(Report first published in November 2003)
Continued from here.
Violence against Dalits in Marathwada
A Report by the Fact Finding Team comprising
Dr. Anand Teltumbde, Akram Siddiqui, Subodh More, Hashim Mohamma
Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai
2. Murti incident
Murti is a relatively bigger village with a population of about 3000. The incident happened on July 9, 2003 as a result of a clash between two minor girls- Kalpana Ankush Thorat belonging to Matang community and Ayodhhya Sandipan Surashe belonging to Sawarna community, at the hand pump at around 3 pm. When the elders returned in the evening, these girls reported the matter to them. Both sides came out in the open along with their supporters, armed with sticks and axes. The fight started with verbal abuses soon culminated into a physical battle. Kalpana’s mother Janabai (40), who was pregnant for the 10th time, rushed to save her husband Ankush Thorat and got axed by the Surashe side. Janabai succumbed to her wounds while being taken to the hospital at Kumbhar Pimpalgaon.
According to Dhansawangi Police Station, the complaint was lodged by Lakhan Thorat against Baburao Surashe (Ayoddhya’s grandfather), Sandipan Surashe (Ayoddhya’s father), Vatsalabai Surashe and Prayagbai Surashe. Police registered the crime under IPC’s Art. 302, 307, 324, 323, 504, 506, 34 etc. and 3 91) (10) Atrocity Act and arrested all the accused. The complaint said that Kalpana was abused in the caste name- ‘Mangate majale’. On the other side on the complaint of Sandipan Surashe Police had registered the crime against Baban Aadhave, Santosh Aadhave, Laxman Aadhave and Janabai Aadhave under IPC Art. 324, 504, 506, and 34. According to the police, there is no caste issue in this incident. Probably, the same can be said of any other incident. A simple question that can be asked in this regard is to why the fights between Dalits and Savarnas wax out of proportion. The fights can ensue on any issue but when it happens between the Dalits and Savarnas, they immediately get coloured with caste prejudices and explode out of proportion. As such there is no clash that is sans-caste between the Dalits and Savarnas.
We wanted to go to Murti but logistically it was not possible to do that. It was some 30 km from Dhansawangi and reportedly the road was not good. Hence we decided to go to Sonna Khota in Beed district where a major incident of killing of a Dalit had taken place.
3. Sonna Khota: A scar that shames humanity
We reached Sonna Khota in the evening at around 5 pm. Like Bhutegaon, the colony in which the incident took place was situated at the entrance to the village itself. A cluster of hutments gave an abandoned look but we found some people coming to us as we got down. As we guessed, it was a Dalit colony where Dadarao Dongre, a Dalit who was brutally killed on July 14, lived. The main village was across down the road.
We were conducted by Sundarrao Sukhdeo Dongre, Dadarao Dongre’s brother his son- Dilip Dongre and many other from the Dongre family, along the pathway. The Dadarao’s house did not fit the description that we had in mind so far. He was supposed to be a well to do Dalit, owning a ration shop for years, not an ordinary possession in the village setting. The house can only be described as a hut. The thatched panels bound it in place of walls and also covered it as a roof. A door relatively better done looked out of place there. It was shut and locked. There was absolutely no sign of any kind of prosperity, even though all the accounts described Dadarao as a well to do (Sadhan) Dalit. It was only much later during our interviews that we learnt that his old house was at the other end of the village and he had shifted to this new plot, purchased for Rs. 15,000, just two years ago. He perhaps had the intention of building a better house on this plot.
We were shown the damages to the houses in that cluster as we were led to the last house. It looked relatively better, having unplasterd brick wall and corrugated sheets over them retained with the weight of stone boulders. It was explained to be the extension of the originally small house given by the government. Dadarao and his kins, in all 14 people, had hidden in this house when the attack was launched by the entire Savarna mob. We entered the house. The Dongre’s, mainly Vijaymala (35), Babasaheb, Dilip, Bhimrao showed us the blood stains over the walls and particularly on the pictures of Buddha and Ambedkar that were pasted onto the wall. Many corrugated sheets at the roof were missing and there were big stones on the floor. It appeared the Dongre’s wanted to preserve the devastation that visited them on July 14, 2003. The house gave an abandoned look with all that it contained in still life. There were some stainless steel utensils placed on a wooden plank bracketed to the wall and a wooden trunk. No one lived in that house after the fateful incident.
Socio-economic setting of Sonna Khota
Sonna Khota is a small village in Dharur Taluka of Beed district of the Marathwada region. It is situated at the base of the Balaghat Mountains, about six km from Vadavani taluka town which is at the distance of 32 km from Beed. The Balaghat Mountains bind the village on two sides. The spread of agricultural land in this village is total 918 hectares. Out of this, about 40 hectare land is under winter irrigation. The balance land is under dry land cultivation. Farming and sugarcane cutting jobs are the main occupations of the people of Sonna Khota. The village is divided in the middle by a road running from Vadvani to Parali. Most of the village including the Gram Panchayat office, is based on the eastern side of this road whereas the Dalit basti is on the West.
The population of Sonna Khota is about 1300 out of which approximately 1000 are in the voters list. The Marathas constitute an overriding majority with a population of about 800. The balance population belongs Koshtis, Jogis (Gosavis), Muslims and Dalits. Koshtis and Jogis (Gosavis) have about 18-20 houses each; Muslims 20-22 houses whereas Dalits have 30-35. Except for two houses belonging to Matang community among the Dalits, the balance population is Buddhist. The village has a visible Maratha domination. They own most of the land, shops, flour mill etc. Dalits on the other hand largely depended on the farms of the Maratha landlords for their jobs. Some 20 Dalit households did have the Gayaran land admeasuring 10-12 acres which lay on the slope of the mountains running at a distance of approximately one km. These lands visibly were uncultivable; firstly because they contained boulders and secondly, they were difficult to approach. As a result these lands remained of no use to the Dalits. They might have served only statistical objective of the State in claiming achievement in land reform. Majority of the Dalit couples of Sonna Khota, therefore, migrated to Kolhapur and Karnataka border as migrant labourers, for cutting sugar canes for sugar mills around the winter season, for five to six months. During this period, most of the households had only old people and school going children.
They received Rs. 40 per male and Rs. 20 per female, in daily wages in cane cutting. Some worked on a piece rate of cutting which was about Rs. 65-66 per tonne. 8-9 couples would collectively undertake the cutting contract at this piece rate and distribute the earnings among them. On an average, a couple cut 1.5 to 2 tonnes of sugarcane and hence earn Rs. 100 to 130 per day which was significantly higher than the prevailing daily wages. After this season, they had to come back and depend on Maratha landlords for getting wage employment on their farms.
Sonna Khota appeared quite politically alive. Being on the district road, perhaps, there were several sign boards of various political parties around the Bus Stop. Out of the five signboards that we noticed, four belonged to the political parties, one being about some road work project. Out of the four sign boards of political parties, two belonged to RPI, and one each to Shiv Sena and BJP- Yuwa Morcha. Marathas are the dominant caste and have political allegiance with Shiv Sena. The majority of the Buddhist Dalits belong to RPI (Athavale). There are, however, two factions of this party, one under Baburao Potbhare of Majalgaon and another under Pappu Kagade, who is the district president of RPI. Beyond taking it as local dynamics, the operational aspects of these factions were beyond our comprehension. The Dalit community was badly divided in the village. All the Buddhist Dalits bear the surname ‘Dongre’ but far from being together they appeared antagonistically divided.
The Gram Panchayat of Sonna Khota has seven members. It covers three hamlets-Dongrewadi, Khandewadi and Landewadi, mainly inhabited by people of Banjara and Laman Tribes. The post of the Sarpanch is reserved for the OBC and hence the current incumbent belongs to Koshti community.
There is a Math and a small temple of Bharatibuwa in Sonna Khota. There is also a Hanuman temple. There is no entry to Dalits in these temples. Caste traditions are observed fairly zealously. Although no one admits observance of untouchability, the fact remains that the Dalits are not allowed beyond the steps of the caste Hindu houses.
There is a Zilla Parishad school up to seventh standard in the village. With the exception of a couple of fellows no one has reached graduation level. Incidence of education was still poorer among Dalits. There was none from the village in any government service.
Like many villages in this part of Marathwada, there is an acute shortage of water. It needs to be brought in tankers which come in, two to three times a week. All the people collect water form this tanker. They carry their own pipe and collect their water simultaneously. An occasional skirmish between Dalits and others is not unusual at the water tanker.
Unlike Bhutegaon, the Dalits in Sonna Khota appeared organized. Although their economic condition did not permit them to directly rebel against the caste domination of Marathas, they did reflect some amount of assertiveness. The village ration shop belonging to one of them itself revealed that the Dalits of Sonna Khota mattered in the village scheme. The caste traditions however were not significantly weakened. Marathas grudged the emerging assertion of the Dalits.
Dadarao Sukhdeo Dongre, a key figure in the Sonna Khota incident was the most wealthy among the Dalits who were basically landless labourers. Wealthy here is a mere relative term that however marks him out in the village as a symbol of rising Dalit. He had three brothers, first Laxman, second Sundarrao, third Rajendra. He had four sons and two daughters. Two sons and one daughter were married. First Shivaji, second Popat, third Sukhdeo, fourth Balasaheb and thereafter Mandakini and the last Seema. Shivaji, Popat and Mandakini are married. In all, there are a total of 12 people in Dadarao’s family. Dadarao wealth comprised of his ration shop, 25- 30 sheep, 5-7 acre of mountainous land and 2 acre land that he had bought in the nearby Sali village. In addition he had four sons and two daughters-in-law as earning members. Resultantly, he did not depend on anybody in Sonna Khota. His elder son Shivaji grew up as audacious young man. He would no more tolerate traditional excesses from any Savarna. Soon he started committing excesses himself. He would let his sheep in others fields. He soon emerged as the most disliked fellow to the Savarnas. Shivaji prominently figured in our talk with the Savarna people, although he did not have any role in the July 14-incident. The Savarna people strove to paint Dadarao as bad with references to Shivaji as though that would justify their crime. Dadarao however was a respectable person. He was elected unopposed as a member of the Gram Panchayat. He was a virtual leader of Sonna Khota Dalits. It was he who had organized the first ever Ambedkar-Jayanti in the village.
Version of the victims
On that fateful day, the daughter of Dadarao Dongre went to fetch water from a tanker in the morning at about 9 or 10 am. At that time, she was asked by some youth from the Savarna community to go away. They said that they got polluted with the Dalit presence and hence she should come after they finish. Seema went home and reported the matter to all. The Dongre family was quite enraged by this incident. Nothing however happened until that afternoon.
Sundarrao Dongre who came back from his sheep grazing said that he saw some skirmish at the tanker. Sanjivani Dongre, wife of Arun Dongre was assaulted just before by some Savarna people. Shrihari Ganapati Dongre (Sundarrao’s cousin), Rajendra Sukhdeo Dongre, (elder brother of Sundarrao) and Babasaheb Dongre (Sundarrao’s son) narrated the incident as it happened. After the morning incident with Seema, there was some anger in the family but they did not expect it to develop into such a gory affair. Such clashes were not new to them. The Savarnas always tried to enforce their caste superiority and the Dalits resisted it to the extent they could. The Dongre’s told us in chorus that the Savarnas were always harassing them for last several years. “Teasing our ladies, getting into quarrels over trifle issues, taunting us without reason, and fighting at the water tanker has been a regular feature for us”. However, again in the evening something happened at the tanker. Sanjeevani came home complaining that she was assaulted by some Sawarna people.
Before they could digest these developments, they were caught in heavy stone pelting by a huge mob. Some people rushed into houses and started beating the inmates indiscriminately. Jayashree Dongre, wife of Popat Dongre, who was pregnant of 8 month, was beaten in the belly and she is in Aurangabad hospital. Dadarao and his family ran into Sundarrao’s house. Both the families, Dadarao’s and Sundarrao’s took shelter in the latter’s house and latched the door. There was heavy stone throwing and then some people climbed up the house and started throwing the corrugated sheets which were secured at the roof with stone weight. The heavy stones crashed into the house but luckily did not fall on anyone. ‘The people were stoning us from the roof openings, hitting us with sticks.’
‘Everyone of us was already drenched in blood. We felt we would all be dead. They were shouting and abusing us in caste names.’ Dadarao appeared to be their target. At that point Dadarao slipped out of the house. It was already dark. He thought he would escape under the cover of darkness and ran through the fields behind the house towards the direction of Khadki village. However, he could not escape the attention of the mob. Some people must have run after him. But it was dark; they could not follow him far. Others took a jeep and followed from other directions and spotted him with the help of their headlights. They must have used sticks, axes and stones to kill Dadarao. When he was brought out, he had deep cuts at his shoulder, head and legs. His legs were almost cut. He was fully drenched in blood.
The police carried him to the Primary Health Center at Chinchvan where he breathed his last. The post mortem on his body was carried out there itself. By that time, a mob of 400 to 500 people had gathered which demanded the immediate arrest of the criminals. They refused to take over the body until it was done. Only after the assurance from the District Collector Nandkumar Jantre and Superintendent of Police Pradip Deshpande, the body was accepted. Baban Vadmare, a Bharip-Bahujan Mahasangh leader, who was present there told us that Dadarao was almost dead at the spot he was located but breathed his last at Chinchvan hospital.
The attack had been on from 6-30 pm to 9-30 pm. At around 10 pm 7-8 the police came. In this attack Dilip Sundarrao Dongre (40), Vikas Dadarao Dongre (16), Arun Dongre (32), Babasaheb Sundarrao Dongre (25), Popat dadarao Dongre (30), Sukhdeo Dadarao Dongre (32), Sunita Babasaheb Dongre (20), Sanjivani Arun Dongre (28), Panchsheela Dongre, Jayashree Popat Dongre (25), Vijayamala Dlip Dongre (35) alongwith Arun Sundarrao Dongre, got injured. Dilip Dongre named 60 people in his complaint. But as of now, only 13 people have been arrested. They say another 10 people are absconding although all the named people are seen in the villages. The police have always been partial to the Sawarnas and even in this case they will just hush up the matter, Babasaheb Dongre apprehended. Once the intervention of outsiders came to an end, they will make life hell for us. Dongre’s pleaded with us that we should help them get rehabilitated elsewhere, not in Sonna Khota.
We questioned the Dongre’s as to what provoked the Savarnas to launch such a violent attack. Sundarraro Dongre replied that it was a built up anger against them; they were planning something like this for long. Sundarrao could not give us any specific provocation that sparked off this fierce reaction. Babasaheb Dongre and the Dongre ladies added that the district chief of Shiv Sena Shri Sunil Dhande had a meeting that after noon and something must have transpired there. Sunil Dhande has been frequenting the village and making provocative statements against us. He openly talked about beating and killings in his speeches. Sundarrao said that they projected some two people on the Savarna side as beaten by Dalits in order to provoke the Savarna masses against the Dalits. It might have been so planned in their meeting. He said he did not know about any clash in the Dalit Basti that day with any Savarna youth and hence the question of their getting injured did not arise. However, this alibi was certainly used to mobilize people to attack the Dongre family.
Vijaymala, Dadarao’s daughter-in-law showed her wound on the head. She said that they were so scared that they did not like to live in the village. Babasaheb’s wife- another daughter-in-law of Sundarrao was in hospital for a broken hand. Babasaheb who worked in a hospital in Beed said that the caste problem always existed as it did perhaps in many surrounding villages but it has become particularly serious since the last three years after the entry of the Shiv Sena. There have been always some quarrel of the other, since then. These cases were reported to Dharur Police but the latter took it as an opportunity to extract money from both the sides. The police and the RPI leaders had meetings of the villagers for restoring peace, three to four times but in vain. The Sawarnas always showed outward reconciliation but appeared more vehement in suppressing the Dalit assertion. The caste tension thus simmered underneath the quietude Sonna Khota wore. Last year Popat Dongre was beaten up by the Sawarnas. Popat Dongre was the president of Babu Potbhare’s Shakha of the RPI in Sonna Khota. Babu Potbhare made a case against four people. PSI, Prabhakar Giri suppressed the case and annulled the atrocity case.
The Savarna people also divided the Dalit community. In particular, the families of Maroti Kisan Dongre, Sopan Kisan Dongre, Dasharath Bajirao Dongre and Subbarao Mogaji Dongre have been on their side. Sopan Dongre who owns a jeep, lives in Pune. On asking about their motivation to be on the side of the Sawarnas, they said that all the Dalits heavily depended on the Sawarnas for their livelihood and hence it was natural to be on the side that offers you material gain. If you had some contradiction with your own people, it provides you with a strong excuse for being against them and for the Sawarnas. For instance, while the members of Dadarao and Sundarrao families and most other Buddhist Dalits did not get any work on the Sawarna farms, the families of the above Dalits get work all the time, Bhimrao Chokhoba Dongre told us.
About Dadarao Dongre, they told us that he was the most intelligent person among the Dalits and always fought against discrimination and caste domination of the Sawarnas. With sheer hard work, he established himself economically in the village. He got the ration shop but the Sawarnas always grudged to pick up their ration from his shop. They always wished that somehow it should be closed. For almost a decade, however, the shop ran well. It appeared that the Sawarnas had reconciled. But for the last three years, they appeared particularly emboldened with the entry of the Shiv Sena. They stopped lifting the ration form his shop and as a result, the shop was closed. They ultimately succeeded in attaching their cards to a nearby village, Pimpaltakka. Dadarao’s ration shop had just 30-40 ration cards, mostly of the Dalits, left with.
The version of the other side
After hearing the version of Dalits, we wanted to hear the other side, as well as the police. As we walked down the road, we were surprised to find a sizable collection of people just waiting for us on the road itself. We met even policemen who were supposedly doing a bandobust duty. It suddenly reminded us of the Dongre women who had said that they were so terrorized that they felt that at anytime they could be attacked. The police needed to protect them, reassure them with their presence but instead police chose to rest in the Savarna village away from the Dalit basti. Later, as we started interviewing them, they were found to be clearly oriented against the Dalit case. Entire gathering started talking to us in unison narrating what happened on that day.
Arun Sundarao Dongre and his friend Vikram Ganapat Dongre from another village Pimpaltakka came riding a motorbike. They were fully drunk. Their motorbike dashed against some Savarna person- Yogiraj Nanabhau Khote. Pradip Prabhakar Khote, Nanasaheb Vitthal Khote, Vitthal Vasudeo Lande and Dadasaheb Sadhu Pawar went to the Dalit basti with the intention of asking Arun about his misdemeanor and possibly take him to a medical centre, for alcohol testing. But, they were attacked by Arun with an axe and Lathis. These people sustained injuries and had to be hospitalized. Sarpanch, Dnyaneshwar Sudam Lokre who belonged to Koshti community, reinforced this version when we asked him. Police Patil- Mahadeo Vashistha Khote excused himself by saying that he was not in Sonna Khota when this incident took place. Enraged by this act, they said, ‘entire village’ rushed to the Dalit Basti to teach a lesson to the ‘Dalit Goons’. The intention however, was not to kill anyone.
They could not explain the bloody scene they created in Sundararao’s house. It was not only Dadarao but any and every of the inmates of house could have been killed in the attack. The entire crowd had a pause that was broken by some one saying that after all, the crowd was angry and there was no way of controlling the consequences. On the killing of Dadarao, they said that he might have been killed by some of his own people because “they alone have weapons”. They said that it was dark and hence possibly, the Dalit boys killed Dadarao. Police constable Doiphode was vociferous in reinforcing this story. He said that it was a lie that his legs were cut or he had axe cuts on his body. He said that he, along with Hanumant Sopan Khote, PSI Ade, ASI Nagargoje, constable Shingare had gone to the spot and found Dadarao lying there with a head injury. Dadarao had told them that some 8-10 boys had dropped a big stone on his leg. Doiphode said that they arranged a private jeep to take him to hospital but the Dongre’s alleged that it was used for following Dadarao under its headlight and killing him. He said that Dadarao was taken to the Chinchavan hospital and put on saline and only thereafter he died at about 11.30 pm. He contended that if he had been attacked with an axe, he would not have survived that long.
The story was well orchestrated but had many loopholes. On asking the people as to where the Dalit boys came from to attack Dadarao by mistake, the crowd did not have an answer. How the police spotted Dadarao in the first place, did not elicit a plausible answer. What did his dying statement say? No one could throw any light on these matters. They just told us that Dy. SP. N. H. Bhadikar, Majalgaon was investigating the matter. One thing, however, that was made clear by the police behaviour, was that they were firmly on the Savarna side and against their victims. They informed us that 13 people had so far been arrested for murder and under Atrocities Act. 10 were absconding. On asking what had happened to the balance 37 people, as Dilip Dongre had reportedly named 60 people as attackers, the Police did not have an answer.
Surprisingly, the Savarna side (and Police included) repeatedly projected some Dalit persons in the crowd to buttress their story. They volunteered saying that there was absolutely no problem to them from the Savarnas; that the latter always supported them. There was no discrimination by them against Dalits. It was only for some arrogant people that the atmosphere in the village was vitiated. Sudhakar Sopan Dongre who drove the jeep and who was the brother of Pandurang Sopan Dongre, told us that Dadarao committed excess and atrocities. (Dadarao aagau hota, far atyachar karayacha). Pandurang Sopan Dongre said that Dadarao and his brothers had burnt his house. On asking about the problems at the tanker, they expectedly replied in the negative. The mob projected the Tanker driver – Bhagawan Shahuram Bahir who confirmed that there was absolutely no clash at the tanker on that day and even before. We just asked the Police whether any tanker incidents were reported to them (as Dongre family told us that the skirmishes at the tanker were a usual affair and few such incidents were even reported to the police) and the police replied that there were none.
We took the opportunity to verify facts on certain minor post-incident complaints from the victims’ side. The students from Dongre family were asked by the Head Master Jagdale to take away their School leaving Certificates if they so wanted- the utterly unsolicited offer without any rhyme or reason except for casteism. Ajay Rahul Dongre, an innocent looking fourth standard kid in the local school himself told us. Unfortunately we could not see Jagdale to verify it. It was complained that after the incident the Savarnas were making their living in the village impossible. Dhurpatabai Dongre told us that they did not get things from the village shops. Reshma Dongre and Vanamala Dongre, both sixth standard students stated to us that it was true. Reshma had gone that morning to get a packet of Nirma and was refused by Gangadhar Bharati, owner of the nearest Kirana shop. She got it from the other shop. One of the persons complained that the flour mill owner, Bharatari Shinde had declined to grind their grains. Only after the intervention of the village Talathi- Munde, that he obliged. We met with Bharatari Shinde at his shop and questioned him about this. He expectedly denied but said that these people owed him a lot of money on account of past dues. He just asked them to clear it before getting further credit. They could still get what they wanted if they paid cash. Dadarao Dongre, for instance, owed Bharatari Rs. 1800. Similar things were said by Gangadhar Bharati and Bharat Uttam Bharati at their Kirana Shop.
They had a lot much to say about Dadarao Dongre. According to them, he was an arrogant person. He had a ration shop but he was not stocking it properly. People were not getting food grains and kerosene. If people asked about it, Dadarao would arrogantly ask them to take whatever was available or else to go away. The authorities had cancelled his license on the complaints from villagers. However, he got it restored by appealing to the Divisional Commissioner. They said that he was a politically influential person and could get anything done. On questioning as to who his political patrons were, we were told the names of Babu Potbhare. They went to the extent of complaining that he used to beat people in his ration shop.
Dadarao’s son Shiwaji (30), did not figure in the incident per se, but was especially mentioned in characterizing Dongre family as though in justification for killing Dadarao and injuring several others. As per them, Shiwaji was a rascal. He had a rape case against him. He was also imprisoned. He did not reside in the village for some years now but visited it often.
Facts of Sonna Khota: Our analysis
The versions of the victims and the perpetrators of the crime have to be different. But it is not difficult to discern the facts of Sonna Khota if one physically reaches there and acquaints with its settings. Sonna Khota is a far flung village in the backward Beed district, bound on two sides by the mighty Balaghat Mountains and hence at first glance appears like a tribal village. But it does not have tribal population although its associate villages in Sonna Khota Gram Panchayat have them. It represents a typical village where modernity has just been brushed in the form of a road running through villages, electricity lighting the homes and modern products adding to conveniences of life etc., but tradition has not allowed its sway deep into the cultural lives of the people. The Dalits moreover are too poor and economically dependent on the Savarna Maratha community to muster any material challenge to their caste rule. No one therefore needs to say that feudal domination of Marathas, classical caste discrimination, even untouchability is naturally practiced in the village. Dalits of Sonna Khota have however been politically elevated because of the activities of RPI, to be conscious of their discrimination. This consciousness could not overcome their material dependence and as a result they reflected hopeless fragmentation not only to have ludicrous two factions of the same political party but also to be the black sheep of the Savarnas, against their kith and kin in the times of unprecedented crisis.
The incident of July 14, 2003 can be reconstructed easily as follows. Some verbal skirmish with reference to caste, between Seema, Dadarao Dongre’s daughter, and other Savarna people had taken place in the morning. Seema reports this matter to her father and others at home. Dadarao is not an ordinary Dalit. He is the owner of village ration shop, is a member of the Gram Panchayat, is a father of young healthy sons and has enough mobile and immobile property in the village so as to assert his independence from the casteist Savarnas. He has, by and large, been the face of rising Dalithood which is most grudged by the traditional Savarna castes in similar village settings. The reaction to Seema’s report in Dadarao as well as in his homestead must have naturally been strong. Dadarao, after all had been experiencing the animosity of these casteist elements for too long; they have also made him suffer materially by bringing his ration shop to the brink of closure. The incident must have provoked some visible reaction from him or from some member of his family.
The Savarna version of the incident is full of logical holes. As for Arun and his friend riding a motorbike in a drunken state, dashing against some Savarna person, may not appear implausible but thereafter some four persons going to the Dalit basti to take Arun for a medical check up to establish a case of drunken driving against him appears too far fetched to be true. If at all, these people must have gone to thrash Arun and instead got beaten by him. There is no way to confirm these facts because we could not meet with any of the involved persons to verify them. A similar story is taken as plausible account of the incident by Ramakant Gaikwad whose report has been published in the latest issue of Saptahik Maharashtra, dated July 28, 2003- a respected Marathi weekly published from Aurangabad. This story is based on the interviews with some ladies- Mathurabai, Shantabai and Rukminibai, all belonging to the Savarna community. It cannot therefore be accused of any bias. The narration goes as follows: In the morning of July 14, 2003, between 9 to 10 am, Seema had gone to fetch water from the tanker. She was asked by some Savarna youth not to take water as it pollutes them. She could come after they finished. Seema reported the matter at home.
It created anger in the Dongre family. Nothing however happened until afternoon. At about 4 or 5 pm Arun Dongre, Seema’s cousin along with his friend went to a hand pump near Gram Panchayat and asked a small Savarna boy who was extracting water into his pitcher to move it away. When the boy ignored Arun and did not remove his pitcher, Arun started abusing him. Gaikwad reconfirms that this information was given to him by Rukminibai and Panchphulabai during his interview with the Savarna ladies. The story proceeds: Arun then went through the village shouting abuses. When some Savarna youth went to the Dalit basti to question him, they were allegedly beaten by Arun and his friends with lathis and axes. Within an hour, at around 6 pm, a mob of some 200 Savarna people, equipped with lathis, axes and spears attacked houses of Dadarao and Sundarrao Dongre.
There is no dispute about the balance gory account of the incident. The important point in this story is that there is a confirmation of the morning clash at the water tanker in which Seema was abused by the Savarna youth in caste name. The Dalit version of the story is perfectly corroborated by the Savarna side. The Dalits did not tell us in plausible terms of the provocation for the ferocious attack. The balance story perhaps fills this gap. The details apart, but we are sure that some specific provocative act was performed in reaction to the morning incident by some member of the Dadarao Dongre’s family. It could very well be Arun. When the Savarna youth went to Dalit basti, it could not just be for questioning Arun. They did go there with an intention to teach him a lesson. We summarily reject the orchestrated motor-cycle version of Savarna-Police combine as a poor fabrication, although the essential part of some Savarna youth going to Dalit basti after Arun and getting beaten there, is common to both. Stringing all the information together, we feel that some Savarna youth going to dalit Basti around 4-5 pm with an intention of thrashing Arun but instead getting wounded in possible stone pelting from there, (and not attacking with axes and lathis) is plausible. One reaction of Arun’s abuses might have been in beating of Sanjeevani Dongre at the water tanker in the evening which Sundararao told us about.
We reject even the version of Savarna-Police combine about Dadarao’s killing. As per them, Dadarao could have been killed by the Dalits themselves as they alone possessed weapons. It is utterly preposterous to say the least. The house and the entire Basti having been surrounded by a ferocious mob of 200, about which there cannot be any possible doubt, there is no way that any Dalit youth could escape it. Everybody from the Dongre family hid inside houses. Facing a sure death, it was Dadarao alone who mustered courage to slip out of the house and disappear into darkness. None other than the Savarnas could follow and kill him which they did. It would not be possible to chase him in darkness moreover and hence it is possible that people followed him in a jeep and killed with the help of its powerful headlights.
Dadarao and his family ran and hid in Sundarrao’s house. Entire families of Dadarao and Sundarrao locked themselves in that small house. The attackers were so furious that they climbed up the walls and threw away the corrugated sheets that were held in place with the weight of stones. In addition they started stoning people from those gaps. No one hiding there could escape without getting drenched in blood. The blood of people sprayed around on every article in the house that could still be seen in its stains.
The main target of this attack being Dadarao, he slipped out of the house terror-struck and ran through the field behind in the direction of Khadki village. Immediately, some people ran after him and some followed in a jeep. It was fairly dark. He was caught and was attacked with axes, sticks and stones. People told us that Dadarao’s left leg was almost broken; he had deep wounds in the shoulder and head. He was lying in a pool of blood when Dharur Police reached and carried him to Primary Health center of Chinchvan. Dadarao breathed his last soon after reaching this center. The post mortem on his body was performed at the same center itself. Not much is known about its contents.
In the heat of this gory incident, a shocking development has already taken place that exposes to what extent the poison of caste has spread into vitals of our society and in corollary, the pathetic state of Dalit politics in the so called progressive state of Maharashtra. An All Party Action Committee, formed in Vadvani of Beed district to oppose the Dalit case in Sonna Khota incident had taken out a big procession in Vadvani under the leadership of Shiv Sena’s taluka chief Vitthaldada Lagad on July 21, 2003 against the Dalit-side in the Sonna Khota incident. It had observed a Bandh on Monday and claimed 100 per cent response. The procession had about 10 to 12 thousand people which is quite significant for a small town like Vadvani. The procession marched to the Tahsil Office and demanded inter alia withdrawal of the economic assistance of Rs. Five lakh given to the family of Dadarao Dongre, refusal to rehabilitate the Dongre family in Vadavani taluka and arrest of the criminals in Dongre family.
It is not clear who the constituents of this Action Committee are besides Shiv Sena that has not hidden its leadership role, but it is reported that this movement has the underhand support of NCP and BJP (Dainik Mahanayak, Aurangabad). Hanmant Upare of BRP-Bahujan Mahasangh, on being asked about the dynamics behind this event, said in our telephonic interview that the reactionary camp received impetus from the statements of Kripashankar Singh, the Minister of state for Home, who was sent for fact finding into the Sonna Khota incident by the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, that it was not a caste atrocity and rather it was a clash between the two anti-social groups. He said that he and his party have widely condemned this statement of Kripashankar Singh.
Not discrete incidents but a pattern
The three major incidents dealt with above may appear as discrete incidents but they are not. In the context of time and space they are a veritable part of a pattern of violence created by a series of incidents that have happened and are still happening all over Marathwada. A perfunctory survey of news appearing in only one Aurangabad newspaper for a limited period can testify to this fact:
* There was a clash between Dalits and Savarnas at Chaturwadi in Ambajogai taluka on the issue of fallow (Gayaran) land on July 11, 2003. Savarnas burnt down huts of Nagnath Kamble and other Dalits. When Nagnath Kamble sat on fast unto death along with his family, the Police have recorded the crime against Ramkisan Limbaji Pawar, Shivaji Ramkisan Pawar, Mahadu Ramkisan Pawar and Rajebhau Narayan Khandekar under the Atrocity Act. (Saptahik Maharashtra, 18 July, 2003)
* June 10, 2003: At Anvi Bangal village of Badnapur Taluka a Dalit family in the clash on the issue of water. One Sanjay Gangadhar Bhosle, a Savarna person threw away the vessel of Ranjanabai Dattatraya Patole, a Matang woman and abused her. Many people from Bhosale family came running to the spot and started beating Matang people. Police intervened and arrested the accused.
* June 22, 2003: At Karadgaon in the Dhansawangi Taluka, a clash broke out between the Dalits and Savarnas.
* May 21, 2003: At Matmal in Lonar taluka on the border of Vidarbh-Marathwada a Dalit bridegroom was paraded in the village with his shoes on his head for the crime of entering the Hanuman Temple. The Savarnas abused the Dalits in the caste name- ‘Mharade majalet’, beat up bridegroom’s mother till she fell unconscious and humiliated Taterao Lahane to the extent that he has threatened self immolation if the Savarna criminals are not punished. (Saptahik Maharashtra, dated June 9, 2003, Report by Narendra Lanjewar- Mandir Batawale: Nawardevachi Dhind, p. 35)
* July 23, 2003: The Savarnas have imposed collective boycott on the Dalits in Asola (lakh) village in Aundha Nagnath taluka and stopped giving them water. Balu Rangnath Karhale and Jagannath Nana Karhale belonging to Savarna caste beat a Dalit youth named Baban Bhagorao Nangre severely and threatened him of dire consequences if the matter was reported to Police. Baban however reported the matter to Kurunda Police Station on July 25, 2003. Enraged by this act, the Savarnas have imposed the social boycott on Dalits that included stopping the supply of drinking water.
* A Dalit woman was beaten, her house was devastated and she as dragged and humiliated by the Savarna people at Moregaon in Selu taluka of Parabhani district on the issue of polluting their pots at the public water tap. (Dainik Mahanayak, Aurangabad, 11.06.03)
* June 23, 2003: Just 4 Km from Bhutegaon, at Karandgaonwadi, a clash between one Narayan Lahane of Buddhist community and Dattu Mitkari of a Savarna caste on the issue of a pathway between farms, culminated in death of a Savarna person and serious injury to the three Dalit persons.
* July 20, 2003: Savarna attack a Dalit- Madhav Male at Shahapur in Deglur Taluka with public declaration because Male refused to give his Gayaran land for building Mahadev temple.
Maharashtra is one of the Indian states where there have been movements to awaken Dalits and other backward castes which have really impacted on the social life of the State. Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar lived in Maharashtra and have been the beacon lights in the movement against discrimination based on caste. Several years have passed and the State has seen several movements and campaigns drawing inspiration from these great people. In spite of all this, the distinction and discrimination based on caste still prevails in Maharashtra. A slight provocation like a dispute at the water pump leads to polarization as Dalits and non-Dalits; non-Dalits attack Dalit bastis, destroy their houses and even kill them. This is what really happened in three incidents which the fact finding team investigated. It is possible that every incident has a background. Dalit struggle itself is one of the ingredients of the background. However, in all the three incidents the immediate provocation was the low social status which the high caste accord to the Dalits. The Dalits are not supposed to assert their rights and equality before the law. If they do, they have to pay a price.
In spite of the Constitutional rule for over half a century, we could not rid our culture of caste. It was very recently that five Dalits were lynched at Jajjhar in Haryana in broad day light in front of a police Station. Acharya Giriraj Kishor, one of the prominent leaders of the Sangh Pariwar indignantly justified it. He said the cow was sacred; its life was sacrosanct; it cannot be violated. Those who violate it can be physically eliminated. The statement was not anything very surprising; it just reflected our culture which is called Indian culture.
Violence against Dalits cannot materialize if there is an organized resistance from Dalits. The Savarnas appear particularly emboldened to perpetrate atrocities on Dalits in Marathwada as the recent pattern suggests. This can be directly correlated to the hopeless fragmentation of Dalit organizations. Marathwada provides an ideal ground to try out any kind of casteist programme.
The recent overtures to Ambedkarite Dalits by the Shiv Sena, the party which had openly opposed their movement for renaming of Marathwada University after Babasaheb Ambedkar, and which has been consistently against them since its inception, under the slogan ‘Bhimshakti + Shivshakti’ clearly indicates their strategy to gain some extra votes that could catapult them to power. It stems from the fact that it has lost nearly 70 Assembly seats by water thin margin, mostly in Marathwada and Vidarbha, in the last election. In the context of all pervasive disillusions of Dalits with the Various RPIs and established Dalit leadership, Shiv Sena has smartly played its move confounded the existing confusion of Dalit politics.
The current pattern of violence significantly highlights Matangs as the victims. It is prima facie surprising to find this caste coming out prominently in caste violence as a victim. It however can be explained by the rising organizations of Matangs all over Marathwada. They are undergoing the process the Mahars have done before and are paying price for that.
Individual incidents may have their own separate reasons but that does not explain the pattern which one perceives in Marathwada. In this respect, it may be noted that the elections are round the corner and main political formations are in process of taking concrete shape. The political organizations who participate in electoral politics have traditionally employed violence as a process of alienation and consolidation. We have clearly observed that in the wake of violent incidents, the Savarnas get united sans-party lines, which clearly benefits the party that represents their interests. Dalits, on the other hand, would seek shelter under its adversary. If a mainstream party is reasonably sure of its Savarna segment, and needs the extra Dalit votes, it stands to benefit by such violence against Dalits. Conversely, if a party relies more on Savarna votes and does not expect much of Dalit votes, it also benefits from such incidents. While the exact cost-benefit of a particular party will depend upon the strategy and how diligently it carries it out, it is fairly certain that violence against Dalits has such a great potential electoral gains associated with it that it is difficult for political parties not to try it out. This political nuance can be clearly seen in the acrobatics of the leaders of mainstream political parties, who visited the places where these incidents took place. Shendges and others told us that no Shiv Sena leader visited them and the NCP leaders who visited Bhutegaon did not see them.
There are several constituencies in Maharashtra where main political parties have won or lost by small margins. The Dalit population in the State constitutes 13 per cent which is significant in terms of electoral politics. By one analysis, (see Praful Marpakwar, “Poor Report Card Prompts Sena Makeover” in Indian Express dated July 9, 2003) there are 120 seats out of 288 in Maharashtra where Dalits decide the fate of the candidates. There is a competition among the main political formations in Maharashtra therefore to win over the Dalits, either by alienating or attracting them for make electoral gains. It is very possible that this politics of convenience is playing a role in catalyzing a pattern of violence against the Dalits in Marathwada.
Adequate compensation should be paid to the family and dependents of victims accounting for the loss they suffered such that the survivors live a life of dignity.
The affected people should be fully rehabilitated at the places of their choice or which are free of such caste incidents. The State needs to take cognizance of the fact that all these people face certain threat from the powerful Savarna community for having dared to go against them in the wake of these incidents.
There is an attempt from the organizations of Savarnas and some other people to attribute these incidents to reasons other than caste and thereby not to register these cases under the Atrocities Act. They have gone so far as to demand annulment of this special Act. Considering the fact that any and every case can be superficially seen sans-caste, this is totally an untenable argument. It is an incontrovertible fact that in our society, caste constitutes a defining factor for a Dalit. We therefore consider that belonging of a victim to a Dalit community is a sufficient condition as envisaged in the Atrocity Act and demand that all such cases must be registered under the Atrocity Act in addition to the relevant clauses of IPC.
Special Courts should be set up to speed up the trial of cases of atrocities against Dalits, which will also act as a deterrent to the perpetrators of crimes.
The common factor in these incidents can be seen as the clash at hand pumps. If the Dalits had an exclusive hand pump in their area, these incidents may not have occurred. Failing to take cognizance of social reality and installing hand pumps in Dalit areas is a serious lapse on the Government part. We demand that sufficient numbers of hand pumps be immediately provided for Dalit bastis in every village.
A significant part of the law and order machinery (number of Policemen) is deployed for protection of a few so called VIPs in our Democratic Republic while a large number of vulnerable people like Dalits are left without any protection. This is clearly illustrated by the facts that the caste-violence prone Dhansawangi Taluka has just 36 policemen for 95 villages. We demand that the Government should immediately take steps to strengthen the law and order machinery for protection of Dalits in larger parts of Marathwada region which is prone to caste violence.
Police investigation has been lax and ineffective in all the cases that we investigated. The Government must deploy in affected places, Police Officers who are free from caste prejudices and upright enough not to succumb under political pressure. The abysmally low rate of conviction in the atrocities cases against Dalits in the country proves its importance. As for the implementability of this aspect, we suggest that the Government must create and institutionalize a record for the Police to identify and inventorize such police officers who are efficient, upright and free from caste prejudices. Whenever the incidents of caste atrocities take place, the Government should constitute adhoc team or team(s) out of such officers and send them to the places to conduct investigations in shortest possible time and to present them before the Courts.
Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai
Contact: P. A. Sebastian, President, CPDR, 104, YMCA, 12 N. Parekh Marg, Colaba, Mumbai-400039. Phone: 9820142752
Please read the first part of this report here.
[Courtesy: PUCL, December 2003]