Reality Of Caste Politics In UTTAR PRADESH

24 November, 2002 Subhashini Ali
GIVING the lie to S S Ahluwallia’s erroneous statements made before the United Nations stating that barbarous acts of ‘honour killings’ were unknown in civilised India, media reports of November 14-16 gave grisly details of the brutal murder of a young girl, Gudiya, and two young men, Dharam Singh and Rakesh in Atta village of Jalaun district in Uttar Pradesh. According to these reports, Gudiya ran away from her home on the 13/14th night. Her brother and father suspected Dharam Singh of having eloped with her with the help of his friend, Rakesh, and, along with their other Thakur caste brethren of the village they first beat all three of them mercilessly and then burnt them alive.
The bodies – or what was left of them – were only found on the morning of November 16. While the bodies of Dharam Singh and Rakesh were found half-burned in a highly mutilated state with several limbs missing after having been hacked off, only a few toes of one of Gudiya’s feet could be found in a pile of ashes. Dharam Singh belonged to the Most Backward Caste (MBC) of Gadheras who are numerically and economically very weak while Rakesh belonged to the Vishvakarma or carpenter/ironmonger caste.
Jalaun is a district associated with dacoity and abductions. It has the highest number of arms licences in Uttar Pradesh and is ridden by violent caste-conflict but even so the news from Atta was out of the ordinary.
On November 18, a joint AIDWA-DYFI delegation comprising of Subhashini Ali, Seema Katiyar, Narendra, Govind and Budh Singh, accompanied by the CPI(M) district secretary, Rameshwardayal Bajpai, visited Atta village and also met the district Superintendent of Police and District Magistrate along with other police and administrative officials. The official version of the case was that Gudiya, the young daughter of Thakur Sher Singh, eloped with Dharam Singh who hid her in a nearby sugar-cane field. She had taken the family jewels with her, perhaps with her mother’s encouragement, and Rakesh was entrusted with the job of disposing off these jewels. There was a feeling that perhaps she was pregnant which is why her mother encouraged her to elope. The DM expressed surprise – but had not bothered to find out the reason why – that Rakesh’s brother only informed the police at 9.00 a m on November 15 that his brother had been forcibly taken away by the Thakurs but said nothing about his having been killed when this had already happened during the night.
According to the SP and DM, all those named in the FIR were absconding but, due to their tireless efforts, 5 persons had been arrested. Sher Singh and his son were still, however, at large. When we visited the village it was almost completely deserted. A grim silence and palpable sense of fear and foreboding was all-pervasive. The door to Rakesh’s house had a lock on it as did the lock on Sher Singh’s house just across the narrow street. All the Thakur homes around these two houses were similarly abandoned. Behind Sher Singh’s house at a small distance was Dharam Singh’s house. To our surprise we found that it is a big house with a tractor and several cattle outside. On the verandah was his old and ailing grandfather. His grandmother came out to meet us. Her grief was unbearable and she told us that Dharam Singh had gone to work as usual on the morning of November 14 along with his father, Ram Prakash, uncle, Balram and older brother Balram. They undertook small jobs of loading and unloading sand and mud on contract. Dharam Singh knew how to drive so he used to drive the tractor used for this. After they had gone, Sher Singh and some others came to the house looking for him. They were told that he had gone to work and Sher Singh and the others went to the work-site. They soon returned with Dharam Singh and, after asking him a few questions, they left him at the house.
Dharam Singh’s grandmother asked, with reason, how it was possible for him to have stayed in the village and gone about his business as usual if he had eloped with Sher Singh’s daughter the previous night? Not only does the entire village live in fear of the Thakur’s wrath but there are also hundreds of people from the village working in all big cities of the country. It would have been very natural for Dharam Singh to have put as much distance as possible between himself and the village if he had, in fact eloped with Gudiya. According to his grandmother, Sher Singh harboured a feeling of enmity towards Dharam Singh because about six months before this his son, Bipin, had ‘forced’ Dharam Singh to accompany him when he went to steal a tractor-trolley from a neighbouring village. Dharam Singh’s help was essential because he could drive the tractor which was to be used for stealing the trolley. They had succeeded in stealing the trolley but they were soon given the chase by the angry villagers.
Dharam Singh drove the tractor into a ditch and the two of them had to run home. Sher Singh could only retrieve his tractor after he apologised to the aggrieved villagers and paid a heavy fine. After this incident he repeatedly threatened Dharam Singh saying that he was responsible for his having spent over Rs 50,000 and if he did not pay him this amount he would be killed.
The old lady then broke down repeatedly as she told us that at night more than a hundred Thakurs carrying guns attacked her house. They beat up all the men in the house and dragged Dharam Singh away, beating and abusing him mercilessly. His relatives followed them at a safe distance but did not dare to go near the Thakurs. They could not leave the village to inform the police because all the exit points had been blocked. Now, she said they had flown away to safety somewhere.
Ajay Savita who belongs to the barber caste lives in the house next to Rakesh and shares a common wall with him. He and his family were still in the village and he told us that he and his father had gone to see a doctor in Jalaun and so were not at home that night. He was sure that if they had been at home he would not have been spared either, not because he had anything to do with Gudiya’s disappearance but because the Thakurs were annoyed with him. His father used to cut their hair and trim their beards and moustaches but had stopped doing this a few years earlier because of his ill-health. He himself had never learnt to do this and was now running a small shop instead of pursuing his traditional profession. This was resented by the Thakurs who thought he had become ‘arrogant’. His wife told us that hundreds of people had been banging on her door that night but fortunately it did not break like Rakesh’s. She had heard him being dragged out and being beaten. She said that since his death, she had not lit their cooking-stove and had been unable to sleep at night.
From the village we went to the Madhavgarh thana where we met Lalji, Rakesh’s eldest brother and also Balram, Dharam Singh’s uncle. Lalji’s entire family including Rakesh’s widow to whom he was married only a year and a half ago and their little one and a half month old baby had left the village and were staying in his house just across the road from the thana. On the roadside he runs a welding garage where his brothers, including Rakesh, used to work with him. He also insisted that Rakesh had nothing to do with Gudiya’s disappearance. He said that the talk of selling of jewellery made no sense because Rakesh made no attempt to do anything like that. On the morning of November 14 he came to the welding-garage from the village as usual and worked there all day. In fact, Sher Singh stopped there during the day and they greeted each other. (He told us that Rakesh may have been singled out because his brothers’ weddings which he had organised had been very well-attended and this may have hurt the Thakurs’ feelings of superiority.)
In the evening Rakesh returned to the village. Lalji followed him there because he had heard about Gudiya’s disappearance and wanted to express his sympathy with Sher Singh and his family. After going to their home, he went to see his mother. Even then Rakesh made no attempt to go back to Madhavgarh with him even though, by that time, he knew that Dharam Singh had been questioned by the Thakurs and that subsequently they had held a panchayat in which it had been decided that the matter would have to be dealt with suitably so that no one would dare to look at a Thakur girl again. Had he been involved in the disappearance of the girl, he would have gone to the safety of his brother’s house but, instead, he chose to go to sleep at home until he was so rudely woken up. As his mother told us, hundreds of Thakurs, many of them drunk, broke open their door and dragged Rakesh out and took him away, beating him constantly. She said that the two younger boys could be rescued with great difficulty and, because the main lanes out of the village had been blocked, they ran through the fields and reached Madhavgarh early in the morning. When they went to the thana they had no idea that their brother had been killed and so they only reported his abduction.
It was past noon that the police finally reached the village. The charred remains of the bodies were found the next day. While the police searched tirelessly for the bodies, they did not make any attempt to arrest those who were only too clearly implicated in this brutal murder. By the time the bodies were found, all the accused had absconded and only five of them could be found. People in the area are convinced that the fact that the local BSP MLA, Devendar Singh, is not only a Thakur but also a criminal and a resident of Atta has something to do with such police inaction.
This may also be the reason that Mayavati’s ‘pro-Bahujan’ government has been completely silent on this issue. No one has visited the village. No compensation has been offered to any of the families of the young men killed. No assurances of justice being done have been made.
After the visit, the delegation held a press conference in Orai, the district headquarters and also submitted a report, which included some demands, to the district administration. Apart from demanding for the immediate arrests of all the accused, the report called for cancellation of all gun licences in the village. It wanted that all those involved in the murder in any way be awarded exemplary punishment after making a thorough inquiry and provision of compensation and security for the family members of the murdered young men.
Except for our delegation, no organisation, political or otherwise, has either visited the village or given any kind of statement condemning the incident. The arithmetic of caste politics is responsible for this deafening silence – the Gadhera and Vishvakarma communities lack numbers and clout while the Thakurs are the dominant caste of the area. All those with their eye on the coming elections know that they can safely ignore this atrocity against those who matter very little – one young girl and two young men belonging to insignificant castes. The reality of caste politics in UP is tellingly reflected in all its facets and ugliness in this ghastly incident.