Mirchpur: A Dog Story

Two Dalits were torched alive and 18 homes gutted in Hisar, Haryana, apparently over a dog. So what really happened?

 By S. Anand 

Maha Khap Panchayat

A maha-khap panchayat of Jats in progress in Mirchpur village on the premises of the animal husbandry department. The police said they were unaware of this meeting of over 2,000 Jats though it was held within earshot.

 

 A perpetual war is going on every day in every village between the Hindus and the Untouchables. It does not see the light of the day —BR Ambedkar, 1943

An old Shiva temple. Massive wells with arched facades where women, colourful ghunghats pulled down draw water. Buffaloes shimmering black in a green pond. A group of Jat men in spotless white turbans passing around a hookah whose brass glistens in the harsh April sun… it’s the kind of village where Ashutosh Gowariker would have set his Swades. Welcome to Mirchpur, a village in Haryana’s Hisar district. In this picturesque setting, on the morning of 21 April, 18 Dalit homes were torched and two Dalits—17-year old Suman and her 60-year old father Tara Chand—were burnt alive.

Let us now turn our faces away, briefly. Pinch our noses and stop breathing, briefly. The stink of two Dalits torched alive in Mirchpur will go away soon. It does not matter, really. Not when the death of a Dalit is so routine, not when there’s violence reported against a Dalit every 18 minutes, not when two Dalits are killed every day. Apathy comes easily to those who are protected from everyday violence. We have no time to waste on people who are not supposed to exist.

In Mirchpur, the official story is that a dog belonging to a Dalit, repeatedly referred to as a bitch in First Information Report No 166 filed at Narnaund police station, barks at some drunk Jat youth driving through the Balmiki colony. Rajinder Pali, son of a Jat zamindar, hurls a brick at the dog, Ruby. Yogesh, a young Dalit, objects, and an argument follows. They come to blows. Threatened with dire consequences, two Balmiki elders, Veer Bhan and Karan Singh, apologise to the Jat elders. They are beaten up badly. The Jats are baying now. The fact that the Narnaund’s Station House Officer (SHO) Vinod Kumar Kajal is close to a prominent Jat of Mirchpur, emboldens them. The stage is set for carnage.

I spoke to Ruby, and wagging her tail, she denied that she had any role to play. She cited Namdeo Dhasal’s poem, ‘Song of the Dog and the Republic’: Chained dog being dog he whines and sometimes barks/ This being his constitutional right. She even recounted a more bizarre case, reported in 2004, from Tamil Nadu’s Shanmugapuram village in Tuticorin district, where Reddiyars had issued a diktat barring Dalits from rearing male dogs since they could mate with bitches from the ‘chaste’ Hindu colonies

The Balmikis of Mirchpur have done well for themselves. Many have small businesses, work in the neighbouring district headquarters Jind, have contracts for fishing rights in the local pond, like Karan Singh whose pet Ruby is. In the past two years, they have even won the contract for conducting the annual spring festival at the local Phoolan Devi temple attended by people from all over Haryana. It is at this festival, which began in March this year, that trouble began brewing. The local Jat youth, Balmikis say, sexually harass Balmiki women, almost as a matter of right. This happened a bit too often in the crowded temple festival, to which they objected. Ruby is right. Her barking at Jats was just the pretext.

Fearing the worst, Mirchpur’s Dalits begged for police protection. None came. On the morning of 21 April, as SHO Kajal and the local tehsildar hustled the Balmiki men to attend a compromise meeting, a mob of 300-400 Jats, men and women, encircled the Balmiki colony. They were armed with jerry cans of kerosene and petrol, agricultural implements and lathis. The SHO and the naib tehsildar apparently told the gathered Jats they would have one hour to do whatever they wished. Sounds exactly like what someone in Gujarat said in February 2002. What followed was targeted burning of 18 houses of relatively prosperous Balmikis. Before the Jat men set the homes ablaze, their women ransacked jewels, cash, clothes. Modest TV sets, DVD players, refrigerators and air-coolers lay twisted, singed by the heat. The skeletal remains of a motorbike, belonging to Amar Chauhan, brother of Suman, bears witness. A fan’s twisted blades droop eerily.

Pointing to a black water tank bobbing in the green waters of the pond, Surta, a woman whose house was reduced to cinders, says, “The first thing they did was to break the Sintex water tanks the government had provided us with, so that we couldn’t douse the fire.”

Phoolkali Devi and her husband Chander Singh had built a one-storeyed house in 1996. Chander ran a general store from his house. Everything has been gutted. Phoolkali says jewellery worth Rs 25,000 and cash of Rs 50,000 meant for their daughter’s upcoming wedding were looted. By 24 April, many among the 200 Balmiki households in Mirchpur were leaving for safer places. The few Dalits who remained told Buta Singh, chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes who was on a visit, that they no longer wished to live in the village.

In 1943, Ambedkar had strongly advocated separate settlements for Dalits. He had argued, ‘It is the close-knit association of the Untouchables with the Hindus living in the same villages which marks them out as Untouchables and which enables the Hindus to identify them as being Untouchables… The Untouchables who are as a matter of fact socially separate should be made separate geographically and territorially also, and be grouped into separate villages exclusively of Untouchables in which the distinction of the high and the low and of Touchable and Untouchable will find no place.’

Within three days of the carnage, a maha-khap panchayat of Jats was organised in the village. Representatives of 43 khaps met on the premises of the animal husbandry department. They demanded the release of the 29 Jats arrested and reinstatement of the suspended SHO. The superintendent of police and deputy collector said they were not aware of such a meeting, though it was attended by about 2,000 men within earshot. Across Haryana, there’s a war being waged on the Indian state by khap panchayats, an open defiance of law far more serious than what the country’s Maoists are attempting. Mirchpur has to be seen in the context of other Haryana milestones: the burning of Balmiki homes by Rajputs in Salwan in 2007; the Gohana carnage of 2005 (where 60 Balmiki houses were set afire); the lynching of five Dalits in Jhajjar in 2003. It’s an everyday war, as Ambedkar said

Outside the khap, Arjun Singh, a young Jat advocate, confronts me: “Please make sure you write that the Dalits set fire to their own homes for the sake of compensation. These dheds will kill their own for the sake of money.”

I rummage the charred remains of the house where Suman was locked in. She was affected by polio, and the tricycle provided to her stands outside the now-roofless house. Suman’s crumbling English textbook is called English with a Purpose. On the last page, it says in big type, ‘Together Make it a Better World.’

S. Anand was part of a fact-finding team of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights that visited the village.

Supreme Court slams Haryana over Mirchpur

 

By J. Venkatesan

THE HINDU

 

NEW DELHI: Taking a serious view of the Haryana Government’s failure to arrest the perpetrators of atrocities against the Dalits of Mirchpur village, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed the State to arrest by this coming Monday all those who are wanted in the case by the police.

A Bench of Justice G. S. Singhvi and Justice A. K. Ganguly is hearing a writ petition filed by Jaswant Singh and others seeking relief and compensation for the Dalit families whose houses were burnt down on April 21.

Justice Singhvi observed, “If those responsible for committing atrocities could not be arrested then what right does the Director-General of Police have to continue in office? If Haryana Police is incapable of arresting those wanted in the Mirchpur violence, then we will ask some paramilitary forces to arrest them.”

When it was submitted on behalf of the State that 52 people involved in the incident had been arrested and the others would be arrested soon, Justice Singhvi asked whether the remaining accused had gone to Dubai or fled to other States in the country. Expressing serious concern over the State’s inaction, Justice Singhvi wondered what the State Chief Secretary was doing.

The Bench made it clear that all those wanted in the Mirchpur case should be arrested by Monday. It said all those who had committed the crime should be brought before the law and be made to account for their sins.

Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves submitted that Dalit children were not going to school and that a 14-year-old Dalit girl died of shock after she was scolded and humiliated in school. He said Dalit families were starving as no food was being provided to them.

Justice Singhvi told the State Advocate-General: “Such incidents of killings are taking place for the last five years. Apart from legal issues we are concerned with the humanitarian aspect of the victims. All the people who are uprooted should be settled and protected. They should not live under threat.”

The Bench in its order directed the State Government to provide two quintals of wheat to each of the Dalit family in seven days. It asked the State to furnish all the records in support of its claim that it had given 65 people 100 days’ employment under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on September 10.

http://www.hindu.com/2010/08/27/stories/2010082759960100.htm

CASTE ATROCITY IN MIRCHPUR (HISSAR): A fact finding report

 

Santosh Suradkar & Prabodhan Pol

 

The incidence of torching of dalit houses in Mirchpur village of Hissar district is yet another example of the absence of democratic principles and social equality in north India. Mirchpur village finely illustrates us the social reality of this country, where the very presence of the caste structure is otherwise ignored by the chattering classes.  This village, nearly 145 kms away from New Delhi, witnessed a ghastly scene of inhumanity and caste prejudice in form of the burning of dalit houses by a mob belonging to Jat community from the same village.

Our fact finding team went to Mirchpur on 25th April. On reaching Mirchpur, we first visited the balmiki basti which was the site of violence, and we soon started our interviews with the people who had actually witnessed this gruesome atrocity on dalits perpetrated by the Jats. We also visited Jat and Chamar localities and tried to understand their perspective with regard to the violence unleashed on 21st of April 2010. 

Mirchpur village which has a population of approximately 10000 people, is situated in Narnaund talluk district of Hisar, Haryana. There are various castes groups here such as the Jat, Brahmin, Valmiki, Chamar, Dom etc. The Jat community which is the largest land holding , constitues more than 50% of the population. The tehsil and police station for this village is in Narnaund which is about 9 kilometer away from this village. The police chauki for this village is in Kheri, which is about 4 kilometers away from the village. The village is well connected with Portland-Cement-Concrete (PCC) roads. This village has access to electricity and water supply and a constructed drainage system. The path of the drainage and the condition of the drainage system is something to be looked from the social angle. We found that the drain passed from the direction of the houses belonging to the Jat community to those belonging to the Balmiki and Chamar communities. The houses of Jat’s were built with costlier material and were bigger than the houses belonging to the Balmiki and Chamar communities. One could notice that the dominant communities from the village dumped all their wastes through a drain which ultimately ended up in the two ponds on the side of dwellings of the Balmiki and Chamar community – a fact that was pointed out by the dalits for resulting in communicable diseases in their area.

The operation of caste, power and hegemony was evident in the manner waste was not diverted away from the areas inhabited by the Jats despite favorable topology, but dumped in a way that it accumulated in the dalit dwellings. We were told by the members of dalit community that they did try to make required arrangements to prevent the dumping of drainage water to their area, but were physically opposed and stopped by members of the Jat community, whenever they tried to do so. The manner in which fair drinking water was routed only to the Jat locality and not to the Chamar or Balmiki localities also pointed out to the very visible and well entrenched discrimination

Mirchpur claims to have one of the largest numbers of teachers in Haryana – and most of them are from the Jat community.  The village has a school, operating since 1911,  which teaches upto the 10th class. At present, the village has two schools- one for girls and the other for boys. Children from the Jat community mostly study in the private school while the  dalit  students have no other option but to go for the government schools which are economically feasible for them. Due to lack of proper education infrastructure, members of dalit community, more often then not, land up in providing labor services to the dominant Jat community. The village gram Panchayat is dominated by a Jat Sarpanch since the conception of Panchayat Raj system in the village. The members of the Valmiki and Chamar communities have developed their economic standards only through their daily wage labor work.   

Historically, Mirchpur village has been notorious for such instances of caste violence. While speaking to the residents of the balmiki basti, many residents spoke about the past record of the violence masterminded and directed by the Jat community. In one of the cases, a mother and son from the Dom caste were paraded naked throughout the village. Around 8-9 years back there was one more incident where the same Jat community torched house of a Kumhar and kicked his familyout of their own village. The present case of burning dalit houses should also be seen in this series of violence and humiliation perpetrated by members of the  dominant Jat community. Often over matters of little importance have been enough to instigate violence by the dominant community against the members of the marginalised communities. In this latest incident of violence in Mirchpur therefore, the “dog story” – to be explained later – was merely a pretext to inflict violence on the Dalits. The antagonisms between the dalit and Jat community were very much strong even before the commencement of violence over the “dog incident”.

 

The incident

On 19th April at around 8-8.30 pm, a group of boys from the Jat community, Rajendra (S/o Pali Ram), Sonu (S/o Pappu), Monu (S/o Suresh), Rishi (S/o Satbir) with other 10/15 young Jat boys, were passing through the house of Karan Singh (S/o Tek Ram) in an inebriated condition. Apparently, while passing through Karan Singh’s house, his dog barked at them. Rajendra threw a stone at the dog, while Yogesh, a nephew of Karan Singh objected. . Soon as he expressed his objection, the Jat boys started beating him. Karan Singh somehow managed to calm down the Jat boys. After all this chaos, the Jat youth gathered in front of the house of Rajendra . Ajit Jat, who worked for the police , came over to Karan Singh and ordered him to go to Rajendra’shouse and apologize for “this act”. After getting the message from Ajit Jat, Karan Singh and Birbhan (S/o Man Singh) went over to apologize. But the Jat youths were not at keen in accepting their apology and started beating them up. Jai Prakash, one of the villagers from the Balmiki basti informed us that Birbhan was severely beaten and was taken by Karan Singh to the government hospital in Narnaund and later to the government hospital in Hissar.

The interesting part of this mob violence was that it was unleashed in broad daylight. The incident took place on 21st April 2010. The mob started attacking and burning the houses at Balmiki Basti at around 11 am. Around 400 people from the Jat community including women, carrying petrol started burning the balmiki houses. Moreover, the sarpanch’s son was also seen accompanying the Jat mob. When the members of the Balmiki community came to know that a huge crowd of Jats had started to burn burn their houses, they began to hide themselves in safe places. The caste violence resulted in the burning of around 19 houses. Nearly 20 persons were injured in this frenzy. The police, later on arrested 35 Jat individuals. After this incident, the Jat community leaders called a maha-khap panchayat of 42 khaps  on 24th April to find a solution to this crisis – defined by them as the arrest of so many members of the Jat community. We were told by a Jat shopkeeper, Rajesh, that among the 42 khaps called to deliberate, 11 khaps were from the Brahmin community. Harish Chandra Singh, another Jat also told us that the Khap panchayat had given an ultimatum to the government that they should release their people who were arrested in this case before 9th May, or else they would start a massive protest movement.

Another fact that has come out in the present case was the pre-planned nature of the attack. While interviewing a woman from the basti, she explained how the attack took place on the basti. According to her, 400 jats, with batons and petrol, attacked the basti.  These lumpens not only burnt the houses but they also robbed the jewelry and cash from the houses. Chander Singh, a 62 years old labourer, corroborated the fact of the incident. The ground floor of his house was totally burnt and precious jewelry and hard cash were robbed from his house. The unfortunate part is that he had collected these precious items with a lot of hard work for the sake of the marriage of his daughter. Meena Kumar, 30, another laborer, whose house was not torched down spoke to us and told us how entire residents of the balmiki basti came around his house to take refuge from the attackers. As Meena Kumar’s house was in the middle of the basti, therefore his house was able to escape such an attack. He gave us a testimony on the intensity of the attack. 

As per the villagers’ account, a few days before this killing, the Jats had performed a kirya or puja in the Sitla Mata Mandir and announced that they would burn the houses of the balmikis. The police was informed about this well in advance.

As we all know,  the village communities are interdependent on each other for their sustenance. The ones, who are at the bottom of the strata in the village, socially andeconomically, are at the worst receiving position if any problem arises in the relationship between the dominant and the subordinate communities. The balmikis of the Mirchpur village are experiencing a similar kind of problem in the village. As most of the land (agricultural land) in Mirchpur village is owned by the Jats. and there are no landowners amongst the various dalit communities the source of income was either  through serving the dominant landlords (i.e. Jats) with labour work in agricultural fields or through government jobs. The majority of the dalit population staying in Mirchpur village is involved in labour work. In this scenario, when the caste antagonism between the dominant and subordinate marginalized castes (with limited source of income) reaches its peak, the worst affected in this adverse situation are invariably the marginalized castes. The landlessness and the absolute dependence on the Jat landlord community have caused many problems to the balmikis in this dire situation. Chander Singh and his son’s source of income are through labor services. Now due to the conflict between the two communities, Chandra Singh and his sons have lost their jobs and therefore became restless over the issue of sustaining their family. Similar kind of problems has arisen amongst many balmiki community members.

Due to the burning of the houses, the members of the community have suffered immense losses of food grains, food materials, utensils and cooking instruments. Therefore, the victims have to rely on the government support as they neither have jobs to earn money and provide food to themselves and their family, nor have preserved food grains to somehow manage for a few more days.  After this incident, the state government could have played a major role in providing support and aid to the victims but they summarily winded up their work after providing them food for two days. Many people have shifted their kids and women to their relatives’places, with only elderly people from this community left in the village. The whole Balmiki basti of the village is in terror.

Many women have informed us that eve-teasing, passing derogatory-remarks from Jat men are common in this village. Kiran and Rekha told us that young girls have to face these comments all the time – for instance when they go to buy items for daily use, while going to school, while going to colleges in the local buses. In fact Rekha and Kiran said that because of the eve-teasing in buses, many of the girls are forced to drop their education after completing their 10+2.

With regard to the government’s role, many villagers have different opinions. The balmikis directly put the onus of blame on the district administration. When this violent incident was unfolding, 40 policemen were present but only played a role of observers. They didn’t even dare to stop the aggressive crowd. From the facts that have come out through the testimonies of the victims, it appears that government played a supportive role, not for the sufferers but to the attackers. On 25th April, Kumari Shailaja, Union minister visited Mirchpur. In her visit, she announced that the government would give compensation to the victims and also will resettle them in another village.

We met Subhash Yadav, Superintendent of Police, Hissar, SP who spoke in favour of the caste system and with a conviction and faith in the existing social order reiterated the ‘benefits’ of the caste system in terms of social security such as marriage, family and job security. In addition to these ‘benefits’, he gave us a very shocking explanation of this arson and atrocity. He proudly asserted, ‘because of the caste system only these valmikies have been able to save their lives now, otherwise there could have been much more damage and casualty of life. Their caste made them to unite and fight unitedly’.

The Mirchpur Gram Panchayat has 19 members in the Panchayat. Among them, there are two Chamars and one Valmiki. Due to the paucity of options, the dalit communities have no other option but to either support Congress or the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). According to one dalit individual of Chamar caste, “Dalits don’t have any alternative option to choose. They cannot run away from the Jat led parties of Haryana”.

We visited the Jat residential area of the village. One Rajesh from the Jat community said the reason for the violence was due to the domination of the balmikis on entire stretch of the road. The intention behind his opinion was that dalits don’t have right to use public places. But like any other Jat respondent, he rejected any kind of caste or community targeting. He instead blamed the media for creating such fuss. He said nothing wrong has happened here only media is presenting it badly, ‘we should ban media’, he said. While Harish Chander Singh, 56 years old another Jat alleged that Balmiki themselves have burned their houses for government compensation but he also contradicted himself saying that they could not control their kids from burning houses. According to him, dalits were “very cunning and they knew how to snatch  money from the government”.

Ajhad singh a teacher from the Jat community said, “Modernity is the main cause for this entire problem. Due to arrival of modernity, we are losing our traditional way of life”. According to him, “in this village everything is well and there is harmony in the entire village community”. In fact, he was admiring this caste based dependency wherein every member of the various caste groups were confined to  fixed occupational services. The labor services as mentioned earlier are provided invariably by the dalit community and therefore without their services, the Jats could not sustain their agricultural fields. He refused to accept that this violence has a caste angle in it. He was assuring that everything will be fine after some days, almost suggesting that these incidents were part and parcel of village life. Ajhad Singh was also glorifying the concept of the khap panchayat and argued that this is a good social organization. He stated that the meaning of khap derived from khapte hai  that this organization served the society well.

 

 Conclusion

 In Mirchpur village the Chamars and the Valmikis are two major ex-untouchable castes and are geographically located at two different corners of the village. These two castes don’t have harmonious social relations with each other. Caste in this country has its own peculiar nature. Whereby, every caste looks down against the caste lower to it in the order of the Caste system. Caste system does not allow different marginalized groups to come together against their exploitation to stand in solidarity for each other. But in the case of the upper castes, the scene is different.  Soon after this incident took place, khap leaders of different castes came together to rescue their people who were arrested in this case. In the Indian social system upper castes have strong caste solidarity and this solidarity comes from their socio-political and economic interests. As we have seen in other cases, the state always, ultimately stands up for the interests of the upper castes. In the Mirchpur violence case, the police were just watching the calamity getting unfolded.

The reason why such violence has become a regular feature of Indian society is primarily because there is deep lacuna of consciousness on part of the state to annihilate hierarchies. The annihilation of caste has till date not become a national issue like other issues such as price rise, globalization etc. In case of Mirchpur violence, we could easily mark out that no politician of high standing has spoken on this issue in parliament. The politics in Haryana is dominated by the Jat community, so no political party wants to go against the Jat community. Therefore there is no criticism from the ruling party as well as opposition and other parties.

In Mirchpur village, the Dalit community is not that much aware about the Ambedkarite movement. The Dalit society is fragmented and not much unity persists among the marginalised. Due to the over dependency on Jats,  we can see that even in Gohana and in Jhajjar and now in Mirchpur there is no any strong state level protest from the dalit community. It shows that there is a great dearth of a powerful social movement which can understand and fight against thecaste discrimination of dalits and the marginalised. In Haryana the village economy is such which does not allow dalits to go against the land owner. Therefore, the need of the hour is to immediately implement land reform so that agrarian relation can be changed in the favor of marginalized sections of the society.  

 (Source:  http://www.pragoti.org/node/3944)

 

 

Maya statues of Dalit pride

PHEROZE L. VINCENT
New Delhi, Dec. 14:

Dalits are proud owners of Mayavati’s statues, a speaker at a Jawaharlal Nehru University lecture said, giving the other view not often heard in the mainstream media.

“The handbags and chappals in her statues symbolise the rise in economic strength of the chamaar community she and Kanshi Ram belong to after liberalisation,” art historian Kajri Jain said at the lecture titled The Handbag that Exploded.

The numerous statues to herself and other Dalit icons and the many massive monuments and parks Mayavati has built have been the object of criticism and ridicule, with the media asking why she is not spending the millions instead on the welfare of the community.

But Jain said a Dalit activist at the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal — a monument she has built in Lucknow — had told her: “Dalits have been hungry for centuries. They can endure hunger for another century. But behenji (as Mayavati is known) had given them their history.”

“Across the Dalit spectrum, there is nothing but a feeling of proud ownership,” the speaker added.

What a history it is. Ambedkar Sthal, spread across almost 150 acres and built to be viewed from the level of a bus window, is inspired by the columns of Venus at Priene, Turkey, the row of sphinxes at the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt, the Pantheon in Rome and the Sanchi Stupa.

By invoking the Buddhist elements of Sanchi, Maya has fulfiled Babasaheb Ambedkar’s vision of establishing Dalits as not only a political community but also a distinct religious community separate from Hindus, Jain said.

The art historian pointed out that from the beginning of the previous century there has been mass reproduction of religious icons, especially in calendars, which brought the deities close to the people. After Independence, huge concrete idols of Hindu deities came up.

Absence of anxiety in the architecture is what differentiates these idols from Mayavati’s monuments, Jain said. Her choice of medium is stone or bronze — both hard to destroy — which betrays vulnerability, the historian added. Elephant columns without a roof and stupa-like structures missing the super-structure perhaps show Mayavati’s fear that they will be destroyed when she is out of power, she said.

The previous Ambedkar Sthal was a green hillock that fell into disrepair during the Samajwadi Party’s regime. This time the wide expanse misses landscaping and is paved in stone, making it so hot during the day that “it embodies the sensation of being Dalit — through vulnerability and discomfort”, Jain said.

The CASTE factor

VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED
in Bangalore

FRONTLINE, Volume 27 – Issue 18,

Aug 28 – Sep 10, 2010

 

A conference on caste-based enumeration comes up with valid arguments in support of the exercise.

RAJEEV BHATT
DIGVIJAY SINGH, AICC general secretary, and D. Raja, CPI national secretary, at the release of “Caste Census: Towards an Inclusive India”, in New Delhi on August 5.

THE inclusion of caste in Census 2011 has been a vexed question for the polity. The uncertainty over the issue has now come to an end with the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Caste Census giving its consent for the exercise. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who led the GoM, announced in the Lok Sabha on August 12 that only the modalities remained to be sorted out.

In the past few months, caste-based enumeration has been the subject of opinion columns of newspapers, talk shows on television and discussions on the Internet. A conference on “Caste Census: Towards an Inclusive India”, held on July 23 at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, provided another forum to discuss the issue at length. The participants consisted of a multidisciplinary academic group involved in research on caste and public policy.

Justice M.N. Rao, Chairperson of the National Commission for Backward Classes; Dr M. Vijayanunni, former Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India; Prof. Sukhdeo Thorat, Chairperson of the University Grants Commission; and Prof. S. Japhet, Director, CSSEIP, NLSIU, were among the distinguished personalities who participated in the conference. The group generally was of the opinion that caste-based enumeration was unavoidable in the Indian context.

However, in a letter to the GoM (published in the Opinion Column of The Hindu dated August 14), the participants of the conference objected to its recommendation to conduct caste enumeration at the biometric data capture stage. Saying that outside agencies are likely to be involved at this stage, they argued strongly that The Census of India (or the Office of the Registrar General of India) “is the only competent agency in the country with the necessary expertise and experience to undertake this gigantic task”.

History of caste census

The last time an Indian census included caste data was in 1931. According to Vijayanunni, caste data were collected in 1941 as well, but their tabulation was dropped as a money-saving measure during the Second World War. Several historians have argued that the inclusion of caste in the Indian census by the British was an anthropological exercise to learn about the colonised. In his well-known book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson has said that the ‘census’, the ‘map’ and the ‘museum’ were ways in which the colonialists learnt about the colonised. Some historians say that the manner in which caste and religious data were collected rigidified the otherwise nebulous caste and religious identities in South Asia.

The 1871 census (the first census exercise in British India) shows how the colonial census operations categorised certain castes as superior, intermediate, trading, pastoral, and so on (Memorandum on the Census of British India 1871-72, page 21, available on the website of La Trobe University). This clearly legitimised certain caste notions of superiority and inferiority by the state itself.

Census 1901 reveals an interesting feature: a fall in the number of ‘lower castes’ compared with past censuses. This was because of a severe famine in the 1890s. The census report states: “The diminution in the lower groups is doubtless due to the excessive mortality of 1897 when the administration had to face, and admittedly failed to solve, the difficult problem of forcing relief upon people who were reluctant to accept it until they had been reduced to a state of debility which could end only in death.” This is an example of how caste enumeration can be useful; the 1901 census helped identify which castes were affected most severely by the famine.

Idea of a casteless society

When India became a republic and adopted its Constitution in 1950, it was recognised that the nation needed to move towards a casteless society. But the very fact of ‘untouchability’ being accepted as a reality in the Constitution implied that caste was pervasive in society. The issue came up for a vociferous debate in the Constituent Assembly. Several members argued that untouchability could be abolished only if the caste system was done away with.

Promatha Ranjan Thakur, a member of the Constituent Assembly from Bengal, said on April 29, 1947: “I do not understand how you can abolish untouchability without abolishing the very caste system. Untouchability is nothing but the symptom of the disease, namely, the caste system. It exists as a matter of caste system. I do not understand how this, in its present form, can be allowed to stand in the list of fundamental rights. I think the House should consider this point seriously. Unless we can do away with the caste system altogether there is no use tinkering with the problem of untouchability superficially. I have nothing more to say. I hope the House will consider my suggestion seriously” (Constituent Assembly debates at http://parliamentofindia.nic.in).

Caste continues to be a pervasive marker of identity in Indian society today, and there have been mixed opinions in the recent debate on conducting a caste-based census. For instance, in a scathing piece in India Today, the sociologist Dipankar Gupta wrote thus about the demand for conducting a caste-based census: “Our democracy is determined to show the world that whatever others can do, we can do worse. If in this process, individual initiatives are killed, standards lowered, and professional ethics compromised, there is no cause for worry. We can still sink a lot lower.”

SUDIPTO MONDAL
AN ENUMERATOR COLLECTING details from a Maleykudia family at Kutlur village in the Kudremukh National Park area in Karnataka

Caste and polity

There is a visible link between caste identity and political affiliations in almost all parts of the country. The discipline of psephology in India is dominated by the analysis of the ‘caste’ factor, and its open usage in the media and public forums defeats the noble idea enshrined in the Constitution. It may be argued that direct elections and the growth of political parties have helped the growth of caste consciousness. Over several decades it has also led to what Christophe Jaffrelot calls, in his work India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India, “a genuine democratisation of India”. He says “the social and economic effects of this ‘silent revolution’ are bound to multiply in the years to come”.

The participants of the conference made this point while arguing that counting caste will help the nation move towards caste equality and a caste-free society. They questioned the so-called ‘nobility’ of not ascertaining castes leading to the utopian idea of a casteless society. Said Satish Deshpande, a sociologist at Delhi University: “Not counting caste has defeated the desire to transcend caste, and the noble idea of ‘caste blindness’ should be rejected in favour of a fresh beginning [of counting caste].” The participants also argued that “enumerating all castes will allow us to examine whether – and how – caste continues to affect the distribution of privilege and disprivilege in our society. It is as important to track how caste benefits some groups as it is to monitor how it disadvantages other groups.”

The strongest point in favour of conducting caste-based census was that it would help devise an evidence-based social policy. As such, there is a wide disparity in caste figures, particularly in the number of Other Backward Classes (it varies from 40 to 52 per cent). The implementation of several social policies benefiting particular castes depends on knowing their exact numbers.

It is also true that policy discussions on caste-related issues are handicapped by a lack of data. Caste-based census, its proponents say, will generate a reliable and comprehensive database on “issues such as interrelations between caste and socio-economic condition”. This will also help the judiciary on adjudicating on important measures such as reservation of government and public sector jobs in States where reservation has crossed the constitutionally mandated 50 per cent (as in Tamil Nadu where reservation is 69 per cent). Caste-based census will also give details on the differences in the socio-economic conditions of various castes.

PTI
MEMBERS OF MERI Jat Hindustani during a demonstration against caste-based census, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on July 27.

Procedural difficulties

Responding to the procedural difficulties that might entail the incorporation of caste in the census, Vijayanunni said the Census Commission of India was equipped to handle all the procedural and methodological requirements. He said the issue of including new castes in the Scheduled Castes list had come up for consideration in the 1990s, but the census establishment did not want to take up the responsibility because of several factors, including the fact that the Social Justice Ministry is the nodal ministry to deal with the subject of caste.

On the stand taken by some people to involve other organisations in identifying castes, he said the Census Commission of India was “the only competent agency that can be expected to undertake the all-India data collection and tabulation exercise required for caste data. The Social Justice and the Tribal Affairs Ministries, though dealing with the subject of castes and tribes, do not have the infrastructure, experience or organisational base to undertake this task, and that is why collection, tabulation and dissemination of Schedule Caste-Schedule Tribe [S.C./S.T.] data has been undertaken by the census all these years.”

He also said that the proper time for the collection of caste data was the population enumeration phase of the census, from February 9 to 28, 2011, and not during the biometric data capture for the National Population Register. Dismissing doubts about the methodological hurdles in collecting caste information one by one, Vijayanunni said the census could be used to collect data for all castes without confining the data collection exercise to OBCs alone.

Competent authority

The competence of the enumerator to decide whether a person belongs to the S.C., the S.T., the OBC, or any other category was a contentious point in the debate.

In fact, a few castes are categorised differently in different States. The delegates concurred that the enumerator was not the competent authority to make this distinction and that he or she should enter the given caste name in the designated column on caste without raising any objections or argument. The process of verification/classification was to be done later by census officials, they said.

The participants also agreed that a National Task Force or advisory group can assist with the identification and consolidation of caste data (as was done with religion and caste returns for S.C./S.T. groups in past censuses).

Sceptics say that in a caste-based census, there is the possibility of upper castes misreporting their caste and claiming to belong to backward castes or of backward castes inflating their numbers for political and material benefits. However, the delegates said that caste being a public identity, it would be difficult for a person to make spurious claims about one’s caste. What they chose to ignore, however, is that while caste may be a public identity, the process of collecting census data is a private activity and not one conducted in public.

Minorities and caste identities

The question of minorities and their caste identities also came up for discussion. The sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed, whose pioneering work demonstrated the pervasive consciousness of caste among Muslims, feared that religious minorities would not be enumerated as having a caste, thus immediately denying them entry into any category on the basis of caste. His fears may be valid, but in several States communities of Muslims (some even in their entirety) are included in the lists of OBCs or S.Cs.

The conference did not address how caste enumeration will lead to a casteless society when the proposed caste-based census is already being pejoratively referred to as Mandal-II. The political upheaval that such a clear delineation of caste figures would lead to was also not addressed.

The participants dismissed the criticism that caste-based census would lead to an increase in caste consciousness or that it will further caste divisions. Except for a tiny minority, they said, everyone was aware of his or her caste identity.

The proceedings of the conference were released as a book in New Delhi on August 5 by Digvijay Singh, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, and M. Veerappa Moily, Union Minister for Law and Justice. The book serves as a useful primer on the issue of incorporating caste as a category in the census.

 

Justice, at last

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

FRONTLINE, Volume 27 – Issue 18,

Aug 28 – Sep 10, 2010

 

Seven persons have been awarded life imprisonment in the Dulina Dalit lynching case, but the battle for justice may not be over.

 

Some of those convicted, outside the court

THE long wait for justice by the families of the five Dalit youth who were lynched on October 15, 2002, at the police post in Dulina village in Jhajjar district of Haryana is finally over. On August 9, a district court awarded life imprisonment to seven convicts in the case.

The Dalits were taken to the police post by a group of people who accused them of slaughtering a cow on Dasara day. The crowd soon swelled into a murderous mob and it beat them up in the presence of senior police officers and officials of the district administration. The police personnel did not fire a single shot to disperse the assailants ( Frontline, January 18, 2003).

The case should have been long settled as the crime happened in front of law-enforcers. But because of the caste identities of the victims and the perpetrators of the crime, it was clear that the road to justice was going to be a long one. The State government set up a commission headed by R.R. Banswal, the then Commissioner of Rohtak range, to inquire into the circumstances that led to the incident. The commission report, submitted in December 2002, summed up the sequence of events and castigated the police. It concluded that the five Dalits were murdered at the police post. The exhaustive, 383-page report recommended action against the police officials concerned for dereliction of duty.

According to Jhajjar District Special Judge A.K. Jain, the crime was “well planned and premeditated”. A total of 30 persons were accused initially in the lynching case. On August 7, the court found seven of them guilty under Sections 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 449 (house trespass in order to commit offence), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt), 353 (assault or criminal force), 302 (punishment for murder) and 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) of the Indian Penal Code. On August 9, the court awarded life imprisonment to them and imposed on them a fine of Rs.20,000 under Section 302. The accused were also awarded rigorous imprisonment (RI) for two years under Section 148; seven years’ RI and a fine of Rs.5,000 under Section 449; two years’ RI under Section 332; and two years’ RI under Section 353. All sentences will run concurrently. However, they were acquitted under relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The court acquitted the rest of the accused.

On the basis of the evidence on record, the judge noted in his order that the seven accused (six Jats and one Dalit) – Ranbir, Om Parkash, Satbir, Ramesh, Shishupal, Jagbir and Sube – dragged the five people out after breaking open the door of the police lockup, killed them on the spot and threw the bodies of two into a fire. The order, however, noted that there was no cogent evidence to prove that the accused set on fire any building or hut or that the crime in question was motivated by the caste of the victims. The order said: “On the contrary, it is apparent that the accused were not even aware of the caste of the victims…. In this background, no offence is made out under the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the accused.”

On the day the judgment was pronounced, a huge crowd gathered outside the Jhajjar court in support of the accused, reminiscent of the huge mobilisation on October 16, 2002, to put pressure on the administration against their arrest. Not a word was uttered in support of the massacre victims either then or now. Slogans were raised in support of the cow. According to the report of the then Deputy Commissioner, Jhajjar, various social and religious organisations conducted meetings and took out processions through the bazaars of Jhajjar town and submitted memoranda to the authorities demanding that no action be taken against the people who had killed the “cow slaughterers”.

The mood on August 7 was no less different. All shops in Jhajjar town downed their shutters protesting against the sentence. At a meeting held in support of those found guilty, the Jhajjar Gurukul Pradhan Vijaypal and Haryana Gaushala Sangh president, Acharya Baldev, gave a call to protect the cow. On August 10, the Jhajjar Gaushala organised a panchayat to decide a future course of action. It was decided to hold a bigger meeting in which representatives of khaps, gurukuls and gaushalas were expected to participate.

At least two of the seven convicts had connections with the Shiv Sena or the Bharatiya Janta Party. One of them is a former municipal councillor and president of the district unit of the Shiv Sena. The other, the pradhan of the Jhajjar Gaushala and a former member of the BJP, is now associated with the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INDL). It may be pertinent here to mention that in the past few years “cow rescue” operations have intensified, with vigilantes stopping vehicles suspected to be carrying animals for slaughter. Needless to add, all these activities have a “communal” subtext to them. The then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Narender Singh, stated in his deposition to the prosecution that “the crowd was agitated communally”. Rajinder Singh, Station House Officer (SHO), Dulina, also deposed that someone from the mob shouted that “the victims were dhedh (a derogatory term used for Dalits), they were doing the job like Muslims and they should not be spared”. In his statement as a prosecution witness, Rajinder Singh said one Mahabir had stood on the bonnet of his vehicle and announced that the victims were not Muslims but Hindus who had purchased the carcass of the cow for Rs.200.

 

A PROTEST in support of the convicts outside the primises

COLLUSION OF THE POLICE

The blatantly communal and casteist character of the attack was apparent. Whether the local police colluded with the killers by remaining passive observers as the five were dragged out from a locked room, beaten and burnt alive, is a question the families of the victims are asking. Why did the main building of the police post not bear any signs of mob violence? Why did the plant pots on the premises not suffer any damage? Why was it that some policemen sustained only minor injuries in an attack by a 5,000-strong mob? These are questions that need to be answered. Dharambir Singh, who was in charge of the police post at the time of the crime, admitted in his statement that when he found that it was not a case of cow slaughter, he did not record the statement of the persons who had made the complaint; nor did he record the statement of the deceased persons. “I cannot give any reason for that,” he stated.

On October 15, 2002, as the rest of the State was celebrating Dasara, the festival symbolising the victory of good over evil, for Kailash, Virender, Tota Ram, Raju and Dayachand, it was business as usual. They were the main breadwinners of their families. The youngest of them was 17-year-old Raju, a cleaner. Tota Ram, the driver of the vehicle that was carrying the hides, had four minor children. Kailash had promised his son, Kamal, that he would return home early to celebrate Dasara. Engaged in the activity of purchasing, loading and unloading the skins of dead animals, which members of no other caste would take up, the five men had landed in Farookhnagar where a cow owned by a Brahmin was reported dead. They picked up the dead animal from a local contractor, called Hanif, and attempted to skin the already putrefying carcass.

Interestingly, the Banswal Commission report had expressed doubts about the very fact that the cow had been skinned on the road, and that too near a religious institution like the Gurukul of Jhajjar. Witnesses involved in the skinning trade, who were examined by the commission, deposed that those in the trade observed the rule that no skinning would be done after sunset. That there had been a conflict between some of the police personnel and one of the deceased over bribes for letting vehicles pass through was also hinted at in the report.

More interestingly, the five were caught by people returning after the Dasara festivities, beaten up and handed over to the police at Dulina. They forced the assistant sub-inspector, who was also a witness for the prosecution, to register a case of cow slaughter against the five men. Strangely, the Jhajjar superintendent of police in his report to the National Human Rights Commission, the State’s director-general of police, and the inspector-general, Rohtak range, withheld the names of the accused persons and the inquest reports. That it was not a case of cow slaughter was verified by a team of police persons. The SP stated that by the time the verification was complete, a violent crowd had gathered outside the police post. They were shouting slogans such as “Gau mata ki jai ho”, “Gau mata ke hatyaron ko hum nahin chodenge”, “Unhe hamare hawale karo”, and “Ham Hindu hain aur tum Hindu nahin ho”. It was equally strange that the magistrates and the police present there felt that if firing was resorted to, the situation would worsen and that persuasion was a better method to calm the crowd. Clearly, their reluctance to open fire resulted in the lynching.

It is surprising that from 6-20 p.m. onwards when the five were handed over to the police and until 11-10 p.m. when the roadblocks were removed and the five men were lynched to death, the administration did not think it wise to fire a single shot in the air. The contradictory statements of the police did not help the case progress initially. While the police post in charge and the DSP reportedly described the mob as having swelled to 3,000, the SHO, the city magistrate and two other officials gave the figure in hundreds.

Banswal observed in his report that the mob strength was not more than 1,000 and the police strength was sufficient to handle the situation. He was unable to understand why the SHO, the DSP and the executive magistrate attempted to convince the crowd that the five were not Muslims. He also failed to understand why an additional police force could not reach the spot despite repeated demands by the DSP and the magistrate, while people could reach the police post from a distance of more than six kilometres through dirt tracks. Were the police deliberately disinterested?

According to the post-mortem reports, the Dalits had died of shock and haemorrhage, their bodies bore multiple injuries and fractures and their faces were “contused and disfigured” with burns. Kailash was thrown alive into a fire. The injuries on the three policemen and one city magistrate were superficial in nature, leading Banswal to conclude from the medico legal reports that “there was no such serious confrontation” between the mobsters and the police. The absence of three names, including that of the chairman of the gaushala, from the first information report, too, raised serious questions about the impartiality of the police.

Five witnesses from different castes and occupations examined by the commission stated that two of the deceased, Virender and Daya Chand, had told them that the police were in the habit of demanding suvidha shulk, or convenience tax, from them. Banswal’s report concluded that the police officers and officials had exaggerated the strength of the mob in order to cover up their lapses. The record of the VT (verbal transmission) messages showed that the force, to be assembled from various police stations, was requisitioned only at 9-15 p.m. Another surprising fact, the report noted, was that the police force from the police lines of Jhajjar reached the Dulina police post after an hour and a half covering a distance of 8 km. The SHO took the matter very lightly, the report noted, and did not think of arranging first aid for the victims who had already been beaten up once by the mob.

The DSP tried to pacify the mob; the seriousness of the situation was not conveyed either to the SP or the Deputy Commissioner. “When the police force present at the police post was equipped with rifles and cartridges, why were they not ordered to be used? It shows the callousness on the part of the DSP,” the report said.

The five youth were lynched between 9-45 p.m. and 10-15 p.m. on the night of October 15, 2002. They were brought in at 6-15 p.m. to the police post, and Banswal noted that there was “sufficient time to manage and control the situation”. The report also included memoranda received from various organisations. The commission had examined 114 witnesses.

Several organisations and individuals, including the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Shri Guru Ravi Dass Sabha and the Maharshi Balmiki Mandir Samiti, condemned the incident and demanded action against the police personnel. Some others warned the administration of reprisals if the “wrong” people were arrested. The INLD and the Congress for some strange reason did not submit any memoranda demanding justice for the five slain persons.

It is quite possible that the district judge’s order will be challenged in a higher court as mobilisation for this on caste and communal lines has already begun. In the interest of justice, it is felt that the government should appeal against the acquittal of the remaining accused persons so that the right lessons from Dulina are learnt.

 

Gaps in the story

LYLA BAVADAM

FRONTLINE, Volume 27 – Issue 16

July 31 – Aug 13, 2010

 

 

The Khairlanji case is tried without invoking the Prevention of Atrocities Act

VIVEK BENDRE

WHEN four members of the Bhotmange family were killed in Khairlanji village in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district on September 29, 2006, it was considered to be among the worst caste atrocities in post-Independence India. However, a special trial court in Bhandara, presided over by Additional Sessions Judge S.S. Das, concluded on September 15, 2008, after a 16-month trial, that the motive for the crime against the Scheduled Caste family was revenge and not caste animosity. Not only did he rule out the application of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, but he also did not invoke Section 354 (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage the modesty of a woman) or Section 375 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The trial court convicted eight of the 11 accused. Three people were acquitted after the judge said the killings were not proved to be caste-related. Six of the convicted were awarded the death sentence.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was prosecuting the case, filed an appeal before the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. On July 14, 2010, the Bench upheld the lower court’s verdict but commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment.

The High Court judgment said: “The incident had not occurred on account of caste hatred but the incident occurred since the accused felt that they were falsely implicated in the crime of beating Siddharth Gajbhiye by Surekha and [her daughter] Priyanka [Bhotmange].”

What led to the lynching of the four Bhotmanges, if it was not caste hatred?

A review of the incident is necessary to understand the case. The population of Khairlanji village consists primarily of Other Backward Classes; there are only three families of Mahars, a Scheduled Caste, and a few Scheduled Tribe families. All the accused in this case belong to the Kunbi (OBC) community. The Bhotmanges are Mahars.

On September 13, 2006, one of the accused, Sakru Binjewar, was slapped by the local police patil, Siddharth Gajbhiye, who is a Mahar, after the two had an argument over some back wages that Gajbhiye owed Sakru. That evening, Gajbhiye was attacked by some people. Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter, Priyanka, went to Gajbhiye’s aid since they knew him well.

Two days later, Gajbhiye lodged a complaint of assault with the police and Surekha gave a statement identifying the attackers, following which they were arrested. On September 29, they were released on bail. At around 6 p.m. that day, about 40 people surrounded the Bhotmanges’ hut and accused Surekha of falsely implicating the people who were arrested in the case. They abused the Bhotmanges in casteist terms. In an apparent attempt to attract attention, Surekha set fire to the cattle shed and then tried to run away, but she was caught and killed.

Her elder son, Sudhir, was killed when he ran out. Roshan, her visually challenged son, who is believed to have pleaded for his life, was also killed. Finally, Priyanka was caught near a handpump and killed. The bodies were loaded onto a bullock cart and dumped in a canal. These are the facts as presented in the High Court judgment.

Missing pieces in the puzzle

Some pieces of the puzzle do not fall in place. The incident was the culmination of developments over a period of 17 days, so it is difficult to understand why it is called a crime of the moment and not seen as premeditated.

Besides, if the attack was because Surekha and Priyanka had assisted Gajbhiye, then why were Sudhir and Roshan killed?

It is difficult to accept the argument that they were killed because they were witnesses to the murder of their mother. Roshan, for instance, was visually challenged. Besides, by the attackers’ own recounting, all the members of the family were not present at the hut at the time of the incident. They were hunted out from various places by the mob.

Also, if the murderers wanted to eliminate witnesses, why did they not kill the other village residents who watched the killings? Could it be that they expected these witnesses to be loyal to their caste?

In any case, the mob screamed caste abuses while hunting down the Mahar family. Witnesses have said under oath that they heard the mob shouting “ Mahar la mara” (Kill/hit the Mahars). After the murders, the assailants warned the others not to speak of what they saw.

Accounts of witnesses, media reports and the findings of numerous independent committees of Dalit and civil society groups indicate that the Khairlanji murders were premeditated and motivated by caste prejudice and that the women victims were sexually assaulted.

But the High Court treated the case purely as a homicide. In doing so, it might have “set a dangerous precedent”, believes S. Anand of Navayana, a publishing house that “focusses on caste from an anti-caste perspective”. He said: “People are now likely to see it as just another human crime… just one person killing another. Every dispute has its origin, but in this case there was a special anger. What was this due to?” Anand’s apprehension is that the Nagpur judgment may encourage “lower courts to ignore caste-related crimes”.

Sexual assault ruled out

Rape and sexual assault have been ruled out in the legal process. Even the CBI’s senior public prosecutor says the agency has no evidence for it. The CBI took up the case a month after the crime and by then the bodies had been disposed of.

VIVEK BENDRE


Policemen guard Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange’s house in Khairlanji. An October 2009 photograph.

There was severe criticism of the manner in which the post-mortems had been carried out, and a source closely connected with the case told Frontline that “proper investigation was not done by the police”. Witnesses who spoke extensively to the media and to numerous independent fact-finding committees recounted incidents that now find no place in the legal process.

Previously, it was reported that the Bhotmanges had been stripped, paraded naked, taunted with sexual obscenities and casteist language. They were taken to the centre of the village, where apparently the OBC women urged their men to rape the Bhotmange women. Unsuccessful attempts were made to make Sudhir, the oldest Bhotmange boy, copulate with his mother and sister. They were beaten with rods, chains and other implements until their bones were broken and they ultimately died, as the post-mortem report put it, of “intracranial haemorrhage due to head injury”. Throughout, said the witnesses at the time, the mob screamed out hatred of the Mahars.

All this depravity and torture prompted by a desire to take revenge on two women who identified a man in a minor police case? It seems unlikely.

Legal limitations

Anand has an opinion on why the courts did not see the Khairlanji killings as caste violence. “Caste prejudice prevented the invoking of the Atrocities Act,” he said.

How is a case of abuse proved to be related to caste? The presence of witnesses provides the best way to prove caste atrocity. Under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, caste abuse can be verbal or physical.

It can range from pulling a Scheduled Caste woman by her hair or sexually abusing her. It can be in the form of denial of the right to passage to a public place or of the right to clean water. The Act provides a wide umbrella under which those who are abused can take shelter.

However, as one lawyer pointed out, caste violence is not easy to prove because the depth of the investigation and the extent of evidence required to invoke the Atrocities Act seems to be far more rigorous than what is required in a case of homicide. The nitty-gritty demanded by the Act are such that, the lawyer said, they often seem to undermine the objective of the legislation.

The High Court judgment, for instance, quotes Section 3(1)(x) of the Act: “Whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any place within public view;…” The key word here is “intent”. How is intent to be proved? The judgment goes on to explain, “In order to attract Section 3(1)(x) of the Act, it is necessary that the accused should insult or intimidate a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in any public place with intention to humiliate him/her. In the present case, the whole object of the accused was to take revenge against Surekha and Priyanka because the accused believed that they were falsely implicated in the assault of Siddharth Gajbhiye by them and in the process they committed not only murders of Surekha and Priyanka but of Sudhir and Roshan. Therefore, it is difficult to hold that accused intended to insult Surekha or other deceased who admittedly were belonging to Scheduled Caste.”

Even the use of the word “Chamar” is not adequate to prove that there was an intent to humiliate, as the judgment explains. “In the case of Swaran Singh and others vs. State (2008 CRI.L.J., 4369) the apex court held that calling the member of Scheduled Caste as ‘Chamar’ with intent to insult or humiliate would amount to an offence and whether there was intent to insult or humiliate by using word ‘Chamar’ would depend on the context in which it was used.” So the shouts of “ Mahar la mara”, which the Khairlanji witnesses say they heard, do not seem to prove adequately the intent of caste humiliation.

FIR must mention caste of accused

Another point of law was raised in the judgment, which essentially said that when a first information report (FIR) is filed for offences under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, the complainant must disclose the caste of the accused. To quote, “At this stage we would like to deal with the authorities relied upon by Mr. Khan [the CBI prosecutor] in support of his submission that the offences under the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act are made out against the accused. In the case of Ashabai Machindra Adhagale (supra) the apex court held that merely because in the FIR caste of the accused is not mentioned, the proceedings could be quashed and whether the accused belongs to Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe can be gone into in the course of investigation.”

VIVEK BENDRE

Bhaiyyalal Bhotmang, The lone surviving member of his family.

It seems that Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, the surviving member of the Bhotmange family, should have said at the time of filing his FIR that the assailants were members of the OBC. His omission to do so was apparently a misdemeanour.

Fine points like this came in the way of invoking of the Prevention of Atrocities Act in the Khairlanji case.

Witnesses were ‘unreliable’

The prosecution’s strongest card was thought to have been the four witnesses, all residents of the village. Ejaz Khan, the CBI’s senior public prosecutor, and others present in court said the accounts of the witnesses were so strong that it was generally expected that the Prevention of Atrocities Act would be invoked.

But the judgment notes that they were largely discounted because of contradictions and omissions that were believed to reflect on their credibility.

Given the circumstances, it is highly commendable that the four witnesses appeared at all for the prosecution. One of them was from the OBC community. The other three were Gonds, a Scheduled Tribe.

Khairlanji is deep in the hinterland. With the nearest police station being some miles away, it is impractical to believe that one can rely on the government for safety. Instead, people rely on each other and on established social structures for their survival.

In 2006, when the crime occurred, a Khairlanji resident told Frontline: “Our lives are here – land, cattle, families. Who will be here with us when the police [contingents] move out? No one. We will go back to the same ways and if we speak out, our lives will be in danger. What has happened has happened. That is the way it is for us.”

In this context, the decision of the four witnesses to speak out should be respected all the more. Witnesses in the Khairlanji case do get protection from the state, but, as Khan said, “once the threat perception is gone the police protection is withdrawn”.

It is not clear how it is decided when the threat perception diminishes for a man who has gone against his caste loyalties and stood up as a witness.

One would imagine that the threat perceptions would remain high for a long time, if not forever.

The undeniable truth

So how is caste atrocity to be proved if the accounts of witnesses are discounted? There was one fact that even the defence could not dismiss – that the Bhotmanges were physically abused, tortured, and then killed.

Anand said: “Four people were lynched in the face of a mob. This much has been accepted – the very fact that there is a judgment that convicts people for this crime proves that this much has been accepted by the court. It is also accepted that the four who were lynched were Dalits. That too is also not disputed. So now what’s the problem? Put the two facts together – Dalits were lynched – and invoke the Atrocities Act.”

Given the historical inequities suffered by the Scheduled Castes, the Prevention of Atrocities Act is more than just a piece of legislation. It is a tool of empowerment, of dignity and of deterrence, and hence the need for its application.

And while the letter of the law is to be respected, it has to be ensured that the law does not destroy the spirit of common social intelligence and understanding. The real issue is not the quantum of justice but that Khairlanji be recognised for what it was – a caste-related lynching.

Another appeal?

Both legal and police officers who spoke to Frontline said that the quantum of justice was adequate but believed that there would be an appeal against it. Indeed, the CBI is drafting an appeal before the Supreme Court.

The commonly expressed complaint that educated Dalits prefer to forget about helping less fortunate brethren came to the fore again after the Khairlanji incident. Writer Anand Teltumbde wrote at the time, “The superintendent of police, Bhandara, the Dy. Superintendent of Police, the PSI of Andhalgaon police station, a constable under him, the doctor who performed post-mortem, the district civil surgeon who permitted the doctor to go ahead with post-mortem without a lady doctor, the public prosecutor who advised against application of the PoA to the earlier cases which were essentially caste based, the nodal officer at the apex level who is entrusted with the responsibility of reviewing the state of crimes against S.C.s and S.T.s in accordance with the Atrocities Act, were all Dalits and belonging to the same sub-castes as that of Bhotmanges. Nobody will fault this combination and accuse the upper caste people of exercising caste prejudice in relation to Dalits but as it is seen the entire network failed at every possible step.

“It is easy to blame these individuals but not the system of which they are essentially a part. It is naive to believe that a Dalit individual rising up the bureaucratic or governmental structure could influence it to be pro-Dalit. On the contrary, such individual rise is basically a reward for the proven service rendered by such individual to the system and the latter expects much more of the same from him. It is a singular naivety of Dalits that has reduced them to political inactivity. They forgot that it is their own political participation, their struggle that can influence the behaviour of structures, not the individuals howsoever highly placed they may be.”

 

Doomed by Caste Damned by Gender

SPECIAL REPORT

Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 29,

Dated July 23, 2010

Rape continues to be a weapon of oppression against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, despite the state having a Chief Minister who is herself a woman and a Dalit

by SHOBHITA NAITHANI

 

 

BADHANA VILLAGE in Sultanpur district is just 150 km from Lucknow. One muggy September afternoon in 2006, 17-year-old Sarita told her parents that an upper-caste boy had been teasing her. When the girl’s parents, Meera Devi and Sukhdev Harijan, approached the boy’s family, they rubbished the charge.

Sarita’s harassment only intensified. One morning, the teenager went missing. Her parents, Dalit landless labourers, filed a report with the police, but did not name anyone, though they suspected 23- year-old Dileep Singh, a Thakur. Days later, Sarita’s bloated body was recovered from an unused well.

Sarita’s waist-long hair had been stuffed in her mouth and her tongue was jammed between her teeth. The police arrived the next morning, conducted the post-mortem and cremated the body while the family was still in shock.

Since the post-mortem cited drowning as the cause of death, the police declared it a case of suicide. By the time Sukhdev Harijan gathered his wits and summoned the courage to question the probe, the police said it was too late to register a complaint

In backward eastern UP, no statistic on rape or murder comes as a shock. But when the chief minister is a Dalit woman, stock must be taken. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of rape cases involving Dalit women in Uttar Pradesh was 375 in 2008, the highest in the country. In 2007, the year Mayawati took charge as CM, 318 rapes were reported; the year before, the rape tally was 240.

These are official figures — numerous cases never make it to the police register. In fact, the latest report of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes claims that cases of atrocities against Dalits are highest in UP, followed by Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

 

Some would say it is unfair to blame Mayawati for not knowing what’s happening in remote corners of the large, populous state. But Sukhdev was not just any landless labourer. In the 2002 Assembly elections, he was a foot soldier of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Sukhdev had campaigned “day and night” for Bhagelu Ram as MLA — his distraught wife says “He was Bhagelu Ram’s bhakt (devotee).” But Ram disappointed the family when he arrived belatedly, condoled quickly and left.

 “Worse, it didn’t matter to the BSP that a member of the community they claim to support, represent and fight for was left in the lurch,” says Ram Kumar of the Dynamic Action Group, a Dalit organisation that Sukhdev later began to work with. “Even if we are to believe that Sarita wasn’t raped and committed suicide, the police should have registered a complaint and investigated the cause,” points out Kumar.

In 2007, Bhagelu Ram was re-elected for a second term from Kadipur. But Sukhdev’s life took another twist. He was arrested in February this year for the murder of the youth, Dileep Singh, whom he suspected of raping and killing his daughter in 2006. Interestingly, Sukhdev had not even been named in the FIR filed by Dileep’s father: instead, 70-year-old Gaya Prasad, a school teacher, told TEHELKA that he suspected two men related to him, who had threatened his son a few days before the murder. Besides the two named in the FIR, the police arrested two others, who “confessed” to killing the youth at Sukhdev’s behest. While the police let off the first two suspects, Sukhdev remains in jail. The school teacher, meanwhile, is unhappy with the probe.

The state administration gives two arguments for the rising number of Dalit rapes in the state. First, that it is proportionate to the high percentage of Dalit population — 21 percent. The second reason is the “empowerment among Dalits to speak out ever since Mayawati has come to power”, says Karamveer Singh, the state Director General of Police. So, regardless of the CM belonging to their community, Dalits still get beaten up, raped or eliminated as “punishment” for their acts of self-assertion.

The Supreme Court has ruled that if a woman claims she has been raped, her statement must be taken at face value until proven otherwise. Thus it should be easy to get a conviction in cases of rape and sexual harassment. But TEHELKA found the police to be blatantly prejudiced. “They not only try to hide the grave nature of the crime, but at times deny the crime itself,” says SR Darapuri, a Dalit and former state Inspector General of Police who now works with Dalits. Indeed, going by the statements of policemen at the tehsil and block levels, all Dalits are liars, no Dalit is raped, Dalit women are characterless, the men lazy and their children both.

TO UNDERSTAND the role of the police, TEHELKA reconstructed the horrific journey of a rape victim. We started at the Primary Health Centre (PHC) where 25-year-old Mansa Devi was taken in March this year. A mother of two boys — Suraj, 5, and Chanda, 3 — Mansa had alleged that she and her husband were beaten up by the village Thakurs who then gangraped her because her family had defaulted on a loan. She claims the perpetrators also forced the barrel of a gun in her genitals.

The PHC does not have a lady doctor, only a midwife who is not qualified to conduct a medico-legal examination. Dr Kalicharan treated Mansa for wounds of “maar peet” (beating) when she was brought there. The policeman who brought her there did not mention rape. “When the doctor learnt that I was bleeding from my genitals, he advised me to persuade the police for a medical examination,” recalls Mansa. Dr Kalicharan admitted to TEHELKA that he had advised Mansa, but declined to say whether she was raped or not. “We don’t have the facility for an internal examination,” he said.

 

Mansa’s husband died soon after the incident. Though the family clams it was a result of the thrashing by the Thakurs, the cause remains unclear.

       

The next stop is the police station. Mansa points out Constable Jograj Singh, who took Rs 110 to register her complaint. When confronted, he denies the charge, swore under his breath and disappeared.

Next arrives Station Officer Hiralal Chaurasia, huffing and puffing. “Let me tell you about her background,” he says, targeting Mansa’s character, family and lifestyle. “But why didn’t you register a complaint for rape when the woman alleged so?” we ask him. “Because she wasn’t raped,” he retorts, adding, “She admitted she was lying when I asked her.”

Mansa is audacious and outspoken — qualities that the police don’t expect in the injured party. “I retracted only because you abused me and my character,” she snaps, recounting his abusive language.

We visited the State Human Rights Commission in Lucknow. It is a sanitised place; no complainants, only polite cops dot the cool corridors. Justice Vishnu Sahai, a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court, has files neatly stacked on his desk. He hints that a majority of the cases brought to his notice are fakes. “Dalits are trampled upon, oppressed, but there are other cases of human rights violations too,” he says. His records show that the number of complaints of Dalit atrocities has come down from 352 cases in 2008 to 209 the following year. “Most of them do it (file rape cases) to get compensation money,” says one officer.

Yet, most victims do not even know that under the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, there is a provision for granting compensation — between Rs 10,000 and Rs 1 lakh — to a Dalit victim of any crime. The few who file for compensation manage to do so with the help of local activists, who in turn take a “cut” for helping them.

IN ONE rare case in Hamirpur district, the state social welfare department gave Rs 25,000 compensation to Rekha, who was only six when an uppercaste neighbour who had known the family for nine years raped her. The police registered a complaint and a medical examination was conducted only because the local BSP MLA stays just two houses away. The medical report, however, ruled out rape as Rekha’s hymen was intact.

In Rekha’s case, the accused, a minor, was sent to a juvenile home for a month and then freed. The family moved soon after. When her parents go out for work, Rekha fends for herself dressed as a boy — cropped hair, trousers, no jewellery “Mayawati’s coming to power doesn’t mean things will change. The power structure remains the same at the village level,” says Sudha Pai, a professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and the author of The Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh (2002).

Lucknow-based journalist Sharad Pradhan disagrees with this line of reasoning. “Mayawati has risen to these heights on the Dalit agenda. She continues to harp on Dalits. Why shouldn’t she be held accountable?” Indeed, few would disagree that when the BSP was gaining force in the 1990s, it had a tremendous opportunity to change the political and social landscape. But its priorities are different. “The BSP is only consolidating its position,” says Pai.

Gokul Prasad, a landless Dalit farmer in Manjholi village of Hamirpur district, has stopped going to political rallies but rushes to help fellow Dalits in need. He understands their pain, for four years ago, his five-year-old daughter Radha was raped by an uppercaste neighbour after a family altercation.

Raping a child, it seems, is a way of settling scores. When villagers brought Radha home, the women of the house fainted. The child was soaked in blood, her legs and hips swollen. But the police abused them on caste lines and refused to lodge an FIR until Dalit activists forced them to do so, six days later.

It took the police over a year to arrest and jail the culprit, 35-year-old Lakhan Lodhi. But his family continued to pressurise Gokul for a compromise. A few months later, Gokul’s 70-year-old father was murdered and house burnt. Soon after, Gokul and his brother Shivpal were arrested on charges of murdering a woman. The victim’s son, a Lodh, the same caste as Radha’s rapist, had named Gokul and his brother.

Out on bail now, the battle has begun yet again for Gokul. “I hear about an atrocity in the area and I rush to the spot,” he says. Which means — by his own estimate — he is out at least four times a week. That tells a lot about a state where a Dalit chief minister clearly does not have her ears to the ground.

(Names of victims have been changed)

No concessions

Chandrabhan Prasad

Sunday Pioneer, July 4, 2010

I know a Dalit Engineer who works for Engineering Projects (India) Ltd (EPI), a Government of India Enterprise. From envisioning to execution, EPI takes up turnkey projects. Few years ago, EPI had won an overseas project, and the Dalit engineer I am talking about was chosen to head the project. This engineer used Affirmative Actions in securing admission to an engineering college, and a job with EPI. Rest is history as he has risen to ranks in EPI on his own genius.

I know a Dalit Engineer working for Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), a Government of India Navratna Enterprise. Famous for undertaking heavy engineering works, BHEL wins contracts in Europe and the US as well. Few years ago, BHEL had got a contract to commission a Boiler in Germany, and the Dalit Engineering I am talking about was selected to head the project. Like the EPI Dalit engineer, the BHEL one too used Affirmative Action in securing admission to an engineering college and landing up a job with BHEL. This engineer too has risen on his own genius.

Similarly, I know a Dalit IT professional who heads a Chinese IT multinational company with operations all over the world. This Dalit IT professional too used Affirmative Action in securing admission to an engineering college. The list can run into several pages. In each State, there are a number of Dalit Civil Servants who became household names for their brilliance in administration. The Harshad Mehta Stock Exchange fraud was cracked by a Dalit Indian Revenue Service officer. All these Dalits used Affirmative Actions in education and jobs to be selected for Government jobs. By sheer brilliance and dedication to their professions, they outshone their colleagues.

But, there is a problem. Irrespective of their talent, commitment to their professions, and dedication to the nation, all Dalits using Affirmative Action are looked down upon as ‘inferiors’ as they had slightly lower marks at the time of admission to colleges and also during selection for jobs. That’s the problem of India’s Caste society as it fails to rise from the history anchored to the regime of prejudices. The kind of adversity Dalits face in society — from neighbourhoods to schooling to even college — and still reach the level of their non-Dalit counterparts, can be mind boggling. All Dalits using Affirmative Action will have to live with the burden of the Caste Order. There is no escape.

Thanks to the historic Milind Kamble anchored Dalit Expo 2010 held this June in Pune, the community has knocked down another door of segregation. Impressed by the products displayed by Dalit entrepreneurs at the Expo, Pune-based Tata Motors management invited Kamble to bring ten Dalit entrepreneurs to make a presentation of their products before Tata’s Vendor Selection Board. The idea is to buy parts and ancillaries from Dalit manufacturers directly. There are a host of Dalits who are manufacturing world class ancillaries and parts used by Indian and foreign companies, but land up selling their products to middlemen. Thanks to the nasty social practices, Dalits are disconnected from the top corporate houses.

Given the historic nature of Tata’s initiative, Kamble invited Dr Amar Singh, D Shyam Babu, and myself, to be present on the occasion. Dalit entrepreneurs made their presentations before the power-packed Tata Motors management on June 23. Dr Amar Singh was invited to make a brief speech on behalf of DICCI.

“Dalits need Connections and not Concessions,” Dr Singh began. “Dalits are capable of producing world class goods and hence need no lowering of standards, quality or price,” he told. “Look at the presentations the Dalit entrepreneurs have just made,” he pointed out as all cheered including managers of Tata Motors.

What probably must have played out in Dr Singh’s mind was the fact that for some reason, there is a stereotype built around the persona of Dalits that ‘they are concession seekers’. For this repulsive typecast, Caste society is not alone to blame. Holding a Charter of Demands all the time, Dalit groups and, most notoriously, Dalit NGOs contribute to the stereotype built around the community. Dr Singh wanted to dispel that doubt that ‘we are here to seek concessions’.

More than concessions, there is a new breed of Dalits seeking connections as Dalits are deprived of social capital and cultural connectivity

The real battle: Equal Opportunity

Caste obsessions must go
by B.G. Verghese

The Tribune,

Chandigarh, July 1, 2010

IT is a thousand pities that 62 years after Independence, India is still talking of and suffering from caste obsessions. Read “gotra” as an extension of caste and we have “honour killings”, acts of medieval barbarism at the behest of khap panchayats, being defended and debated. The motive for the most part is no longer religion or ritual even in some degree, as it once may have been, but crudely political, through vote-banking, a scramble for preferment by reservation in an economy of shortages, and a claim to superior social status in an upwardly mobile society that has traditionally been based on hierarchy, not merit.

The current debate has been triggered by the suggestion that caste enumeration be made part of the 2011 census after it was discontinued post-1931. The proffered rationale is that an accurate caste enumeration will enable the government better to target affirmative action programmes in its social welfare and other efforts to ensure inclusive growth. This is a fallacy. Such numbers and classifications are and can be made available— and perhaps more accurately — through the National Social Sample and similar data collection exercises.

The Constitution abolishes untouchability and only mentions caste in the specific context of the Scheduled Castes. Contrary to popular belief, it does not refer to “backward castes” but only to “socially and economically backward classes” (and to “weaker sections”) in respect of whom a commission may be appointed from time to time to investigate and make recommendations for ameliorating their condition. Hence the Backward Classes Commissions under Kaka Kalelkar and B.P. Mandal.

Nor does the Constitution refer to a casteless society per se but speaks of “equality of status and opportunity”, “fraternity” and a uniform civil code, all of which obviously rule out caste as a defining societal principle. We are not there by any means. So, why reverse gear half way through the journey and give a fillip to caste through the Census?

All parties have elaborate caste and community breakdowns of the electorate for every constituency and woo them assiduously, the Left as much as any other. Policies and appointments are made with an eye on winning the support of these groups for electoral advantage. The talk of targeting welfare schemes through more nuanced caste enumeration is just so much humbug. Indeed reservation, and reservations within reservations, have become a crutch. There has been strong resistance to any exit policy, and creamy layers have become a new privileged and exploiting class, determined to prevent the less fortunate among their community to rise and proper.

Everybody, it seem, wants to be declared “backward” in order to move forward” on crutches. The process of sanskritisation or movement up the caste ladder is being reversed and retribalisation is taking place. This spells ill for the nation and can only breed mediocrity. One antidote would be to declare the entire populace backward so that none is more equal than others! The real answer, however, lies in affirmative action in favour of the poor and the disadvantaged and to waste out the constitutional provision for SC/ST reservation over the next decade or so on the basis of a rational exit policy, universalisation of education and other rights-based measures.

Caste must be seen not in isolation but holistically as part of other behavioural attitudes such as gender or minority status. Majority and minority in terms of social behaviour are not numerical as much as attitudinal categories. Parsees do not behave as “minorities”; Hindutvadis do. Likewise, the majority Sinhala in Sri Lanka suffer from a minority complex. Gender relations (including dowry) are to a large extent guided deep down by property and property-derived status considerations. Hence the ugly and murderous phenomenon of female foeticide. One supreme example of attitudinal resistance to social reform is the blindly perverse opposition to legislating a uniform civil code on the totally false premise that this can only be done by abrogating personal codes. With reference to the UCC, many perfervid secularists are truly diehard communists, allied in a common conspiracy to protect male property rights and slot people into castes, sub-castes and communities. They are truly enemies of equality and fraternity.

Those who oppose caste enumeration must, therefore, take up the cudgels against “minorityism” and gender discrimination as part of broadbased social reform. The goal must be to strive for equal opportunity (not more and more reservation), a fundamental constitutional promise. Equal opportunity legislation has been pending for a year but is being opposed. Why is no one agitated? It is because we have been so busy tilting at windmills that the true enemy is often not discerned. It is the battle for equal opportunity that must be fought and won.

Social reform too must be pursued not just by the state but by communities and individuals. There is so much social rot around that we tolerate in the belief that it will just go away. Where are the contemporary versions of latter day social reformers? The Church seeks the scheduling of scheduled caste converts, indirectly perpetuating caste and mocking its own faith. Others are no better. Jagmohan, the former civil servant and minister, has written of reforming and reawakening Hinduism in a new book just published. Maybe, one of the reforms we should consider is the restoration of religious instruction in schools so that children know about the country’s many faiths and can imbibe their high moral values. This would be perfectly in keeping with true secularism and attune young minds to essential values of equality and brotherhood.

 

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