Recently, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Rajendra Pal Gautam resigned as the social welfare minister of Delhi after coming under attack for attending a conversion event.
A lawyer by profession, the former AAP leader is known as a Dalit rights activist and a hardcore Ambedkarite in his inner circle. Following the event on October 5, social media has been flooded with videos of him attending the event alongside Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s great-grandnephew Rajratna Ambedkar. The incident triggered a political controversy over religious conversion.
At a recent meeting, Gautam said, “I don’t think I did anything wrong in taking the 22 pledges by BR Ambedkar. I am an Ambedkarite and a follower of the Buddha dharma, and I don’t think following Buddhism is wrong. This fight is against all the crimes taking place against the Dalits and minorities due to casteism. This fight will continue across the nation.”
The incident cannot be seen as an isolated event, as Ambedkar has been increasingly invoked by AAP and its leaders in states where they hold power. While the ideals of the Dalit leader have been upheld by political leaders every now and then, there has been no respite for the community that continues to remain a victim of discrimination and violence. And while the entire situation is being viewed as a political appropriation of Ambedkar, we look at the five recent and harrowing caste-based acts of violence among the many thousands that go unreported in India:
Dalit sisters raped and murdered in Uttar Pradesh
In September, six men were arrested in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri after two minor Dalit sisters were found hanging dead from a tree in a village. The six accused men were charged with rape and murder under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO).
The girls' mother alleged that her daughters were raped and murdered. She alleged that three motorcycle-borne unidentified youths, along with her neighbour, stormed her hutment and abducted her daughters. When she resisted, one of them kicked her and took the girls on a motorcycle towards the fields outside the village, adding that the family later found the girls' bodies hanging from a tree in a field a few hundred metres from their village.
Dalit man beaten up in Uttar Pradesh
A few days after the Lakhimpur incident, a Dalit man was allegedly beaten up with iron rods and sticks by a group of men for drinking water from a pot meant for people from upper castes in Rajasthan's Jaisalmer district.
Following the incident, four people were booked under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in connection with the incident that took place in Digga village.
The victim Chatura Ram was going to Digga with his wife when they stopped near a grocery store and he drank water from a pot kept outside the shop. Four-five men abused him and thrashed him with iron rods and sticks for drinking water from the pot which they claimed was for people from upper castes.
Teacher allegedly kills Dalit student over spelling
A teacher was accused of killing a Dalit student over a spelling error last month, triggering a violent protest in the Auriya district, Uttar Pradesh.
Nikhil Dohre, 15, was struck with a rod and kicked until he fell unconscious by his high school teacher earlier this month after misspelling the word “social” in an exam, according to a police complaint by his father.
Dalit woman gang-raped in Jaipur
A 25-year-old woman accused a priest and a few others of abducting and gangraping her for days. She further alleged that the accused shot her videos and threatened to make them viral.
According to the police, the woman said she was raped for the first time in August. The woman knew the priest for the past year as he would come to her house to perform rituals.
She further said that she was sedated. A missing complaint was filed when she was abducted.
Dalit girl gang-raped and set ablaze in Uttar Pradesh
A minor Dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped and set ablaze by two men in Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit district on September 7. She later succumbed to her injuries.
The deceased was said to have suffered 68 per cent burn injuries after the two accused poured diesel on her in Pilibhit’s Madhav Tanda.
Spike in violence against Dalits
The recently reported caste-based violence is probably a scratch on the surface, as India has seen a spike in crimes against Dalits in recent years.
The rape and murder of two Dalit sisters in UP echoed the 2014 Budaun case in which two Dalit cousins aged 14 and 15 were allegedly gangraped and murdered and their bodies were found hanging from a mango tree in Katra village.
Further, the Hathras gang rape of a Dalit minor girl by four upper-caste men and the gang rape of a nine-year-old Dalit girl by a priest and others, are shocking reminders of the increasing instances of violence or atrocities against Dalits, tribals, and other oppressed sections of the country.
The recent data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) noted a significant jump in violence against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes communities in India with six crimes being reported an hour against Dalits in 2021. Overall, the new NCRB report shows that the total number of cases jumped to 50,900 from 50,291 in 2020.
The National Coalition for Strengthening SCs and STs (PoA) Act (NCSPA), a consortium of 500 Dalit and Adivasi civil societies, analysed the NCRB data of crimes against SCs and STs and found that the communities continued to suffer the worst form of violence and repression in India despite legal and constitutional safeguards.
According to a report by NewsClick, NCSPA found members of the community to be victims of institutional and social discrimination.
Last year's NCRB data found a 45 per cent increase in reported rapes of Dalit women between 2015-20. The data said 10 rapes of Dalit women and girls were reported every day in India on an average. Activists working with survivors of caste-based sexual violence report a lack of institutional support from police and local authorities and fear of action by upper caste communities, making it harder for them to seek redressal for the crimes.