Dalits versus State power

By Rajesh Ramachandran

The full story of the killings of Dalits in Khairlanji and the societal
divisions that cause them

Mail Today, 26 October 2008

AN EVENING almost two years ago, I got a frantic call from Raja Sekhar
Vundru, a Dalit intellectual, who is also an influential bureaucrat. The
usually unflappable friend was desperate. "Nagpur police are picking up
doctors and teachers, claiming that they are all Maoists. Can you please put
this story out? If we don't do something right now many completely innocent
Dalit middle-class people would be ruined", he pleaded.

The shocking request from a bureaucrat ready with a solution for even
strangers' woes makes sense now with the publication of Anand Teltumbde's
Khairlanji 'A Strange and Bitter Crop'.

Raj Thackeray faces some 50 cases, and was kept in police lockup for just a
night, despite getting two Bihari boys killed in the violence of hatred that
he spewed. Paediatrician Milind Mane runs a clinic in Nagpur and is also a
public health worker tackling sickle cell disease in the Vidarbha region.
The same Maharashtra police had slapped more or less the same number of
cases against Mane in 19 out of the 20 Nagpur police stations.

But unlike Raj, this Dalit doctor was kept in police custody for 14 days not
for wanton destruction of public property or parochial hatred. Mane was the
convener of the Khairlanji Dalit Hatyakand Samiti formed to seek justice to
the Bhotmange family. Two Bhotmange sons were brutally attacked, genitals
crushed and murdered and the mother and daughter were raped and beaten to
death and a stick stuck into the daughter's vagina.

Teltumbde's postscript was written just five days before the Khairlanji
verdict, last month. He should have waited a week and analysed the judgment,
which is a crucial miss for such a book. That doesn't detract from the
book's significance at all. Teltumbde's contribution is a graphic account of
the equally brutal oppression of the agitators by the state. In fact,
paediatrician Mane was even arrested under the Maharashtra Prevention of
Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers and Drug Offenders and
Dangerous Persons Act of 1981, which provides for a detention period of one

The police normally protect their own, even if they are criminals like IPS
officer R. K. Sharma who remains in service despite his conviction in a
murder. But for a Dalit policeman or woman, the primary identity is only
caste. During the Khairlanji protests, a woman Dalit constable Vishakha
Bhaisane, with eighteen years of service, was severely beaten by an
assistant police inspector and dragged to the police station. The police
were only checking the caste of randomly picked up persons and arresting all
those who said that they were Mahars or Buddhists.

Just for this detailed account of the State's institutionalised anti-Dalit
bias and its vulgar display in times of a crisis of confidence in the
community, this book deserves to be part of the curriculum at the National
Police Academy, Hyderabad. Like Muslim youngsters who get pushed away from
the mainstream by the police who randomly pick up terror suspects from
ghettoes, the Nagpur Dalits were labelled Maoists for seeking justice.

The police's explanation was that an anonymous pamphlet was circulated in
Hindi and not Marathi and that only Maoists circulate anonymous Hindi
pamphlets. It was immaterial for the police that all that the 'Naxal
pamphlet' did was to give a call for a democratic, legal mode of protest,
that too, just a sit-in on November 6, 2006 at Nagpur's Indira Chowk. The
state's deputy chief minister R. R. Patil publicly endorsed the Nagpur
police's conspiracy theory. Branding someone a Naxalite is like terming a
Muslim as terrorist. It makes an individual a non-person, strips him of all
fundamental human rights. In the Khairlanji case, a whole community's
agitation against an instance of medieval barbarism was termed extremism.
Teltumbde's scrutiny of the Khairlanji police repression is endorsed
interestingly in a book written in 1995, of all people, by a police officer.
The former chief of UP police, Prakash Singh, in his preface to The Naxalite
Movement in India says "Naxalism is a much abused term. The authorities
playing second fiddle to vested interests in an area use this terminology to
brand anyone crying for social or economic justice and justify repressive
measures against him". The book however has a serious ideological flaw. It
inadvertently falls into the Brahminical trap of theorising class conflicts
in terms of positing Dalits against the new Shudra oppressors. Kilvenmani,
Karamchedu, Chunduru and other examples are repeated at least seven times in
the text to argue that new oppressors are Shudras.

If that be, how does Teltumbde explain desperately poor tribals killing and
raping Dalits in Kandhamal? The real oppressor is the caste hegemony
perpetuated by the core Sangh Parivar constituency of the Brahmin-Bania-
Thakur trinity. Is it any surprise that it was Parivar's Brahminical
commentators who first introduced the Dalit-Shudra contradiction to theorise
the "failure" of Kanshi Ram's Bahujan experiment and the split of the
unbeatable BSP-Samajwadi Party alliance in UP. Hope the Dalit 'holocaste'
series doesn't serve this Hindutva agenda.

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