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Gehlot’s Achilles heel: Oppn steps up onslaught amid failure to stem atrocities against Dalits

Congress govt cornered over Dalit boy’s death in Jalore, state minister pins blame on ‘BJP-RSS mindset’.

Opposition parties have been scathing in their attack on CM Ashok Gehlot in the wake of every such case that comes to light. (Express Photo by Rohit Jain Paras/File)

The Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan seems to have a major problem on its hands. It was not even six months since the Chief Minister had taken oath when, in April 2019, the gang rape of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in front of her husband in Alwar’s Thanagazi town led to nationwide criticism of his administration.

At the time, the government tried to do damage control by removing the Alwar district superintendent of police (SP) and taking action against other police officials. But allegations that the local police tried to cover up the incident ill the end of the Lok Sabha election and took action only when a video of the crime went viral did not bolster the Gehlot government’s image.

Since then, incidents of atrocities against Dalits in Rajasthan have come to light periodically. Now, at the twilight of his third term as CM and with just a little over a year left for the 2023 Assembly elections, Gehlot is facing the ire of Dalit rights activists and the Opposition over the death of a nine-year-old boy from Jalore district who died after allegedly being beaten by his upper-caste teacher who was infuriated to see him drink water from a pot meant for him.

Rajasthan Police data shows a 7.23 per cent increase in cases of atrocities against members of Scheduled Caste (SC) communities in 2021 compared to the year before, a figure that undermines Gehlot’s claims that his government has provided “good governance” to all. The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) figures for 2020 ranked Rajasthan third after Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on cases of atrocities against Dalits.

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While the Gehlot government maintains that the spike in cases of atrocities against Dalits is the result of its orders to the police to compulsorily register FIRs after complaints are filed on such matters, the state administration gets cornered every time the details of gruesome crimes against Dalits emerge.

Within a year of the Thanagazi incident, two Dalit men in Nagaur district were brutally assaulted on suspicion of stealing money. The accused allegedly dipped a screwdriver in petrol and inserted it in the private parts of one of the victims.

Last year, one of the cases of atrocities against Dalits in Rajasthan was the murder of a teenage girl by her father who objected to her eloping with a Dalit man. The murder occurred in March. It happened despite a Rajasthan High Court order providing protection to the couple. In June 2021, a Dalit man who was a member of the Bhim Army was killed in Hanumangarh after a row over putting up Ambedkar posters, and graves of the Dalit community were vandalised in Barmer district.

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Incidents of stone pelting on Dalit wedding processions because the groom rides a mare are also routine, with the state police saying this January that 76 such incidents had been recorded in 10 years.

Opposition parties have been scathing in their attack on the CM in the wake of every such case that comes to light.

“Congratulations to the entire Dalit community of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot ji has set the price for the life of our nine-year-old brother at Rs 5 lakh. Mr Chief Minister wants that take Rs 5 lakh and lock your mouth. When in the future some Jitendra or Indra is killed then cry and scream. Double standards even in justice,” Bhim Army founder and Azad Samaj Party leader Chandra Shekhar Azad tweeted on Sunday after the Jalore incident. He was criticising the state government’s announcement of Rs 5 lakh compensation for the boy’s family.

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The BJP, too, was unsparing in its criticism. “In the past three-and-a-half years, one after another, cases of Dalit atrocities have endangered the security of the state. Countless such incidents are proof that the chief minister of Rajasthan is helpless, the home minister is helpless (Gehlot also has the home portfolio). When the government and the chief minister are weak, then there is an increase in such incidents. I feel that water has reached over the head now,” said BJP state president Satish Poonia.

On Sunday, responding to the BJP, Gehlot told reporters, “The BJP can make it an issue. I have no objection since they are in the Opposition. Our government has taken initiatives that have resulted in decisions which convince the public, whether in incidents such as that in Udaipur (the recent killing of tailor Kanhaiya Lal) or Jalore. Our approach is to ensure justice and that the guilty get punishment soon. The incident in Jalore is extremely bad and the teacher has been arrested. Wherever such incidents are happening, we are also taking action and the entire country and state can see this.”

After the Thanaghazi case, the government bifurcated Alwar into two police districts — Alwar and Bhiwadi — for better administration and also introduced the facility of registering FIRs in SP offices.

Rajasthan’s Social Justice Minister Tikaram Jully told The Indian Express, “Most often the perpetrators of these atrocities are people from the BJP-RSS mindset and ideology. People with the Congress mindset do not perpetrate such acts. It is very wrong that even when we are celebrating 75 years of independence, such atrocities are happening. During the tenures of previous BJP governments, there was an immense increase in atrocities and in comparison to it such cases have come down in Congress rule. Gehlot ji’s decisions after each case and assistance to families reflect solid steps by the government. The CM is very serious in the Jalore case as well. The BJP is trying to create an issue out of Dalit atrocity cases and damage the image of Gehlot ji due to elections. Why don’t we see the BJP opposing or socially boycotting dominant people who perpetrate such atrocities?”

The NCRB data from 2016 backs Jully’s claim. At the time, the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government was in power and even then Rajasthan reported the third-highest cases of atrocities against Dalits in the country. Following the April 2018 Bharat Bandh — called by Dalit groups in protest against the alleged dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — the homes of a sitting BJP MLA and a former Congress state legislator, both Dalis, were set on fire.

First published on: 15-08-2022 at 01:25:56 pm
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