In 2015, she was physically abused, stripped naked and forced to parade in her village in Latur. Men hit her with sticks. Calling it an act of gender violence and caste-based discrimination, the woman, belonging to a Scheduled Caste, said she had been socially boycotted.
On Sunday, she took centre stage at a conclave to discuss hate-based crime. The woman, now 50, said, “Those accused have not been punished. Poor women are looted and raped. Police do not help us. After so many years, the government has not helped us.”
The 50-year-old belongs to the Matang community. Like her, the families of eight victims of mob violence and caste discrimination gathered from across India in Dadar to issue a resolution against hate crimes. The resolution, prepared by civil right activists and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), focuses on the need to have a special law to provide stringent punishment against mob violence and lynching, have mass mobilisation to demand protection of constitutional rights, have equal rights for all castes, and force government to act in such cases.
The accused men from the Maratha and Matang communities tried to forcibly take her land away, the woman said. “When she protested, she was paraded naked. She lodged a police complaint, but nobody has been arrested in the case to date,” said Preeti Shekhar, attached with DYFI.
In Ahmednagar, Raju Aage awaits justice for his son Nitin’s murder. Nitin, 17, was allegedly killed by men belonging to the Maratha community after he was found talking to a girl from an upper caste in school in Kharda in 2014.
“I don’t know if it was love or if he was just talking to a girl. But my son’s life was destroyed,” said Raju. He said lawyer’s fees and the slow-paced police investigation have delayed justice. “What we all need is justice,” he said.
The conclave was attended by actor Naseeruddin Shah, activist Teesta Setalvad, activist and former IIT professor Dr Ram Puniyani, former Supreme Court judge Venkate Gopala Gowda, women’s rights activist Mariam Dhawale, and Shweta Bhatt, wife of former Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt.
“These people have tolerated a lot. The pain I felt at being called a ‘gaddar’ and asked to go to Pakistan is not much in front of what they have gone through,” said Shah.
Also present at the conclave was Junaid Khan’s family. Junaid was murdered in a train from Delhi to Faridabad while he was returning home after Eid shopping. He got into an argument over his skull cap with some commuters.
“He was just 16. He did not even understand hatred against minorities. Those men asked him to return to Pakistan… There were 60 knife marks on his body, and nobody came to stop them,” said Mohd Kasam, Junaid’s elder brother, adding that the family always worked for non-Muslim employers and never imagined they would become victims of hate crime.
“There is a need to give criminal and administration accountability to government officials in charge of investigating such cases,” Setalvad said. She added that in the last five-and-a-half years, the government had systematically used caste to create a divide and instil fear.
Quoting from a Lok Sabha answer, Setalvad said National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had registered 2,009 cases of lynching between 2016 and 2018.
“There is a common hatred engineered against Muslims and Dalits in India. Those killed were all innocents. The RSS has motive of a Hindu Rashtra, to bring Manusmirti as the rule of law,” Ram Puniyani said.
The DYFI is planning to hold more such conclaves in other cities and villages to spark discussions on rising violence in India. “The hate crimes have especially increased since 2015. The government-sponsored attacks have increased. The human rights commission has so many complaints related to lynching and mob violence,” said Mohammed Riaz from DYFI.
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