Comics: Orijit Sen and Brahmin Sadomasochism
Thursday, 02 March 2017
  Pinak Banik "Only dead dalits make excellent dalits.Only dead dalits become excellent sites where revolutionary fantasies blossom!" ~ Anoop Kumar The context for this article centers around... Read More...
On the Anxieties surrounding Dalit Muslim Unity
Friday, 17 February 2017
  Ambedkar Reading Group Delhi University  Recently we saw the coming together of Dalits and Muslims at the ground level, against a common enemy - the Hindu, Brahminical State and Culture -... Read More...
Interview with Prof Vivek Kumar on the Bahujan Movement
Monday, 13 March 2017
  Round Table India In this episode of the Ambedkar Age series, Round Table India talks to Prof Vivek Kumar, Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences,... Read More...
Brahmin Feminism sans Brahmin Patriarch
Monday, 06 February 2017
  Kanika S It has almost become common sense that feminism has been shaped exclusively by a class of women that came from Brahmin-Savarna castes in India, to the extent that even trashy... Read More...
The Manufacturing of Artificial Guilt and the Need to Reject It
Monday, 02 January 2017
  Suresh RV [This article is written to clear the confusion in the minds of the young dalit-bahujan students and job aspirants, whether we should avail reservations or not? Or whether we truly... Read More...

Recent Articles in Hindi

पेरियार से हम क्या सीखें?

पेरियार से हम क्या सीखें?

  संजय जोठे  इस देश में भेदभाव और शोषण से भरी परम्पराओं का विरोध करने वाले अनेक विचारक और क्रांतिकारी हुए हैं जिनके बारे में हमें बार-बार पढ़ना और समझना चाहिए. दुर्भाग्य से इस देश के शोषक वर्गों के षड्यंत्र के कारण इन क्रांतिकारियों का जीवन परिचय और समग्र कर्तृत्व छुपाकर रखा जाता है. हमारी अनेकों पीढियां इसी षड्यंत्र में जीती आयीं हैं. किसी देश के उद्भट विचारकों और क्रान्तिकारियों को इस...

Read more

कृष्ण: भारतीय मर्द का एक आम चेहरा...!

कृष्ण: भारतीय मर्द का एक आम चेहरा...!

(कृष्ण की लोक लुभावन छवि का पुनर्पाठ!)मानुषी आखिर ये मिथकीय कहानियां किस तरह की परवरिश और शिक्षा देती हैं, जहां पुरुषों को सारे अधिकार हैं, चाहे वह स्त्री को अपमानित करे या दंडित, उसे स्त्री पलट कर कुछ नहीं कहती। फिर आज हम रोना रोते हैं कि हमारे बच्चे इतने हिंसक और कुंठित क्यों हो रहे हैं। सारा दोष हम इंटरनेट और टेलीविजन को देकर मुक्त होना चाहते हैं। जबकि स्त्री...

Read more

राष्ट्रवाद और देशभक्ति

राष्ट्रवाद और देशभक्ति

संजय जोठे धर्म जो काम शास्त्र लिखकर करता है वही काम राष्ट्र अब फ़िल्में और विडिओ गेम्स बनाकर बनाकर करते हैं. इसी के साथ सुविधाभोगी पीढ़ी को मौत से बचाने के लिए टेक्नालाजी पर भयानक खर्च भी करना पड़ता है ताकि दूर बैठकर ही देशों का सफाया किया जा सके, और यही असल में उस तथाकथित “स्पेस रिसर्च” और “अक्षय ऊर्जा की खोज” की मूल प्रेरणा है, यूं तो सबको...

Read more