December 3, 2006

Had jessica been a dalit, Ram Jethmalani would have had it easy

Last week, a leading media house organised a conclave in which the who’s who of Indian Polity, Civil Society and global leaders came and spoke on what they think about India’s future potential. They also talked of how eventually India is going to tread on the path of becoming a major economic and military powerhouse, while remaining a democratic (ahem!!), secular and truly sensitive society (sigh!!). It was indeed inspirational as the global leaders showered adjectives like ‘Super Power’, ‘Knowledge Superpower’, ‘melting pot of politics, culture and ethos’ etc., for India. All that is fine, but I wonder as to which India were they referring to. And I fear that we are increasingly thinking about, and building & taking only a miniscule part of urban India towards the growth trajectory, whereas the majority of rural India is being comprehensively neglected and calculatively forgotten. It is hypocritical that amidst all the developments that we boast of, we forget that it is the same nation which has been pathetically ranked at 126th in the Human Development Index of UNDP. The socio-economic divide is ostensibly visible in each and every socio-economic sphere of Indian livelihood. To an extent that a crime which is considered heinous and punishable in any humane society is often accepted to be a matter of ‘pride’ in many parts of our rural/non-urban hinterland. Amidst all the glitz and glory in the name of ‘Super’progress, even today, caste and religion (more often than not) are responsible for thousands of brutal massacres and heart-rendering xenophobic killings.A case in point is the recent massacre of a family of four in the village of Kherlanji in Bhandara district of Maharashtra. The bone of contention for this gruesome incident was a piece of land, which was owned by a ‘Dalit’ named Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, and the dispute was with some upper caste villagers. For this dispute, the price was paid by Bhotmange’s family consisting of Surekha (wife), Priyanka (daughter) and sons Roshan and Sudhir. Our fact finding team at TSI investigated and found that they were all stripped naked, beaten up and hacked to death along with relentless gang-raping of 18 year old Priyanka. Eventually she died of it. The vengeance did not end there. Some beasts, in the garb of humans, continued to rape her even after she was reduced to a corpse. To any sane human being, this incidence would give cold feet and send shivers across the spine, but the irony is that not a single champion of social development came forward, not a single emperor of secularism and socialism even thought of speaking out, nobody even cared for an investigation, no politician went on any fast; and there was no rally in the country. All this in a country where pseudo-secularists don’t mind organising a march against the death sentence of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein, or assertively ask for mercy for a terrorist like Afzal Guru, and defend militant organizations like SIMI, than fight to seek justice for Priyanka. What I fail to understand is, in this country when in one hand it becomes a national imperative to fight for the likes of Jessica and Priyadarshini and demand justice for them, on the other, why does it not become the same for Priyanka? Is it because Priyanka was born to a ‘Dalit’ family who stayed in an irrelevant village of an obscure district?The quandary is that it is not a one-off stray incident. And the paradox is, while the rhetoric of all round developmental talks go on, hundreds of such Bhaiyyalals and their families across India are being butchered. And we let that occur. It happens like this almost every other minute – fault or no fault, ‘Dalits’ are stripped, paraded, disgraced, and even then if some amount of dignity is left, it is nullified with a gang-rape and finally hacked to death. So, for the near 170 million vulnerable ‘Dalits’ and Scheduled Castes, development is just fiction and injustice a norm. And that goes on to indicate how much we have developed and on what growth trajectory we actually stand, as a nation. The bleeding dead corpse of Priyanka and similar other disgraced ‘Dalits’ scream aloud the appalling developmental divide. To then blow the trumpet of development is nothing but a complete sham on the part of the polity and the civil society. No matter at what pace India grows, how much it has in forex and to what extent it’s political class champions the cause of the underprivileged through commissioning committees and provisioning reservations, till the time India makes sure that for the likes of Priyanka, being ‘Dalit’ itself is not a sin enough to be punished through brutal rape and murder, every achievement is futile. And all development elusive, because at the end, we have failed to create a humane society.What more, the mother of all ironies – ‘Dalit’ Priyanka was an NCC cadet and dreamt of joining the Indian Armed Forces some day. This entire episode makes me pity Manu Sharma. Perhaps Ram Jethmalani would not have had to face a national outcry, had Jessica been a ‘Dalit’.

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