ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dalits in Indian Society

Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop by Anand Teltumbde

BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW january 24, 200933This book is one more contribution by the author who has extensively written about the dalit movement. In the course of his writings about that movement, he has also dealt with progres-sive/left organisations and individuals in India vis-à-vis dalits. The book analyses what happened in Khairlanji and its after-math, and how the atrocity manifested the place of dalits in Indian society, and politics in particular.On 29 September 2006 the inhabitants of a village called Khairlanji in Maharash-tra lynched four members of a dalit family residing in their own village – a mother, her daughter, and two sons – in one of the most gruesome ways possible. Those who committed the crime were backward castes and tribals. The immediate provo-cation for the massacre was that the mother and daughter had given evidence against some of the villagers who had assaulted a dalit from a neighbouring village. The government and the civil society were at first indifferent to the incident. The dalits themselves took over a month to react. When they ultimately reacted, the response of the government was swift and ferocious. The government unleashed terroron them and gunned down some of them. One must contrast this with the way the government deals with revolts by the upper castes and the upper classes. In Jhajjar (Haryana), the police arrested five dalits for skinning a dead cow. Soon an upper caste mob led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal came and pulled them out of the police station and beat them to death in the presence of the police. The police did not resort to even a lathi charge against the mob. The expla-nation of the police was that, if they had acted, it would have resulted in loss of life. What did this mean? The upper castes were human beings who had precious lives to lose while the dalits were not humans and their lives had no value. India is not an exception in this respect. The American Supreme Court had proclaimed in the Dred Scott Case (1856) that the founders of the American Republic never thought that blacks were human beings. However, the US has changed whereas India stands still in spite of the lofty ideals laid down in the Constitution.The main point which the book deals with is that the backward castes and shudras in Indian villages have replaced Brahmins who once dominated India, and they are today responsible for atrocities against dalits as is evident in the case of Khairlanji. The book produces a list of incidents where the mayhem and murder of dalits were committed not by Brahmins but by the backwards and shudras.Why is this so? The backwards and shudras have largely substituted the Brahmins and dwijas as the landowning class. The dalits work on their farms, so it is in the economic interest of such ascend-ing classes that they keep the dalits in subjugation. Besides, there does not seem to be any immediate conflict between their economic interests and the Brahmin-ical culture which they have internalised over centuries.However, it may not be correct to say: “Its (the state’s) policies and institutions have increasingly reinforced castes and accentuated their viciousness as never be-fore” (p 16). The book itself says (pp 14-15): While caste oppression can be said to be embedded in the system, a caste atrocity is invariably the result of a defiant response from the victims. Khairlanji demonstrates that the caste system, however oppressive, is essentially a self-regulative system that expects people to conduct themselves ac-cording to its code... However, those who do not accept its diktats are not spared. In this sense, a moment like Khairlanji represents the breakdown of that wicked equilibrium that has held this subcontinent in a histori-cally frozen state. The violence witnessed against dalits in India today is the birth pangs of radical so-cial change. This breakdown of the status quo is essential to raise the society to a new equilibrium. Blood flows when a new child is born.Futility of Bahujan SamajThe book elaborates on the futility of the very idea of Bahujan Samaj in terms of annihilation of caste and basic social change. In almost all cases of violence against dalits the perpetrators have been the shudra castes. The author explains that the caste atrocities such as Kilvenmani (1968) in Tamil Nadu, Karamchedu (1984) and Chunduru (1991) in Andhra Pradesh and Jhajjar (2002) in Haryana provide ample proof that the middle shudra castes are the criminals who have committed violence against dalits. He reasons that “Khairlanji, and for that matter every caste atrocity across India, has been a shrill refutation of bahujanvad as a transforma-tive strategy”. He is explicit that “bahujanvad can be meaningful as a transformative agenda only if it is based on the trans-caste unity of all the lower classes of society”. “Caste is hierarchy-seeking; it is antithetical to the concept of unity”. He hits the nail on the head when he states: Bahujanvad, based on caste identities, may seem to work – as in the case of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – in strategis-ing electoral wins. But it cannot effect the slightest change for the better in the social contradictions of castes on the ground. For instance, there is no evidence that the BSP rule has brought down the incidence of caste crimes against dalits in Uttar Pradesh. The state continues to enjoy the dubious distinction of topping the list of the states and union territories in terms of atrocities on dalits despite the deafening rhetoric of dalit raj. On the contrary, Mayawati, theBSP supremo and chief minister of UP, under pressure from her bahujan allies, had to issue orders not to register atrocities under the Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act without the permission of the district magistrate. Once a pioneer implementer of the Act, making it famous as the Dalit Act, she now repeatedly talks about not misusing it.Role of the MediaAnother issue which the book highlights is the role that the media played as regards Khairlanji and how it is characteristic ofthe same pattern as has been seen in the history of modern India. Statistics are marshalled to establish how the prejudice Dalits in Indian SocietyP A SebastianKhairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop by Anand Teltumbde (New Delhi: Navayana), 2008; pp 214, Rs 190.

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