Growing Atrocities Against Dalits In Uttar Pradesh
[6 June 2001]
Ever since the BJP-led Government came to power in UP, the State has the distinction of witnessing the largest number of atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. As far as dalit women are concerned, UP accounts for more than half the number of rapes of dalit women that take place in the country. In the last year, there were more than 400 such rapes. And it must be remembered that most cases of such atrocities are not even registered by the police. It has been the experience of the State unite of AIDWA that it has never been possible to register a case of violence against a woman, particularly a dalit woman, without resorting to a dharna or a gherao or, at the very least, without resorting to meeting high police officials.
The last few months have seen a spate of anti-dalit attacks. In Azamgarh and Malihabad, where the Left has a strong presence in large parts of the district, there have been big protests around such attacks. In Thekma block of Azamgarh district a convention against atrocities against Dalits was organised by the CPI(M). The immediate provocation for this was a shameful incident that took place in the Sarai Mohan village of the block on 24.4.01. The CDO, Mritunjay Kumar Narain, an IAS officer arrived in the primary school of the village without any prior notice at about 1.30 in the afternoon and summoned the Pradhan, Smt. Nirmala, a dalit woman who had been elected with an overwhelming majority. The earlier Pradhan had been known for his corruption and as being a yes-man of the landlords and his defeat was considered a great moral victory by the villagers. When Nirmala arrived, the CDO started shouting at her saying "Who on earth made you a Pradhan? You only fit to cut the grass in landlords' fields". He then sent for her husband's younger brother, Jeetendra, a post-graduate who is a primary school teacher. He accused Jeetendra of corruption and taunted him saying "So you are an MA in English. So who was Shakespeare and what did he write?" When a terrified Jeetendra stammered out some facts about Shakespeare and the names of some of his plays, the CDO grew even more furious and, after abusing him, made him stand in the sun, holding his ears and bending up and down. When this had gone on for about 20 minutes in the hot sun, Jeetendra began to feel faint and begged for water. The water was thrown in his face. By that time a few villagers including Nirmala's husband, Mahendra, returned from their fields and rushed to the scene. The CDO forced Mahendra and Jeetendra into his jeep and took them to the Thana. Here he tried to lodge a false case against them but the Station Officer protested saying that he knew them and they were innocent people. The CDO then made them stand outside the thana, holding their ears and bending up and down. Soon a large crowd collected and insisted that the two men be released. Many upper-caste people also remonstrated with the CDO and forced him to let them go.
Com. Ramjag, CPI(M) MLA of the area, visited the village after two days and heard the shocking report. He raised the matter in the UP Assembly and was joined by members of several other parties who forced the Govt to order an enquiry into the incident.
On 2nd June, Com. Ramjag and Subhashini Ali, President AIDWA, UP, visited the village and held a meeting of all the villagers. Many women also attended the meeting. Nirmala , her husand and brother-in-law narrated the sequence of events and their trauma was only too visible. The villagers were all seething with rage and humiliation and were determined to fight for justice. They all took part in the convention that was held a short while later. Hundreds of people from nearby village joined them.
The Convention was presided over by Smt Savitri, member Zila Panchayat and Jiya Lal, Secy Agricultural Workers Assn conducted the proceedings. Dinanath, Gen Secy UP Kisan Sabha, Veerendra, Secy CPI(M), Mhow, Ramjag and Subhashini addressed the convention. In conclusion, a resolution was passed to intensify the movement against the CDO if the report proved innefectual and also to take up the matter with the State SC/ST Commission.
On the 3rd June, a huge rally of poor men and women of the district was organised by the CPI in Malihabad. Asha Misra, Secy NFIW, UP and Madhu Garg and Subhashini Ali of AIDWA also addressed the rally. The rally was unique because it was held to protest against the rape of 2 dalits by upper-caste feudal thugs. One of the girls is only 12 years old. She is Sonapati, daughter of Ramjivan a Chamar . On May 10, Ramjivan booked a band and a horse for the baraat of his elder daughter whose marriage was to take place on the 25th. A young landlord, Shiv Kumar Singh, came and told him in no uncertain terms that no baraat would be allowed to enter the village and that Ramjivan would have to take his daughter to his future son-in-law's home and solemnise the marriage there. When Ramjivan refused to accept this humiliation, Shiv Kumar Singh promised to teach him a lesson. That same afternoon, when Sonepati was looking after the few mango trees that her father owned, Shiv Kumar and his relative, Sattu, raped her and left her unconscious. A large crowd collected and took the unconscious girl to her home and, after she had recovered, her father took her to the Mal police station. The station officer, Prem Singh Raikwar who is well-known for his atrocities in the area, kept them sitting in the thana for 48 hours and then after having abused them to his heart's content, registered a case of 'attempt to rape' in Sec. 376/115. Ramjivan then took his daughter to the NFIW leaders in Lucknow and, after the SSP intervened, her medical examination took place only on the 14th May. After this, Shiv Kumar and Sattu were arrested but the villagers and the NFIW activists insisted that a case be registered against the SO. Demonstrations were held and on the 23rd the district administration announced that the SO had been transferred and that action was being taken against him. The same evening, some landlords of the area took out a procession, waving swords and guns, demanding his reinstatement in the same thana and the administration surrendered abjectly.
Meanwhile, Satana, a young Pasi woman of village Ranipara (PS Mal) had also come to Lucknow along with other demonstrators on the 23rd. She met the NFIW leaders and told them that she was married to Mahesh about 7 months ago. Soon after her marriage, her husband took her to a house in Lucknow where she was raped by Naurang Singh (Pradhan) and Balbir Singh (a notorious landlord who belongs to the SP). After raping her, they paid her husband 500/- and told her that if she dared to tell anyone she and her family members would all be killed. Balbir Singh told her that this was something that he did regularly and that he had raped thousands of young girls like her. Over the next few months, this incident was repeated thrice. After the third incident, when Satana protested to her husband he beat her so viciously that her 4 month-old foetus was aborted and her own condition became so precarious that he was afraid she might die so he took her back to her parents' house. A few days after this she heard about the Sonepati incident and decided to join the demonstrators and fight against the injustice and physical abuse to which she had been subjected. In Lucknow, she narrated her story and dared to name the culprits. They were notorious in the area but till then no one had dared to speak out against them. Satana's complaint was handed over to the Chairman of the SC/ST Commission and to the district police. So far no action has been taken against the criminals because of the political patronage that they enjoy and because of their own money and muscle-power.
The re-instatement of the SO and the administration's inaction in Satana's case enraged people all over the district and a protest rally was planned for the 3rd June. The district administration did everything in its power to stop the rally from taking place and the local landlords gave them a much-needed trump card by inviting the Chief Minister to inaugurate a "Uda Devi College" in the area on the same day. Uda Devi is the name of a Pasi woman who is believed to have been very active in opposing the British during the Siege of the Residency in l857. Sonepati belongs to the same community. The staging of this function on the same day as the rally was a shameless bid by the landlords and the Chief Minister who belongs to their community to divide the dalits whom they terrorised and abused with such impunity. The people, however, were having none of this and they announced that not only would they go ahead with their rally but they would hold black flag demonstrations against the Chief Minister if he went ahead with his programme. Their determination was so apparent that, on the night of the 2nd, the CM's programme was cancelled and permission for the rally was given.
Thousands and thousands of angry men and women converged on the rally. They responded enthusiastically to the speeches made from the dias and repeatedly shouted slogans like "Gaon ka gareeb jaaga hai, Rajnath Singh bhaaga hai" (The village poor have awoken and Rajnath Singh has run away). The meeting ended with a unanimous decision to fight for justice for Sonepati and Satana - to the bitter end.