“Twenty kg of rice, 10 kg of wheat and 2 kg of pulses. Sugar, oil, potatoes, tomatoes and onions, and candles. A visit by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat (on Tuesday) and announcement of Rs 10 lakh in compensation.” That was an official at the office of the District Magistrate in Bageshwar, listing what Sohan Ram’s family — his father, wife and two children — is getting as compensation.
On October 5, Dalit labourer Ram was killed, allegedly by a government school teacher from the upper-caste Thakur community, who hurled casteist slurs before cutting his throat with a sickle, for entering and “defiling” a flour mill in Kadaria village.
The accused, Lalit Karnatak, was arrested the next day but his brother and father, who have been accused of threatening Ram’s family against filing a complaint, are absconding. It took two more days for the promised rations to reach Ram’s family, after the case was reported by local media. But on Monday, with the brutal killing triggering protests in Dehradun and Bageshwar, and the assembly elections scheduled next year, the state government has sprung into action.
“All efforts are on to nab the other accused,” said Bageshwar SP, Sukhbeer Singh, even as district officials and police officers spent most of Monday preparing for Rawat’s visit. An empty field was being prepared as a helipad, with about 200 police personnel asked to report to the village on Tuesday.
The sudden rush for damage-control also led to a bizarre situation. After the Chief Minister’s visit was confirmed on Monday, officials at the DM’s office inquired about the financial status of Ram’s widow to facilitate the cash compensation — only to realise that she didn’t have a bank account.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, meanwhile, has called for a Jan Akrosh rally on Wednesday to protest the killing. “We will not let this issue die. Cases of caste-based discrimination are growing and have become a problem in Bageshwar. Karnatak’s father and brother, who threatened Ram’s family, are still absconding. We are expecting 2,500 people at the rally,” said Sundar Kumar Syunewal, district head, BSP.
According to the 2001 census, Bageshwar district has the highest proportion of Scheduled Castes – 25.9 per cent — in Uttarakhand. According to local leaders and officials, a few cases of caste discrimination and violence have been reported from the area but such brutality is not common.
The National Crime Records Bureau report for 2015 says that crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes grew by 59 per cent in Uttarakhand between 2014 and 2015. While 62 cases were reported in 2014, this number grew to 93 in 2015.
This year, conflict over caste-based discrimination in Uttarakhand flared up four months ago, when Dalit leader Daulat Kunwar and BJP MP Tarun Vijay raised the issue of entry of Dalits in temples in the state. Kunwar and Vijay had entered the Silgur Devta Temple near Dehradun in May, following which the priests carried out a nine-day long cleansing ceremony.