Nature of crime against Dalits has worsened after 2014 

Be it Bhim Koregaon or Saharanpur events or suicide by Rohit Vemula, the nature of violence against Dalits has turned grim. Even during Mandal agitations of 1990-1991, polarisation wasn’t so sharp

Photo by Naeem Ansari/India Today Group/Getty Images
Photo by Naeem Ansari/India Today Group/Getty Images

Soroor Ahmed

If, in spite of rapid mechanisation and replacement of menial and physical works with machines and abolition of zamindari or feudalism, crime against Dalits continues to rise, then it is something to think about in a fresh way. This is largely because till recently there was a general perception that violence against Scheduled Castes, and even to some extent Scheduled Tribes, has much to do with land lordism and that cases of atrocities would decline after the advent of modern mode of production.

According to National Crime Record Bureau crime against Dalits rose by 746 per cent between 2006 and 2016. The figures suggest that the cases of crime continued to rise even after the enactment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention) of Atrocities Act in 1989.

However, there may be another aspect too; that is, in some places Dalits have become a bit empowered and are able to get the cases against them registered in the police stations. It needs to be mentioned that the Bahujan Samaj Party was in power in UP between 2007 and 2012.

Curiously, the seven-and-a-half times increase in atrocities against Dalits have taken place during this 10-year period when there was decline in organised crimes committed against them by outfits like Ranvir Sena and Sunlight Sena in Bihar and Jharkhand. By 2006 they had either grown weak or had disappeared.

But after the coming to power of Narendra Modi government in 2014, the nature of crime against Dalits has changed in the BJP ruled states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and UttarPradesh.

In Bihar and Jharkhand disputes over payment of minimum wages and allotment of land to Dalits by the government led to their massacres by various Senas. In contrast in the north and western Indian states they are now being targeted because of their different food and living habits as well as their profession. For example, skinning of dead cows and beef-eating by them have become a bone of contention.

Ironically, these were not the factors behind any mass killing of Dalits since 1970s in Bihar and Jharkhand.

Besides, symbols of Dalit assertion are being targeted more brazenly now. This includes repeated attack on statues of Ambedkar in several places in the country.

Be it Bhim Koregaon or Saharanpur incidents or suicide by Rohit Vemula, the nature of violence against Dalits has undergone change recently.

While various Left parties and Maoists espouse the cause of Dalits, tribals and other downtrodden section of society in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, in post-2014 Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and UP, it is the various Ambedkarite outfits and BSP which stand as a symbol of assertion by SCs.

The killing of about half a dozen Dalits by upper caste men on April 2 during the bandh (shutdown) in MP and the subsequent call of bandh on April 10 by Aarakshan Virodhi Morcha, an unknown outfit, are some very unusual development. Normally, those who organise the bandh go on an offensive. But on April 2, Dalits, who had called the bandh, who were killed, not at the hands of the police, but the upper caste men.

Even during the high-time of pro and anti-Mandal agitations in 1990-1991, the polarisation was not so sharp between Dalits and other influential castes. That is simply because the tussle then was mainly between the upper castes and the backward castes.

Today the upper castes are not in position to take on the OBCS, who have grown much stronger.

Besides, as Dalits are mostly engaged in hard physical works as landless farm labourers, scavengers, skinners of cattle, mid-wifery etc there are more scope of tussle between employer and employee at the bottom level. But after the advent of technology, especially in farm sector, and rise in institutional birth of child, the number of cases of crime against Dalits should have come down. But that is not the case.

Till a few years ago, the cases of untouchability had been showing some signs of decline. But after 2014, Jatavs or Ravidas men and women have suddenly become outcast. This is simply because their men are engaged in skinning of dead cattle and women work as mid-wives.

What the perpetrators of crime against them have failed to realise is that Jatavs are numerically, socially, politically and economically the most empowered among the Dalit sub-castes.

Apart from the above reasons, industrialisation and urbanisation did not check the atrocities against Dalits. Massive migration of male workforce has left Dalit women unprotected in their villages. Thus they are vulnerable to attack by miscreants.

While their empowerment at the panchayat level has somewhat improved the situation, in many other places Dalit men and women representatives are just pawns in the hands of influential castes. If they resist they are subjected to insult and humiliation and even implicated in corruption cases.

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Published: 15 Apr 2018, 1:51 PM