A Year after Violent Bharat Bandh Protests, Families of Killed Dalit Youths Continue to Seek Closure
Soon after the violence on April 2, at least four Dalit BJP MPs had written to the Prime Minister threatening to resign unless cases lodged against Dalit protestors weren’t revoked and those responsible for the deaths of dozens of Dalit protestors were punished. They say despite best efforts, nothing much has been done in this regard.
Family of 22-year-old Amresh who died of a bullet injury in his chest during a protest on April 2, last year.
New Delhi: Exactly a year ago, thousands of Dalits across the country took to the streets in over a dozen cities and towns to protest against a Supreme Court ruling that was perceived to have diluted provisions of the SC/ST Act, 1989.
The protests, as part of the ‘Bharat Bandh’, soon turned violent. Dalit protestors alleged they were attacked at multiple places by upper-caste mobs and police used excessive force against them. Over a dozen Dalit people were killed and hundreds were injured.
Although an amendment was introduced by the government six months later through which the Supreme Court ruling was overturned, a palpable anger among Dalits, especially those who were at the receiving end of the violence, has not subsided.
Suresh Kumar Chamar of Muzaffarnagar had his 22 year-old son Amresh engaged on April 1 last year. On the morning of April 2, Amresh died of a bullet injury in his chest.
“My boy was also participating in the Bharat Bandh protests just like many other young people. The boys did not resort to any provocation. Suddenly, police open fired on them. My boy got shot in his chest. Two other boys also got shot – one in his hand, another on his shoulder. They survived. My child didn’t. He died on the spot,” Chamar says. Now, he feels, that salt has been rubbed in his wounds.
On Monday evening, their locality was surrounded by police. They weren’t allowed to protest. Nor was Chamar allowed to fulfill his wish of installing his son’s photo in a nearby Ravidass temple.
The local authorities have denied him the permission. This is not the only thing Suresh is bogged down by. The financial burden on the family, whose source of income is daily wages earned by men who work as labourers, has also increased given that the family has one less pair of hands.
In Gwalior, 28 year-old Rajan Singh’s younger brother was shot down not very far from where he was standing. Deepak, 22, died on the spot after sustaining a bullet injury.
“The administration hurried up the final rites of the Dalits killed during Bharat Bandh. I personally know about three other people who, like my brother, were immediately rushed from the hospital to the cremation ground. Many weren’t even given a chance to see their children’s bodies one last time,” says Rajan.
“We were carrying out the rally peacefully. There were some upper caste people, mostly lawyers, who couldn’t digest the fact that Dalits were protesting for their rights. They were angry with our show of strength and these are the people who killed us. Cases have been lodged against them, but all of them are roaming outside freely. Nobody has been punished,” Rajan adds.
The real ordeal, he says, is the life he and his family have been living after Deepak’s death. The caste divide in society, which he claims, was less in-your-face before, is now out and as evident as the sun.
“We used to run a small tea stall. After the incident, the same upper caste people who killed us stopped ordering tea from us and also asked everyone around to not order tea from us. In the end, we went bankrupt. Now we work as daily wagers for survival,” Rajan adds.
Soon after the violence on April 2, at least four Dalit BJP MPs had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi threatening to resign unless cases lodged against Dalit protestors weren’t revoked and those responsible for the deaths of dozens of Dalit protestors were punished.
Two of them – Bahraich MP Savitribai Phule and Etawah MP Ashok Dohrey – are now fighting from their seats on Congress tickets and actively campaigning against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In a recent interview to News18, Dohrey said he had switched over to the Congress because he felt “sidelined in the BJP” for expressing his resentment with the way police dealt with the Bharat Bandh protests.
“The protests were going on peacefully in Meerut on April 2 when some anti-social elements, some upper-caste Manuwaadi people entered the crowd and started shooting the boys,” says Shyovan Singh, who son Ankur Jatav was shot dead on the spot.
He says that despite best efforts by him and other people from the community, no action has been taken against the murderers.
“We got videos of people shooting at our boys. We collected all of them and sent them to the administration. It did not even react. Everyone around is behaving as if our boys did not even exist, as if they were not shot dead in broad daylight, as if we don’t get to see their murderers almost every other day,” Singh says.
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