UNCIVILISED & BARBARIC ACT IN INDEPENDENT INDIA
Violence continued to rock Assam on Tuesday following the 36-hour general strike called by the AllAdivasi Students’ Association of Assam. More than 15 people were injured and several vehicles damaged in separate incidents across the state. The retaliatory violence during an unruly adivasi rally in Guwahati on Saturday, when an adivasi woman was stripped in public and assaulted, has, meanwhile, shocked a wide cross-section of people, including intellectuals and members of women’s organisations, who have described it as “uncivilised” and “barbaric”.
On Tuesday, security sources said bandh supporters attacked a group of All-Assam Students’ Union activists near Bordubi village in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district.
The bandh supporters and adivasi students also attacked a police vehicle and injured a police constable. Two AASU activists were also wounded in a separate attack, a senior police officer at Tinsukia said.
– Deccan Chronicle, November 28, 2007
On 29th September 2006 in Khairlanji village Surekha Bhotmange, her daughter Priyanka and her two sons Roshan and Sudhir were dragged from their home by a mob, stripped naked, beaten to death, and their bodies dumped in a canal. Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, the father of the family, escaped by a lucky chance. The details of this caste-based crime are sickening, and the hatred behind it is difficult to comprehend, but the viciousness is typical of the many crimes committed against lower caste people in India every day. Most of these crimes are invisible, but this atrocity came to light through Dalit campaigns and became and international news story. The Manuski Project, supported by Karuna, played an important part in making that happen.
The Bhotmange family were one of three Mahar households in the village of 150 houses. As Dalits, at the bottom of the caste structure, they are traditionally expected to remain in a position of subservience, poverty and degradation. But they didn’t. They owned and worked 5 acres of good land. The children were being educated and doing very well. Priyanka was the only girl in the village to attend school. They worked hard and had ambitions and the castes directly above them in the pecking order didn’t like it. The higher castes attempted a land grab, which the Bhotmanges resisted. Then Surekha and Priyanka gave evidence to the police about a violent exchange between a friend of the Bhotmanges and some local landowners, who ended up in a police cell. When the landowners were released, they came looking for vengeance.
There is a horrible familiarity to the story – Dalits own land, do well in education, challenge the social hierarchy and the response is a violent backlash, a dramatic warning against working hard and standing up for themselves.
Today Bhaiyyalal can’t live in Khairlanji and is unable to work the land he loves. It is too dangerous; he needs a bodyguard with him at all times. The Government gave him a house but he prefers to live with one of his few friends. ‘I am lonely when I go to the house, so I stay here’ He says. He has a single hope for the future, ‘The murderers should be brought to justice.’
A trial is underway following a huge campaign, but is dragging on, slowly. He has no plans beyond that, ‘I cannot speak about that now’ he says, and one wonders how he will ever find peace. On a rare visit to his hut in Khairlanji he tends the garden, tidies his shattered home and all seems normal. But his face tells another story. The horrible fact of what happened there is written into his skin, and his simple words speak volumes ‘the grief is always with me.’