ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Carnival of Atrocities

A vicarious “aesthetic” by perpetrators of atrocities against Dalits is now becoming evident.


On 10 June, a video of two teenage Dalit boys being beaten and paraded naked in a village in Maharashtra’s politically high-profile Jalgaon district went viral on social media. The boys were humiliated and assaulted just because they were found swimming in a well owned by a person belonging to one of the denotified tribes in Maharashtra. This incident, except for the social background of the perpetrators of the crime, is similar to the flogging of Dalit men by upper-caste youth in Una, Gujarat in 2016. In both cases, the Dalit corporeal body was made the object of a humiliating spectacle by filming the assault and then uploading it on social media, thereby reiterating that the perpetrators were unafraid of the legal consequences of their barbaric acts. The Jalgaon case, however, is strikingly different from the Gujarat one in that the perpetrators of the atrocity, in a strict sociological sense, do not belong to the Hindu caste system.

Expectedly, the Maharashtra government and its supporters were reluctant to see any caste element in the Jalgaon incident, although the police slapped the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 against the culprits. In fact, in an effort at damage control, the state government seems to have adopted twin strategies in order to underplay the role of caste in the incident. First, prominent members of the government and some local journalists sought to expunge the consciousness of caste from the atrocity by superimposing the element of perverted consciousness which, according to these supporters, led the culprits to commit the act of barbarism. In other words, the supporters sought to reduce the caste atrocity as a socially permeated phenomenon to an individual act of perversion. By implication, this seeks to deny the possibility of reason or purpose behind such a social crime. While it is true that the mastermind behind the atrocity does not formally belong to the hierarchical caste structure, yet he clearly borrows caste from outside because it provides a basic consciousness that adds punitive force for the intensification of rage against Dalits. This was evident in the inhuman beating that the culprits meted out to the teenagers.

The second strategy that the state government seems to have adopted to save itself from further criticism is fairly obvious. Whenever there is the spectacle of a tragedy, such as in Una or in Jalgaon, the respective state governments tend to use what could be called “ritualised etiquette.” This involves repeating the propaganda which suggests that the government in power has been making sincere efforts to deliver social justice to marginalised sections, including Dalits. We saw this type of shishtachar (etiquette) by the Bharatiya Janata Party–Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra. On one particular television channel, its social justice ministry kept talking about the “fantastic” work that the ministry has been doing for Dalits. Interestingly, those who were involved in the damage-control exercise included members of the Dalit community.

What the state and its functionaries fail to understand, however, is the growing anti-Dalit rage and repulsion accumulated in the upper castes. This will not disappear simply by boasting about “state benevolence” for Dalits. On the contrary, increasing propaganda of state welfarism tends to add to such social accumulation of anger against Dalits. It fails to contain the upper castes, who are becoming almost a parallel state exercising their own law that exists outside the constitutional sphere of the rule of law.

In the wake of such lawlessness, the social worth of victims of rape or caste atrocities hinges not only on the institutionalisation of the rule of law, but, more importantly, it depends on both the state as the regulator of such law, as well as socially vigilant and morally motivated local communities. The latter can provide conditions that would allow Dalits, such as the parents of these boys, to access the judicial system for redressal of injustice.

The lack of social vigilance on the one hand, and the social terror of the upper castes on the other, appear to have forced the parents to accept the public thrashing of these two boys as just an act of violence and not a caste atrocity. The silent hostility that exists in this particular village, and perhaps in several villages elsewhere, makes it increasingly difficult for Dalits to exercise their constitutional rights that offer protection against the lawlessness of caste. Constitutional rights do not become articulable on their own. They do not bring automatic legal relief to the embattled person. Such rights become effective only on the condition that a moral lead is taken to exercise these rights. In the present case, on the flip side, the video of the flogging had unintended consequences in that it aided the police in arresting the culprits. We need to protect the rule of law before it is knocked off by the growing lawlessness of caste. It is also necessary to prevent the state from becoming a passive spectator, if not the source, of such lawlessness.

Updated On : 6th Jul, 2018


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