ANAND TELTUMBDE, writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights in Mumbai, has written extensively on Dalit issues. He is unsparing in his analysis even if it means highlighting the ills in the Dalit community. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline :
In the past 12 months there have been at least seven recorded incidents of the killing of Dalits in Maharashtra that are clearly caste-related. What does this say about the liberal State of Maharashtra?
Maharashtra has falsely acquired an image of a liberal and progressive State. Its record in repressiveness is rather infamous. It is the land that produced Hindutva ideology; most of its proponents have been born here. The very fact that [Jyotirao] Phule and [B.R.] Ambedkar were born in Maharashtra could also be construed as a response to this innate repressiveness. Even the birth of the Dalit Panthers in the 1970s was tangibly in response to the caste atrocities that happened in the previous year. As regards caste atrocities, Maharashtra is at best a middling State.
What is the rate of conviction in cases of atrocities against Dalits in the State?
I am not aware, but it has to be extremely low. There are no authentic figures; the available figures vary widely. In any case, the so-called conviction rate needs to be defined. For instance, the lower court may punish the culprits, but they may be acquitted by the High Court.
Firstly, the dynamics of caste atrocities need to be understood. Only cases that ignited a public hue and cry are discussed. My analysis of Khairlanji tells me that invariably the real culprits are sheltered and some dummy people are projected as criminals. If there is public attention, the lower court invariably awards them harsh punishments, which may not be warranted in law based on the facts of the investigation. When the case goes in appeal to the higher court, the punishment is usually annulled. Khairlanji illustrates certain aspects of this process, but the recent judgments of the Patna High Court acquitting all the Ranvir Sena criminals in the ghastly massacres of Dalits [in Bathani Tola] in Bihar that took place in the 1990s do it far better. Actually, right from the first case of this new genre of atrocity, Keezhvenmani in Tamil Nadu in December 1968, there is no justice done to Dalits in atrocity cases despite the legal facade raised with the so-called Atrocity Act. This Act with teeth also is rendered toothless by the system.
All the assailants in the seven cases mentioned are either Maratha or OBC. Can you explain this trend please? In the caste structure they are just one step ‘higher’ than Dalits and so some degree of empathy would naturally be expected, but this does not seem to be the case. Can this anger be linked to the fact that Dalits are making a successful effort to improve themselves?
It is always the B.C./OBC who has been perpetrating violence against Dalits. It is not just one step being higher than Dalits. That one step defines the kink in caste hierarchy, which divides caste and non-caste, touchable and untouchable. B.Cs/OBCs that interface Dalits in villages matter more than the so-called upper castes like Brahmins. Even in Phule’s days, the combination of Shudras and Ati-Shudras that he carved out did not work. It is the basic reason that a separate Dalit movement had to spring up. During the post-Independence decades, the political-economic changes that befell the agrarian sector aggravated this divide and brought Shudras in material contradiction vis-a-vis Dalits.
I have amply explained this process in my writings and explained what caused Keezhvenmani and all the atrocities thereafter. The land reforms, for instance, were implemented to carve out a class of rich farmers in villages as an ally of the central ruling class, and the Green Revolution, a capitalist strategy in agriculture, on the one hand enriches this class and, on the other, denudes Dalits of the traditional safeguard of the jajmani system inherent in the caste system. The class contradictions between Dalits and the Shudra-caste rich farmers begin manifesting through the familiar fault lines of castes. Every incident of caste atrocity may not explicitly expose these equations but they will be at the root in some way. In fact, the entire gamut of politics after the 1960s is explainable within this framework of political economy.