Different Dalit and progressive organisations had called a Bharat Bandh on 2nd April, 2018 against the Supreme Court order diluting the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The dilution of this Act which guarantees a certain degree of protection to the oppressed communities against discrimination and atrocities was met with widespread condemnation. The unprecedented upsurge of protests across the country witnessed violence in which 12 people predominantly from Dalit community were killed. Hundreds were seriously injured and many houses and properties were damaged or ransacked especially in BJP ruled States. A section of the media and the State Governments have tried to portray these killings, injuries and destruction as the collateral damage of Dalit protests thereby squarely blaming Dalit community for the violence. It is important that the truth is laid bare.
To unravel the real situation on the ground on the 6th and 7th April, 2018 a CPI-M delegation visited Gwalior, Bhind and Morena in Madhya Pradesh which were hit by violence that saw 9 deaths and a trail of destruction. The delegation was led by K.Somaprasad, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) as well as leader of the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch and included Dr.Vijoo Krishnan, Central Committee Member, CPI-M and Joint Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, Dr.Vikram Singh, General Secretary, Students’ Federation of India, Jaswinder Singh, Secretary, Madhya Pradesh, State Committee, CPI-M. Akhilesh Yadav, Gwalior District Secretary, CPI-M, Ram Vilas Goswami, President of Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Madhya Pradesh, Ram Babu Jatav, leader of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch and others. This was the first such team to visit the affected areas and no elected representative from the Government side or from the opposition had visited the affected areas till then. This fact was widely appreciated and even the media noted that even as the leaders of the BJP and Congress were seen in the State none had yet found time to visit the affected areas.
On 6th April, 2018 the Section 144 was still in place in Gwalior and the curfew had been lifted only that morning. The team first visited the Birla Institute of Medical research, a private establishment in Gwalior where three Dalit victims of the violence were admitted in serious condition in the Intensive Care Unit. The families of the victims alleged that the District Hospital refused to treat the victims and hence they were forced to bring them to the private hospital and bear huge expenses. The delegation first met Hakim Singh Jatav S/0 Bhawani Jatav from Jagjivan Nagar who had suffered bullet injury and was in a serious condition. The next victim was Vijay Kumar Jatav from Hathikhaana, Murar in Gwalior who suffered serious head injuries and had 8 stitches on his head. He works as a cashier in the Bank of Baroda and was waylaid by a group of 8-10 men from the upper castes with saffron flags and lathis he claimed. They asked him for identification and when they found out that he was a dalit by his surname Jatav he was thrashed brutally. The third victim we met was Mahendra Singh Jatav a mason from Pinto Park. He was a part of the procession and claimed that someone had thrown a brick from one of the buildings. He had 7 stitches and had been operated for a blood clot. His mother Angoori was inconsolable and claimed that they had spent more than Rs.50,000 in 3 days. All three victims claimed that the Government had not come forward to help and no officials had met them. Repeated calls were received about police entering homes of Dalits and picking up educated youth. Such incidents were reported from Shinde Ki Chhawni and Taraganj.
The delegation moved on to Simariya Tal in Gwalior where a 26 year old Vimal Prakash Jatav S/O Harnarayan Jatav was killed. Vimal had completed BCom and was preparing for Exams for the post of Police Sub Inspector. His father claimed that he had suffered bullet injuries on his head and blamed the RSS, Bajrang Dal as well as the police for his son’s death. Shockingly, the family claimed that neither were their permission sought for post-mortem nor was the post-mortem report given to the family. Vimal was married just eleven months ago and leaves his widow Priyanka. The body was handed over by the police force after 11 PM and according to the family there were over 40 police vehicles and they forced the family to cremate the body without allowing to be brought home. His wife or mother was also not allowed to have a last glimpse and pay respects. No officials or elected representatives had visited them and despite the Collector announcing that the family will be given a compensation there has been no concrete steps in that direction as yet.
The next stop was Ayodhya Colony in Dabra where the Dalit population were living in an atmosphere of fear. Many houses were locked with signs of breakage or forcible entry. Two cars were burnt down allegedly by the RSS and Bajrang Dal goons and the police were yet to register a complaint according to the villagers. Women in tears explained that all the educated youth and youngsters in Government service from the colony were picked up by the police. Ramkali pointed to the destruction in her house where all utensils were destroyed and the house was ransacked by the marauding hordes. Dinesh Boudh’s house was destroyed and his motorcycles were burnt. Villagers claimed that more than 300 youth were lifted from Dabra by the police and their whereabouts were not known. Geeta Bai, wife of Mangal Singh Meera Bai, wife of Lakhan Singh Jatav and Munni Bai, wife of Munshi Ram were inconsolable as they narrated their travails and pointed out that their children were all educated and they had been just lifted under the cover of darkness. Geeta’s son Mukesh aged 28 years completed BSc and was preparing for exams aspiring to be in Government service. Meera’s son Mukesh aged 22 years had completed BA and was also taking competitive exams. Munni Bai’s sons Rakesh and Ravindra also had completed BA and BCom respectively. There are clear indications of targeting of the educated Dalit youth and the families claimed that while the perpetrators of violence were moving around scot free or charged with minor crimes the Dalit youth were being charged with non-bailable sections and also for attempt to murder.
In Dabra the team found that the marble showroom of Kuldip Singh Maurya, son of Lakshman Singh Maurya was destroyed and so were a car and two motorbikes gutted in the fire lit by the violent mobs he claimed were led by RSS and Bajrang Dal. The marble slabs and the machine were also destroyed. Notably, although his sister-in-law Arati Maurya is the BJP Chairperson of the Dabra Municipal Corporation, the RSS-Bajrang Dal did not spare his shop. Even the Chairperson is underground fearing attacks. The delegation then met the Additional District Magistrate Shivraj who even as he assured of action against actual perpetrators of violence and release of people wrongly detained claimed that the violence of the upper castes was a reaction to the violence by organisers of the Bharat Bandh. However, nowhere could they point to houses or establishments of upper castes that were destroyed nor any who had suffered serious injuries. The officials claimed that Dalit protestors attacked the police station. He claimed they were unprepared for the scale of attacks and were short on staff with only 30-40 personnel which could not prevent the attacks on Dalits. Dalit residents of Dabra however, claimed that the police and the RSS-Bajrang Dal were hand-in-glove and attacked them in tandem. Even as they claimed that more than 300 had been arrested, the officials claimed that only 35 were arrested in Dabra and only 65 in the entire district. Clearly, the authorities are creating a narrative wherein the Dalits are portrayed as the perpetrators of violence and the violence by the upper castes is being portrayed as in self-defence or in retaliation.
The delegation had a Press Conference at Gwalior where the findings of the visit till then and the demands for an impartial judicial enquiry, adequate compensation to families of victims, medical care for injured, deterrent action against perpetrators of violence, release of innocent people arrested and efforts to reinstate peace was explained. A section of the media reacted in a hostile manner and claimed that the Dalit protestors had attacked a reporter of Rajasthan Patrika, 2 reporters of Dainik Jagaran and a photojournalist of Nai Duniya who according to them were hospitalised in the District Hospital. A journalist with the right-wing newspaper Swadesh claimed that Dalit protestors molested women from the upper castes provoking violence. The team found no evidence that corroborates their claims and on its visit to the District Hospital did not find any journalist undergoing treatment. On its visit to the District Hospital the team found Harivilas Jatav aged 42 years from Ujawal in Bhind District who was undergoing treatment for injuries which his brother claimed was suffered in attack by the upper caste mobs. Gautam Vimal aged 35 years from Gautam Nagar who is a painter by profession was hit by a bullet on the right side of his stomach and is undergoing treatment. His brother claimed that he was not part of any protests and was only a curious onlooker. Both families claimed that no help had been forthcoming from the Government or authorities other than the treatment in the hospital. No one had met them on behalf of the BJP Government as yet.
The delegation then visited Bhimnagar and Galla Kothar which are Dalit Bastis at the receiving end of caste violence. Rakesh Tamotia, son of Netram Tamotia and the nephew of a BJP Councillor Purshottam Tamotia was killed of bullet injuries. His cousin also is the District Propaganda Joint Secretary of the BJP’s SC Morcha. Aged 45 years Rakesh was a labourer. He leaves behind his wife, 2 sons and a daughter. The daughter’s wedding was to have taken place on 24th May, 2018. According to family members he was not part of the protests. As in Simariya Tal even here the body of the deceased was not allowed to be taken to his residence and his son Raja a student of 6th standard was taken to cremate the body clandestinely at midnight without other family members. They accused that he was killed by Raja Singh Chauhan who they alleged came out of the residence of Narendra Singh Tomar the Central Minister of Rural development, Panchayati Raj and Mines and started firing on the peaceful protest as they were returning back after protests. This is an allegation heard from different sections and given the serious nature of the charges only an impartial judicial enquiry can bring out the truth. Rakesh’s family claimed that they were still facing threats from the RSS and Bajrang Dal and they had sought for a gun license. Aman a 17 year old boy studying in 12th standard also suffered injuries in attack he alleged were by RSS and Bajrang Dal activists. The Joint Secretary of the Propaganda wing of the District BJP SC Morcha also has been charged under section 307 IPC. In a shocking case of caste profiling and wilful discrimination by the State the delegation was informed by the Dalit victims that the charges foisted on them were under 307 IPC which charged them with attempt to murder whereas the people caught on camera like Raja Singh Chauhan firing at protestors have been charged only with 308 IPC which charges them with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. This allegation was repeated across the three Districts visited by the delegation.
The delegation proceeded to Galla Kothar which was another Dalit colony that faced the brunt of attacks by the upper caste mobs and the residents were still living in a state of fear and insecurity. A resident of the colony 29 year old Deepak Jatav, son of Mohan Jatav who used to run a small teashop on a cart was killed in firing allegedly by Raja Singh Chauhan. He apparently had been hit by 3 bullets. Yet again the Dalits in the colony claimed that Raja Singh Chauhan came out of the Tomar building and the attackers shouted Jai Shri Ram even as they attacked the Dalits returning back after the procession. The delegation found that children and aged also had suffered injuries and even cows were not spared. Some of the livestock also had suffered bullet injuries claimed the villagers. According to them the police did not protect their colony and the upper caste mob had easy access to it. They clearly alleged caste discrimination on the part of the police who they said were protecting the upper caste perpetrators of violence while there was no protection for Dalits. The Dalits claimed that they had thrown stones to disperse the attacking mob in self protection as the police was guilty of dereliction of duty. The water supply to Galla Kothar was also disrupted allegedly because the upper castes were preventing the operation of the valve. No intervention from the authorities or any compensation from the Government as yet.
On 7th March, 2018 the delegation proceeded to Bhind and Morena. In Bhind, the Collector Ilaiyaraja denied permission to the delegation for the visit to affected areas citing curfew and the police stopped the vehicles. The delegation was informed that the RSS and Bajrang Dal had also not spared the residence of Madhya Pradesh Minister Lal Singh Arya the “Happiness Minister” who was entrusted the responsibility of ensuring the happiness and tolerance. He is also in charge of Tribal affairs and Scheduled Caste Welfare along with other responsibilities. No first hand information could be collected in Bhind. According to reports in Machhand in Bhind a person from the upper caste was killed. In this case 2 police personnel, both from deprived sections (one SC and one OBC) were immediately suspended from duty and also an FIR invoking Section 302, IPC has been filed against them. This proactive stance was absent in places where Dalits were killed.
The final destination of the delegation was Morena District. The delegation met Inderjit Kaushal who runs a Tent house at Amba Chauraha in Morena. He claimed that the Brahmins and Thakurs had broken open his shop and looted all the material. He also claimed that Dalit shops were specifically targeted and out of hundreds of shops in the region only 6 shops belonging to Dalits were destroyed and looted. Gayaprasad Jatav an activist of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch was injured as he was hit by some unknown object thrown allegedly by the Bajrang Dal when he was cycling home with his wife. He claimed that the Government Hospital refused to treat him after giving 3 painkillers. Many activists of DSMM faced attacks. The delegation then visited the District Hospital where Devendra Pippal who suffered bullet injury on his thigh in police firing was admitted. The patient was shifted out of the hospital before the arrival of the delegation. While the other patients claimed that he was on his bed till a few hours before, the hospital authorities claimed that he was absent after 3rd April. Yet another patient Bhagirath Lokhare who was injured in police lathicharge was disoriented and scared to talk. His wife requested that they be let alone citing that they had ensured he would not be charged by deciding to maintain silence. Dalits claimed that the RSS and Bajrang Dal attacked with the police looking the other side.
The delegation then met the Collector Bhaskar Lakshakar and had a detailed discussion. He mentioned that the scars were very deep and while rupturing the social fabric was very easy, it was difficult to repair the damage. He agreed with the delegation for the need for ensuring peace and informed that he was meeting different groups. He categorically assured that in the absence of concrete evidence no one will be sent to jail. The pent up anger against the increasing incidents of atrocities on Dalits over the years and the threat of dilution of the Prevention of Atrocities Act which was a hope for countering such attacks led to massive build up of Dalits. The Dalit mobilisation was also restive and a few thousand were assembled on one side of the railway station and a smaller number of upper caste, RSS and Bajrang Dal activists assembled on the opposite side. But for minor skirmishes direct conflict between Dalits and the upper castes were avoided according to the Collector. The Collector as well as community leaders claimed that it was leaderless and efforts to pacify them did not succeed. At about 4:30 PM the police resorted to lathicharge and firing after the Collector and police came under fire from one of the buildings where Dalits were assembled. The Collector claimed that the firing was by Ashok Boota a history-sheeter who has been arrested. The delegation brought to his notice the instance where about 200 Dalit students from a nearby polytechnic are also charged with rioting. He assured that no one would be falsely implicated. The Collector claimed that no live bullets were fired. He also pointed to the fact that hatred was being spread by both sides on the social media. Unlike in Gwalior and Bhind there was a clear effort to stop the RSS and Bajrang Dal in intervening in dealing with the situation. This had ensured that the matter does not flare up and go out of control into a spiralling violence against Dalits as in Gwalior and Bhind.
The delegation was informed that in Bhind the police had charged 3,000 people of which only 70 were named, in Morena 2,000 were charged of which only 12 were named and in Gwalior 1600 were charged of which only 107 were named. Dalit activists pointed out that almost all named were Dalits or leaders of Left organisations and the large number of accused is also being used to enter into houses and pick people at random. Educated Dalit youth as well as Dlits in Government jobs were being specifically targeted they claimed. Eight people were killed in Madhya Pradesh and 175 suffered injuries. Of those killed in violence 6 were Dalits and 1 was from the upper caste. Bhind witnessed 4 deaths and Gwalior witnessed 3 deaths. Yet another from the upper caste who was killed in Morena on 2nd April was Rahul Pathak aged 24 years who in his dying declaration said he was killed due to a dispute over students’ union elections.
The delegation feels that the Dalit colonies are in a state of fear and extreme insecurity and are still being threatened allegedly by the RSS and Bajrang Dal under police patronage. People showed the delegation photos making the rounds on the social media with inflammatory content. One particular photo of a demolished statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar with the image of the Hindu god Hanuman superimposed to give an impression that the statue was demolished by him with Jai Shri Ram written on it was shown to the delegation. There is palpable tension across the State and immediate efforts must be made to ensure harmony and peace. Clearly it was organised caste violence against Dalits pointed out by the fact that houses and properties of Dalit leaders from the BJP were attacked and Dalit activists of BJP were also killed allegedly by people identified with RSS and Bajrang Dal. The BJP led State Government had totally failed to assess the situation and bring it under control. An impartial judicial enquiry is required to bring to book the perpetrators of the violent attacks, take action against erring officials and also look into charges that violent mobs came out of the residence of a Central Minister. Fake cases and arrests of innocent people should be stopped forthwith. The role of the police has been questionable as they failed to protect the Dalits from attacks and also followed it up with one-sided action. A compensation of Rs.1 Crore should be announced for the families of deceased and Rs.10 Lakh for the seriously injured as well as proper medical treatment must be ensured. The delegation on the basis of the kind of atrocities on Dalits including discrimination by police and administration witnessed on ground reiterates the continued relevance of the Prevention of Atrocities Act.