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Burning Of Two Dalit Girls Is The Lingering
Funeral Pyre Of The Rule Of Law

By Avinash Pandey Samar

25 December, 2010

The ghoulish killings of two Dalit girls in Moradabad, an industrial town not far away from the national capital Delhi, is yet another reminder of almost everyday recurrence of attacks on Dalit communities in India. They encompass, also the grim truth of the complete failure of the Indian state in containing, leave aside eradicating, violence committed against the Dalit communities. The incident is a sad indicator to the reality concerning the exceptional collapse of the rule of law institutions in the country.

The incident happened on 19 December. On that day, an angry mob burnt alive two young girls aged 25 and 22. The mother of the girls alleged that they were also raped by the mob. The crime they had committed to meet this ghastly fate was nothing more than the fact that they were Dalits and were sisters to two brothers accused in a double murder case. One of the brothers is absconding while the other, a sweeper by profession, is already in police custody.

The police allegedly had ignored requests made by Rajo Devi, the mother, for providing security to the family. Nonetheless, the same police were rather quick to deny that any such demands were ever made. In fact, Mr. Ashok Kumar, Deputy Inspector General of Moradabad was quick to claim that there was no evidence of a mob attack. The police actually went a step further and told the media that they believed that the girls locked themselves up and set their house on fire as people had been taunting them over the murder charge against their brothers.

The statements made by the police not only defy logic but also demean the very basic human quality of thinking. Can mere 'taunting' drive someone to the extent of committing suicide? And even if it could, will it push two adult individuals to take this extreme step? Further, if mere 'taunting' could drive them to this, it was not mere taunting anymore. One expects the police officers to know that even 'an unwelcome gesture' comes under the definition of a sexual harassment, as stipulated by the Supreme Court (albeit in a different context) in the Visakha Vs State Of Rajasthan case of 1997. One needs to know whether it is the duty of the police to explain why they did not take any action against the people who were 'taunting' the girls, or do they believe that harassment exists only at the workplace and not anywhere else? The police without any investigation made all these comments. It is doubtful whether the police that have already formed a biased view regarding the incident will be able to undertake a prompt and impartial investigation into the incident.

While making the statement the police were conspicuously silent on the fact that Rajesh, one of the two brothers was already arrested and was in police custody. While acknowledging that both the brothers did not have any 'past criminal record' the police had nothing to say on their failure in providing security to the family members of the accused. Failing in this regard is no small oversight but a dereliction of duty. Instead of fixing responsibilities and bringing the guilty to the books, the police was satisfied to announce that the post-mortem report had 'ruled out' rape. The police, however, did a favour to the victims by registering a case of rioting, murder, making forced entry into a house, indulging in violence, and offences under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 against 15 persons and a mob of over 100 people.

Unfortunately, the statements made by the police so far concerning the incident do not demonstrate the problem of an individual officer or even that of a unit. It portrays the larger malaise plaguing the system, the malaise of the skeleton of caste that forms the basic structure of the Indian state and that of its society. The high talks of democracy, rule of law and equality cannot hide the fact that the modern state of India is merely superimposed on this skeleton of caste.

The real face of this system keeps coming out from behind the façade. It comes out in Khairlanji when a family is butchered for aspiring to escape the age-old dehumanisation forced on them. It comes out in Gohana when a whole community of Dalits find their houses burnt, their property looted and themselves chased out of their village for wanting to live a life with dignity.

It comes out in Jhajjar, where the Dalits were lynched on the suspicion of trading in cows and the surviving ones listen to a proud proclamation of the president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, that the lives of cows are more important than that of the Dalits. It comes out in Madurai, where human excreta is forced down their throats for committing the crime of refusing to obey the orders of the 'twice-born'. It comes out in Chakwada, Rajasthan when a secular government orders its police to open fire upon a Dalit procession that was asserting their right to drink from a common pond, and later the government declaring that the disputed pond is the private property of a temple.

All these cases were explained off as cases of retribution against the Dalits for inviting the wrath of others by indulging in some crime. The real criminals who commit violence against the Dalit communities are then let off using the weaknesses of the justice institutions that are exploited by the powerful at their will. What remains unexplained is how the Indian state can let these 'revenge killings' go unabated?

This despicable failure of the Indian state in ensuring justice to one fifth of its population is not just a simple breakdown, but is a criminal dereliction of duty and violates the constitutional premise of legitimacy for any government to operate. A government that does not care for such a large proportion of its population cannot be expected to do justice to the rest, irrespective of caste or other denominators. Had India been a true democracy having a functioning rule of law setup, an event as gruesome as it happened on 19 December would not have happened. That it happened in this self-proclaimed largest democracy of the world proves that democracy and the rule of law are mere delusions in India.

After all, there is no cure for delusions.

Avinash Pandey Samar, Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. email- [email protected]