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“Losing a son is never easy in our society and not just because of the trauma that comes with losing one’s child. Our relatives and friends would avoid seeing our face in the morning as we are parents of two daughters and have no son.”

  • Chandarikaben, mother of Mehul Rathode

As I sat there on my chair on a fine Sunday morning, my eyes were stuck on the headline of the newspaper – “3 lawyers make airline pay Rs. 1.35 lakh for mosquitoes on board”. My mind was filled with dilemma over the situation of justice in the country. On the one hand, we have cases like this, where people can easily get paid for trivial“mosquito” problems and on the other hand, we have incidents like Thangadh, where people lose their lives, and still their families struggle to get justice for many years to come.

The incident happened on 21st September, 2012 when a dispute arose between the lower caste Dalits and upper caste Bharwads at a local fair in Thangadh. The dispute slowly turned into a major clash with both the parties bringing in sticks and sharp weapons. The police was called and they threw tear gas shells on the crowds. However, according to the police, that did not seem to work and they had to “resort” to firing on the people. A seventeen-year-old, Pankaj Sumra, a Dalit, got seriously injured in this police firing and later died in the hospital in Rajkot.

His death ignited a spark in the hearts of Dalits, who then took to the streets to express their anger against the police officials. Their only demand was that the official responsible for the death of Pankaj should be brought to justice as soon as possible. However, the police did not seem to like this. A clash took place between the protestors and the police and the officials again had to “resort” to firing to disperse the crowds. This firing killed two more youths – a 17-year-old Mehul Rathode and a 21-year-old Prakash Parmar. Another person, Chhana Vaniya, was critically injured in the firing but he survived the attacks.

The firing was ordered without the permission of any senior authority present in the area. This police firing, thus, violates Article 21 (Right to life) and child rights as specified by the Constitution of India. Moreover, it was later found that police officials belonged to the upper and dominant caste of the society and there was a constant horror among the family members of further attacks by them. This, further, violates the prevention of atrocity act 1989 sections 3(1)5 and 3(1)7.

All these violations have obviously went unnoticed to the courts since almost no progress has been made in this case since the past seven years. Were the three youths victims of hate crime? Maybe yes or maybe they were just the victims of the crimes of the powerful.

The case has been impending in the court since 2012. In February 2013, some arrests were made when CID (Crime) took 3 police officials – KP Jadeja, Yogesh Gadhvi and Nathubha Andubha – into custody. Mr. KP Jadeja is the son-in-law of Kiritsinh Rana, a BJP MLA from Limbdi constituency. He counter-attacked the dalits accusing them of attempting to murder him during their protests. Eight Dalits were arrested, however, fortunately no murder charges were imposed on them.

Further, in May 2013, Mr. Sanjay Prasad, then Principal Secretary, Social Justice and Development Department submitted his report on the incident to the government. The report, however, was not made public citing the reasons that it may spread hatred among certain sections of the society.

A compensation of Rs. 6 lakh was paid to the families of the victims and a memorial was built in the memory of the three Dalit youths. But is it sufficient? The families live in a society where males are considered the bread-earner of the family. After the death of their sons, the whole pressure came upon the fathers, who were just laborers. And not only that, the social stigma that the families had to face added to their miseries. As the quote in the beginning of the article says, they were also being avoided by their own friends and relatives. Why? Because they had only daughters and no sons in their families.

Succumbing to the pressures, the fathers of Pankaj and Prakash have died leaving their wives to live on the meagre widow pensions given by the government. The case began with the three families collectively seeking justice for their kids and now, two of those three families have given up to their fate.

In August 2016, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, set up an SIT to investigate on the matter. The team was supposed to submit its report in August 2018, however, it has not submitted its report till now.

The intensity of the issue can be justified accurately by stating that a Dalit Hatyakand Sangharsh Samiti was formed just after the incident. There are many other organisations like Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti which work to protect the Dalits from the atrocities by upper castes. The fact that there are such organizations in our country should itself be a wake-up call for us to take stern steps against this problem.

According to an analysis by IndiaSpend on the data collected by National Crime Records Bureau in 2016, the crime rate against Dalits has risen by 25% from 2006 to 2016. Why is this caste-based discrimination still prevalent in the so-called “modern” India? Why is that some kids receive the tag of being an inferior right after their birth through no fault of their own? Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s reservation policy may have succeeded in providing them equal representation but has it succeeded in providing them equality?

These are some questions that we should ponder about, next time we read about a Dalit conflict in the morning newspaper.

Yogesh Jindal is a final year student at IIM Ahmedabadwho wants to spread the idea of equality among individuals.


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