Brutal Murder of Dalit Youth: Continuum of Caste-Ridden Malice
NITIN Aage, a dalit youth studying in Class X of Kharda village in Jamkhed tehsil of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, was brutally murdered in broad daylight on April 28. (See People’s Democracy, May 05-11 issue.) His crime (really!?) was that he had fallen in love with a girl of a so-called high caste. He was mercilessly beaten up, his hands and legs were broken with a hammer, and then he was strangulated to death. After this heinous act, moreover, the culprits hung the dead body from a tree and tried to give the impression that Nitin had committed suicide. ONE MORE IN A SERIES OF INFAMY When the youth did not return home, his parents began a search for him. Some of the relatives of the culprits gave details about finding the dead body. Nitin’s father, Raju Aage, registered an FIR at the Kharda outpost of Maharashtra Police. The culprits were arrested under IPC 302 and the Prevention of Atrocities Act. The sensitive people all over Maharashtra were shocked by this horrible incidence, which came as an addition to the series of heinous incidences from the infamous Khairlangi episode to the Sonai episode in Ahmednagar district itself where three youths of Mehtar community were slain mercilessly by a frenzy mob of caste Hindus. When a delegation of the CPI(M), AIAWU, AIKS and JMS, led by Ashok Dhawale, visited Kharda village to consol Nitin’s parents and find out the real situation, they saw that the grieved parents of the victim were hopeless about getting justice. There was resentment against the state government’s decision to hand the case over to the government pleader. The delegation’s enquiry revealed that a cunning and casteist minded teacher was trying to paint Nitin as an ‘immoral bad boy.’ The police were compelled to register a case under the continuous pressure of the Left and dalit movements; this pressure was built up in Maharashtra after the Khairalanji massacre and a case was registered whenever such incidences took place and the culprits could not abscond. However, a senior police officer tried to dilute the case by uttering that the culprits did not have any intention to kill Nitin but that they beat him out of their anger only. It was said that no violent incidence had taken place in village Kharda in the recent past. But the relations between the high caste rich landlords and the dalit and Banjara landless labourers were not at all cordial. The culprits’ families own most of the irrigated land as well as a brick kiln and tractors and some other vehicles. The victim’s landless family is an immigrant dalit family, sustaining on the hard work of stone crushing in a nearby metal quarry. The victim was the only son to his parents and was working as a part time mechanic in an automobile garage. The high caste relatives of the girl never liked her love affair with Nitin. They threatened the latter many times and beat him in the premises of the school while the head master of the school blamed Nitin himself for this treatment and asked the culprits to take him away to the brick kiln and do whatever they want. Then they took him to the kiln and killed him viciously. Nobody from the village prevented them from carrying out this terrible act. NCP LEADERS’ COMPLICITY The Nationalist Congress Party’s chief in Maharashtra, who belongs to the same Ahmednagar district and is a minister in the state government, visited the village and declared that the NCP would donate Rs five lakh to the victim’s family. But the CPI(M) team came to know that the members of the culprits’ families belong to the NCP. None of them came to visit the victims’ family immediately after the event happened, but some of them accompanied the minister when he went there. The state’s home minister, R R Patil, visited the village and declared that the case would be taken up by a fast track court. The local ruling class representatives and the MLAs belonging to the area kept away and refrained from denouncing the murder. Instead, there was a hue and cry against the media which published the news of the incidence. The leadership of bourgeois landlord political parties claimed that this was a usual case of crime and had nothing to do with caste discrimination. However, the CPI(M) and other Left parties have to penetrate deep below the deceptive outer surface of tranquillity in village Kharda and to understand the casteist ideas underlying the heinous act of Nitin’s elimination. As we know, the caste system, which sustains itself on the basis of strict endogamy, is not a horizontal system; it is hierarchical. But this hierarchy is based on the so called birth rights in regard to property and prestige. The upper caste Hindus are at the top of this hierarchical ladder and dalits are at the bottom. The Brahminical arrogance and selfishness is shared by other so called caste Hindus. Prestige and hatred are the twin sides of this coin of the caste system. This deep rooted hatred against the untouchables and other dalit groups erupts into the open whenever the notional superiority of the upper castes gets challenged --- whether by a dalit youth or by a daughter in their own families. Kharda village is no exception to this caste structure. Nitin’s family is among the lowest here and the culprits’ family that belongs to the Maratha caste is at the top. The culprits’ families live in the heart of the village while Nitin’s stays at the outermost periphery. Though there are some landless and land-poor Maratha families in Kharda, they too have homes in the middle of the village, adjoining the houses of other landed and rich Maratha families. There are many other dalit houses in Kharda and most of them are landless agricultural labourers or are living on small incomes from self-employment. Now the question is: Why none of the land-poor toiling families of the Maratha caste and the landless dalit members of the working class came together to intervene --- either at the time of the incidence or before --- in order to prevent the cruel act? REQUIRED UNITY STILL LACKING There are many answers to this question. The dalits and caste Hindu landless workers have not been organised for their common demands pertaining to their livelihood etc. The rich high caste landlords’ influence on and their capacity to attract the land-poor Marathas to their side remain intact. Dalits are divided and organisationally too weak to defend themselves and prevent such attacks. The overall ambiance is favourable for the high caste rich landowners as the police and administration act in collusion with them. The conscious anti-caste movement and the movements of the organised and unorganised sections of the working class have not yet come together to thwart the occurrence of ‘honour killings.’ Nitin’s ‘crime’ was that he was in love with a girl from a high caste rich landowner family. But was not the girl herself attracted and responsive to Nitin’s friendship? She had not even once complained against him, nor protested against any ‘bad behaviour’ from is side. Both of them used to talk on mobile phones and were seen moving together and talking. The girl’s brother did raise objections and then went to the extent of killing the boy. One may well ask: How the people in Kharda village, or in other parts of Maharashtra, would have responded if a youth from the Maratha caste had fallen in love with a dalit girl? The patriarchal and male-dominated mode of thinking of a majority of Kharda villagers has not been shattered even after this cruelty. That is why not a single outburst of protest was observed when the CPI(M) team went there. An atmosphere of fear appeared to be prevailing in dalit habitats. But this sense of fear and weakness tells something about the failure of the Left and democratic movements in Maharashtra to change the age-old notions and behaviour patterns. The idolising of Mahatma Phule and Dr Ambedkar by the ruling class leaders in Maharashtra is, on the other hand, nothing but a trick played by them to befool the socially downtrodden masses, who are also economically weak, and prevent them from organising united resistance to the dominance of the ruling classes and upper castes. While demanding severe punishment to the culprits under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and IPC 302, and security for, compensation to and rehabilitation of the victim’s family, the Jatiant Sangharsha Samiti of Maharashtra has decided to strengthen and widen its activities jointly with all other organisations and conduct a massive campaign to inculcate new democratic values and forge practices that would lead to a different mode of living based on mutual association.