Khairlanji to Kanpur
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Statues of B.R. Ambedkar dot small town and rural India. Sometimes his familiar, bespectacled face comes awash in a bright pink hue and the regulation blue of his suit is a trifle loud, but there is an iconic significance about these figurines for the dalit community that may escape the urban sophisticate. Here, quite literally, is the representation of dalit pride and aspiration. The constant evoking of Ambedkar, whether in these plaster of paris figurines or in the greeting 'Jai Bhim' (victory to Bhimrao Ambedkar), signifies his continuing import to the dalits of India 50 years after his death. A reflection, both of the conspicuous lack of leaders to replace him, as indeed the internalisation of the insecurity of an entire community believed to number 167 million.
But why should the desecration of an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur, UP, have resulted in the raw, incandescent display of dalit anger that we saw in Maharashtra, hundreds of miles away? To put it another way, if the brutal killing of four members of a dalit family in a nondescript village in Maharashtra was handled with a measure of justice, would Maharashtra have burned? The answer is, probably, not. No amount of political mobilisation could have triggered the spontaneous rampage that saw the burning of two trains and the widespread vandalisation of public property witnessed on Thursday. If the Khairlanji killings hadn't come as a recent and brutal reminder that dalit lives continue to be vulnerable despite constitutional protection, decades of affirmative action and political mobilisation we would have been spared this odorous whiff of anarchy.
It becomes important then to revisit the incident that took place in Khairlanji village, Bhandara district. According to information pieced together later, the Bhotmanges were one of two or three Mahar families in that village of a 150-odd households. On the evening of September 29, the mother and her daughter was stripped in public, gang-raped and hacked to death. Her two sons were not spared either. This was in the nature of "settling scores" over a land dispute and to teach both women a lesson for the temerity they displayed in being witnesses to a criminal attack on a relative.
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