Without a Homeland!

August 10, 2015

A ground report from one of the workrooms of caste terror in India – the Khaprokhol Block in Odisha’s Balangir distrct.

By Subrat Kumar Sahu

01_Snehalata06_Snehalat's parents and brother07_Laxmi-Srimati-Dalimba-Bhanumati08_Rally_Khaprakhol_27May201510_Rally_Balangir_19June201511_Rally_BBSR_25June2015

It was pretty early in the morning on 24 May 2015, around when Delhi was reeling under a terrible heat wave. I had gone to bed only about an hour before, and it faintly registered in my mind that my cell phone was ringing; it could not wake me up though. A few hours later, after I woke up, I saw it was Lambodar Takri; that was unusual for him to call me so early. Lambodar is a video journalist and Dalit activist in the Khaprakhol Block of Balangir district in western Odisha, which is my home district too. He was one of the key researchers and co-travellers in the making of my documentary film Mlechcha Sanhaara: India’s Kalki Project, in which we had tried to map and capture the organized, violent atrocities being committed with atrocious impunity against Dalit communities in Balangir district, especially in Khaprakhol Block on the foothills of the majestic Gandhamardan Range. In the film, we had clearly stated that the district “has of late turned into a laboratory of caste and economic terror at the hands of the Brahmanic-feudal-capitalist-State nexus, which offers a microcosm of India’s Kalki Project.”

We called the on-going and meticulously organized violence India’s Kalki Project, drawing parallel to what is inscribed in Brahmanic texts that the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu would one day come riding a white horse brandishing a deadly sword in his hand and annihilate all the Mlechchas (non-Aryans, who do not subscribe to Brahmanic-Vedic principles) in order to establish the Vedic-Sanatana Dharma all over the world – with the overt and covert support and even direct participation of the Indian State in fostering caste and communal violence against Dalits, adivasis, and many minority groups. So, whether Kalki is born or not, the task of annihilating the Mlechchas has long been undertaken in India, which continues even after India declared its Independence and called itself a democratic-secular State.

Outraged by widespread media reports of the burning down of an entire Dalit colony by caste-Hindus in Lathor village under Khaprakhol Block in January 2012, I had reached there to do a short film on this violent atrocity. Just within days of my stay there, I discovered that whichever village I visited, Dalits had harrowing stories of a range of atrocities committed against them, with the committers being provided absolute impunity. That prompted me to widen the canvas of my film with a wide-angle focus on how this very laboratory of Brahmanic-feudal terror operates there. We went on to cover 10 villages that spoke 10 different kinds of atrocities and left out many other villages constrained by time and resources, but ended up including only five in the film, with the Lathor carnage at the centre of the narrative.

What amazed me to death, during the process of filming, was the role played by State agencies – police, forest department, welfare department, offices of the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police – both during and the aftermath of an atrocity on Dalits in providing impunity to the perpetrators, which, in turn, encouraged the trend to spread further into an organized mobilization against Dalit communities. So, it is little wonder that, although our film got completed and released nearly two years back, there isn’t a single month passed before I hear of fresh atrocities on Dalits in one village or other. Therefore, Lambodar’s unusual early-morning call gave me the usual déjà vu, but with a strange trepidation this time.

So I called back; he was unreachable. I called several times, but could not reach him. Then I called Mukesh Suna, another key researcher in my film and a frontline Dalit activist in the region. He picked my third call and hurriedly said, “Lambodar has mailed you few photographs and some document; please check. I am on my bike, heading to Sargipali village. There has been a rape and murder of a young Dalit girl. I will call you later.” He snapped the line before I could grasp his words.

I reached out to my laptop wasting no time, and what I found in Lambodar’s mail shattered my sanity to pieces. In the past four years, we have witnessed scores of atrocities on Dalits in the Khaprakhol terror-block, we have seen people mobilizing themselves into movement groups, and we have marched along with people on the streets and fought for justice. Yet, there has been no sign of letting up on part of the Unholy Trinity of Brahmanic forces, caste-Hindu feudal lords, and State agencies. There has been no breakaway from the routine of atrocities on Dalits, performed as binding rituals. But, this one had surpassed all previous crimes in terms of brutality, viciousness, display of hatred, and, more importantly, a sense of ever-growing empowerment on part of the perpetrators fed by non-stop impunity. Snehalata, a 15-year-old school-going child, had been ravaged in an utterly unimaginable display of bestiality stemming from entrenched and growing caste hatred.

End of a promising beginning

Snehalata had just passed her 10th and had convinced her parents (both wage labours) not only to enrol her in +2 courses but also to let her continue studies to become a postgraduate. She was happy with big dreams. A whole world of hope and possibilities was just beginning to unfold before her. At seven in the morning on 22 May 2015, like any other day, Snehalata picked a steel bucket, put hers and her younger brother’s clothes for washing along with her toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, soap and a pouch of detergent in it and headed for the nearby jor (rivulet). She would return home finishing all her daily chores in 40–45 minutes. But, she didn’t. By 8.15 a.m., her mother, Dalimba (36), got apprehensive; she got wary of something untowardly, which she was dreading for the past three years. Why was she dreading what she was dreading?

Being a mother, it may seem natural for a woman to worry if a young daughter is out of home, especially at night, even in cosmopolitan India. The situation has probably worsened now, after the Nirbhaya rape and murder case in New Delhi a few years back. But being a Dalit mother, it means something much more devastating and stirring when a young daughter is out, day or night, anywhere in India, for the past 3000 years. For, the realm of justice has unswervingly kept out a large population of aborigines of the land – who we know as Dalits today – by all hitherto political systems that ruled this country, including the present one, ever since certain Brahmanic-Vedic principles were forced through religion as the guiding political economy of ruling establishments—perhaps except a brief period in history when Buddhism was at its peak.

For Dalimba, age-old apprehensions of a Dalit mother coming true was rather literally written on the wall, as some powerful caste-Hindu men of her village had been openly threatening for the past three years to kill at least four Dalit women. It could have been her too. Had it been the case, she thinks, she could have fought the ‘demons’. “But, how could a child of just 15 years who has not even started to know the sicknesses of the world have fought them,” she exclaims, as tears fill her eyes.

So, when Snehalata did not return in time, Dalimba headed towards the river. She did not find her daughter there, not even her belongings. She met a couple of villagers on the way; no one could give her a lead about Snehalata. Upstream there are two more ghats (bathing points)—one for caste-Hindu men and another for caste-Hindu women. In almost each village in Balangir district, Dalits are made to bath in separate ghats other than those of caste-Hindus, whether it is a river or a pond or a canal.

With no sign of her daughter by the river, she took another Dalit girl along and went to nearby Tambi Padar village, hoping that her daughter might have gone to see some relatives there. She didn’t find her there either. She came back to the river again, walked up and down along the river many times over, fearing that her daughter might have been drowned; but found no sign of that too, in the shallow and narrow riverbed. Meanwhile, Dalimba had sent message to her husband, Arta Chhatria (40), who was 12 kilometres away in another village on work as a construction labour. After two hours of tireless and fruitless searching, she returned home disappointed and distraught. The whole Dalit colony then joined the search post-noon; they formed teams and went to all possible directions and villages, near and far. It was that time of summer when one of the deadliest heat waves in decades had gripped the entire region with news of people dying of heat flowing in everyday. But, the search did not stop.

At sunset, search teams returned, one after another, defeated and drained-out. As they gathered outside, darkness wrapped the Dalit colony while bells from a Hindu temple from a nearby village mocked the silence, fear, and pain forced upon the gathering by caste hatred and untold violence. “In the Dalit colony, no one could sleep that night,” says Gajamani Bag, another frontline Dalit activist in the region.

Search resumed the next morning, so did the killer heat wave. First thing in the morning Snehalata’s father, Arta Chhatria, did was to go to the Khaprakhol police station and lodged an FIR about his daughter missing. Search teams repeatedly went around the river, as some of the villagers who had been threatening to kill Dalit women had their vegetable gardens by riverside, at stone-throw-away distance from the ghat from where Snehalata had gone missing. They returned yet again clueless and distraught by lunchtime.

In the afternoon, as teams started out for another round of search, a group of Dalit youth again went around the ghat; scanned all farm fields, trees, and bushes, which they had already searched in the morning; and around 4 p.m. they stumbled upon their biggest fear: there lied a ruthlessly ravaged naked body of a young girl. It was not there a couple of hours before. It took no time to identify the body as Snehalata’s. Snehalata was dead. The entire Dalit colony gathered around the body, sunk in fear and overpowered by pain and loss. The brutally mutilated and maimed body spoke volumes of the unimaginable torture Snehalata must have gone through for more than a day at the hands of caste-Hindu perpetrators: her eyes were gouged out, her throat deeply cut, her tongue pulled out, her breasts chopped off, her upper belly and back stabbed several times, her vagina violated and disfigured with sharp objects, and, finally, when they placed the body there, acid poured on her face in attempts to burn down any evidence left thereof! More over, with an atrocious display of arrogance and sense of certainty for impunity, the bartered and naked body of the girl was placed by the perpetrators in such a manner in which her legs were suggestively placed wide apart!

Dalimba was not allowed by relatives and neighbours to come near the body, apprehending that she might get a stroke finding her child who had just started dreaming big for her life mutated into a horrifying bundle of mess. Nevertheless, she fainted several times. Amidst heart-wrenching wails and cursing, Snehalata’s father arrived – he had gone to another village looking for his daughter – and collapsed the moment he saw the body. Despite the FIR lodged at 9 in the morning, police appeared only at 6.30 in the evening, hours after the body was found.

Chronicle of a murder foretold

In Sargipali, the situation was simmering since 2012 when after a community feast to commemorate the end of a three-day Prahari or Naam Yagnya (non-stop chanting of god’s names along with Brahmanic fire rituals) organized by caste-Hindus, Dalits of the village were slammed for not lifting their own plates after eating their meals. Arta Chhatria says, “There was not a single plate that was left behind by us; but the villagers held a meeting and conspired to falsely accuse us this way so as to initiate a cycle of harassment. We were stunned and clueless about their scheme then.”

The growing incidences of atrocities on Dalits are the outcome of a sustained process of Hinduization that takes various forms in these parts. Take, for instance, the Prahari Mandaps set up in the main square of most villages. Something that should be meant as a village community centre, this Prahari Mandap with images of Hindu gods and goddesses all around its walls basically serves as a power centre of Brahmanic feudalism where mostly Hindu religious programmes are organized in order to induct adivasis into their fold and where Dalits are generally barred from directly participating. In order to promote such Brahmanic feudalism, the expenses to build the Prahari Mandap are generally borne by the local MLA or MP from their kitty meant for local area development (LAD), besides rich right-wing traders and also, in some instances, government administrative officers. Abhiram Mallik, a Bhubaneswar-based Dalit activist, makes it clear how the State plots to promote Brahmanism: “[Besides these Prahari Mandaps,] the Odisha government has now come up with plans to build a Bhagavat Toongi (where Hindu religious texts and sermons are read out to the public) in each village in the state in the name of preserving cultural heritage. It means that exploitation and oppression of the so-called lower castes will now be legitimized under State patronage. This is going to create a very dangerous situation where Dalits will further be victimized in an organized manner.” So, what happened after the community feast in Sargipali points to such a schematic attempt what Arta Chhatria unmistakably referred to as “to initiate a cycle of harassment”.

Apparently, what followed the feast in Sargipali was a social boycott clamped on Dalits in the village by caste-Hindus, mostly OBCs (other backward castes). The OBCs have long been Hinduized in an on-going process of internal colonization that had commenced after the local king brought hundreds of Brahmins from coastal Odisha to this region a couple of centuries back. So, in most such cases, the OBCs act as the foot soldiers for executing Brahmanic-Hindutva terror schemes. One prominent Hindutva outfit has a busy workshop in Dhandamunda village, just four kilometres from Sargipali, where the entire Dalit colony was razed by bulldozers four years back. With the boycott in force, Dalits in Sargipali were denied access to water sources, grocery shops, and other basic services. Dalit students in the school were made to sit separately in classrooms, served the mid-day meals in a segregated corner, and barred from accessing the bore well inside school premises for drinking water. This invited strong reaction from various Dalit groups and organizations in the region. The matter was even placed before the commissioner of SC/ST welfare cell; but nothing moved. Rather, the repressive diktat against Dalits by caste-Hindus got stiffened; Dalits were forced to write apologies for not lifting their own plates at the feast, folly that they had not committed. The social boycott continued until the police finally intervened after more than a year and worked out a ‘compromise’. No one was booked, despite such atrocities could come under the purview of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.

However, social boycott of Dalits in inane forms did not stop even after the ‘compromise’ struck. In 2013, the customary village committee was formed in which not a single Dalit was included as its member. Dalit wage labours were not employed for any work in the village. The same year, Kichak Bariha, an adivasi of the village, went to the Dalit colony looking for labour to complete certain work. Not only Dalits were not allowed to work for him, Bariha was later stabbed and severely injured by some drunken youth as ‘a lesson for approaching Dalits for work’. This incident coupled with some previous violent skirmishes among villagers prompted a self-help group (SHG) running in the village to launch a campaign to close the country-liquor shop. Incidentally, the SHG was run by Dalit women while the unlicensed liquor shop was owned by caste-Hindu men. The matter went to the police again. Police had no way other than shutting down the illegal liquor shop; but it re-opened in just two days. The women did not relent, and intensified their fight. Eventually, the SP had to intervene and the liquor shop was closed for good. This greatly infuriated caste-Hindus, and the threatening of killing four Dalit women bred from their frustration of not being allowed to continue an illegal trade.

And the most detested and targeted among the four Dalit women was none other than Dalimba (Snehalata’s mother) who is the president of the SHG and had led the campaign against illegal liquor trade in the village. The other three Dalit women in the ire of caste-Hindu men were Bhanumati Chhatria (45), Srimati Chhatria (40), and Laxmi Chhatria (32) – all related to Snehalata – who were also in the forefront of the anti-liquor campaign. In fact, Laxmi and Bhanumati, couple of months earlier, had to run for life to escape a possible attack when they were deviously stalked and abused by two caste-Hindu villagers by the riverside. Activist Gajamani Bag points out, “Probably, after months of trying and waiting when they could not get hold of any of the targeted women, the culprits had finally zeroed-in on a soft prey in this young girl and kidnapped her and tortured her at will for a-day-and-a-half.”

The chimera called justice

As I held earlier what we witnessed profusely during filming Mlechcha Sanhaara: India’s Kalki Project that impunity provided by the State to connivers and committers of horrific caste atrocities is inexplicable. For instance, even in the case of the ghastly and widely reported Lathor carnage, the main upper-caste culprits (big traders) not only went untouched they were even not brought within the purview of police investigation and action, despite direct and written testimonies made against them by the victims. Some of them even got anticipatory bails in no time, even though the crime committed clearly fell in the category of ‘atrocity’ under which anticipatory bail is prohibited. More than three years on, they still enjoy such impunity. But, a month or so after the Lathor carnage when one country-liquor distillery owned by one of these upper-caste traders – who is an active member of an infamous Hindutva outfit and is believed to be the mastermind of the carnage – was burnt down ‘supposedly’ by Maoists, the alacrity in which the police picked about a dozen local youth within a day or two was exceptional if not unexpected. Local activists allege that the youth picked, all adivasis and Dalits, were not involved in the incident; though out on bail, they are still burdened by the cases slapped. So, when protection of perpetrators comes so handy, it is no wonder that, following the Lathor carnage, attacks and harassment of Dalits at the hands of caste-Hindu landlords are on the rise in the Khaprakhol region, with the intensity and audacity growing by each atrocity committed.

Otherwise, how would one comprehend the courage in which a 15-year-old girl is picked by force in broad daylight from a public place? And, how would one imagine that, after subjecting her to gruesome torture for more than a day, they would come back and place her dead body in broad daylight just a few metres away from where she was picked? The Khaprakhol Police Station is just 10 kilometres away, which is virtually a fortress with armed paramilitary personnel guarding all around, as it is kind of a control room for the anti-Maoist operation in the Gandhamardan region. “So, whom is the police policing then?” asks Mukesh, wearing a lingering question mark on his face, who among others has been campaigning for justice for Dalits including that of Snehalata’s from day one.

In an environment of such clinical viciousness, it may not surprise us what Snehalata’s wage-labour parents have been going through ever since their daughter went missing and then found mutilated, violated, and dead. On the second day morning after his daughter disappeared, Arta Chhatria went to Khaprakhol and lodged an FIR about her being untraceable. The police nonchalantly asked him to keep looking for the girl on his own for one more day, and if he could not find her, they would then come to help him! Arta had no time to argue there; he hurried out of the police station and resumed the search for his daughter. And when Dalit youth of Sargipali found the body at around 4 p.m. that day, police took their own sweet time to reach the village at 6.30 p.m. Seeing the terribly ravaged body of the girl, did the police get back their senses? No. Rather they demanded 3000 rupees from Arta for a vehicle they needed to carry the body to the police station 10 kilometres away in Khaprakhol. A distressed and despondent father had no option other than to give in to the demand.

Next morning at the post-mortem cabin near Khaprakhol, the family of the girl had to go through another round of ruthless exploitation. The local government doctor, an upper-caste man, and his assistant demanded 4000 rupees before carrying out the post-mortem. After much requests and begging, they finally settled for 2500 rupees. Then, they unwrapped the body and immediately wrapped it up with another sheet of cloth, saying it was apparent that the girl was ‘raped and murdered’, so no need to use the scalpel. The doctor and the assistant left, leaving the body with the family members. After being subjected to hardnosed extortion by police and the doctor, the family had no means left to hire a vehicle to get the body back home for necessary funeral rituals. So, they had to put the body inside a jute sack and carry it on a moped – an old and rickety Luna – belonging by one of the relatives present there.

Outraged by the wilful inertness of police in effectively investigating the case, local Dalit groups and rights movements held a rally in Khaprakhol on 27 May 2015. They demanded immediate arrests of all the accused and also reiterated their long-standing demand of officially acknowledging the Khaprakhol region as ‘atrocity-prone area’. Sensing opportunities, politicians of all hues have paid visits to Sargipali village and made feisty promises. Officials of the district administration including the District Magistrate and the SC/ST welfare cell have gone there for investigations. But, no leaf turned. However, among the local activists, no one is surprised a bit. “I cannot give you an account of cases of atrocities committed against Dalits in this region in the past 8–10 years on which we are fighting for justice. We always get a feel that the administration and police systems are not for us Dalits; they are only for the rich caste-Hindus!” retorts Gajamani. “It is not unusual that the police are going slow in this case; this is there tested ploy. Once the heat subsides, they would find a way out to protect the culprits like what has happened in almost all other cases.”

Such open assurance of impunity is the perfect forage to encourage even bigger crimes – if there is any – against Dalits. Delay of justice propelled several Dalit groups and rights movements to come together under an umbrella platform, named Coordination Committee against Caste and Gender Violence, and organized a massive rally in front of the DM’s office in Balangir on 19 June 2015. “This historic rally – participated by more than 5000 people, which was unprecedented for Balangir – provided the much-needed and long-awaited outlet for Dalits to express their anger, frustration, and hope as against a rabidly casteist administration and a repressive Brahmanic State,” said Gobardhan Chhattar, a frontline Dalit cultural activist. “The sheer number of women participating in the protest and the show of their undaunted spirit to fight for justice, I hope, must have jilted the administration and the police,” added Gobardhan. “This shout-out is not only about Snehalata’s rape and murder, our fight is to demand justice for all the atrocities against Dalits committed so far in the Khaprakhol area, which we have lost count of now!” retorted Laxmi Chhatria, Snehalata’s sister-in-law and member of the anti-liquor movement in Sargipali.

From Lathor to Bharuamunda to Aambahali to Matiabhata to Turla to Dhandamunda to Mahulpati to Jhankripali to Buromaal to Bhaldungri: the whole landscape is enwrapped in a pernicious cobweb of caste terror. In fact, in some instances, it is the victims who are hounded and arrested, like in the case of Rabi Bag who has been fighting a valiant battle for the past six years against caste-Hindu landlords, the forest department, and the police. The landlords want to snatch the piece of land he is tilling while the forest department, in trying to make it easy for the landlords, keeps arresting Rabi in regular intervals alleging him to have encroached upon forestland, in a clear and brazen violation of the Forest Rights Act 2006. Not only that, his 13-year-old school-going daughter was kidnapped and raped for days at the behest of the landlords in 2012. Police did not budge then too. It was again the local Dalit youth who finally managed to nab the kidnapper, a poor adivasi, who openly – and also to the police on record – confessed that he was paid by the landlords to kidnap and keep the girl. Despite all that, not only the landlords were not touched by the police, the forest department came and picked Rabi once again.

In Aambahali village, the entire Dalit colony was stoned non-stop for 15 hours after which all of them had to flee and stay out of the village for months. Here, in an earlier similar attack, Dalits had to run for life like wild cattle when they were chased away by a mob during which a pregnant Dalit woman tripped into a pit, fell on her belly, and delivered in severe pain there in an open field twin daughters, both dead. Yes, no one was found guilty then too!

Form kidnapping of girls to burning down houses to poisoning drinking water sources to land grabbing to stoning and demolishing hutments to ostracizing families to abusing to sexual exploitation to rampant eve-teasing to calling names: village after village, day after day, one kind of atrocity after another! The life of Dalits in Khaprakhol Block cannot be defined without these pointers. “Commit any crime against Dalits; and for the Indian State, it is not crime,” quips Mukesh.

Three years back, while being interviewed for our film, Akhil Nayak, well-known Dalit poet and novelist, had minced no words: “I no longer call it a State. The State is a delusion for us Dalits.”

‘The State is a delusion’

Just as feared by Dalits that the police would even try to cover up as heinous an atrocity as the young girl’s rape and murder in Sargipali, three days after the crime, appeared a concocted news report in an Odia Daily that Dalits of the village wielding sharp weapons were seen going towards the river on the morning Snehalata went missing. The audacity of the reporter who is known to be loyal to the powers-that-be and the police not to be missed here that he even quoted Rambha Chhatria, an aunt of Snehalata, as an witness to this fiction. However, activists lost no time; Rambha went and reported at the police station for being made party to such criminal fabrication. Police, of course, did not file an FIR; but neither the police nor the reporter pursued the plot thereafter.

Then came another whacky attempt to tweak a monstrous atrocity into a filmic thriller. Police picked Guru Tandy (25) from Daheta village, 35 kilometres from Sargipali, who is Snehalata’s maternal cousin, accusing him of kidnapping and killing Snehalata to avenge unrequited love. Guru was detained at the Khaprakhol police station the whole night, but police failed to establish their bizarre fable into a plausible scheme. So, Guru was let off.

“Why are the police throwing stones in darkness and pretending to be investigating the case?” asks Lambodar. “There is the whole history of caste hatred and series of harassment including social boycott and open threats to kill Dalit women in the village itself right under their nose! And they are looking elsewhere for the culprits! After years of struggle, we are now pretty aware of their design and we shall not allow it this time!” And then the massive, historic rally on 19 June happened; and the deafening shout-out for justice was enough to drive the administration and the police out of their wits. So, what followed in hurried damage control the very next day, on 20 June 2015, was the arrest of two caste-Hindu youth from Sargipali village: Yagnya Saraf (22) and Suphal Meher (24). Tirtha Chhatria, the girl’s uncle, laments, “Well, these two might have been involved in the crime, but the story that the police have cooked up to explain reasons behind the crime is childish and beyond any sense.”

As per the police version of the crime, one of the youth arrested had ‘proposed’ to Snehalata several times without success. The other youth arrested already had ‘relations’ with another Dalit girl, which Snehalata knew about and was opposed to. So, the two youth hatched a plan to ‘teach her a lesson’. On the day Snehalata went missing, these two youth were already hiding near the ghat and when she was taking a bath they kidnapped her. Then they raped and killed her by 9.30 a.m. the same day. “This is absolutely ridiculous,” cries Bhanumati Chhatria, the girl’s grandmother and another anti-liquor activist. “If they killed her within an hour or so, why did they take a-day-and-a-half to throw her body by the riverside? If they were supposedly scared after committing the crime and that’s why they took so much time, then how did they find such mighty courage next day to bring the body back in broad daylight to the same place where they had picked her? It does not even require common sense to conclude that just two persons could not have carried out such a crime! Police is certainly trying to conceal the larger scheme that was brewing for months, and that too so openly.”

Gajamani quips, “If the motive behind the crime was so simple, how did it take a full month for the police to crack this great mystery, which none of the villagers could even sense remotely ever? Don’t forget the fact, and the link thereby, that the massive protest at the district headquarters had happened just a day before these arrests were made! Don’t also forget their earlier attempts to dilute the gravity of the crime. In a hurried move under pressure, police have landed themselves in a laughable state while making a mockery of their own intelligence as well as of the law.” A beleaguered and baffled Arta Chhatria voices, “We shall continue the fight until my daughter gets justice. No extent of fooling us is going to work. We Dalits have suffered for long and we shall put an end to it now.”

Mukesh wonders, “For how long on earth Dalits would be treated like playthings by this Brahmanic State? It is crystal clear that the police have fabricated a story around some imaginary love story so that the long history of unabated caste atrocities does not come into the legal purview. In one masterstroke, police is trying to obliterate any possibility of justice for Snehalata who is clearly a victim of vicious caste hatred leading to a pre-planned, well-executed, ruthless atrocity.”

Taking the fight for justice forward, Dalit groups joined by several organizations held a massive rally in Bhubaneswar on 25 June 2015 and submitted a charter of demands to the chief secretary, pressing for handing over the case to the CBI and for suspending the DM and SP of Balangir from duties immediately. Snehalata’s mother, Dalimba Chhatria, tries to understand what she calls ‘an unsolved riddle’, “Forget a crime like rape and murder, had there been an incidence of molestation of an upper-caste girl, the whole district would be burning now! Whole Odisha would be abuzz with voices of protest and what not! Why is it that when a Dalit is victimized, that too in such a brutal manner my daughter was subjected to, there is hardly any ripple in the society? Are the society and the State not for us Dalits?

B R Ambedkar had once said to M K Gandhi, “Gandhiji, I have no homeland!” But then, that was 16 years before India declared itself an independent, democratic State. When Ambedkar said this to Mahatma Gandhi, the country was under British rule and what he unambiguously referred to of depriving him (and the entire Dalit population) of a ‘homeland’ was essentially the ‘Brahmanic imperialism’ that had been ruling over the people structurally at societal, political, and cultural levels for ages. Ambedkar fought tooth and nails at all possible levels – including guaranteeing provisions and statutes in the Constitution as its chief architect – to ensure that Dalits would finally be able to call this land their ‘homeland’. But, the new-born State – with all its jingoistic cries about democracy, equality, justice, and free speech for the past 68 years – could never unshackle its Brahmanic imperialist bias, least in terms of giving Dalits their rightful space, freedom, dignity, representation, and voice. For Dalits, India’s Independence rather meant a lethal transition: from a British colony into a colony of the Brahmanic upper castes and their feudal cohorts in the role of oppressive landlords.

With a visibly noxious laboratory of the same feudal–Brahmanic–State nexus at full play, the Khaprakhol Block in Balangir district stands as a blinding testimony: that Dalits have no homeland, yet! The good news, however, is that Snehalata – the latest prey in the workroom of caste terror – has sparked off a sort of long-awaited revolution, led by young Dalit activists and joined by several rights movements of the state, despite an ever-scheming imperialist ruling class and an essentially apathetic, anti-poor, Brahmanic mainstream media.

While Snehalata now peacefully rests, the rest do not, and should not!

***

Subrat Kumar Sahu
Independent Filmmaker and Journalist
New Delhi
<subrat69@gmail.com>