By Shirish Khare
As soon as I got off at Ajmer railway station, I called Bhanvaribai’s mobile phone. In an unsure voice she said, “Since you have come to write about women’s issues, why don’t you come directly to the Ajmeri Gate police station?”. Somewhat astonished, I asked, “What has happened?”. She replied, “come here and you will find out. We are 50 year old women here. You are a young man. They slapped us a few times and sat us down at the police station. So come only if you feel comfortable.”
I felt that it was better to go to the police station rather than return to Mumbai. Seeing my luggage, the auto-rickshaw driver asked if I wanted to go to a hotel. But when I replied that he should take me to a police station, he was started. At the police station, the station in-charge, Satish Yadav sat behind a table that said “Truth Shall Prevail” and in front of a large framed photograph of Mahatma Gandhi. But he seemed at 180 degrees to both those philosophies. He curtly I asked who I was but walked off before I could say anything.
The issue at hand is not how big or small the case was against these women or what is considered to be a big case. What needs to be recognized is that when there are instances of oppression against Dalits – especially Dalit women – everyone from the neighborhood, the village Panchayat, the police and the local courts all assume an attitude that makes justice impossible.
The police station officer – incharge is bothered that almost every week three cases of oppression against Dalit women is registered from Rasulpura village. The Women’s Rights Commission claims that instead of protecting these women as per special laws put in place to prevent oppression, the police station in-charge will often arrest those who come to file the case. For example, Sualal Bhambhi from Rasulpura, along with his wife Geetadevi and daughter Renu had come to file a case against Biram Gujjar for trying to take away their cow and for physical abuse in trying to do so. Instead, the police arrested Sualal Bhambhi saying that the true culprit will become apparent after investigation. When the Women’s Rights Committee and the Dalit Rights Center intervened, he was let go. While the police were willing to look into the case of a stolen cow, they were unwilling to look into the case of violence against his wife and daughter.
Rasulpura is hardly 10Km from Ajmer, on the highway to Jaipur. 600 Muslims, 150 Gujjars and 50 dalits live in this community. In the last few years, 20 dalit families have had to dump their land and property at give-away prices and move to Ajmer. The rest of the Dalit families also have had to move their houses about 0.5Km from the village, practically living in their fields. This is India where dalits still cannot sit in the community gathering, cannot use water from the village handpump, and are fearful of riding a bicycle. Only 10 years ago, Harikishen master broke the age-old taboo that dalits could not ride a horse to their wedding (as is common practice among Hindus in this region).
15 years ago, Chaggibai won a panchayat seat (without any reservation) – however, within 6 months, the rest of the Panchayat community impeached her because they felt that her election affected the prestige of the village. Chaggibai won without reservations because there were many contestants from the higher caste communities. However, when she won, higher caste men surrounded the school building in the village and Chaggibai had to be rescued by police.
15 years ago, the women of this village decided to speak out about their rights – they formed “Women’s Rights Committee”. Women paid Rs 2 to join the group – and 12 women joined. They used the committee to talk about their daily problems and its solutions. Bhanvaribai says that after 5 years of the committee’s functioning, when it also started to voice opinions on child marriage, and casteism, there was opposition to the group. When dalit women began to take objection to caste-based insults and abuses, upper caste people asked why there was a sudden objection – after all, this had been happening for years. Now, though, this began to cause conflict.
The Dalit community used government land to go to their farms. On 6th June, Teja Gujjar dug a trench in this path and placed barbed wire, making it difficult for people to se this path. When Bhanvaribai requested to talk to Teja Gujjar to resolve this issue, he threatened to kill her (using language not printable). When the Dalit women approached Teja’s older brother who is also a member of the village panchayat, saying that they had voted for him and wished he would intercede, he suggested (sarcastically) that they take the matter to the police. The fact was that these brothers had been trying to buy up dalit land at low prices in a number of neighbouring villages. They hoped that by troubling the dalit community, they could get them to sell and move.
When the Dalit women approached the police outpost at Nareti, the police said that they would file a case only after investigation. When a dalit constable named Kailash came to the Gujjar brothers to find out about the events, he was insulted. The Dalit women then went to Ajmeri gathe police station which was already quite unhappy about numerous Dalit cases.
Kalyanji, a Dalit villager, says that the upper caste members of Rasulpura are interested in taking over 30 acres of land that belongs to the dalits as well as 4 acres of government land. 1 acres costs about Rs 100000. Land is the primary source of income for these dalit communities. With drought that has hovered over these villages for the last 10-15 years, they often have to supplement this income with unskilled labour. In these conditions, numerous upper-class people have attempted to push the dalits ou of their land. On 12th February, Mamchand Ravat along with some other men entered Shankarlal’s house, and beat him up. Despite the intervention of Dalit Rights Center, a case was filed only after 3 months and its been 6 months and nothing further has happened. Teja and Amba Gujjar have been involved in other incidences where they have beaten up women. A report was filed only after the local SP intervened but there has been no progress since.
In an interesting case of communal collaboration, the muslim community is providing support to the Gujjars – a result of political and social alliances. Two big Muslim traders have provided political support to the Gujjars. One even threatened major violence if even one Gujjar was arrested.
The Police station officer is obviously bothered by the number of dalit ventures to file cases for oppression – the officer in-charge has attempted to help the dalit ‘understand’ that this police station is not just for Rasulpura.