Print edition : August 17, 2018

A protester being beaten after members of the Dalit community and other “low caste” groups reportedly resorted to violence during countrywide protests, in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, on April 2. Photo: AFP

The police crackdown on Dalits in Uttar Pradesh following the April 2 Bharat bandh does not spare even children.

ON March 20, the Supreme Court diluted the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, by placing restrictions on the arrest of and filing of cases against the accused in cases registerd under the Act.

Dalit organisations gave a call for a Bharat bandh (all-India strike) on April 2. Protest meetings were held across the country. Members of Dalit sub-castes rallied at the demonstrations and directed their anger against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre, which has been trying to woo Dalit voters but has failed to address any of their concerns. The administration in many States came down heavily on the protesters. The media, according to observers, magnified the stray incidents of stone-throwing to give the uprising a violent colour. Instances of upper-caste retaliation to the protests were under-reported. In Madhya Pradesh, a BJP worker, Raja Chauhan, was caught on video firing from his gun.

Parents of Gopi Parya, the Dalit youth of Shobhapur village in Meerut district who was allegedly shot dead by four Gujjars, with his picture.   -  Photographs: Divya Trivedi

Gopi Parya, a 28-year-old Dalit youth of Shobhapur in Uttar Pradesh, was allegedly shot dead by four Gujjars. His name was reportedly on top of a list of violent protesters allegedly compiled by upper-caste men after the April 2 bandh. In Bhind, Morena and Gwalior districts of Madhya Pradesh upper-caste men killed six Dalits. On April 3, a 5,000-strong mob set ablaze the houses of Rajkumari Jatav, Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Hindaun City, and former MLA Bharosilal Jatav, both Dalits, in Rajasthan. Upper-caste violence, misreported as violence by Dalits, was thus used to justify the police action that followed against the community.

In the immediate aftermath of the bandh, hundreds of Dalit youths were arrested across Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. According to Jan Sahas, an organisation committed to the protection of the human rights of socially excluded communities, in Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh 892 first information reports (FIRs) were registered against men, women and children. Among the arrested, eight were adolescents, said Deepak Gahlot, legal aid worker with Jan Sahas. The adults and adolescents were charged under various Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including Section 307 (attempt to murder). Initially, the juveniles were lodged in adult prisons. They were moved to correction homes subsequently, Deepak Gahlot said. All the FIRs, copies of which are available with Frontline, read the same. The Dalits were booked under Sections 147, 148, 149, 307, 436, 336, 332, 353, 354, 427, 436, 120-B of the IPC, Sections 2,3 and 7 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, and Section 31(A) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1934. FIRs were registered randomly against people of the community, some of whom were not even in town on that day, said Deepak. “One of them had gone on a pilgrimage to Vaishnodevi temple [in Jammu and Kashmir], while another was on duty with the Delhi Police.” Most of those who were released on bail that Frontline spoke to were bystanders or passers-by who were forcibly taken from their homes. They told this correspondent that the police asked them just one question before arresting them: “What is your caste?” The moment they said “Jatav”, they were arrested, as if their caste was their crime.

Krishna Kumar, elder brother of Sachin Kumar of Kaliyagarhi village, holding his brother’s Aadhaar card. The 14-year-old boy was picked up by the police when he went out to meet his teacher.

In Kaliyagarhi in Meerut district, Sachin Kumar, 14, was picked up by the police when he had gone to meet his teacher. Although proof of his age was produced, the police registered him as a 20-year-old and kept him in an adult prison. “Apparently they have kept him inside the adult jail but in a separate room. In any case, can you imagine the condition of a child who is put behind bars when he should be in school?” asked his brother Krishna Kumar, showing documents to prove Sachin’s age. The family is especially concerned about Sachin as Abhishek, 12, from the neighbourhood came out of the jail with several health problems. Abhishek was picked up while he was returning from his relative’s house. “The tempo driver dropped me off at a distance because of the presence of a crowd and heavy traffic. As I walked towards home, a cop asked me to name my caste. When I answered ‘Jatav’, he told me to sit in the jeep. They took me to the Civil Lines police station where they beat me with sticks and what not. From there I was taken to the jail,” he said. He was released after two months and six days. His hands and legs were covered with boils, possibly from the unhygienic conditions in the jail, a neighbour said.

Usha’s son Aakaash, 18, has been granted bail, but he is yet to be released. “There still seems to be some paper work left. I am trying to get through it all,” said a shattered Usha, who does tailoring to supplement her electrician husband’s meagre earnings. So far they have spent upwards of Rs.50,000. “ Even to meet my son I have to bribe the officials. By the time all this ends, we may be Rs.60,000 deep in debt. We just want our son to come home soon,” she said. Baburam, 55, whose 22-year-old son Sunny was picked up in a similar fashion, said that such actions were a direct assault on Ambedkarites who were being targeted by the BJP in order to do away with reservation. People who went to the protest meeting ran away, but the innocent ones were arrested, he said. “Protesting for one’s rights seems to have become illegal,” he said.

Abhishek of Kaliyagarhi was picked up and lodged in jail for more than two months.   -  Photographs: Divya Trivedi

The people of Kaliyagarhi said the BJP government in the State was the most casteist one they had had. They also regretted that nobody from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) visited them to inquire about the arrests. They also pointed out that while boys belonging to other castes were able to obtain bail within a month Dalit boys were languishing in jail for more than four months. The police’s behaviour was biased and casteist, they said. “The police went to Dalit bastis and mohallas, knocked on doors and picked up Jatavs. They even picked up labourers working at a construction site,” they said.

At Pratappur, on April 22, Dinesh Kumar, 44, a quiet and unassuming man, was selling eggs near the protest site. The sudden police action caught him by surprise and before he became aware of the situation, he was shoved into a jeep along with many other men. At the Kankarkheda police station, he was beaten up severely. His family found him in prison with his arms and legs swollen. He had injury marks on his body. He showed them a head injury and said he had blacked out. The next time they went to see him in jail, he was shouting in rage. The family suspects that he might have been tortured. When Frontline met him on July 21, he had been released from prison four days earlier and was mentally disturbed. He had purple injury marks all over his body. His brothers Hansraj, a mechanic, and Harish Chand, an electrician, were at a loss as to how to take care of him. “He has three children. We are people of very meagre means, who lead a hand-to-mouth existence. How on earth are we to take care of his family and give him medical treatment too?” they wondered.

Others who were picked up along with their brother were also tortured and beaten up in the prison. They said they were beaten up on the orders of Senior Superintendent of Police Manzil Saini, who later took a transfer out of Meerut.

Action against mobilisation

Gopi Parya of Shobhapur was shot dead by Gujjars. A day after the Bharat bandh, he was called out of his house by local Gujjar boys who fired five or six bullets at him before fleeing the spot. While the police said the murder was a result of local rivalry, the reasons were not far to seek. The Paryas are socially and politically active in the area. Gopi’s father Tarachand was a former BSP worker and Gopi was a social activist. His sisters were both postgraduates, which is a rare achievement in the caste. The Paryas do not cower before Gujjars; they choose to be thorns in the side of the dominant caste. Tarachand accused the police of partisan behaviour. He recalls running from pillar to post to get his son treated, even as the police harassed him to file a report. When he reached the police station, he found that the police had already made his niece, who studies in class 12, write a report on his behalf.

“After all the press coverage, they have arrested four Gujjars but one is still roaming free and threatening us,” he said.

The arrests in Uttar Pradesh, along with the mass arrest of Bhim Army cadres and their leader Chandrashekhar Azad, are meant to break Dalit youth organisations that have a presence in almost every village in almost all districts. Many of the organisations are informal and not registered. The Ambedkar Samaj Sansthan, which Gopi was a part of, is one such. The harassment of individuals and families of Dalit youth leaders after months of wrongful incarceration is supposed to act as a deterrent against mobilising Dalits or holding agitations, the villagers said.

Ajay Jatav of Sarai Kaji village was taken by the police when he went to buy medicines for his mother.

The same story unfolds in village after village in Meerut district. In Sarai Kaji, 14-year-old Ajay Jatav had gone to buy medicines for his ailing mother when he was picked up by the police. He was beaten, abused with caste slurs and locked up in an adult prison. His family, consisting of his polio-afflicted mother and sister, did not know of his whereabouts for two days. “With great difficulty we went to the police station but found out only later that he was behind bars,” said Roshni, who spent sleepless nights as her son was untraceable. Ajay was in jail for two and a half months before he was released on paying a bail amount of Rs.10,000 that Roshni raised through loans. Her husband, a tailor, who was polio-affected, died four years ago. She raised her children by stitching cricket balls (stitching the leather seams that hold the balls) at home with other local women. Others arrested from her area included a man returning home from work and one who was distributing wedding cards.

When Frontline met Ajay outside his school and asked him if he knew why he was picked up, he said: “Because I am a Chamar. They asked me what my caste was before taking me away.” The 14-year-old is worried that the case might affect his studies or ruin his career. “I hope the cases are closed soon as I want to study and become an IAS officer. I feel better when I am in school. My mother is disabled and my father is no more. I want to make her proud by being a good student,” he said.

Since people have been booked under various sections and in more than one case, it is difficult for them to come out of jail. Worried that the cases will drag on for a long time, disrupting their lives, some of them have appealed to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to intervene in the matter. The NHRC had taken suo motu cognisance of police brutality and false arrests in Rajasthan. It had observed then that the allegations of illegal arrest, physical torture and implication in false criminal cases raised the serious issue of violation of human rights and was a matter of concern. It had asked the Rajasthan Chief Secretary to submit a report in a time-bound manner.