‘Reported as video went viral’: Rajasthan Dalit man violated with screwdriver

Kavita Srivastav, general secretary of the Rajasthan chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, says the Dalits continue to face caste violence and live in fear of the police.
Mother of one of the victims is consoled by the neighbours at her home in Nagaur district of Rajasthan on Friday.(Himanshu Vyas/ht photo)
Mother of one of the victims is consoled by the neighbours at her home in Nagaur district of Rajasthan on Friday.(Himanshu Vyas/ht photo)
Updated on Feb 23, 2020 02:24 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Sohan Nagar (Nagaur) | By Urvashi Dev Rawal

The 23-year-old Dalit man from Rajasthan’s Nagaur district ,who was beaten up and violated with a petrol-laced screwdriver by a group of Rajputs, says the incident would have gone unreported had the video not leaked on social media sites because he wouldn’t have dared to complain to the police .

“I would not have reported the incident to the police if the video had not gone viral. The Rajput men threatened me with dire consequences if I told anyone,” the man said about the incident

Seven people -- the manager and six employees of a motorcycle service centre -- have been arrested in connection with the incident that took place on February 16, three days before the videos surfaced on social media. In the videos, two Dalits are seen being beaten with fan belts and one of them, the 23-year-old, is stripped and violated with a screwdriver. One of the accused filmed the torture on his mobile phone.

The Nagaur incident has once again exposed the ugly reality of the deep caste divide that exists in Rajasthan and the fear of the upper castes that the Dalits live in despite promises by successive governments to protect them from oppression and ensure their emancipation. Rajasthan Police crime branch data show that incidents of violence against the Dalits increased 47.47% from 2018 to 2019.

Kavita Srivastav, general secretary of the Rajasthan chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, says the Dalits continue to face caste violence and live in fear of the police.

Another case in point is the April 2019 gang rape of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in front of her husband by five men who filmed the crime in Rajasthan’s Alwar and put it on social media. The rapists had waylaid the couple and beaten up the husband before taking turns to rape the woman.

The victim’s family said the local police did not register a case although a complaint was lodged on April 29. A case was finally registered on May 2 under the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act after the video had gone viral and chief minister Ashok Gehlot issued an order that the first information report be registered in the offices of the superintendent of police.

Nagaur district has the fifth highest number of cases of cruelty against Dalits in Rajasthan. According to police data, in 2019, Ganganagar and Bharatpur had the highest number of cases (408 each) followed by Hanumangarh with 311, Bikaner with 292, closely followed by Nagaur with 281.

Additional director general of police (crime) BL Soni said the increase in the number of incidents of violence against Dalits in Rajasthan was a reflection of a liberal FIR registration policy adopted by the police.

Former Rajasthan director general of police and current Congress MLA Harish Chandra Meena questioned this claim. He said he had to sit on a sit-in protest in Tonk district to get an FIR registered in the suspicious death of a lorry driver last year. Even in the Alwar gang rape case, no FIR was registered until the video of the incident had gone viral, he pointed out..

In the Nagaur incident, Satish Kumar of the Centre for Dalit Rights noted, the victims’ family said news of the incident had spread locally. “If people locally knew about the incident, was the police sleeping for three days,” he asked.

The 23-year-old man who was beaten up and violated in the incident sat huddled in a two-room tenement on a sprawling 14-acre farm where the jeera crop was ready to harvest. His village, Sohan Nagar, is set in the sandy flatlands of Nagaurt, 350 km from the Rajasthan capital Jaipur.

The victim and his cousin were assaulted in Karnu village where they had gone to get their bike serviced at the garage owned by a Rajput, Hanuman Singh, who is now in police custody. According to the accused, the cousins stole some money from the cash counter -- the reason why they were tortured .

When the video went viral on February 19, the police had no option but to act. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, whose party governs Rajasthan, tweeted that the government should take prompt action. The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party dispatched delegations to the village to probe the incident. Rashtriya Loktantrik Party leader Hanuman Beniwal and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati attacked the Congress government.

Politicians, Dalit rights activists, members of civil society organisations, media and the police all made a beeline to the remote village. The same day, the victims went to the Panchodi police station to file an FIR, and the police arrested the seven suspects within hours.

Investigating officer Mukul Sharma said there had been no negligence by the police.On the video, he said: “It was the social media cell of the Nagaur police that intercepted the video on February 18 and informed us and we acted.”

On the allegation that the torture victims had stolen money, Sharma said an FIR of theft had been filed against the cousins and the complaint was being investigated. He said the police had written to Facebook and other social media sites to remove the video from their platforms.

Gautam Nayak, a lawyer, is blunt. “The SHO (station house officer) Rajpal Singh is a Rajput and the accused are Rajputs. He tried to shield them. We are demanding that he be suspended.”

Satish Kumar of the Centre for Dalit Rights said the police had invoked mild provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the he Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, such as wrongful restraint, voluntarily causing hurt and unlawful assembly against the suspects.

“They should have also put sections 307 (attempt to murder), 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), 120 (B) (punishment for criminal conspiracy), 326 (a) (punishment for acid attacks) of the IPC. Sections 3 (2) (giving false evidence) and section 3 (2) (iii) (committing mischief by fire or any explosive substance) of the SC/ST Act and sections 66 and 67 of the IT Act,” he said.

PL Mimroth, founder of the Centre for Dalit Rights, said the law alone cannot do enough to prevent the recurrence of such violations. “The hold of the caste divide is perhaps a pointer to the fact that law alone cannot vanquish such social evils,” he said.

“Why do certain castes feel emboldened to act in reprehensible ways,” he asked. “There is a need to change the mindset and sensitise the people.”

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Monday, October 18, 2021