If you ask Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent Bideshini Patel to rate her childhood on a scale of 1-10, she would probably give it a negative marking due to the neglect and abuse she faced. But if you ask her to evaluate her professional life as an impactful journalist, resolving basic...
The Dalit Massacre of Thangadh, Gujarat
December 13, 2012 | By: Neeru Rathod
Late on the night of the 22nd, a group of 15 - 20 Dalit youth were visiting the Thangadh carnival. While in the carnival grounds, they had a brief run-in with members of another, so-called 'higher' caste. The matter was simple and small-- at the public water dispenser the Dalit youths had asked the other group to 'take care' as to not let drops of water splash on them. There was a little verbal sparring and the 'higher' castes left in a huff. The Dalit youth continued to walk around the carnival grounds and partake in the festivities.
Walking around, they ran into the same 'higher' caste people again. This time they were a bigger group. They closed in on the Dalits. They cornered them, held them roughly and asked the question -" Are you a Dalit?" When the youth replied in the affirmative, they were thrashed mercilessly. The Dalits began to fight back and the skirmish looked like it would escalate.
At that moment, the police Sub-Inspector K.P.Jadeja made an appearance with some of his juniors in the force. Without provocation, they began to fire into the crowd. 16 year old Pankaj Sumra was shot in the neck.
The crowd dispersed and the Dalits tried to rush the kid's body to the nearby hospital. But the police refused to let them through. Instead, they rounded up some of the youth and put them in lock up. Pankaj was taken to the hospital where he succumbed and breathed his last.
The news of Pankaj's death provoked the sentiments of the Dalit communities in the neighborhood. A group decided to get together to file a complaint and they marched towards the police station. The police intervened at a railway crossing. Once again instead of trying to control the situation, the police began firing rounds indiscriminately with their service revolvers and AK-47s. There are also reports that commandos in charge of the security of the Chief Minsiter's election rally which was scheduled at the same time in the vicinity joined in the massacre. The bullets took the lives of 17 year old Mehul and 26 year old Prakash.
In the days to come, perversions of law, order, power and basic human dignity continued to be carried out by the ones in charge of safeguarding them.
7 Dalit youths were falsely accused of rioting and murder and put under arrest. Over 3000 Dalit activists were detained for participating in the protest against this violation across the state of Gujarat. Reports arrived that witnesses to the incident were attempted to be bribed into silence. A local member of parliament tried to protect K.P. Jadeja and other police officers involved. With elections around the corner, the ruling party had to walk a tight rope.
Efforts were made to pacify both the Dalit and the Higher caste votebank. The worth of human life was negotiated to Rs. 2 lakh. The families of victims were payed the amount as 'compensation'. Four police officers including the errant SI were suspended. The case was passed over to the Central Investigation Department (CID) who in their report, implicated the police officers and demanded that the arrested Dalits be released.
In the CID report, K.P Jadeja was found responsible for the killing of the three youth and fabricating cases against the Dalits. The report found his approach 'caste-ist'. But because the election candidates from the area share the same caste as Jadeja and other implicated police officers, the ruling party seems to have decided to let him go free.
The incumbent Chief Minister arrived with his parade and did what he did best-- put up an impressive, essentially hypocritical and wholly empty spectacle custom designed to woo votes. He arrived in a nearby town with an elephant carrying a larger than life replica of a Constitution (drafed as we known by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, a dalit). And in a moment where irony committed suicide and the universe cringed, the Chief Minister began to pray and worship the Constitution. Fooling no one and disgusting everyone.
"Politics is war without bloodshed and War is politics with bloodshed," said Mao whose supposed followers are being hunted by the army in the east of the Country's east. In the west, the game continues to be played in broad daylight.
All the murderers are still at large.
Meanwhile, it is the 13th of December, 2012. Over two months have passed. If one is to believe the voices in the mainstream media, the biggest sporting spectacle in the country is underway. Will Mr. Narendra Modi, the venerable gorilla, defend his title as Chief Minister for the third time in a row? Or can the opposition up their game and beat him at the finishing line?
The atmosphere crackles with commentary. Exit polls, expert opinions, maps having a rave party, ecstatic vox-populi (power to the youth, power to democracy), statistics in pies, bars and numbers. The pitch is high and can only get higher as the competition moves into the final laps. There's nothing to hear but noise.
Godhra is already an uncomfortable past. Thangadh seems to be headed in the same direction. Vibrant Gujarat is all about the brighter future and development. Justice and Human Rights don't look like they stand a chance. Nor do Dalits like Pankaj, Mehul, Prakash and their families.
Whoever wins the coveted title in the state, it is the mute spectator, playing the odds in polling booth, who will lose.
Piyali Mandal / March 27, 2023