The flogging of a Dalit man to death recently in Gujarat’s Rajkot district has yet again highlighted the lived reality of Dalits in India. Despite the assertive movements by the oppressed community after the Una flogging incident in 2016, atrocities against Dalits have not ceased in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Gujarat. This latest incident again shows the hollowness of Narendra Modi’s tall claim of “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas” (together with all, development for all).
A 35-year-old man identified as Mukesh Vaniya, belonging to a Scheduled Caste, was bound with ropes around his waist and thrashed mercilessly with rods. The man died after the savage beating that was carried out on orders of an auto-parts factory owner, according to a police complaint. His wife was allegedly beaten up too.
In the video footage of the incident tweeted on 21 May morning by Dalit leader and MLA from Gujarat’s Vadgam, Jignesh Mevani, the man is seen wincing and screaming in pain as he is flogged by two men. The video has since gone viral on social media.
The incident cannot be seen in isolation. It is only the latest in a series of rampant attacks against people belonging to marginalised and oppressed communities in the country.
The figures of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2014, 2015 and 2016 show a rapid rise in the number of crimes against Dalits.
A total of 40,401 cases of crime against people belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) were registered in 2014. The number marginally decreased to 38,670 in 2015 but again went up to 40,801 the next year.
The NCRB provided data till 2015 on crimes recorded under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (POA) Act as well as overall data on crimes against SCs, which included crimes registered under other provisions. However, from 2016 onwards, this overall figure has not been provided.
Notably, the increase in crimes against Dalits in recent years has followed a sharp decline in conviction rates for such crimes. The conviction rate for such crimes fell by seven percentage points to 28% in 2015 from 35% in 2010. Over the same period, the overall conviction rate in the country for all Indian Penal Code (IPC) crimes increased by nearly six percentage points to 46.9%.
The 2014-16 data reveals that the BJP-ruled states or the states where the BJP is an alliance partner of the coalition government recorded the highest crime rates against the Scheduled Castes.
With 10,426 incidents, Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes, accounting for 25.6 per cent, followed by Bihar with 14 per cent and Rajasthan with 12.6 per cent in 2016.
Madhya Pradesh tops the list of states with the highest number of crimes against the Scheduled Castes in terms of the crime rate, which is defined by the incidence of crime recorded per one lakh population. Madhya Pradesh registered 3,294 incidents of crime against SCs in 2014, followed by 3,546 in 2015 and 4,922 in 2016.
The state registered 12.1 per cent of the total number of crimes against Scheduled Castes recorded in the country in 2016.
Madhya Pradesh is followed by Rajasthan, which registered 12.6 per cent of the total number of recorded crimes against the Scheduled Castes in the country in 2016. The state recorded 6,735 incidents of crime against scheduled castes in 2014, which declined to 5,911 in 2015 and 5,136 in 2016.
In 2016, the rate of crime against Scheduled Castes out of total cognisable crimes in Madhya Pradesh was 43.4 per cent, followed by 42 per cent in Rajasthan, 36.7 per cent in Goa, 34.4 per cent in Bihar and 32.5 per cent in Gujarat. The all-India crime rate against Scheduled Castes was 20.6 per cent last year.
Goa holds third position in terms of the crime rate against the Scheduled Castes. However, in terms of numbers, Goa recorded only 13 such cases each in 2014 and 2015, while the number of crimes against Scheduled Castes declined to 11 last year.
With 5,701 incidents of crime reported against Scheduled Castes last year, Bihar stood fourth in the table. Bihar’s share in the all-India figure for crime against SCs was 14 per cent for 2016. The BJP is in alliance with the JD(U) in Bihar. The JD(U) was part of the grand alliance with the RJD and the Congress in 2015. But in 2017, Nitish Kumar walked out of the grand alliance and stitched an alliance with the BJP to form the government.
Gujarat was at the fifth rank in terms of the crime rate against the Scheduled Castes. It has seen an increase in the number of incidents of crime against SCs since 2014. The state registered 1,094 incidents of crime against Scheduled Castes, which increased to 1,322 in 2016. In 2015, the state recorded a minor dip in the number, when 1,010 incidents of crime against SCs were registered in the state.
During this period, Gujarat has seen several agitations over the rising crimes against Dalits in the state. Crimes against Dalits took a political turn in 2015 when a family was attacked by cow vigilantes at Una.
The atrocities or crimes against Scheduled Castes — according to the NCRB — increased by 5.5 per cent in 2016 over 2015. A total of 40,801 cases of crime against Scheduled Castes were registered in the country in 2015, compared to 38,670 cases in 2015.
BJP legislators too accept atrocities against Dalits at a high
Savitri Bai Phule, the BJP MP from Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh, on 11 April launched a scathing attack on the Centre, alleging that atrocities against Dalits were at an all-time high under the present regime.
She further alleged that the Centre had remained a mute spectator to atrocities against Dalits and the Uttar Pradesh government had failed to check the continuing vandalisation of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s statues.
The party MP Udit Raj has said people were being “tortured at a large scale” for the nationwide protest by Dalit groups last month and named places in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh where, he insisted, false cases were being slapped against them.
There were Dalit leaders in the party who haven't spoken for fear that they would lose the party ticket in the next elections, he reportedly said.
Udit Raj is one of the BJP’s five Dalit Lok Sabha members who have spoken out about the resentment in the community against their own party. The public statements can be seen as a reflection of the discomfort within the party’s Dalit leaders, leaving the door open for them to cut their losses, if needed, ahead of the 2019 general elections.