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Friday, December 28, 2012

Haryana's Rapist Regime

 Anand Teltumbde

In the wake of 19 cases of gang-rapes of dalit girls in Haryana in just one month, and the utter callousness with which the state government has dealt with such criminality, the time has come for dalits to embrace class unity in the struggle for liberation.

After the Manesar incident that exposed the unlawful labour practices of Maruti Suzuki and other leading capitalist enterprises in Haryana, backed by the state government, the province is once again the focus of attention, this time for its feudal traits. There have been 19 gang-rapes of dalit girls, one more gruesome than the other, in a single month. While the government’s response has been lethargic, the notorious khap panchyats of the dominant caste, the Jats, have, in a way, justified these rapes by advising that girls should be married off before they reached the age of puberty to avoid rapes. Important politicians unashamedly endorsed this shocking solution in public; some of them even dismissed the rapes as basically consensual acts turned sour. These are not one-off examples of reckless statements by some discredited individuals; the sexual assaults and the care-a-damn attitude of the state’s political establishment represent an abiding pattern that makes the state a veritable hell for dalits.

Roguery of the Rich
The state of Haryana exemplifies the rapid enrichment and empowerment of dominant farming castes in the post-Independence period; it also epitomises the cohabitation of global capitalism and debauched feudalism. After separation from Punjab in 1966, Haryana has remained a predominantly Hindu state with Jats as the dominant caste. Today with a per capita income of Rs 92,327 (2011), it tops the list of the states on that score, except for Goa with Rs 1,32,719. But the distribution of income and wealth is very unequal – the Jats have disproportionately cornered the benefits of rapid economic growth, and their leaders, with the privileges of power and pelf, seek to keep the rest of the community in their thrall. The state has however emerged as one of the country’s major centres of agriculture, manufacturing, business process outsourcing and organised retail. Gurgaon, with its glass and metal-clad, high-rise apartment blocks and commercial complexes, best represents the development of Haryana. But even beyond Gurgaon, the general infrastructure of the state surely rivals the best in the country. Nevertheless, beyond this facade lies a state of antiquity, ruled by khap panchyats, where the incidence of forced abortion of the female foetus is well above the national average, where honour killings happen all too often, where incest is rampant, and where dalits are treated like slaves, lynched and raped at will.

Recall the 16 October 2002 lynching of five dalits by a large and violent mob on the main road outside the Dulina Police Post, near Jhajjar town in full view of the police and several senior district officials. The victims were accused of skinning a cow, the killers were glorified as heroes who had avenged the death of “our gau mata”. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Parmanand Giri had openly stated that those who had killed the “gau-hatyare” (killers of the holy cow) must be honoured. The VHP President Giriraj Kishore justified the killings, saying that “the life of a cow is more precious than that of a human being”. Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and Sarva Khap Panchayat openly lent support to the killers and opposed any action against them. Such is the terror of the Jats, who take pride in their valour (read criminality), that the then district commissioner of Jajjhar had expressed his helplessness to a visiting team of activists of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, saying that no administration could function in the area without pacifying the sentiments of organisations like the VHP, and negotiating with the khap panchayats.

On 27 August 2005, 55 to 60 dalit houses were burnt down by a violent mob of 1,500 to 2,000 Jats in Gohana with full support of local police. On 21 April 2010, two dalits were killed in Mirchpur and their houses set ablaze. Last year, 70 dalit families of Bhagana village in Hisar were ousted following their social boycott by the Jats. In all these cases, there was arrogant support for the perpetrators of crime. The khap panchayats’ honour killings, public justification of such killings by Jat spokespersons and politicians, their passing of a resolution against the struggling Maruti Suzuki workers’ union, and several such actions are nothing but a manifestation of the naked roguery of the rich Jats of Haryana.

Haplessness of Dalits
Dalits live in perpetual fear of Jats in Haryana. On account of worsening of the female sex ratio (there are just 877 females per 1,000 males, far below the national average of 940 as per census 2011) the incidence of incest is high. But when the khap panchyats issued a fatwa against the within-clan marriages, dalit girls increasingly became the victims of sexual assault. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports show that the number of rape cases where dalit girls/women are the victims has consistently gone up from 21 in 2007 to 56 in 2011. While at the national level, the number of rape cases wherein dalit girl/woman are the victims went up by 15% over the period, the increase in Haryana was 167%. In September 2012 alone, there have been 19 cases of gang-rapes of dalit girls. Among these, there was the case of a 16-year-old girl who was gang-raped by a dozen upper caste men in Darba village of Hisar district on 9 September. The rapists had filmed the horrific act and circulated the video. Unable to cope with the situation, her father committed suicide. Another dalit girl of the same age, who was also gang-raped in Sachcha Kheda village in Jind district, burnt herself to death. A five-month pregnant dalit woman was abducted and raped by two youths in Kalyat. Practically, the gangs of bahubalis, with the patronage of politicians, can rape and kill dalit girls with impunity. Haryana has witnessed such rape cases in several districts, including Rohtak, Hisar, Jind, Bhiwani, Yamunanagar, Panipat, Sonipat, Ambala, Karnal, Faridabad and Kaithal in September this year.

Unlike the dominant Jats, the dalits are poor and without protection. They can be easily terrorised by the upper castes, which exert pressure on the family of a rape victim not to report the matter to the police. If the family still approach police, the latter dissuade the former and do not easily register the case. Only under public pressure do the police seem to register crimes against dalits and arrest the culprits. When the case is registered, most victim families are coerced by the Jats to go in for an out-of-court settlement, and accused of destroying the village’s inter-caste harmony if they refuse to succumb. While the victim’s family incurs the wrath of the powerful Jats of the village, the police do everything to weaken the case.

Options before Dalits
Traditionally dalits have relied on the state as a neutral arbiter and hoped it would do them justice. The colonial state created this hope and the postcolonial state, pretending to conduct itself as per the Constitution, which dalits believed to be the code of Ambedkar, reinforced this reliance. Despite persistent disillusionment over the last six decades, this trait appears intact, perhaps for the lack of any better alternative. The state has not only been callous; it has also itself been a perpetrator of atrocities. In every atrocity that has come to light, the complicit or active perpetrator’s role of the state has been evident. Besides, the state has consistently acted against the poor of which the dalits have been a preponderant part. In recent years, the security syndrome has come handy for the state to label them as Naxalites and persecute them. The state is completely exposed in its anti-dalit role. The anti-people col­lusion of the legislature and the executive apart, even the judiciary – that was held in high hope – with its biased judgments, has failed to create confidence in dalits.

The executive, the legislature and the judiciary – they never tire of mouthing the cause of social justice – stand exposed in the manner in which they have “managed” dalits who would other­wise have revolted. Underlying the entire representational logic embedded in the reservation system is a Macaulayan colonial strategy. The chosen dalit political representatives, sarkari intellectuals, and the entire section of the middle class created by this logic are meant to “manage” vast dalit masses. Who will then take care of the latter’s interests? Who will do what to a Congress leader who rubs salt over dalit wounds by saying that “90% of the girls go out of their own will”, the state president of the Congress who dismisses the whole matter as a “conspiracy to malign the government”, Haryana’s khaps that prescribe how girls should dress so as not to provoke young men, the Sarva Khap Jat Panchayat that says the age of marriage for girls should be lowered to curb the rising incidents of rape in the state, and Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal who endorses this recommendation in a shameless manner?

The question really is what dalits should do. Ambedkar posed this problem way back in 1936 and had come out with a communitarian solution of merging into an existing religious community to overcome the intrinsic weakness of dalits. He did convert two decades later, but to a religion which did not have any such community in India. The conversion, as could be objectively seen, made little difference to the condition of dalits. Ambedkar’s vision of “annihilation of castes” is eclipsed by the upsurge of sub-caste movements of dalits. His construction of “dalit” as a quasi-class of organic proletarians stands effectively demolished. Ambedkar is reduced to an identity icon devoid of any emancipatory content. Dalits reflect the same cultural strands that enslaved them over millennia. If the Jats have khaps, the dalits also have theirs; if others have their jati panchayats, dalits have theirs, may be with a changed label. In this state of affairs, and taking a cue from Ambedkar’s diagnosis and vision, the only option that remains for dalits is not communitarian unity but class unity. In Haryana, the Manesar episode shows that the young educated workers are alienated from the khap panchayats who have condemned their struggle against exploitation. There is sizeable progressive force, albeit fragmented in Haryana, which can build class unity encompassing dalits to defeat the vile designs of the rapist regime.

Liberation may sound utopian but it is surely within reach. Haryana is the ideal land to begin the process.

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