Police brutality against people from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities is neither new nor rare. The state should focus on protecting vulnerable groups from torture rather than weakening the existing law against caste-discrimination and atrocity.
The recent Supreme Court judgment on the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act raked up a storm and divided public opinion on the law against caste-based discrimination in India. As is usual, the focus of the ‘upper’ caste communities centred around the reservation policy for public sector higher education and jobs, rather than everyday, real, blatant acts of discrimination and atrocity.
Vinti Vishwakarma, who reports from Koderma in Jharkhand, came across one such case of caste-based atrocity and police brutality in the predominantly ‘upper’ caste village of Tehro in the Satgawan block of the district. Tehro has a population of about 5000 persons, of which only 20 families belong to Dalit communities. Needless to say, the clout of the ‘upper’ caste communities is only aggravated given the strength of their numbers.
On 13 March 2017, the residents of the Dalit neighbourhood, and the rest of the village were celebrating Holi, a festival usually marked by playing with colours. In the afternoon, the police personnel who was on duty in the village was passing by the neighbourhood when someone threw some colour on him. Out of fear, most people immediately fled the spot. But Pradeep Choudhary remained there.
“He knew he had done nothing wrong so he stayed put,” says his widow. Choudhary was subsequently taken to the police station and subjected to physical torture, to which he eventually succumbed.
“The victim belonged to a ‘lower’ caste community whereas the police personnel was a Yadav, an ‘upper’ caste. The torture is inevitably of a higher degree when a Dalit person is the victim of it,” says Vinti.
After beating Choudhary up, the police asked his family to take him back to his house, where he died of his injuries. The family, along with other community members, then went to the police to register a First Information Report. But the police tore up their written complaint and filed a case of unnatural death instead.
“We are being mentally tortured (by the police)”, says Manoj Bhagat, a relative of Choudhary who was persistent in taking the matter up with the police despite seeing little hope.
“There was an environment of fear in the wake of the incident, it was not safe for me to go report alone, so I went with representatives from an NGO called Sangram,” says Vinti. Seeing that the police were deliberately not opening up the case or pursuing it, Sangram has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission, although they have not received a response yet.
Vinti also says that this is not the only case of police brutality against Dalits in Tehro. Sometime before Choudhary was beaten to death, another Dalit man was taken to the police station and subjected to torture for parking his car on the road in front of his shop. “The police objected to the car being parked there and took him to the police station without a proper explanation or a notice, and he was let off after he was physically abused”, says Vinti.
It is worth noting that on an average, 90% of the cases filed under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act remain pending at the end of each year, and a majority of them that do get a court hearing, end in acquittals. In Koderma, however, the police didn’t even let the aggrieved party file a proper case.
Video by Community Correspondent Vinti Vishwakarma
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team