Culture · Society

Caste Conflict – Is it there in 21st Century India?

Caste as defined by Oxford dictionary means hereditary classes of Hindu society. In ancient times castes were determined by the professional capabilities of an individual. The concept faced immense distortion and now means a hereditary class leading to competitions, conflicts, disagreement and dissatisfaction. It propelled in widening the gap between communities. Situations worsened with excessive political intervention in this regard and ultimately lead to caste politics. The politics in India post Mandal era has seen to be obsessed with twin agendas of social justice and social engineering. These two in realm of real politics became euphemism for reservation policy and introduction of new caste equations for obvious electoral gains.

Caste conflict gets aggravated by social factors like hierarchy, dominance and discrimination. But, the conflict seems to go deep in roots of our society because of political and economic reasons. Upper castes have generally been the land owning castes and lower castes comprise of marginal farmers. The Scheduled Castes are invariably the landless agricultural labourers. Thus, historically caste-class congruence can be seen. Politicians make the situation uglier by provoking public sentiments to get vote bank in their favour.

This article aims to analyze the Bathani Tola Massacre in the State of Bihar. On July 11, 1996, 21 Dalits were slaughtered at Bathani Tola, Bhojpur in Bihar. Amongst the dead were 11 women, 6 children and 3 infants. On its scale of ferocity, Bathani Tola marked a new phase and signified a new social bias against the downtrodden. The basic reason behind this conflict is the class or the caste distinction. All agricultural activities in this area were stopped and nothing was cultivated because the labourers refused to work on low wages. They even raised their voice against exploitation and unfair treatment. This can be discussed as a conflict between the upper castes (the landowning feudal classes) and the lower castes (usually powerless sharecroppers and agricultural labourers). As alleged in this case, the Ranvir Sena activists armed with firearms and cutting weapons killed the lower castes members in this village to create terror in their minds. This was done in retaliation of a previous incident wherein the lower castes adopted violent methods to overthrow the dominance of upper castes. Their specific objective was to unleash terror, to discourage, suppress and restrain the growing mobilization of agricultural labourers and poor peasants on socio-economic issues, and political assertion of their individual and collective rights.

The matter was heard by the Trial Court which convicted 23 persons. 20 people were convicted with life imprisonment and the remaining 3 with death sentence. On 17 April 2012, the Patna High Court acquitted 23 men convicted of the gruesome murder. High Court cited “defective evidence” to acquit all of them. High Court observed that the prosecution had deliberately concealed the first information, allowing time for story to be built up which discredits the correctness of the involvement of the appellants. The reason for concealment was not explained. All along the night, injured were being evacuated, examined at the instance of police but statements were not being taken about the occurrence. Persons were arrested and not produced before the Magistrate. The Court also stated that so many people were killed; hundreds of rounds of gunshot fired but not a single cartridge shell seized. Even the licensed rifles and guns seized from the alleged accused were never tested for their use. Accused persons were all arrested as virtually sitting ducks from their houses or from a lodge.

This was a serious issue especially when we see how mercilessly people were killed. But, the administration handled it in the most casual manner. The acquittal by the High Court was on the basis that there was no clear evidence as to who perpetrated the crime and conviction cannot be based on the basis of guess or conjectures.

Prof. Nandini Sundar, Professor at Delhi School of Economics said that Bathani Tola Massacre was essentially political elimination of those who posed a political and ideological opposition to feudal forces. This can be clearly termed as a caste-class violence leading to feeling of dissatisfaction and hatred. In Bihar, rebellious armed groups are thriving because of weakening of government institutions of the state. Policy interventions are needed to ensure that groups with vested interests in peace and stability are identified and empowered. This is possible only by creating an environment of all-round economic development so that the vicious cycle of conflict and poverty gives way to a virtuous cycle of peace and prosperity. Political parties need to rise above these caste distinctions and should stop playing the dirty game of caste politics. It is time we unite the country to attain the objective of national development, self sufficiency and a step towards making India the superpower and not divide it on class and caste lines.

By: Astha Singh, GNLU Gandhinagar.

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