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 year. 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.