Thursday, September 27, 2007

Price of Dalit Assertion is Killing

Who Killed Chakrasen ? The UP Administration must answer the cries of a grieving mother of a Dalit youth Chakrasen in Uddaihdih village of Pratapgarh district

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Pratapgarh district of Uttar-Pradesh is basically known for the notoriety of Raja Bhaiya and his supporters. In her last avatar as chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh, Mayawati put Raja of Kunda under the Prevention of Terrorists and Atrocities Act (POTA), which was later withdrawn by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav who made Raja Bhaiya as a great Thakur icon of Uttar-Pradesh. However, caste politics and violence in Uttar-Pradesh these days are being played at a different way. With growing Brahmin clout, the upper castes are using the micro caste identities to serve their own interest. Caste games in Uttar-Pradesh have become so powerful that the Dalits are at the receiving end. It is not because of Mayawati or BSP’s government that things are happening. The fact of the matter is that we expect two much from this system which has betrayed the rural poor and used their identities for their own purposes. Caste segregation is actually unable to digest the idea of pluralism and putting them easily in the hands of those who we can simply call middlemen. That is why despite Dalits being assertive vis a vis other communities remain helpless in front of their own leadership. The case of the brutal murder of Chakrasen was an eye opener how our state function and how those upper caste leaders who have joined BSP have not shed their caste identities and prejudices.

When the issue of serving their caste interest comes, they prefer their caste and not the ideology of their party. And why should they leave their caste identities when it is benefiting a few while exploiting the others. So far Chakrasen’s murder mystery remain unresolved in the police and administrative textbooks but his family and the villagers continue to receive threatening messages from the powerful Brahmins of Udaiyadih.

How a bright scholar student was termed as thief

Chakrasen, 22, belonging to Chamar community of Dalits, was selected for B.Tech courses in Moti Lal Nehru Regional Engineering College (MLNR), Allahabad. Eldest among his other brothers, Chakrasen’s family was virtually landless. His father Babban died of illness in 1992. The three brothers, Chakrsen, Agnisen (pursuing B.Sc) and Shaktisen (pursing High School) became the responsibility of their grandfather Shiv Murthi alias Sadal who retired from a factory in Kanpur 1999. The saved money helped him to educate all the three brothers who were his life. Shiv Murthi did not have any one in the family and hence his life revolved around his grand children. After retirement the family shifted to this village of Udaihdih in Patti block of Pratapgarh district. This village is about 6 kilometer away from Prithviganj town. Sadal runs a Public Distribution Shop in his house, which according to villagers were given to him because of the failure of Santosh Mishra, a Brahmin. Since then the Mishras were particularly upset with the family and were regularly threatening them of dire consequences. According to Sadal, quota was not the main issue as they themselves left it and on the request of the villagers, Sadal was given the shop. The fact as Sadal suggest is that they wanted their share of 50-kilogram rice every month from the quota shop for free. Since Sadal, an honest man, refused to do it, they started humiliating him and planned to eliminate him. A proud grand father was running the Public Distribution Shop without any fear but there were problems being created by the Brahmins. Chakrsen was aware of it and was helping his grandfather to continue with this. He would help his grandfather, whenever, he was in town. Chakrasen was a better student who could understand and speak English. His sincerity and honesty was never in doubt. In fact a few of his upper caste friends who do not want to concede this fact in open now, actually admitted the fact that this entire case of his being a thief is fabricated.

Trap Game

According to Sadal, in the night of July 31st-August 1st, some of the villagers came to their house at Bhadervah village and asked Chakrsen to accompany them. He went along with them and never returned. Later in the morning, a local vender of newspaper informed the family about Chakrasen being caught at Sudemahu village, about two kilometers away from Bhadrewah village. Sadal and younger brother Shaktisen went to find out about Chakrasen to Sudemahu’s Pasi tola. They were horrified to find that Chakrsen was tied in a thick rope and was being dragged and beaten up by the people. He was simply lying on the ground. There were no cloths at his body, not even his underwear. As Sadal reached near his grandson he named several people who were responsible for this act. They were Santosh Mishra and Akash Dubey. As he was naming people, they were threatened. In fact some of them tried to kill Shaktisen also since he was standing near his brother. They were asked to leave the place. Village Pradhan Raj Mani Vishwkarma informed the police officer Babuchand at 4.30 in the morning but none of them reached the place. A local police constable Pradeep Mishra, who the villagers charge used to stay with the accused and was posted here, too was informed but he too did not turn up. The police became active only once it came to know around 6.15 in the morning that Chakrasen was dead.

Yet, nothing factually happened. There was a check post outside the village, on the road and the policemen would never think of interacting with the Dalit families. Frustrated on the administration’s continuous chanting of Chakrasen as being a thief, the villagers of Bhadervah hoisted black flag on August 15th. ‘What is this freedom’, said a misty eyes Sadal, terming lack of police action and continuous threat to his family. ‘ I am more worried about my two other grandsons. We live in fear and can not go out and the government is doing nothing. The administration sits silently blaming my son as a thief. It is shocking that the accused are roaming free while we are living on constant fear’, said Sadal.

One day before our visit on 16th of September, the Brahmins united again the came to threaten the Dalit families to remain in their limit otherwise they would meet with the same fate as Chakrasen. His younger brother Agnisen is a terrified man today and even refusing to meet us. ‘ People come and go but our condition is worsening. The Brahmins are threatening us daily and police is not taking any action. Today, they came and see the irony; the police have arrested some of our people. Sadal is worried about the safety of his grand children. The police check post is on the road and they have good relations with the Brahmins. The state government seems to be unaware of the fact as the local police are still working on the theme of theft.

Story at Sudemahu Pasi Tola

Sudemahu is nearly two kilometer from the house of Chakrasen in village Bhaderva. We went straight to Pasi families in front of whose house Chakrasen was caught and killed. Two women Gujarati and Rajkumari were standing in front of their house. We informed them our motives to them and asked them as what had happened that night of August 1st.
Rajkumari accused that Chakrasen tried to snatch her earring in the night around 2 am. It rained heavily that night and there was water clogging around the locality. Chakrasen was not wearing anything, his underwear was worn over his head as he approached her and tried to drag her when she made a noise. Amidst all this chaos her husband Babu Chand got up and ran to catch the thief. Chakrasen stumbled after a while and fell on the ground only to be caught by Babu Chand and others.

According to Rajkumari, Chakrasen was a thief and has attacked at least 8 villages that night before finally coming to her village. A mobile was also recovered from him. He was a ‘dirty man’ she said. He came with bad intention was the reference made by the two women. Soon, the entire area had got wind of the incident and people started coming in and he was tied in a rope. ‘ We requested people not to beat him but they did not leave him. Every one was beating him mercilessly. Things were not in our hand’. The rope in which Charasen was allegedly tied has not been taken as an important witness material by the police and it was lying in their house. When we insisted that the family of Chakrasen is not blaming the Pasis for the murder but to the Brahmins, the two women were very clear. It were not the Brahmins who killed him, they said. It was the general public who killed him. But did he come to steal something from their home? Why would he come to steal from your house? What was there to steal? Why in the mid night when every body else remain in the home. Why would any body go to steal something without wearing anything? Nobody is killed such merciless way for stealing things?

The Medical Report

When the news of lynching of Chakrsen reached the Dalit village of Udaiyadih and Bhaderva, people came out in large number. The police officers tried to calm them down but the villagers knew that the police have already been supportive of the murderers. The BSP MLA, a Brahmin called Rama Shiromani Shukla was of no help to the people. As the news of Dalit protest traveled across the districts and people sat on the street with the dead body of Chakrasen, determined to take the body to Lucknow for medical check up, the administration swung into action. ‘They wanted to force us dispose off the body, said Sadal. We have not cremated him but buried him so that in case the police need any further investigations, the body would be made available, as we want the culprits to be hanged, said Sadal, whose misty eyes along with that of his daughter in laws cries make every one in the village cry for justice. It is a shame that a bright student was ‘made’ thief and murdered in a public view and the police have not been able to do justice.

The dead body was taken for postmortem to district hospital. Post mortem was conducted at 3.50 pm on August 1st, 2008 which says ‘, eyes closed swelling present surrounding both eyes. Cause of death due to strangulation, wrote Dr Santosh Tripathi. It means that the report and rumors spread by the upper castes and the administration that Chakrasen died of mob lynching are not true. Of course, he was beaten mercilessly but the fact that the post mortem report suggest death due strangulation is a matter which police must look into and investigate.

The two accused were roaming free. Santosh Mishra and Akash Dubey and their well-wishers including the BSP's Brahmin MLA had the power to deny people a right to even the protest.

Local opinion about Chakrasen comes according to their castes

While all the villagers of Udaihadih blamed the Brahmins for the murder of Chakrasen and felt threatened now, as police remain mute, the women and young people we spoke in Sudemahu openly said that Chakrasen was a thief. The women did not have a high opinion of him. Similarly, speaking to journalists, pradhans and other upper castes, it looks they share the same opinion of his being a thief. Some people indicated another angle to it, which was ‘love affair’. There were two girls in the Pasi family who Chakrasen knew’ said a local Brahmin. ‘ How can anybody would tolerate a person eyeing to one’s mothers and sisters, indicating that there might have been an affair for which Chakrasen was punished so mercilessly. As we came out of the Pasi bastee, I asked this question to many youngsters of the village, tell me was he a thief? The village boys had dubious answers but one man who brought tears in our eyes was Chhote Lal Yadav, a former village Pradhan of the area. I simply asked him, please tell me about this boy Chakrasen? Chotte Lal Yadav had nothing to do with the boy. He did not even know and at the time when the social relations of Chamars and Yadavas remain at the lowest, Chhote Lal Yadav’s word have soothing affect. Tears rolled from his eyes when he said
‘this boy can not be a thief. He can not be a thief.’ He was murdered though he said that he came to know about the incident pretty late. It is these kinds of voices that give us hope in the otherwise caste republics of Uttar-Pradesh, which has virtually forgotten to appreciate your honesty and innocence if you do not belong to similar caste groups.

Administrative goof ups

Police are still investigating the case as if Chakrasen was a thief. There are certain very disturbing questions which the police need to answer and respond. Why has it not taken into the custody, the rope in which Chakrasen was tied? It is still lying at the house of the Pasis. Secondly, whether it was an act of theft or love affair, what gives people moral authority to kill a person of another village? Why police did not act when it was reported to them as early as 4 am in the morning. What was the conspiracy when the local police constable Mishra who knew this but did not followed it up? What is the conspiracy as Chakrasen’s family and others in the village openly and with confident charge the Brahmins (Mishras) for the murder of Chakrasen while the Pasi women deny their hand. Will police check this relationship between the various accused. One of the accused was absconding at the house of BSP MLA Rama Shiromani Shukla when the police arrested him from Shukla’s house, informed Shaktisen. The Dalits have no faith in him. It was shocking how this MLA went to Dalit bastee when the people were adamant on taking the dead body of Chakrasen to Lucknow, placed Rs five hundred ( Rs 500/-) on the dead body asking the people to close the case as it would not help them and that the law would take its own course. What course the law is taking Mr Shukla? Sadal and his grand children Shaktisen and Aginsen are now being threatened by the Brahmins. They came attacking in the village and the police did nothing. Instead, the police arrested some of the villagers. Shakti Sen informs how he is continuously under the threat in the school he goes where the children of Mishra also study. These children threaten him with the same consequences as his brother.

Investigate impartially

There are various points for police to not only understand but also investigate and the most important should be who killed Chakrasen. The police can not keep hiding under the pretext of mob violence when Chakrasen was grandson of a PDS shop owner in a village, which was just 2 kilometer away. We all know how the relations in the villages are and that it would be highly unlikely if people do not know to a person who was living with in two kilometer.

Secondly, Chakrasen was not dead when his grand father and brother met him. He was allowed to die in four hours period when the police failed to intervene. Whether it was deliberate need to be investigated.

Third, the police theory of Chakrasen being a thief is absolutely fabricated and false. Was Chakrasen a proclaimed thief? Was there any record of crime in his name? He was student of Allahabad University and was there any bad entry of him in the University? What would a boy from a city university go to steal from the families of virtually landless people, in this case, the Pasis ?

Fourth point, does any one come in the village in the midnight with out wearing underwear or why would any thief wear underwear over his head as being suggested by the Pasi women? If he had bad intentions (which was actually the intention of the woman we interviewed) than why he came in mid night? Was he caught with some one else?

Fifth point, it might be the possibility that the Brahmins caught hold of him outside his village in the night thrashed him, forced him to run and take shelter in the village of Pasis. He might have entered the village to save his humiliation when he was caught as a ‘thief’. There are many things which each of the villagers are hiding. Police need to investigate this relationship between different accused. The two which it has arrested from the pasi families and the two Brahmin accused which Chakrasen’s family is accusing openly.

Sixth, Investigate the entire issue as why the threats are continuously being made to Shaktisen and others? Why the Brahmin goons came and attack the village of the Dalits on 15th September in the broad day light.

Seventh, that Chakrasen did not died of mob lynching but because of strangulation as per medical report. Did police lift the fingerprints of the accused?

Eighth, how many accused have been arrested so far? What is done to save the family of Sadal.

Conclusions: It seems that Chakrsen was murdered in a very calculated way. If the Brahmins are directly involved then they would face SC-ST atrocities act but if they are in the back, it make things easier for them to push one dalit community against the other. So Pasis and Chamars are at the loggerhead and the Brahmins are enjoying their meal. By getting the Pasis into the act and making it a case of theft or love affair, the villagers are still ignoring the thing as who killed Chakrasen. This is the crude reality of the Indian village system that while every witness to all the gory act of butchering of an innocent boy, none of them dare to come forward. By taking a moral high ground on the issue of relationship, these villagers forget that they have violated law of the land. One thing is clear, he was murdered and police did not act. Another thing is certain that he was the first year student of B.Tech and no doubt a bright young boy. Third thing was also clear that he and his siblings are educated and their grandfather is running a PDS shop successfully which the local Brahmins could not.

The government of Uttar-Pradesh must hand over this case to Central Bureau of Investigation and suspend the police officers for dereliction of duty which allowed the murder of a young boy. Uttar-Pradesh government has given Rs 70,000/- to the grieving family of Chakrasen. It is equally shameful for the government authorities to measure the life of a bright young student in such a meager amount. The police are trying to shelter the criminals as one of the accused was actually arrested from the house of local BSP MLA, the family alleged. The role of police, the political leader must be investigated. The mystery of this killing can easily be unearthed by the police if it works impartially. At the moment, the impartiality of the Uttar-Pradesh police is in question. They are working ‘unbiased’ as with each accused i.e. Brahmin arrest, they are equally arresting the Dalits also. Already, poor Pasis are arrested as accused while the Mishras and Dubeys are roaming free, threatening the family of Shiv Murthy. In the 75th year of Poona Pact, we remember Baba Saheb’s warning of what kind of leadership will we elect on the upper caste Hindu votes. UP’s case is an eye opener. BSP can not shed its ideology for the sake of ‘Sarva Samaj’. UP need a Bahujan Samaj government which can protect them and honour constitutional provisions, promulgate SC-ST act in the cases of violence against Dalits. Sarvjan Samaj can not be bigger than the Bahujan Samaj. One hope the government will act and save the people from further frustration.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Land After Thirty Years of Entitlement

Story of Land Reclamation of Dalits in village Rupchandrapur district Jaunpur Uttar-Pradesh

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Mutuna’s face was expressionless even after the greatest event of her life when she entered her field of one acre for the first time after 1976 when her husband Furtidin was given land entitlement by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. She never knew about the place as since then they tried to occupy their land but the powerful neighbors wont allow them to map. In fact, Mutuna’s issue reflect the dilemma of India’s farmers movement which not only remained caged in tainted caste structure of the powerful upper castes but highly violent also. On August 11th August, 2007 when I witnessed the whole thing, many memories of the past reminded me how the land issue would always remain violent and volatile as it affect the local power equations, unite the oppressed and give them dignity and self respect. It also shows how the powerful communities try to circumvent and subvert the due process of law by delaying and disturbing the entire process.

Ramchandra, eldest son of Furtidin informed me how the local powerful people are still creating hurdle. On the first ay when the land was being measured, I personally asked the women to take control over the land immediately as they would be trapped in saying ‘come tomorrow’. Do not wait for another day, I said to them. But the question was that the local Yadava (a powerful farming community of northern India) family which has illegally grabbed that land had maze crop over the land. Now, there was tension in the area as the Dalit families wanted to occupy the land immediately while the Yadava was taking shelter under the maze crop. Immediately, all decided that Yadava must get away with this. The Dalit women asked Yadava family to collect his maze crop or face its destruction. It was an amazing site to see when a powerful exploitative family cutting their crop and behind them were Dalit women leveling the land and making the boundary wall of their portion. It was a great show of how things change if the administration is with you. When the Lekhpals and others in the village were mapping the land, there was deliberate taunting by the upper caste Hindus and the powerful people. Virtually abusing to provoke the Dalits, they would claim that the Dalits are lazy, as they never aspired to get land. ‘ We have tilled this land, made this concrete to a workable land, said a local Thakur. But when the land at the Yadava family’s backyard was being measured, the issues, which often comes was that right now there was a maze crop and it would not be good to destroy the crop. This time, the Dalits knew it very well that such pretensions of the powerful people in the village in front of the officials results in further complicating the issue.

Ramchandra, migrated to bigger town as a labour has now decided to remain the village and cultivate his land. “ I am very happy to look after my land as my two other brothers would remain in cities to earn for themselves but I will help my family and my mother.’

This story is being written over a period of one month. The gap was deliberate. Having worked in deeply crisis driven condition, I know how the official switch their loyalty and the poor has to run from pillar to post for every small thing. Once the initial work was done and the official gone, we all know, power elite will start creating the same hurdle. After all, how many times, we will come and monitor the situation. But this time around, the villagers were determined come what may and their strength were doubled by some of the outstanding workers of Bharatiya Jan Seva Ashram, Badlapur. Ms Renu, the fire brand women leader of the Ashram actually faced some of the toughest questions of her life right from the officials to rural power folks but she remained un-relented. In those trying time, her determination yielded result and now people’s control over their land is complete, of course, there are certain problematic areas for which the community, the individuals have decided to go to the court.

Rupchandrapur village, which falls under Badlapur block of district Jaunpur in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh witnessed this historic land acquisition. This village is dominated by the Thakurs, the upper caste Hindus claiming to hail from Kshatriya i.e. warrior clan. It also reflect how ‘efficient’ our administrative system is which despite legal validity and by its own standard, it does not follow rules of the law. In 1976, the then prime minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi went for a massive sterilization programme and one of her issues was to give land entitlement to not only Dalits and Muslims but also to those who opt for the sterilization process thus adopting government’s family planning programme.

74 people were given land entitlement in 1976 and the land was to be distributed through the village communal land, which is called Gram Panchayat land. These days normally land is illegally occupied by the powerful communities in the villages. Soon, the government fell in 1979 owing to massive protest against Indira Gandhi and the issue of entitlements of the poor Dalits remained unresolved. The new power equations were used by the powerful communities in their favour by forcing the officials not to visit again and provoked them to cancel the measurement under some pretext or other. Every time, an effort was made and equally resisted by the power elite of the village. Every time the Dalits asked for their land, there was complete lack of sensitivity on part of the officials who would give plenty of arguments regarding the status of their land. Government came and go and the situation at the ground remained unaltered.

One of the important factors of Dalit empowerment in India is democracy. Democracy is essentially a number game and the Dalits and other marginalized communities have understood that their number make majority and hence all of them have become politically very mobile and articulate at least in Uttar-Pradesh. In May 2007 the state saw a shift in power and a Dalit woman Maywati became the chief Minister of the state for the record fourth time.

A change in the government in Lucknow has a lot of meaning for Dalits, particularly those women and wage workers who have been denied dignity and human rights. With a Dalit woman at the thrown of Uttar-Pradesh, a new wave of energy entered into the communities. Bhartiya Jan Seva Ashram, Badlapur realized this important change and went for an all out offensive on the issue of possession being given to those who were allotted land. It approached the district authorities and asked them to take action to provide land allotment soon. In fact, this is one of the strategies used by the International land Coalition’s partners here and essentially part of SDF/UPLA’s land literacy programme to do village mapping, find vacant land and count the rural landless of that area and do issue based advocacy. We have found from our own experiences that issue based advocacy is far better than a generalized form of advocacy which has all ingredients of ‘political manipulations and heavy dose of ideologies’ and very less for the individuals who suffer from incapacities and victim hood.

We have suggested on many occasions that the organizations must have primary data of the targeted village such as the total number of people, land status, status of landless and homeless people with particularly reference of the communities such as Dalits and tribals. The Community Empowerment Facility ( CEF) programme of BJSA came handy for the same and a team of organization visited the village several time to assess the ground situation and the status of land both in term of illegal gratification as well as community wise landlessness. Once they finished their paper work, it was difficult for the authorities to deny them right as the land was already allotted to 74 Dalit families nearly 31 years back. Government machinery often makes use of the ignorance of the village people. By ignorance they mean that villagers are not ‘techno savvy and do not have relevant documents. Officials are very particular about data and documents which the poor villagers do not have.

I was fortunate enough to witness this historical event when people really got land in their hand. A team of 10 land revenue officials ( Lekhpals), Revenue officer, Sub Disctrict Magistrate ( SDM) went to the village and promised the people that the land would be handed over to them. The local power community was also equally vehement in opposing but differences started coming to the fore. The head of the village Mr Shiv Naraian Singh came out openly with the Dalits and said that he would do everything to get these people land. Shiv Narian was elected Sarpanch with a large number of Dalit votes. The opposition was powerful. They questioned the motives of people getting land. A local politician who could not win a single election actually tried every attempt to thwart the land redistribution effort. Upper castes always wanted to get the Patta cancelled. There were several efforts made to redistribute the land but every time the powerful people in the village created some short of issues which ultimately restricted the authorities to go further on this issue.

Ram Bali is father of 9 children. I acre was allotted to him in 1976. Every time they went to the officers, nothing happened. There were efforts made in the past thrice to measure the land but was met with stiff resistance. The upper castes and particularly one powerful family which had controlled the entire area actually planted trees in the hope that after such a thing happen they would have unquestioned control over the land. When the pressure from the Dalits became tremendous the upper castes resorted to blackmailing. This land is now gone to the forest department. We have planted trees and we will not allow you to uproot these trees. So one can understand the kind of pulls and pressures happens in the village when the land is actually handed over the rural poor. Rambali is a happy man that finally he has got justice and that his family would be able to eat his two-time meal. We are ready to work harder to make the land workable.

Mutuna, wife of late Furtidin whose one acre land was actually being tilled by a Yadava family was satisfied that finally she has got her land. She has three sons and now she hope that the land would be sufficient enough to keep the family going.

Temmal got allotment for one acre. Every time efforts were made to give control of land to them these people try to create obstacles. They would abuse us and would not allow us to have safe passage. They have control over the work. We do not even get work under the NREGA programme.

Village Sarpanch Shiv Narian Singh, though is a upper caste Thakur yet seems to reconcile with working for the rights of the Dalits. He says’, The allotment were made in 1976 but the government officials are very careless. A total 51 bighas of land was allotted that time but the powerful people of the village are still trying to occupy that land. We want to give the small ponds and other such land to landless people but problems are being created.

The village Lekhpal who actually is the villain in most of the cases says that so far 48 people have been given possession. The lekhpal also speaks like the upper castes that the Dalits normally do not take of possession saying that the land is a barren and useless land. But he threatens that if the Dalits do not take the possession of land this time, he would be forced to dismiss their entitlement.

Dulari Devi has 5 children. She ahs been waiting for this day to come as the upper caste Hindus do not allow her to reach her land. Land is bad in shape. Lot of weed has surrounded it and it would need tremendous will power to make the land working. But the positive side is that the Dalits are now doing work in their land, weeding out the trees and the grass, leveling the land. It will take time but definitely with the enthusiasm, it will not take much effort.

Ram Charan is very happy to get the land after 30 years. He plan to sow Arahar, Tori, and other vegetables.

Sangeeta says that she is a ‘Dalit’ and landless. She has six other male members as partner in her father in laws land. It is just one 10th of a bighead very miniscule piece of land. She is not very happy with that. The food situation at her house is understandably very bad.

Munni Lal has two sons and one daughter. Nearly 30 years later he is now taking control of a very bad land which has thorny bushes and lengthy weed. He knows it well that to refuse taking control of an otherwise waste land would mean giving the upper castes a chance to condemn them as if they do not want it. He says, “ My allotment letter gives me one acre of land which is to be distributed among the two brothers but we only got 50 decimal. It will take nearly take a month to level the land and make it workable’.

Chandrabhan, a Dalit youth working with Bhartiya Jan Seva Ashram is another happy person today. Born in a landless family, he and his brothers were not even allowed to pass through the area. While he got one acre of land yet again the power people have made mess of the land laws. He has got one fourth of his allotted land as the person who had illegally grabbed the land has manipulated things with revenue officials and done lot of changes in the land map. ‘ We will fight against this and go to the court to rectify it. They do not have anything to save their face after full support from BJSA and the administration and still they wanted to delay the process after many ifs and buts’. Chandrabhan has a sense of relief, as he is leveling his land and cutting the unwanted bush and weeding them out.

A Dalit woman Sukraji bi is very happy. I feel powerful today she says. ‘ We will work harder now and definitely grow on our land rather than working at some body else’s land.
When I ask her about the caste equations and untouchability in the village she says ‘ the upper castes now know that they can not get in untouchability directly as they would penalized but they do. When they want our votes in elections, they would come here, sit on our charpoys ( cots) and eat with us but once that is over, they refuse to sit with us and do not allow us the same at their place. She is happy that the women will change as a woman and that too from her own community is now heading the State’. How does she feel seeing a Dalit woman with her head high rules the state, I ask. “ yes, we are proud that Bahinji ( elder sister, referred to chief minister Mayawati) is a very strong woman. Her elevation to power will definitely help Dalits and women to get their honour and pride.’

While there is absolute truth in Sukraji’s statement as here too in Rupchandrapur, it is women like Renu who made it possible that the land is transferred to the Dalits. She along with other women activists ensures that the officials do not play foul under some pretext or others which she had been facing. Some time, the illegal land grabber who was a local leader said that the land is now under forest department as he has planted Babul trees while on other occasion he made other pretensions. Some time it was provocations and abuses while other time threatening them with dire consequences. All this failed under the determined women’s group of Bharatiya Jan Seva Ashram. They now plan to speak to district authorities to grant some funds under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to the Dalits of Rupchandrapur to level their land and make it cultivable.
The change in power equations have shown their first result though in a small way in Rupchandrapur where the 74 Dalits are now enjoying their land, though with much difficulty of crude exploitative social system which remain shameless even in these times of democracy yet it shows that officials if work persistently and honestly can really do the needful for the power. It is hard to believe that they would change over night but strong signals from the power structure can change their attitude towards rural poor. Another important point for the rural poor is to grab the opportunity of whatever comes in their hand and continue their fight for the rest as snatching land from the hands of then power elite is very difficult as they have not only administration and political leadership with them but also make use of laws. It is advisable to continue our fight and make use of whatever comes in our hand to make our way to the land we have waited for so long. Land is not only matter of laws but a matter of attitude of the law makers and law implementing agencies and sooner they learn it the better it would be for the people. Rupchandrapur is a great lesson for us in this regard.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Intimidating Peace

Muslims in Gujarat: Victims of a conspiring State

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Nafisa Bi lost her eyesight three years back after three of her sons were arrested under the notorious Prevention of Atrocities & Terrorist Act (POTA) after the Sabarmati Express, was burnt by the miscreants in Godhara railway station in February 2002. Today, Nafisa, 60 is completely blinded in her isolated home, which used to have a bakery. There are 11 such families living in Rehmat Nagar area of Godhara who have lost everything after their male members were arrested and kept in prison. Charges have not been framed yet, said Rehana Bi whose husband Shabir Hussein was a conductor in a private bus and was randomly arrested along with other ‘conspirators’ for their alleged role in the incident. The meager earning were not enough to sustain their family of four. Her younger daughter Shamim Bano was not born yet and has not seen her father so far. Rehana does not have any other members to support and is earning her livelihood through domesticated work at the houses of nearby Muslim locality of Boharas. “ I go at 8 in the morning and return at 12 pm. They give me the left over food, which I eat and bring for my children. In cash, I just get Rs 250/-. My husband was getting Rs 1,200/- as monthly salary. How can my family survive in a meager Rs 250/-, she asks. No body comes here to ask us about our problems. A few social work organizations were here for some year but now they too have left leaving us in lurch. We have no clue about when our people will be released from the jail, despite the fact that we are informed that Supreme Court has ordered them bail, she explains.

Gujarat has witnessed systematic isolation of the Muslims in the past 10 years. Their movements are traced and livelihood shattered. It is very difficult for them to get even the work in the Hindu households. Even if the community wants to restart its life forgetting the past, there is no certainty whether the product that they make would sale in the market or not. Efforts were made by many NGOs, which failed because of the un written economic blockade by the powerful group of the Hindutva brigade. In fact, the tribal and Dalits face the same wrath in the village if they ally with any likeminded organizations which talks of their identity and rights.

The pain of Nafisa bi needs to be understood in terms of the ailing Gujarati society and the crisis Muslim women face in Gujarat. With most of the male members gone behind the bar, these women today face the uphill task of reviving their lives in a deeply polarized and hostile atmosphere. Rehmat Nagar area reflects the mood of the state government and their zeal to isolate Muslim further. There is no activity in the area, which is completely cut off from the main high way. No link road and if it rains then perhaps it would become nearly impossible for these women to go to earn. Most of the women are surviving on the alms which their employer give them apart from a salary of Rs 250/- per family per month.

Activists come and promise that our people would be released soon as the Supreme Court has ordered, said Rehana Bi. But Nafisa Bi seems to be resigned to her fate. ‘It is more than three years that I saw my sons. Now even if they come, I would not be able to see them.’ Neighbors inform that Nafisa weeps all the time. Her husband divorced her long back without caring their children. Fortunately, her sons were hardworking and earned their livelihood well to take care of her. Today, she is thoroughly dejected at the plight of her sons who she alleges were beaten up mercilessly in the police lock up. Her son Shabir Anwar Ansari have three sons and one daughter while Alauddin, the other son got married the same year. The locality is about 5 kilometers away from the railway station where the Sabarmati Express’s coach were burnt. ‘ The police came in the evening with their face covered and asked the male members to accompany them to their bosses office’, say Rehana. She further added that there were no women police personnel when they came. They were all men showering the choices abuse on us.

Fakharuddin Yusuf was a Bus driver. He was arrested as soon as he returned from his trip. He was put in Sabarmati jail where he died one year later. He was beaten up mercilessly in the police lock up. Obviously, the Gujarat police whose track record is worst while tackling with the minorities cannot escape the blame. Many young children who were born after their father was arrested often ask their mothers when would their father return.

The police and administration has become so nasty that it does not even allow the
detainees to meet their ailing parents even when they were waiting for a peaceful death. Rehana’s mother in law died weeping and crying to see her son who could not come to see her before her death. Payroll was granted to Rehana’s husband three days later after his mother was cremated. Mother and son did not see each other for three years says Rehana wiping her moisted eyes. When the Gujarat police come here they do not bring any women constables and on our defiance we are beaten up. She was arrested for one day. Rehana is outspoken when I ask about who burnt the train. “ we did not know about the burning of train before the police came and started arresting the people. They informed that all the male members would be required to go to SP sahib but once they were put in the police vehicles they never returned and families only came to know about the whereabouts of their male members about three months later when they started writing to them.

‘ I too was arrested but they released me the very next day but my father was kept up in the lock up for six days’, she says. Her moist eyes narrate the innocence inside her ‘, we do not burn even the dead, why would we burnt people alive?’

A total of nearly 100 families are charged under POTA in Godhara. The eleven families whose male wards have been arrested immediately after the train was burnt hail from this locality of Rehmat Nagar which is located on right hand side of the Godhara-Badodara high way. There is no connectivity road to this locality and one has to take off from the vehicle to reach here. The narrow muddy lane is the only way for you to reach the place. None of the man in the area has any work. In fact, they do not get any work outside. Tragedy is that Nafisa and like her many women’s pains and agonies are compounded with the fact that with in their own community they have lot of resistance. When there is no work, man have no work to do and mere domesticated work in nearby locality of the Bohras cannot make them survive. It is ironical that many of the women are being pushed in the flash trade since there is virtually a crisis of survival. Immediately after the riots, many NGOs started working among the victims but two-three years after the incident when they are faced with a hostile state administration which is hell bent on keeping the Muslims in particular and minorities in general out of the mainstream, organizations winded up their charity work. Of course, some of them are still working creating awareness in an otherwise thoroughly communalized atmosphere of Gujarat.

The Modi government kept quiet and even the press has not been able to follow up all the cases. How long the select few would come every day to expose a government, which has been corrupted at every level. The water in Rehmat Nagar area is totally contaminated, as there are factories in the area, which release chemical waste every day and therefore have turned the ground water totally undrinkable. The families go to fetch water from high way, nearly half a kilometer away from the area. Most of the families, which lived here before February 27th, 2002, have now left for other areas leaving 11 of the families here in complete isolation.

Rehana’s mother in law died. When she was on bed, her husband applied for a payroll but was denied. He came to see his mother three days after her death. That is the tragedy of the entire incident. Says Rehana,’ Narendra Modi is not a married man. Had he been married and had some children, he would have been sensitive to the issues of family, pain of a mother or anguish of a wife or cry of the children who miss their father. How would he explain to a mother who died crying without seeing her son?

In the global war on terror, it is very clear that it is the educated elite, which is now becoming a tool in the hands of the deeply religious fanatics. Poor were actually never were part of it. They might be looked down upon as ‘fundamentalists’ but never as ‘terrorists’. In this age when war are psychological as well as more so on modern techniques, a look at the profile of 11 POTA victims would tell how government was hell bent on making the innocent as terrorists.

Shabbir Hussain was bus conductor with a happily married life with children has been arrested. Shabbir Anwar Ansari and Alauddin Ansari were brothers with their families. Both were with their mother and running a bakery shop. Sadiq Khan Sultan Khan was a painter. Shamsher Khan is brother of Sadiq Khan. Yusuf Khan used to make bamboo Pinjara while Feroj Khan was working with Yasin Habib in a hotel. Feroj Khan was working in a steal company and Jabir Binyamin was working with a dairy. Fakhruddin Yusuf was working as a driver and was not even in the town. He returned in the evening only. The work profile of all these people may not suggest whether they had time to conspire against people. He has six daughters and 2 sons. Now all of them have left this place, as there was no security of life and livelihood for them. Jabir’s wife Jainab informs how her two children miss their father. Daughter Saima Bano 4 and son Shehjad 5 have not got their fathers live as he is in jail. In fact Saima was born after her father was in jail.

Jabir’s brother Ramjani was a rikshawpullar with a school. He was arrested from school where he was taking school children. Ramjani has six children with the eldest daughter Naseem Bano aged 12 and the youngest son Sarfaraj aged 5. Another brother Habib is also arrested. He has two children Shamir and Ferhan. The families are virtually living in despair and starvation. All the women are working as domestic servants in the relatively middle class Muslim households and get a maximum of Rs 250/- added with left over food. Irony is that the children are looked after at home by the neighbors or elders like Nafisa bi and other elderly women who cannot work. Some of the children go to a nearby school but majority of them dropped out.

Now Gujarat will face elections and the government of Narendra Modi has started divising methods, which can create communal wage. Dalits are being charged in false cases. Inter caste and inter religious marriages are being blown out of proportion. The state administration is thoroughly Hinduised. Even inside the booking windows of the railway stations one can find the pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, which is against our secular ethics. Cases are not registered for Muslims. Take the case of Jatun Bibi whose house was burnt by the rioters in village Mirapuri which is about 13 kilometer from Godhara. They have a total of 12 acres of land in the family of six yet even 5 years after the riots Jatun can not go back to her village. She now stays in the slums of Rehmat Nagar on a rented house along with her husband. Jatun Bibi filed a case against Sarpanch and won at the session court. The case was challenged in the high court where she lost. She does not even know about the case and files. It was never challenged later. Her husband says that they will never go back to the village as the village Sarpanch and his goons would kill them. Today, Jatun Bibi lives on rent in a small one-room house at Rehmat Nagar. She pays Rs 200/- per month as rent. Her husband is a labour. She used to own a Kirana shop in the village. Both husband and wife worked on the shop and had a big house for them along with others in the family. The three relatives (brothers and sisters) lived together but now they are not ready to return. Her husband expresses his fears that if they return to village, the Sarpanch would kill them. Police does not help in these matters. In fact, a BJP MLA has been supporting the sarpanch.

Jatun Bibi lost her mother in the childhood. She has four sisters and one brother. The one brother, according to her, has turned out to be an anti social element who would not share his parental property with the sisters. Tragically, Jatun Bibi has no sources to challenge the high court order. One does not know what her lawyers are doing at the moment. The condition of rule of law in Gujarat is that Muslims do not come out in open; you have to prove to them that you really care for their issues. Such things may shock people outside Gujarat but this unjust peace in Gujarat must be opposed. Peace building groups are roaming around but how can there be peace in Gujarat if the second majority of Gujarat lives in abject poverty, isolation and complete fear. Can such peace be supported which prohibit people to speak against injustice?

It is not that only Muslims are being targeted in Gujarat. The Dalits and tribals are used against the Muslims and are intimidated if they do not cooperate. Recently, a tribal leader of a social movement who was fighting for the forest rights of the tribals was barred from entering into four districts by the administration. The wife of a well respected Muslim doctor in Godhara was disturbed so much in the aftermath of Godhara that she shifted from Gujarat along with her children as safety of the children was paramount to her.

Gujarat is on the verge of history today. Gujarati’s enjoyed the fruits of globalisation. People greeted them everywhere from Africa to America and England where they went for their business and succeeded. Today, the same Gujarati’s particularly the Non-resident Indian variety are conspicuously silent on the functioning of the governance, which want to weed the fellow Gujarati Muslims out from the state. Often, Gujarati’s use Mahatma Gandhi and his message of social reconciliation for their own benefits abroad particularly in Africa, it is time, they realize that Bapu’s dream of reconciliation hold true for their own state also. In the so-called war against terror we should not forget that it also call for a just government. It also calls for justice against those who are terrorists but not Muslims. They too are terrorists who kill innocent people, rape their women and publicly support killing and humiliation of human being who happens to be Muslims. War against terror should not only be against the terrorists who happen to be Muslims but all those also who kill Muslim selectively. If this so-called war has to be won against the evil designs of all those then those in power or those who wish to come to power must show their resolve in providing governance and protecting all those who are citizens of state. One hope our governments in the Center and states listen to those cries of the victims of the mass killing in Mumbai after the demolition of Babari Masjid or those killed in Hashimpura, Bhagalpur, Kanpur and elsewhere. Not only war against terror, we will need to define genocide in present day term and its linkages to fundamentalist ideologies supported by the state. All those ideological dictators need to be brought to book for abetting the riots, supporting the killing or threatening them with dire consequences. Unfortunately, deeply prejudiced mindset cannot change. Gujarat needs a strong civil society as well as a strong rainbow coalition of the Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Christians and OBCs to tackle fascist onslaught on people’s right and livelihood. The real target of the saffron forces in Gujarat is actually not Muslims but Dalits and Adivasis as we only talks of Gujarat issue in terms of Muslims but not in terms of socio political issues, which have threatened the very basis of this government. Adivasis are threatened from their livelihood as Modi goes abroad inviting big industrialists to suck the blood of poor Adivasis and Dalits. All Dalits and Adivasis who are trying to assert are boycotted and pitched against Muslims and Christians. Public land in Gujarat is being given to private companies and nothing has been done to eliminate poverty. The only thing Gujarat has these days is rabid Hinduisation or I would simply say, brahminsation process. It is sickening to see such ritualistic symbols present in everyday life from posters in railway stations to Panchayat Bhavans, you will find not one or two Gods but large number of Godmen. Nowhere, in India such naked neglect of the secular laws of the country. Why should railways allow a picture of Hanuman in its reservation counters or why should the schools and Panchayat buildings have Asha Ram Bapu or Murari Bapu. If you love so much your Gods please do allow the other gods also. And definitely, then will have to put a Mao and a Marx also to satisfy the nonbelievers. This hypocrisy must be challenged. Gujarat is communalized very systematically and the disease is spreading like a virus.

The answer lies in strong ties of real Gujaratis who do not have golden plates in their homes or who do not have NRIs in their family. Yes, Gujarat could be saved by a strong people’s movement involving every segment of the marginalized sections of our society including Muslims and all those victims of Narendra Modi’s rabid anti Dalit, anti tribal and anti farmer policies. It is also time to take these religious lunatics head on otherwise they will deny every one a right to live with dignity and freedom to express.