Episodic reactions for 60 years:
Arming the Dalits Now?

On 15 November 2006, while visiting the trouble torn areas of Amravati city of Maharashtra, Deputy Chief Minister Mr.R.R. Patil informed that the Maharashtra State Government was considering the proposal of arming the Dalits in villages where they are in minority to protect themselves from the attacks of the upper castes.

Nothing more could have reflected the abysmal failure of the State to protect the Dalits. The government seeks to address lawlessness by creating more lawlessness.

Mr.R.R. Patil was visiting neighbouring Amravati city which like other towns in Vidharbha region of Maharashtra witnessed violent protests from the Dalits since the massacre of four members of a dalit family in Khairlanji village in Bhandara district of Maharastra on 29 September 2006 by upper caste people belonging to the Powar and Kalar communities. The assailants numbering around 150 persons, including woman dragged Bhaiyalal's wife Surekha, 45-year-old and their 17-year-old daughter Priyanka, his two sons – 23-year-old Roshan and 21-year-old Sudhir to the village chaupal and lynched them to death. Prior to lynching them, Surekha and Priyanka were stripped, paraded naked, beaten with bicycle chains, axes and bullock cart pokers and publicly gang raped to death. Even after their death, some upper castes men raped them. Finally, sticks and rods were shoved into their genitals. Roshan and Sudhir too brutally tortured, their genitals mutilated, faces disfigured and their bodies tossed in the air, before they lay dead on the ground.

The only fault of Surekha was testifying as witness and identifying 12 upper caste men who had beaten up Siddart Gajbhiye, a Dalit on 3 September 2006.

The entire incident was medieval and barbaric, but nothing new. Each time, the Government of India and the state governments gave similar episodic reactions whenever a chilling massacre of the Dalits took place. 

I. Pattern of atrocities against Dalits

According to the 2005 Annual Report of the National Crime Records Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the government of India, a crime against the Scheduled Castes also known as Dalits is committed in every 20 minutes. The report stated that a total of 26,127 cases against Scheduled Castes were reported in 2005 while the number of crimes against Dalits in 2004 was 26,887. The cases include 8,497 cases reported under the Protection of Civil Rights Act and 291 cases under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

On the other hand, going by the recent trend of crimes committed against the Dalits, it is undoubtedly increasing. Many chilling crimes against the Dalits have been reported from across India during the last couple of months.

The Dalits are untouchable but incidents of stripping, parading naked, beating, molestation and rape of the Dalit women by the upper castes are widespread and frequent. The 2005 Annual Report of the National Crime Records Bureau reported a total of 1,172 cases of rape of Dalit women during 2005.

On the night of 17 November 2006, an upper caste youth Vinay Pratap Singh forcibly entered into the house of a Dalit in Pratap Nagar area under Sanganer police station in Jaipur, Rajsthan. He beat the husband and tied him up to his bed and raped the wife. He threatened to kill the couple if they complained to the police.

On 22 November 2006, a minor Dalit girl was allegedly burnt to death by an upper caste youth namely Chhote Singh Rajput at Sahalwada village in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh after she refused to withdraw a complaint of rape against him. The 16-year-old girl was sleeping in her house when the accused allegedly poured kerosene on her and set her on fire.

On 24 November 2006, a powerful landlord Randhir and his son Sanjiv reportedly chopped off the nose of a Dalit woman of Noarottampur village in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh for ‘defiling' their land by entering into it.

II. Impunity and non-prosecution

Impunity and non-prosecution of the perpetrators of crime against Dalits, is the hallmark of administration of justice under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Protection of Civil Rights Act. The conviction rate under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has been abysmally low because of the inherent bias against the Dalits. It often led to weakening of cases by the prosecution. Due to lackadaisical attitude of police personnel in dealing with cases of dalit atrocities perpetrators of crime against Dalits go scot free.

As per the 2005 Annual Report of the National Crime Records Bureau, the average charge-sheeting rate for the crimes against the Dalits was 94.1 per cent but the average conviction rate was only 29.8%. A total of 46,936 persons (82.4%) out of 57,804 persons arrested for crimes committed against dalits were charge-sheeted, only 28.3% were convicted consisting of 12,691 persons out of 44,842 persons against whom trials were completed. Madhya Pradesh reported the highest number of crime rates with 6.6 per cent, followed by Rajasthan (6.2%) and Andhra Pradesh (3.9%) against the national average of 2.4%.

The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 has not been implemented properly. Under the Act, compensation ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 2 lakh is to be provided to the Dalit victims in cases like damage to irrigation well, loss of property, grievous hurt, rape and murder. But most of the Dalit victims were reportedly deprived of compensation. About 20,000 Dalits families were affected by the tsunami in several districts in Tamil Nadu. However, barring the kin of the dead, the survivors were not provided relief for loss of property or livelihood as on August 2005. Social activist Medha Patkar, who toured the tsunami-affected villages of a district, alleged that ex-­gratia payment to relatives of those Dalits killed had not been paid.

The findings of the Justice K S Lodha Commisson which probed the Kumher massacre where 17 Dalits were burnt alive by a mob of upper caste in Rajasthan in June 1992 has not been published by the state government despite a High Court order to place it in the Assembly.

The Khumer massacre is not the only one. No accountability has been established with regard to the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre in Bihar on the intervening night of 1 and 2 December 1997 in which the Ranvir Sena, private army of the upper caste land lords in Bihar massacred 59 Dalits of which 26 were women and 19 were children under the age of 10; the Shanker Bigha massacre in Jehanabad, Bihar in which 23 Dalits were killed by suspected Ranvir Senas on 25 January 1999, or the Narayanpur massacre in Jehanabad on 10 February 1999 in which 12 Dalits were massacred at Narayanpur in Jehanabad. Rather Justice Amir Das Commission constituted on 6 December 1997 to “probe the nexus between the Ranvir Sena and political elements'' had been disbanded.

In Bihar, accountability has been established only with regard to the atrocities perpetrated on the upper castes. In the Bara massacre case of 12 February 1992 in which 36 people of the upper-castes were killed by alleged members of the Maoists Communist Centre, the TADA court awarded death penalty to Veer Kunwar Paswan, Krishna Mochi, Dharu Singh (alias Dharmendra Singh) and Nanhe Lal Mochi. In a dissenting judgement, Justice MB Shah of the Supreme Court disagreed with the other two honourable Justices of the bench and raised many vital questions on the “quality of evidence'' like (1) Satyendra Sharma, the informant in the case, never deposed before the trial court; (2) confessional statements of Bihari Majhi, a labourer not even nominated in the FIR, was the basis of conviction. The statements, made before a police inspector, was denied by Majhi in court; (3) Majhi's signature appear only in 5 pages of the 10 pages containing his statements before the police; (4) None of the 34 prosecution witnesses stated that any of the four convicts took part in the massacre or was member of an extremist group and no arms was recovered. As he was in the minority, Justice Shah's opinion did not prevail.

Unless, the government enforces the laws for protection of the rights of the Dalits, the proposal for arming the Dalits is just another cruel joke! It remains to be seen whether investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the barbaric killing of a dalit family in Khairlanji village in Bhandara district of Maharastra can establish accountability.

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