India: BJP Under Fire Amid Atrocities Against Dalits

BenarNews Staff
New Delhi
160725-IN-dalits-620.jpg An Indian Dalit woman waits for a relatives to be released from a police station in Dholka, Gujarat state, after protesters were detained for damaging vehicles and disturbing the peace, July 21, 2016.

A spate of attacks on a lower-caste Indian community, which prompted a wave of anti-government protests, may come back to hurt India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party in key state assembly elections next year, experts said.

As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prepares for March 2017 polls in Uttar Pradesh state, where low-caste Dalits make up more than 20 percent of its 204 million voters, the BJP-led coalition will “have to tread a cautious path,” political commentator Ajoy Ashirwad said.

“[T]here seems to be a vibrant Dalit movement, mostly comprising of youth, fast emerging in various parts of rural India. While the BJP refuses to acknowledge it, many other parties have upped the ante and launched both direct and indirect attacks against the BJP,” Ashirwad wrote on The Wire, an Indian website.

“As Dalits begin to fiercely assert themselves in mainstream politics, even traditionally upper caste parties like the BJP will have to rethink their political strategy in future,” he added.

The nearly 180 million-strong Dalit community, relegated to the bottom of Hinduism’s rigid caste hierarchy, has been at the receiving end of frequently violent caste-related discrimination for centuries. But the attacks have increased since the right-wing BJP took power two years ago, government critics say.

According to the latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau, violence against Dalits, who comprise of 17 percent of the country’s 1.25 billion people, is up by 44 percent since 2010.

The BJP, however, has rejected the charge that attacks against the lower-caste community have increased during its rule.

“Our government is not about to tolerate any physical or verbal abuse against Dalits,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in parliament, adding that the same number of such incidents took place even when the previous government was in power.

String of assaults

On July 11, four Dalit men who work at a tannery in Gujarat – the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – were tied to an SUV and publicly flogged for hours by self-styled cow vigilantes after they were found skinning a dead cow, according to reports.

The assaulters, who claimed to be affiliated to one of the country’s many “gau raksha samitis” – or cow protection committees – also posted a video of the thrashing on YouTube as a warning. This triggered protests in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

In Hindu majority India, consumption of beef is banned because the cow, known as “gau mata,” or mother cow, is considered holy and is worshipped because she gives milk.

As of late Monday, at least 15 Dalits in Gujarat had attempted suicide as a show of protest against the assault on members of their group, local news reports said.

The police so far have arrested 16 men who allegedly partook in the assault.

In an incident in south India’s Karnataka state, the police over the weekend booked seven members of the right-wing group Bajrang Dal, after they allegedly beat a Dalit family over suspicions that they had slaughtered a cow last week.

In Maharashtra on Friday, two Dalit youths alleged that they were beaten up by a group of 25 people for overtaking a vehicle in the state’s Beed district.

The beating got worse after the group spotted a photograph of a Dalit rights icon on the duo’s motorcycle, the two men said in a complaint file with police.

And on Sunday, a 14-year-old Dalit girl who was kidnapped and raped repeatedly by an upper-caste man for days, died of related injuries at a New Delhi hospital.

‘Her pain is over now’

According to the girl’s relatives, the accused, who was arrested Saturday, forced the girl to drink a corrosive substance after raping her.

“She was forced to drink some sort of acid. For two months since she had been in hospital, she was suffering from excruciating pain. At some level, I am relieved that her pain is now over,” the girl’s uncle told BenarNews.

In Haryana on Sunday, police said they had arrested four of five men who allegedly gang-raped a 21-year-old Dalit woman for the second time in three years.

The accused, who had allegedly first raped the woman in the state’s Bhiwani town in 2013 but were later let out on bail, drugged and raped her again earlier this month after she refused to drop the case against them, according to the victim’s complaint to the police.

The victim’s brother, requesting anonymity, told BenarNews that the accused tried to dissuade the family from pursuing the case forcing the family to move to another town.

“But they continued to threaten us. Even the police did not pay heed to our repeated complaints,” he said.

Rejecting the family’s allegation of police negligence, Deputy Superintendent of Police Pushpa Khatri said the investigation into the victim’s complaint was ongoing.

“The condition of the girl is stable, and we are offering her psychological counseling to her to overcome the trauma,” Khatri told BenarNews.

The recent incidents of violence against Dalits are bound to affect the BJP’s performance when Uttar Pradesh went to polls next year, according to political analyst Rupesh Verma.

“Such incidents have come at a time when the BJP was trying to win back Dalit confidence. And they could very well prove costly,” he told BenarNews.

Soni Sangwan and Akash Vashishtha in New Delhi contributed to this report.


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