As India conducts parliamentary polls, noted Dalit activist Martin Macwan has come out with a landmark book documenting atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in the last five years.

The book titled Bhed Bharat: An Account of Injustice and Atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis (2014-2018) questions the conscience of voters reminding them that there has not been a single day in the last five years when Dalits and Adivasis were not subjected to atrocity by the self-proclaimed upper castes.

It also points out how the government has failed to carry out its constitutional obligations. The English edition of the book will be released on Tuesday in a simple ceremony in Ahmedabad. The Gujarati edition was released on March 28 in the presence of more than 2,500 Dalits, Adivasis and others from across rural Gujarat.

Macwan said he worked for 18 hours daily for more than two months to come out with this book. Barring one or two exceptions, incidents which received major publicity have not been included. Incidents where the courts have ensured convictions do find mention, along with grievous atrocities which still await legal justice even after many years. There is emphasis on incidents which may seem minor, but have large social implications.

“There has been so much happening and it is nowhere in debate. This hurt me. It is a mockery of democracy. There has been no attempt to bring out a larger picture on this issue at the national level. An incident happens and it is reported in isolation,” Macwan told The Citizen.

In response to a question about the timing of the book’s release, he said, “The Indian parliament has 84 Dalit (SC) reserved and 47 Adivasi (ST) reserved constituencies. During the 2014 elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party won 41 and its allies 16 of the Dalit reserved seats, and the BJP won 26 of the 47 Adivasi reserved constituencies. The ruling party’s majority was clearly due to the Dalit and Adivasi seats. Were Dalit and Adivasi candidates fielded by these parties in order to ensure that atrocities against them would increase?”

Macwan remarked that while Pulwama is a serious incident, it does not happen every day. Military action by India against acts of terror is important, but fortunately not a daily event.

“Unfortunately, while Dalit and Adivasi representation in the armed forces is significant, atrocities are perpetrated on Dalits and Adivasis every day. Unemployment among Dalits and Adivasis has increased at a higher rate than among other sections of society after demonetisation. Financial resources allocated to specific Dalit and Adivasi programmes in the budget have been diverted elsewhere.

“Manual scavenging continues, and so do the deaths of man-hole workers. Families of man-hole victims have not been paid compensation even after an order of the Supreme Court. The reserved posts in employment for Dalits and Adivasis have not been filled; the backlog continues to mount. The Adivasis are yet to be given their rights over the forest land under the ‘Forest Rights Act’. On the contrary, acts of removing them from their lands have increased,” Macwan said.

The book covers a large number but not all the incidents of atrocity in all the states. The writer could not cover the union territories because of paucity of time. According to him not every case could be included because the government has yet to declare the official figures of atrocities committed on Dalits and Adivasis during 2017 and 2018.

From 2014-16 according to the National Crime Records Bureau a total of 1,19,872 incidents of atrocities on Dalits and 19,671 incidents of atrocities on Adivasis were recorded. These figures do not include cases where sections of the Prevention of Atrocities Act were not applied. Nor do they include instances where people did not register complaints with the police out of fear, or instances where the police instead of registering an FIR, merely recorded the complaints as ‘Applications’.

Macwan said the figures do not include those engaged in manual scavenging, typically on contract with municipalities and governments, or those who died due to inhalation of poisonous gases while cleaning sewers, drainages, and man-holes.

“Even if we accept the official figure of atrocities as it is, it means that over 2,35,000 atrocities have been committed on Dalits and Adivasis in India during past five years,” he writes in his book. This figure of records amounts to an average of 129 atrocities every single day.

Macwan has mainly relied on newspaper reports and accepts that every state is not evenly covered. “West Bengal has about a 23 percent Dalit population but it appears that cases are not registered under the Atrocities Act there. So the state never reports more than 80-85 cases of atrocities per year. And except for Assam, Tripura and to some extent Meghalaya, the north-eastern states do not have a recognised Dalit population, just as Punjab and Haryana do not have an Adivasi population.”

Not all the 319 incidents covered in the book were registered under the Atrocities Act. Macwan explains, “At times, gruesome violence against women has been committed within a community. Caste and gender are two sides of the same coin of Caste Ideology. Dalits and Adivasis also perceive women as ‘low’ and treat them with contempt; in just the way as non-Dalits perceive and treat Dalits and Adivasis.

“However, the State cannot escape its responsibility to contain such violence just because it is not legally defined as an atrocity. The introduction of a mere 33 percent reservation for women in political office is not the solution to this massive and complex problem.”

Deliberating further on the need for this book, he says that the combined Dalit and Adivasi population in India is over 320 million, yet a comprehensive picture of atrocities perpetrated on them is not available.

“We have become the proverbial frogs at the bottom of a well, ignorant of the world outside the well. In 2014, 901 Dalit and Adivasi persons were murdered and 3,158 Dalit and Adivasi women raped. That extrapolates to more than 63,000 murders and 212,000 rapes on Dalits and Adivasis since Independence. I dislike ‘projected numbers’. I prefer factual numbers, but the true figures are not made public. A loss of human life and dignity on this scale is not seen, even when we combine all the casualties of every war and act of terrorism since Independence.

“The fact that citizens of a country can live with security, dignity, and honour forms the foundation of democracy. Planning of development cannot be limited to figures of construction of roads, airports, Metros and Bullet trains,” Macwan added.

In the event of an atrocity, according to Macwan, the government responds with a knee-jerk reaction. It announces an inquiry and at best hands over a cheque of compensation with a photo-op for some dignitary.

“Why were all those accused of the 1999 Bihar massacre acquitted? Simple: the government did not provide security to witnesses. The book has an account of a mother, the sole witness to the murder of her son, who was given armed police protection. But she was shot on the day she had to depose. The armed guard was absent since he was ‘unwell’.

“Then, the absence of toilets forces millions of women to defecate in the open, making them vulnerable to rape. This is a sad aspect of India’s development. There is an account of the woman who defecated in her own home for a year and a half while her husband carried away the excreta. The fear of rape during outdoor defecation had traumatised her.

“We don’t know whether or not such an event will be considered an atrocity. However, when it was reported in a local newspaper, a government official declared that a toilet would be sanctioned for her if the woman applied for it!” Macwan writes.

Referring to the recent Supreme Court order on eviction from forest lands, he writes, “The Supreme Court ordered the removal of 1,127,446 alleged encroachers from forest lands. This forced the central government to rush and plead for a stay against the order because of the looming parliamentary elections. The government while seeking the injunction argued that it needs to ensure whether the due process of law has been followed before such removal.

“The reason cited was, if not laughable, certainly an insult to the Adivasis. The list of alleged encroachers was prepared by the respective state governments. Even the Supreme Court should have ensured that the due process of law had been adhered to before passing the order.

“It is one thing to peacefully persuade Adivasis living ‘illegally’ on forest land to move; but quite another to slap children, to snatch away food from their mouths, to break pots of food being cooked, to kick women in their bellies; and raze their huts to the ground.”

Macwan raises a very valid point in his book: Just what is the use of the government, if the poor and deliberately marginalised have continuously to go to the courts to protect their legitimate rights?

Bhed Bharat (Divided India) is a must read for those who want to understand what is going on in the real India, away from the glitter of metros shown by the media, particularly television. It throws up dozens of questions, in the face of an India that is projected as a democracy promising equality to all its citizens irrespective of their religion, caste, ethnicity, or their gender.