Saturday, July 22, 2006

Social Democracy verses Parliamentary Democracy

From Frontline : July 15th to July 28th, 2006

Empowered victim

AMAN SETHI in Chhatarpur

A woman sarpanch belonging to an Other Backward Classes community in Madhya Pradesh is asaulted and paraded naked. The deserted street outside Indira Kushawa's house a week after she was attacked and paraded naked by 'upper caste' men. A FRAIL green door, locked and secured with a steel chain, is all that stands between Sarpanch Indira Kushawa's home and a hostile world in Mohoikala village. She and most of her family fled the remote village in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, soon after she was attacked, stripped naked and paraded through the village by local goons on the evening of June 17. A first information report (FIR) was filed in the Chhatarpur police station on June 19 and five men have been arrested. Santosh Shukla, the alleged architect of the incident, is absconding.

In a series of statements made to the press, before she left for Bhopal, Indira Kushawa, who belongs to an Other Backward Classes (OBC) community, Kashi, told reporters that Santosh Shukla, a Brahmin and his gang attacked her when she refused to give them Rs.50,000 from the village development fund. She said that the police refused to file an FIR on June 17 and that they began investigations only after the District Collector was approached, on June 19, by Vijay Bahadur Singh Bundela, the local Samajwadi Party Member of the Legislative Assembly.
"They forced open her door and dragged her out into the streets," said Mathuria Kushawa, Indira's mother-in-law, and the only member of the family still in the village. "Some of us tried to stop them, but they didn't listen. They thrashed her, stripped her and then paraded her through the village for three hours. No one could do anything." Mathuria and her neighbours said that the dispute between Santosh Shukla and Indira Kushawa was common knowledge, with the former constantly asking the latter to part with the development funds entrusted to her. They also confirm that Indira was stripped naked and paraded in the streets as an example" to those who dared stand up to the local gang leaders. This, however, is at odds with the official version of events released by the police. "While there is definite evidence that Indira Kushawa was assaulted, we have found no independent witnesses, or evidence to suggest that she was paraded naked," said Superintendent of Police Pramod Sinha. Villagers claim that Santosh Shukla's men accompanied the police at the time of the recording of witness statements to ensure that no one came forward. "The police come here once a year, but the gang operates here every day," said another villager. "How can people come forward when they see the goondas standing next to the police?" the villager said. Well-placed sources in the police also suggest that the dispute between Indira Kushawa and Santosh Shukla goes beyond the motives suggested by the press thus far.

brahmin control

Six hours away from the nearest railhead at Jhansi, and more than a hundred kilometres from the district headquarters at Chhatarpur, Mohoikala village is a remote outpost on the Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh border. The village comprises two clearly defined bastis, one for Brahmins, and one for OBCs such as Kashis, Koeris and Domars. Almost everyone in the village is engaged in one-crop-a-year farming and is almost uniformly poor.
Historically, the Shukla Brahmins controlled significant parts of the area through extortion, intimidation and land-grab, and seem to have considerable clout over the local administrative and political processes. Santosh Shukla was the sarpanch before Indira Kushawa won the 2005-panchayat elections. He continued to control village life. When Frontline visited the village, and asked for the sarpanch's house, the team was directed initially to Santosh Shukla's residence.
"The Shukla gang was originally jointly headed by Rajesh and Santosh Shukla, and they used to force most villagers to pay them a pre-determined sum every month, and would assault anyone who stood up to them," says a villager who preferred to remain anonymous. "Quite a few families were forced to leave the village, and their land was divided among the gang leaders," the villager said. Rumour has it that a dispute arose between the two over a piece of land, and subsequently they declared war on each other. Both had criminal records, and Rajesh Shukla had been declared an absconder in a particular case and carried a reward of Rs.10,000 on his head.

It is alleged that Indira Kushawa, in an attempt to break Santosh's stranglehold on power, had allied herself with Rajesh Shukla - a decision that was to cost her dearly. On the night of June 15, Rajesh Shukla was reportedly spotted entering Indira's brother-in-law Kallu Kushawa's house. Santosh Shukla's men surrounded the house and informed the police. A cordon was set up and Rajesh Shukla was arrested after a brief exchange of fire. Enraged by the Kushawa's support to his rival, Santosh Shukla set fire to Kallu Kushawa's house on June 16 and assaulted Indira Kushawa on June 17.

In their defence, the police point out that Kallu Kushawa filed an FIR on June 17, recording his allegation that Santosh Shukla burnt his house, but he made no reference to the attack on Indira, which must have occurred a few hours ago. Indira did not approach the police before June 19. Mathuria Kushawa, Indira's mother-in-law, says that the gang held Indira captive in her own house for two days, which is why she filed the FIR two days later.

Indira Kushawa is only one of hundreds of women victimised by the nexus of caste and gender. In the same week that Indira Kushawa was paraded naked in Mohoikala, Sukari Nayak was accused of murder, stripped and beaten by villagers in Jharkhand, and upper-caste men stripped and attempted to rape a Dalit woman for filing a police complaint against them in Bihar's Gopalganj district. A greater involvement of women, particularly Dalits and OBCs, in local administration has provoked chauvinistic, upper-caste male backlash in an attempt to maintain the status quo. While administrative officials attribute the violence to the "backwardness" of the respective districts and "a lack of education", such conclusions are simplistic and easily drawn. The brutal reprisals against women daring to face up to tyranny point to a clearly thought-out policy of intimidation targeted at even the most fleeting attempts at empowerment.

As per latest reports, Indira Kushawa's case has been taken up by the National Commission for Women and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Indira herself has left for Bhopal and could not be contacted by Frontline. The villagers have no idea when she will return, if at all. While four of his brothers have been arrested, Santosh Shukla continues to evade the law. In the meantime, Mathuria Kushawa sits by the green door, waiting for her son and daughter-in-law to return.