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While the honourable prime minister was lauding the performance of our athletes in Tokyo, news came of the alleged rape, murder and criminally precipitate and unauthorised cremation of a nine-year-old Dalit girl in a crematorium in south-west Delhi.
The prime minister made no mention either of the yeoman work done by the Odisha government over recent years in promoting hockey and sponsoring our women’s and men’s Olympic hockey teams, not of the herculean struggles of our women Olympians across various games with poverty and patriarchy.
Nor has the nation to date heard the prime minister make any mention of the gruesome travail and extinction of the nine-year-old Dalit girl in Delhi.
In passing, spokespersons of the BJP have made this an occasion for accusing the opposition, the Congress especially, of using the alleged rape, murder, and botched cremation of the girl in a selective way to malign the Modi government.
Concomitantly, a former chairperson of the National Commission for Women aligned with the BJP, has taken strong exception to the mention in the media and by opposition forces of the caste identity of the dead girl.
Left to her, the racial identity of the late George Floyd in Minnesota who was ruthlessly and relentlessly choked to death by a white police officer should also not have been mentioned.
The afore-mentioned ex-chairperson of the NCW might like to know that even as Vandana Katariya’s Dalit family was celebrating her performance at the Olympics, people gathered outside shouting casteist slogans to the accompaniment of crackers. But such a connection between an outstanding hockey player and the dead Dalit girl may not be mentioned – “in the national interest,” no doubt.
It would seem that the only proper time to mention such things is at the time of cabinet reshuffles.
Many will, of course, disagree and hold that Dalit lives matter as do black lives in America.
Just to note, the accused person in the Delhi crime is the resident priest of the said crematorium, against whom and his alleged partners-in-crime charges under POSCO Act, and Sections 302 (murder), and 376 (rape) were not levelled by the police originally, but only after the distraught mother of the dead girl made a tearful averment, and after the matter went to the SC/ST Commission.
We do, however, think that it was a hopeful thing that a Rahul Gandhi and an Arvind Kejriwal took it upon themselves to go meet the devastated family to lend a shoulder in their moment of oppression and loss. And for a Chandra Shekhar Aazad and droves of common Indian citizens to take up the issue and demand justice.
As we know, inter-caste marriages, in the Hindi belt particularly are fiercely looked down upon.
Such unions do not only “defile” the ‘upper’ castes but, perhaps more to the point, make Dalits claimants to ‘upper’ caste property.
But, who says an ‘upper’ caste man may not rape a Dalit girl; that serves two conjoint purposes of entertaining the socially endowed and letting the Dalits “know their place”.
Other acts of rape, of course, establish the clout of male supremacy over the second sex as political assertions of dominance.
All that has little to do with the teaching of the Vishwa Guru, Bharat, that all the world is a family (Vasudeva Kutumbkum).
Just as the pretensions of American democracy are not meant to apply to Black Americans, the exalted teaching of the Vishwa Guru is not meant to apply to those whom the time-honoured varna vyavastha (caste order) has relegated to subservient positions.
Hypocrisy, it is said, is the compliment vice pays to virtue.
Little wonder that, just as the bulk of prison inmates in America are Black and Latino citizens, in India they are Dalits, tribals, or Muslims.
The struggling households of our women warriors in the Tokyo Olympics and the young girl whose little ankles alone could be retrieved from the pyre thus remain composite parts of a unified social reality, one that does not much interest the powers-that-be.
As I write, I see the eyes of the nine-year old Dalit girl, aghast in a terrified incomprehension; and I hear the throes and the appeal she must have made to be spared her gruesome fate.
The gentle and learned priest allegedly told the mother that if she called the police they would steal the girl’s body parts.
Against her misery of helplessness and forlorn protests, they burnt her child’s body to eliminate evidence that could prove them culprits.
In the middle of this, and so much more, democracy performs at break-neck speed, as parliament passes bill after bill in a time-span of some five minutes each.
Who says the republic is unwell.
It is those that say so who are.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.