Two kids who happened to be born in the Valmiki community became victims of the deep-rooted caste hatred that the caste-Hindus have been nurturing since centuries. What was the fault of these kids? The fault is their being Dalits and that too of the community which is 'supposed' to keep the street and houses 'clean'. A community which has kept India clean and carried the dirt of the upper castes for centuries is not allowed to live a life with dignity. Most of the Valmiki bastis are out of sight for India's politicians and officials. Not even the activists go there.
About two decades ago, an English journalist wanted to report on the conditions of the manual scavengers in India and she told me that she would like to visit a family. I took her to a friend’s house in Trilokpuri. She was in her car and it was summer season. She was not willing to come out of the car when she saw the condition of that locality, yet I insisted. She came to the home but could not sit there for more than a minute. While I remained there, she decided to be in her car. This was the story of Delhi but elsewhere, India has criminally kept the community outside the developmental work.
That is why, I said the motives of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan must be questioned and are questionable if it does not have meaning for millions of those who have been kept untouchables and isolated just for keeping India and our houses clean. Why did Narendra Modi or his party not speak of the rampant discrimination that Valmikis and other manual scavenging communities face? The community suffers untouchability and discrimination not only from the Savarnas but at many places from OBCs as well as some other Dalit communities who feel that they are higher in the caste ladder. When did our schools teach our children that untouchability and caste discrimination is a crime? Did Swachh Bharat and its proponents ever speak about it? Why is the entire campaign to clean India not reaching the Valmiki bastis?
Look at the situation of Bhavkedhi village in Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh where two siblings, 10-year-old Avinash and 12-year-old Roshini, belonging to Manoj Valmiki's family were killed brutally by Hakam Yadav and Rameshwar Yadav, for defecating in the open. Nobody questioned the murder. According to the Indian Express, there are 300 families of Yadavs in the village, followed by Jatavs but there are merely two families of Valmikis. Both of them live in semi-constructed houses on the outskirts and do not have any toilet. As the village is dominated by the Yadavs, it is for sure that these Valmiki households could have been there for manual scavenging. Since the Yadavs might now have toilets at home, they would definitely be upset with the Valmiki community’s presence which serves no purpose now. The Valmikis said that there are deep rooted caste prejudices and untouchability against their children in the schools.
The villages in India are a copy of Manu's model and every basti is based on caste. The caste system is adhered to in full spirit and there is no sympathy towards the ‘other’ community. Look at this village. Two children are murdered brutally and there is no pain, shame or remorse among the 300 families of Yadavs. In fact, some of them are defending the act, some are suggesting that Hakam Singh was 'mentally unstable' and he would have killed anyone. These are pretexts to save them. Where were others when this happened? In a village, nothing happens in isolation, people gather in large numbers at the slightest noises and disputes. Later, the witnesses tend to remain silent fearing trouble.
Two siblings were murdered, and none of the villagers bothered to visit the victims’ family. The community is defending the criminals. This is caste hatred. That even after such a heinous crime, none from the other communities think of going and meeting the families, apologise to them, and assure them of justice. Right and wrongs become caste based. The criminals get strength from the assurance that their caste would stand with them, however grave your crime is. After some days, this case would be forgotten and things will go back to normal. I can say even the police will drop the case. If this Valmiki family makes noise, they will be lured with money to shut their mouths or threatened to leave the village.
India's constitutional provisions have not worked at the ground level in removing untouchability. Constitution actually did not eliminate caste. Baba Saheb Ambedkar always talked about social democracy and felt in the absence of it, our political democracy will fail. Our politicians have ensured that we remain Manu-ised socially to ensure that this constitution fails; because if it succeeds then we will have an egalitarian society based on equality, liberty and fraternity. Such a society would annihilate the caste privileges being enjoyed by various communities and their leaders. It is because of these privileges that the Manuwadis don’t want the caste to go.
Coming back to this case, what is Chief Minister Kamalnath's solution? What is the compensation to victims’ family? If Congress is sincere, it must take the task of honourably rehabilitating the Valmikis and other communities engaged in manual scavenging. Give them land for farming, provide their children education with hostel facilities and give them employment in non-sanitation work, and declare untouchability as crime against humanity and punish all those who do it irrespective of castes.
Murder of Avinash and Roshini is a hate crime, a crime against humanity and India need to give this issue top priority and not side track the issue. All claims of progress, great power and great civilisation are hypocrisy as long as we have untouchability and caste discrimination in our society.
(Published on 07th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 41)