Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi
Updated: July 17, 2020 10:24 AM GMT
Dalit Christians and activists from across India protest in New Delhi on March 12, 2019, demanding that the Indian government give them the same rights enjoyed by their Hindu counterparts. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
Church leaders, activists and political leaders have condemned police brutality on a Dalit couple in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, who were accused of encroachment on government land.
The act invited widespread outrage resulting the state government suspending six policemen on July 16 and transferring the district's top police official.
“Condemn is a small word, it is more than that because the country undergoing a difficult time due to a world pandemic and the worst hit are Dalit and tribal people. Now, they have to face this government fury too. It is sad and unfortunate,” said Father Vijay Kumar Nayak, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ office for Dalits and lower classes.
“The government claims that the family has been occupying government land. If that is true then it has to be investigated. They should have been given time to move and also provided with alternative land," the priest told UCA News.
“They can’t speak for themselves and the government is biased against them. But what about the corporations which are illegally occupying huge areas of government land. Does the government have the guts to question them and order them to vacate?” Father Nayak asked.
The Dalit couple--Rajkumar Ahirwar and his wife Savitri--consumed pesticide in an apparent suicide bid just hours after an anti-encroachment drive began in Jaganpur Chak village of Guna district on July 14, according to a government official.
The Dalit couple was rushed to the district hospital in Guna where their condition was said to be stable, police said.
Ahirwar said they were forcibly removed but the officials denied these allegations, instead alleging that a local land mafia was resisting the anti-encroachment drive using poor people to thwart the government’s efforts.
Media reports said that the couple had begged the anti-encroachment team to give them time till their crop was harvested but when the bulldozers rolled in, Savitri rushed inside their hut and consumed pesticide followed by her husband.
Officials including police personnel present at the time claimed that when they tried to take the unconscious couple to hospital.
Meanwhile, a video clip of the incident went viral on social media in which police could be seen beating Ahirwar’s brother and sister-in-law.
Kamal Nath, former chief minister and congress leader, said: “It is a jungle raj (Law of the jungle) … If there was any land dispute, it could have been addressed legally.”
Indian media regularly report atrocities against Dalit and tribal people, who socially and culturally poor.
Dalits, or untouchables, are outside the four-tier caste system in Hindu society. Huge numbers of Dalits have converted to Christianity and Islam over the decades, though in reality, the religions offer limited protection from societal prejudice.
The word Dalit means "trampled upon" in Sanskrit and refers to all groups once considered untouchable and outside the four-tied Hindu caste system. Government data shows 201 million of India’s 1.2 billion people belong to this socially deprived caste.Some 60 percent of India's 25 million Christians are also come from Dalit and tribal origin.
Thomas Franklin Caesar, a supreme court lawyer and Dalit activist said that “it is unfortunate that Dalits, tribals and poor are again and again the soft targets of the higher-ups. They are discriminated against on all fronts”.