By Mallepalli Laxmaiah Should I hoist the national flag on my residence? This question has been haunting me ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted the countrymen to celebrate the national flag in connection with the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. Independence from colonial rule is a reason for grand celebration in all countries that were […]
By Mallepalli Laxmaiah
Should I hoist the national flag on my residence? This question has been haunting me ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted the countrymen to celebrate the national flag in connection with the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
Independence from colonial rule is a reason for grand celebration in all countries that were victims of European imperialism. The story is no different in India. We celebrate the Independence Day in a grand manner. However, recent times have had me questioning myself, “Am I a part of these celebrations? In the prevailing circumstances in our country, am I an Indian citizen? Where do I stand in this country’s 75 years of independence and self-governance?” The atrocities that we had witnessed in the past 75 years prevent me from answering, in their entirety, the questions that have so long plagued me. The atrocities against the Dalit community mock me, clearly pointing out that I have no reason to celebrate the Independence of our country.
We have already had two grand celebrations of our independence — the Silver Jubilee in 1972 and the Golden Jubilee of 1997. The passage of time has brought us to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the proud citizens are gearing up to celebrate it like never before, brimming with pride and patriotic zeal.
In 1972, we had anticipated great progress in our nation. In fact, we had seen progress in leaps and bounds in education, employment, political representation and economic sectors. This development was not granted or handed over to us on a platter. This growth was the result of the hard work of the people of India. Despite such advancement, when I am treated worse than animal, and questioning such atrocities would result in threats, arrests and attacks, I am driven back to questioning my deemed value in my country. When asked to respect my constitutional rights, my life itself could be threatened.
One incident in my life was enough to show that 25 years of independence in 1972 was an utter lie. My family hailed from Janagama, a village from Ramagundam Mandal in Peddapalli district. My father had 3 younger brothers. The youngest was Mallepalli Rajam. He worked in the coal mines of Bellampalli. As mining had started close to my village, he came back to work near his own home in 1960. Along with his work in the mines, he worked for the development and welfare of the workers of the Dalit community in the village, most of whom worked as low-paid labourers or farm hands. He demanded that the government land that was in control of feudal landlords be handed over to the landless poor. This made him a target of the landlords, who were angered by his actions.
Our village has a stone platform under a banyan tree, known to us all as ‘kacheri gaddhe’, a place where disputes were settled by the village elders. The panel of elders comprised only the people from the higher castes and feudal lords. My uncle was a believer in equality and worked with the Communist party at that time. Emboldened by the informal education on rights that he received, he demanded that we Dalits should have representation on this platform. This led to an altercation. Two days later, my uncle did not return home from work. We did not find him for three days, he was later found dead, after being tortured, mutilated and thrown off in a ditch. For three days, he was tortured in a tobacco godown and disposed of for asking what should have been his right. Independent India in 1963 saw a brave young man killed for demanding his civil rights. There was a massive uproar from the mine workers over his death and thousands demanded the arrest of the culprits. There was no case filed and no arrest.
The trend never stopped. On 25 December 1968, 44 Dalits were burnt alive in Keelavenmani in Tamil Nadu by feudal landlords and another Dalit youth, Arikatla Kotesu, was tied to a tree and burnt alive at Kanchikacherla in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. There were countless such incidents over the following years. Many horrible attacks remained untold and unreported. There still was hope, and with this hope, the downtrodden people of our country celebrated 25 years of Independence, along with the rest of the nation, hoping that these disparities will cease to exist, in our Independent India.
In 1977, on May 27, eight Dalits were tied up and shot in Bihar’s Belchi, their bodies were burnt on a single pyre. The Karamchedu incident in 1985 and the Tsundur massacre of 1991 are still fresh in our memory, the wrench driven in our hearts is still been prying away at our souls. We crossed yet another milestone in 1997. We celebrated along with the rest of the people of our country, while in Bihar’s Lakshmanpur Bathe, 58 Dalits were murdered. Yet, the Dalit community did not lose hope in the constitutional rights as with hope we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence.
Between 1994 and 2020, 17,835 Dalits were murdered, 44,506 Dalit women were raped by upper caste men
Every year we continue to celebrate and every year we are reminded that we have a place in the country, which is neither liberated nor equal with the rest. Maharshtra’s Khairlanji incident in 2006 was a grim reminder of the same, if we dig deeper into the lives of the Dalits across the country, more such sordid stories will reveal themselves.
As per the statistics collected by the Centre for Dalit Studies, between the 26 years of 1994 and 2020, 17,835 Dalits were murdered, 44,506 Dalit women were raped by upper caste men and 85,219 people were victims of grievous injuries in attacks by people of upper castes. Many people were left disabled for life in these attacks. The reason that we Indians fought for independence is said to be the insults and atrocities committed by the British, it was because the British did not consider us equals and held that their white skin was better than our brown skin.
Who to Blame?
If so, who must be questioned for the social disparity between the upper castes and the Dalits? Who must answer for the attacks and atrocities that followed this inequality? If we are in an Independent India and the Dalits are also considered a part of this Independent India, what does the growing atrocities and attacks that continue with abandon indicate? Am I a citizen of this country that constantly undermines the rights of my brothers and sisters? I am hounded by these questions at the thought of celebrating 75 years of India’s independence.
As per sources in the public domain, in 2004, 546 Dalits were murdered by people of the upper castes. The number rose to 704 in 2014 and 902 in 2020. The number grew two-fold in 16 years. This number must steadily decrease if the democratic values in the country is improving with each milestone. I am at a loss and saddened to ask the meaning of independence while these numbers glare at us. In 2004, 1,157 Dalit women were molested by members of the upper castes, in 2020 the number rose to 3,396, a three-fold increase.
The voices of democracy speak out for many issues and speak loudly at that. When it comes to the issues of Dalits, the voices grow fainter. In these circumstances, how can I unfurl the national flag on my residence and change the display picture on my social media handles to tricolour? I do not expect anything to happen overnight, but just hope I may move some social leaders, intellectuals, people of legal importance and political leaders, and maybe in the future, can hope to wholeheartedly join the whole nation in celebrating every milestone that my country crosses.
(The author is Chairperson, Centre for Dalit Studies)