Why do governments feel that Dalits and Adivasis, despite all the atrocities they face, will tolerate everything passively until prodded by Maoists?
The recent arrest of five activists in Maharashtra and one in Delhi, ostensibly in connection with the violence that broke out after the Bhima Koregaon Dalit rally in January, once again bears out this government attitude. All five have been charged with helping Maoists, who, say the police, were behind the rally.
Similar allegations were made after the killing of a Dalit family in Khairlanji led to protests in Maharashtra. The brutal killings which took place in full view of the village in broad daylight, didn’t trouble the state; the protests did.
In September 2006, Surekha Bhootmange and her daughter Priyanka were paraded naked before being sexually brutalised and killed by a ‘high’ caste mob. Two young sons of the family were also killed.
After failing to get the police to act for over two months, Dalit protests in Chandrapur turned violent. That’s when the Congress-NCP government led by the late Vilasrao Deshmukh woke up—to wonder whether there was a “Maoist hand” in the protests.
All through the UPA rule, any Adivasi leader who mobilised protests was termed a Maoist. The list includes singer Jiten Marandi, journalist Dayamani Barla from Jharkhand and school teacher Soni Sori from Chhattisgarh. The UPA seemed to regard Adivasis as a simple, contented lot—till the Maoists instigated them. From Chhattisgarh to Odisha, hundreds of protesting and even non-protesting tribals were arrested and branded Maoists.
The UPA chose to ignore the issues which agitated these Adivasis: mostly displacement from their forest homes by so-called “development”, in the form of mega projects. Accordingly, the Niyamgiri Hills inhabited by the Dongria Kondh tribe of Odisha, who were opposing the setting up of an aluminium refinery by the multinational corporation Vedanta, were described as Maoist zones and saw a heavy deployment of security forces.
Notwithstanding all its differences with the Congress, the NDA government is following the same strategy. While Adivasis continue to fill jails, the ruling party has a curious attitude towards Dalits. It badly wants to woo this section, but at the same time, seems blind to the daily humiliations being faced by Dalits across the country.
It’s not as if Dalits were being treated just fine when the UPA was in power—Khairlanji is enough proof to the contrary. But the NDA rule has seen a rise in open, blatant violence against Dalits.
The images of bare-backed Dalits being publicly flogged in Una remains a powerful memory. So does the ugly aftermath of Rohith Vemula’s suicide.
Instances of Dalit grooms being attacked for riding a horse seem to have increased. So common have videos of so-called upper castes assaulting Dalits become, that when one watches the latest such video: of a 13-year-old being thrashed by boys belonging to the “Darbar” caste in Gujarat—
one wonders if this isn’t some older video being circulated again.
Do politicians think that in this age when every act of violence is filmed and transmitted, often by the perpetrators themselves, Dalit youth will not erupt in anger at the impunity enjoyed by the assailants? This is not just an educated generation, but one conscious of its citizenship rights. The Constitution may be an abstraction for most youth, but not for Dalit youth, because the man they worship was
The second objectionable angle to this entire business of blaming Maoists is the premise that belief in Maoism is a crime. The latest reason given by the Maharashtra police to ask for an extension of police remand of the five activists, is that the accused were allegedly involved in organising a lecture at JNU in memory of a slain Maoist. Incidentally, this memorial lecture is being held since 2012.
One wonders what crime this constitutes. Every year, the Anuradha Ghandy Memorial lecture is held in Mumbai in memory of the late Maoist who was born, educated and worked in Mumbai. The Mumbai Press Club, Mumbai University’s Convocation Hall, the Anjuman-I-Islam library, St Xavier’s College hall—these venues have seen full houses at these lectures.
The Supreme Court and various High Courts have held that merely being a Maoist sympathiser, possessing literature that propagates Maoism, even being a member of a banned organisation, could not be considered a crime. All that was seized from these activists was literature, and claim the police, a sum of `80,000 from one of them.
Yet, the judge extended the police remand for a week. Such is the power of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It is presumed that if the state has used this draconian law, the accused must have been planning to indulge in “anti-national” activities. Few charged under UAPA are convicted, but the dread created by the potential crimes it invokes and its sweeping powers of detention make the use of the Act itself
The day her police remand was extended, Professor Shoma Sen, who was due to retire in August as head of the English Department, was suspended by Nagpur University. Contrast this with one fact: policemen, paid to uphold the law, who face charges of murdering innocents in the Mumbai 1992-93 riots, have spent not a moment in police custody.
Freelance journalist based in Mumbai