Freedom Under Fire: Dalit or Not?; 'Azaadi ki Udaan'

A round-up of news, both bad and good, on the rights front from India.

Dalit or not?

On October 4, a number of Dalit rights organisations came together to observe National Protest Day. K. Raghuram of the Kula Vivaksha Porata Sangam, who was part of the agitation, told the Hindu that atrocities against Dalits and minorities have increased ever since the BJP-led government came to power.

On October 6, two separate incidents of atrocities against Dalits were reported: in UP’s Bareilly, a 16-year-old Dalit girl immolated herself after alleged being harassed by an upper-caste boy, the Indian Express reported while the Hindu reported that a Dalit youth had been killed by the father of an upper-caste girl he was in love with.

Meanwhile, Going Gonzo: Independence Day, a two-part documentary that explores the atrocities Dalits face, released on October 3.

In a bizarre paradox, the BJP is desperately trying to disassociate from the self-styled vigilantes, while the latter probably feel all the more enabled because the party that they are ideologically affiliated to is in power. In cases where the BJP and other organisations affiliated to it have come embarrassingly close to being caught red-handed, they seem to resort to nebulous rhetoric.

Beef or not beef? Dalit or not Dalit? Questions that revolve in an endless, redundant loop, with no hope of resolution. In other big news, on October 6 A.K. Roopanwal’s judicial probe said Radhika Vemula, Rohith Vemula’s mother, had faked her caste certificate, but Rohith brother told the Indian Express, “We lived like Dalits. We were raised in a Dalit community. Yes, my father is from a backward class, but whatever we know is from our experience of living like a Dalit. We have been discriminated against all our lives. Rohith referred to this in his letter too.”

The Wire spoke to Dontha Prashanth who thought the judicial probe was trying to remove caste from the debate so that union ministers Banadru Dattareya and Smriti Irani would not be implicated. But does removing caste also remove their experience of it?

‘Azaadi ki Udaan’

While theoretically there exist several schemes that are meant to empower India’s disabled population, the country’s perpetual issue of ineffective implementation persists. Especially for the disabled in marginalised rural areas, access to information can be one of the biggest challenges.

‘Azaadi ki Udaan’, an app, has been trying to change that by helping disabled people in accessing relevant information about government schemes, both state and national. The app was developed by Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre (SMRC), a Bhubaneswar-based NGO, that works for the upliftment of disabled persons along with Inflexi Technology, The Better India reported.

In addition to information about policies and schemes, the app helps disabled people and women know more about their constitutionally guaranteed rights and laws against domestic abuse. The app is programmed to answer frequently asked questions on health as well.

The app has been activated in Odisha, Telengana, Gujarat and Karnataka – states where the SMRC currently functions.

Sedition. Again.

A complaint was reportedly been filed by an ABVP worker, Shankar Gora, against actor Om Puri on October 4, demanding that a case of sedition be filed against him, making him the latest addition to the league of seditious people. The actor apparently made offensive remarks about the Indian army on a TV show, post Uri.

On October 3, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) issued a statement condemning ABVP’s persistent persecution of two teachers in the Central University of Haryana’s English department for staging Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi. SAHMAT’s statement said,

The university has “apologised” to activists of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) but its activists continue to hound the administration and students/teachers involved with the staging of Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi. The misplaced and entirely ridiculous charge is that a scene in the play is ‘anti-national’, which is the new catch-all phrase to bundle all those even slightly opposed to the BJP-RSS or even holding independent views.

Given the frequency with which ABVP cries sedition, it seems like the group has reinvented itself from an organisation representing students to an organisation of sedition vigilantes.

If you want to receive regular email updates from this column, subscribe to the Freedom Under Fire newsletter.

If you know of any other incident we should highlight in this column, write to me at [email protected].