A group of people protesting the nationwide crackdown on human rights activists were picked up and arrested at Liberty chowrasta near the Ambedkar statue in Hyderabad around 11am on August 29. The protesters were not even allowed to stand near the Ambedkar statue and were arrested and detained by Hyderabad police. Some bystanders were also picked up and nearly 5 vans full of people have been dragged and taken away. Nearly 250 police personnel have been deployed in the vicinity. Protesters, however, continue to gather around the area.
The protests were organised in connection with the August 28 raids against on human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, teachers and cultural activists and trade unionists. Pune police conducted raids on the houses of Varavara Rao, poet and renowned activist, Sudha Bharadwaj a well known civil rights activist and lawyer who has been working and organising labourers in Chhattisgarh, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, Mumbai based activists who have repeatedly expressed dissent against the State and Gautam Navlakha, also a civil rights activist and journalist who has extensively written about the Human Rights violations in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. They were arrested for allegedly having ‘Maoist’ links and being connected with the Elgaar Parishad. Right-wing Twitter trolls have been quick to brand them ‘Urban Maoists’.
The arrested have been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and 3 of the 5 arrested are expected to be presented in court today.
Apart from this Father Stan Swamy, who has been organising Adivasis in Khunti, Jharkhand has also had to experience the wrath of the Pune Police who presented him with a warrant written in Marathi. Interestingly, Swamy had nothing to do with the Elgaar Parishad!
It is clear that the State is hell-bent on stifling voices of dissent that threaten their electoral power. This witch-hunt is a clear threat to a Democracy and the Constitutional Principles of Freedom to dissent.
Human rights defenders and activists have expressed their solidarity and concerns over the State's unprecedented attack on these activists. Protests meetings and conferences have been organised in various parts of the country.
To those ranting "Anti-national" jibes on Social media about Phd Scholar, #RohithVemula from the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide last Sunday evening, let us try and understand what Rohith Vemula stood for:
1. We may disagree with Rohith's protest against Yakub Memon's hanging, but here's the thing:
Remember that whether a democratic nation can carry out "Capital Punishment" is already a Global debate. More than 100 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. . He says on Yakub Memon hanging," If death penalty is the only punishment we can offer to the convicted people, we must stop calling OUR NATION democratic. So, Rohith just stood towards 'that' side of the debate on 'Capital Punishments'
His 'Anti-Terrorism' credentials are very much evident through his FB posts where he vehemently criticizes ISIS, Patriarchy in Saudi Arabia or where he expresses strong grief and solidarity towards the Indian Jawans martyred in 2008 Mumbai Blasts or more recently in Pathankot. His words, "26th November marks the 7th Anniversary for the grisly attacks on Mumbai killing 173 people. The terrorist attacks motivated by extremist religious ideology left the nation in huge shock and it questioned our basic understanding of combating terrorism. The attacks were a demonstration of how dangerous the mix of chauvinistic nationalism and religious bigotry could be. On this day it is important for everyone of us to resolve against any extremist ideology, illogical hatred and depending upon religion to make our daily choices."
2. We may disagree with his support to Beef-Festival, but here's the thing (In his own words from his FB post):
" First of all, I am not one of those who think beef eating is eternally emancipatory. And I am not also a cultural apologist.Something is a psuedo-scientific thing, I would not wish it to be continued on the name of cultural tradition. Coming to the core aspect of my ranting, beef eating in public is not an act of reclaiming something from the history. It was to show resistance for those contemporary forces in today's India (Well, must be said the Always' India, no?) who think that they can control the others' way of life. Beef eating is an element of culture of resistance which must concern everyone rather than an exclusive Dalit resistance culture. Eating beef and celebrating beef eating is an act of solidarity with all those who are getting murdered on this reason nation wide. If we fail to see the fact that the BJP-RSS-VHP scheme of anti-beef campaign is essentially a tool to persecute Muslim minorities in this country, we would regret for being the mute spectators of another mass unrest in OUR COUNTRY. The whole cow myth is less anti-Dalit today and more of anti-Muslim propaganda."
3. You may disagree with the initial Inquiry Committee's report which said:
"The Board could not get any hard evidence of beating of Susheel Kumar either from Krishna Chaitanya or from the reports submitted by Dr.Anupama. Dr.Anupama's reports also could not link or suggest the surgery of the Susheel Kumar is the direct result of the beating."
The above matter though is being currently investigated, therefore we must wait till the facts are completely established on this.
Finally, you may disagree with his various viewpoints, but let us hold-on and understand what Rohith stood for throughout his short life. Rohith's ultimate 'struggle' through all his actions as an activist of ASA was to use his own words from his suicide note and another post was for:
a) "The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living".
b) "The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move into building a new future on the basis of more humane, more inclusive society".
.. and many more of his posts only reveal that he always dreamt to work for an INCLUSIVE, IDENTITY-LESS society which Babasaheb Ambedkar always aspired. Rohith had his own brand/idea of Nation & Nationalism which Babasaheb explains as below:
Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of nation is not only of a political or geographical entity, having a map and a flag. He didn’t subscribe to the popular definition of nation something as “large group of people living in one area with their own government, language, traditions, etc. (Cambridge Dictionary).” For him idea of nation has to have a philosophical and spiritual connotation with welfare, equity and fraternity as central themes. While explaining his idea of nation he had quoted French philosopher Ernest Renan saying that “A nation is a living soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute the soul, this spiritual principle. The actual consent, the desire to live together."
Therefore, before we brand Rohith as "Anti-National" etc, let us introspect whether are we not guilty of being intolerant towards a viewpoint or action which does not go well with our understanding of Nation or Nationalism or Humanity?
We may say that Rohith committed suicide because of the events, the Social Boycott through the external influences and the might of political powers viz: MLC, MP, Union Ministers etc that followed in the campus. However, the fact is that he took such a step for more "FUNDAMENTAL" reason, principles and concerns about the society around, quite evident through his letter. How the VALUE OF MAN who deserves to be TREATED AS A MIND and a glorious thing made up of star dust has been reduced to some IMMEDIATE IDENTITY throughout his various lifetime experiences. We must admit that there has to be something wrong with the campuses and society around when we have the alarming figures available on Dalit students committing suicides due to PREJUDICE around. By the way, Rohith wasn't a mere student but a Phd Scholar who achieved the Phd seat without using his SC status. So the 'incompetence', 'reservations' argument for suicides does not hold in case of Rohith but only the argument of Prejudice he faced does. This is evident when he suggests to VC for a Rope, Sodium Azide, Euthanasia to Dalit students "With a dire, to use If they feel like reading Ambedkar". Clearly, he appears disturbed with a fact that one cannot survive (due to caste-prejudice) with Liberty in the University if one asserts the views of Ambedkar in open. Rohith finally lost the hope about the fundamental ideas of human life and the world which he aspired for. This is evident from below words in his suicide note:
"I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art"
As they say, Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. While quitting from this world, Rohith manifests that he was a Great mind, one, by NOT blaming "PEOPLE" (even enemies) and two, NOT any EVENTS but three, purely his IDEAS about the human life & his world-view behind his decision to depart from his life.
People (driven by some ideologies around) who in a way are celebrating Rohith's death, the only thought which comes to mind is "Maut bhi jinki aanko me ashk nahi laati, kaise maan le ye insan ki aulaade hain". However, poetic response to radical jibes is less engaging hence less democratic approach towards dissent, hence the above piece..
The students from all social backgrounds have stood-up now, for this is not an issue of one caste, one person, and one incidence. This is the issue of Human rights and about Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice.
Let's hope and wish we 'Understand' (if not agree with) Rohith apart from the ideological debates around, at least after he is gone, to use his words again.."in search of another world from the shadows towards the stars, HAPPY DEAD THAN BEING ALIVE".
When commanders of the Ranvir Sena were acquitted of brutal massacres, Cobrapost conducted sting operations to determine the truth of the matter. What they discovered in a year long operation was killers candidly admitting that they conducted systematic massacres. Killers who spoke of political support, financial support, support in procuring arms as Army rejects and training with the arms at the hands of jawans - on leave and retired. Killers talking of politicians providing getaway cars when surrounded by #police who were armed with far less advanced weaponry than them. Killers who talk of killing women and children in cold blood. The accusation is the support for communists among the dalits. Yet what were the dalits rising against? They were opposing exploitative wages for their labour in the fields of these landowners.
The Ranvir Sena massacres confessed to in this documentary
Bathani Tola, Bhojpur (1996) - 22 agricultural workers from Scheduled Castes and Muslims killed in broad daylight at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon with a police chowki close-by
Laxmanpur Bathe, Jehanabad (1997) - 58 people from scheduled castes killed
Shankar Bigha, Jehanabad (1999) - 23 people from Scheduled Castes killed
Miyanpur, Aurangabad (2000) - 35 people from Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Castes killed
Ekwari, Bhojpur (1997) - 10 people from Scheduled Castes killed
This totals to 154 murders (though the documentary says 144)
Nobody killed 300 or more dalits in Bihar?
Here is what Dy SP CID (Retd.) Mirza Maqsood Alam Beg had to say:
“You see, there is direct evidence against them … eyewitness … people saw them and identified them … apart from that before the occurrence [of a massacre] these people would hold meetings at their places … all these things are recorded in case diary”
Here is what the killers had to say for themselves:
Note: quotes here are by the name of the person under which they appear. While the Ranvir Sena commanders spoke in Hindi, I'm providing the English translations here for readability. Feel free to go and verify against Operation Black Rain document if need be.
Commander of Ranvir Sena, convicted to life imprisonment by lower court, acquitted by Patna High Court.
“As the clock struck 3, the Sena began firing … it was 3:00 at daytime …the massacre was carried out…there was a police chowki too.”
“Some bodies of those who were part of the assault had been cleared from there, but still there were 22 bodies on the spot … yes there were 22 dead bodies lying about.”
Claims Chandkeshwar Singh when the Cobrapost reporter asks him if they had killed five more people whose headless bodies were found about the river the next day:
“Yes, they were beheaded.”
“I was very angry at them. Why should I waste a bullet on them that is worth Rs 100 or so, I thought. Better use the knife I have. So I cut them down with it.”
On the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre
“It was 10 when we arrived there and the Sena began the assault. The firing went for 29 minutes."
“So we decided to eliminate them (the CPI-ML). We should not allow them go stronger. So, our party, I mean the Sena, surrounded them. There was assault and counterassault in which they got killed.”
About a meeting at Belaur village at Arrah to plan Laxmanpur Bathe massacre with all the members of the core group including Barmeshwar Mukhiya, Vakeel Chaudhry, Bhola Singh, Shiv Narayan Singh and Krishna Nand Chaudhry.
“The meeting took place two days before the massacre … the meeting was held in the Arrah district … took place in Belaur village.”
“I told them we have LMGs. They asked how we got them. I told them our Prime Minister got us it from Indian military as rejected lot. They called us traitors. I said no we are not traitors. We are doing it in the interest of the country. That is why we got the arms with help from our Prime Minister. They asked which Prime Minister. I said Chandra Shekhar ….”
And the conduit who got the so-called rejected lot of military weapons, according to Siddhnath, was Surya Dev, a powerful politician from Dhanbaad:
“There was a close supporter of ours … Surya Dev from Dhanbad … it is Surya Dev who brought us a lot of rejected military weapons.” Sidhnath adds further: “In those days, Chandra Shekhar Singh was prime minister and Chandra Shekhar Singh was a very close friend of Surya Dev Babu and upon visiting he would stay at his place. This is how they both helped us.”
Siddhnath also spoke about Aibatpur massacre:
“I told them about the massacre that took place in Aibatpur under Kanpath #police station. Our men had killed seven people of Mushar caste ….”
This massacre was conducted by nine Sena militiamen, but 64 people were named in the FIR by the local police which ultimately helped the murderers get off the hook.
According to Siddhnath, there were nine leaders who formed the core decision-making body of the Sena. He confesses to his involvement in six massacres.
We … one massacre was in Bathe Belaur, one was in Chauri, then (Laxmanpur) Bathe, Shankar Bigha, third was Narayanpur, fourth was Miyanpur, Hyderpur was the fifth … Jalpura was the sixth … Shankar Bigha Bathani Shankar Bigha Bathe was one … the third was Narayanpur and one was in Arval … in all six massacres.”
On indiscriminate killing of women and children:
“In #India, our #religion does not say that if you kill an old man, you won’t become a sinner or that if you kill a young man you will become a sinner … then there is no such law which says that if you kill a boy, you will face imprisonment for 20 years, if you kill an old man you get 2 years jail or if you kill a child you get a term of 50 years. There is no such law.”
Arvind Kumar Singh
“Yes, two massacres took place in Ikwari … seven and nine people were killed.” Adding further he says: “Seven were killed in the first massacre … in the second eight–nine people were killed … one happened in 1996 and the other took place in 1997.”
“Mukhiyaji [Barmeshwar] was not there … only the villagers of Ikwari were involved … yes total[ly] from Ikwari, there was no outsider involved … no no Sena … we have 500 households in Ikwari … and when a member from each family would come out we would have the Sena ready … we never needed the Sena … when you have 500 families of Bhumihar and if only a man each from 200 families volunteered we had the Sena assembled.”
“Weapons and other things were already stocked at our homes … we had bought weapons for safety … we had also bought some expensive weapons ….”
Although an accused in both massacres, Arvind Singh and other murderers forced victims to compromise and withdraw cases.
“No, no. We managed to clinch a compromise with them in all cases … we persuaded them with cajoling or show of force to come around and arrived at a compromise with them.”
“That [Miyanpur] village was the supporter of the Naxals and was thus on the target of the #Ranveer Sena. We executed that massacre.”
The assault was led by none other than Barmeshwar Mukhiya himself as Pramod Singh mumbles an affirmative double “Hoon, hoon” when he is asked if the Sena supremo led the massacre. When the Cobrapost reporter asks him if he could tell him of any such massacre in which he took part along with Barmehswar Mukhiya and others, he replies:
“It was Miyanpur [massacre] … there were many … he too [Barmehswar Mukhiya] was there.”
The assault party had 10 members of the Sena led by Barmehswar Mukhiya of whom nine were sentenced to life imprisonment but only to be allowed to walk free by the Patna High Court some years later.
A prominent #BJP leader supported the dreaded outfit with finances.
“It was when there was the BJP #government [at the centre] … there was Atal Behari Vajpai [as prime minister] … there was Yashwant Sinha … he would visit regularly … meet the Mukhiya [Barmeshwar Singh] regularly … he was there in my village when the police were hot on our heels and raiding our places.”
And how did Yashwant Sinha help them?
“[He] gave us money … Five and half lakh).” Any other kind of support? “What else support he could lend … other than political support,”
“When on the run … suppose the police had laid siege of us … five–six people were to be evacuated … then Arun Kumar, the MP of Jahanabad, would reach the spot and would escort away all of them in his car ….”
“There was this arms drop in Purulia … we got a lot of weapons from there.”
“We killed about 50–60 people then and there in Laxmanpur Bathe.”
“I consider Laxmanpur Bathe the most important [of all massacres] … that is a twin village … there I killed many people.”
According to him there were 100 members of the Sena who launched the assault that was led by one of his nephews.
“The #attack was led by one of my nephews, Santu, from Ekwari village.”
When the reporter asks if Barmeshwar Singh and he himself were among the attackers.
“Yes I too was there.
Bhola Singh recounts the assault on Laxmanpur Bathe.
“There is [Laxmanpur] Bathe across the river and we live on this side of the river. They [CPI-ML] would come here and go back. They had their own boat by which they would cross the Sone, come to our place and commit some crime and return. We thought since they come from that side of the village, why should we not mount an assault on it. They must be taking shelter there. We worked out a plan and launched the attack. All were sleeping and were caught by surprise and killed. We suffered no casualties.”
“We were carrying semi-automatic [weapons].”
"We had in fact worked out a strategy to execute massacres across 50 villages in a single day to wake up the government from its torpor. Otherwise, the government will always think that no castes other than the minorities, most backward and backward live in this country.”
Of the role Anand Mohan Singh played in instigating the upper caste landlords and their militiamen while offering them arms of any kind and caliber.
“One young leader called Anand Mohan came and told us that he has a cache of all kinds of arms. Whatever you need you can pick.”
“[the massacres were] executed upon … you can say I did not execute them but it was me who ordered. You can say I did not execute the job, I did not kill, but when I ordered to commit a #murder then I did it.”
“I dispatched a squad of 50–60 members to a particular village, but they did not find a single soul there and executed the order in another village.”
“We have all kinds of weapons. All people have helped us, donated us the arms. We have also bought with money.”
"We have men in military and they used to give training when on leave … this village is large enough and there are about 200–400 men in military … if we get one or two men from each family we get enough men to fight ).”
"Yes, the reason is our men will go wherever they were told to go … now suppose you are asked to pick a couple of ripe mangoes? You hit the mango tree with a stick … as a result eight ripe mango fall and along with them 5 raw mangoes also fall. Now should you be punished for felling raw mangoes? We send our men to kill the young able-bodied and if some children also get killed along with them should they be punished … they are not on payroll so as to punish them by cutting their payments.”
Sanjeev Singh and Upendra Vatsayan
The spokesperson of the Akhil Bharatiya Rashtravadi Kissan Sangathan Upendra Vatsayan:
“Our men also said if you got an intestine of 36 inches ... we will tear up the whole of 36 you got. And not just you, we will also tear your women … so that they will never give birth in future.”
The candid disclosures of the commanders of the Ranvir Sena make it clear that the state police of Bihar fumbled on probing these crimes against humanity, so that the cases could not be taken to their logical conclusion, while the state political executive saw to it that nothing clinching was established against the perpetrators of these massacres or their mentors in the political establishment.
When the JDU–BJP alliance came to power in Bihar, the Justice Amir Das Commission of Inquiry, which had been set up after the brutal Laxmanpur Bathe massacre that killed 58 including 27 women and 16 children, was dismissed by Nitish Kumar. Justice (Retd.) Amir Das states that it was because his report could have implicated some prominent politicos for their support to the private army he was asked to close the shop without submitting a report. Justice Das is categorical in the interview:
I can tell some names, for instance, Shivanand Tiwary, C.P. Thakur, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushil Kumar #Modi. Then there was a head of a village in the neighbourhood of Laxmanpur Bathe about whom we had drawn the conclusion that he too supported [the Ranveer sena].
The reason of this sudden volte-face on part of the state executive under the new dispensation of the JDU—BJP alliance was unmistakable: the commission had got to the bottom of the political support that the Ranveer Sena was getting and there were many bigwigs from the BJP both at the centre and at the state level whose names were doing the rounds as mentors of the monstrous private army raised by Bhumihar—Rajput landlords.
Justice Das explains why the government wrapped up the commission unceremoniously:
“It was closed down all of a sudden, without any report or notice. I was not asked to submit the report either. I mean it was done without any ultimatum. When Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s government was formed, Sushil Kumar Modi was Deputy Chief Minister. Nitish was not involved in it so his name did not crop up. But Sushil Kumar Modi’s name did crop up along with many from the #RSS or say from the BJP.”
"We had a witness who said that Murli Manohar Joshi had threatened him asking him to behave and if you conducted investigations properly when we come to power you will have it. This all meant to get things done favourably by putting the fellow under pressure.” The witness was an Investigating Officer of the stare police.
"He visited after the massacre. The IO had gone to Senari to conduct a raid. He came to know about it and came to see the IO threatening him if he did what he was set to do he would have it when they would come to power. This is how he stopped him from discharging his duty under threat and when he was cross-questioned he denied it.”
The Cobrapost has a copy of the report of the commission.
In a shocking judgment on January 14th, in this year, a lower court acquitted all 24 accused of killing 23 Dalits in Shankar Bigha in Arwal district in 1999. Earlier, in October 2013 the Patna High Court had acquitted all 26 Ranveer Sena men – including 16 who had been put on #death row by the lower court – accused of killing 58 Dalits in worst-ever massacre at Laxmanpur Bathe on December 1, 1997. The Bathani Tola massacre case had met the same fate on April 17, 2012, when the Patna High Court set all 23 Ranvir Sena men free who were accused of killing 21 Dalits, including 11 women and six children on July 11, 1996. The same happened with Miyanpur massacre of June 2000 when the Patna High Court allowed all 10 accused except one to walk free on July 3, 2013.
Clearly, there is a pattern here, with brutal killers going scot free and unless something changes, these cases are going to pass through our courts without consequence.
The acquittals have been challenged in the #Supreme Court. However, given the blatant cover ups, even as killers brag about their cimes, will we see this farce of acquittals play all through to the top? Where does the complicit wink at brutal massacres end?
Note: It appears to be a political strategy to discredit this expose as motivated by the #elections. However, Nitish Kumar, who scuttled the probe implicating BJP leaders is in the opposition, along with Lalu, who over the years has done nothing to rein in the Ranveer Sena either. There is no political outrage over this expose and no political party comes out smelling sweet. This is the hard reality of India. Some murders don't matter.
Babasaheb Ambedkar is an enigma to most Indians. While we all claim to respect him for writing India's Constitution, there is little we know about who Dr Ambedkar was or why "Jai Bhim" is a salutation to many and used as a casteist sneer by others. With the loving honorific "Babasaheb" neatly sliding in before the Ambedkar, many of our citizens who claim to respect him for the constitution and know little else about him also don't realize that they don't know his first name.
Who was Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, beloved to many as Babasaheb? The dalits have written tomes that remain read by them alone. Leftist writers write glowing commentaries and nostalgic regrets about the vast body of his work that lies ignored. But perhaps here is a point that more can relate with, a starting point for curiosity. Why is this man inspiring nationwide journeys of lakhs of people half a century after his death without advertising or doles?
Here is an article P Sainath had written on his 50th Death Anniversary. Read it, because it shares something vital about how we see Dr. Ambedkar, how selectively we adopt his visions and how we betray those he cared for the most.
The 50th death anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is a time to remember that the larger society ignores or distorts the Dalits' struggle for their rights at its own risk.
"GET READY for a siege." Follow this guide "to escape possible chaos." Even Dalits are joining the "EXODUS." And "You thought Tuesday was bad? It will only get worse today." There is a "nightmare" — a threat of violence. And the poor "Mumbai police will have to bear the brunt of it all."
These were just a few of the headlines (some of them front page, first lead) in the press and on television channels. And they were about the lakhs of Dalits gathered in Mumbai to observe the 50th death anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. That is, on December 6. There were, of course, fine exceptions. But mostly, media coverage of the run-up to the event was much like the coverage of post-Khairlanji protests in Maharashtra.
This is not the first observance of the great man's anniversary. Lakhs visit the "chaitya bhoomi" in Mumbai each year on this day. As they did this year, too, with high discipline. And without that hell foreseen in the headlines. (After the huge build-up, the issue has faded from the news. Alas, no mayhem.) Then why the hysteria? Is it because the state saw some violence after the Khairlanji murders? Now, every issue stamped 'Dalit' gets slotted into: "Will there be disorder and chaos?"
And so a decades-old event was cast in a frame never imposed on other annual festivals. Some of those, like the Ganesh utsav, go on for 10 days in the city. And have a massive impact on traffic. But they do not get covered this way. And the more dismal display has come from the English media. The Marathi press — at least on December 6 — did better. There were essays on the man, his legacy, his relevance.
In the English media — with rare exceptions — the Ambedkar anniversary rated at best as a traffic problem. At worst, as a potential nightmare. There was not even a pretence of interest in the person whose 50th death anniversary it was. A giant who was no `Dalit leader' but a national one with a global message. Dr. Ambedkar was not just the prime architect of the Constitution. This was a man who resigned from the Nehru Cabinet — he was the nation's first Law Minister — on issues linked to women's rights. He stepped down when the Cabinet dragged its feet on the Hindu Code Bill that would have advanced the rights of millions of women.
Few in the media asked why so many — sometimes up to a million — human beings come to observe his death anniversary each year. Is there one other leader across the world who draws that number 50 years after his death? To an event that speaks to the hearts of people? To a function not owned or organised by any political party or forum? There was no effort to look at why it is the poor and the dispossessed who come here. No mention that this was a man with a Ph.D from Columbia University who returned to lead what is today the greatest battle for human dignity on planet earth.
There was little journalistic curiosity over what brings 85-year-olds with just two rotis in their hands all the way from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh to Dadar in Mumbai. People for whom the journey means both hardship and hunger. Musicians and poets who perform through the day for nothing. Hard-up authors who print books and pamphlets at their own cost for their fellows. And yet make the trip — driven by their hearts and drawn by the hope of a noble vision as yet unfulfilled. A casteless world.
Which other national leader commands this respect 50 years after his death? Let alone when alive? Why are there more statues of Ambedkar in India's villages than those of any other leader the country has ever seen? His statues are not government installed — unlike those of many others. The poor put them up at their own expense. Whether in Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra or Orissa, see whose portraits can be found in the humblest of huts. It's worth trying to understand why.
The 50th anniversary is being held in the context of Dalit unrest in Maharashtra. But it is being used to take Khairlanji out of its larger context. Crimes against Dalits in Maharashtra have risen steadily through the 1980s and 1990s. There were 604 cases of rape of Dalit women recorded in 1981. That number was 885 by 1990. And rose to 1,034 by 2000. That's based on very biased official data. The real figures would be much higher. And things have gotten worse since then.
There is one exception. Crimes under the Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act do show a big dip in the 1990s. But only because the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party Government arbitrarily dropped thousands of these cases at one go.
As the Dalit voice in organised politics has declined, the number of caste attacks on Dalits in Maharashtra has increased. Earlier, their political strength was their best shield. For decades, they had repelled the worst excesses of landlord cruelty. Untouchability did not vanish. But they did fight it stoutly. This culture of resistance rested on strong political movements. So, though less than 11 per cent of Maharashtra's population, Dalits had begun to stand tall.
But the Republican Party of India splintered and many of its leaders were co-opted by mainline parties. The Dalit Panthers, once a key source of inspiration and strength, went almost extinct. The results of the decline showed up soon. There was no struggle against the dropping of those thousands of cases under the PoA Act. Electoral opportunism saw the RPI factions crumble further. The 2004 polls saw them put up their worst show ever.
You can see it in battles over water as in Jalna, labour boycotts in Raigad or wage battles elsewhere. Attacks on Dalits have risen across Maharashtra. Just a year ago, more than 20 Dalit houses were torched in Belkhed village in Akola district. Akola was once a centre of Dalit political strength. In the 1960s, RPI candidates used to get 40 per cent of the votes in the Lok Sabha seat here.
Hindutva's rise from the late 1980s saw the RPI fracture further. Too many leaders were swallowed by the Congress and later the Nationalist Congress Party. Dalit unity lost ground. These setbacks were to reflect in every sphere. The shrinking of public sector and government jobs in the reform years hit Dalits badly. Even existing jobs lie vacant. A Times of Indiareport reckons that more than 1.3 lakh government posts in reserved categories in Maharashtra have not been filled up for years.
Meanwhile, the protests after Khairlanji have had an ugly companion. The growing display of caste prejudice in the media. The claims were sick. Khairlanji had nothing to do with caste. The woman who was raped and murdered was of loose morals. There were no "upper castes" in the village. (That last had to come from an English-language journalist unaware that the dominant caste in a given village might not be an "upper caste" at all.) Dalits were holding the state "to ransom." Wicked `politicians' were behind what was going on. The protests were Naxal-driven.
As always, there were brilliant exceptions. (Even on television.) They did not, though, define the main trend. The same media treat anti-quota activists as heroes. (No matter how much damage they inflict or how close to racist their rhetoric gets.)
Interviews in the run-up to the Ambedkar anniversary were mostly with people whining that Shivaji Park had been turned into a toilet. Or who spoke only about pollution and traffic jams.
It would be startling if political groups did not enter the protests. Corporation and panchayat elections are due in February. And parties won't ignore that. But they did not set off this process, even if they sought to engage with or exploit it. Ordinary Dalits were on the streets long before Dalit party leaders were. Khairlanji was the fuse. An already deep disquiet, the bomb. Many of these protests have taken place outside traditional political frameworks. On the streets were salaried employees and full time workers. People with no firm party links. There were salespersons and teachers, hawkers, and vendors. Landless and jobless. They, not `vested interests,' were the key to what happened.
The police still plug the `Naxal' angle. The Maoists just do not have the power to stage State-wide actions. Any political group, though, would be thrilled to get the credit for having launched protests it did not even foresee. It builds its appeal. Note that many Dalit party leaders joined the protests days after they began. Attempts to brand the protests as `Naxal-led' are poor escapism.
This is a State witnessing the highest numbers of farm suicides in the country. The conditions of the poor are dismal. For thousands, their anger and despair has turned inwards, within and upon themselves. Hence the suicides. With Dalits, that anger is being expressed. Outwards and openly. The larger society ignores or distorts their struggle for their rights at its own risk.
In the end it is more than a fear of violence that annoys elite society and its media. It is a fear of the mass. A worry that these people no longer know their place. A fear of the assertion of their rights and the loss of our privileges. A fear, in short, of democracy.