By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
09 July, 2010
Her one eye is completely turned red at the moment as the upper caste goons threw slippers at her. The entire body bears the brunt of the brahmanical violence on July 3rd, 2010 at the Sheetalpur Tikari village under Tharwai police station in Allahabad. Her cloths were torn and the goons tried to pee on her mouth but the police kept her in the police station for 24 hours and try to deny anything like that happened. This is the story of Lalli Devi, 45, who was constructing a house allotted to her under the Indira Awas Yojna when Devi Sharan Mishra, a local money lender and well connected person came along with some other members and demolished the house. As Lalti tried to reason with the man, she, her husband Gulab and her son aged 12 years were beaten mercilessly by these goons. Her huts where she used to sleep and cook were completely razed to the ground. ‘It was the incident at around 8 am on Saturday when I was cleaning my chulha’, said Lalli. ‘Eight members lead by Devi Mishra just entered in with lathis and thrashed me after beating my husband and son. Sir, they put me on ground, put their feet on my chest and tried to pee on my mouth. I resisted but they torn my cloths, hit at me and threw slippers at me which hurt my eyes. It is aching now and has turned red. I am still not able to breathe properly’, said Lalti when I visited her. There is no place for them to sleep. Its rainy season and given the nature of our villages, Lalli and her family has no way to save them from the fury of nature.
According to police officials, there was a land feud between the two which was in the court and there was a stay on it. When Lalli Devi was constructing her house given to her under Indira Awas Yojna, Devi Mishra and his gangsters demolished it and also razed her other huts to ground, beat up her husband and thrashed her when she reacted. She was humiliated and her body bears the mark of the thrashing.
This incident happened about 30 kilometers from Allahabad town on July 3rd, 2010 in the morning hour around 8 am. This nondescript village resembles the old structural villages of India which Baba Saheb Ambedkar described as ‘den of feudalism, nepotism and corruption’. The village in darkness. The village has 5 families of Yadavs, 10 families of Patels (OBCs), 25-30 families Passies (Dalits) and nearly 20 families of Brahmins. Nearly 10 families belong to Telis i.e. Guptas and one family belong to Dhaikar, a Dalit community which is engaged in bamboo weaving work. They make bamboo baskets and other related things. And see the tyranny of the caste system in the village, none of the communities coming to her rescue. The Brahmins, as master manipulators are using all techniques to disturb her. They are in power structure every where. She is alone. The Kurmis near her do not feel for her, the Pasis are known to resist yet not a single person is ready to speak. The terror of these Brahmin is so high that a Dalit woman says, ‘why do you speak to us. Are you not able to see our faces and judge as what is the situation here’? Lalli Devi know this situation as she says, ‘ Most of the people saw me being dragged on the ground and my cloths torn but no body want to speak as they fear the powerful’.
A police Jeep is picketing in front of her house. She went to police station to lodge her complaint but she was not only hounded but kept at the police station for 24 hours. Daily Amar Ujala and Hindustan reported it on July 6th and later the local news channels started running the story on their prime time which suggested that Lalli Devi was attacked and her cloths were torn but police deny she was paraded in the village. However, the question is whether hiding things make the grave incident less grave? For the police officials, it is like any other land dispute. They term it as a fight between two leaders for lording over the Dalits and other communities in the region. The Brahmin politics of Allahabad is well known to be explained here. But for the information of the readers, the Member of Parliament is a former pracharak of BJP but now his ‘heart’ is changed and hence is a man of ‘social justice’ in the BSP, though his brother’s heart still beat for BJP and hence he is MLA from that party. The other brother has just achieved victory for MLC on BSP ticket. None of them had visited so far. But the leaders from other political parties are also visiting her. I do not know but Lalli Devi tells that she was given support of Rs 3000/- by one politician and Rs 1000/- by the other. That is the cost of the dignity and respect of a Dalit woman in India.
The police officers on duty are mostly agreeing that she was beaten up and ‘sab kuchch galat hua’ but they are not ready to accept that ‘her dignity’ was attacked. When I ask them whether any case has been filed under Prevention of SC-ST Atrocities Act, they answer in affirmative but that has to be verified at later stage and action need to be seen. The culprit Devi Mishra’s supporter charge that the Lalli Devi is working on behalf of village Sarpanch Yogesh Tiwari who function as a Sarpanch pati, defecto Sarpanch of the village.
Antecedents of the culprits
Most of the villagers say that the Brahmins play power politics in the village and that Devi Mishra is a moneylender. As we know well that in Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, the moneylenders suck your blood more than even the corporate. Here the interest rates are exorbitantly very high. According to the villagers, it very according to the ‘favor’ done by the moneylenders but nonetheless it starts from a minimum interest of 5% per month but normally is 10% month. Most of the villagers actually mortgage their papers and the problem is that at the time of receiving the money, they do not really bother to check the contents of the agreement and later are trapped in the game and therefore lost their land or other immoveable assets.
Devi Mishra’s supporter say that Lalli Devi does not own that land in which she was constructing her Indira Awas as the land was legally belong to him as he bought it from him, while Lalti Devi says that her father in law was a habitual drunk and nobody ever took him seriously. She also says that her husband also is not keeping well and has hearing problem. The fact is that she lives in the Abadi i.e. human settlement side which is never recorded and on the ground the grave reality is that Mishra and his goons assaulted her. Even if everything that Lalli Devi was saying wrong, that does never justify the grave violence inflicted on her by the arrogant brahmanical forces of the region and the dubious role played by the local police which was unable to arrest the culprits.
Though nobody is verifying things yet some of the dalits on the condition of anonymity informed that Devi Mishra is a Junior Engineer with some government department. According to them, he does not go to his office. Probably, it is a common decease in UP and elsewhere that the upper caste benami officers. It is up to the government to think over it and take action against him if it is proved that he is a government servant. Not only should his job records be produced to the court but also all those who connived with him in this misdeed should be arrested.
The village and the lonely woman
As Baba Saheb Ambedkar said that the caste system has never provided any unity of the oppressed and hence annihilation of caste is essential for social justice but how and who would be interested in it as annihilation of the caste itself mean elimination of the brahmanical social order? This hierarchical structure keeps people isolated and it is the biggest obstacle in the unity of the oppressed people ghettoized in their own shells. Here also if one see the isolation of Lalli Devi, one only realize how prophetic Ambedkar was in his analysis of our ‘great’ ‘villages’ which has ascending order of respect and descending order of contempt as the community that Lalli belong to does not serve any political purpose for those for who vote matters the most. Just adjacent to her huts are people, who are not ready to share her pain and agony. Women are inside their house. In the local PDS shop, I meet an old man who refuses to answer my question. I ask him Baba just tell me what happened to Lalli and this man says ‘ sab karmo ka phal hai’, everything is the result of her karma’. I ask Baba, what is your caste and this man inform me that he is a ‘Kurmi’ which is a powerful backward community. Yes, she does not belong to your caste and hence you are not bothered about her, I scold him. Near him, is a lonely woman who brick house is just adjacent to Lalli. Yes, Uma Devi is a Teli by caste. A single woman, she narrates her plight as how her land was snatched and converted by the powerful Brahmin in the village and she was thrown here. Uma is a lonely woman, left by her husband and rejected by her family, she live a life of pain and agony. She does not speak. The villagers speak for her as if she can not speak. The cruelty of village life is reflected in the eyes of Uma. Even a child can scold her in front of every one to the ‘delight’ of all the elders.
She shares the pain of Lalli but only say that she was not at home. Every one is speaking the same language of not being there. How is it possible in the village where you can see huge crowd on a small issue, that a woman is being robbed, molested and none of them has seen it. The police will work for a few days and after some time when ‘situation’ comes back to normalcy. Villagers know it well that they will have to respond again and as there is no ‘witness’ to the case, Lalli Devi may not get justice. The only possibility is that a few politicians and administration would try to ‘compensate’ her honor in a few thousands rupees. But Lalli Devi says,’ Sir, I was born here. My parents and grand parents lived her for so long. I can not leave this place. This is my home. I want to die here only’ But the pressure is on her to leave as none is ready to cooperate with her and we all know after several years the judiciary would not be able to give her justice. Lalli Devi knows that politicians are coming; media is highlighting the issue but just for a few days. After that she will remain alone along with her husband and a child. ‘Politicians promise a lot but I know they never come back’, says Lalli.
While Lalli says she did not face any caste based discrimination but the fact is isolation and ghettoisation is a way of life in the villages and accepted norms. As her opponents are charging her as a close associate with Pradhan she says categorically that she neither knows the Sarpanch nor wants to get involved in their activity. How will he be interested in us, she asks.
As I move around in the Pasi locality, lot of signs boards are there putting slogans of NREGS, promising bright future for the villagers. ‘Why should you leave village when the work is at home’, portray a slogan. The question one must ask these people as why migration is increasing. Is it just for work or it is for dignity also. What do we expect from people like Lalli Devi? Will she be allowed to live a life peacefully in the village by the feudal structure?
There is scarcity of water in the village. In the hamlet of Pasis, for over 25 families, they have just one water connection. So it is war among the poor. One family pay Rs 18/- a month apart from basic investment of Rs 3000/- yet no water on time. ‘Of course, water will be here for a few days as Netas come here and TV cameras roam around, but once things die down, nothing happen. It will again be the same politics of Mishras and Tiwaris, says a villager. None of them have land and yet less than 10% of them have the BPL card. It is shameful, say an old man that all the landless people have APL card. As far as the job card is concern, they do not get any work. Poor people do not even know that they have to apply for the job. They feel it is a favor by the village Pradhan or some political party.
Lalli Devi’s honor was violated at Sheetalpur Tikari. Her house has been demolished. Even the police admit that she was beaten mercilessly though they do not agree with everything that Lalti Devi speak. The issue is much bigger here. Is the crime against her less serious? What is the police doing. Has it really taken investigation to a conclusion? How will it destroy the nexus of the money lending upper castes who are illegally grabbing lands of the Dalits in these areas? Our experience shows that the police and authorities try to shut your mouth by compensating the person. They know well that after some days the issue would close down.
Human Rights are meant for each citizens of the country. A truly democratic governance structure should ensure that the most marginalized and tiniest minority must feel safe and secure. Our villages do not provide that confidence where the women like Lalli Devi feel secure and can live a life with freedom and dignity. The goons can come any time and assault her and our structure try to compensate it in a few thousand rupees while condoning the racist nature of our society. Though the police can not fight such violence, it can best do the work impartially and take the case to a logical conclusion. It will take long time. How can we ensure justice to Lalli Devi. Can our Human Rights bodies take any action against the authorities and follow it up? But if it takes years to get justice then how will Lalli and her family remain free and safe from the violence of the village and that of the goons? Will the police act against its own officers who denied that nothing happened and Lalli was lying?
Indian villages need radical changes. India administration needs bigger changes so that the democratic thought can flourish and women like Lalli Devi do not live in constant fear and humiliation. Can we grow and ensure that each one in the country live in dignity and self respect? Right now, we can only wait for justice to Lalli.
courtesy : Countercurrents.org