Public Hearing On Atrocities On Adivasis And Dalits
In Western Rajasthan
By Bhanwar Megwanshi
16 August, 2011
Are these your eyes or a surging sea of pain?
Western Rajasthan, also called Marwar, is a land with harsh, desert-like terrain. It is home to a large population of Dalits and Adivasis, who continue to suffer all sorts of indignities at the hands of the dominant castes. Cases of atrocities against these hapless people in this harsh, remote part of the state, where feudal structures and culture are still largely intact, are, in fact, on the rise. So I discovered when I participated, as member of the jury, in a public hearing on atrocities against Dalits organized in Jodhpur last month by Unnati, an educational and development organization. The cases presented at the hearing were shocking and utterly heart-rending, indicating that caste discrimination, in its most heinous forms, is still alive and kicking in Marwar, in almost every village and hamlet.
Let me cite some of the brutal cases of atrocities against Dalits that I encountered at the hearing. Pappu Ram Meghwal, a 28 year-old Dalit youth, was a denizen of Birami, a village in Jodhpur district. He was strangled to death by a group of non-Dalits from his own village. His genitals were crushed, and a stick was shoved into his anus, after which he was tied to a tree and hanged. Pappu’s only ‘fault’ was that he had given witness in a case involving the murder of another Dalit youth. The police, considering his death to be a case of suicide, have taken no action whatsoever till date.
Mada Ram, a Dalit man from Khandap village in Barmer district, was brutally beaten up with a hockey stick by the Thakur of the village, Virendra Singh, simply because he protested when a taxi-driver drove over and killed his goat. He was so badly thrashed that he lost consciousness. The rest of the village was stunned into fear and no one dared to take him to hospital. Ultimately, a sadhu called Atma Ram accompanied him to the hospital, where he died while receiving treatment. The police are trying to hush up the case as allegedly one of homicide without intention.
Mangla Ram, a Dalit and a Right to information activist from Barmer district, was ‘rewarded’ for his struggle against corruption by having both his legs being broken by the village sarpanch, Ghulam Shah, during a social audit meeting held in his village. He sat on a dharna for two months, and even met the state Chief Minister to protest against this atrocity. The District Collector, the Superintendent of Police and the President of the State Human Rights Commission also met him. Aruna Roy, the noted social activist and member of the National Advisory Council, also raised the issue and met with the Chief Minister to discuss it but no action at all has been taken the corrupt sarpanch.
Dhuda Ram, 16-year old son of Dheva Ram Bhil, an Adivasi from Samdadi in Barmer, was taken by Joga Ram Chaudhri to Karnataka to work there. One year has passed and the boy is still missing. The police has not registered a case against the Chaudhri.
Shravan Bhil, an Adivasi youth from Rani Deshpura in Barmer, fell in love with Manju Kumari, daughter of Likha Ram Chaudhri, and they had a court marriage. The irate Jat Chaudhris could not tolerate this, and they arranged for the police to bring the couple back from Vapi, in Gujarat, where they had shifted. When the two were presented in court, Manju Kumari declared that she had married Shravan on her own free will and expressed her willingness to remain with him. However, her family took her from the court and married her off elsewhere and registered a case of alleged rape against Shravan. Then, they instigated the Bhil community to ostracise Shravan and his family and to expel them from their caste. Threatened by Manju’s father, Shravan fled the village. This case has travelled from the local police station all the way to the President of India, but justice still eludes the hapless couple for daring to cross the caste divide.
In Barmer’s Khardi village, a dumb, blind and mentally-challenged Dalit girl was raped by an ‘upper’ caste man, Narpat Singh Rajput. A case was registered against him but soon the girl’s family began receiving threats for daring to do so. They still live in fear of possible reprisals.
An Adivasi youth from Padru village, Gautam Bhil, was killed by being sliced with swords in public, and his family fears that his brothers, too, could meet the same fate at the hands of his murderers.
A certain Madho Singh brutally bashed up Babu Ram, a Dalit from Pokaran in Jaisalmer, when the latter rebuffed his efforts to grab his land. Babu Ram’s wife’s honour was also stained by the assailant.
The ancestral graves and crematorium of the Meghwal, Garg and Rao Dalit castes of Pokaran town were grabbed and occupied by non-Dalits, and when the Dalits protested against this they met with heavy stone-pelting, in which several Dalits were injured. False cases were slapped against some 10 protesting Dalits.
Banta Ram Bhil, an Adivasi from a village in Barmer, rode past the house of the local Rajput Thakur on a bicycle. For this ‘crime’ he was thrashed and was warned never to do so again. He was also threatened that he would be killed if he mentioned the incident to anyone else.
32-year old Gumana Ram from Shergadh town in Jodhpur district went to a barber’s shop to have his hair cut. Half way through cutting his hair, the barber asked him his caste. When Gumana Ram told him he was a Dalit, the barber refused to finish cutting his hair. Then, showering abuses on him, he beat him up in public. To protest against this incident, some 400 Dalits gathered outside the shop. An FIR was registered against the barber, but till date Gumana Ram has received no compensation.
Several more such heart-rending stories of atrocities directed against Adivasis and Dalits throughout the Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Barmer districts of Marwar were narrated in the course of the public hearing. It is not that such atrocities are new, however. At the same time, the anguish of those who deposed at the hearing indicate that, increasingly, Dalits and Adivasis in Marwar are refusing to lie low and to passively accept insults and attacks against them. As Oka Ram Meghwal, a Dalit activist who has faced several brutal attacks from non-Dalits of his village, declared at the hearing, the oppressed communities are now prepared to fight back. ‘People die of accidents and illness, but it is better to die fighting against injustice’, he said.
Oka Ram’s is not a voice in the wilderness. He speaks for thousands of Dalits and Adivasis in this far-flung corner of Rajasthan, who insist that they must fight for their dignity and rights. The public hearing marked a major turning point in that struggle. It indicated that for their struggle for self-respect, Adivasis and Dalits need to arm themselves with knowledge of the law, work for unity within their ranks and wage their struggles for justice in every necessary forum, from local courts and police stations to the streets and even to the Parliament. Then only can we hope to realize our dream of a peaceful, egalitarian and just society, where every person is treated with respect.
Bhanwar Megwanshi is a noted social activist from Bhilwara, Rajasthan. He edits the Hindi monthly ‘Diamond India’, a journal that deals with grassroots’ social issues. He is associated with the Rajasthan-based Mazdoor-Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated by Yoginder Sikand
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