Since the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kopardi in Ahmednagar district, followed by a recent case of Taelegaon in Nashik district, the issue of women security has acquired a caste colour further widening the caste faultlines
Devidas Deshpande from Pune
Even as Maharashtra is still recovering from the ghastly rape and subsequent silent marches, which has bared the faultlines of the castes in the state, it surfaced yet again in another social strife. This time the instigation came from an incident in Nashik district. A minor boy from the same village allegedly raped a five-year old girl in the village Talegaon of Tryambakeshwar. A case under the section 376 of the Indian Penal Code has been filed and the police have apprehended the culprit. The government doctors have declared that the rape was not committed but there was a
However, the occurrence was not without its repercussions. About three thousand workers under the banner of Maratha Kranti Morcha rushed to the local police station after hearing of the incident. The angry mob held a roadblock and then started torching the vehicles. Two police vehicles were burned besides the state transport buses and private vehicles. The violence in Nashik had two prime targets – the public property and the Dalits. The police officials themselves informed that vehicles were identified by the stickers on them and then damaged. The things came to such a pass that the administration halted the transport on major highways in the district for a day and half. It even blocked the mobile internet service to arrest the rumour mongering through social media.
Interestingly, Nashik had witnessed a huge protest march by the OBCs just a week earlier. Even though the evident demand of the marchers was to release Chhagan Bhujbal, presently behind bars under corruption charges, the real motive was widely believed to be the show of strength by the OBCs in reply to the Maratha marches.
Girish Mahajan, the guardian minister of the district,
immediately visited the village after the incident. He and the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis clarified within no time that the victim was subjected to sexual assault but she was fine and recuperating. They also advised people not to fall victim to the rumour mongering and keep calm. “The incident in the Talegaon is most unfortunate. The culprit in the case will be given severe punishment and this case will be heard in the fast-track court,” said the CM Fadnavis.
However, the emotional frenzy had taken over the mob. Within minutes of the incident becoming known, the messages flew thick and fast that the girl was from the Maratha caste and that the accused was a Dalit. The already fragile social fabric became even more vulnerable. The Dalits were threatened in many parts of Nashik and at some places; they were
reportedly made to flee.
This reaction stems from the fact that the rapes are being seen as the tool of caste dominance. The Maratha community, which enjoyed political and social supremacy in Maharashtra, sees the rising rapes on the girls from this community as a threat to its existence. “You have seen the patience of the Marathas, now see the anger,” said one of the Facebook posts on a Maratha Kranti Morcha’s page along with the photos of damaged buses. It also explains why the mob got enraged after minister Mahajan clarified that there was no rape on the girl. The mob saw it as an attempt to hush up the episode and reacted with violence.
For the other community, it is the selective outrage. “Why was this anger not visible when victims were from our community,” is the retort of the Dalits. At least three major cases have come to fore in Maharashtra in recent years where the Dalits were subjected to inhuman cruelties. Two of these cases involved love affair between the Dalit boy and Maratha girl.
“The parliament of India has passed a law to give capital punishment to the rapists. If you want, severe their hands and limbs, but do not attack the Dalit colonies. No community should try to vitiate the peace in the Maharashtra,” said Union Minister of State for Social Welfare Ramdas Athwale.
This developments are ironic in the state considered to be one of the most progressive in the country. After Marathas led the anti-Brahmin, popularly, known as the Bahujan movement in Maharashtra, naturally acquired eminence in power structures after 1960s, with the birth of a new Marathi speaking state. However, the scene is changing fast. During the last two decades, the Other Backward Classes have occupied the political power in a big way. In government jobs, the Dalits have acquired prominence with rising aspirations. Having lost most of its ground, the Maratha community sees a valid threat to its existence when the girls from the community are targeted.
How protective the communities are about their girls can be seen from the recent example of a cartoon published in the Sunday supplement of Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamana. The cartoon used pun on ‘mook morcha’ (silent march) with ‘mooka morcha’ (kiss march). This was seen as an effort to slander the womenfolk in Maratha community and maligning their character. Ajit Pawar, the Nationalist Congress leader, said in a public rally, “They published this cartoon and insulted our mothers and sisters.” The newspaper’s office in Navi Mumbai was vandalised. With municipal elections in the state round the corner and Maratha members forming a large chunk of its cadres, the Shiv Sena leadership tendered unconditional apology – probably first time in its 50-year old
history – and stopped the cartoon column altogether.
As noted writer Sanjay Sonawani wrote recently on his blog, “The community is sensitive about its womenfolk and that too from the historical times is understandable…The caste is not the only factor when a boy from one community rapes a girl from another community. Any sexually pervert person can commit this crime. However, when individuals in two extremely different social conditions spread the hatred against each other, it is daring to say that it eventually does not lead to such incidents.”
An example is the recent movie ‘Sairaat’. It depicted a failed love story between an apparent Dalit boy and a Maratha girl. It generated a lot of heat, controversy and debate. Its director Nagraj Manjule was accused of deliberately targeting Maratha girls through his movies. So much so, after the Kopardi incident, he was repeatedly asked his reaction on the incident. It lead him to say, “The rapists have no caste. A rapist is a rapist and he must be hanged.”
Even though the social activists and commentators have advised to look at these incidents as the atrocities against women, it has few takers. The girls are seen as the prized
possessions that are to be protected from the looters. It is for this reason that the Jat Panchayats, the powerful body of respective caste leaders, make headlines time and again. These Jat Panchayats issue diktats every now and then and most of them involve the girls – either marrying outside their caste or married from other castes. They either ostracise the families or heavy, sometimes impossible, fines on them for allowing the girls to marry outside. It was under the present government under CM Fadnavis that a new law against the Jat Panchayats was passed on the eve of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary this year.
However, these Jat Panchayats are mainly confined to smaller or nomadic castes. The Marathas and Dalits stand apart as more organised and politically more aware castes – Marathas form 32 percent of the total population of the state. Therefore, whenever even a girl from the community is
targeted, it assumes it to be a direct onslaught on it. In the politically polarised environment, even a blatant criminal act like rape assumes social overtones.
Just two months ago, there was an incident of rape in the Bulandshahar of the Uttar Pradesh. Azam Khan, the senior Minister in the UP cabinet, had said at the time that the said case was a deliberate attempt by the opposition to malign the government. The UP government was then accused of acting slow in the matter because the perpetrators in that case came from a particular community. He received a lot of deserved flak for this dumb accusation.
The scene in Maharashtra is no different. Sharad Pawar, former Union Minister and NCP president, used the incident in Kopardi to ask for a repel of the Atrocity Act. However, when it elicited strong reactions from all quarters, he made a U-turn and said he never asked for repel, he just wanted an amendment in the Act. The reaction came in the form of a march by the Dalit organisations in Baramati for the ‘protection of Atrocity Act’. And even as the politics takes a free ride, the issue of status of women in the society takes a backseat. n