Dalit killings in Gujarat rise but leave MLAs cold
Incidents of murder, rape and violent attacks on Dalits have increased alarmingly during the three decades of BJP rule in Gujarat
Mahatma Gandhi had expressed the desire to be born in his next life as a girl child in a Dalit family. If his desire were fulfilled, he would have found the conditions of Dalits in his home state of Gujarat even more oppressive than in the last century.
According to information sought under the Right to Information Act by the Navsarjan Trust, an NGO working among the oppressed communities, in the last 23 years of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule in Gujarat, as many as 524 people belonging to the Dalit community were killed by upper caste Hindus in the state.
In the same period, 1,133 Dalit women were raped and over 2,100 people of the community grievously injured. In all over 38,600 cases of serious crimes against Dalits were registered during the period.
Navsarjan Trust’s Martin Mcwan attributes the rise in crime against Dalits to the resurgent Hindutva campaign of the Sangh Parivar which has emboldened members of the upper castes, including those belonging to OBCs, who have begun to assert their right to subjugate Dalits as sanctioned by Manusmriti, the ancient Hindu code of conduct.
In the last three decades, a large number of Hindus belonging to the OBCs came under the influence of Hindutva swayed by the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign of the BJP and the VHP. Once under the Hindutva fold, even the intermediary castes began to believe in the graded hierarchical caste system enshrined in Manusmriti.
“The Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva campaign has catalysed formation of associations of different castes and members of these caste associations follow the mentality of mobs. The increasing incidents of mob violence against Dalits is a pointer to this. Earlier, there were crimes committed by individuals against a Dalit. Now it is a mob or a group of people of one caste targeting Dalits,” points out social activist Uttam Parmar.
Reservation in institutions of higher education such as in medical and engineering courses for members of the Scheduled Castes (Dalits) too has become a reason of jealousy among the upper castes who take out their frustration and anger by targeting those Dalit youth who, after gainful employment, had started wearing western or fashionable clothes, riding motorcycles and leading an urbanised lifestyle.
How dare a Dalit groom ride a mare in his marriage procession? How dare he wear a suit or flaunt a turban? Such a privilege belongs to only to the upper caste Hindus, the aggrieved upper castes felt. To teach the upwardly mobile Dalit youth the lesson of their lifetime, mobs of upper caste youth would thrash him, often leading to his death, points out social activist and media analyst Manishi Jani.
Inter-caste marriages between Dalit and upper caste man and woman which happens now and again, particularly after both have had the opportunity to interact in workplaces or in colleges, is yet another cause of provocation for the members of the upper castes to resort to violence against the ‘erring’ Dalit man or woman.
Prof Sukhadeo Thorat of Jawaharlal Nehru University is of the view that the propagation of the Hindutva ideology by the BJP has unleashed reactionary forces who want to assert the supremacy of higher castes over the lower castes.
“The Sangh Parivar rejects the Constitution which is based on the principles of equality, fraternity and freedom and believes in the Hindu code of conduct as enshrined in Manusmriti. When those in power at the Centre and in various states openly proclaim their allegiance to Hindutva ideology, how can one expect the administration and the law enforcing agencies to act against caste and community groups which resorts to violence against Dalits to enforce the rule of Manusmriti,” he wonders aloud.
There has been a mushrooming of caste-based ‘Senas’ (armies) in Gujarat in the last three decades such as Thakore Sena and Sardar Sena, which have carried out large-scale mobilisation and campaigns to work as pressure groups on the administration and political parties. “The Hindutva ideology has become so overwhelming and overarching that even Dalits and Adivasis get swayed by it in times of elections. Once elected to power, however, none of political leaders or the ministers, even those who belong to the Dalit communities, care to intervene on their behalf when Dalits are attacked,” says Martin Mcwan.
The law enforcing agencies, particularly the police force, too is highly skewed in favour of the dominant upper castes. Since political parties, both the ruling and the opposition, appear to have chosen to remain ‘non-partisan’ for fear of losing the support of one or the other caste groups, the administration too largely remain lethargic in taking action, says Mcwan.
The apathy of political leaders is so deafening that though a Dalit youth was hacked to death near Ahmedabad recently by his upper caste father in law in broad day light, no lawmaker raised the issue in the state legislative Assembly in its ongoing session.