Edited by well-known Gujarat Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan, the book, “Bhed-Bharat: An Account of Injustice and Atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis (2014-18)” (available in English and Gujarati*) is a selection of news articles on Dalits and Adivasis (2014-2018) published by Dalit Shakti Prakashan, Ahmedabad. Preface to the book, in which Macwan seeks to answer key questions on why the book is needed today:
The thought of compiling a book on atrocities on Dalits and thus present an overall Indian picture had occurred to me a long time ago. Absence of such a comprehensive picture is a major reason for a weak social and political consciousness among Dalits as well as non-Dalits. But gradually the idea took a different form. I found that lay readers don’t understand numbers and don’t like to read well-researched articles.
The best way to reach out to them was storytelling. As I started writing in Gujarati and sharing the idea of the book with my friends, it occurred to me that while atrocities on Dalits do find mention in mainstream media but not the atrocities committed on Adivasis. Hence, the book took its present shape. Below, I have chosen the format of a dialogue; self-generated questions and self-given answers, a format I had come across in the writings of Jyotiba Phule on slavery.
What is the book about?
This book is an overview of true accounts of atrocities and injustice meted out to Dalits and Adivasis during the years 2014-2018.
Does the book list all the incidents of atrocities and injustice on Dalits and Adivasis in the past five years?
No. Only some incidents have been covered from each State.
Why does the book not list all the incidents?
The Government has not yet declared the official figures of atrocities committed on Dalits and Adivasis during 2017 and 2018. According to the ‘National Crime Records Bureau’ during 2014, 2015 and 2016, a total of 1,19,872 incidents of atrocities on Dalits and 19,671 incidents of atrocities on Adivasis totalled up to 1,39,543 atrocities committed on both these communities in India.
The above figure does not include cases where Sections of the ‘Atrocities Act’ have not been applied. It also does not include instances where people did not register complaints with the police out of fear. Further, it does not include those atrocities where the police instead of registering FIR, merely recorded the complaints as ‘Applications’.
Finally, this figure does not include those who are engaged in manual scavenging, as well as those who died due to inhalation of poisonous gases while cleaning sewers, drainages, and man-holes. Even if we accept the official figure of atrocities as it is, it means that over 235,000 atrocities have been committed on Dalits and Adivasis in India during past five years. If we write a single page per incident, the book will be of over 235,000 pages or several hundred books like this one.
What are the sources of information for the incidents of atrocity and injustice covered in the present book?
The major sources of information are the newspapers. In the case of some incidents, more than one newspaper has been consulted to obtain additional details or information.
Does the book have information on every State?
No. West Bengal has about 23% Dalit population in the State, but it appears that cases are not registered under the ‘Atrocities Act’ there. Hence, the State never reports more than 80-85 cases of atrocities per year. Except for Assam, Tripura and to some extent Meghalaya, the north-eastern States do not have a Dalit population; just as Punjab and Haryana do not have an Adivasi population. Due to paucity of time, I have been unable to include accounts of atrocities and injustice from the Union Territories.
Is the book word-to-word presentation/translation of the newspaper reports?
No. While the newspapers have been the chief source of information, various other reports and studies concerning the incidents/subject have also been consulted. Another concern has been brevity.
Are all the incidents mentioned in the book are registered under the ‘Atrocities Act’?
No. At times, gruesome violence against women has been committed within a community. Caste and gender are two sides of the same coin of Caste Ideology. Dalits and Adivasis also perceive women as ‘low’ and treat them with contempt; just the way the non- Dalits perceive and treat Dalits and Adivasis. However, the State cannot escape its responsibility to contain such violence just because it is not legally defined as ‘Atrocity’. Introduction of mere 33% reservation for women in political office is not the solution to this massive and complex problem.
Are all the names mentioned in the book real?
As per the law, real names of rape victims cannot be revealed. Hence, names have been changed at appropriate places.
Why this book?
The combined Dalit & Adivasi population in the country is over 320 million. Yet, a comprehensive picture of atrocities perpetrated on them is not available. Gujarat is ignorant of events in Goa, while events in Manipur-Meghalaya-Tripura are rarely reported in other parts of the country. We have become the proverbial frogs at the bottom of a well, ignorant of the world outside the well. During 2014, 901 Dalit & Adivasi persons have been murdered and 3,158 Dalit & Adivasi women raped. That extrapolates to more than 63,000 murders and 212,000 rapes on Dalits and Adivasis since Independence.
I dislike ‘projected numbers’. I prefer factual numbers, but true figures are not made public. Loss of human life and dignity on this scale is not seen, even when we combine all the casualties of every war and act of terrorism since Independence. The fact that citizens of a country can live with security, dignity, and honour forms the foundation of democracy. Planning of development cannot be limited to figures of construction of roads, airports, Metros and Bullet trains. The objective of this book is to draw the attention of the nation to this major issue.
Why talk of Atrocities when India is facing serious problems post massacre of 40 security men by terrorists in Pulwama?
It is not enough to merely condemn the attack at Pulwama. However, let us recall an earlier terrorist attack in Kashmir that killed eight Jawans of the security forces. While seven martyrs were laid to rest with full honours, Virsingh was not buried in the common village burial ground of his village simply because he was a Dalit. The villagers did not allow this.
Why do our heads not hang in shame when we witness such an event? Why do we not brand Virsingh’s villagers ‘anti-national’? While Dalit & Adivasi members of the security forces are busy protecting our borders; back in their villages, humiliation is meted out to their families. We have listed a few such accounts. Why are these instances never the subject of any Assembly and Parliament debates?
Untouchability and caste discrimination are ongoing internal wars that are corroding and weakening India. While security of the country is of paramount importance, should we not also say that an observation of the Supreme Court, ‘over 1,500 fake encounters by security forces in Manipur have killed innocent civilians.’ is appalling; and should be thoroughly investigated? When the National Human Rights Commission suggests that dozen of women have been raped by the security forces in the name of elimination of Naxalism, should we sweep this issue under the carpet in the name of ‘Nationalism’?
Why combine Dalit and Adivasi atrocities?
Since 1989, there is a common law that addresses atrocities on both these communities. Further, while atrocities against Dalits are widely reported, atrocities against Adivasis do not find adequate coverage. Due to a degree of political awareness, there is significant Dalit protest against atrocities; but it seems as if there is hardly anyone to raise the voice of protest against the atrocities on Adivasis. It is an incontestable fact that both these communities lag behind in every aspect of development. Most landless farm workers belong to these communities. Hence, both have been addressed together.
What about the ‘injustice’?
In the event of an ‘Atrocity’, the Government responds with a knee-jerk reaction. It announces an inquiry into the incident, and at best hands over a cheque of compensation with a photo-op for some dignitary. Why were all the accused of the 1999 Bihar Massacre acquitted? Simple, the Government did not provide security to witnesses.
The book has an account of a mother, the sole witness to the murder of her son, who was given armed police protection. But she was shot on the day she had to depose. The armed guard was absent since he was ‘unwell’. The absence of toilets forces millions of women to defecate in the open, making them vulnerable to rape. This is a sad facet of India’s development. There is an account of the woman who defecated in her own home for a year and half and her husband carried away the excreta.
The fear of rape during outdoor defecation had traumatised her. We don’t know whether or not such an event will be considered an Atrocity. However, when it was reported in a local newspaper, a government official declared that a toilet will be sanctioned for her if the woman applied for it!
The Supreme Court ordered the removal of 1,127,446 alleged encroachers from forest lands. This forced the central Government to rush and plead for a stay against the order because of the looming Parliamentary elections. The Government while seeking the injunction argued that it needs to ensure whether the due process of law has been followed before such removal.
The reason cited was, if not laughable, certainly an insult to the Adivasis. The list of alleged encroachers was prepared by the respective State Governments. Even the Supreme Court should have ensured that the due process of law had been adhered to before passing the order.
It is one thing to peacefully persuade Adivasis living ‘illegally’ on the forest land to move; but quite another to slap children, to snatch away food from their mouths, to break pots of food being cooked, to kick women in their bellies; and raze their huts to the ground. Even foreign rulers did not subject us to such barbarism. When a group of Adivasis was returning from the forest after collecting honey and other minor forest produce, it was intercepted by forest guards. First the men were forced to strip to check if they were hiding anything under their clothes.
Adivasi women in the group, some with babes in arms, watched as their men were humiliated. Then the women were strip-searched before the men. Special treatment was reserved for a 13-year-old girl. She was taken away, alone, by some guards deep into the forest and ‘searched’. I cannot figure out whether this behaviour of the Government with its own citizens is an ‘atrocity’ or mere ‘injustice’! Adivasis have been removed from their lands to construct water reservoirs.
While it may bring joy to some tourists, more often than not, the local Adivasis are deprived permission to even fish in these waters. They have no way to protect their survival by fishing except by going to the Supreme Court. And even after they have been given licenses to fish, forest guards shoot pellets from a distance and injure them without caring to inspect their licenses. Even after knowing that one such youth fishing in a boat could not swim, guards hit the boat with their own boat to drown the boy. What should we call such behaviour except State-sponsored terrorism?
In a true democracy, the State would ensure the fishing rights of these people, their only means of survival. What is the use of the Government, if the poor and the marginalized have to continuously go to the Courts to protect their legitimate rights? During annual Budget presentations, the Government announces showers of resources and provisions for Dalits and Adivasis; but what happens in reality? \
Scholarships of thousands of children lapse, forcing them to discontinue education. The Government, for reasons far from clear, does not spend the provided-for-funds for the announced and sanctioned purposes. We are reminded of the way the blacks were chained and enslaved by the white men in African jungles, when we witness that landlords and owners of brick-kilns lure people with money and then confine them for years till they are rescued.
How were the incidents chosen for the book?
Barring one or two exceptions, incidents which received major publicity have not been included here. Incidents where the Courts have ensured convictions do find a mention here. Grievous incidents which await legal justice even after many years are also listed. Incidents which may seem minor, but have large social implications are also included.
How long did it take to complete this book?
From the time the book was thought of, it took about two months to complete the Gujarati version. To collate news items, condense them, and to translate the same in Gujarati took most of the time. The English version was an afterthought. We had just a few weeks to prepare it. So there are some shortcomings in terms of writing style. We hope the readers will forgive us.
How did the idea for the book occur and why such a haste?
I have worked on Dalit atrocity-injustice issues for about four decades. However, during the past five years, some incidents created great pain, uneasiness, and unrest for the civil society in general and for the underprivileged in particular.
Whether it be the difficult to-answer-letter written by Rohit Vemula before ending his life or the atrocity at Una, whether they be the atrocities committed in the presence of the Police or the attacks by the cow vigilantes; they all leave a message for the Dalit-Adivasi-marginalised communities: They have no place in the development scheme and map that the State has designed. The most disturbing was the Supreme Court order on the ‘Atrocities Act’.
This was a complete contradiction amidst admissions of various State Governments in Legislative Assemblies and the Central Government in the Parliament that the atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis have increased. The Supreme Court observed that the Act has been misused by Dalits and Adivasis by filing false cases. In its order the Supreme Court has cited five Judgements of State High Courts with observations that the Dalits and Adivasis misuse the Act by filing false cases. Of the five, three Judgements are from Gujarat High Court.
How legitimate would it be that the Supreme Court would rely 60% on Gujarat which houses merely 2.33% of the nation’s Dalit population? The fact of the matter is that there is not a single government study that determines the false cases. Recently, a volunteer of Navsarjan Trust filed an RTI application in the Office of the Gujarat CM asking for the details of false cases filed by Dalits in the State since enactment of the ‘Atrocities Act’; from 1989 until 2018. In reply to the query 164 Police Stations informed that they had no system to collect such information.
The Dy. SP in charge of the Act in six Districts informed that there were no such false cases in their Districts. Police from seven Districts did not submit any information. In all, the Police provided information on 215 ‘false complaints’ in a span of 29 years. A detailed investigation revealed that the so called ‘false cases’ pertained to Summary B and C where the police have not been able to find the accused or the witnesses/evidence! It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court made this observation in the absence of any credible study. With the same yardstick, every single law in the country will have some element of alleged false complaints.
The act of the Government to stay the execution of the order through an Ordinance was like locking the stable after the horses had bolted. The fight is not to continue the ‘Atrocities Act’. Rather, it is to ensure that the atrocities come to an end. The figures of the convicted persons and the under trials in the country are shocking. Most convicts and the under-trials are Dalits, Adivasis, and Muslims. Those who face injustice, continue to live in situations akin to slavery; and those who are farthest from development are the criminals in the eye of the law. In other words, there is very little conviction in offences under ‘Atrocities Act’ but more conviction where Dalits and Adivasis are the accused. This is a matter of serious concern.
What about the timing of publication?
Every five years we have Parliament elections. Indian Parliament has 84 Dalit (SC) reserved and 47 Adivasi (ST) reserved Parliamentary Constituencies. During 2014 elections, the BJP won 41 and its allies won 16 of the Dalit-reserved seats whereas BJP won in 26 of the 47 Adivasi-reserved Parliamentary Constituencies. The majority of the ruling party was clearly due to the Dalit and Adivasi seats.
Were the Dalits and Adivasi members fielded by these parties in order to ensure that atrocities against them would increase? It is natural that people vote for the party they perceive as the one that would protect their rights. Unfortunately, according to the Government’s own figures, in spite of Dalits and Adivasis having given NDA more seats, atrocities on them have gone up. For Dr. Ambedkar, political participation was an effective tool to enhance socialeconomic- political justice.
As we face Parliamentary elections, Navsarjan Trust thinks it is its ‘dharma’ to publish a true picture of atrocities and injustice. Pulwama is a serious incident but it does not happen every day. Military action by India against acts of terror is important, but fortunately not a daily event. Our armed forces stay vigilant day and night to protect the nation and its borders. Unfortunately while Dalit and Adivasi representation in the armed forces is significant, incidents of atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis happen every day.
Unemployment among Dalits and Adivasis has increased at a higher rate than that of the other sections of the society after demonetisation. Financial resources allocated to specific Dalit/Adivasi programmes in the budget have been diverted elsewhere. Manual scavenging continues and so do deaths of man-hole workers. Families of man-hole victims have not been paid compensation even after an order of the Supreme Court. The reserved posts in employment for Dalits and Adivasis have not been filled; the backlog continues to mount.
The Adivasis are yet to be given their rights over the forest land under the ‘Right to Forest Act’. On the contrary, acts of removing them from their lands have increased. There has not been a single day in past five years when Dalits and Adivasis have not been subjected to an incident of atrocity. The epic war against the Caste System is the constitutional responsibility of the elected Government.
That is the necessity of this book. This book is not an election propaganda material for any political party. As a last note, the term ‘Dalit’ has been used here because it is the most popular and understood term; the same holds true for the term ‘Adivasi’.
*Published by Dalit Shakti Prakashan, Dalit Shakti Kendra, Nani Devti, Sanand-Bawla Road, Taluka Sanand, Dist Ahmedabad, 382110. Tel : 97277-45436, 97277-50448. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Price: Rs. 350