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Gurrala Surya Rao, belonging to Mala (SC) caste from Guntru wari peta village of Sanapalli Lanka Mandal, East Godavari district committed suicide in the premises of the First Additional Munsif Magistrate Court at Amalapuram. Gurrala Surya Rao (50 years age) was living honourably and held a good name in society. He was a former sarpanch. When he died, he was the President of the Rythu Bazar and was fighting for Dalits’ rights. In this process, his confrontation with police endangered his existence and he was forced to commit suicide.
Surya Rao took a buffalo from Pithani Suryanarayana of the same village on an agreement that he would rear the buffalo and that the income would be shared equally during the lactation period. After a few days, when he told Suryanarayana that the buffalo was missing, Suryanarayana got suspicious and gave a complaint to the police. This was taken as an opportunity and the police came to Suryarao’s house on 1.3.2001 at around 12:00 midnight and told him that the Sub-Inspector was calling him. Police further scolded him using filthy language and tried to drag him to the police station. On Sunday, 4.3.2001 Sub-Inspector Devakumar came to Suryarao’s house and abused him using filthy language, dragged him to the police station, locked him up, disrobed him and tortured him. He also abused Suryarao’s wife, Prema Jyothi (45 years) using filthy language, threatened that he would insert a lathi in her private parts, disrobe her and have her raped by a person infected with AIDS in front of her husband and kill her husband. The village elders came to know about this discussed the matter with the Sub-Inspector and brought Suryarao home.
Unable to bear this humiliation, the next day, on 5.3.2001, Suryarao consumed poison pills, went to the First Additional Munsif Magistrate Court at Amalapuram, handed over an envelope to Magistrate R. Sharath Babu and while coming out fell down on the staircase of the court. The Magistrate opened the envelope, understood the issue and recorded the dying statement of Suryarao and sent him to hospital. However, Suryarao died on the way to the hospital. The Government held an enquiry through a Magistrate, but no one was arrested.
Police Sub-Inspector M.A. Khader Ali, working in Maganur mandal’s Krishna police station, poured kerosene on Yadamma on 28.2.2001 around 5:00 p.m. in her house and murdered her on 5.3.2001. Yadamma, belonging to Madiga (SC) caste, comes from an educated and government employed Dalit family. Her father is a retired teacher and her mother is working as headmistress in a school at Koilkonda Harijana colony. Yadamma was their first child. Yadamma completed her training as a nurse in 1992 in Nandyal and in the same year married Khaja, who was working as ward-boy in Atmakur mandal Primary Health Centre. She got employment as a health worker in 1993 and was working in the primary health centre at Marikel. She had one son and two daughters and was living happily with her family. She also had a good name among her co-workers.
She was transferred to the primary health centre at Vinjamoor in 1994. In 1995, when she went to the police station, along with a doctor and other workers, to report about a theft in their centre, Khader Ali, who was working as Sub-Inspector in the same police station, saw her. He used his police authority to threaten Yadamma and made her yield to an extra-marital affair with him. He separated her from her husband. Her children were staying with her mother. Since 1996, away from her husband, Yadamma lived a miserable and lonely life tolerating the torture from Khader Ali. When this torture became unbearable, she submitted a petition to the District Superintendent of Police, who transferred Khader Ali to the district headquarters as reserve force. This gave more leisure time to Khader Ali, who forced Yadamma to shift her residence to Mahabubnagar town. He then fell into the pattern of habitually torturing Yadamma each time he got into a drunken state.
Khader Ali stayed with Yadamma from 24.2.2001 at her house. A dispute erupted between them over a gold chain on 28.2.2001. The gold chain (belonging to Khader Ali’s daughter) was given to Yadamma. Khader Ali ignored her pleas when she told him that she sold it because the entire salary was taken away by him without leaving a single paisa for house running costs and that she would sell ear-studs and another gold chain which she had and get his gold chain back. He poured kerosene, which was kept near the cooking place, on Yadamma and set her on fire. When she tried to run out of the house due to unbearable pain, he pushed her back into the house and shut the doors on her. The neighbours heard her cries, came and doused the fire and took her to the hospital in Mahabubnagar. Her back, chest, hands and legs were severely burnt and she was admitted into the district government hospital on 28.2.2001 with 90% burns. She died on 5.3.2001. Deputy Superintendent of Police visited the victim at the district government hospital at Mahabubnagar. The case was booked under sec. 307 IPC read with sec. (3)(2)(v) SC/ST (POA) Act, and Khader Ali was arrested and put on remand. Orders were issued suspending Khader Ali from service.
Jyoti Devi (Turi, 26 years) lives with her husband, two daughters and two sons in Panna village, Jhajha block, Jammui district, Bihar. She is landless and illiterate. Jyoti was the first of her mother’s children to survive infancy. For this reason, afraid that her daughter’s survival might attract the “evil eye”, Jyoti’s mother named her daughter Marani, which means “dying one”. She was given the name Jyoti, meaning flame, only in 2000, by a social worker impressed by Marani’s hard work and courage. When she was 12 days old, Jyoti’s father married her to an infant boy of the same community named Nanku Turi, from the distant village of Chaiya. When Jyoti grew older, however, her father regretted agreeing to the infant marriage and broke it off, saying that he would not send his daughter so far away.
Jyoti never attended school. At the age of 12 years, just before attaining puberty, Jyoti was again married, this time to Phuchangi Turi, who then worked as a cart puller. She says, “I had my first period one month after I went to live in my husband’s house. For the first six months of the marriage, my in-laws treated me well. After that, though, they made my husband and I live apart from the rest of my marital relatives. I was very beautiful and because of this, my in-laws used to say, ‘she will not remain here.’ Whenever I wore nice dresses and fitting blouses my husband would tear my blouse. He forbade me from wearing make-up and even tore the bindi off of my forehead whenever I tried to wear a bindi. My husband also harassed me in bed. He would not let me sleep in the same bed with him, and whenever we did sleep in the same bed, he would push me off the bed with his legs.” Jyoti’s husband Phuchangi Turi deprived her of food and other necessary daily items. Some days Jyoti went hungry; other times she received food from her Muslim neighbours who, seeing her situation, took pity on her. After she and her husband began living separately from her in-laws, Jyoti began working as a daily wage labourer in a brick kiln. Her husband’s elder brother, Phirangi Turi collected her wages from the labour contractor for her. Later, Jyoti quit the brick kiln and took up construction work. She also collected firewood in the forest and sold it, and made beedis in her home for her livelihood. Jyoti’s brothers-in-law were Bhairav Turi and Phirangi Turi, and her sisters-in-law were Geeta Devi and Sanichari Devi. Phirangi Turi, her elder brother-in-law, fancied Jyoti and often gave her suggestive looks and made inappropriate comments. Four times in the early years of her marriage, Jyoti faced aggressive sexual advances from Phirangi Turi, and each time she rejected him. He then grew hostile toward Jyoti, and found frequent occasion to criticise and beat her.
Jyoti says, “One day out of necessity I used some of my sister-in-law’s firewood for cooking. When my sister-in-law saw that I had used some of her wood, she fought with me. She caught hold of my hair and attacked me, so I also grabbed her hair, pulled her into my room and beat her. In the evening, when my brother-in-law came home and heard what had happened, he took a bamboo rod and beat me badly, injuring my head so that it bled. At once I went to the police station and gave a complaint. After that my brother-in-law was called by the police to Simultalla Police Station [where Mahesh Pratap (MBC Kahar) was then the Station Officer]. There the police scolded him and would have sent him to jail but I intervened, reasoning that he is my own family and I should not have him arrested.”
Two days after this fight, Jyoti’s sister-in-law’s baby child died of an untreated illness. The baby’s parents blamed Jyoti for their child’s death. They said, “You have eaten our child! You are a witch!” Over time, her in-laws spread this rumour throughout the village, and many people began to call Jyoti Devi a witch. Her husband, too, supported his family in accusing Jyoti of witchcraft. By the time she became a legal adult, Jyoti was considered a witch by all the caste communities in her village. One evening in February 2001, when she was 23 years old, Jyoti went to a grocery and general goods store to make some purchases. The goods store belonged to dominant caste Manoj Singh (FC Rajput), who is a local school teacher as well as a shopkeeper. It was about 4:00 p.m. when Jyoti went to the store. In the shop, Manoj Singh said to Jyoti, “My son is ill. Come and touch him.” Jyoti replied, “What can I do if your son is ill?”
Manoj said, “You are a witch. You can heal my child.” Saying this, he forcibly seized hold of Jyoti’s arm and dragged her against her will outside the store and into a separate rented room in his possession. Between the shop and the rented room, Manoj Singh was joined by his companion Dhaneswar Singh (Rajput), a goonda. The two men pulled Jyoti Devi inside the rented room and beat her. Then, gagging her with a towel, the two Rajputs tied Jyoti’s arms and legs apart with other towels. Jyoti fought with the men and tried to free her legs from the bonds they had tied. Whenever she managed to free herself, however, the men caught hold of her legs again and tied her up again. Finally, one of the men held her legs apart while the other raped her. Manoj Singh and Dhaneswar Singh raped her in turn. After the gang rape, Jyoti approached her cousin Ramdev Turi, who worked in a NGO called Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti (BDVS – Bihar Dalit Development Committee), for justice. With Ramdev, Jyoti came to the BDVS office and gave a written complaint to Mahender Kumar Roshan, a BDVS activist. With Mahender’s help, Jyoti then gave a written complaint to District Superintendent of Police (DSP) Anandi Das (Dusadh). The DSP said a FIR would be lodged, but due to the perpetrators’ political clout, no FIR was lodged. Meanwhile the rapists came to know that Jyoti was pursuing justice with the help of BDVS. One of the rapists, Dhaneswar Singh began issuing threats to the BDVS staff. Simultaneously the perpetrators and their supporters built political pressure to squash the case. A prominent member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly also spoke to BDVS, telling them to drop the case.
Because Dhaneswar Singh was a known goonda and appeared to be enjoying political protection, the BDVS staff grew fearful of attempts on their lives and succumbed to the perpetrators’ campaign of pressure and intimidation. BDVS dropped the legal case, and there were ultimately no police proceedings. In an attempt at informal justice, however, BDVS activist Mahender called Manoj Singh and Dhaneswar Singh into his office and convened an informal ‘panchayat’ with the BDVS staff and Jyoti in attendance. The two perpetrators were pressured to acknowledge their crime and, for punishment, were forced to sit and stand up 100 times and give a fine of Rs.600/- to Jyoti. After this ordeal, Jyoti became a member of BDVS. Over the next several months, she gradually took on volunteer work with the NGO and began to have increasing confidence in herself. Elected as a women’s leader and to two other prominent positions of responsibility within the organisation, she began to move about the area fearlessly. With legal training, she learned how to file a FIR and what steps the police are legally required to take in cases of atrocities against Dalits and women. She spent less and less time at home making beedis for her livelihood, and became increasingly more of a full-time activist. She learned how to approach police and district administration officials for justice.
At one point during this period, BDVS organised a protest against embezzlement of funds from government schemes intended for Dalits. The protest march was led by women, including Jyoti. As the procession neared the Block Office, Jyoti spotted the Police Circle Officer Vashid Ahmed (Muslim) pulling away from the building in a jeep. Running up and stopping the jeep, Jyoti seized the Circle Officer’s shirt collar and said, “Where are you running? Grant our demands, and then you can go!” The Circle Officer’s bodyguards rushed to restrain Jyoti when she grabbed his shirt collar, but the Circle Officer indicated for them not to touch her, and he listened to her concerns. In November 2001, Jyoti inaugurated a workshop sponsored by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) in Patna on the theme “The Dalit Situation and Possible Directions”. Later, when activist Mahender Kumar left BDVS and formed his own organisation called Dalit Mukti Mission, Jyoti joined that organisation as well. On 18 May 2003 Jyoti organised a public meeting under the auspices of Dalit Mukti Mission. The public meeting was held in Simultalla town, and Jammui’s District Magistrate Vijay Shankar Dubey (FC Brahmin) was present. After the programme, in the evening, Jyoti went to Simultalla market, where she met a 10 year-old Dalit girl named Rita (SC Chamar), daughter of Phagu Das, of the same village. Rita told Jyoti that the same day, when she was returning from her work of selling brooms, a local Rajput man had raped her at the Simultalla Railway Station. Two days later, on 20 May 2003, Jyoti took Rita to Simultalla Police Station to register a FIR for the rape. Police Station Officer V.P. Singh (FC Rajput) refused to acknowledge the case or file the FIR. Frustrated, Jyoti exclaimed, “If you don’t register this case, then I will show you!”
The next day, on 21 May 2003 in the evening, Jyoti went with her youngest daughter to Simultalla market to buy some ornaments for her. At about 5:00 p.m. Jyoti was talking with an acquaintance in the market when everybody heard a loud sound like an explosion. At first, Jyoti thought that it must be firecrackers from a wedding celebration, but soon the whole market was filled with smoke. Chaos ensued and people began to run in every direction. Jyoti ran with her daughter to the nearby railway station, thinking that might be a safe place. At the station, Jyoti saw a group of people who looked like naxalites searching the railway office for money. There were women among the armed group. Upon seeing them, Jyoti became frightened, as did her daughter. Seeing them, one of the women in the armed group tried to reassure them, saying, “Don’t worry, we won’t do anything to you.” Soon after that, Jyoti and her daughter returned to their home. Jyoti later learnt that the naxalite outfit Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) had detonated explosives in Simultalla Police Station, causing massive damage. Claiming responsibility for the attack, the MCC declared that the police station was notorious for collusion with criminals in covering up crimes against Dalits and the poor. In the evening of the following day, 22 May 2003, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Amrit Singh Imbram (SC Chamar), District Magistrate Gopal Shankar Prasad (FC Kayasth), Superintendent of Police Barauiddin Ahmad (BC Muslim), Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Anandi Das (SC Chamar), and Deputy Forest Officer (DFO) Phulchand Das Bengali (BC), came to the damaged Simultalla Police Station with a force of police commandos and met Station Officer V.P. Singh. They then called Jyoti Devi to the station for questioning. Because she was a “bold woman”, and because she had “threatened” the Station Officer the day before the bombing, they suspected Jyoti of having links with the MCC.
Jyoti arrived at the Simultalla Police Station at 4:00 p.m. that day. All the officers were present. Jyoti felt tense and feared that they might kill her. When she entered the station, a police officer asked her to sit. Jyoti replied, “If you want to kill me, kill me now while I am standing; don’t wait for me to sit.” DSP Anandi Das, a Dalit who was well acquainted with Jyoti and her activist work and sympathised with her, asked her to accompany him to a private room to ask her some questions. In the room, he asked her whether she has contacts with the MCC. She replied that she did not know anyone in the MCC. Then they returned to the main room. After some interrogation about her alleged contacts with the MCC, the DIG said to Jyoti, “Can you find out who has bombed the police station?” Jyoti replied, “Sir, if you give me ten police personnel and Rs.10,000/-, and guarantee that if I am killed my children will be totally provided for, then I will do it. Look, you are giving a salary to the police, but where were they when the station was bombed? I am a woman and you are asking me to go out hunting for the culprits in the forest?”
At this, the DIG grew angry with Jyoti. Until 7:00 p.m. the police officers kept Jyoti in the station and continued questioning her. After the enquiry, they served tea and sweets. Jyoti was sitting next to the DSP, her acquaintance. Fearing that the police had poisoned the tea and sweets served to her, Jyoti furtively exchanged her tea and sweets for the DSP’s portion, but nothing happened to either of them. Finally, the officers released Jyoti and she returned home. For the next eight days, Simultalla’s Station Officer V.P. Singh called Jyoti daily to the police station for further inquiries. Jyoti felt that it was more harassment than an enquiry, as she had no more information to share. Six months after the bombing, in November 2003, V.P. Singh again called Jyoti to Simultalla Police Station. It was 6:00 p.m. and Jyoti was in Simultalla market when two police officers arrived in a jeep to take her to the police station. The officers said, “There is a new DSP and he has called you.” The officers took Jyoti to the station and made her sit, waiting, for four hours, saying that the new DSP was coming.
Finally, at about 10:00 p.m., Station Officer V.P. Singh arrived with three other dominant caste police officers: Munshi Yadav (BC Ahir), one FC Bhumihar officer and one BC Muslim officer. Jyoti did not learn the Bhumihar and Muslim officers’ names. These four took Jyoti into the Station Officer’s office, forcibly tied Jyoti’s hands behind her back and blindfolded her. They then raped her, one after another, in the office itself. The gang rape continued for about an hour. At about 11:00 p.m., the four dominant caste officers untied Jyoti and pushed her violently out of the police station. Before sending her away, Station Officer V.P. Singh threatened her, saying, “If you tell anyone about this, you will be killed! And we will frame charges against you that you are in the MCC and had a hand in bombing the police station!” After this, in severe pain, Jyoti returned home. Based on her terrible experiences with the police, district administration and the legal system, Jyoti determined that filing a case of rape against police perpetrators would be fruitless. She says, “I did not file any case. [If I filed a case] it would be shameful and humiliating for me, and others will look down on me. But I will take revenge. Now I will join the MCC and I will kill V.P. Singh.”
Dominant caste landlords, police and Mafias attacked and destroyed the huts and property of poorer sections of the village, including many Dalits, in retaliation for the poorer sections occupying Government land and requesting land pattas. Madiga, Medara, Muslim, Sale, Vaddera and other poor communities have been trying to obtain house plots of Dalits for a long time. There is government land which is under the possession of dominant caste Kapus, and some which is not. As there was no response from the government to their numerous petitions, the poor sections of this village, under the banner of the Weaker Sections Federation, occupied government land on 2 – 3.10.2000 and 200 poor families, many Dalits, erected huts there. They selected land which was not owned by any landlords before erecting the huts and immediately brought this event to the notice of the MRO and requested land pattas. The MRO certified that the land which they had occupied was government land. An application was also submitted to the Collector.
Against this background, the dominant caste people were not able to tolerate these poor people constructing huts on government land and conspired to evict them form the land. As part of this conspiracy, they called Amhatipudi Padma, who was the leader of the poor people, and scolded her for interfering in village land issues. After 10 days, false cases were filed against her, she was arrested and sent to central jail at Rajahmundry. After the arrest of Padma, landlords and police, accompanied by Mafias, attacked the huts of the poor people, destroying property and beating up anyone they got their hands on, young and old. The Government, which had not responded to the long-pending house plot applications of the poor sections, joined hands with the landlords and demolished the huts. Notably, it is not only Dalits who had occupied government land, but also dominant caste people. If occupation of government land is illegal for Dalits other poorer sections, so should it be for the dominant castes. Dominant caste people thought that the poorer sections who occupied the government land would then try to occupy government land which is under their occupation in future and hence they conspired to put an end to any such movement. This is because the dominant caste people have to cross the plot in which Dalits erected their huts to reach their lands. This, they feel, checks their caste domination.