FAILING to win people’s confidence, the Shinde-BJP led state government in Maharashtra is proving to be the worst dispensation that Maharashtra has seen since its foundation in 1960. Lacking constitutional legitimacy as well as popular support, it has unleashed a reign of terror all across the state.
Lawlessness and targeting the weak has been its hallmark. That Maharashtra has witnessed killing of dalits is no news. What makes it terrible is the audacity with which the dominant castes and Hindutva forces are allowed to terrorise people at will.
This was more than evident in the ghastly incident that took place in a village near Nanded, a city revered by Sikhs for its Gurudwara built in memory of Guru Gobind Singh. Nanded is also the hometown of two former chief ministers, both belonging to the Congress party. The incident involved the brutal killing of a young neo-Buddhist person.
Nobody thought that a wedding procession of a savarna, upper caste family on June 1 would turn into a gory spectacle of blood and hatred. Such family events are fast becoming events to showcase wealth and power that the elite possess. During this particular wedding procession, young men from the upper caste exhibited their arrogance and dominance by openly brandishing knives and swords. These deadly weapons were procured from local illicit workshops that have sprung up in the absence of any definite source of livelihood and under benign eyes of the police.
As this celebratory procession was passing through the village's main street in the evening, tragedy struck when Akshay Bhalerao, a twenty-five-year-old dalit youth, unknowingly entered a grocery store with his brother to purchase something for his mother to cook for the paltry evening meal. The upper-caste youth, dancing feverishly, reminiscent of a scene from Nagraj Manjule's acclaimed film "Sairaat," spotted the hapless brothers and launched a ferocious attack on them. The previously flaunted swords and knives were now employed for their intended purpose. Akshay was stabbed several times, killing him instantly. However, the perpetrators did not stop at murder; they also sought to degrade him for his caste identity. They subjected him to further humiliation. Savarna feet had to crush his windpipe, breathing or not breathing. He had no chance of even uttering, “I can’t breathe”. Akshay's brother was spared, inadvertently perhaps, by just a deep wound on his arm.
The reason for the anger of the savarna youth was Akshay’s initiative in celebrating and daring to take the procession of the Ambedkar Jayanti through the main street of the village. The police too was unwilling to allow the celebration, obviously under the pressure of the upper caste elite in the village. It took a lot of pressure by various political parties for the district collector to allow this celebration.
Akshay Bhalerao’s entire family is a family of daily wage workers subsisting on whatever casual work is available to them.
This gory incident shook the entire state and the CPI(M) immediately organised a protest demonstration in front of the Nanded district collectorate and asked the administration and the police to see that stringent legal action is taken against the culprits apart from demanding an adequate financial compensation to Bhalerao family.
The CPI(M) state committee, looking at the gravity of the tragic incident, decided to help the grieving family by giving a sum of Rs one lakh. Uday Narkar, secretary of the state committee, visited the Bhalerao family on June 6, and handed over the cheque to Vandanabai, Akshay’s mother. He was accompanied by a large contingent of Party workers from Nanded district, led by Vijay Gabhane, state secretariat member, Ujjwala Padalwar and Gangadhar Gaikwad, both members of the Party’s Nanded district committee. The state leaders of the Jati Ant Sangharsh Samiti (DSMM), Shailendra Kamble and Subodh More also later met the family.
The Party’s initiative in this case was widely appreciated by various dalit as well as larger progressive sections.
This was not an isolated incident in the state. A dalit girl student was raped and murdered in a state government hostel in Mumbai. This was followed by public thrashing of a dalit youth in Kalyan, a textile town near Mumbai.
The law and order situation in the state has miserably collapsed and the deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is also in charge of the home portfolio of the state, is directly responsible for this state of affairs.
ALARMING COMMUNAL SITUATION
The state has witnessed, more after Shinde-BJP government was installed in a political coup, a series of communal attacks on minorities, especially Muslims. The ruling front, failing to muster popular support due to its lacklustre performance, is openly instigating and mobilising people in huge numbers demanding banning of so-called ‘love jihad’ and other such divisive and anti-Muslim legislations. More than fifty such rallies have so far been organised in major cities and towns. The RSS has come out in the open in these mobilisations. The state government has turned a blind eye to these campaigns seeking to sow the seeds of communal strife. The police have not registered a single case against the organisers of these rallies, which openly threatened violence against the Muslim minority.
Various incidents of violence aimed at the Muslims were reported from all across the state, from Akola in Vidarbha to Ahmednagar (recently renamed as Ahilyadevi Holkar Nagar) and Kolhapur in western Maharashtra. The state government is trying to stoke communal fires by deliberately changing the names of towns, obviously and blatantly targeting the Muslim community.
On January 1, 2023, such a Hindutva mobilisation was organised in Kolhapur, the town that boasts of the legacy of progressive actions and communal harmony left by the reformer king Shahu Maharaj. The CPI(M) and the Left parties had warned the administration of the grave consequences in the wake of this Hindutva campaign. That the district administration failed to curb these forces was evident in a seemingly minor incident, but which had wider ramifications. A biryani restaurant was forced to shut alleging that it displayed a portrait of Aurangzeb on its wall. Actually it was a portrait of King Jazar, who was installed on the throne of Delhi in 1857 uprising against the British rule. The police simply ignored this incident and the several toiling people of the town later paid a heavy price for the police indifference.
On June 6, the day of Shivaji’s coronation according to Hindu calendar, a seventeen year young Muslim put up images of Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan as his WhatsApp number status. This was picked up by some Hindutva extremists and they demanded action against the minor boy. The police apprehended and put him in a borstal institute in the town. The Hindutva hooligans, to make matters worse, dug out a two year old story of a Hindu girl staying, with her mother’s consent, with a Muslim youth and presented it as a case of ‘love jihad’. The police and administration, instead of calling their bluff, registered a case against that Muslim youth as well.
The Hindutva outfits called a bandh on June 7 and a mob of around 1,500 youth gathered at the central place where a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji is installed. It was obvious that most of them were unfamiliar with the geography of the town and were asking where the Muslim localities were. They were actually transported from outside the town as well as from some adjoining districts, it was later alleged. The incited mob became unruly and the leaders, who had called the bandh, vanished into thin air! Small shops, street vendors and houses, belonging to Muslims were selectively targeted and vandalised. Stones brought from outside were thrown at the houses in the vicinity. When a delegation of the Left parties visited the area the next day, they were informed that saffron flags were suddenly put up in the morning of that fateful day on the houses, which were to be spared from the attack. Only Muslim houses and business establishments, mostly very small ones, were targeted.
This showed that the violence was premeditated and well planned. The police too, despite the fact that section 144 was promulgated, did nothing to disperse the paltry crowd that was beginning to gather.
A tour round the city showed that the common citizens were very disturbed by this incident that had vitiated the communal harmony, carefully built over centuries, especially with the efforts of Shahu Maharaj himself. They were especially perturbed that Muslim boarding, a hostel built by Shahu Maharaj himself and who also was the first chairman of the school run by the Muslim society, was also attacked.
A meeting of a platform called Amhi Bharatiya Lok Andolan (We the People of India Movement), established in 1992 post Babri Masjid demolition with the initiative of the Communist leader Govind Pansare was called to intervene and establish peace in the town. It was attended by various progressive groups as well as representatives of secular political parties. It was decided to broaden the scope of intervention and hold a peace and solidarity march, under the banner of Shahu Salokha Manch. The march was held on June 25, on the eve of Shahu Jayanti in which thousands participated. It was led by Chh Shahu Maharaj, the current descendant of the legendary Shahu Maharaj, leaders of Congress, NCP, CPI(M), CPI, PWP, JD and many other secular groups.
The Amhi Bhratiya platform organised “Shahu Samajik Salokha Parishad” on June 26, the day of Shahu’s birth anniversary. The chief guest of the Parishad was the renowned actor and director Amol Palekar and it was presided over by the eminent historian and progressive thinker Dr Jaysinghrao Pawar.
Amol Palekar coming down heavily on the ruling BJP said, “Earlier goons used to harass people, but now the government and the ruling party support masked mobs that run amok in the country.” Further he said that a saffronised Hindu India is ‘their’ quintessential goal and propaganda movies like ‘Kashmir Files’ and ‘Kerala Stories’ are made to spread lies.
He also supported the Olympian women wrestlers demanding action against the BJP MP Brij Bhushan Singh. He said the goons of sanatan ideology killed Govind Pansare, Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Dr MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh and the same ideology is trying to destroy the progressive and egalitarian legacy of Shahu Maharaj.
Uday Narkar, who also spoke in the Parishad, pointed out that these incidents were a part of the campaign initiated by the BJP and RSS to polarise the votes in the 2024 general elections. It was a good sign that the secular forces in the district had joined hands and made the peace and solidarity march a great success the previous day.
Dr Jaysinghrao Pawar, in his presidential address, remembered the rich legacy of Shahu Maharaj, who, he said, was an epitome of the values of social justice, communal harmony and democracy.
The parishad was well attended and the Kolhapur district committee of the CPI(M) had mobilised people in good numbers. In another noteworthy decision, it has also collected two lakh rupees to help hawkers, rikshaw drivers and other petty vendors whose livelihood was damaged during the violence.
The Hindutva forces continue to vitiate the atmosphere in the state by more and more incidents of violence aimed at Muslims. One more incident of murder of a poor Muslim by cow vigilantes is reported from Nashik district. In the previous week, a Muslim was killed by cow vigilantes led by Bajrang Dal goons in the same area. The CPI(M) will conduct of joint campaign in Nashik and adjoining Nagar district.
Sambhaji Bhide, ill famous for his role in Bhima Koregaon violence against dalits, continues to vent venom against Muslims and India’s secular traditions. Just a day before these words were being penned, he said in a video address that people should hoist saffron flags bigger than the tricolour on August 15. He also humiliated the tricolour by saying that we will have to carry it since “one has to eat donkey meat when the whole village is eating it.” He also called our independence ‘impotent’ using a very derogatory Marathi word.
Demands are already being made that this hatemonger should be brought to book for these anti-national statements as well as his role in various incidents of communal violence including the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018.
An Act of Courage
Professor Tejaswini Desai, a professor in a renowned local engineering college, was made a victim of conspiracy. A clandestine video, morphed and distorted, of her discussion in a class, was made viral a week after it was shot in the class, obviously illegally by some students. It was falsely claimed that she had valorised Aurangzeb. This video, in the charged communal atmosphere, was rapidly made viral by the RSS trolls.
With great alacrity, some Hindutva goons, threatened the college with consequences if it did not take disciplinary action against the concerned professor. Buckling under the threat, the administration sent her on a forced leave.
These goons asked the police that she be brought to a public place and she should tender an apology to them! The police too acted hand in glove and tried to persuade the professor to go and tender an apology. The courageous professor refused to do so, saying that since she believes in the Constitution of India and she has done nothing wrong. “Let them do whatever they want,” she retorted.
The goons had no face to save. Little did they know that Prof. Tejaswini was a daughter-in-law of revered Kakaji Desai, a freedom fighter and a former communist MLA! Kakaji Desai, during the freedom struggle had broken the statue of an English officer and was jailed by the British.