Last week’s incident in a village near Nagaur, where two young Dalit men were brutally assaulted on the pretext of an alleged theft, and the entire outrage filmed, is a dark reminder of the caste animosities that run deep in many states including Rajasthan. The incident came to light and a case was filed after videos of the assault started circulating in social media. Seven men have been arrested and booked under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. But the violence and the filming of it, are a warning that the state has to do much more to end caste-based oppression and violence.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has promised zero tolerance for violence against Dalits. Official data points to a 47 per cent increase in crimes against Dalits in the state in 2019 compared to 2018 — 8,591 cases in 2019 as against 5,702 cases in 2018 of crime against SC/STs. The figures are the highest in a decade. The rise in the rate of crime against Dalits is much higher than the overall increase in the crime rate (31.08 per cent). The police has sought to explain the spike as the outcome of better reporting — the government claims the police has been instructed to register as well as encourage oppressed communities to report every violent incident. However, activists point out that a large number of crimes against Dalits and other marginalised communities in remote areas continue to go unreported. Irrespective of the veracity of these claims, it is clear social relations between the dominant castes and Dalits continue to rest on the logic of hierarchy and exploitation in the caste system. Though the Dalits constitute over 17 per cent of Rajasthan’s population, the community has not been politically mobilised as in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The vestiges of a caste-centric feudal order continue to prevail.
The new and disturbing trend of recording the criminal act and circulating it points to the apparent sense of impunity among perpetrators of caste violence. The government needs to send out the message that this cycle of impunity will be broken. The encouragement to report caste atrocities has to be backed with improved enforcement of the law and speedy justice. Gehlot’s challenge is administrative as well as political.
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