July 24, 2022

The Invisibilisation of Dalits in UP

Subhashini Ali

REPORTS of attacks on minorities, especially Muslims, in Uttar Pradesh have become commonplace.  Justifications of these attacks are a regular feature on high-decibel, provocative tv ‘debates’.  Hindi newspapers are also full of these reports and justifications.  This has become a tested way of deepening religious polarization which has paid rich political dividends for the ruling party.  Attacks on dalit men, women and children occurring with greater frequency and intensity after 2017 are, however, absent from the mainstream electronic media and hard to find in the newspapers where they find little space.  Small town newspapers, online news portals and social media sites have to be trawled diligently to find them. These reports are being invisibilised as much as possible because, far from furthering the political agenda of the ruling party, the caste prejudice and caste violence that they expose are stumbling blocks in its attempts to create an overarching Hindu identity.

I have assembled an incomplete list of these incidents by visiting many online news portals and contacting intrepid journalists who lead lives of great risk in small towns and district headquarters, reporting the daily abuse and violence that dalits face in the state.  This incomplete list brings to light many harsh truths.  What a complete list would reveal can only be imagined.

Incidents that have taken place in the capital, Lucknow, appear at the head of the list.  They serve to underline the fact that there is no security for dalits in any part of the State when they are under constant attack in the capital itself.

May 10:  A professor of Hindi at Lucknow University, Ravikant Chandan, was attacked by ABVP students in his office.  They abused him using casteist terminology and physically pushed him.  A few days earlier, he had taken part in an online discussion on the Gyanvapi mosque and had quoted a book published decades ago on the origins of the controversy. The ABVP members were determined to teach him a lesson about this.  When he tried to file an FIR against them, this was not done but an FIR against him was lodged by his attackers.  On May 18,  Ravikant was attacked by a student leader in the presence of university security. He belonged to the Samajwadi Party and was immediately expelled and also rusticated by the university and arrested.  Ravikant has been provided police security but the FIR against him has not been expunged and no action of any kind has been taken against the ABVP students who attacked him.

June 18: In Raniamau village of Malihabad, a rural part of Lucknow district, a bomb was placed under the cot of Shivam Rawat in the middle of the night.  It exploded and Shivam was badly injured.  His mother, Savitri, said ‘Our family was dependant on my son’s earnings…He returned that day from Haridwar where he was working…He went to sleep on the cot outside the house and, late at night, we heard the explosion.  He was treated for four or five days and then he left us."  Shivam was killed because of a dispute between two local rajput landlords.  His father worked as a watchman for one of them, Arjun Singh.  His rival, Tej Bahadur Singh, attacked Shivam and told his father after his death, ‘Only one has died so far but five more members of your family are going to be killed.’

June 18: Some young upper-caste men ordered a meal to be delivered by that symbol of modernity, Zomato.  When it arrived, they asked the delivery man, Vinit Rawat, his caste.  When it was revealed that he was a dalit, they abused him and beat him badly. Rawat was too frightened to even file a complaint but because some witnesses mentioned the incident on social media, the police contacted him and arrested his tormentors.

June 24: The police entered a dalit home in a village in Farrukhabad district late at night and dragged Gautam out.  They beat him to death mercilessly.  The police claimed that illicit liquor was being brewed in the area but had no explanation for their murderous attack on Gautam.

June 26:In Aliha village, Banda district, 13-year-old Ragini went to the grocery shop to buy some goods.  While she was picking up her packages, her hand accidentally brushed against Dabang Bhulua.  This infuriated him and he hit and kicked her, abused her and finally tore her clothes shouting ‘How dare you to touch me! I’m going to kill you!’  Ragini’s father took her to the police station and filed a complaint.  Dabang Bhulua was brought in by the police and let off after some time.  Now the police are pressurising Ragini’s father to withdraw his complaint.

June 27:In Meerut district, the corpse of havaldar Ashish Kumar was found hanging in the room that he shared with havaldar Rohit Dhangar.  Dhangar has been arrested for his murder.  Ashish Kumar’s father has alleged that Dhangar used to abuse Ashish because of his caste and had threatened to kill him.

July 3: In a village in Kithor, Meerut district, the husband of the pradhan abused and threatened dalit families to the extent that three of them have been forced to leave the village.

July 5:  In Unnao district, Vishal was attacked by his ‘friend’ Gaurav Agnihotri when he asked him to return some money that he had lent him.  As a result of the attack, Vishal can no longer see with one eye. He has been struggling for justice since then but no action has been taken.  He is now threatening to commit suicide.

July 6: In Ayodhya, mahant Hanuman Das has been accused of raping a young dalit woman.  Her mother stated that she and her husband had brought the girl to the mahant’s ashram so that he could use his powers to make her give up her relationship with a man to whom they objected.  The mahant told them to leave their daughter with him so that he could remove evil spirits that were influencing her and proceeded to rape her.

July 7:Some miscreants returned to their village, Inchauli in the Meerut district after serving a sentence of eight years in jail.  They saw some young dalit men bathing at the hand pump and proceeded to abuse and beat them.  The next day, they barged into one of the young men’s homes and fired several rounds.  The police have registered a complaint of mild physical attack.

July 12: In Badaun district, the cycle on which a Balmiki couple was riding, accidentally hit an upper caste child whose enraged rajput family members beat the couple mercilessly despite the fact that the woman was pregnant.  When they tried to complain to the police, the police abused them and blamed them for what had happened.

July 12: In Jalaun district, the dead body of 18-year-old Pawan Kumar was found hanging in a Gaushala.  The police are treating it as a case of suicide.  Pawan Kumar’s family, however, says that on the previous day, Pawan had been abused and beaten by an upper caste man who objected to his walking in an arrogant fashion.  The same man later told Pawan Kumar’s mother that he was going to teach her son a lesson because he had forgotten what his place in society was.  He said that he was going to kill him.

July 13:  In Ranipur, Varanasi district, a case has been registered against the manager of the Mahila Inter College by a young woman from Jhansi who was appointed as a teacher in the college.  She stated that the manager contacted her after receiving information about her appointment and asked her to come to Lucknow.  He brought her and her brother to Ranipur and then started threatening and abusing them.  He told her brother to go to Jhansi to bring money to pay him to allow his sister to start work.  While the brother was away, he assaulted and raped the young woman.  When the brother returned, the manager took the money.  The brother and sister escaped somehow and came to the police station.  Enquiries are being made.

July 15: A terrible incident that had occurred earlier in Mathura came to light.  A woman from Kosi Kalan village was gang-raped by three men who then ran over her legs with their motorcycle and left her wounded and bleeding on the railway track.  Fortunately, she was spotted by railway police personnel who brought her to the village health centre.  From there she was taken to hospitals in Mathura and then Agra and finally to Haryana where her leg was amputated.  Only after her operation could she record her statement.

July 15:In the Hapur district, two sisters aged 8 and 10 years, studying in a government school were told by their teachers to take their uniforms off so that two other students could wear them for a ‘photo session’.  When they refused, they were threatened and beaten and forced to take their clothes off and sit, half-naked, in front of the entire school while the photo session took place.  Later, their father lodged a complaint with the authorities.  He said that the dalit children in the school were treated badly and had to keep their plates separately from the other children.  Since then, teaching has stopped in the school and all efforts are being made to force the father to withdraw his complaint.

Why are such incidents of discrimination, humiliation and violence taking place against dalits every day in Uttar Pradesh?  It seems that people belonging to the upper castes feel that the government of the day will ensure that they can teach dalits a lesson and show them their place with impunity.  In Jalaun, Pawan Kumar’s mother was told by his tormentor and alleged murderer: ‘I’m going to show him his place.  I’m going to kill him.’  He was not only convinced that his behaviour and attitude were honourable but that he would not be punished for the crime that he was determined to commit.

His confidence was not misplaced.  Soon after the present government came to power in 2017, the dalits of Shabbirpur were attacked by their Rajput neighbours.  Their homes were burnt, and men, women and children were beaten.  Many of them have spent years in jail and they still live in fear.  When a young dalit woman was raped and murdered in Hathras by rajput men, the chief minister and administration did everything in their power to protect the rapists.  The victim’s family’s quest for justice inches forward while they live in terror.

In every village in the state, young dalits like Pawan are being shown their place, dalit women are being made victims of violence and lust.  No one is safe.  Not even a professor or a constable!