Monday, November 30, 2009
And yet, as the nation mourns the first anniversary of 26/11 through war-like visuals on TV, questions about Bhopal linger. While the perpetrators of 26/11 are being tried in court, justice has not been delivered to the victims of chemical poisoning here.
Even after a quarter century of protests, of misery, of lives lived in the shadow of death.The media finds catharsis for the trauma of 26/11 in its footage of the restored Taj Mahal hotel. But there is nothing redemptive for TV about slums full of poor survivors living on contaminated water demanding their right to justice, which are the only images 3/12 has to offer.
Victims of the Bhopal disaster note that while the Indian government submitted several dossiers of evidence to Pakistan over 26/11, it has failed to get one man, a declared fugitive, extradited from the U.S. even after every piece of evidence against him and the corporation he headed, Union Carbide, is public knowledge.
The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal, while issuing a second non-bailable warrant for the arrest of the then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson earlier this year, held that the “wilful non-execution” of this warrant was a “punishable offence under sections 217 and 221 of IPC” on the part of the Union government and “public servants” concerned.
It also held that the “public servants” responsible for the execution were “Cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon.”
The industry-sponsored trivialisation of the Bhopal issue, including the Dursban bribery scandal, is not news anymore. There is enough on-the-record information about the captains of India Inc pitching in for Dow Chemical, which now owns Carbide, asking the government to free the U.S. conglomerate of the responsibility of cleaning up the Union Carbide factory premises.
Documents obtained by Bhopal activists through RTI reveal Ratan Tata’s personal letters to Manmohan Singh, Home Minister (then Finance Minister) P. Chidambaram and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia in 2006, urging them to let Indian industry clean up the Bhopal site as it was “critical for Dow to have the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers withdraw their application for a financial deposit by Dow against the remediation cost.”
Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris was more forthright. In a letter to Ronen Sen, Indian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, he wrote:
“Certainly, a withdrawal of application would be a positive demonstration that the GOI means what it says about Dow’s lack of responsibility in the matter.”
In return he offers, “economic growth in India, including key foreign investments that will promote job creation…”
“When we met the Prime Minister in 2008 and brought up the issue, he raised his hands and said he didn’t want to hear a word about Dow, saying tragedies happen and this country needs to move on,” says Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
But for those who still live with the contamination all around them, moving on is something they find impossible to do.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange. Four members of his family, including two women, were hacked to death in September 2006. In September 2008, six persons were awarded the death sentence in the case, but their appeal is pending in the
By Lyla Bavadam in Mumbai
ATROCITIES against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes registered a steady rise in
Apart from the Sena-BJP’s attempt to get rid of the Act, there are doubts about the commitment of the government, of whichever party, towards it. Quoting figures from the 2007 annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Asian Centre for Human Rights’ publication “Torture in India 2009” states that the NCRB “reported a total of 30,031 cases – including 206 cases under the Protection of Civil Rights Act and 9,819 cases under the S.C./S.T. Act – against the S.Cs in 2007. Although the average charge-sheeting rate for the crimes against the S.Cs was 90.6 per cent, the average conviction rate was only 30.9 per cent. A total of 51,705 persons (78.9 per cent) out of 65,554 persons arrested for crimes committed against Scheduled Castes were charge-sheeted, but only 29.4 per cent were convicted, consisting of 13,871 persons out of 47,136 persons against whom trials were completed.”
Special courts to try atrocity cases do not exist in
If it had, then incidents such as the one that took place at Rajnai village in Beed district on August 23 could have been prevented. A 15-year-old S.C. girl was kidnapped and gangraped by three men, one of whom is believed to be a Hindu priest. She was left at a bus stand by her assailants. Her family filed an FIR but the police initially refused to register a case under the S.C./S.T. Act, though they did it later, under pressure from a non-governmental organisation (NGO). The main accused has not yet been arrested and the family is under pressure to withdraw the case. “They are landless people and depend on the upper castes for their income. This is being used to put pressure on them,” said a representative of the NGO.
If they did own some land and decide to grow something on it, they could meet the fate of Madhukar Ghatge of Kulakjai village in Satara district. When he retired from his job in the Railways in Mumbai in 2007, he only had one aim – cultivate his land in the village. One of the first things he did was to dig a well after acquiring the permission from the panchayat. It was, tragically, his last action. Ghatge’s upper-caste neighbours were enraged at his “audacity”. On April 26, 2007, he was attacked with rods and axes and he died on the way to hospital. Fourteen people were identified as the assailants and 12 were arrested and charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the S.C./S.T. Act. A charge sheet was filed and they were released on bail. They are now believed to be absconding.
At Khairlanji village in
If Dalits raised their voice, they were silenced brutally, as a young mother (name withheld) was at Telgaon village in Solapur district in March 2006. She knew she was taking a bold step when she complained against the liquor barons in her village but had no idea that they would use her caste against her. The mother of a child was stripped, beaten, paraded and then kept on “display” for a few hours. Her child was with her through this humiliation. After media intervention an FIR was filed under the S.C./S.T. Act, but the young woman’s social, emotional and economic support systems had been destroyed. Social pressures forced her husband to abandon her. She has no land and others are unwilling to employ her. Under the Act she is eligible for rehabilitation, but the district administration refused this. Instead, she was told that she could live in a government institution for abandoned women. Her child lives in another such institution. Her case is in the sessions court at Solapur at present.
Caste hatred at its worst perhaps was witnessed at Khairlanji village in Bhandara district in September 2006 when four members of a Dalit family, the Bhotmanges, were lynched by their neighbours belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), apparently following a dispute over the ownership and use of land. The two women victims were paraded naked and were said to have been gangraped by the residents of the village. All of them were ultimately hacked to death. In September 2008, six people were given the death sentence for the crime but they went in appeal and the case is in the Bombay High Court.
The greatest criticism against the handling of the Khairlanji case was that it was handled from a purely criminal angle and without invoking the S.C./S.T. Act. The charges related to murder, outraging the modesty of women, criminal conspiracy and unlawful assembly with deadly weapons (rape charges were not brought since the post-mortem did not give proof of that). The caste hatred and atrocity angle was completely bypassed even though the Bhotmanges lost their lives because they were Dalits.
That a person’s Dalit identity still overrides everything else in the villages was something Mumbai-returned Dilip Shendge, 25, forgot when he presumed that the use of the public handpump in his village, Bhutegaon in Jalna district, would be on a first-come, first-served basis, in May 2003. For this “lapse” he was murdered and his sister was accosted by a group of upper-caste Patils who taunted her about her caste. Later, she was beaten unconscious when she intervened in a fight between another brother of hers and some boys. Later that evening, the brother, sister and their mother were set on fire outside their house by a mob of Patils. Neighbours doused the flames, but it took them three hours to get the victims to hospital on a bullock cart. Dilip died a few days later of severe burns. A fact-finding team from the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights was told at the police station that the register for the Bhutegaon case could not be found.
In July 1997, half way into the Sena-BJP government’s term, one morning the mainly Dalit residents of Ramabai Nagar in north Mumbai woke up to see a garland of slippers around a bust of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. They reacted violently, stoning vehicles on the nearby highway. The State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) was called in, and within minutes of their arrival they opened fire, killing 10 Dalits. On May 2009, a fast track court in Mumbai sentenced the SRPF platoon commander, Manohar Kadam, to life imprisonment. Though he was ultimately convicted of culpable homicide (and not under the S.C./S.T. Act), the real reason for the trouble remains a mystery.
The incident brought the Dalit population together in a way that Dalit leaders failed to. Already enraged by the 1995 decision to withdraw cases filed under the S.C./S.T. Act, Dalits were further infuriated by the defence of the firing by Chief Minister Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena and Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde of the BJP. In the 1999 Assembly elections the alliance was voted out and it is widely accepted that Dalits, who form 12 per cent of the State’s population, played a significant role in this.
By T.K. Rajalakshmi in Jaipur
IT is still known as “Kumher kaand” (Kumher carnage). The massacre of Jatavs in Kumher town in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district 17 years ago is something that is not forgotten easily. The incident occurred on June 6, 1992, when 254 homes and hutments were set ablaze. Officially, 17 Jatavs were burnt alive, but independent sources put the number of dead at 30. There were cases of arson, molestation and destruction of property of Jatavs by Jats of the area. Some 600 families reportedly fled Kumher. The BJP was the ruling party in Rajasthan in 1992 and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat the Chief Minister.
P.L. Mimroth, founder of the Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR), recalls not only the incident but the struggle to make public the report of the K.S. Lodha Commission (also called the Kumher Inquiry Commission). The commission readied its report in 1996. The report, says Mimroth, was never tabled; only an Action Taken Report was submitted by the BJP government in 2006, after a lot of pressure was put through the courts, though the government claimed that it had tabled the actual report. “I asked many legislators. They denied seeing a copy of the Lodha Commission report,” he said.
Mimroth added that he could not obtain a copy of the report until 2006; he got it only after filing a writ petition and a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In 1992, Mimroth was the general secretary of the Society of Depressed People for Social Justice and had deposed before the Lodha Commission. “I have three gunny bags of affidavits relating to the Kumher case,” says Mimroth, who was entrusted with the task of conducting an inquiry by the National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), an organisation based in
Since 1992, there have been many incidents involving violence and atrocities against Dalits but none evoked the kind of revulsion “Kumher kaand” did. It started with a clash in a cinema hall when some Jatav youth were manhandled. Then the cinema hall was pelted with stones and rumours were spread that the modesty of upper-caste women had been outraged. The frenzy that was built up soon metamorphosed into an organised pogrom against Jatavs. Water supply to the Jatav locality was disconnected and the hutments were set afire.
In Bharatpur that day, Jats of 46 villages held a caste panchayat where aggressive speeches were made. Barring the victims and people representing them, no one else, including those representing the administration, found anything harmful in the aggressive posturing.
It is not surprising that the writ of caste and community panchayats continues to run in the face of administrative apathy and nonchalance in parts of western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and
Most conflicts are related to land. The record of implementing land reforms is very poor in Rajasthan. There are at least 10 atrocity-prone districts but the State government has not declared a single one as such and the administrative infrastructure to deal with them under the provisions of the S.C./S.T. Act are missing. Of the 33 districts, only 17 have special courts to deal with atrocities against Dalits. “The Act provides for all these. It is a stringent and exhaustive piece of legislation provided it is implemented,” said Mimroth.
A Dalit woman who was assaulted twice allegedly by a contractor appointed under the NREGA at Tikel village, 60 km from Jaipur, in June.
Curiously, in 1992, the advent of the Act seemed to have a direct bearing on the events that led to the Kumher incident. Among the many submissions made to the Lodha Commission, there was one, made by the Zila Nyaya Sangharsh Samiti, claiming that following the advent of the Act, Jatavs had trumped up several false cases against upper-caste people and that Congress politicians, with a view to suppress Jats had always appointed Jatavs in key posts in Bharatpur district. It was ironic that even this did little to prevent the carnage. The Sangharsh Samiti concluded that Jatavs were not Dalits, that they were economically sound.
Another organisation to submit a statement of facts was the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP, which held, among other things, that in Bharatpur district, the relationship between Jatavs and Jats was very cordial and that only political parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) provided an impetus to the caste conflict. The Lodha Commission rubbished this assertion but averred that there had been indiscriminate use of the S.C./S.T. Act, which fractured “reciprocal relations between Jats and Jatavs at Kumher and its vicinity.”
While the Lodha Commission made broadly progressive recommendations and observations, it noted that the S.C./S.T. Act had become “the prime circumstance for deteriorated (sic) mutual harmony between Jatavs and other upper castes”. It is baffling that a piece of legislation, by its use, should lead to disharmony unless it upset the status quo to a large extent. More surprising is the fact that no government wanted the Lodha Commission report made public.
As in most States, the rate of registration of crimes against Dalits in Rajasthan is not very high. All ruling parties have done little to remedy this. A study conducted by the CDR in 2008 found that of the total 1,261 cases of atrocities against Dalits that year, nearly 380 related to the practice of untouchability; 149 related to violence against women; 140 involved land disputes; and 181 pertained to violence during elections.
Vasudev, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), explained that eastern Rajasthan was particularly vulnerable to caste violence owing to the benefits of education percolating down. However, he said, the tribal people of southern Rajasthan were in a much worse state.
“Until and unless there is an organised protest, no first information report [FIRs] is registered. We need to bring land reforms centre stage,” he said, adding that the increasing economic deprivation of these sections made them more vulnerable than before. He mentioned the gangrape of a Dalit college student on August 15 at Neem Ka Thana in Sikar district. It was only after the CPI(M) and other organisations made a hue and cry the culprits, all upper-caste youth, were arrested.
The situation of S.Ts was no less different. Barring one dominant section residing in the eastern parts of the State, which benefited most from the reservation policy, the tribal people of southern Rajasthan remain more or less where they were before
Said Vasudev: “Twenty years ago, at a meeting in Dungarpur, I asked a group of Bhils what their concept of heaven was. An old lady, Mangi Bai, said heaven for her meant a bowl of sweet laapi [wheat porridge], a guthdi [a cover made from old clothes] and a jhompi [hut]. They dream of the same things even today.”
A State secretariat member of the CPI(M), Dhuli Chand Meena, who is associated with the Kisan Sabha in southern Rajasthan, said the atrocities against the tribal people were mainly land-related. In those parts, where the remnants of feudalism still persisted along with mixed populations, discrimination existed in the form of denying the tribal people the right to sit on cots or in chairs or even wear proper clothes, he said.
“Whenever cases are registered, they are not followed up and cognisable offences are not registered. The conviction rates for atrocities committed against the tribal people are very low. In fact, what can be said for the S.Cs can be safely extended to the S.Ts as well, the only difference being that all the human development indicators of the S.Ts in southern Rajasthan are very poor when compared with even the rest of the State,” Dhuli Chand Meena said.
If anything, the Act, along with other laws such as the Forest Rights Act, needs to be implemented rigorously. For a social reform measure to succeed one of the basic prerequisites is political will, which seems to be lacking.
By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in Bathani Tola and
“THE senas [militia] are not very active and there have been no big attacks or mass killings. But life is still the same. We are here and they are there, in different parts of the village, with not much communication or contact. And, of course, there is the fear that something may break out unexpectedly. We need to keep vigil all the time.” This was how Lal Chand Chaudhary, 55, described the present situation at Bathani Tola in
Thirteen years ago, on July 11, 1996, he, a Dalit, lost his wife, Sancharu Devi, and one-and–a-half-year-old girl child, Baby Sugandhi, when members of the Ranveer Sena, the self-professed militia of the upper-caste Bhumihar community, launched a ferocious attack on the hamlet. Among the 22 people killed were 12 women and eight children. Lal Chand got a compensation of Rs.1 lakh from the government and help to set up a telephone booth, but that did not change social equations. As he says, his community of Dalits and a clutch of Muslims occupy the Tola and the Bhumihars stay a little distance away in the main part called Barki Kharaon.
Lal Chand and many others, including his neighbour Phaguni Chaudhary, whose mother and brother were killed that day, made bold to stay on in Bathani Tola and show that they would not succumb to terror. But not so Naimuddeen, the bangle seller who lost six members of his family in the attack; he moved to Ara, the district headquarters of Bhojpur. He, too, got a compensation for the lives lost and the job of a peon in a government office in Ara.
Lal Chand Chaudhary (sitting) lost his wife and infant daughter in the massacre of Dalits by the Ranveer Sena at Bathani Tola village in
Talking to Frontline, Naimuddeen said that though he has a job the governments that came to power since 1996 are yet to fulfil the promises and assurances they gave. “As I lost six of my kin, the then government offered jobs to two survivors in the family. But the promise made to my son is yet to be kept despite our submitting innumerable applications to successive governments over the past decade,” he says.
Naimuddeen adds that the administration has failed to address the security concerns of the family. “As a family that got ravaged in a gruesome caste attack, I had asked for a gun licence to protect myself, but that has been denied systematically. There is the propaganda that the Ranveer Sena is a dead organisation, but that is entirely untrue,” he says. “They are regrouping under a new leadership and have stepped up their activities in many places, including Bhojpur district. The only succour we have is from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist-Liberation) led by leaders like Dipankar Bhattacharjee.”
The CPI (ML) has been active in the village since the early 1970s and has been winning panchayat elections in and around Bathani Tola since 1978. According to a number of Dalits and Muslims, this political affiliation does help in keeping the balance of power in the village. Still, there are stray attacks and skirmishes. Last year, two young men of the Tola, Dhanesh Kanu and his friend Tarakeshwar Yadav, were killed in the Barki Kharaon area. Kanu, a plus-two student, had gone for a function in his school and had taken a short-cut close to Barki Kharaon. He and Tarakeshwar Yadav were done to death in that part of the village. Kanu’s aunt Kunti Devi said her nephew was killed by members of the upper-caste militia in a clear instance of caste killing. However, the local police and the administration treated this as a case of personal vendetta.
According to activists of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), such official apathy is nothing new and is not confined to places like Bathani Tola. They point out that the families of the 10 Dalit victims belonging to the Nat community, who were lynched by upper-caste people on September 13, 2007, in Dhelpruva village in Vaishali district, were also given similar treatment by the administration. However, political mobilisation by different Dalit organisations, including the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the CPI(ML) and the NCDHR, has strengthened the resolve of Dalit communities in many parts of the State to fight for their rights.
Lakshmanpur-Bathe, where 58 Dalits, including women and children, were killed on December 1, 1997, by Ranveer Sena activists, is cited as a case in point by many observers. Dalits of the village have reportedly become more organised after the incident and demand their rights in a collective and effective manner.
This has curtailed the strike power of many upper-caste militias. For 25 years, starting from the mid-1970s,
However, as the people of Bathani Tola, including Lal Chand Chaudhary, noted, this by itself has not brought about dramatic changes in the social equations or in the discrimination against Dalits. A fear that things can take a turn for the worse rules large sections of the Dalit population in
By S. Dorairaj in Chennai
IF the Kizhavenmani carnage of Dalits in 1968 in the then composite Thanjavur district is an indelible blot on the history of Tamil Nadu, there followed many more such crimes, each more heinous than the previous one. The Melavalavu multiple murders, the Tamiraparani massacre, the Kodiyankulam violence, the Nalumoolaikinaru atrocities, the Thinniyam humiliation and the murder of democracy in Pappapatti and three other reserved village panchayats where elections were scuttled for 10 years were the worst among them. The enactment of the S.C./S.T. Act in 1989 and the notification of its Rules in 1995 made no difference to this horrible situation.
According to the State Crime Records Bureau, from 2003 to 2008 a total of 8,209 crimes against Dalits were reported, including 5,047 cases under the S.C./S.T. Act and 3,162 under the IPC. The average conviction rate in both categories was only 24.26 per cent. But Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO, has put the average conviction rate in the cases registered under the S.C./S.T. Act alone at 5 per cent to 7 per cent.
Progressive and secular forces by their concerted efforts have recorded resounding successes in the legal battle against casteist forces in a few cases. In the Melavalavu (
Much ahead of these two cases, the apex court gave a landmark judgment in a case relating to police excesses in Nalumoolaikinaru in Tuticorin district in 1992, holding 82 police personnel, including a Deputy Inspector General of Police and the Superintendent of Police, guilty. The court also ordered disbursement of compensation, totalling Rs.23 lakh, to the victims, who were represented by AIDWA.
In several other cases, the perpetrators of violence went scot-free. Notable among these is the Kodiyankulam violence of August 31, 1995, in which the police let loose terror in a Dalit habitation, and the Thamiraparani massacre of July 23, 1999, which claimed 17 lives when the police launched a brutal attack on a rally of estate workers in Tirunelveli town even as they ran towards the river in a bid to escape.
In the Thinniyam torment of May 22, 2002, the accused got away with a mild punishment though they had committed the grave crime of forcing two Dalits to eat each other’s excreta. The issue was brought to the notice of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National S.C.-S.T. Commission by the Tamil Nadu People’s Watch.
One reason why only a small number of cases are registered is that Dalits do not file complaints against the dominant communities fearing reprisal, as they depend mostly on the landholders for their livelihood. The time-consuming nature of litigation also forces them to keep away from police stations, says P. Sampath, TNUEF convener. “Even if they lodge a complaint under the S.C./S.T. Act, the police ask the caste Hindus to lodge a counter complaint so that a criminal case is filed against the Dalits, too. The negligible conviction rate in cases under the S.C./S.T. Act also demoralises the oppressed sections,” he adds.
Senior advocate P. Rathinam, who has fought many cases of atrocities against Dalits, says that most of the crimes against the oppressed sections are not registered under the S.C./S.T. Act. “Even when they are registered, the first information report is diluted deliberately. In certain cases, due compensation, as per an order issued by the State government in 1998, is not disbursed to the victims,” he alleges.
A. Kathir, director of Evidence, has urged the State government to conduct a detailed review of the implementation of the various aspects of the S.C./S.T. Act, such as the registering of cases and the preparation of charge sheets. Of a total of 6.68 lakh cases of cognisable crimes reported in 2008, only 0.24 per cent were under the S.C./S.T. Act.
The special courts set up by the government for quick disposal of cases relating to atrocities against Dalits need better infrastructure to achieve their objective, he says. “A detailed survey on the atrocity-prone villages is the need of the hour,” he added.
As per official data, discriminatory practices against Dalits exist in 28 districts in the State, which has been ruled by the two major Dravidian parties – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) – since 1967.
The government’s policy note on the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department for 2009-2010 refers to the “effective implementation” of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the S.C./S.T. Act to abolish untouchability and to prevent atrocities against Dalits. It speaks about the role of the human rights and social justice wing of the State police in enforcing the provisions of the two Acts and of the four special sessions courts functioning in Tiruchi, Thanjavur,
One of the Dalit victims of an atrocity in 2002 at Thinniyam village in TamilNadu's Tiruchi district during an inquiry by the then District Collector K.Manivasan. He and another Dalit were forced to eat each other's excreta.
However, the government’s efforts to create awareness against untouchability have had very little impact going by Minister for Adi Dravidar Welfare A. Tamilarasi’s own admission in the policy note, which was tabled in the Assembly on July 3. In it she says the message of the “mass awareness campaign and the social justice tea parties” launched by the government has reached only six lakh people so far. Cosmetic measures will do nothing to bring about any significant change in the prevailing scenario, says P. Sampath. Several other activists who have been working for the welfare of Dalits in a focussed manner also feel that radical socio-economic programmes have to be implemented for the empowerment of Dalits and to end disparities in terms of productive resources such as land, finance, education and employment, besides taking stringent measures against the perpetrators of atrocities against them.
This becomes particularly important in a State where Dalits are numerically a significant section. As per the 2001 Census, Dalits form 19 per cent and the S.Ts 1.04 per cent, of the total population of 6.24 crore. Of the 385 blocks in the State, 153 have more than 25 per cent Dalit population and around 3,550 villages have more than 40 per cent Dalit population. S.Cs and S.Ts constitute more than 20 per cent of the population in six of the 30 districts (as of 2008). Among them, in Tiruvarur they form 32.35 per cent, Nilgris 31.23 per cent, Perambalur 30.21 per cent, Cuddalore 27.76 per cent and Villupuram 27.39 per cent.
Official data for 2008 indicate that curbing atrocities against the oppressed sections is a formidable task. There are 186 villages classified as “atrocity prone” and 230 that are “dormant atrocity prone”. Among them, 166 villages have been described as “highly sensitive”.
Various social indicators make it amply clear that the State has a poor record of empowerment of Dalits. According to official sources, 31.2 per cent of the Dalit population in rural areas and 40.2 per cent in urban areas are among the below-poverty-line social groups. Official documents also point out that the literacy level of Dalits is much lower than the general literacy rate. According to the 2001 Census, as against the State’s general literacy rate of 76.2 per cent, only 63.2 per cent of Dalits and 41.5 per cent of members of the S.Ts are literate. The lack of political will for radical land reforms and redistribution of surplus land to landless Dalits has contributed to conflicts in the rural areas. Even official sources point out that though 83.08 lakh Dalits live in villages, only 10 per cent of them are cultivators. Around 90 per cent of these cultivators have less than one hectare of land. As per the 2001 Census, 58.5 per cent of Dalits are agricultural workers and 29 per cent fall in the “other workers” category.
Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s statement on November 11 that surplus land has been distributed to 61,985 landless Dalits under the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Reduction of Ceiling on Land) Act, 1970, only shows the yawning gap between the Dalits’ quest for land and the government’s response, a veteran leader of the All India Kisan Sabha points out.
Demanding a holistic approach to the issue, the TNUEF, an umbrella organisation of 45 State-level class and mass outfits and 15 Dalit and human rights associations, took out a rally in Chennai on October 27. Besides calling for the strict implementation of the S.C./S.T. Act and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, it called for steps to redeem the 2.5 lakh acres (one lakh hectares) of “panchami” lands grabbed from Dalits. Setting up of a State Commission for S.C.-S.T. welfare; the formation of district-level panels with due representation to Dalit organisations and secular forces to monitor the implementation of these two Acts; and the raising of the percentage of reservation for S.Cs to 19, commensurate with their population, are among the other demands of the front.
By Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed in
ON August 2, 1987, in Bendigere
Several days went by before this gross act was even reported, but the incident (along with other such instances across the country) was responsible for the inclusion of Section 3(1)(i) in the S.C./S.T. Act. However, the Act has not led to any significant reduction in atrocities reported against Dalits in the State.
According to the 2001 Census, the S.Cs constituted slightly over 16 per cent of the State’s population and the S.Ts around 6.5 per cent. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2007, there were 205 incidents of crime against members of the S.Cs and 1,844 incidents against members of the S.Ts. This is partly because Dalits, more than Adivasis, have fixed roles in the political economy of a populated area.
According to the Directorate of Civil Rights Enforcement, a State-level body that looks into complaints regarding atrocities against members of the S.Cs and the S.Ts, the number of convictions under the Act is insignificant. The majority of the cases are either pending trial or are classified as “B reports” (meaning that the complaint itself has been proved wrong or false).
According to the NCRB’s statistics, Karnataka ranks sixth in the country in the number of crimes against S.Cs and eighth in crimes against S.Ts. (By population, Karnataka ranks ninth in the country.)
According to S. Japhet, Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School of India University, part of the reason why the Act has failed to deter atrocities against Dalits is that Karnataka has some of the lowest conviction rates for complaints made under it. Japhet was the coordinator for a research that led to a report in 2005 evaluating the performance of special courts that were set up for dealing with cases of atrocities under the S.C./S.T. Act.
According to Japhet, this is one of the most serious drawbacks in the implementation of the Act. “In the majority of districts in the country, there are no special courts as mandated by the provisions of this Act,” he said. Between 1997 and 2000, only four districts in Karnataka had the special courts compared with 12 in Andhra Pradesh, 10 in
According to K.L. Chandrashekhar Aijoor, research assistant at the same centre where Japhet works, the number of special courts in Karnataka has only gone up to seven now, but considering that every district is supposed to have a special court, Karnataka should have 29 such courts. (These are usually sessions courts that are briefly designated as special courts to deal with cases under the Act.)
FAILURE OF THE ACT
One of the most glaring examples of the failure of the Act in Karnataka was the acquittal of all the accused in the March 2000 massacre of seven Dalits at Kambalapalli village in Kolar district, around 80 kilometres from
The immediate provocation was an altercation between two Dalit youth and a Reddy (Vokkaliga) man over the use of a certain stretch of road. Following this a mob of Vokkaligas attacked a group of Dalits who had returned after filing a police complaint. The houses of a Dalit and his neighbour were burnt. Among the seven Dalits who died were a woman and her two sons and daughter.
According to media reports, the witnesses turned hostile when the case came up for hearing in the local court. All the accused were acquitted. The matter is waiting to be heard in the Karnataka High Court.
Such prolonged delay demonstrates that the twofold purpose of the Act – to prevent atrocities and to provide compensation and rehabilitation to victims after a speedy trial – has not been fulfilled.
More than 25 per cent of the population in Kolar is Dalit and the district has a history of caste violence. In the decades before the massacre, there was resentment over the establishment of a Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS) chapter in the district. Part of the discord between upper and lower castes stems from the seemingly upward mobility of Dalits.
Karnataka has an active Dalit movement, which started in the 1970s. As its effects began to filter down, the consciousness among Dalits about their constitutional rights increased. This has led to a change in their attitude towards caste. The upper castes have resented this change. Even trivial things like the way a Dalit dressed annoyed upper-caste members. In Kambalapalli, for example, one of the victims used to tuck in his shirt.
A report on the Kambalapalli carnage published by the People’s Democratic Forum in April 2000 said: “The tucked-in shirt is like a red rag for caste Hindus, for it symbolised the growing arrogance of Dalits and their modernisation.”
While the conscious identity of Dalits has led to resentment from the upper castes in rural areas, even urban areas like
By Aparna Alluri in
LALITHA (name changed on request), 25, is awaiting her court summons. A member of the women’s wing of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS), she was active in her local community until she became a victim herself.
As part of community initiatives, she often visited the local police station. When a new circle inspector was appointed in March 2008, she had a minor altercation with him. She says his immediate response was, “You are a Madiga and you are wearing sunglasses, driving a bike and walking around so confidently. Who do you think you are?”
“For nearly eight months, every time I met him, he repeated the same thing. He abused me by my caste name several times.” The verbal taunts soon escalated to sexual overtures. When she questioned him about complaints she had received against him, things became worse. “In November, I was arrested and detained for one night. He threatened me, shoved me against a wall and warned me against confronting him again. I was shifted to the women’s police station only at 1-30 a.m.,” she says.
Her case is pending with the State Human Rights Commission. She is yet to file an FIR against the officer for fear of further harassment. “I don’t know what else to do,” she says. “He expects me to cower in fear, but why should I?” she says. “I am educated, I know right from wrong and I know my rights. In what way am I lesser than he?”
Lalitha’s case is more the rule than the exception. Counter-cases have become an easy recourse to delaying and eventually denying justice to historically disadvantaged groups. “For every case filed by a Dalit there is a counter case against him/her by the accused,” says M. Chalapathi, High Court advocate and Dalit rights coordinator, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).
“The police register the second complaint and arrest the Dalit victim, compelling him/her to withdraw the case. Or, they keep both cases pending and use the case as ammunition when the victim pressures them to act,” says Bojja Tarakam, eminent lawyer and Dalit rights activist.
This remains the situation, even after 12 of the State’s 23 districts have been identified as atrocity-prone by the government. Attack is the most common form of atrocity, accounting for 27 per cent of the crimes.
Of the State’s population of 7,62,10,007 (2004-05), the S.Cs constitute 1,23,39,496 and the S.Ts 50,24,104. Dalits belong mainly to two castes – Mala and Madiga – and are agricultural labourers. The land-owning, politically dominant groups are Reddys, Kammas, Rajus and Kapus. This social and economic polarisation has had significant political implications. The 1980s marked the advent of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the rise of the Dalit movement. N.T. Rama Rao’s rise to power is often seen as the political ascendancy of coastal Andhra’s rich Kamma farmers. The atrocities against Dalits in Karamchedu (1985), Neerukonda (1987) and Chundur (1991) were seen as manifestations of a conflict caused by the shift in political power at the top and the rising consciousness below.
More than two decades later, the State’s record in checking atrocities against Dalits remains poor. According to figures with the Department of Social Welfare, 4,157 cases were registered in 2008 under the S.C./S.T. Act. Of these, 1,783 cases were closed as false and 1,004 are pending completion of investigation. For the same period, out of 3,661 cases brought to court, only 128 resulted in convictions. Interestingly, only in eight cases appeals were filed on the acquittals.
As for visits by the Vigilance and Monitoring Committees prescribed under the Act, only 45 visits were recorded for 19 districts in 2008. Information was cited as unavailable for the remaining four districts.
Currently, there is a writ petition pending in the Andhra Pradesh High Court demanding the effective implementation of the S.C./S.T. Act, 1989, and Rules 1995.
The counter-affidavits filed by the police in response to the petition speak for themselves. Police records in the period from 1995 to 2006 show that 21,000 cases were registered under the Act. Of these, more than 14,000 are pending without a charge sheet being filed, even though the Act stipulates that investigation must be completed within 30 days of the FIR being filed. “This is a clear violation of Section 4 of the Act, which deals with dereliction of duty,” says Chalapathi.
The petition demands that criminal proceedings be initiated against those police officers who fail to discharge their duties as prescribed under the Act. “The Act insists on special courts and special public prosecutors to enable speedy trial. But cases have been pending for nearly 10 years in the investigation stage itself,” says Bojja Tarakam. “Yet not a single police officer has been prosecuted for negligence.”
He says one reason for such high pendency is the many attempts to quash cases by claiming that they are false. “When the High Court receives such a petition, it stays all further proceedings, including investigation, though the Supreme Court has directed the High Court not to interfere in investigations.”
However, the reasons for delay cited in the counter-affidavits are far more incredulous. The reasons include “for want of accused”, “for want of examination of witness”, “no post-mortem report”, “no FSL [forensic science laboratory] certificate”, even for cases pending since 1995. Even VIP duty is submitted as a reason for numerous investigations pending since 1996.
“Whose fault is that?” asks Chalapathi. “Is this not negligence of duty?”
The delay itself seems to have become the reason in many instances. “Case Diary not available and as such unable to furnish the exact reason for delay,” or “as the case was registered in 1998, reasons not known to present Investigating Officer,” reads one entry in the register. “Close to 105 reasons have been furnished and not one is legally substantial,” says Chalapathi.
“I have personally told police officers that they may be technically right in closing certain cases, but the matter doesn’t end there. If witnesses turn hostile, they need to ask why that has happened,” says A. Vidyasagar, former Commissioner of Social Welfare. He agrees that special courts do exist, but says “the progress they have made seems to suggest that cases under the S.C./S.T. Act are only one of the things they address rather than their priority”. He says a review at the Chief Minister’s level in 2008 led to a suggestion that a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) must be made to supervise the inquiries in every district. “The idea was accepted,” he says. “The only solution is continuous review.”
Trial is a far cry for many because registering a case is often a struggle by itself. Getting a case registered under the S.C./S.T. Act is a bigger hurdle. Whether the accused abused the victim by his caste name is often seen as the grounds for registering cases under the Act. However, the Act only stipulates that the victim must belong to the S.C./S.T. community and the accused to another community. If the victim or his/her family has a Christian name, or is known to go to church, they are told they cannot register the case under the Act. “This is sufficient to file a petition quashing the case as false. The court gives the victims 15 days to file an objection, failing which the case is closed. Given that most of these people are poor and uneducated, they may not respond in time,” says Chalapathi.
Curiously, caste certificates are often demanded not just to register a case but also for the investigation to proceed. In numerous cases, this was cited as the reason for the delay in the investigation.
The hurdles are many and victories have been few and far between. Even as hundreds wait for justice, police records and trials only present a part of the picture. “Untouchability is still rampant. Dalits are still not treated as humans. Where is the question of human rights?” asks Chalapathi.
VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN AND
AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA
An innocent survivor amidst scattered bodies, a scene after the Ranveer Sena's carnage of Dalits at Shankarbigha in Jehanabad district of Bihar on the eve of Republic Day in 1999. Dalit rights activists say the Ranveer Sena, a private militia of Bhumihar landlords which terrorised Dalits in the 1990s, is regrouping.
THE ascent of the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to power in Uttar Pradesh on May 13, 2007, was seen as a defining moment in the politics of Dalit empowerment in the country. The Scheduled Caste (S.C.) leader of an avowedly “Dalit assertive” party had been Chief Minister earlier too, but the difference this time was that her party came to power on its own, without needing the support of other parties and independent members.
Thousands of Dalits who gathered in the State capital,
Approximately a year later, papers and documents presented at a two-day international seminar on Uttar Pradesh, organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a Delhi-based think tank, provided an indication of the situation on the ground. The papers documented that “within a month of the [Mayawati] government’s assumption of office, seven Dalits were killed in Muzaffarnagar, while three Dalit women were raped in the same district”. The papers also revealed that reports from areas such as Rae Bareli, Mohanlalganj, Lakhimpur Kheri and Mahoba were of a similar nature and that atrocities against Dalits continued in spite of the political gains made by the BSP.
The presentations at the seminar pointed out that the political leadership found it difficult to implement what was perhaps its most important Dalit empowerment programme – the allotment of patta land to Dalits – on account of strong anti-Dalit sentiments within the administration.
A field study presented at the seminar revealed that in scores of villages in western Uttar Pradesh, in districts such as Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar and
The National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) statistics for 2007 for crimes against members of the S.Cs and the Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts) corroborated the presentations made at the seminar. The figures showed that Uttar Pradesh topped the list on atrocities against the S.Cs and the S.Ts, with 2,113 cases out of a total of 9,819. The data also indicated a 10.2 per cent increase in crimes against the S.Cs and the S.Ts at the national level. Uttar Pradesh accounted for 20.5 per cent of all cases in
There was merit in this argument, but the fact remained that Dalits were at the receiving end in large parts of Uttar Pradesh, where the politics of empowerment of the S.Cs and the S.Ts, the protection of their interests, their physical safety and the assertion of their constitutional rights had acquired, in comparative terms, the highest political and electoral acceptability.
Social and political observers hark back to an observation made by B.R. Ambedkar to explain this context. Ambedkar had said: “History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.”
Twenty years after the passage of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the vociferous advocacy of the same by almost all political parties and even the rise of the politics of S.C.-S.T. empowerment across the country, it seems that the quantum of “sufficient force” visualised by Ambedkar would have been colossal. As the case of Uttar Pradesh indicates, the effective implementation of the Act would take a lot more than electoral victories and increasing political space.
The gaps in the implementation of the Act stand in stark contrast to the convictions that underlay its enactment. In simple terms, the legislation aims to prevent the various forms of offences by persons other than members of the S.C. and the S.T. against members of these communities. But studies have shown that it has systematically been prevented from achieving its goal. A number of factors have contributed to this, but the most important is the caste and class prejudices in society. These prejudices have got institutionalised, through religious and social practices, into a unique system of long-standing apartheid. That they have a class character is also evident; the Dalit and Adivasi communities that are discriminated against constitute almost 80 per cent of
The S.C./S.T. Act is seen to be empowering as it is the first legislation to use and define the term “atrocities” committed against the S.Cs and the S.Ts. Introducing the Bill, the then Union Law Minister, B. Shankaranand, said the normal provisions of the existing laws, such as the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Protection of Civil Rights Act (PCRA), 1955, had been found inadequate to check the atrocities, gross indignities and offences against the S.Cs and the S.Ts. Therefore, the Act prescribes harsher punishments than the punitive measures detailed in the IPC and the PCRA, which used only the term “offences” vis-À-vis caste-related crimes.
The Act also introduced an executive system specifically to govern justice for the S.Cs and the S.Ts in cases of 22 broad types of atrocities relating to socio-economic discriminatory practices, which are listed in it. This system should comprise special courts, a special public prosecutor, nodal officers in each State, an S.C. and S.T. protection cell, and State-level and district-level monitoring and vigilance committees to identify atrocity-prone areas, and a special officer appointed by the district head to look after each case of atrocity. In actuality, in most States the full system has either not been constituted or has been functioning ineffectively.
Gaps in implementation
Activists of the Dalit Sena staging a demonstration in New Delhi on July 21 demanding action from the Bihar government to check atrocities on Dalits.
The gaps in its implementation could be studied at two levels – the executive and the judiciary. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) noted in its 2002 report: “Under-reporting is a very common phenomenon and the police resort to various machinations to discourage S.C./S.T. [persons] from registering their cases, to dilute the seriousness of the violence, to shield the accused persons from arrests and prosecution.”
A study done by National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ), part of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), showed that between 1992 and 2007 only 33 per cent of the atrocity cases were registered under the S.C./S.T. Act. The majority of the cases were registered under IPC sections and 1 per cent under the PCRA. It also showed that the conviction rate of cases under the S.C./S.T. Act was just 3.3 per cent for the country as a whole.
The figures at the level of the judiciary are equally pathetic. Between 1992 and 2007, as many as 80 per cent of the cases heard by the special courts (created under Section 14 of the Act) were not registered under the Act. In 95.1 per cent of the cases charge sheets had not been filed. The monitoring advisories set up in States on an ad hoc basis by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MSJE) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) noted that in many cases the police wilfully neglected the S.C./S.T. Act and did not register first information reports (FIRs). Among the recommendations made were the setting up of special police stations and the launching of awareness campaigns about the Act.
The Ahmedabad-based Council for Social Justice (CSJ) has collected documents of 400 cases pertaining to 2004 filed under the S.C./S.T. Act in
Valjibhai Patel, secretary CSJ, told Frontline: “Rule 4(1) of the Act says that there should be two panels of advocates in atrocity cases – a state-appointed public prosecutor and a panel created by the district head. In most of the cases, we see no such panels. The Act states that an officer below the rank of DSP [Deputy Superintendent of Police] cannot investigate the case. Many of the accused have been acquitted by courts just because the case was investigated by officers below the rank of DSP. I have seen in
Plight of women
Dalit women face the worst atrocities as both women and Dalits. A seminal study conducted by the NCDHR (“Dalit Women Speak Out”, 2006) enumerating the experiences of 500 Dalit women from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh presents a shocking picture of the conditions they live in. The study records the violence – physical, sexual and mental – inflicted on Dalit women. The study reinforces calls for comprehensive preventive measures to be put in place to eradicate caste discrimination and violence against Dalit women, in conjunction with measures to help Dalit women achieve their rights.
Valjibhai Patel says that though the Act mentions punitive measures against negligence, to date not a single official in
Budget and policy
The MJSE is responsible for the implementation of the S.C./S.T. Act. To implement the Act effectively, the MSJE has to provide for special courts for the trial of offences and for the relief and rehabilitation of victims of such offences. The Ministry provides financial resources for the implementation of the Act through the Special Central Assistance (SCA) from the Union government, which is 50 per cent of the total expenditure of the States and the total expenditure of the
However, the allocation of funds every year under the SCA has seen a steady decline. Under the Act taluk- and mandal-level officers are responsible for disbursing compensation and this work has to be monitored by the District Magistrate/Collector and the district monitoring and vigilance committee. Separate funds have to be given to police stations/courts towards travelling allowance/dearness allowance (T.A./D.A.) of victims and witnesses on FIR investigation and it has to be monitored by the Superintendent of Police (S.P.) and the District Judge (D.J.). There is also clear direction in the Act that arrangements should be made for maintenance expenses and reimbursement of medical costs of victims of atrocity.
In 2008, the Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan, also a part of the NCDHR, looked into the actual budget for the S.C./S.T. Act in each State and estimated the amount every State actually needed for its proper implementation. Its calculations have been done on the basis of the number of compensation cases in each State, the average cost of running the present number of special courts and special police stations, and relief and rehabilitation measures for victims specified in the Act.
The results in all the States reveal that the actual budget allocated for the Act is much less than what is required. This is despite the fact that both the Central government and the State governments share the amount made available for the programme under the special component plan. Uttar Pradesh ranks the highest in terms of this deficit, and its figure stands at a staggering Rs.1,640 crore. Rajasthan, also a State with one of the highest rates of caste crimes, is second with Rs.1,157 crore, and
According to the actual budget allocated, as shown in the MJSE annual report, Uttar Pradesh, since 2007, ranks the highest in the allocation of funds for the Act, with around Rs.950 crore, followed closely by Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Among the big States, the lowest allocation is in
An NCDHR analysis of the qualitative investments of the Central government shows that in this year’s Budget the amount spent on wage labour, school education, basic health, shelter, nutrition and primary necessaries involving Dalits is 62.44 per cent of the total special assistance funds. In sectors where the upper classes dominate, such as higher education, entrepreneurial development, and land and asset building, the allocation is 37.56 per cent. State budgets present a similar trend. Most of the funds still go to the traditional occupation of Dalits, such as cleaning, agricultural labour, leather works, and so on, which is in contrast to the theme of the SCP of systematic empowerment of Dalits in all sectors of production. It therefore does not surprise when the S.C./S.T. Act, a tool for legal empowerment of Dalits, lacks funds for its implementation.
The aggressive pursuit of neoliberal economic policies by governments at the Centre and in many States over the past decade has also resulted in an increase in atrocities against the S.Cs and the S.Ts. Ironically, even the Uttar Pradesh government is not free from such ventures. The government’s ambitious 1,047-kilometre-long Ganga Expressway project, connecting Greater Noida near
According to NCRB data since 2005, Uttar Pradesh ranks the highest in the number of cases of caste atrocities, followed closely by Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and
The trend clearly shows that caste atrocities have increased with greater social and economic mobility of the S.Cs and the S.Ts which disrupts the exploitative status quo of a feudal society.
Many activists note that atrocity cases happen when Dalits try to avail themselves of legal resources; assert their right over land, water, and livelihood; assert their right to choose their occupation; attempt to participate in the cultural life of the community; assert their right to vote; and are victimised to satisfy the superstitions of dominant castes (witchcraft, human sacrifice). With respect to the S.Ts, activists say most of the atrocities happen when they try to organise themselves politically against the combined exploitation of government officials and industrial goons in the hinterland.
However, the Act is not clear about the rules with respect to social and economic boycott of the S.Cs and the S.Ts and there is an ongoing advocacy campaign among Dalit groups to seek amendments to certain provisions of the Act to make it stronger. Said Colin Gonsalves of Human Rights Law Network: “Unless the institutional caste bias is systematically done away with at the policy level and proper action is taken against negligent officials, violations will continue to happen. The legal system has failed the S.Cs and the S.Ts. The Act is a clear instance of wonderful legislation but useless implementation. Our judiciary needs at least 15 per cent reservation for the S.Cs right from the lower courts to the Supreme Court. The Rajasthan High Court has not had a single Dalit judge since
To put it simply, caste is a combined social system of occupation, endogamy, culture, social class and political power, which has historically been exploitative for Dalits and Adivasis. In this context, the S.C./S.T. Act and its status echo Ambedkar’s words: “This condition obtains even where there is no slavery in the legal sense. It is found where, as in caste system, some persons are forced to carry on the prescribed callings which are not their choice.”
Thursday, November 5, 2009
By Ram Puniyani
RSS has tried to co-opt and win over sections of minorities for enhancing its agenda. RSS progeny BJP keeps doing it, trying to win minorities, so often for electoral purpose. But over all the minorities have experienced at heavy cost of loosing lives, that RSS is like a wolf trying to put on sheep’s clothing. It is unlikely that after what has been done by its pracharks, Swayamsevaks through its progeny, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Bajrang Dal and vishwa Hindu Parsishad etc. that minorities can ever be fooled by the language being used by Mr. Bhagwat. By now it is also well known that the second Sarsanghchalak of RSS, M. S. Golwalkar had ordained that minorities “the non-Hindu people in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of Hindu nation i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and
The new RSS Sarsanghchalak, Mr. Mohan Bhagawat told Minorities (Sept 20, 2009) that they should join RSS and see that ‘our intentions are clear and our behavior is good’. As per him all Muslims in India were Hindus in the past. They have only changed their way of worship, and if they accept this fact there will be no clashes. He told Christians that they should not convert people, as that creates communal violence.
Mr. Bhagwat is partly correct in saying that Muslims have Hindu ancestry. Islam spread in India, by various ways, major being the attempt of Shudras to escape the tyranny of Landlord Brahmin, to quote Swami Vivekananda, "Why amongst the poor of India so many are Mohammedans? It is nonsense to say that they were converted by the sword. It was to gain liberty from Zamindars and Priests..." (Collected Works-Vol 8-Page330). These conversions took place as dalits were not permitted to enter temples so they were visiting the shrines of Sufi saints and under the influence of the Humanistic aspect of Islam they took to Islam. There were other reasons like, anticipation of reward, interaction with Muslims, the least important factor being fear of Muslim kings. So he is partly right that most Muslims have local ancestry.
But is the change of religion mere change of mode of worship or is it a total change in religious belief system? We do recognize that syncretic traditions of Hinduism and Islam have drawn a lot from each other. But as far as Holy book, belief in one God, Allah, belief in Mohammad as the prophet, this is not just a change in mode of worship, it is much broader than that.
So, are there clashes because Muslims deny their ancestry, and culture. By no means! As far as culture is concerned for the extremist elements, for the clergy and for those using religion for politics, the culture is just a subset of elitist version of their religion. For average people culture is a broad category, it is affected by regional factors and by some aspects of religion. A large population of Muslims and Hindus both regarded culture as a meeting and mixing point, while elite traditions look down upon the culture of the ‘other’. In India Muslims and Hindus did live in peace, creating different facets of culture, Music, Poetry, clothes and food habits, architecture and religious traditions. We see Ustad Bismillah Khan creating his wonderful work, devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses while sitting on the pavements of Kashi temples, we see Rahim and Raskhan writing beautiful poetry in devotion of Lord Krishna, we see people taking to jalebi,
Biryani and other food items coming from Iran and other places from where Muslims came. We also see the intermixing in the customs, festivals. To delineate a Hindu and Muslim component of our culture was difficult at a point of time. We have the lovely tradition of people from both religions following the teachings of Ramdeo Baba Pir and Satya Pir. We have that great Saint Kabir who was loved by both Muslim and Hindus.
The problem begins with the communal historiography, looking at History through the prism of religion, introduced by British to pursue the policy of divide and rule. This version was picked up by the communal streams of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS, and aided in the communalization of society and rise of communal violence, more so from the decade of 1940s. To think that clashes are there because Muslims deny their common ancestry is wrong. Also Islam is a religion with its own spirituality and to reduce any religion to just a mode of worship is not correct. In post Independence India the clashes were brewed by this communal thinking, by political motivations not because of religions. Those who deny that Sufis are a part of Indian culture, or Urdu is and Indian language or that the contributions of Muslim Kings, poets, artisans, are the one’s who have created divisiveness leading to clashes. Those who deny that Bhakti tradition was part of tradition which was respected by a section of Muslims, or that celebrating Holi, Divali or Muharram and Id is part of Indian culture are the cause of the political thinking which leads to clashes.
Coming to Christians, it is not they came here with the British. Christian community in India is over 1500 years old. While their may be some aggressive proselytizers, mainly the conversions take place because of social interaction and genuine charity work. If conversions were a forced phenomenon, how to explain that there are merely 2.30% Christians in India toady? How do we explain that during last four decades the all India percentage of Christians has fallen down, 1971-2.60%, 1981-2.44%, 1991-2.34% and 2001-2.30%? One concedes that some dalits taking to Christianity may not be getting registered as Christians to keep availing the job reservations, but surely this cannot tilt the population percentage to a very great extent.
Wadhva Commission, which investigated the burning of Pastor Graham Stains by Bajrang Dal’s Dara Sing and is facing the jail term for that, concluded that Pastor Stains was not involved in any work of conversions and that the percentage of Christians in Keonjhar of Manoharpur district in Orissa, did not go up. Even recently the anti Christian violence was launched on the pretext of murder of Swami Laxmananand. It was a clear pretext to scare the Christian missionaries away from the Adivasi areas, where they are involved in the work of education and health care of Adivasis, something which empowers Adivasis. It was a clear pretext as Maoists had owned the murder of Swami.
Most of the organizations at the core of communal politics are manned on one side by Muslim Communalists and on the other by the RSS trained swayamsevaks working and controlling BJP, VHP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram or Bajrang Dal. Minorities want a safety, and freedom to follow their own religion. Indian Constitution does give us the liberty to practice and preach our own religion. Also RSS is not the representative of Hindus at large. We have diverse traditions of Hinduism ranging from the one of Gandhi to the other ones which are like those of Bajrang dal etc.
its age old traditions, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in this country wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights.(We or our Nationhood Defined, 1938, p. 27)
RSS is no representative of Hindus. It stands for values which are opposed to the human rights of weaker sections of society.
Jharkhand is known as the abode of Adivasis (the indigenous people, constitutionally they are called as scheduled tribe), the land of struggle and mineral rich state in India. “Jharkhand” literally means ‘the land of forests’ came into existence as 28th state of the Indian union on 15th of November, 2000 after a long mass struggle, which took place in the 20th century for the realization of a beautiful dream of the Adivasi heroes – Tilka Manjhi, Sidhu-Kanhu and Birsa Munda. The dream was to form exploitation free, humane and just Jharkhand, where the Adivasis can practice their ownership rights over the natural resources, enjoy autonomy and rule themselves as earlier they used to. The outsiders perceive Jharkhand as the abode of uncivilized, uneducated and the most backward people i.e. Adivasis therefore the region was mostly neglected in terms of the development but its natural resources were highly exploited. The Adivasis were alienated from their resources, exploited and injustices were done to them in the name of development, civilization and nationalism.
Jharkhand is an important state from the viewpoint of Adivasi population. As per the Census 2001, their total population in the state is 70,87,068 including 35,65,960 male and 35,21,108 female, which consists 26.3% of the total population (26,945,829) of the state though they were more than 50 percent before the independence of India. The growth of the Adivasi population is steadily declining. It was 17.3 per cent in 2001, which is lower by 6 per cent if compared with the growth (23.3 per cent) in 1991. The state has a total of thirty two (32) sub-communities of the Adivasis. Among them Santal, Oraon, Munda, Ho and Kharia are the major Adivasi groups in the state. The major Adivasi populations (91.7 percent) reside in villages and merely 8.3 percent have shifted to the urban areas. The rapid industrialization is one of the major reasons for population declination of the Adivasis.
Jharkhand is witness of unending struggle for mineral resources as the state contains 40 percent of India’s precious minerals like Uranium, Mica, Bauxite, Granite, Gold, Silver, Graphite, Magnetite, Dolomite, Fireclay, Quartz, Fieldspar, Coal, Iron and Copper. Forests and woodlands occupy more than 29% of the state which is amongst the highest in India. But unfortunately, the exploitation and injustice are prevalent in the state. Irony is the political leaders of Adivasis do not realize it even today. They have signed 102 MoUs (memorandum of understanding) for establishing steel factories, power plants and mining industries with the estimated investment of Rs 4,67,240 crore, which require approximately 200,000 acres of land, which directly means the displacement of approximately 1 million people.
The government, the Industrialists and the Media are putting hard efforts to convince the people by propagating the messages that the industrialization is only way to develop the young Jharkhand therefore the villagers must surrender their land for the development projects, which would provide them jobs, infrastructure and boost the economy of the state. But the Adivasis are not convinced with the ideas as 91.7 percent of them still rely on agriculture, forest produces and livestock for their survival. They are resisting against displacement, attacking the company’s officials and not allowing them to enter into the villages. Consequently, the government is unable to execute the MoUs at the grassroots.
There has been turmoil against displacement in the state. On 1st of October 2008, the villagers attacked on the Kohinoor steel plant near Jamshedpur, seized 70 trucks and stopped the work. They alleged that after acquiring their agricultural land, the company neither compensated nor gave them jobs as promised and the company is also causing huge environmental affect in agriculture, water sources and public health therefore they would not allow the company to destroy their livelihoods. In another case, the villagers attacked 3 surveyors of Bhushan steel Yusuf Ahmad, Sheetal Kumar and Sahdev Singh when they were conducting land survey near Sarmanda River at Potka of East Singbhum district. The villagers caught them, painted on their faces with cow dung, asked them to eat straw and cow dung, garlanded with shoes and paraded in the villagers on 11 September 08. Somari Hembrom of Roladih village (Potka) justified it by saying, “We had already declared for not giving our precious land to the Bhushan Company but despite of this, these people were measuring our land without informing us therefore they were taught a lesson”.
Similarly, the villagers attacked Jupiter Cement factory, beaten the workers and stopped the factory on 11 September 2008 at Kharsawan alleging for violating the land related laws. The Indian CEO, Project head and other officials of the steel giant Arcelor Mittal Company were not allowed to enter into the villages in Torpa- Kamdara region near Ranchi several times. The people of Tontopasi in Saraikela-Kharsawan district are not allowing the Tata Steel to acquire land for its Greenfield Project. In another case, the Adivasis of Dumka district have imposed “Janta Curfew” (public curfew) in Kathikund and Sikaripada blocks with the slogan “We shall give up our lives but not land.” against the proposed power plant of CESC Limited, where police firing took place on 6 of December, 2008 caused the killing of two activists – Lakhiram Tuddu and Saigat Marandi and another 7 activists were severely injured. The people resistances have forced the Tata Steel, Arcellor Mittal Company, Jindal Steel, Esser Steel and CESE Limited to leave the proposed areas.
Interestingly, the corporate houses have not given up their hopes and attempting to enter into the region through the back doors. They are playing many tricks and also luring people with the huge monetary packages for acquiring land. The global steel giant Arcelor Mittal Company is a crucial example to understand how the companies attempt to trick the Adivasis. The Arcelor Mittal Company signed a MoU with the Jharkhand government on October 8, 2005 for setting up a steel plant with the capacity of 12 million tones per annum at an estimated investment of Rs 40,000 crore. The company requires 25,000 acre of land and 20,000 unit water per hour for the steel plant and a township in Torpa-Kamdara region of Khunti and Gumla district. Since, the company needs huge water, a mega Dam will be constructed at Koel-Karo River for ensuring the water supply to the steel plant. According to the plan, the steel plant will be set up by the end of 2009 and the production will begin from 2012. Consequently, there will be a mass displacement of Adivasis as 256 villages would be affected completely by the project.
The people of Jharkhand especially the Adivasis have been undergoing through the adverse affect of the unjust modern development processes for more than a century therefore another mass movement against the Arcelor Mittal Company began in 2005 in the region under the banner of “Adivasi-Moolvasi Astitava Raksha Manch”. The people are resisting against industrialization in the region and not ready to give even one inch of their remaining lands. They have declared that “they need grains not iron for feeding their stomach”. Consequently, the Mittal Company was unable to enter into the region. Therefore it began playing tricks with the people. Eight months after the MoU was signed, Laxmi Mittal the owner of the company visited India in July 2006 to explore more investment prospects, but he was quite upset with the progress of the project in Jharkhand and warned the state government that mega project could be shifted to the neighbouring Orissa if the project continued at a snail’s pace. But by then, Arjun Munda then the Chief Minister of Jharkhand had already made history signing MoUs with 43 companies. He could very well afford to tell Mittal he was free to choose between the two states.
This is when the idea of flaunting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) struck Mittal. Soon, Arcellor-Mittal Foundation was launched in 2007 with the objective of investing in social programmes, and promoting Arcelor-Mittal’s commitment to society and sustainable development, focusing in particular on the communities where it operates. It is also said that the Foundation will seek to develop partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to drive the programme forward. But the hidden agenda of the foundation seems to be to use the local NGOs to find a foothold in the project areas. It was obvious from the start the foundation was going to pour large funds to enhance its public relations.
Arcelor-Mittal’s activities gathered momentum with the appointment of Sanak Mishra as the CEO of the Indian project. The announcement of CSR programmes started, which was in the form of election campaigns. The first move was to launch an ITI (Industrial Training Institute) in Khunti, slated to open from 2009. 50 percent of the total candidates were selected by the state government and the rest by the company. Half of the seats were reserved for Adivasi students and 50 scholarships were to be awarded on merit to deserving local students of the region. The ITI was projected as a catalyst of change for the Adivasi community. Meanwhile, the Mittal was told about the Adivasis’ love for hockey. Soon, the company was sponsoring hockey tournament for girls and boys of Khunti and Gumla districts. The training for boys and girls started with the support of the district and the state hockey federations. The next step was to lure NGOs with huge funds. Finally, the company declared $300 million CSR programme, which would be spent for Rehabilitation & Resettlement package for the state. But it also didn’t work.
The company made a new holy business strategy to join hands with the church based social services institutions as the region is highly dominated by the Christians Adivasis. Earlier, the vice president of the Arcelor Mittal Company, Remi Boyer, who has more faith in the holy business for overcoming on the mass movement, had said that the church is ready to co-operate the company in land acquisition. Consequently, the Arcelor Mittal Company and Don Bosco Society made a secret agreement for holy business, under which the company would bear the cost of ITI training for Adivasi youth of the proposed project area and the Don Bosco Society would provide training in its ITI centre based at Kokar, Ranchi. But when it came into the notice of a forum of Adivasi called “Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum”, it intervened on the matter immediately.
The forum wrote letters to the Superior of the Don Bosco Society and the Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo asking them to make their stance clear on the issue of supporting Arcelor Mittal Company. The forum members also asked the Church leaders whether they are committed to the cause of Adivasis or they have joined hands with corporate for economic gain through the holy business. They also threatened for mass resistance including rally, protest and locking up the ITI Centre of Don Bosco. The forum released its plan and strategy of mass resistance through the media, which created an upheaval in the church arenas. Consequently, the Church leaders and the Superior of Don Bosco were in a huge pressure. Finally, the Don Bosco Society made it clear that it operates in Jharkhand only for the upliftment of Adivasis, Dalits and poor therefore it will not tie up with any corporate house, which takes away the rights of the Adivasis. The tricks of the Arcelor Mittal Company failed.
The Adivasis’ struggle against displacement has spread across the state. “Loha Nahi Anaj Chahiye” (We want grains not iron), “Jal, Jungle aur Jamin Hamara Hai” (Land, forest and water belong to us) and “Jan denge, Jamin Nahi Denge” (We will surrender our lives but not land) are a few overwhelming slogans being raised from villages to the state capital. A series of mass meetings, Road blocks and Rallies are being organized in these areas, where thousands of Adivasis and local people participate, shout slogans and echo their voices. The message they want to convey to the government, the industrialists and the middle class is that ‘they won’t give up agriculture land for the development projects.
There are some prominent organizations of the Adivasis like Bisthapan Virodhi Ekta Manch, Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch, Jharkhand Ulgulan Manch, Creaj Jan Mukti Andolan, Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee and Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum, who play crucial role in the displacement movement in Jharkhand, have cautioned the state government against increasing intrusions of representatives from several industries in villages, registering false cases against anti-displacement activists and threatening the villagers. “Our message is loud and clear that we do not want to give our land for industries”, says K.C. Mardi the convener of Bisthapan Virodhi Ekta Manch. “Such attempts should be stopped immediately because the conspiracy to snatch our land would cause social unrest in the villages” he adds.
Dayamani Barla the convener of Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch, the organization fighting against the Arcelor Mittal at Torpa-Kamdara says, “We will not allow the Arcelor Mittal Company to enter into the villages because one can not be rehabilitated if once displaced. The lands, which we cultivate belong to our ancestors therefore we will not leave it”. According to the General Secretary of Crej Jan Mukti Andolan, Jerom Jerold Kujur, the development of agriculture is a need of the hour. He says, “It is more important to boost up agriculture than setting up industries in Jharkhand, as agriculture production in Jharkhand is marginal”. “If the government provides irrigation and other facilities to the local farmers, they could reap three crops in a year” he adds.
The corporate houses are in anxiety, worried and uncertain about their future in Jharkhand therefore they are putting pressure on the government for taking action against the displacement activists. As a result, 3 criminal cases were registered against 1025 anti-displacement activists under the sections 307, 147, 148, 149, 323, 341, 342, 427, 506 of IPC and 9 of them were arrested but some of them were released after a huge people’s protest. But the leader of Jharkhand Ulgulan Manch, Munni Hansada was kept in Jail for six months.
The fundamental question is why Adivasis do not want to give their land for the development projects, which can provide them jobs? The instant answer can be found in the history of pains and sufferings of the displaced people, which suggests that after the independence, 17,10,787 people were displaced while acquiring 24,15,698 acres of their lands for setting up the Power Plants, Irrigation Projects, Mining Companies, Steel Industries and other development projects in Jharkhand. In every project approximately 80 to 90 percent Adivasis and local people were displaced but merely 25 percent of them were halfway rehabilitated and no one has any idea about the rest 75 percent displaced people. The benefits of these development projects were highly enjoyed by the Landlords, Project Officers, Engineers, Contractors, Bureaucrats, Politicians and outsiders, and those who sacrificed everything for the sake of the “development” are struggling for their survival.
Secondly, the people were betrayed in the name of rehabilitation, compensation and jobs. The promises were not fulfilled and the jobs were given to the outsiders. In the present era, the technologies are mostly used in the companies therefore job opportunities and job security have declined the corporate. For example, when the Tata steel was producing 1 Mt steel, the work force was 70,000 in 1995. The growth of the Tata steel went up to 7 Mt in 2008 but the workforce declined to 20,000. Similarly, in the Heavy Engineering Corporation, Ranchi there were 23,000 employees at the beginning but it declined to 3000 in 2009.
The Job insecurity can be learnt from the Mittal company, which is said to provide 1 lakh, jobs to the people. Presently, the company operates in 60 countries and it has plants in 20 countries but the company has been suffering from the economic crisis since 2008. The demand of company’s steel went down to10 percent. Consequently, the company cut the production in Canada by 45 percent and axed 9,000 employees. It also cut the job of 1000 employees in lowest cost plant in Poland and shut one out of its two blast furnaces in west Belgium. The company had total workforces of 3,26,000 which was cut down to 3,15,867 as a result 10,133 people lost their jobs. The present status shows that the company is totally failure in protection of its employees’ rights therefore 2000 employees had attacked the company’s headquarter at Lubzumburge. In these circumstances, how can people believe on the propaganda of providing job to the affected people?
Thirdly, In fact the Adivasis had the ownership rights to the natural resources and they judiciously used these resources for their survival. But soon after the East India Company entered into the territory, the Britishers realized the enormous commercial potential of India’s natural resources and systematically went about acquiring control over it. In 1793 the “Permanent Settlement Act” was passed, which affected the socio-economic and cultural life of the Adivasis, and their lands slipped into the hands of the Zamindars (landlords). In 1855, the government declared the forests as the government property and the individuals have not right and claim over it. In 1865 the first Forest Act came into force, an avalanche of regulations followed this act. Wherever a loophole was detected in the existing laws a new law would be passed. After the independence, when Indians took over the driving sit they also followed the Britishers’ foot steps. The rights over natural resources of the Adivasi were snatched away through the various legislations. The government of India accepts through the Forest Rights Act 2006 that the historical injustice was done on the Adivasi community.
Fourthly, there are numerous laws made for protection of the Adivasis’ rights but these laws were never enacted honestly. The Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act 1908 and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949 prohibit the sale and transfer of Adivasi land to non-Adivasi but the land were illegally snatched away from them. In 1969, the Bihar Scheduled Areas Regulation Act was enforced for prevention and legalization of illegal land transfer and of Adivasis. A special Area Regulation Court was established and the Deputy Commissioner was given special right regarding the sell and transfer of Adivasis land. When the special court started function, a huge number of cases were registered. According to the government’s report, 60,464 cases regarding 85,777.22 acres of illegal transfer of land were registered till 2001-2002. Out of these 34,608 cases of 46,797.36 acres of land were considered for hearing and rest 25,856 cases related to 38,979.86 acres of land were dismissed.
But after the hearing merely 21,445 cases regarding 29,829.7 acres of lands were given possession to the original holders and rest remains with the non-Adivasis. Further more 2608 cases of illegal land transfer were registered in 2003-2004, 2657 cases in 2004-2005, 3230 cases in 2005-2006, 3789 cases in 2006-2007 and 5382 cases in 2007-2008, which clearly indicates that the cases of illegal land alienation is increasing rapidly. According to the Annual Report 2004-2005 of the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India, Jharkhand topped the list of Adivasi land alienation in India with 86,291 cases involving 10,48,93 acres of land. Similarly, the constitutional rights, provisions for the sixth scheduled Areas and the Extension of Panchayat Act 1996 were never been implemented with the true spirit in the state. The ruling elites always misused these laws for their benefits.
Fifthly, the government of India was unable to bring a law for the rehabilitation of the affected people even after the 62 years of independence but legislation for the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was passed immediately. Similarly, when the Jharkhand state was created the first chief minister, Babula Marandi brought the Industrial Policy but at the same time, the same government was unable to make a rehabilitation policy. This is why the intention of the state was always questioned and the people are resisting against displacement everywhere. The people were displaced from one place to another in the name of development but they were not rehabilitated. Hence they feel that they were betrayed in the welfare state in the name of “development” and “national interest”. Therefore now Adivasis believe that they can protect their land only through the mass struggle.
Finally, one should understand that the displacement is not just shifting people from one place to another but it is destruction of their livelihood resources, culture and identity which they develop by nourishing for the ages. The life cycle of the Adivasis is based on the natural resources therefore their co-existence with the nature can not be questioned. Hence, it is need of the hour to rethink on the present development model. The unjust development process can not be carried on as the Adivasis also have similar rights to life with dignity, freedom and equality guaranteed by the constitution of India. The Adivasis have lost their faith in the state machinery, constitutional authorities and judiciary therefore they have firmly decided not to allow laying down the foundation of corporate development model over their graves.Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer based at Ranchi, Jharkhand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com