Mumbai: What is the price a Dalit man has to pay for fighting alleged caste discrimination from his seniors in government service? A series of departmental inquiries, criminal charges and, ultimately, suspension.
An assistant central intelligence officer, in his complaint to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), has narrated his long drawn ordeal of working with the Intelligence Bureau for four years and the alleged caste discrimination that he was subjected to while on duty.
J. Viplav Babu, a 39-year-old assistant central intelligence officer-II deputed to the Bureau of Immigration at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, has accused his seniors – joint deputy director Hrishikesh Pathak and deputy intelligence officer Tapa Bhattacharya – of constant harassment, making casteist comments and plotting to have him removed on several occasions.
Babu, in his petition, has claimed that the harassment started when he first demanded that there be an adequate number of clean toilets for officers at the immigration office. He explains in his complaint:
“In the early month of 2017, I pursued the case for providing basic amenities for immigration staff at CSI airport, Mumbai. Over 80 immigration staff work at the departure section with only on single washroom (size 5*5 feet) with just one commode… While I was explaining (to the joint deputy director (JDD) H K Pathak) the need for cleaner and bigger washrooms, I was ridiculed and laughed at.”
He further says, “I was asked by the JDD, “Tum logon ka dimaag toilets main hi rehta kya (Do you people think beyond toilets?)”. But I insisted that my complaint be heard. As I was still describing the problem, I was asked to “get lost” from the room,” he narrates in his complaint. These words, Babu says, were evidently casteist and were spoken through a “casteist mindset and anti-Dalit views”.
Babu, who was pursuing a PhD in political science and simultaneously teaching postgraduate and undergraduate students before joining the services, has claimed that he had “left a promising career in academics to serve the nation”.
In a separate set of incidents between late 2017 and 2018, Babu says, his house in the government quarters at Antop Hill of central Mumbai was broken into by unknown miscreants while he was away at work and his wife was home. Such attacks happened on three different occasions and each time when he asked for changes in his shift timings to ensure his family was safe, his requests were turned down. “Pathak had ridiculed me and had said if I was facing this problem, I could resign from the job.” When Babu had informed Pathak that he fears for his wife’s well-being and that she could even be sexually assaulted by the miscreants, he claims Pathak had told him it is not his responsibility if an untoward incident were to happen with her. Babu’s wife holds a doctorate in linguistics and is presently teaching in a private institute.
Babu claims his immediate senior, Bhattacharya, had responded in a similar way. “You, category people, easily find suitable jobs, you should resign,” he says Bhattacharya had told him. Babu had to eventually move out to the northern suburbs, where he is currently staying.
Further, in his written complaint, Babu says when he began approaching the senior officials and complaining about his ordeal, both at the workspace and outside, this behaviour was looked at as an act of insubordination. Soon after, a departmental inquiry was initiated on March 20, 2018 against him for insubordination and talking back to the seniors in “discourteous ways”. Instead of resolving the issues raised by Babu over the staff’s hygiene and proper toilet facility, Pathak reportedly complained that Babu did not wear a tie when he came to meet him. The departmental inquiry found Babu “guilty”.
When Babu filed his 35-page response to the inquiry memo, another inquiry was initiated against him. This time the sections applied were of a serious nature and if found guilty, he could even be removed from service.
His allegations also claim that he was denied proper appraisals and intentionally marked down by his reporting officer, Bhattacharya, who on several occasion allegedly made casteist comments. These charges have been denied in the response filed by the IB to the NCSC.
The Wire reached out to Babu on email with a detailed questionnaire for his comment on specific allegations. He, however, replied saying since the case is pending, he can’t talk to the media.
On Pathak’s behalf, the department has sent a reply to the NCSC denying every charge levelled by Babu. Though Babu’s complaint was against two specific individuals, the response has been filed by the department and not by those accused of discrimination and harassment. Pathak, unlike other officers who get transferred every four-five years, have served in the same office for over two decades.
When The Wire contacted Pathak for his response about the complaint to the commission, he said, “When they don’t spare (chief) Justice Gogoi, I am still a small person. Such things do happen. But the department is looking into this.” When confronted with specific incidents, Pathak told this correspondent that he was bound by the department’s protocol and couldn’t speak to the media. However, he directed this reporter to a police station and said, “You can find out the truth from the investigating officer there.”
Babu’s correspondence with the NCSC also highlights incidents of caste discrimination faced by two other officers in the department – one officer belonging to a Scheduled Caste and another to a tribal community. In both incidents, Pathak is accused of discriminating against his subordinate officers. However, The Wire could not contact the officers and independently confirm these charges.
As Babu continued to pursue his case, the issue soon escalated and yet another inquiry was initiated against him. He claims this was done to only further humiliate and insult him. On March 14, 2019, as the proceeding was on, he claims, the committee members had without reasons left the room for a brief period. In that period, Babu claims, Pathak was abusive to him and had suddenly started screaming “bachao, bachao (help me)”. This, Babu claims, was staged and done only to make it appear that he was aggressive and had attacked a senior official. Babu claims that he was in fact attacked and threatened by Pathak.
Babu claims that the CCTV footage available with the department would make the chronology of his claims evidently clear. However, access to this CCTV footage has been denied by the IB claiming that all videos are disposed of every 30 days.
Babu, fearing further attack, had then headed to the Bandra Kurla police station under whose jurisdiction his office falls. Here, he says, he had reached at 12:15 pm and was given a patient hearing by Deepshika Vaare, the officer in-charge. However, Babu claims that things changed the moment Pathak walked into the police station at 12:50 pm. Babu was no more a complainant. He was soon made an accused and booked for criminal intimidation and attacking a government employee.
Vaare, when contacted, claimed that Babu’s complaint was not registered because she did not find any merit in his allegations. However, she did not want to elaborate on the reasons and said, “I am not bound to speak to the media. I am not interested in giving you any further information.”
Babu has been constantly writing to the NCSC to explain the ordeal he has been made to face since he decided to speak up. While the commission has asked the IB to reply to his specific charges, it is yet to pass a verdict. The Wire tried to get in touch with commission member Swaraj Vidwan (through her personal assistant, Mohan Jogila), who is presiding over Babu’s complaint. However, she could not be reached.