Lucknow, Sept. 3: Mayavati’s third stint as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh promises no reprieve for the Dalits of the state.
This bitter truth confronts Dayaram. A farm worker from Darehta village in Rae Bareli district, he is forced to return home from the state capital after a futile quest for justice.
On March 15 last year, his 14-year-old daughter, Rama, was gangraped by upper caste youth. The police registered the case only on August 20 following directions from the State Scheduled Caste and Tribes Commission.
By then, the girl was five months pregnant.
The culprits, however, continued to roam free. And on August 9 this year, they strangled Rama to death, eliminating the only witness to the crime.
When Dayaram and his brother went to the Bachrawan police station to lodge a complaint, they were detained. Though a case against the murderers was registered on the night of August 9 — 24 hours after the crime — Dayaram and his family were released only on August 15. “I could not even attend my daughter’s last rites,” wails Dayaram.
He decided on a trip to the state capital to seek justice from “bahen (sister)” Mayavati. But despite running from one legislator to another of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Darul-Shafa, he failed to make his plea heard across the corridors of the Vidhan Bhavan on Mahatma Gandhi Road.
Dayaram dreads going back to his village. “My daughter’s killers are still at large and they are threatening to finish me and my family if we cause any further trouble.”
Rae Bareli police confirmed that they have registered a case of murder against the same persons who had been charged with raping the young girl a year back.
But they have no answers as to why the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — better known as the Dalit Act — were not invoked.
Dayaram’s case underlines the ambivalent attitude of the present Mayavati government towards the Act. Having exhausted the limits of political mobilisation through its aggressive agenda of Dalit assertion, her party is now trying to change tack.
During her six-month stints as the state chief minister in 1995 and 1997, Mayavati had enforced the Dalit Act rigorously — earning the displeasure of the Samajwadi Party, as well as a section of the BJP.
This time, one of her first moves after forming government was a diktat against misuse of the Act.
The order, signed by state chief secretary B.S. Bagga at Mayavati’s behest, directs district magistrates and police chiefs to be “extra careful” to prevent “misuse” of the Act.
Ironically, it reads similar to the order — that also forbade misuse of the Act — issued by the Kalyan Singh government two days after he assumed charge from Mayavati in 1997.
She had then cried foul, asserting that Kalyan’s diktat was aimed at promoting atrocities on Dalits and BSP chief Kanshi Ram had called for mass agitation against the order.
Senior state bureaucrats feel that, whatever Mayavati’s political compulsions now that her party is in power, the immediate effect of the administration’s ambivalence towards the Act has been detrimental to the interests of the Dalits.
The recent spurt in violence against the community supports this view. In the last week alone, three Dalits were shot dead on the outskirts of Lucknow and two minor girls gangraped in Aligarh and Kanpur districts.
The common pattern running through all these incidents is an initial police resistance to register an FIR from the Dalit victims and the subsequent delay in taking action against the culprits.
“The government order has grave implications since it is precisely the administration of the Act in which the upper caste laxity towards the Dalits may find unwarranted justification,” says Deepak Verma of Johns Hopkins University, US, who is doing a research on Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.
Some experts question the legality of such an order. “The Dalit Act has been put into effect by the Indian Parliament and defines a comprehensive set of circumstances within which the custodian Dalit life may possibly be debased, as falling under the category of cognisable offences. The state government has no right to make insinuations contained in the order that may cause modifications in the Act or its administration as per law,” says Abhinav Ashwin of the National Law School, Bangalore.
The Act’s legal and administrative implications apart, in the long run, the BSP will have to pay a political cost for its ambivalence towards atrocities committed against the Dalits, say political observers.
For the Dayarams of Uttar Pradesh, life in “bahen” Mayavati’s Raj will continue to remain insecure.
As Dalit Panther leader Dhani Ram points out: “In the shape it was enacted by the state government, the Dalit Act was the only Black Cat commando available to the Dalits. When the state’s Dalit chief minister, enjoying Z category security, feels threatened by the mafia, how can an ordinary Dalit feel secure'”