Water, Love And Other Caste Crimes In A Pandemic
Artwork by Shrujana Niranjani Shridhar for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)

Water, Love And Other Caste Crimes In A Pandemic

BloombergQuintOpinion
Bookmark

Can somebody urgently give a love lesson to the officials who run Uttar Pradesh, arguably the country’s most unjust state?

Even as U.P. criminalises consensual relationships between interfaith couples, state police described the Feb. 17 poisoning of three Dalit cousins by a stalker as “love”. Two of the three teenagers, found in a field in Unnao district, were murdered. The third is fighting for her life.

Water, Love And Other Caste Crimes In A Pandemic

In U.P., as Khabar Lahariya reporters are witness, women are killed for everything from dowry to undercooked rice. On average, U.P. sees 163 crimes against women every day, many of whom are Dalit. U.P.’s record of caste crimes only worsens every year as is evidenced by the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2019.

The highest number of crimes against Dalits were registered in U.P. (11,829 cases), followed by Rajasthan (6,794 cases) and Bihar (6,544 cases).
Artwork by Siddhesh Gautam for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)
Artwork by Siddhesh Gautam for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)

Official data for 2020 aren’t out yet but we do know that while Covid-19 slowed India’s economy, it didn’t help us hit the brakes on gender and caste atrocities.

The Hathras crime in November 2020, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, may have got national attention but many equally heinous caste crimes didn’t make it to our radar.

One report in Caravan magazine quoted Dalit organisations as saying that caste atrocities in Tamil Nadu increased nearly fivefold during the national lockdown in 2020. An online campaign #lockdowncasteatrocities attempted to amplify this issue.

Now, a new book, produced and published by the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet), in partnership with Zubaan Books shares 60 terrifying stories of caste crimes across seven states during the Covid-19 lockdown. The digital book will be released online on March 4 and be available for download from March 6 on the websites of DHRDNet and Zubaan Books at no cost. The book urges you to push past the horror to see the deeply entrenched patterns behind these atrocities.

Artwork by Alaka Aditi for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)
Artwork by Alaka Aditi for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)

The purpose of publishing No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities is to enable the victims of these crimes to get justice. Each chapter details the specifics of the case, where it was filed, what happened after the crime, the number of the first information report, etc.

Chapter titles demonstrate the danger of the simplest act: ‘Stripped for touching a motorcycle’, ‘Beaten for being thirsty’, ‘Death penalty for mid-day leave’, ‘Abducted and raped while feeding birds’. Even wearing an Ambedkar t-shirt and talking to a caste Hindu girl in public can anger a policeman enough for him to interrogate and abuse you.

Artwork by Ajinkya Dekhane for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)
Artwork by Ajinkya Dekhane for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)

“This book’s 60 stories even during a complete lockdown highlight the rapidly increasing frequency of violence as the dominant caste feels threatened by the rise of the Dalit community,” DHRDNet—a network of 1,000 Dalit human rights activists across India—says in the foreword, adding that these crimes also highlight legal gaps and administrative failures. In some cases, the police cited the lockdown as a reason for not producing the accused in court and released them.

DHRDNet asks that you respond with rage, not pity.

Don’t see these crimes as aberrations but accept them for what they really are: well-thought-out assertions of caste hierarchy.
Artwork by Sunil Abhiman Awachar for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)
Artwork by Sunil Abhiman Awachar for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)

In this India, intercaste marriages and love end in gruesome killings. Young people are routinely murdered for loving outside sharply-drawn boundaries and their families face grave dangers too. A couple in their 50s are hacked to death in front of their 12-year-old grandson by upper caste men when a confrontation revives the anger of an intercaste marriage that occurred more than a decade ago.

There are no safe spaces here. The hunting grounds for caste crimes can be the village quarantine centre or an orphanage.
Artwork by Kanishka Zico for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)
Artwork by Kanishka Zico for ‘No Lockdown On Caste Atrocities’. (Courtesy: Esthaappen S.)

Young, educated men are murdered for raising their voices against oppression. A woman’s father is murdered because she decides to stand up for the right of her children to cycle on the road. A man is killed for demanding something as simple as the right to fill water from a public tap.

In fact, water flows through many stories – raped while fetching water; murdered for demanding that the Dalit water tank in the village be filled completely; abducted while filling a pot of water meant for birds and animals just outside her home; thrown into a deep, waterless well and left to die; death due to asphyxiation while cleaning an unused water tank; attacked with swords while waiting to fill water; abused for being a water supplier to the locality. These are modern India’s real water wars.

The book also includes a petition you can sign. It urges elected representatives to adopt recommendations such as conducting a detailed survey of untouchability practises in modern-day India and asks Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the nation on caste-based violence and crimes that have taken place since the Covid-19 lockdown.

As for what you should not do, one Ambedkarite artist on Instagram had this to say: “Please don’t amplify my voice by sharing my content, share compassion and empathy with your own people as they require it the most.”

“Our misery is your muse. Our pain is your inspiration. Our deaths are your opportunity to create a secular and humanitarian image of yourself,” said Siddesh Gautam (@bakeryprasad). “Don’t follow my page, start your own ‘Savarna against caste’.” Now more than ever it’s time to look inequalities of power squarely in the eye.

Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.