REPUBLIC OF FEAR: ‘India is hostile to its weakest and poor, there is no justice for them’—interview with a reporter

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India has always been a profoundly violent country. Yet the vocabulary about this violence remains deeply muted and limited. The routinized violence experienced by the country’s marginalized—Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis, poor, and women—is not only denied but also hidden behind a language of neutrality. Like in Adrienne Rich’s words, “This is the oppressor’s language yet I need it to talk to you,” the language used to report, narrate, and understand these acts of violence and dehumanization remains the language of the oppressor.

The contemporary moment in India—lynching, caste violence, and judicial apathy that repeatedly fails to convict murderous men—thus demands that we think about these grotesque acts of violence not as a spectacle but as a continuum, not in isolation but in relation to language, history and media representations of caste and religion. In 1996, African-American reporter and then South Asia bureau chief of Washington Post Kenneth J. Cooper wrote, “India’s majority lower castes are minor voices in newspapers.” After 20 years, Cooper observations remain valid. Here oppression, erasure, and obfuscation of truth all occur in copy-editing. 

In India, there are only a handful of reporters who have now consistently and accurately reported on the recent upswing in violence. In this conversation, Suchitra Vijayan of The Polis Project speaks to Sagar, a Delhi-based journalist who uses only one name. From the frontlines of reporting on caste and identity-based violence comes a tour de force of observations that implicates the nature of media, the politics of identity and representation, and most importantly how truth dies in the pursuit of justice. Sagar’s candid and raw considerations shine a stark and disturbing siege against India’s more vulnerable and how the fissures of caste and religion have grown into epistemic fractures that have birthed a new republic—of fear. 

by Suchitra Vijayan

Polis: You have done some of the most comprehensive reporting on lynchings and caste violence for The Caravan. Can you tell us about how and why you started reporting on these events?

Sagar: I started as a crime reporter in a regional English daily in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, where I also covered the State Human Rights Commission. There were many cases of caste violence in the city and districts away from the capital, and I would meet people coming with their complaints and petitions. It was a discovery even for me. These cases, even when involving serious crime, many even in the city, were never reported. These included crimes like someone’s house being demolished because they belonged to the Scheduled Caste, or physical assault.

Caste was the central point of any crime. Birth and identity were the basis on which people were attacked. Not just individuals, entire communities were attacked with swords, rifles, their houses burnt, demolished.I tried to understand why these cases were not being reported. The standard newsroom procedure was you reported a crime only after the police registered it, and there were thousands of such unregistered cases. People would write a complaint only for it to remain with the police forever. And editors would simply say, “You say there is this a crime, somebody got beaten up, even raped. But what proof do you have? How do I believe you are not making it up?” A living human testifying as much just wasn’t enough, even as we took the opposite side’s version.

But there was also the factor of personal bias, something I personally witnessed. I’ve worked with four news publications. Usually, the editorial desk edits and approves a reporter’s copy. Any story that a reporter comes with has to go through this layer, and if there’s a barrier here the story cannot go. Editors also see these crimes differently. They treat them as normal violence—fight, quarrel, riot—but not as something based on caste. This too was a discovery for me.

So I covered these day-to-day crimes, moving from one paper to another, from Hyderabad to Bhubaneswar, until I joined The Caravan [a major long-form magazine in India] where I got to write longer, more detailed pieces, documenting aspects ignored by most in the media.

In Delhi, editors were more liberal. For them it was just work, thorough work covering all sides. It was just what I used to do earlier but The Caravan liked it better and kept sending me to cover caste violence. For the first time, I could go deep into the background of the story. And it was the same story. Caste was the central point of any crime. Birth and identity were the basis on which people were attacked. Not just individuals, entire communities were attacked with swords, rifles, their houses burnt, demolished. This is what I reported from Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Haryana, gruesome crimes, people killed, their houses burnt, their women raped, stripped and paraded in public. And the common link was the communities belonged to a certain caste. In all their respective states, they were the lowest of the low in the Hindu caste hierarchy.

I wanted to go in on this point. Traditionally, most of this violence is reported as crime along with its gory details but little in-depth, granular analysis in terms of caste, class, power, and land rights. Why?

So, basically, for the Indian media to mention caste, somebody first has to die, a riot has to take place.The main thing again is the understanding of caste violence. It starts from there. Only when caste is understood as a basis for conflict could you expect news and copy editors to understand. And you are right, only the gory things get reported. That’s a pattern and unless someone gets killed the news isn’t published.

Like in a labour court in Bhubaneswar, the judge told a labourer, “You can’t enter my court, you belong to the lowest caste.” It was worse, I can’t express it in English. In the local language, it’s very offensive and humiliating, the kind of words they use. How does this labourer now know what’s happening in the court? Then there was a medical student in Bhubaneswar who belonged to an Adivasi community, India’s aboriginals. The principal held her by her hair and said, “You people don’t belong in this place. You come on government doles,” referring to reservations, “Your only aukaat [worth] is for cleaning jobs.” These cases don’t get reported because no one is killed or gunned down.

In Saharanpur, some Dalit youths came to protest upper caste violence—many Dalit homes had been burnt—and they burnt tyres and stopped the traffic. It became news but the news was not the village was attacked but that Dalit youths burnt tyres and stopped traffic. So, basically, for the Indian media to mention caste, somebody first has to die, a riot has to take place.

Also, it is only the identity of the oppressed, the Scheduled Caste, the Scheduled Tribe that is mentioned. If a Thakur kills a Dalit, the Thakur identity is not disclosed. He becomes an upper caste: “Upper caste kills Dalit.” But the Dalit is identified by his caste name: Dhobi, Valmiki, Bhangi, Dom, Pasi, or Musahar. Read the papers any day, you will see words like Dalits and Musahars and Dom. But you will never find, “Brahmins kill Dalits,” or “Brahmins ostracized a certain community.” They become upper castes. It makes them invisible, unidentifiable. You never know who the oppressor is, who the upper caste is. Some foreign media like the BBC name them. When I came to The Caravan, I started identifying the perpetrators of these crimes. But that is not the standard practice.

All this has a lot to do with the reporters and editors who work on these copies. In my seven or eight years of experience, the general response I’ve got from them is: “How do you say it’s a caste crime?” Or, “Maybe the Adivasi medical student was punished for indiscipline, maybe she jumped out of the hostel.” After all, parallel rumours also flourish, like the principal beat up the girl because she “disappeared” during the night. So the editor would rather believe that truth because it is “their” truth, not the truth I bring him straight from the girl’s mouth.

This has lot to do with the representation of what we call the Bahujan, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, and Other Backward Classes that’s lacking in the Indian media. In any organization you will hardly find a single Dalit, Adivasi, or OBC even though the three communities constitute over 60-70 percent of Indian population. We are not the writers, we are not the editors. In any organization you will hardly find a single Dalit, Adivasi, or OBC even though the three communities constitute over 60-70 percent of Indian population. We are not the writers, we are not the editors.

Even the way an upper caste looks at a story is different. Like in Saharanpur, where dozens of houses of Chamars, the lowest caste Dalits, were burnt by the upper caste Thakurs. Dominant newspapers in Delhi, so called national newspapers, reported it as a clash between “two groups” or “Dalits and upper castes.” Now when you say “clash” or “riot” or just “fight” you mean there are two equal sides fighting. But they are not equal. You are hiding facts. When I went there I discovered it was a pre-planned, almost one-sided attack. There was a background to the whole incident, which is why there was devastation more on… I won’t even say more but devastation only on one side. I visited both sides.

In Indian villages, communities live in clusters. Dalits live outside the village while the upper caste concentrate on the fertile land. I visited both the clusters and the damage was obvious. On one side houses were razed to the ground, household articles burnt and people killed and admitted in hospitals. On the other side, it was a completely normal picture. Big houses with no damage, no one arrested, people casually walking around, kids playing on the streets. On the Dalit side, there was no one on the streets; half of them were in hospitals. And this was so obvious, you don’t need a Dalit reporter to see this. But this was not what the newspapers were reporting. The ground nowhere gave a sense that there was mutual attack.

This is how the Indian media reports most incidents. I can’t doubt their personal integrity without proof but seeing their reports I can only say they either don’t understand it or they can’t question their own caste.

Since 2015, there have been 83 instances of lynchings in India. 

A lot of your reports investigate a singular event, and yet this violence has a long history of oppression and repression used against these communities. For example, there are lynchings, but lynchings are not the only story. There is a long history that leads to this violence. Tell us about that.

But the fact is, and I can say at least whenever and wherever I have reported, there’s constant hatred towards Muslims or Dalits from the majority Hindu community. It is very unfortunate that many of these lynchings, again, have been reported as one-off incidents, something that happened “out of rage.” In criminal law, the punishment for such crimes is less as compared to pre-planned crimes. So the police and media show these lynchings as such—that some people gathered somewhere, something happened and they killed someone. It gives a lot of leeway to the perpetrators.

But the fact is, and I can say at least whenever and wherever I have reported, there’s constant hatred towards Muslims or Dalits from the majority Hindu community. Like in Ramgarh, a Muslim was killed. He was being watched for over three months, the local people who killed him told me as did the police off record. Even the IG said, on record, the person was being tailed for a long time including the day he was killed. One person was doing a recce since morning, then they caught him in the market and killed him there. The reason most of the time is to establish fear, to assert religious supremacy: that we are Hindus, that we can kill a poor Muslim just to make this statement, that now it’s our time, that we can do whatever we want.

So they choose their targets very meticulously. Most of the victims of lynching come from a community who for a living traditionally slaughter animals that are of no use anymore to sell them in the market. In Jharkhand, Hapur, and elsewhere too, people who were killed were Qureshis by caste, whose job is to slaughter animals. So they know cases they can disguise as gau-raksha (cow protection) and blame the person for carrying beef even though he is doing his job, selling meat. Now beef is banned in almost all of India barring a few states, and they know these things. They know “this is the man, he is Muslim, he is poor, his job is to slaughter animals, so we will find him someday, where everyone can see, and we will lynch him for cow slaughter.”

In almost none of these cases was it proven the victim was in possession of meat. Sometimes there’s no cow at all, like in Hapur. Elsewhere, the meat found near the victim bodies wasn’t beef. It is a tragedy, a person is killed and the priority is to find what animal’s meat was found on the crime scene.

But there is always more background. Either the particular constituency has a big Muslim population and the Hindu party probably is not winning elections so they want to fix them or do something that brings fear in the community so the next time they either don’t vote or vote in favour of the Hindu party. It’s teaching them a lesson. Sometimes it’s the shakhas at play. These are basically camps for Hindu militant groups that train themselves in weapons like lathis (sticks), sometimes even guns. They exist in mohallas, in streets all over India. Then there are people who run shelters where young men are taught Hindu history and trained in fighting. Now, suppose the population of Muslims or Muslims and Dalits combined in a state or national constituency is more than that of the Hindus or upper caste, they don’t like this. When in power they try to teach them a lesson.

Sometimes the problem is deeper like in Saharanpur where Dalit houses were burnt. The upper caste had prevented the installation of Dr. Ambedkar’s statue in their village with help from the police and administration a few weeks before. The day this riot happened, the upper caste wanted to take out a procession to honour a Hindu Rajput king that the Dalits disallowed through their street though, they told me, they only objected to the DJ. Most such processions for Hindu or militant Hindu kings are to mobilise popular sentiment and give a message to the Dalits that “we are the rulers here and we are the one under whom you have to live.” So they play loud music, dance in front of their houses, abuse Dr. Ambedkar raising slogans against him, and use all kinds of Hindi slurs. So it’s not a procession but a demonstration of caste supremacy.

Similar things happened before the Babri Masjid demolition when Hindu right-wing leader LK Advani organised the “Rath Yatra” that travelled throughout the country with RSS support. Everywhere he went, it caused deadly violence and often the Yatra was seen as the beginning of mobilising the Hindu popular vote.

Also, caste violence and lynching is not something that happens suddenly. It’s a culmination of long-time caste oppression and political strategy.Yes, that is exactly what happened in Saharanpur. This was the background, there is always a background. But caste violence is not reported the way it should be even though it’s very obvious. I didn’t stay there (Saharanpur), I don’t belong there, so I’m a sort of parachute journalist too. When something happens I go there in a car and in a few hours, my work is done. Probably, I’m able to see these things because I have a different perspective, I don’t know. I mean this is so obvious, all it takes is to speak to the people and see things with their eyes: where is the greater damage?

Also, caste violence and lynching is not something that happens suddenly. It’s a culmination of long-time caste oppression and political strategy. From my experience as a crime reporter in various states, the police side with the upper caste. Whenever I interview police officers, say the rank of DSP, SP or IG, they almost speak on behalf of the upper caste. Instead of talking about the person killed, they defend the perpetrators. Like in Saharanpur Dalit houses were burnt, so the perpetrators, the Thakurs, should have been arrested. But the police said the Dalits also threw stones, so they had to arrest both of them. I said, “Fine, you file charges against the Thakurs too but I see you have arrested only the Dalits.” And they said, “We will arrest the Thakurs too but they are not at home.” Now, I simply went to visit the houses of the accused and they were very much there. Within three or four hours I identified them, found them normally in their houses or walking the streets.

 

On 18 June, two men were mercilessly beaten up in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, over suspicion of cow slaughter. Thirty-nine-year-old Qasim was beaten to death while 65-year-old Shaimuddin (in the image ) was severely injured. (Credits – The Quint)

In the Hapur case, sitting in Delhi watching the video—they always have a video of the killing—you could clearly see the perpetrators. I went to the village, asked people to see the video and identify the persons and they immediately give me their addresses. I went there and spoke to the perpetrators and their families, and found them living normal lives. Yet the police would tell me they are not the ones, defending the upper caste, weakening the case. They don’t file an FIR or if they do, they do it in a way that doesn’t need action. Weapons used are never collected as evidence.

What could be more tragic? You have a crime in video with identifiable persons with weapons in their hands, you have dying declarations, and even then you file cases against “unknown people.” In India, if you don’t have the name of the person in an FIR, it is very difficult to establish their crime, and so far there hasn’t been any conviction. And if there is a conviction in the lower court, the higher courts let them go. Like in Jharkhand, people were convicted for killing Alimuddin, a Muslim, for carrying beef. His killing was recorded on camera and the lower court convicted the accused. But soon most of them were granted bail by the higher court on the ground that while seen in the video they were not seen beating or assaulting the victim. That’s the kind of logic employed and accepted by the police and courts.What could be more tragic? You have a crime in video with identifiable persons with weapons in their hands, you have dying declarations, and even then you file cases against “unknown people.”

What happens to these communities after the violence, once media reports are done and the spotlight goes away? How do they rebuild their lives—“rebuild” might be a wrong word—how do they negotiate and navigate through such a system where they don’t even file names in the FIR?

 

Pictured here – Mariyam Khatoon, Alimuddin’s wife. Jalil Ansari’s wife was on her way home to pick his Aadhar Card when an unknown vehicle hit the motorbike she was riding pillion on

They cannot rebuild their lives. Most people killed are the only breadwinners in their families. They have children, large families. I won’t even say negotiate. What they are left with is to accept “this is who we are.” They live in a small room, with 5 or 6 members and no man in the family. To someone in America it may sound strange but this is how it is in India. If the man who earns dies, the family is destroyed. If you have a girl child, it becomes more difficult.

So far I’ve seen they don’t fight for justice, they fight for survival, something that will keep them afloat. Their purpose is not to get anyone arrested because they know no one is going to get arrested. They know these people have connections to the local MLAs, sometimes local party members are themselves involved. And I am not saying this only for the BJP. The Congress is just as much a Brahmin-Hindu party. It is a closely-knit society and the victim families know the killers but they can’t fight them. They fight for survival.

So they take any money that comes their way from the government as compensation—a lakh or two—whenever the incident gets reported in the media. Overnight the local collector goes to the house of the victim, tells them to take the compensation, not open their mouth, not speak to the media. They tell them the investigation is going on and get them to sign documents. Illiterate in most cases and the breadwinner gone, they just keep signing as long as the money comes in. Sometimes they do it for a mere Rs 20,000 (USD 270).

Like in Alimuddin’s case in Jharkhand, the district administration—the collector and the superintendent of police—went to them at midnight and gave Rs 20,000 and asked them to bury the dead body immediately so no evidence was left. With no hope for justice, the families just accept the money. Sometimes, they demand a job—peon, servant, anything—for a family member. The few that choose to fight, whether under the influence of different groups or otherwise, try to do so initially but end up paying a huge cost. In Alimuddin’s case they filed a case. Again, there was a video but nobody was named. Those named were not in the video—under pressure they’ll name a person who doesn’t exist at all.

In one of the trials in the lower court, there was just one witness who had to be produced. Many people had seen the crime, some of them perpetrators, others who did video shooting, but only one person who saw it all went back to the village and informed everyone and offered to be the witness. Sometimes, the entire community feels at risk and responds collectively to the crime thinking it’s Alimuddin today, tomorrow it could be one of them. But they never know how exhausting and costly it can be.

Before being produced before the judge the witness had to establish his identity. That’s the system, a person is nobody unless he has a document to prove otherwise. But this witness had forgotten his identity documents at home. He asked his wife to get it and Alimuddin’s son went to accompany her. On the way they were hit by another vehicle and the woman was killed—all on the hearing day. Again no one was arrested and the police called it a road traffic accident. Things that happen while you stand against the system or police! At times, everyone gets arrested. At times they lose their close ones, and remain absolutely under fear. So how do you expect them to go on? They just give up and withdraw from the case.

Then you have Akhlaq’s case, not far from Delhi. His son was in the air force. So, no matter how you serve your country, if you belong to a certain identity, certain religion, certain caste, these Hindu groups are going to come after you. And nobody will save you. And no conviction, nothing has happened. The system fails and nobody tracks it. If there is a conviction, they report it and start celebrating the judiciary. But when the perpetrators are released by the higher courts and garlanded by a minister, it is only the minister who makes it to the news, not those released on bail. Be it Jharkhand or Hapur, people were released, Qasim’s killers, Thakurs and Rajputs, were released on bail. This is how the agony of the poorest of the poor is covered in the media. Unless they die, there is no news. But in Jharkhand even when the witness’s wife died, I was the only one who reported it. The national media didn’t.

You made an important point that the Congress and BJP are not fundamentally different even as there’s a spike in violence under the BJP. Perhaps the reason is that violence is so foundational to Hinduism as a religion and to the Indian republic. Can you talk to us about it? Because somehow the narrative we get from almost all mainstream reporting including the liberal media is the idea of India as a secular, democratic republic, which is a very flawed way of looking at India, because India has never been secular for its most vulnerable, never been equal for its most marginalized.

Violence doesn’t always mean that you are going to attack someone with a weapon. It can be as simple a thing as denying a community access to water, denying them opportunities, not letting them walk through certain doors, not letting them enter certain temples. It’s not that we want to go to these temples but it’s the way we are classified as sub-human.I can’t comment on the parties because I haven’t [covered political parties]. But from their leaders’ statements and being on the ground, I can say they are no different. Even in cases of mob lynchings, over the last two to three years, Rahul Gandhi has rather sided with the Hindu majority, visiting temples with tikka on his forehead and claiming that he is as much a Hindu as [those in] the BJP. Recently, while talking about the exclusion [from the National Register of Citizens] of four million people in Assam, a Congress spokesperson said it was us (the Congress) who deported 80,000 Bangladeshis while the BJP deported only 1,800. So he was challenging the BJP saying “we are more pro-Hindu and against the so-called illegal immigrants than you are.” Clearly, they are not what is being projected—that they would be saviors and things would get under control. They think much like the BJP. Even on the ground, I never see any Congress party member supporting [the victims] in any way, like in terms of providing legal fees or some sort of security, even like telling them “okay, go ahead, we are behind you, nobody will touch you.” These victims are absolutely on their own.

Sometimes the regional parties give them some assurance like Samajwadi Party leaders visited Hapur. They go for political gains but at least it builds some confidence, so the family believes they can stand up to the perpetrators. But the Congress was not seen anywhere. I don’t know if they visited anywhere or talked of caste violence at all. They too talk about “all Indians” all the time. Nobody says that out of all these “Indians” the people who are killed belong to a certain caste or religion. These killings and these murders do have caste. It is not like “any Indian” is going to be killed. You are more likely to get killed if you are Dalit or Adivasi or Muslim. So, I wouldn’t comment on the political parties but yes, violence is a foundation of the Hindu religion. I can say that from my experience as someone born into such a community seeing several kinds of discrimination.

I feel uncomfortable talking about these things but it’s nobody’s concern. All Dalits, no matter whether a doctor, a media person, or anyone, they see things around them and know how things have been for them, and it’s mostly this religion that is forcing itself upon them through various means, inflicting violence on them. Violence doesn’t always mean that you are going to attack someone with a weapon. It can be as simple a thing as denying a community access to water, denying them opportunities, not letting them walk through certain doors, not letting them enter certain temples. It’s not that we want to go to these temples but it’s the way we are classified as sub-human.

And these things are too personal and I can’t say everything for maybe I also have my own personal bias. But I can say of the Hindu religion, the way it has grown, and the way it has been…

We see things around. I see temples and priests, and all they do is sit and worship God. And governments shower doles on them. These priests of big temples are called devsthanams, and they get a pension, they get land from the government, even special banks have been opened in Telangana for them. Crores of rupees come to the temples and the money is unaudited. These temples are run by a separate administration, a sort of state within a state. Whatever happens inside—finances or activities—is all outside the purview of the law of the land. They [priests] have such power that they can even heckle the president of the country. Just a few months ago the president visited the Jagannath temple in Bhubhneswar and he was heckled and pushed away because he is Dalit.

So if you have a certain caste and do nothing, you get everything from the government. On the other hand are those who work hard and build cities—the labourers, the poor, 80 percent of the poor are SC/ST—and if at all they get any assistance from the government, whether it’s ration or education, even symbolic—on the ground hardly half of them get benefitted—the narrative in the country is “these people depend on our money, the taxpayer money, that they get free food, free education and other things” and they are humiliated for this. Nobody asks why the priests get land, pension and banks and why crores of rupees in India’s temples are not audited.

So that’s the upper caste narrative, which becomes the national narrative, they decide everything they want. And that’s Hinduism.

Sagar, I want to finish this part of the interview with the question of justice. You said what victims of violence is some kind of assistance, that they pay a huge price for even standing up for what they think is right. Do they even think about justice? Like whether they can ever get it? Again, such things might not preoccupy them when their lives have been completely destroyed…

 

                                                       Family of Dadri lynching victim Akhlaq’s family

Absolutely not. In my interactions, I never felt there was any idea of justice. The family has lost someone. The family is so poor their only concern is who gets them food for the day. And seeking justice in India is expensive and involves going to people and institutions hostile to your community, Muslim, Dalit or Adivasi. Sometimes they try, but they see this hostility and they withdraw. Anybody would withdraw when threatened with further cases.

Like in Hapur, when Qasim was killed [and his friend Samiuddin grievously injured] for allegedly planning cow slaughter even though there was no cow found there. Their family members came to their rescue but they were threatened when Samiuddin’s brother went to file a case. Samiuddin survived, but Qasim died. One of the family members who went to the police told me the police officer said, “If you don’t write what I ask you to write, I will file a case against you and your brother… that your brother was involved in cow trafficking.” That’s how important the cow is.

So, you never dare—I would never dare—to seek justice when you see institutions, police, custodians of justice and people supposed to investigate and find the truth to be so blind, so against me that they threaten me with filing a case against me or my father or my dead brother. Why would I seek justice if it isn’t [in custody of] a neutral person? It’s in custody of the upper caste. Inspectors, sub-inspectors, DSPs, SPs, most of them are upper caste. In Hapur the inspector was Gurjar and the DSP Jat. So it’s just difficult to complain or to go after people who see you as the enemy. You see this across all caste crimes.

I came across many rapes and domestic violence cases of Dalit women. But the cases were not registered because the police thought they were seeking compensation. I came across many rapes and domestic violence cases of Dalit women. But the cases were not registered because the police thought they were seeking compensation. There is a provision under the SC/ST Act for compensation to rape victims. So the police assume that because the girl is an SC, she is a… I don’t know how to describe it. But it is casually said in front of the girl… that “you are ‘this kind’ of a girl” or “you are here only for money.” So how do you complain that you have been raped when you’re ruled by people with such belief?

As per Hindu scriptures, you can have intercourse with or rape Dalit women, they are for consumption, they exist only for upper caste male satisfaction while Brahmin women should not be touched. There is this belief among many in the police, crime reporters and other media persons. The moment they see a Dalit rape survivor they will judge her for coming to the police, for being a slut, for seeking money… and the money never comes. This is the face of justice in India.

There are cases where a Dalit house is demolished by an upper caste simply because he didn’t like a Dalit prosper and build his own house. So the upper caste comes with a bulldozer and demolishes it. When the Dalit goes to the police station, the police will assume—and I am saying all this from my experience of interacting with the police while nobody knew I was a Dalit too, so they’d speak openly, stories I’ve heard over a long time, stories that I’ve reported too—that this person’s house has not been demolished and he has come only to settle a score with the upper caste man.

It’s a common perception. Whoever reports under the SC/ST Act is believed to be a cheat who comes to the police only for monetary gain. Not just the police, ask any upper caste person, talk to him quietly and they will say “these people only misuse the Act.” And that’s also the thinking of the Supreme Court. Recently they tried to dilute the Act. And this belief also has sanction from Hindu scriptures carried on for ages and that is how they see the victims. So, justice? I don’t know, I haven’t seen it. What I do know is they just want to survive. All they say is “leave us alone, we don’t want to get involved with the police or courts, our person has died, we are not going to get anything.” So this idea of justice… justice that will take 12 or 20 years to deliver and that too only when it reaches the Supreme Court… just looks impossible. Even the Supreme Court comes in when Dalit groups working on the ground take up cases. But they can’t take up all the cases. Thousands of cases die in initial stages.

As I said, courts are expensive. You live here, you got to go to the district court, you got to go by bus, and the day you do, you got to lose your day’s wage. But these people earn on a daily basis, involved in work like construction and cleaning. They don’t get a leave. They have no labour security. They got to give up that money. And the state doesn’t help. They see you as someone who deserves these crimes. How would you feel if you were a rape victim and the police said you have come for money? How would you feel if you were Muslim, your loved one killed, and the police said if you don’t file it as a case of road rage they’d file a case against you? You are left with only one question: “what have I done?” And the only answer is you were born in this country, that is what. And that these people are in power. How would you feel if you were Muslim, your loved one killed, and the police said if you don’t file it as a case of road rage they’d file a case against you? You are left with only one question: “what have I done?” And the only answer is you were born in this country, that is what. And that these people are in power.

So you just give up. Anybody would give up.

If tomorrow it happens with me, what will I do? Best is to just stay away. Follow whatever the upper caste want. Especially when you are poor, like most of those lynched. You can fight if you have money, influence, a certain surname, and many people would come along too. But if you are Dalit or Muslim, people will find something wrong with you. The upper caste control the representation of minorities, SCs, STs, and OBCs in police, administration, courts, academics, universities, media. Their representation is too little. So how will the upper caste understand?

Sagar began his reporting career writing on civic issues for a community newspaper and later on crime for an English daily in Odisha. He later joined The Caravan in New Delhi as staff writer where he has reported on cases of atrocity and caste violence across the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. His work at The Caravan, including reportage on the controversial Rafale defence deal the Modi government signed with France, can be accessed here@SagarChoudhary_ 

Suchitra Vijayan is founding director, The Polis Project, Inc. @suchitrav 

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