On March 23, the Rajasthan Assembly passed a Bill to bridge what it said was “the developmental gap and to ensure all-round development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state.” The same day, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) national president Mayawati took to Twitter to condemn recent atrocities against Dalits in the state and demanded President’s rule in the state.
In Rajasthan, barely a fortnight goes by without an atrocity against Dalits making it to the headlines in the state and beyond. In absolute numbers, while there were 4,238 reported cases of crimes against SCs in 2017, this figure stood at 7,524 in 2021 – an increase of 177.54 per cent, as per government data.
Dalit activist Bhanwar Meghwanshi attributes it largely to two causes: Overall increase in crime due to rising intolerance in the society and Rajasthan’s emphasis on mandatory registration of FIRs, beginning 2019.
“Cases are rising overall because intolerance is growing in the society. Hence, all kinds of cases are rising, and not just cases of atrocities against SCs. However, under earlier governments, even getting a case lodged was difficult, while today, cases are at least being registered. And when cases are easily registered, then your overall figures will increase too,” Meghwanshi said.
SC/ST votes account for 31.31 per cent of the population in the state. Of the 200 Assembly seats in the state, 34 seats are reserved for SCs and 25 for STs. Among the SC MLAs, Congress has 19, BJP has 12, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) has two and one is with an Independent. Among ST seats, Congress has 13, BJP has 8, while two each are with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) and Independents.
In the Lok Sabha, the BJP has 24 out of 25 MPs from Rajasthan, with Hanuman Beniwal being elected as part of NDA in 2019 but later parting ways. All the four reserved SC and three ST seats in Lok Sabha from Rajasthan are with the BJP.
While SC/STs have traditionally voted for the Congress in Rajasthan, beginning with the first election post-Independence, many believe the voting patterns changed in the mid-1990s, when reservation was introduced in Panchayati Raj institutions in the state.
“Now it depends on the trend. People vote on various factors, including local factors,” Meghwanshi said.
This might explain why the Congress, which currently has more MLAs on reserved seats than its counterparts, won zero seats reserved for SCs in the 2013 Assembly elections which it lost. Back then, the BJP, which formed the government, won 31 out of 33 reserved SC seats. The same year, the BJP won 18 of the 25 ST seats.
Despite reservation, the Dalits have no towering leader in their midst in Rajasthan. In Jagannath Pahadia, who was CM for about a year between 1980 and 1981, Rajasthan had its first and only Dalit CM.
On March 23, the state Assembly passed the Rajasthan State Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes Development Fund (Planning, Allocation And Utilization Of Financial Resources) Bill, 2022, which proposes to earmark a certain amount of funds for SC/STs in the Annual Budget and a mechanism to ensure its implementation.
BJP MLA Anita Bhadel, however, said, “The Bill talks about a committee which will ensure that funds are utilised for SC/STs, but if that does not happen, the committee doesn’t have any power to take action or impose a penalty or take action…The only aim of the Bill is to tell the SC/STs that look, we are your well-wisher and it is us who brought such a Bill in the Assembly.”
In the Assembly, BJP MLA Ashok Lahoty dismissed the Bill as an “eyewash”, saying the allocation for SC/STs in the budget is a mere 0.9 per cent as against their population of over 31 per cent.
Outside the Assembly, too, the BJP and the Congress are locked in a battle of perception when it comes to Dalits.
A case in point is the alleged Alwar rape case of January. While it was initially suspected that the minor girl with partial speech and mental disabilities had been raped, police later found that it was a case of hit and run. Yet, the BJP put the Congress on the defensive at a time when its election campaign in Uttar Pradesh was centred on women.
More recently, a Dalit woman in Dholpur had alleged rape by Thakur men. Police later concluded that it was a case of assault, not rape.
Half the cases lodged against Dalits don’t make it to the trial stage for lack of evidence – as per figures for 2021, as many as 50.80 per cent of cases filed by SCs in the state were closed after the police filed a Final Report (adam vaku). An FR or adam vaku is filed when the investigation finds that the alleged offence did not occur. For STs, this figure is even higher at 53.50 per cent.
Meghwanshi counters, “If you make an example of these cases and investigate them, you will find that the victims were lured or pressured.”