Bashing Dalits

Ten Years After ‘Khairlanji’

Santosh Rana

Ten years ago, on September 29, 2006, a mob of men belonging to a backward caste (Kunbi) attacked neighbouring Dalit families in the village of Khairlanji in Maharastra. Four persons from one family, Surekha Bhotmange, her 17-year old daughter Supriya and two young sons Roshan and Sudhir were killed by the mob. The attack was so ferocious that not even an inch of victims' bodies was unhurt. The women were sexually assaulted and sticks stuck into their private parts. The Kunbis were angry because they had a land dispute with the Dalits and on one occasion, Siddarth GAJBHIYE, a relative of the Bhotmanges was assaulted by the Kunbis. There was a case against the Kunbis under the Prevention ol Atrocities Act. Surekha and Priyanka testified to the police in this case. The Kunbis were furious at this and decided to teach the Dalits a lesson. After beating them to death with cycle chains, their corpses were thrown into a canal.

The police initially hesitated to start a case and some evidences were lost. But the Left parties and Dalit organizations raised a nationwide protest and the government was forced to order a CBI enquiry. Forty-six persons were prosecuted in a fast-track Bhandara Sessions Court. The court sentenced eight men to death. However, as the police had defaulted in collecting evidences others were acquitted . In 2010, the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court commuted the death sentences to life sentence. Now the case is pending before the Supreme Court.

What has happened to the situation of Dalits over the last ten years ? The atrocities on the Dalits and the Adivasis are on the increase. According to National Crimes Record Bureau report, there has been a 86% rise in atrocities in Maharastra and a staggering 105% rise in major atrocities like rape and rnurder. The national newspapers are generally reluctant to publish news of atrocities on Dalits unless it creates a countrywide storm with political fallout. But even in those newspapers, very often one comes across such news as "Dalit boy accused of buffalo theft tied and beaten", "Dalit boy beaten to death for allegedly having an affair with an upper caste girl" and "Dalit's house gheraoed for allegedly eating beef" etc.

In 2014, after the BJP came to power to lead the central government, there were waves of attacks on Dalits in the name of "Ghar Wapsi". Some Dalits and Adivasis had converted to Islam and Christianity in order to achieve liberation from the ordeals of Varna Vyabastha. Whether they achieved liberation through the conversion is, of course, a different matter. But the Hindutva forces launched attack on them in order to get them back into the slavery under Hindu fold.

Then, in 2015, the Hindutva forces created a situation in Hyderabad Central University that compelled the brilliant Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula to commit suicide. There was widespread uproar over the issue throughout the country but none of the persons responsible for his death—the Vice Chancellor of the university, the BJP MP from Hyderabad and the education Minister Smriti Irani has been punished. Rather, they have been rewarded.

And then, in the name of saving the cow, all round attack was launched on the Dalits, Adivasis and the Muslims. In Una in Gujarat, four Dalit youths were stripped and beaten with iron chains and the photograph was posted in social media. What was the fault of these Dalit youths? It is alleged that they skinned dead cows. From time immemorial, the Dalits had been skinning dead animals. The raw materials of vast leather industry is supplied by them. If the animals are not skinned, wherefrom will leather come? The Hindutvawadi Go-rakshaks (cow savers) have no answer. Now, it is known that the real dispute in Una was over wages.The Dalits were refusing to work against low wages and they had to be taught a lesson. However, the Una incident backfired on the Hindutva forces. There were waves of protests not only in Gujarat but all over the country. It is not a coincidence that the BJP Chief Minister in Gujarat had to be replaced.

Over the last ten years, people across the country have been witnessing growing incidents of atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis. This is also a period when incidents of farmer suicides were on the increase. There is a crisis in agriculture. There are many reasons behind this crisis but the main reason is the policy of neo-liberal reforms pursued by the central government. The government has drastically reduced public spending in agriculture. In the Tenth Five Year Plan, the expenditure on agricultural education, research and extension was only 0.30 % of agricultural Gross Domestic Product. The Central Government has decided that the multinationals like Monsanto and Bayers will carry on research in agriculture and they will supply the seeds, fertilizers and pesticides and other inputs to the farmers. Thus the Indian peasants have been thrown into the jaws of the unscrupulous multinationals. The present crisis in agriculture and the resulting peasant suicides is a direct fall-out of policies followed by the central government.

On the face of this crisis, the farmer communities like the Marathas in Maharastra, the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh, the Jats in Haryana and the Patels in Gujarat ( and many other farmer communities in other states) are trying to retain their economic and social position with a two-fold strategy. On the one hand, they are bargaining with the state dominated by big capitalists to get larger share of the GDP in the form of farm subsidies, higher Minimum Support Price and a share in government jobs through increased quota of reservation to OBCs. On the other hand, they are trying to push the burden of crisis on the Dalits and Adivasis, by paying them less wages, by evicting them from land, by preventing them access to cheap protein like beef and by aggravating the social oppressions. This is one of the reasons why atrocities on Dalits are on the increase.

On 11 September, lakhs of Marathas paraded the streets of Pune paralyzing the city. They raised two demands. The first was a demand to repeal POAA (Prevention of Atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, 1989, last amended in 2015). The second demand was a greater share in reservation.

In such a situation, the Dalit movement has to consider a two-fold strategy. On the one hand, it has to build the broadest possible alliance with the Adivasis, Muslims and other oppressed identities to fight against social oppression, deprivation and atrocities. The POAA has to be used as far as possible. Any attempt to abrogate the POAA or to dilute it has to be resisted. On the other hand, it has to take up struggles against neo-liberal policies, demanding state investment in agriculture, curbing the power of the multinationals, supply of inputs through state channels, better price for agricultural products, minimum wages for workers in all sectors and social security measures. Through these struggles, the Dalits will forge, an alliance with a section of the Backward Castes and the workers among the upper castes. Without such an alliance, the Dalit's resistance against neo-liberal offensives will not be effective.

Thanks to the policy of reservations in education and government jobs, a section of dalits and adivasis have entered the ranks of middle classes. But it is unfortunate that some of them are interested only in their promotion or their children's education. It is high time that the dalit intellectuals should earnestly take up the cause of dalit emancipation and annihilation of caste.

Vol. 49, No.19, Nov 13 - 19, 2016