: All Nero's Brethren
By Subhash Gatade
18 November, 2006
‘(they) were doomed
to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight
had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle.’
Tacitus (Roman historian
and official, c.58 to 115 C.E.)
The Annals, Book XV, C.E. 62-65
bodies don't speak.
But for the near and dear
ones it is always possible to reconstruct what must have bothered the
dead person at the fag end of her/his life when her/his eyes still exhibited
the yearning for life.
And if the death itself would
have been a public spectacle where people from your own neighbourhood,
whom you know very well have joined the orgy , have called others for
brutalisation of your bodies, then someone living thousands of miles
away could also scribble the last flashes of ideas flickering in the
dead persons minds.
It is now part of the public
memory how Surekha Bhootmange, aged 45 years, a dalit (mahar) by caste,
mother of two sons -Roshan and Sudhir - and a bright daughter Priyanka,
who yearned to join the military, all the four spent the last one hour
of their lives. Ordinary looking people who had to pay a very dear price
for standing up to the local dominant castes attempts at snatching their
small piece of land.
A few fact finding reports
which have come out provides details of the gory end. They also tell
us how all their bodies were dumped on a cart and were thrown in different
corners of the village. But the worst was yet to come. Despite this
public spectacle of murder and rape there was no movement for quite
some time, it appeared as if the rest of the state machinery had decided
to side with the marauders. The loneliness of Bhaiyalal, Surekha's husband
and Siddarth, her cousin brother was so acute that they lived in constant
fear of death.
According to close watchers
of the state, Khairlanji rather represents a climax of a situation in
a state which despite its 'progressive' image has systematically ingrained
denial of justice to dalits and the other marginalised sections of our
society.May it be the ongoing social boycott of Dalits in Aarajkheda
village, Renapur tehsil in Latur district which happens to be Chief
Minister's home district or the similar boycott of dalits in village
Yavati in Nanded district, the state has never tried to shed its partisan
image vis-a-vis attacks on dalits.
The barbaric killings were
followed by a systematic coverup operation with due connivance of the
local police and administration. Village level Panchayat was held immediately
after the gory incident and it was 'decreed' that nobody would utter
a word about it. The police officials also 'complied' with the request
and cases under some vague sections of Indian Penal Code were filed
where bail would have been easier.
It is also alleged that the
local MLA who belongs to the BJP was also instrumental in instigating
the perpetrators and then helping them hush up the case. It is not surprising
that the BJP-Shiv Sena leadership which is ever ready to put the ruling
coalition on the mat has maintained complete silence over the incident.
The Nitin Gadkaris or the Mundes or the Thakres have not even condemned
the barbaric killings of the dalits. In fact to defuse and deviate people's
attention from the spontaneous and militant assertion of the dalits,
the Bhandara district units of the Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal have joined
hands to raise a counter agitation on an emotive issue.
The deputy Chief Minister
who also manages home portfolio expressed satisfaction over the direction
of investigation. Later when the militant movement of dalits compelled
him to wake up from deep slumber, he instead of taking urgent step to
defuse the movement preferred to make some irresponsible statements.
Instead of addressing the roots of the dalit anger, he 'discovered'
that their anger was a pointer towards growing naxal-dalit affinity.
While the the state government
and its machinery merely tried to put the issue below carpet and the
opposition saffron Parivar maintained a studied silence to suit its
own interests, the response of the leadership of the mainstream dalit
movement was not qualitatively different. Neither those factions of
the Dalit formations which are participating in the state government
nor those which have remained outside decided to raise the pitch over
the incident. The conspiracy of silence on part of the dalit leadership
was so blatant that when lakhs of people converged (2 nd October) in
Nagpur to celebrate golden jubilee year of historic conversion of Dalits
to Buddhism, none of them deemed it necessary to highlight the Khairlanji
killings. Even according to conservative estimates 15-20 lakh people
visited Deekshbhoomi during those celebrations which continued for a
In the backdrop of the Kherlanji
killings a demand has been raised for formulation of new law ‘specific
to the situation in the state’. The state government also has
formed a committee to look into the actual implementation of these law(s).
Of course even a cursory glance at few of the earlier reports by various
agencies can give one an idea what sort of conclusions would be arrived
The ‘Report on Prevention
of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes’ (NHRC, 2004,Delhi) which
studied the way the law unfolded itself, underlined how the ‘state
has failed in this respect’ on ‘several fronts’. These
are ‘failure to effectively implement the laws relating to atrocities
against SCs and STs’ which is ‘reflected both in respect
of preventing violence from taking place’ as well as in the ‘inability
to punish perpetrators of violence after the crime is committed’;
‘failure to act against its own agencies involved in the commission
of violence ;’ failure to strengthen the watchdog institutions’
There have been innumerable
reports detailing how the local police in connivance with the perpetrators
themselves; sabotages implementation of laws basically meant to protect
the dalits and the tribals. It is noticed that instead of filing cases
under the SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, it prefers filing
cases under normal provisions of Indian Penal Code, which facilitates
release of the accused on bail easily. It also facilitates filing of
‘counter cases’ against the victims, so that a compromise
could be reached. The Third Report of the NPC (New Delhi :GOI, 1980-
p.31) had rightly underlined how “ [f]alse criminal cases are
sometimes engineered merely for the sake of making arrests to humiliate
and embarass some specified enemies of the complainant, in league with
the police for corrupt reasons”.
Looking at the fact that
a militant mass movement has arisen to protest the killings, one can
surmise that the legal wranglings in the Kherlanji massacre would not
lead us to a blind alley and the perpetrators of the massacre would
receive exemplary punishment. But there is no guarantee that it would
be the case.
It has been a general experience
of activists or social workers who help marginalised section fight cases
of atrocities that a delay in judicial verdict is always beneficial
to the perpetrators. The most important lesson is that we should be
constantly on the vigil and demand that the trial should be conducted
by a special court and on a day to day basis.
The public activism which
was on the display in the case of Priyadarshini Matto , Nitish Katara
or Jessica Lal has been much talked about. Can one expect any replay
of the same spirit. Although as Priti Singh puts it in an op-ed piece
in HT 'Priyanka's Khairlanji, I'm afraid, unlike Priyadarshini's Delhi,
doesn't have an India Gate for the pupose of holding candlelight vigils.'
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