The Game Begins
By Anand Teltumbde
11 June, 2014
Now that people have voted for BJP beyond its own imagination and Narendra Modi got on to the business of 'maximum governance' many people thought that the old games associated with hindutva would no more be needed. Modi's performance as far as his conduct and speeches are concerned has been simply superb. Even his worst detractors also were rendered confused by them. Indeed, many people who may not have voted for BJP also began feeling that perhaps Modi might really work. It was too early and too much to believe entirely his rhetorical declaration in an emotion laden speech in the central hall of parliament that his government would be dedicated to the poor and oppressed. Nonetheless many felt that perhaps, given his background, having come from an ordinary backward caste family and independent demeanours, he may really be more sensitive to the poor and oppressed. At the least, he would be sensitive to the Muslims, who have not voted for him and Dalits, who have massively voted for him, the communities who mainly constitute the subject of his dedication.
However, two prominent incidents happened during this week, among of course a spate of rapes and murders of dalits, tend to belie these expectations and create a contrary impression that perhaps the old games have begun.
Damn Dalit Demands
The horrid incident at Bhagana in Haryana in which four girls aged 13 to 18 were sedated, gang-raped, kidnapped by the culprits of the dominant Jat community, who abused them the entire night and threw them into the bushes near the Bhatinda railway station on 23 March was shocking enough to shame the country. However, what followed was far more revolting and shameful. The girls had to pass through humiliating two finger tests which have been officially banned for the rape victims during their medical examination. While the police had registered their complaints under pressure from dalit community, they took five weeks to apprehend the culprits. Whereas, the judicial process to get them released in the Hissar court had immediately begun, the Dalits of Bhagana, along with the families of those innocent girls had to go for sit-ins for justice. They were scared to go back to their village for the fear of reprisal by the Jats. Some 90 Dalit families from Bhagana, including those of the rape survivors, have been protesting at Delhi's Jantar Mantar since April 16, with 120 others at Hisar's Mini Secretariat. In the wake of this protest, many other horrid stories of rapes of minor girls came to the fore. As published on Rafoo, a Hindi blog (http://krsaroj.blogspot.in/2014/05/blog-post.html) A 17 year old Dalit girl from nearby Dabra village was gang raped by men of the Jat community in 2012 after which her father had committed suicide. Another 10 year old girl was raped by a middle-aged man. Yet another girl was raped by a Jat man who roamed scot-free, but the police arrested the girl and tortured her. All these girls are boldly fighting for justice and were part of the protests.
On 4 June, around 6 am, when most protesters were asleep, a large posse of policemen descended upon Jantar Mantar and pulled down their tents. They forcibly removed them and warned to vacate the place by 12 noon. At Hissar's mini secretariat too they were evicted in similar manner. At both the places the police scattered and damaged their belongings. Small children including those nirbhayas (a media name for the rape survivors) were thrown on the street, where too police would not let them stay. The protesters accompanied by representatives of women's, Dalits' and Students' organizations and led by mothers of the two of the rape survivors went to the Parliament Street Police Station at about 2 pm to present a memorandum to the officer in charge asking to be allowed to stay in Jantar Mantar since they had nowhere else to go. The group was stopped by policemen at the barricade outside the thana. As the women argued insisting on being allowed to go and meet the officer in charge, the policemen virtually mounted a sexual assault on them with an alibi of pushing them back. As per Kalyani Menon-Sen of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, who was also among the protesters, the policemen grabbed their private parts and pushed their hands into their anal region. The mothers of the survivors and several women activists (including Adv Pyoli Swatija of Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Ms Sumedha Baudh of Rashtiya Dalit Mahila Andolan and Ms Rakhi - of NTUI) were attacked in this foul manner. One senior police officer allegedly shouted out, "are ye aise nahi manenge, lathi ghusao." (They would not listen this way, insert lathi into them". After this foul attack, several activists were taken into custody and held for more than an hour.
During the neoliberal era, the democratic spaces for ordinary people were systematically curtailed and brought down to small designated areas in the capital cities of every state and Jantar Mantar in Delhi for the entire nation. People could gather here and shout at their hearts' content surrounded by police without anyone taking note of them. This is the de facto face of the Indian democracy. In this terrible case, the entire village community having to resort to sit-in protest for nearly two months itself is revolting enough. Instead of taking note of their genuine demand --rehabilitation at safe place as they could not return to Bhagana-- the government getting them brutally evicted from this last traces of democracy, is surely not assuring to Dalits of the 'good days' Modi regime promised. Delhi police is directly under the central home ministry and is unlikely to act in such an odious manner unless briefed as such. The most surprising thing is that both Delhi and Haryana police, although under the governments of rival parties seem to have acted in unison. The message is clear enough that the protests, etc. will no more be allowed. After all, how could anyone see 'good days' if Jantar Mantars and Azad Maidans still existed?
The First Wicket Falls
While the above was the direct act of the government, there were many insidious acts committed by the outfits emboldened by the BJP's victory. Just two days before the Bhagana eviction, on 2 June, a 24-year old Muslim youth was killed by the mob belonging to Hindu Rashtra Sena, a decade old Hindu rightist outfit, protesting against the morphed pictures of Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray and Maratha icon Chhatrapati Shivaji on Facebook. According to the Pune police, the Facebook page with these morphed pictures had existed for over a year and had 50,000 Likes. This well appreciated page, was suddenly sent out on a fast chat application to fuel mob fury by the militants of the Hindu Rashtra Sena. They assumed that it was created and run by a Muslim 'Nihal Khan' but according to the police now, it was actually done by a Hindu youth Nikhil Tikone, a resident of Kasha Peth. These facts apart, the page was taken off social networking sites on Friday, soon after sensing trouble and hence there was no need for escalating the issue to a full-fledged protest. However, the goons of Hindu Rashtra Sena and Shiv Sena went ahead with protest on Monday. In the evening in Hadaspar on the outskirts of Pune they stopped a bike, took off its rider, hit him on the head with hockey sticks and stones, left him for dying while they went on rampage in the area. The victim, an IT-professional, Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, did not have anything to do with the pictures in question. But just because he was sporting a beard and green Pathani kurta the attackers killed him. Shaikh's cousin, who was accompanying him, escaped while the two others, Ameen Shaikh, 30, and Ijaz Yusuf Bagwan, 25, sustained injuries. The police initially reeled off an usual alibi that the protesters had gathered there following rumours that Shivaji's statue had been desecrated and a Hindu girl had been raped by Muslim boys as though that justified the killing of an innocent youth.
Immediately after killing Shaikh, an ominous sms was exchanged on mobiles, saying in Marathi 'pahili wicket padli'(the first wicket has fallen). Going by the message and the weapons with which they attacked Shaikh, it was apparently a planned action. The Police however did nothing in taking preventive steps. It may however be said to its credit, particularly its Joint Commissioner of Police, Sanjay Kumar that he promptly acted in arresting 24 persons including Hindu Rashtra Sena chief Dhananjay Desai, and charged 17 of them with murder. Desai already had as many as 23 cases of rioting and extortion against him in different police stations in the city. The Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra would expectedly flex its secular muscle for its survival in the forthcoming assembly elections, but it does not portend well as far as the silence of the Modi sarkar goes.
The game seems to have already begun. It is to be seen what role Narendra Modi plays in it.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai.