Hathras horror: Casteism rages on unchecked

Manisha belonged to a caste that has been subcategorized as ‘Mahadalit’ by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party in power at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh. The label ‘Mahadalit’ is not to ensure their development but to alienate them from the Jatavs and the Chamars and to keep them away from the influence of Ambedkarite thinking, writes Kanwal Bharti

I am shocked and outraged by the cruel fate of Manisha of Uttar Pradesh. Why are we unable to stem the rising tide of rapes in our country? Why has the fear of law vanished? Why have we failed to make the Dalits self-reliant even 70 years after Independence? Why are they not free even today? Why do they still carry the label “weaker section”?   

Manisha’s case is as horrific as Nirbhaya’s. But Nirbhaya was not a Dalit. She was a Savarna (upper-caste), so the people, the doctors and the government – all had sympathy and concern for her. But Manisha was not a Savarna. She was a Dalit. And even among Dalits she came from a Mahadalit caste – the Mehtars who are known as Valmikis now. Moreover, she came from a poor family. That is the reason she and her family had to suffer. 

The incident took place on 14 September 2020 at Boolgarhi village under Chandpa Police Station in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh. Manisha, 20, had gone to the fields with her mother to collect fodder for cattle when four men of the Thakur caste caught hold of her when she was at work close to where her mother was, dragged her away and took turns to rape her. They broke her neck, severed her tongue and walked away, taking her for dead. This was not just a show of contempt for the Dalits but also born of a belief that this extreme cruelty was their birthright. 

Uttar Pradesh police burning Manisha’s body in the dead of night.

Soaked in blood, Manisha was taken to the district hospital, from where she was referred to the Aligarh Medical College Hospital. She was in the hospital for 14 days but for want of proper treatment, her condition did not improve. She was admitted to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on 28 September where she died on the morning of 29 September. There are reports that her kin had taken her to the nearby All India Institute of Medical Sciences(AIIMS) but she was not admitted. Needless to say, had she got proper and timely treatment, she could have been saved. But in this country, only ministers have access to quality medical care. Manisha was neither an honourable Member of Parliament nor an honourable minister. She was an ordinary girl from a poor family and that too a Dalit.   

The role of the police and the administration in the entire affair was shameful to say the least. Initially, the police did not register a case and instead threatened the survivor’s family. The police asserted that Manisha was not raped. When the First Information Report (FIR) was filed, it was only for murderous assault. Later, after Manisha said that she was indeed raped, section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (assault or criminal force with the intent to outraging the modesty of a woman) was added. One of the accused was arrested on 19 September – five days after the incident. The other three were arrested even later. These arrests were made after the police came under pressure. Had pressure not been mounted on the police, the accused would have been roaming free even now. 

But what the police did after Manisha’s death was even more outrageous. The family of Nirbhaya did not face this kind of inhuman behaviour. Instead of handing over the body to Manisha’s family, the police took possession of it and burnt it in the dead of the night. Burn the body is what they did – you wouldn’t call it cremation. Manisha’s mother kept begging that she be allowed to cremate her daughter in accordance with their religious traditions. But the police remained indifferent. That wasn’t all. The police forcibly pushed away Manisha’s brother and other family members when they tried to stop the vehicle in which her body was being carried away. A policeman shamelessly guffawed after pushing them away. He was probably flaunting his casteist arrogance.

The police claim that they had cremated Manisha’s body with the consent of her family. The family, however, refutes this claim. Her uncontrollably sobbing mother kept asking whether the cops would have behaved in the same way had their daughter been the one who was murdered. Clearly, the police are lying. The district magistrate, who is a Savarna, is also lying. How can the last rites of a person be performed in the absence of his or her family members? Manisha’s mother! This is India, where Brahmins, Thakurs and other Savarnas rule the roost. The rest are forced to live repressed lives. No Savarna, no Brahmin and no Thakur with a feudal mindset will cry over what happened to your daughter. They have been crushing and humiliating the Dalits for thousands of years. This is not America, where thousands of Whites will take to the streets to protest injustice against one Black.

The police are vending another lie – that Manisha’s tongue was not severed. They forced the doctors to toe their line, too. Manisha’s mother told the media that the police were lying and that if her daughter’s tongue was not severed, why her face was not shown and why the police carried away the body in the dead of the night after dodging the media and her family members!

There are reports that the government of Yogi Adityanath, who is a Thakur himself, has constituted a three-member panel to investigate the incident. It has been asked to submit its report within seven days. The panel members have been nominated by the government, so it would be naïve to expect that it would have anything critical to say about the government.   

The press note issued by the Hathras district administration

Why was the case not handed over to the CBI? Will Adityanath rein in his Thakur brothers who have crossed all limits? Will he tell us what he plans to do to reform his Thakur-dominated police so that the Dalits and other weaker sections can live without fear? Or, will he allow the police to run amok?  

Manisha belonged to a caste that has been subcategorized as “Mahadalit” by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party that is in power at the Centre and at the state, as part of its divisive politics. There is no doubt that the Mehtar or Valmiki caste are from the lowest rung even among Dalits and untouchable among Untouchables. But the BJP has classified the caste as Mahadalit not to ensure their development but to alienate them from the Jatavs and the Chamars and keep them away from the influence of Ambedkarite thinking. The government has successfully made the Valmikis a part of its Hindutva project. It is unfortunate but true that the Valmikis of Uttar Pradesh identify themselves with the BJP. The BJP leaders are busy turning the Valmikis into sworn enemies of the Jatavs and the Chamars, just as nationally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP are poisoning the minds of the Hindus with respect to the Muslims.   

The need of the hour is for the Valmiki community to associate itself with the Ambedkarite ideology, give up its traditional occupation of sanitation and educate their children. As far as possible, they should not live in the villages, where they are oppressed by the savarnas. They should move to the cities where they will have more freedom and security. 

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)


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