October 21, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

Shock to the system

On Wednesday, October 16, Virender Singh, Dayachand, Kailash, Raju Gupta and Tota Ram were beaten to death in a town in Jhajjar district, Haryana, with two of them also being torched. Their age group: 20-something. Religion: Hindu. Crime: skinning a cow.

According to one report, a group of men returning from the Dusshera fair informed the local Dharamshala that a cow was being skinned alive. Within minutes, the district magistrate, two Hindu priests and some local VHP leaders reached the scene of the "crime." By then, the five young men had sought refuge at the Dulena police post. However, within an hour, a crowd of about 2,000 gathered around the police chowki, dragged the Dalits out and lynched them to the cries of “Gau Mata Ki Jai.” That act was witnessed by the city magistrate, the deputy superintendent of police of Jhajjar and Bahadurgarh, the municipal corporator’s husband, the Block Development Officer and no less than 50 policemen.

According to another report, the men who’d seen the Dalits skinning the cow had thrashed the victims and brought them to the police post. Also, family members of the victims rejected the police theory of mob frenzy and deemed the murders as custody deaths: "The police beat them up when they refused to pay extortion money for being allowed to carry animal skins... The men travelling in the truck were not carrying the tools needed to skin a cow," said Virender’s father. "When they refused to pay, they were beaten up and a case registered under the Cow Slaughter Act. Since one of them got seriously injured, they had no option but to spread the story that they were killing a cow," said Dayachand’s father.

Two days after the five Dalits were lynched, the local administration sent the carcass of the cow for a post mortem, to find out whether the victims had skinned the cow when it was dead or when alive. "We want to know whether the victims actually killed the cow or whether they were removing skin from a dead animal," said City Magistrate Raj Pal Singh.

Actually, the details contained in the various news reports on the Jhajjar incident do not tally, especially in the progression of the events leading to the lynching. Nor do the police statements make any sense. For instance, were the Dalits skinning the cow on the roadside near the police chowki, or were they riding in a mini-truck when they were spotted? Why would anybody, leave alone its specialists, skin a cow near a police post? Was the mob 2,000-strong, or was it 5,000, as stated in the FIR? If the mini-truck was laden only with rawhide, from where did the police get the carcass? Why would a truck driver, his helper, and a trader from another town be party to skinning an animal? If the Dalits were "first 'spotted' at 6.30 pm," how could they be brought to the “police post in Dulina at about 6.15 pm”? Why did the police send a carcass for autopsy when it had already filed an FIR against the victims under the Cow Slaughter Act? And so on and so forth.

But, does any of it really matter...? The uncontested fact is, 5 Dalits were murdered –- and murdered by Hindus, whether mob or police. Secondly, if, indeed, a cow -– dead or alive -– was in the picture at all, that situation gives rise to another revolting fact: 5 young men were murdered because of one animal.

And not just murdered. When Raju Gupta’s father -– informed a good 6 hours after the incident that his son was injured in an "accident" -– rushed to the Jhajjar Civil Hospital, he couldn’t identify the bodies: "They were half burnt, their eyes gouged out," he said.

However, the reaction that followed is even more horrendous:

  1. The priest of the local temple: "If they can kill our mother then what if we kill our brothers who kill her."
  2. The VHP’s local chief, Ramesh Saini: "I will say it in front of the police that what they were doing was wrong and they deserve to be punished."
  3. The local Shiv Sena leader, Shishu Pal, admitted that the lynching was wrong but that "could not have been helped."
  4. The local office-bearers of the VHP and Sena submitted a memorandum to the police forbidding them from taking action against the guilty.

And all this for a goddamn cow -– a quadruped that many VHP supporters living in America eat. This fills me with immense rage. What #*&^%$# Gau Mata? Like the pig, it’s a bloody animal which the majority of the human population eats. Even if the GODDAMN cow was skinned alive by the 5 men, which scripture, which court, which Constitution, which rational person sanctions death for them...?

I’d once written, vis-à-vis the Bombay riots, "It’s all a matter of perspective: some set ablaze human beings because a pile of bricks is rearranged, and some kill when humans are roasted alive." Today, that sentiment is ashes. For, Hindus have tortured and killed with not a shred of justification at command. They killed because -– or because they were told that -– an animal was killed. There was no eye for which eyes were gouged out. More than Gujarat, it’s Jhajjar that’s a a shock to my system.

Time and again, I’ve found myself taking up for the VHP, ABVP or Shiv Sena while propagating issues that I espouse, or when perceiving instances of injustices and corrupt reportage. But the truth is, these organisations, at the very least, embarrass the hell out of me. I cannot conceive of proclaiming as my leader a person who asks for a Hindu chief minister for Jammu & Kashmir, calls Narendra Modi "the third hero of Hindutva" and Sonia Gandhi, "Italy ni kutri" (the bitch from Italy). I flinch at the thought of defending people who run around setting ablaze Valentine’s Day cards, halting beauty pageants, seeking to replace the Gregorian calendar with a "Bharatiya Hindu" version, banning the "Christian" New Year celebrations, imposing "shalin" dress-codes for schoolgirls, threatening clubs and discos for "polluting our culture," and opposing disinvestment.

What has the VHP and its choir boys accomplished in all these decades? Where’s the Ram temple? Why are Adivasis converting to Christianity, and Dalits, to Islam? When was the last time you heard of a VHP jatha to Bangladesh or the UN to plead the cause of the bloodied and battered Hindu minority of that Islamic country? What is its position on the condition of Bali’s Hindus? How much does it help the Hindus of Trinidad and Fiji? Nothing. Zero. Instead, it pressures the police to stay clear of thugs who slaked their casteist blood-thirst in the name of "Gau Mata." I want to vomit.

No, this is utterly incompatible with my worldview. It is a tragedy for people like me –- and we’re a very sizable percentage -– that there is no forum, no political group, that represents us. And because there is none such that fits the bill, these Hindu Talibs wreck havoc in the country, comfortable in the belief that alert Hindus have no option but to support them. That must stop. The support must end. And if that entails cutting off my nose to spite my face -– so be it.

What we have seen in Jhajjar is, sadly, nothing new. It is a fact that, whether sanctioned by Hindu scriptures or not, caste discrimination exists and that "lower castes" are treated far worse than one would treat dogs. Like all other religions, Hinduism, too, has problematic and anachronistic areas -– the worst of which is jaati dharma –- which need to be reformed, and fast. It does not behoove a people who slaughter their own on the basis of Manu Smriti to ask Islamists to do away with the Quranic concept of jihad. And, puh-lease, stuff that argument about caste having no grounding in the scriptures: Whether that’s true or not, the people who have been perpetrating discrimination and violence against Dalits since hundreds of years believe it to be so, and that’s all that matters. The message of equality –- which should have been spread by the self-proclaimed protectors of Hinduism –- has never been spread, and upper- caste society remains barbaric in its treatment of Dalits.

On Friday, The Indian Express published an amazing article, Road to conversion: the Chakwada detour by Udit Raj, chairman of The All-India Confederation of SC\ST Organisations, whom I’ve panned in previous columns. "Amazing" because the author totally avoids pinko dialectics and phraseology, and approaches the Dalit issue without abusing Hinduism –- I urge you to read it. Udit Raj focuses on the problems faced by Dalits, the injustices committed by the "upper castes," and in doing so, touches a chord in me that few others have.

Thing is, the content of his article is nothing that we haven’t seen before; however, his mode of arguing sets this analysis apart from all that he -– or any other Dalit activist -– has written so far. It is tragic that all Dalit protesters (and I don’t include among the genuine activists), have been influenced by Communism, adopted the pinko hatred for Hinduism, and used Leftist metaphors in their fight for justice. Their antagonism -– even though fully justified -– only served to aggravate the very condition they sought they remove. For, if you really want to alienate the average Hindu, go ahead, use the Communists’ methods for seeking rights from us.

Yes, caste is ingrained in Hindu society, and will take at least a hundred years to be washed off, if at all that can be done. However, the worst carriers of this disease are not the "upper caste" thugs of Jhajjar or Koothirambakkam. No way! These townspeople and villagers are just the symptom. The disease is spread by the educated, urban doctors, teachers, professionals, etc, who glide through life mouthing platitudes about equality and the evils of caste while at the same time enforcing it within their own environment. I have seen it, felt it and, once, even faced it (in Madras, from an oh-so-secular, oh-so-enlightened TamBram).

This is the class whence should emerge the reformers of Hinduism, those who would enforce the law of equality in the bureacratic and administrative systems, in educational and social set-ups, and broadcast that song to the interiors. But, this is the very class that imposes the glass ceiling against Dalits -– which is far more difficult to dismantle than overt intra-caste hostilities. There is no introspection among the Hindu elite. They do not realise that if caste discrimination continues, Hindu numbers will shrink till Hinduism exists no more. And maybe it shouldn’t. After all, rules of the jungle still apply: Only the fittest shall survive.

Varsha Bhosle

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