Rage, grief, fear and helplessness flit across the face of 13-year-old Rahul Norge when he talks about September 17, the day he claims he saw the police beat his father to death at Mumula police station.
The memories of his cowering father, Satish Norge, a Dalit, haunt him and the tears flow. “Fansi deni chahiye (they should be hanged),” said Rahul, referring to the police personnel allegedly involved in the fatal beating as well as several upper caste members of the neighbourhood with whom his father had an argument a few hours before his death. “I want to study law and fight for Dalits,” he added.
The death of Satish has become a rallying point for Dalits in and around Janjgir-Champa district of Chhattisgarh and they are preparing to fight “injustices and discrimination” that they say are heaped on them.
“The problem is graver than in Una of Gujarat,” claimed Goldy George, a local Dalit rights activist. Unlike Una, where the public flogging of four Dalit youths in July on the suspicion of cow smuggling hit the headlines and triggered national outrage, Satish’s death received little coverage. “Atrocities on Chhattisgarh Dalits never got media attention, hence no one cared about them,” George added.
Fed up of the indifference, Dalits leaders say the community has decided to take matters into own hands. They say meetings have already been held against “upper caste domination and atrocities” across Janjgir-Champa, Bilaspur, Korba, Raigarh and Baloda Bazar and Mungeli districts.
“A mass movement against atrocities on Dalits will follow,” said Guddu Lahere, an officer-bearer of Dalit Mukti Morcha. Some leaders are also toying with the idea of floating a party of their own.
A majority of Dalits in this region of Chhattisgarh belong to Satnami Samaj. At the meetings being held now, the focus is on galvanising their “arms-less army” known as “Satnam Sena”. Satish was from the Satnami Samaaj.
Janjgir-Champa’s population comprises more than 50% Dalits. This is where Kanshi Ram, the late founder of Bahujan Samaj Party, fought his first Lok Sabha election in 1984. Though he lost, he is credited with consolidating the Dalit vote. Dalits of the region still call him “Messiah”. According to an estimate, the region has more than 800,000 people of Satnami Samaj, apart from around 200,000 other Dalits.
“After the killing of Satish Norge, the Satnami Samaj has organised many meetings. The other Dalits are also with us now,” said Lahere.
After the death of Satish, the arrest of Satnami leader Vikas Khandekar in Mungeli district over a Facebook post on Goddess Durga too has united the Dalits, said activists.
Following Khandekar’s arrest, the Satnami Samaj alleged that Hindu right-wing activists threw stones at his house in police presence and even attacked his family members. The Satnami Samaj also alleged that slippers were thrown their “Jaistambh” (a monument symbolising peace and truth) in Mungeli.
“We lodged a complaint with the police that our sentiments were hurt after the attack on Jaistambh and the family members of Vikas, but no FIR was registered,” said Lahere.
Dalit organisations in the state are now focusing their energies on meetings, campaigning for “proper investigation” leading to convictions in cases registered under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and building up to a possible statewide yatra. Dalits allege that the police are hand in glove with upper castes and cases of atrocities on them rarely result in conviction.
The numbers that matter
“Most of the custodial deaths reported in the state are either of Dalits or Adivasis, said Dalit rights activist Goldy George.
National Crime Records Bureau data for Chhattisgarh shows 242 cases were registered for crimes against persons belonging to Scheduled Castes in 2013, and 1,066 in 2014. The increase of about 340% is the highest among states.
Data released by National Commission for Scheduled Castes this year shows crimes against Dalits in Gujarat went up from 27.7% in 2014 to 163.3% in 2015. In Chhattisgarh, it spiked from 32.6% in 2014 to 91.9% in 2015.
The proportion of Scheduled Castes in Chhattisgarh increased from 11.6% in 2001 to 12.8% in 2011.
There are 10 SC MLAs — nine from the BJP and one from the Congress — in the 91-member House (One member is nominated). The Bahujan Samaj Party has one seat (OBC legislator).