18/06/2020 2:55 PM IST

A Spate Of Caste Atrocities In Maharashtra Prompts A Call For Dialogue Between Communities

A group of prominent social activists has issued a joint statement asking the Dalit and Maratha communities to desist from provocation on social media.

Ajay Verma / Reuters
A file photo of a Dalit protest

NAGPUR, Maharashtra — A spate of violent atrocities against the Dalit community in Maharashtra has prompted social organisations and activists to call for a dialogue between communities.

The lockdown has exacerbated caste-tensions in some areas, Dalit activists believe, resulting in an uptick in violence. In most instances, the alleged perpetrators belong to the OBC or Maratha community, police records show. While each incident has sparked outrage on social media platforms, activists fear that a lot of social media activity is likely to fuel fresh divisions and violence.

“After the recent incidents in Nagpur and Pimpri Chinchwad, I saw some posts from both the communities and they were so provocative that the word objectionable would seem mild for it,” Bhalchandra Mungekar, former Rajya Sabha MP and vice-chancellor of Mumbai University told HuffPost India, explaining that he was part of a group of prominent citizens which issued a joint statement calling for dialogue between communities. 

“It is not prudent for the Marathas to stick to imaginary social status and also it would be wrong for the Dalits to think of responding in the retaliatory terms,” the statement says. “Everyone, who is expressing himself through social media, should be aware of his social responsibility as well.”

Justice P.B.Sawant, who was one of the main organizers of the Elgar Parishad in Pune in 2017, thinks supremacist attitude of so-called upper castes results in such incidents.

“Because of the caste system, even a love affair assumes a casteist color in India,” Sawant said, adding that historically privileged caste groups, “have still not given up their supremacist attitude. Therefore they feel that such matters involve their prestige, and then they commit an organized crime.”

The intersection of caste and patriarchy will continue to stand in the way of social progress, Sawant said.

“The caste will cease to exist when there will be inter-caste marriages.” Sawant said. “But there is no guarantee that the higher castes will accept lower caste bride grooms although they may accept brides from these sections. Because the mindset will take a long time to disappear, maybe some generations.”

On June 7, Viraj Jagtap, a 20-year-old Dalit man, died after he was allegedly runover by a vehicle driven by the family members of a Maratha caste that he was in love with.

Pravin Gaikwad, convenor of the progressive Maratha organization Sambhaji Brigade, said state-funded programmes to alleviate caste disparity and discrimination had failed. 

“Every tier of governance in India has a dedicated social justice department, from Zila Parishad to the central government but which government has run a dedicated program so far to uproot social inequality?” Gaikwad said. “A government gets elected not only to carry out development works but to do away with social evils such as caste inequality or discrimination.”

Justice Sawant said Maharashtra bureaucracy was largely Savarna in composition and outlook, which could explain why social equality was accorded such low priority.

“The governments come and go in five years but bureaucracy stays for decades,” Sawant said. “The previous government in Maharashtra recruited enough bureaucrats from higher castes and this bureaucracy is not cooperating with the present government.”

Rahul Dambale, a Pune-based Dalit activist, also placed the blame on the current incumbent administration.

“Cases have been reported from Aurangabad, Beed, Nagpur, and now Pune. But the state government is silent on it,” Dambale said. “The Home Minister Anil Deshmukh should resign.”