Understanding the BSP’s silence on atrocities against Dalits

By Shivam Vij

First published by Tehelka on 24 March 2007

Raju Pal, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator from Dhumanganj Assembly seat in Allahabad, was murdered in January 2005. Mohammad Ashraf and his brother, Samajwadi Party (SP) MP Atiq Ahmed, were arrested and later released on bail. Since then, four more BSP functionaries in Allahabad have been gunned down. In what was widely seen as retaliation by the BSP, there was an unsuccessful attempt on SP leader Suresh Yadav’s life in September 2005.

The violence is seen as linked to BSP’s increasing influence in the Allahabad area and the SP’s attempts to retain its hold on the seats here. The BSP has tried its best to draw political mileage from the murders, staging dharnas and walkouts in the Vidhan Sabha in Lucknow.

The BSP didn’t take up the case of Om Prakash with anywhere near the same zeal. Prakash ran a kirana shop in a village in Jaunpur where many customers bought groceries on a monthly loan. When Prakash asked a Brahmin schoolteacher to clear his dues, he was offended that a “Chamar” had dared insult him. The schoolteacher beat him up and then took him to his house. After that, Prakash disappeared.

“BSP activists did not take up the case at all. It was we who staged a demonstration in the city on December 10 and approached the National Human Rights Commission,” says Usa, who works with Savitri Bai Phule Dalit Mahila Sangharsh Morcha, a local NGO. Nothing came of it. It is feared that Prakash is dead.

This is not an isolated story. Usa and her colleague Motilal Bahetu work out of Khutahan, 30 kilometres from Jaunpur. Their organisation is growing. They get new members every time somebody gets beaten up or loses a loved one. Like the family of Santosh Kumar of Bhabori village, who worked as a daily-wage labourer in a Thakur’s field. Kumar, a Jatav (Chamar) by caste, asked the Thakur landlord for his pending wages in public. Offended, the landlord, called Kumar to his house, hanged him upside down from the fan, gave him electric shocks and beat him up. Kumar became mentally ill and is undergoing treatment in Mumbai.

When Usa and Bahetu took the case to the police, the Thakurs of Bhabori became incensed. “They couldn’t take it that Chamars had the guts to complain against them to the police,” says Usa. In retaliation, a Thakur raped a dalit girl in the village.

In another village in Jaunpur district, Ram Dayal was killed when pinned under a tractor in an accident while working in the brick kiln of one Ram Lakhan. When Dayal’s children demanded compensation, charges of theft were slapped on their dead father.

“BSP cadres do not take up any of these cases,” says Usa. “Instead, some of them bring such cases to us!” It should thus come as no surprise that Umakant Yadav, the BSP MP from Jaunpur, did his best, according to Usa, to save his son from the law for beating up a dalit so badly that he almost died.

Motilal Bahetu says that under SP, there has been a distinct “Yadavisation of the administration which affects dalits who are exploited by Yadav and Thakur employers.” Organisations like Usa’s dot all of UP — visible proof of what the sociologists refer to as dalit assertion. In eastern UP, Bundelkhand and central UP, they are supported by the Dynamic Action Group which is headed by Ram Kumar. As an example of BSP’s disinterest in cases of atrocities against dalits, Kumar cites an incident which occurred in 2003. In Harora in Saharanpur, Mayawati’s own constituency, there was a cricket match between a Thakur team and a dalit team. The dalit team won, and the Thakurs couldn’t stomach that. They beat up the dalit batsmen so badly that two of them died. “Mayawati never uttered a word,” says Kumar.

How does one explain the paradox — a party with a dalit votebank won’t save a dalit life? “BSP MLAs and MPs and other members of the cadre can’t take up such cases in their constituencies because, to do so, they will have to give statements and organise protests. BSP members are not allowed to do these things lest they rise in stature and pose a threat to Mayawati,” he says. A BSP source says that in Chitrakoot, the gangster Dadua aligned with SP, and then began targeting BSP cadres. To take the issue up, Chitrakoot’s BSP MLA Daddu Prasad had to take special permission from Mayawati.

“Nithari kand”, “Madarsa kand,” — opposition parties in UP are highlighting crimes like the paedophilic murder of children in Noida and the gang-rape of girl students in a madarsa in Allahabad earlier this year. Crime rates have soared in the state.

“The BSP is obviously an opportunistic party,” says political scientist Sudha Pai, who has authored a book on the party’s rise. “In 1994, there was a big atrocity in Meerut and it was only after photos of Ram Vilas Paswan touring the area appeared in the press that Kanshi Ram and Mayawati visited the affected,” she says.

It is this single-minded obsession with power that made Kanshi Ram dissolve the Dalit Shoshit Shikshan Samaj Sangh, a precursor to the BSP. In 2001, Ram Kumar organised a public hearing of atrocity cases from all over UP and then handed over a file listing them to BSP MLA RK Chowdhary. “Chowdhary said that these papers won’t take us anywhere, we should instead work for the party. He said that attaining power would solve all these problems.” Chowdhary defected to SP after the elections in 2003.

“But if the BSP is so indifferent to the plight of dalits, why do dalits vote for it?” asks Kamal Jayant, a Lucknow-based dalit journalist. Ram Kumar cites the recent flare-up in Harora to explain why. A dalit procession to celebrate Ravidas Jayanti was not allowed in February. As a result, Dalits went on an agitation, ransacking the District Magistrate’s office in the process. When they saw that the BSP was not even commenting on the issue, on March 8, they ransacked the BSP office. “But in the end the same dalits will vote for the BSP because they don’t have another option,” says Kumar.

Kamal Jayant however points out that, over the years, more and more dalits’ grievances are being heeded to in the police station. The last available figures are for 2002, and they indicate that UP had a higher incidence of rapes and murders than even Bihar. Post-2002 figures are not available, but it can be safely assumed that crime figures for the subsequent years will actually be lower.

The reason behind this is simple: in 2002, Mayawati was the Chief Minister and during her rule, police stations become more active in registering cases. “There is a marked increase, especially in cases registered under the SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989,” says a dalit Superintendent of Police (SP) who cannot be named because of service rules. Her rule also ensured that openings in the police reserved for dalit candidates were filled.

Which probably is what the BSP philosophy of first acquiring power and then working for social change is all about.

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