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Dehradun: A 45-year-old Dalit man was allegedly beaten to death in the Champawat district of Uttarakhand by ‘upper caste’ people after he was found having food at a wedding along with ‘everyone’, but not separately – in violation of casteist norms prevalent locally.
The victim’s family alleged that the man was physically tortured for several hours before he was shifted to Lohaghat hospital and from there to another hospital in Haldwani where he succumbed.
The Champawat Police has registered a case of murder and added various relevant sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. An FIR (first information report) has also been registered against unknown persons, but no arrests have been made yet.
After registering the case based on the victim’s wife, Champawat SP, Devendra Pincha, told The Wire, “We are probing all the angles in the case. The footage of the wedding party has been accessed, and the guests at the venue are being questioned.”
The SP further went on to add that the victim was invited to the wedding ceremony. The local police had already questioned the family of Dungar Singh, which had organised the wedding, but the family denied allegations levelled by the victim’s family, the police official added.
In the FIR accessed by The Wire, victim Ramesh Ram’s wife Tulsi Devi stated that her husband ran a tailor shop in Devidhura’s Kedarnath village. The shop, a rented place, is owned by Dungar Singh. He had gone to the wedding on November 28 upon invitation from Singh, she said in the FIR.
When Ram did not return home at night, his wife called him on his mobile, which was picked up by an unidentified person who said that her husband was at a wedding party and would return home the next morning, the FIR said.
In the morning, Tulsi Devi received another call when a person on the other side of the phone told her that her husband was unconscious and would be taken to a hospital. “In the morning my son also got a call from an ambulance operator who told that my husband had been admitted to a hospital in Lohaghat and we must reach there,” she added in the FIR.
On November 29 morning when the family rushed to the hospital in Lohaghat, they saw Ram on the floor lying unattended. Later, doctors there referred him to a hospital in Haldwani, the FIR noted.
“All of us were too shocked to see the condition of my father. He had injury marks all over. While being taken to Haldwani in the ambulance, he told me that he was beaten for eating with everyone,” said Ram’s teenage son Sanjay.
At Haldwani hospital, doctors conducted some tests along with a CT Scan before declaring him dead on November 29.
According to the victim’s wife, he was tortured for having food along with everyone at the wedding. “I am sure that my husband was mercilessly tortured whole night on November 28 – the wedding night— and then sent to Lohaghat hospital next morning without informing us,” said Tulsi Devi in the FIR.
The victim’s daughter, Rakhi, too alleged torture on the part of Dungar Singh’s family. “My father was beaten to death by people for serving food himself at the wedding party. The involvement of the family [Dungar Singh’s] is clear…they kept hiding facts. The family had called an ambulance to send him to the Lohaghat hospital, but did not tell us what exactly happened to him.”
Meanwhile, a Pithoragarh-based Dalit activist Kamal Kishore, who is extending support to the victim’s family, suspected something gravely sinister in the way Ram had died and described it as a case of caste-based violence.
Kishore said, “The victim’s body had injury signs which point to beating. Also, the suspects did not inform the victim’s family and called an ambulance for rushing him to the Lohaghat hospital. This clearly shows that something very serious had happened the night before. This is a shocking case of caste-based violence.”
The activist also added that postmortem, which is still awaited, will reveal further details into the cause of death. “We are waiting for the postmortem report which would tell us the cause of death and the exact nature of injuries suffered by the victim. But meanwhile, the local police must question the ambulance driver who had called the victim’s family and also the man who called the family to tell that Ramesh Ram was unwell and would return home the next day.”
Spike in caste-based violence in Uttarakhand
The picturesque hills of Uttarakhand are often termed ‘Devbhoomi’, but the region has a dark underbelly owing to the rampant caste discrimination and widespread caste-based violence.
In Uttarakhand, Rajputs and Brahmins together make up 60% of the state’s population while Dalits constitute about 19%. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, incidents of caste-based violence spiked from 58 in 2018 to 84 in 2019, a 45% rise in just one year. In other words, this is the fifth highest increase in the country and well above the national average of 7% rise.
At the village level, caste discrimination in wedding ceremonies of ‘upper caste’ families is not uncommon in Uttarakhand. Dalits, if invited to such weddings, are served food separately to prevent them from mixing with other guests of upper castes. Over the years, there have been several instances where enraged ‘upper caste’ people resorted to violence if any Dalit is found eating in their sight.
This rampant discrimination based on caste has also affected the family of Vandana Kataria, India’s hockey team player. In August this year, when the Indian hockey team lost to Argentina in Tokyo Olympics, some upper caste men burst crackers outside her family home in Haridwar district’s Roshnabad and hurled casteist slurs at Kataria’s family. They had attributed India’s loss to having “too many Dalits players” in the team.
In another gruesome incident, a Dalit was beheaded in Bageshwar in 2016 for using a flour mill before upper caste men.
According to Bhaskar Das, a Dehradun-based Dalit intellectual and social worker, caste discrimination has been a permanent feature in the local hill society. “The violence against Dalits is on the rise in Uttarakhand. The main reason for this is carefully cultivated hatred among the younger generation of upper castes against people from lower castes and against the reservation system. We can’t imagine a situation even today where an upper caste man is not enraged by the sight of a lower caste person eating at a wedding. So, one can imagine how deeply casteist notions are ingrained among some upper caste people.”