17 October 2019 01:07 PM

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JOHN DAYAL | 10 OCTOBER, 2019

The Tonsuring of Rajiv and Sagar Das

In the wind are words from Ambedkar and Kanshiram—and the seething anger of injury


There is something about an Indian village, whether it is Warisalliganj in the Bihar’s Nawada district or elsewhere, that tells you where the Dalits live. Or the Muslims.

From the main road, it will be the last lot of houses or huts, after the lane has wound through the region of the more privileged in the caste hierarchy. In this case, it was the Thakurs, some, several from the very powerful landowning Bhumihars, and in this village, the Yadavs, otherwise themselves listed as a backward class.

The short cut to the basti where the Dalit houses are situated is from the rear side of the village. Here the land is a bit marshy, turning in the monsoon rains to a gluey slush that sticks to the shoes and chappals.

But this is no ordinary Dalit segment. Many young men, and perhaps some women, have completed senior secondary school and are now seeking admission to the district’s colleges. One, who got a distinction in mathematics in the 12th class examination, is indeed hoping he will make the admission list for the Honours course in that difficult subject. He well might.

His mother, who takes care of the house, had passed her intermediate examinations two decades ago before she was married off to a man from this village.

In the wind are quotations from Babasaheb and Manyawar Kanshi Ram. There is the more immediate inspiration of Chandrashekhar of Bhim Sena, he of the Bullet motorcycle and the twirled glistening moustache.

And there is the seething anger of injury. The Das family is the most educated in Warisaliganj. Cousins Rajiv Kumar Das (20) and Sagar Das (19) are in their first year of a graduate programme.

They had watched the trailer of the popular film Article 15 which perhaps for the first time in a commercial Bollywood film speaks about caste atrocities in a clinical manner as a matter of violating constitutional rights. The film provoked protests from the Upper castes, or Savarnas in some areas of Bihar.

On July 2 at about 5 pm, Rajiv went to Ambedkar Awasi hostel to meet some friends. Some men from the village entered the hostel and threatened the Dalit students. Rajiv says a young man he identified as Prabhat Mishra, who is a member of the Bajrang Dal assaulted him and beat him up.

Others intervened and Rajiv decided not to make much of an event about it. He went back to the village.

But having seen the film of atrocities on Dalits and recalling his own humiliating thrashing by the Bajrang Dal activist, Rajiv admits he took down the photographs of gods and goddesses in his house. Someone filmed him on a mobile phone as he set about destroying the photos, stomping on them in his rage.

The video went viral on July 2. On July 5 a group of young men from the Yadav, Brahmin and other communities came to the Dalit basti, or settlement, and dragged Rajiv out of his house. They marched him to the Masan Khama Government School.

The lone Dalit youth was thrashed. They grabbed him and tonsured him. But his head was not shaved fully. The village has many people who routinely get their hair cut very short.

His head was tonsured in a broad strip that would remind him of his humiliation. Rajiv also remembers that they made him drink the filthy water from the sewage drain. More of that same ullage was poured on him, soaking him to the skin.

They were not done with the young Dalit yet. They blackened his face and made him wear a string of shoes around his neck.

The Police had reached the village by then. As happens in rural India, the policemen were just bystanders as the caste goons continued their assault on Rajiv das.

At last, the police intervened and took him to the police station. Rajiv said the police also asked them their caste, and when he told them, they too beat the cousins some more. The attackers in fact took “selfies” with him on their mobiles, trophies of their superior social status.

Rajiv and Sagar Das were granted bail on August 1.

In jail, they also met Prabhat Mishra. Mishra’s accomplices Gulshan and Sachin threatened to kill the two cousins while they were in prison.

The threats continue to this day. The two are mocked, threatened and told their legs will be cut, and their genitals too. Their fathers are also threatened, they tell Karawan-e Mohabbat when we meet them at their house.

But the cousins, and their families, are no longer intimidated.

When we meet them, Rajiv and Sagar are dressed in white clothes, with a blue scarf or angochhha around their neck. Their hair has grown back. They have sprouted moustaches, which Rajiv meticulously twirls into an upward curl, reflecting his self-discovered confidence in his identity.

He tells us he is studying the works of Babasaheb Ambedkar and finds great empowerment in them.

But the Das cousins need legal support. While the police are pursuing cases against them —the charge is instigating enmity between groups— the more serious case of a deadly assault on them, their humiliation, tonsuring and forcing them to drink filthy water which deserve action against their attackers under the Prevention of Atrocities against the Scheduled Castes Act, is not being followed up with the same zeal.

When the Karawan-e Mohabbat visited them, there was no sign of the police in the village.

The Karwan-e Mohabbat journeys regularly across India to meet the victims of hate crimes and help create safety nets for them and their families, and to inform and influence the public conscience.
 

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