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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.
Geddada Lakshmi is the daughter of Veeraswamy and Aravalamma, belongs to Mala (SC) community. She had been living with her parents for the last two years in Gootala, as she lost her husband. She had two sons and one daughter. She was having an affair with a dominant caste man, Ramaraju. Lakshmi decided to work in a missionary school at Polavaram so that she could ensure an education for her children in that school. Ramaraju did not agree with Lakshmi’s decision. But Lakshmi told him that she was going to Polavaram on 6.8.2000 to execute her decision.
Against this background, Ramaraju, along with his friends, caught hold of and tortured Lakshmi, raped her and murdered her on 4.8.2000 at around 10:00 p.m. When Lakshmi’s mother did not find her in the hut, she went to the adjoining hut and saw two youngsters running away and Ramaraju coming out of the hut. As Lakshmi’s mother was aware of the affair between Lakshmi and Ramaraju, she asked him about the two youngsters who had ran away. Ramaraju told her it was unnecessary for her to inquire about that and threatened that she would meet the same fate as her daughter if she continued with her questions. Lakshmi’s mother became suspicious and went into the hut to find Lakshmi naked, gagged with cloth in her mouth, and her brain coming out of a big wound on the back of her head. She was dead.
Proper action was not taken as per the law in such circumstances where a rape and murder took place. The village Munsif complained of the murder only 24 hours after the incident. Police came after another half a day and scolded the parents of the victim and shifted the body for post mortem only after further delays. The post mortem was conducted on the third day of the murder due to the negligence of the doctors.
Patti Raju s/o Rangaiah, belonging to Mala (SC) from Teeparru village of Peravali mandal of West Godavari district was allegedly murdered by landlord Karutoori Subbarao, for whom he had been working for the past four years. Patti Raju had been working as a tenant servant to Karutoori Subbarao, from the Kamma caste, for the past four years. On 29.4.2000 Karutoori Subbarao went to Patti Raju’s house and asked his father, Rangaiah to come to his house immediately. Patti Rangaiah found Karutoori Narasimha Murthy at the house of Karutoori Subbarao. Karutoori Narasaimha Murthy angrily addressed Rangaiah and said, “you.. son of a bitch… if we do anything, the entire Mala neighbourhood will attack our houses. You don’t warn children to behave properly with us…” Raju, who runs a poultry farm, was also there at that time. Karutoori Subarao and poultry farmer Raju then asked Patti Rangaiah and Patti Raju to come to the poultry farm. The trio of Subba Rao, farmer Raju and Nalla Sathyanarayana, alias Boss, demanded that Patti Raju sign his name and Rangaiah to put his thumb impression on a piece of white paper. When Rangaiah asked them why he should sign, they told him that this will keep his son in fear and there is nothing to worry. Rangaiah put his thumb impression and Patti Raju put his signature on the piece of white paper. The dominant caste trio then asked Rangaiah to leave.
Nalla Sathyanarayana came to Rangaiah’s house around 6:00 p.m. that day and told him that Karutoori Subbarao had asked him to immediately bring Rangaiah to the agriculture fields owned by Subbarao. Rangaiah was then informed that his son had consumed pesticide but not to worry. Patti Raju was put into the taxi and taken to a doctor. When Rangaiah asked the PMPdoctor why a dead body is being put into a taxi, the doctor told him that Raju was still alive. When the taxi reached Tanuku, the driver stopped the taxi. When Rangaiah asked why Karutoori Subbarao, poultry farmer Raju and Nalla Sathyanarayana were not following them as they had said they would, the driver replied that he didn’t know anything about that. The driver shifted the dead body from the taxi onto the road after waiting for 1½ hours. Later, Nalla Sathyanarayana, poultry farmer Raju, Nalla Venkateswar Rao and Karutoori Gopalakrishna came to Tanuku at around 11:00 p.m. that night, saying that they would send another taxi from Tanuku to the hospital with Patti Raju. Nalla Sathyanarayana stayed back with Rangaiah, took him to a nearby liquor shop and provided him with brandy. Later, the body of Patti Raju was shifted to Teeparru by taxi. While Patti Raju’s relatives and family members were still crying, the landlords transported firewood to the cremation ground and pressurised the family members to shift the dead body to there. Rangaiah states that the ritual in their family is to bury whoever dies, but the landlords pressurised them and forced them to cremate the dead body immediately.
Rangaiah said that he was threatened not to complain to the police about his son’s death and was given Rs. 15,000/- by the landlords. Rangaiah did not complain to the police, fearing that all the Kammas would unite and if complaint was given and take revenge against his family. It was only after voluntary organisations and people’s organisations gave him courage, that Rangaiah met the Superintendent of Police at Eluru on 25.7.2000 and filed a complaint. Complaints were given to all the officials on 19.7.2000. Rangaiah states that after this, a landlord by name of Nalla Venkatrao physically assaulted his other son, Patti Sathyanarayana, saying, ‘.. your father took the Rs. 15,000/- so as to not file any case, but afterwards you filed a case…’ Rangaiah has requested officials to provide protection for his family. He stays outside the village for fear of an attack on him to force him to withdraw the case. The Police Sub-Inspector made an enquiry in the village and sent his report to the Superintendent of Police, W. Godavari.