SEVERAL dalit and progressive organisations called a Bharat Bandh on April 2 against the Supreme Court order diluting the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The dilution of the Act, which guarantees a certain degree of protection to the oppressed communities against discrimination and atrocities, was met with widespread condemnation. The unprecedented upsurge of protests across the country witnessed violence, in which 12 people, predominantly from dalit community, were killed. Hundreds were seriously injured and many houses and properties were damaged or ransacked in parts of the country, especially in the BJP-ruled states. A section of the media and the state governments tried to portray these killings, injuries and destruction as the collateral damage of dalit protests, thereby squarely blaming the dalit community for the violence.
To understand the real situation on the ground, a CPI(M) delegation visited Gwalior, Bhind and Morena districts in Madhya Pradesh, which were hit by violence that saw nine deaths and a trail of destruction, on April 6-7. The delegation was led by Rajya Sabha MP K Somaprasad, and included Vijoo Krishnan of AIKS, Vikram Singh of SFI, CPI(M) state secretary Jaswinder Singh, CPI(M) Gwalior district secretary Akhilesh Yadav, Ram Vilas Goswami of CITU, and Ram Babu Jatav of the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch. This was the first such team to visit the affected areas and no elected representative from the government side or from the opposition had visited the affected areas till then.
On April 6, the team first visited the Birla Institute of Medical Research, a private establishment in Gwalior where three dalit victims of the violence were admitted in serious condition. The families of the victims alleged that the state-run district hospital refused to treat the victims and hence they were forced to bring them to the private hospital and bear huge expenses. The delegation met Hakim Singh Jatav, son of Bhawani Jatav from Jagjivan Nagar, who had suffered bullet injury and was in a serious condition. They also met Vijay Kumar Jatav from Hathikhaana, Murar in Gwalior who suffered serious head injuries and had eight stitches. He works as a cashier in Bank of Baroda and was waylaid by a group of 8-10 men from the upper castes with saffron flags and lathis, he claimed. They asked him for identification and when they found out that he was a dalit from his surname Jatav, he was thrashed brutally. The third victim the team met was Mahendra Singh Jatav, a mason from Pinto Park. He was a part of the procession and claimed that someone had thrown a brick from one of the buildings. All three victims claimed the government had not come forward to help and no officials had met them.
The delegation moved on to Simariya Tal in Gwalior where 26-year-old Vimal Prakash was killed. Vimal had completed B.Com and was preparing for recruitment exams for the post of sub-inspector of police. His father claimed that he had suffered bullet injuries on his head and blamed the RSS, Bajrang Dal as well as the police for his son’s death. Vimal got married just 11 months ago. According to the family, police forced the family to cremate the body without allowing it to be brought home. His wife or mother was also not allowed to have a last glimpse.
The next stop was Ayodhya Colony in Dabra where the dalit population were living in an atmosphere of fear. Women in tears explained that all the educated youths in government service from the colony were picked up by the police. Villagers claimed that more than 300 youths were picked up from Dabra by the police and their whereabouts were not known. There are clear indications of targeting of the educated dalit youths and the families claimed that while the perpetrators of violence were moving around scot free or charged with minor crimes, the dalit youths were being charged with non-bailable offences such as attempt to murder.
In Dabra, the team found that the marble showroom of Kuldip Singh Maurya was destroyed and a car and two motorbikes were gutted in the fire lit by a violent mob led by the RSS and Bajrang Dal. Although his sister-in-law Arati Maurya is the BJP chairperson of Dabra Municipal Corporation, the RSS-Bajrang Dal did not spare his shop. Even the chairperson has gone underground fearing attacks. The delegation then met Additional District Magistrate Shivraj who, even after assuring of action against actual perpetrators of violence and release of people wrongly detained, claimed that the violence of the upper castes was a reaction to the violence by organisers of the Bharat Bandh. However, nowhere could they point to houses or establishments of upper castes that were destroyed nor anyone who had suffered serious injuries. Dalit residents of Dabra, however, claimed that the police and the RSS-Bajrang Dal were hand-in-glove and attacked them in tandem. Clearly, the authorities are creating a narrative wherein the dalits are portrayed as the perpetrators of violence and the violence by the upper castes is being portrayed as in self-defence or in retaliation.
The delegation held a press conference in Gwalior where the findings of the visit till then and the demands for an impartial judicial inquiry, adequate compensation to families of victims, medical care for injured, deterrent action against perpetrators of violence, release of innocent people arrested and efforts to reinstate peace were explained. A section of the media reacted in a hostile manner and claimed that the dalit protestors had attacked reporters, who, according to them, were admitted to the district hospital. The team found no evidence that corroborates their claims and on its visit to the district hospital did not find any journalist undergoing treatment. On its visit to the district hospital, the team found Harivilas Jatav (42) from Ujawal in Bhind district who was undergoing treatment for injuries which, his brother claimed, he had suffered in attack by the upper caste mobs. Gautam Vimal aged 35 years from Gautam Nagar who is a painter by profession was hit by a bullet on the right side of his stomach and is undergoing treatment. His brother claimed that he was not part of any protests and was only a curious onlooker.
The delegation then visited Bhimnagar and Galla Kothar which are dalit bastis at the receiving end of caste violence. 45-year old labourer Rakesh Tamotia, son of Netram Tamotia and nephew of BJP councillor Purshottam Tamotia, was killed of bullet injuries. His daughter’s wedding was to have taken place on May 24, 2018. According to family members, he was not part of the protests. As in Simariya Tal, even here the body of the deceased was not allowed to be taken to his residence and his son Raja a student of 6th standard was taken to cremate the body clandestinely at midnight without other family members. They accused that he was killed by Raja Singh Chauhan who, they alleged, came out of the residence of Narendra Singh Tomar, the central minister of rural development, panchayati raj and mines, and started firing on the peaceful people as they were returning back after protests. This is an allegation heard from different sections and given the serious nature of the charges only an impartial judicial inquiry can bring out the truth. Rakesh’s family claimed that they were still facing threats from the RSS and Bajrang Dal.
The delegation proceeded to Galla Kothar which was another dalit colony that faced the brunt of attacks by the upper caste mobs and the residents were still living in a state of fear and insecurity. Twenty-nine-year-old Deepak Jatav, who used to run a small teashop on a cart, was killed in firing allegedly by Raja Singh Chauhan. He apparently had been hit by three bullets. According to them, the police did not protect their colony and the upper caste mob had easy access to it. They alleged caste discrimination on the part of the police who they said were protecting the upper caste perpetrators of violence while there was no protection for dalits.
On March 7, the delegation proceeded to Bhind and Morena. In Bhind, Collector Ilaiyaraja denied permission to the delegation for the visit to affected areas citing curfew and the police stopped the vehicles. The delegation was informed that the RSS and Bajrang Dal had also not spared the residence of Madhya Pradesh minister Lal Singh Arya, the “Happiness Minister” who was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the happiness and tolerance. He is also in charge of tribal affairs and scheduled caste welfare, along with other responsibilities. No first-hand information could be collected in Bhind. According to reports, a person from the upper caste was killed in Machhand in Bhind. In this case, two police personnel, one SC and one OBC, were immediately suspended from duty. This proactive stance was absent in places where dalits were killed.
The final destination of the delegation was Morena. The delegation met Inderjit Kaushal who runs a tent house at Amba Chauraha in Morena. He claimed that the Brahmins and Thakurs had broken open his shop and looted all the material. He also claimed that dalit shops were specifically targeted and out of hundreds of shops in the region only six shops belonging to dalits were destroyed and looted. Gayaprasad Jatav, an activist of the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch (DSMM), was injured as he was hit by some unknown object thrown allegedly by the Bajrang Dal when he was cycling home with his wife. He claimed that the government hospital refused to treat him after giving three painkillers. Many activists of DSMM faced attacks. The delegation then visited the district hospital and met the victims.
The delegation then met Collector Bhaskar Lakshakar and had a detailed discussion. He mentioned that the scars were very deep and while rupturing the social fabric was very easy, it was difficult to repair the damage. He agreed with the delegation for the need for ensuring peace and informed that he was meeting different groups. He categorically assured that in the absence of concrete evidence, no one will be sent to jail. The pent-up anger against the increasing incidents of atrocities against dalits over the years and the threat of dilution of the Prevention of Atrocities Act which was a hope for countering such attacks led to massive build-up of dalits. Unlike in Gwalior and Bhind, there was a clear effort in Morena to stop the RSS and Bajrang Dal.
The delegation was informed that in Bhind the police had charged 3,000 people, of whom only 70 were named, in Morena 2,000 were charged of whom only 12 were named and in Gwalior 1,600 were charged of whom only 107 were named. Dalit activists said that almost all named accused were dalits or leaders of Left organisations.
The delegation feels that the dalit colonies are in a state of fear and extreme insecurity and are still being threatened allegedly by the RSS and Bajrang Dal under police patronage. Clearly it was an organised caste violence against dalits pointed out by the fact that houses and properties of dalit leaders from the BJP were attacked and dalit activists of BJP were also killed allegedly by people associated with the RSS and Bajrang Dal. The BJP-led state government had totally failed to assess the situation and bring it under control. An impartial judicial inquiry is required to bring to book the perpetrators of the violent attacks, take action against erring officials and also look into charges that violent mobs came out of the residence of a central minister. Fake cases and arrests of innocent people should be stopped forthwith. A compensation of Rs 1 crore should be announced for the families of deceased and Rs 10 lakh for the seriously injured as well as proper medical treatment must be ensured.