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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Deaths have deepened the caste divide in Madhya Pradesh

On Tuesday, curfews and heavy security prevented further violence, but in cities and towns where the impact of the protests was felt most, tension runs high as Dalits and upper castes blamed each other for the violence.

Written by Sourav Roy Barman | Gwalior / Morena | Updated: April 4, 2018 4:51:46 am
dalits, bharat bandh 2018, dalit protests, bharat bandh news, dalit protests violenec, sc st bharat bandh, sc st act, modi govt, indian express Ramvati (left), wife of Rakesh Tomatiya, who was killed in Gwalior on Monday. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

The cycle cart in which Deepak Mittal’s bullet-riddled body was taken to the nearby nursing home is parked in a narrow lane that leads to his house. The blood stains have not been washed yet and houseflies buzz all around.

Inside the single-room tin house, Deepak’s father Mohan Singh sits on his haunches, frequently smoking bidis. “The bullet came from the direction of the Tomar building and pierced my son’s body,” he says.

A resident of Gallar Kotha, one of the many Dalit settlements across Gwalior, Deepak was one of the seven killed in Madhya Pradesh Monday after Dalit protests erupted across the country against the alleged dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

On Tuesday, curfews and heavy security prevented further violence, but in cities and towns where the impact of the protests was felt most, tension runs high as Dalits and upper castes blamed each other for the violence.

Read | On Dalits, despite PM Narendra Modi push, BJP plays catch-up

Mohan says Deepak was not part of the protests and was standing near the family-run tea stall when he was shot. “I am a daily wage labourer. My three sons assist me and occasionally run a tea stall. We recently got a loan and bought Deepak a matador. Hume kya pata kaunsa kanoon kya hai (what do we know about the Act),” says Mohan.

“Tomar Building”, as pointed by Mohan Singh, abuts the Dalit settlement. It is not actually a building but a colony of Tomars, who are Thakurs, and is at the heart of the violence that rocked MP on Monday.

Kishan Bhagat, a government servant in the Jatav-dominated area, has little doubt about who fired the shot that claimed Deepak’s life. “It was pre-meditated. They (Thakurs) knew we were unarmed. So they selectively targeted the Dalit colonies so that we can never raise our heads again. They did not even spare our cows, one of which got shot at,” says Bhagat. Several Dalit youth milling around, nod in agreement.

Read | Changes in SC/ST Act: Apex court doesn’t stay its order, says ‘we’re not going by any agitation’

Following the violence, the Thakurs mostly remained indoors Tuesday even as several parts of the city continued under curfew. Thatipur police station Inspector Ravindra Gurjjar said the police have lodged two FIRs on charges of murder after two were killed in the city during the protests. The police are yet to make arrests.

“The FIR lodged by Deepak’s family names Bobby Tomar. The other one is against unknown persons,” says Gurjar.

But the Dalits in Gwalior believe the “effect” of the alleged dilution is beginning to show and the police’s “reluctance “ in taking action is part of that pattern.

A few blocks away, the family of Rakesh Tomatiya, who was also killed on Monday, is in mourning. His elder daughter Kajal (18), who was to get married next month, is inconsolable and his wife, Ramvati, hasn’t spoken a word since he was killed.

Rakesh, also a Dalit, was a ‘beldar’. “He was part of the gathering of beldars in the morning at the local labour Chowk,” says Kajal.

But the Dalits in Gwalior believe the “effect” of the alleged dilution is beginning to show and the police’s “reluctance “ in taking action is part of that pattern.

Suhdir Mandeliya, the district president of the Bhartiya Dalit Varg Sangh, says that while the men killed in Gwalior may not have been part of the protests, the “Dalit anger” did explode on the streets on Monday.

“But there was no attempt to actively mobilise the community. What happened was spontaneous. Aakrosh bhara hua tha (the anger was building),” he says. The FIR in Rakesh’s case is against unknown persons and Mandeliya says they made sure the bodies were cremated Monday night to ensure tempers did not flare up again.

“But the police, instead of taking any action against the real perpetrators are hounding the Dalits by conducting raids and even hurling derogatory abuses,” he alleges.

Asked about the video of a Thakur youth firing at the protesters, he said that the clip was yet to be authenticated and as the accused could not be identified, but an FIR has been registered. In a separate attempt to murder case, Gwalior police Tuesday arrested 15 Dalit men in connection with another firing case.

Forty km away, is Morena district, the epicentre of the protests, which was also under curfew for the second successive day.

In Uttampura, adjoining the railway station, Rahul Pathak (22) succumbed to bullet injuries after the clashes on Monday.

The ABVP unit secretary of a local college, Rahul was standing near the main lane leading to his colony when he was allegedly shot at by one Ramu Gurjjar, according to Morena SP Aditya Pratap Singh.

Rahul’s father Baldev Pathak is a local BJP functionary in Morena. “The two had a tiff during a cricket match a few days ago. On Monday, Ramu took advantage of the chaos during the clashes and fired at Rahul. It happened in front of my eyes,” he says.

Baldev stresses that if not for his appeal, “Morena would have burnt yesterday as the upper caste people had consolidated.”

“I made it clear that while Jatavs indulged in violence and vandalised properties, they did not kill my son,” he says. Rahul was pursuing his BA final semester. The SP said that Gurjjar is absconding.

Another victim in Morena, Bimal Prakash (26), a resident of Dabra village, was returning from tuitions he had recently joined to help clear the police force examination when he was shot.

“He got between two groups of protesters in the village. Somebody allegedly open fired and hit Bimal. Later, he succumbed to injuries,” says Mukesh, Bimal’s brother,

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