Continued from here.
(This is the second part of the excerpts of the interview with Paul Divakar, conducted by Ravi Chandran of Dalit Camera: Through Un-touchable Eyes)
Paul Divakar: The one thing that stands out among the northern states is the lack of Dalit social movements and their assertion. If you look at the south, right from Ayyankali in Kerala, you have Periyar in Tamil Nadu, you have several Dalit leaders who have taken up this cause in Andhra and recently, there is Dalit Mahasabha for the last twenty years. And there are a whole range of – right from Karamchedu and Chunduru – social movements that had come up from the Dalit community. (The situation in the south) is way different. In Karnataka also, you have Dalit Sangharsh Samiti which had taken up (social movements). Of course, the Dalit Panthers movement in Maharashtra, and we also know that Babasaheb’s movement had, to a large extent, touched below the Vindhyas.
Look at Maharashtra, you look at all southern states, somehow northern states have not had the benefit of the social movements, especially from the Dalit point of view. The JP movement, which was of a different nature – more for democracy – you had some religious social movements. The Ravidassia movement, Kabir and people like that. Probably these are the main social movements. Arya Samaj, which had brought in broad liberal reforms like widow remarriage and things like that.
But when it comes to the caste related issues, the entire cow belt had not managed to question some of the basic issues of humaneness among all people, irrespective of their birth status. So because of this, you take Bihar, you take MP.. except Punjab. In Punjab, you had a major (social movement), but there the proportion of SCs is high. You know their proportion there, according to the latest census is 30%. Officially, according to the 2001 census it was 27%.
Now it is 30%. Probably the number had made a lot of difference, but the Ravidassia movement there also has made some difference. Haryana is one state which has been fantastically guarded from (the effect of) any of the social movements. So you don’t have a legitimization and any scope for the people, who are either affected or are being routinely discriminated for them to raise their (voice). There was no model there. And I think many studies are beginning to show the re-hinduization of certain Dalit castes in the northern belt, either as Arya Samajis or as part of the Sanatana Dharma, which has not made it possible for them, except in Punjab of course– (because) Sikhism to a certain extent is also an anti-caste movement. Sikhism, if you look at it, has also removed (caste).
So this has had a major impact on (society). So without the benefit of any social movements and no religious reviewing of the whole aspect of caste, where is the possibility for caste to be questioned? Where is the legitimacy for the communities to say, this is wrong, we have a leader and because of that we want to assert. That kind of an opportunity you don’t have (in Haryana, like) you have in Maharashtra (or elsewhere) in the rest of the country.
Dalit Camera: Could you speak about the Khap Panchayats?
Paul Divakar: Khap panchayat, as you know, is the traditional justice. So traditional justice is pitted against the constitution. One person one vote, equality before law, fundamental human rights for all are strongly contested by (those who) believe in the Manu Dharmashastra. Now Manu Dharmashastra is not only against the Shudras, but Shudra life has been shifted to the Untouchables.
So anybody below the line of touchability, if they dare to cross the line of touchability either through marriage or through asserting their rights at the time of atrocities or fight against any discrimination or to demand equal treatment, equal wages— heinous crimes are committed against them. For instance, both hands of a Dalit were chopped off (in one particular incident).
Dalit Camera: In Haryana?
Paul Divakar: Yes, you might find the clip also in Youtube. A Dalit boy, who was traveling in a cart, on a hot summer day, felt very hungry and thirsty, and stopped the cart near a pot of water (by the roadside) meant for thirsty people. And he drank from that pot of water.
When he drank that water, a group of youngsters (who were standing nearby) – youngsters, mind, not very traditional, old men—asked him, ‘Tumhari jaati kya hain?‘ (‘What’s your caste?’). Then he answered, ‘Chamar’. And then they caught him, tied him, and as a lesson, they chopped off his hands. Literally chopped off his hands!
They were not proven criminals or anything, not people who had a long history of crime records. They were not robbers or (hardened goons). They were just people who believed that they are protecting and upholding the Manu Dharmashastra. So, because this kind of a feeling is there, people believe it is their bounden duty to ensure law and order. But (their idea of) law and order is very different from the law and order envisaged by the constitution.
This belief (in Manu Dharmashastra) is also shared by the police, and some of the executives (in the state machinery). (It was) this clash, that Babasaheb Ambedkar (was referring to when he) said that we’re now adopting a constitution which offers one person one vote, a law which considers all persons as equals, but still there’s another system which (opposed to this)..
There is still huge dominant population which is still in power, which believes these are things (constitution, law and order) which are against their ‘constitution’. Therefore anybody who dares to cross this line (of Manu Dharmashastra) should be taught a lesson. And teaching a lesson means (committing) an atrocity.
Dalit Camera: Recently, the young student Malala was attacked in Pakistan, can we consider the khap panchayats as (also adopting methods similar to) the Taliban?
Paul Divakar: I think they (khap panchayats) should be named as terrorists, going by our own constitution, because they don’t respect our constitution. They are terrorizing the people, breaking the rule of law and totally destroying any (civilized social life). So, definitely we should call them terrorists.
Dalit Camera: Newspaper reports say seventeen rapes have been committed in this month, and we were discussing how there were no significant social movements there, but still we have this 16 year old girl coming forward saying she will fight, so how do you see that? Does that mean women are asserting themselves?
Paul Divakar: I don’t know how much of it could be assertion, but after Mirchpur I am seeing a difference in the way this whole thing is developing. National Dalit Movement for Justice is a body which has been fighting for the effective implementation of the law to curb atrocities, and it is saying, ‘break the impunity’. It is asking for relooking at whole society, saying ‘let us cast out caste’. You know, throw off caste.
They were quite active along with other human rights organizations during Mirchpur. Now word of mouth news about Mirchpur has spread across the state. (What they said) in Mirchpur was: if you stand up, and use law on your side, you can challenge the jat community. Because in Mirchpur, they (the jats) lost faith.
The case, which is still going on– it was shifted from Mirchpur to the Delhi court, and I think nineteen people were convicted. In Haryana for the first time a police constable was convicted, and there were three others, other police officials, who got some sort of punishment. Severe punishment has been handed down to the jat community.
Now, of course, it will be taken up in high court. But however, compared with the previous incidents—where they have been lynched, Dalits have been lynched, where hands have been chopped off, where they have been thrown into the fire, things like that – this time, (Dalits have said that): we too can fight the casteist terrorists. So there is a beginning of a trend, including in Dabra, where people are beginning to say: come on, we too shall assert ourselves.
This is now going to heighten the violence because there is going to be higher violence from the jat community and there is also going to be continued struggle and assertion from the Dalit community. So I think it (violence) is going to heighten. But over the next few months I am sure state also cannot afford to turn a blind eye, it has to take very stern action and we are pushing the state to instill confidence (among the Dalits) otherwise it (the Haryana government) will not have the right to rule the state.
Dalit Camera: After these rape cases came to light there were discussions among the Dalits, why isn’t a movement coming out after (these incidents), like for example after Lakshimpeta, Karamchedu, Chunduru and Khairlanji etc?
Paul Divakar: Probably, you can have many reasons. The lack of social movements, the history, the non-presence of major networks (connected with social movements) in that particular state. I don’t know, whether maybe (stagnation) in the wider social realm could be the reason. But slowly, I feel, it (change) is beginning now. As of yesterday, several women’s organizations, Dalit organizations, human rights organizations had gone there and organized rallies in about 5 or 6 districts in Haryana.
AIDWA, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, NCDHR, National Dalit Movement for Justice and several other women’s organizations are very active and they have taken this up. So let us see, let us hope for the best, and hope that it (the movement) will pick up in the days to come.
Dalit Camera: You were saying in the NDTV discussion, that under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act atrocity prone districts have to be notified and how none of the districts in Haryana have been notified. You were also saying that the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is never applied in prevention, but it is usually applied only after an atrocity happens. Could you elaborate on that?
Paul Divakar: The National Dalit Movement for Justice has been fighting for amendments to the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, it had organized several consultations across the nation—in twelve states it conducted wide rallies and also consultations—and a set of clear amendments has emerged, in two areas. One, continuing (prosecution of cases under the Act under) criminal justice and the second, also treat some areas under civil justice.
So, which means, first of all, to make sure that there is effective justice. Fast tracks courts have to be included, strengthening the victims and witnesses’ rights, and making sure the punishment under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is streamlined as per the (provisions) in the other penal code, the IPC (Indian Penal Code), which has much stronger (penalties for some) crimes. Like for example, (punishment for) torture.
So, these have to be streamlined, so that crimes under whichever kind of special law or sections should be the same. Compensation should be the same; it should be finalized (rationalized). If it is (a case of) custodial death (or any other case), why should it be different?
Those are one set of amendments which we are asking. Another is, (concerned with) preventive aspects. For example, review. Review is a very important aspect, like reviewing the performance under the act. In Haryana, you see, no chief minister has not even (taken measures) to form the state mechanism for review. State monitoring committee, district monitoring committees have not been formed. Also, under the Act you’re supposed to identify the atrocity prone districts. Most of the states have at least named certain districts where the number of crimes (against Dalits and Adivasis) tends to be more. Whereas in Haryana, not a single district has been identified.
So you don’t have a preventive aspect (mechanism), therefore we are asking for much more (application of) preventive measures to be brought in. Another aspect that we are asking (for more attention to be paid) is that real prevention happens only when discrimination is prevented. Now there is not a single provision which prevents discrimination in the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. For example, if you discriminate against me in recruitment, if you discriminate against me in the classroom, if you discriminate against me in the mess, there is no Act (to prevent that) till now.
So we are telling the Minister of Social Justice and the Minister of Law that as long as, in this society, you leave this entire attitude or mindset which says that if a person is born into a different caste or background then one can treat him or her in any way, with abuse, with discrimination that is not going to help in bringing justice into this country. We are asking for these amendments.
It is sixty five years after independence, and nearly twenty five years after this Act came into force, so we are planning a large mobilization of around 60,000 people to impress upon the central government to pass the Act and also ensure strict implementation.
Please read the first part of the article here.
Transcribed by Kuffir.