Why Mirchpurs happen in a ‘civil’ society

The question is: Why such violent incidents are on the rise, especially at a time when tall claims of progress are being made? The reasons often cited for this appear to be trivial prima facie.

Why Mirchpurs happen in a ‘civil’ society

An abandoned Dalit house

shalender@tribune.com

Jagmati Sangwan

  • A Dalit athlete is thrashed and his leg fractured. His fault? He has defeated athletes from the upper caste.
  • A young girl and a police officer, deputed to protect her, are murdered in broad daylight. Why? Because she married a Dalit. 
  • Many lives are lost after Dalit localities in Gohana, Mirchpur, and more, are set ablaze by members of the upper caste. 

The question is: Why such violent incidents are on the rise, especially at a time when tall claims of progress are being made? The reasons often cited for this appear to be trivial prima facie. For instance, someone from a Scheduled Caste has offended some high up of an upper caste. But, actually, the scenario is symptomatic of some deep-rooted chronic malady at the level of our society. For curing it, we need to understand its dynamics and interlinkages in the present context.

  As far as its roots are concerned, we need to bring in a development model adopted after independence in the country. One of the popular slogans of our freedom movement “Dhan aur dharti bant ke rahegi, raat andheri kat ke rahegi” was envisaged to be transformed into practice, majorly through drastic steps like land reforms, Hindu Code Bill, etc. This was, of course, along with  interventions in relation to the Dalits and women. 

We know pretty well the tooth and nail opposition to the Hindu Code Bill led by  the Hindu Mahasabha, and others forced the then Law Minister Babasaheb Ambedkar (moving spirit behind the Bill) to resign. The concern expressed by Dr Ambedkar in this regard has ironically proved true that we are entering the life of contradictions on January 26, 1950, when there will be equality in politics but inequality in socio-economic sphere. 

How long will this contradiction continue?

The crucial agenda of redistributive land reforms came as a cropper for the lack of political will. These two big betrayals against the Dalits and women have kept them vulnerable to violence and perpetual discrimination. The feudal relations of patriarchy and varnasram caste hierarchy not only continued, but their subsequent reinforcement by the obnoxious nexus between the state and the ‘modern’ decadent and perverted value system became more pronounced in the rural Hindi hinterland.

With the changing times, this development model is not addressing the needs of even those landed communities who have been central to it. There is deep agricultural crisis and unemployment resulting in the visible social unrest. With the adoption of globalisation-driven model of development since 1990, the crisis has deepened, affecting even the beneficiary layers of the Green Revolution in the context of Punjab and Haryana. At the same time, it has led to further marginalisation of socially deprived and poor peasants, while creating vulgar levels of disparities (cornering of 73 per cent of last year’s GDP by one per cent of population).

The dominating psyche rooted in oppression and exploitation of weaker sections try to further shift the burden of crisis on the more vulnerable ones. Meanwhile, access to education and employment among some sections of the Dalits and women have made them aware of their individuality and assertion of their Fundamental Rights. 

Moreover, in this age of social media, they are getting all types of exposure. They have started asserting their democratic rights and staking claim to be treated as equal. The April 2 eruption of nationwide aggressive mobilisation of the Dalits against the amendment in the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act by the Supreme Court must be seen as a definite undercurrent, which forced the government to ultimately restore the original law.  The hegemonic sections of society, which have been in control of the economic resources of livelihood, continue to look with disdain at any assertion by the traditionally oppressed sections. They perceive that any change in the socio-economic structure will bring the weaker sections at par with them. They retaliate with violence when the Dalits, and particularly women, seek the right to enjoy a dignified life.

Taking refuge under the garb of caste or community, a small number of these vested interests perpetrate atrocities. And, thus, try to make it a case of clash between castes. This phenomenon has been repeatedly observed in several instances in Haryana, including Mirchpur, Bhagana, Sunped, Dabra, etc. Infamous cases of violent attacks on Dalit bridegrooms riding a mare in the Bhiwani district have occurred in the recent past.

Contrary to its constitutional role, the state has been harnessing caste and communal hostilities. These serve the unequal system as localised suppression mechanisms and find it politically more expedient, than resorting to repression through the formal state machinery. It is due to this that the accountability of law-enforcing agencies is hardly fixed in most cases. 

In times of inclusion, the present regime has liked to go for exclusion in the matter of Haryana Panchayati Raj and the Local Bodies Amendment Act, imposing educational qualification for contesting the election. The Scheduled Caste population was hit the hardest, particularly the exclusion among the rural women, was to the extent of more than 83 per cent. If they are still illiterate, it is not their failure but that of the state. 

To counter strategise, these attacks and in this context, the Dalit and women movements need to create interface and solidarity with each other and the peasantry, regardless of the caste. The identity politics aiming at strengthening the already existing narrow-caste boundaries need to be identified as an obstruction in the way of larger unity. 

While collectively building pressure for social justice by combining economic issues with social concerns, the ultimate goal has to be forming a society based on justice and rule of law in tune with democracy, instead of a caste, class and gender-based divided society.   

 —   The writer is former director, Women’s Studies Centre, MDU, Rohtak

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