Is social justice as enshrined in the Constitution a concern, any more?

An anti-untcouchabiliity meet at Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK)

By Martin Macwan*

The news were disturbing. There was unruly confrontation between the District Magistrate and an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of Gujarat. Amrabhai Boricha, a head of the lone Dalit family in the village was brutally murdered in the presence of his family members and the police guards assigned to protect his life. There have been several incidents in the country where Dalits, even on their way to court to depose in the murder case of their own kin, are murdered in broad daylight, when officially they are protected by the State.

The news for me have been disturbing for many reasons. In this case as well as other cases, the victims have made personal and oral representations before the authorities about the danger they are apprehending to their lives. Secondly, in the present case, the Police Sub-inspector has been alleged of willful negligent and booked. Third, the District Magistrate is a Dalit and the Dalit representatives have used foul language against the District Magistrate. I under no circumstances advocate undignified behavior with any public servant which does not mean that their negligence have to be spared or compromised with.

It is evident that the frustration among Dalit masses is increasing. The judiciary is increasingly perceived as biased against Dalits, especially in the matters of cases under the Atrocity act. I have been a witness to this.

Some time ago, I was invited to speak to the District Session Judges of various States in the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal. My co-panelist was a sitting Judge of the High Court. To his embarrassment, most Session Judges had raised their hands in response to my suggestion that the Atrocity act was an unrequired law in the Country and requires to be axed.

One senior Judge had expressed his views: ‘Actually if people walk on the path of the Vedas, no law is required in the Country’. Unfortunately, there is no check on the beliefs and behavior of the judicial officers, except for conducting training programs to sensitize them. Does the Political leadership of the country is concerned?

My mind races back to 1986. I was 27 then and my colleague Gagan was 31.

This was the time of the tragic incident of Golana, where four Dalits were murdered. The fire arms were used to kill the Dalits. Eighteen people were grievously wounded. Two of them died much later due to the injuries. Houses were set on fire.

It was Shri. A. K. Jyoti who had allocated a piece of land to the Golana Dalits to build homes. Most Dalits had a one room house and in some homes four married brothers were sharing the single room house. The land allotted was illegally occupied by the Khsatriyas. I do not want to go deeper in the facts as it is known history for those who have not forgotten it.

I or my colleagues had never ever dealt with a bloody situation such as this before. What gave us hope was the company of a District Collector, a District Development Officer, a District Superintendent of Police and a Public Prosecutor.

Mr. Ravi Saxena was the District Collector. Mr. Jagatheesa Pandian was the DDO. Mr. Sekhar was the DSP and Mr. R. K. Shah was the public prosecutor. True, there were subordinate police officers who were a pleasure to work with especially Shri. Dhanani, a Police Inspector and Mr. Rajvanshi, a Police sub-inspector of Khambhat Police Station. This was the best example in my journey thus far of the Dalit movement where the most cordial relationship can exist between the voluntary organization, the community of the victims and the administration on behalf of the State.

My memories are vivid about Golana, since that killing changed my life and understanding of Indian society.

In the days that followed the massacre, Gagan and I worked closely with Mr. Ravi Saxena. I lived in Nadiad then. I never hesitated to call up Mr. Saxena, even at 7 in the morning for work. He would respond positively. He would invite me to his home early morning, as the office was yet to open for the day. He had organized a lok-darbar in Golana for a whole day and he squatted on the mud floor of Dalit home courtyard dealing with the grievances of the people. He dealt with people in a way to make them at home and joked too.

I remember the lok-darbar as one Dalit man had risen to his feet demanding more housing land. Mr. Saxena asked whether or not the family planning program was on. People broke into laughter with him.

Much against our own personal conviction for fire-arms licenses for Dalits, owing to the community pressure, we had approached Mr. Saxena and he readily agreed and sanctioned fire-arm licenses for seven Dalits.

Mr. Pandian is another glaring example of what in ideal public officer can be. He had replaced Mr. Saxena as the District Collector. As DDO he was the person to look at the implementation of welfare measures in the district. He was loved by all Dalits and non-Dalits and the local politicians. He never compromised with his principles and never cowed down to political pressures.

If you happen to go an hour or two before the office would open at 11 at the Kheda Collector’s office, you could see Mr. Pandian walking casually in the compound and talking to the villages coming to the office from far-off villages. He did not depend on what his officers briefed him.

I remember, a local politician had dared to threaten him with a transfer. He laughed and told the man, that as he had traveled several hundred kilometers from Tamilnadu to serve the State of Gujarat and hence a transfer of few Kilometers in Gujarat did not bother him.

Similarly, I was witness to the incident once, when some Politician banged angrily on the office table and Mr. Saxena told him that he could bang the table in the State assembly and not in his office.

I have met Mr. Pandian over last 35 years since Golana Massacre as he served on the several national and international posts. Whenever we meet he asks me about Golana. He remembers the names of the village Dalit leaders.

Mr. Sekhar was a no-nonsense officer. He unearthed the weapons that were available in the areas around Golana. I remember a day. Dalits had complained that the large contingent of police men posted for their protection did not do their duty seriously and were sleeping at night.

Less than week later, one morning was there was utter chaos in Golana. All the rifles of the police men were missing. Later, it was revealed that Mr. Sekhar had come at night. He had parked his vehicle at a distance. He had walked along and collected all the rifles of the policemen who were sleeping.

Unfortunately, he was trapped in a false case. Although he was acquitted of all the charges, the order came in his hands when he had retired. A bright and honest young officer’s career was destroyed by the people who were not happy with the way he worked. I had visited his home once in Petlad when he was Dy. SP just before his promotion to DSP. He had a wooden cot in his house to sleep on. Much to the embarrassment he pointed the Police Sub-Inspector and told me, “This fellow is much better off than what I am. It is only because, I am not corrupt”.

Together all, these officers ensured that not only Golana, but the entire area of Bhal was free of Caste atrocities. This was at the times when Mr. Madhavsinh Solanki was the Prominent politician in both Gujarat and the center, a fact the Khsatriya community found solace in.

Last but not the least, I want to remember Mr. R. K. Shah. We had never known him before except we had read about him fighting successful the most sensational cases in Gujarat. I had Gone to met him at his simple office near Lal Darwaja to request his consent to be the public prosecutor for Golana trial. He had agreed. Next one year we worked together to ensure the conviction in Golana case.

He is a lawyer and philosopher. He is a well-read men in subjects other than the law. After Golana conviction, he gave me a gift, which I preserve with utmost care even this day. It was the first print copy of ‘Buddha and his Dhamma’ that Dr. Ambedkar had sent across to Mr. R.P. Bhole, for his review. Mr. Bhole was the chairperson of ‘People’s education society’ that Dr. Ambedkar had founded. Mr. R. K. Shah had trained himself as a labor justice lawyer with Mr. Bhole. The book has several noting with red pencil.

At the time of Golana massacre, I must mention the important role played by three Politicians. Shri. Amarsinh Choudhary who was the CM, Shri. Yogendra Makwana who was in the ministry of Home affairs and the most revered and respected figure for me, Shri. Zinabhai Darji.

Every major incident of Dalit and Tribal atrocity that I worked with, Zinabhai was always there to visit the village. Golana had seen for the first time perhaps in Gujarat; the appointment of 21, all Party MLA inquiry committee, led by Shri. Chimanbhai Patel. Unfortunately, the printed report of the Golana Inquiry committee, has not been tabled on the table of the Gujarat Assembly, even after 36 years since the massacre. Gujarati newspapers report the proceedings of the Assembly which are nothing but jokes and the light comments shared in the house. We never hear about the serious debates. Is social justice, as enshrined in the constitution, is a concern anymore?

At DSK, we have trained about 11,000 residential graduates in past 21 years. And I tell them the stories about the past.

It is not a long history, I am talking about. But, suddenly, there is a trust deficit between the poor people and bureaucrats that is hung in the air. Today, even the activists have to struggle hard and go from pillar to post to register a simple FIR. Slogan of ‘ATMNIRBHAR’ for common people means ‘Bother-us-no-more’. As if the country is suddenly tired of ‘social justice’ as our beloved former President, Dr. K. R. Narayanan had predicted.

But I am equally concerned, the way the present day activism targets the bureaucrats. Last year, I had walked in for the first time to meet the Chief Secretary of Gujarat, Dr. Anil Mukim to present him the ‘constitution house’ that we had constructed. Dr. Mukim rose from his chair and walked to the door to greet me as I entered his office.

The Politicians who behave in the most irresponsible manner escape our attention and often we end up targeting the Bureaucrats. That apart, I see the need for reforms at all the three counts; The Police reforms, The Public service reforms and the Judicial reforms. The country does not require only independent judiciary but also the independent administration of justice. Trust deficit between the State and the People is a death nail on the coffin of the democracy.

Why Am I Writing this ? There must be a serious debate on this topic.

*Founder, Navsarjan Trust and Dalit Shakti Kendra

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