As a protest rally is underway at Azad Maidaan today, 20 Nov, by the Dalit community to protest against the gruesome khairlangi massacre, and demand Deputy CM, R.R.Patil’s resignation, I am compelled to reflect on the recent agitation that I was a part of on Thursday. Especially when political parties are trying to derive maximum mileage out of the situation, the significance of that apolitical platform is now apparent.
On 16th Nov, under the banner of “Khairlangi Hatyakaand Virodhi Sarva Dharmiya Ekta Samiti” social activists, citizens, young professionals from diverse fields came together to condemn the Khairlangi massacre. A one day fast was observed by a courageous few disturbed by the lax and casual attitude of the authorities towards such a heinous crime.
This inter-religious, multi cultural inclusive agitation served as an apt opportunity to understand the importance of voicing one’s dissent in a society to condemn a crime against humanity. The purpose was to focus on the core issue of ensuring speedy justice for the sole survivor of the Bhotmange family, Bhaiyyalal. Also, to urge the administration to formulate long-term policies to ensure such atrocities do not take place in the future.
Although I was acutely aware about the concept of ‘people’ being the primary institution in a polity, capable of initiating change, the practicality of the notion eluded me. So, this premise was a little unknown and hence a novel experience.
Initial skepticism aside and driven by my derision towards such ghastly acts, I decided to be a part of this cause.My friend Behzad Mulla, a quiet fun loving Parsi employed in Merchant Navy and my designated photographer for the day, agreed to join me. It is necessary that every person must be aware of the on goings in one’s immediate society, however disconnected we may feel.
I met Ronald Rebello, a social activist who was the key motivator of the agitation, at the ground. As we were conversing about the various aspects of the issue and how we can effectively mobilize people and create awareness among them, a lot of questions crept in my mind. The most obvious one was the motivation that urged these young and talented individuals to be actively involved in social work. As the day progressed, the answer slowly but unwaveringly revealed itself.
In the FIR filed by the local police the fact that the two women were mercilessly raped is not even mentioned. The case is noted as a simple murder case, with post mortem reports aptly “cleaned” to suit vested interests. The possibility of liberal gun license policy for protection of Dalits, as suggested by certain leaders was discussed. But the probability of misuse of this freedom by trigger happy citizens and anarchist naxalities is immense for such a blanket dictum to be adopted. Also, it may lead to further marginalization of the community due to harboured mistrust.
The folk songs were one of the interesting aspects of the day, sung in harmony and one voice. A reflection of the contemporary the socio-political scenario, it was the glue that bound people gathered together, reminding them of the task ahead. Their rustic charm coupled with sharp lyrical content has an appeal which one cannot ignore. They compel you to think, look within and eventually be in unison with the rhythm that captivates your mind and spirit.
The people from different social groups and causes had converged to demand justice in this case. As the day was reached its conclusion, notably none of the major broadcasters or even main stream print reporters chose to give voice to the cause. Local and regional newspapers acknowledged the importance of the protests. The DCM and his principal Under Secretary were away, apparently dealing with the violent protests in Amaravati. So, a letter which staunchly condemned this act along with other suggestions and demands (see below) was sent to the DCM via the police present there. Also, a meeting with the DCM was scheduled at a later date for follow up.
Initially I was a bit disheartened that no major authority took cognizance of the fact that a multi-religious demonstration, a first in this case, was held. But then again as Ronald put it “In a democracy it is important that one’s voice is heard. We have made our point and will monitor the progress of the case.”
At the end of the day, we formed a circle, to take stock of what we have achieved and learnt from the day’s protest. A senior activist affirmed the necessity to adhere to “ahimsa” and not get carried away. The media and the administration, by ignoring such non-violent protests are giving credence to the notion that to receive justice or merely be heard one has to resort to jingoism and violence. To awaken the lethargic and indifferent government, the people must come together and demand answers.
The demands / suggestions made by Khairlangi Hatyakaand Virodhi Sarva Dharmiya Ekta Samiti in a official letter to the Deputy CM R.R.Patil, also the Home Minister of Maharashtra:
- Speedy justice to Bhaiyalal Bhotmange. The case must be moved to a fast track court.
- Due to a lack of witnesses in this case, the indicted persons must be subjected to a Norco-Analysis test to determine the truth.
- The ‘status report’ of the case, which has now been given to the CBI, must be made public.
- Awareness should be created about The Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, which empowers the under privileged sections of societies and helps them fight social evils, via media platforms like radio, T.V., newspapers etc. The district officials, tehsildars, police officers and other local authorities should be educated in this context.
- A policy devising a concrete witness protection programme for the safety of witnesses like Surekha Bhotmange (who was brutally murdered), to avert such situations should be formulated.
Ronald Rebello ; Muskaan Shiekh ; Gorkhnath Avaadh
Rajendra Laxman Kathkar ; Archana Pale; Shoobha Sutar
Naseem Banu; Hemant Morajkar; Ganesh Sodaye
Shaheen Shiekh; Shabaana Shiekh; Maneek Prabahvati