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Kausilya Devi (23), belonging to Musahar (SC) was married to Kulkul Manjhi at the age of 13 years. After marriage, Kausilya left her natal home and came to live with her husband and in-laws in their village of Kamlavadi, in Pandaul block, Madhubani district, Bihar. Kausilya and her husband both work as daily wage agricultural labourers. Kausilya is illiterate and both her natal and marital families are extremely poor, even relative to the poverty of the Musahar community generally.
With her husband, Kausilya Devi had three children: the eldest, her son Shiva (5 years) attends the local anganwadi; her daughter Chand Kumari (3 years) has started studying in the local government school; and she has one more daughter Sapna Kumari (1 year). Kausilya Devi and her husband work hard and live off their meagre earnings as agricultural labourers. When there is no agricultural work available, Kausilya Devi collects wood from the forest to sell as firewood in the village. Throughout most of their married life, Kausilya Devi’s husband Kulkul Manjhi has abused her physically, verbally and sexually. Kausilya Devi says that after working all day in the fields or cutting wood and carrying it on her head all day, and then returning home and taking care of their children, meals and housework, she often was not in the mood for sexual contact. Despite this, her husband demanded sex from her and often forced himself upon her despite her protests. Moreover, often when she refused sex, Kulkul Manjhi physically beat her and shouted abuse at her, saying, for instance, “Fuck your mother, you illegitimate woman!”
In the months preceding July 1999, whenever Kausilya Devi went to the forest to collect firewood, she noticed a man named Sitaram (BC Barai, 40 years), watching her on the way. Sitaram is a small landowner who sharecrops for his livelihood. At that time he used to frequent the Musahar colony of Kamlavadi. He also wandered near the forest, particularly when Kausilya Devi was coming or going. Often, when he saw Kausilya Devi coming, Sitaram whistled at her. Other times, he made suggestive looks at her with his eyes. When she ignored him, he grew more aggressive in his harassment. He began to follow Kausilya Devi and pull on the edge of her sari when he caught up with her.
One day in July 1999, Kausilya Devi was in the jungle as usual with several other Dalit women collecting firewood. The women were spread out over a wide area. Kausilya Devi had collected a large bundle of wood and bound it. Preparing to go home, she was lifting the heavy bundle onto her head. At that moment, Sitaram arrived at the spot and came forward, ostensibly to help Kausilya lift the bundle. As he helped her put the bundle on her head, he also groped both her breasts. Kausilya Devi was furious and said, “Are you not satisfied with your wife at home? If you are not satisfied with your wife, then go grope the breasts of your mother and sisters!”
As she was shouting at him, the other Dalit women in the forest began arriving with their wood bundles. Seeing them approach, Sitaram quickly left the area. Five days later, still in July 1999, Kausilya Devi was again in the forest in the afternoon to collect wood, this time in the company of a Musahar Dalit woman named Jalsi Devi. Sitaram arrived at the spot and stood quietly, staring at Kausilya Devi. She and Jalsi Devi ignored him. When the two women were finished with their collection and began to leave the jungle with the bundles on their heads, Sitaram asked Kausilya Devi for a safety pin so that he could remove a thorn from his hand. Kausilya Devi replied, “I am the one cutting wood here, but somehow a thorn has found its way into your hand? Look, if you really have a thorn in your hand, then show it to a doctor and have it removed!” Having said this, and sensing that Sitaram had malicious intentions, Kausilya Devi told Jalsi Devi to hurry up and the two of them began to leave the forest. Jalsi Devi moved ahead and Kausilya Devi followed behind. Quickly, Sitaram approached Kausilya Devi from behind and assaulted her, grabbing her forcibly so that the wood bundle fell from her head. When she shouted, Sitaram tore a piece of cloth from her sari and stuffed it into her mouth to silence her. Jalsi Devi, seeing what was happening, dropped her wood bundle and ran ahead toward the village, shouting for help.
Having gagged Kausilya Devi, Sitaram forcibly dragged her from the forest into a nearby field of standing sugarcane. There he tore off her clothes and violently raped her. When he had raped her, he laughed, stood up, and said, “Do you remember what you said about my mother and sisters? This is your punishment for saying that.” Meanwhile, Jalsi Devi had run toward the distant Musahar colony, shouting that Sitaram had abducted Kulkul Manjhi’s wife. On the way, she passed some Dalit agricultural labourer men of the Dusadh caste. Hearing her shouts, the Dusadh men ran toward the forest to rescue Kausilya Devi. They did not find her, but the news of the abduction spread “like wildfire” throughout the villages, and soon about 20 men of the Barai caste, too, came to the forest to take the side of Sitaram. A fight ensued in which the Dusadh men threw stones at the Barais, and the Barais in turn attacked the Dusadhs with spears and sickles. The Barais, better armed, inflicted serious injuries on several of the Dusadh men who had come in defence of Kausilya Devi. The Dusadh men in the fight included Malhua Paswan, Ramfal Paswan, Dani Paswan, Ram Bharosa Paswan and Ram Swaroop Paswan. Ramfal Paswan was grievously injured in the fight and died before he could receive medical attention.
After the rape, Sitaram returned to the Barai quarter of the village and learned of the caste violence and the death of Ramfal Paswan. Concerned that he would be implicated in a police case, he went to Pandaul police station and filed a false case, stating that the Dusadh men had cut bamboo from his property, and that this was the cause of the caste violence. After the rape, Kausilya Devi returned in pain to her home in the Musahar colony, where she learned what had happened in the village. News also arrived that Sitaram had filed a case against the Dalits. Kausilya Devi immediately went to Pandaul police station and filed her own complaint with the police, informing them of the rape. Due in part to her illiteracy, she did not learn the Station Officer’s name or caste, nor did she obtain a copy of the FIR.
The next day, news spread in the Musahar quarter of the village that Sitaram had again approached the police station and given the Station Officer a bribe of Rs.20,000/- to scuttle Kausilya Devi’s rape case. Kausilya and her family were unable to confirm the report, but when the police made no enquiries and no investigation, they began to believe it was true. Now Kausilya Devi begins to doubt that the Station Officer in fact registered a FIR. Activists aware of the case think the Station Officer may have simply written down the particulars of Kausilya’s complaint without formalising the complaint as a FIR.
Dominant caste Pathsa Venkateswara Rao and Shiva Prasad allegedly beat to death Dalit Gummalla Kannaiah because he accidentally put on Venkateswara Rao’s sandals. Gummalla Kannaiah was a village servant of Jagganapet village. On 2 July, 1999 he went to the house of the village sarpanch Pathsa Ramanna to pass along information from his supervising officers. While leaving Ramanna’s house, Kannaiah accidentally put on the chappals (sandals) belonging to Ramanna’s relative, Pathsa Venkateswara Rao, and went to attend a wedding function. Venkateswara Rao and his friend Shiva Prasad, a teacher by profession, followed Kannaiah to the wedding function. When they arrived, they found him wearing Rao’s chappals. Rao and Prasad beat Kannaiah severely and abused him by caste name. Because the assailants were politically powerful and from the dominant caste, other participants at the wedding were afraid to rescue Kannaiah.
After Rao and Prasad departed, people who had witnessed the incident immediately took Kannaiah to Tadepalli Gudem Government Hospital. Due to the severity of the injuries, doctors referred him to Rajamundhry Hospital. Kammaiah died at Rajamundhry Hospital. Police registered the case in Tadepalligudem police station under sec. 302 r/w. 34 IPC and sec. 3 SC/ST Act. The police arrested the accused and the case was, as of 10.7.99, still in the investigation stage.
Jamuni Devi (50 years), belonging to Chamar (SC) community from Dhanve village, Jhajha block, Jammui district, Bihar. She was married at the age of 13 years to Benku Das, a man of the same caste. With Benku Das, Jamuni Devi gave birth to three daughters and one son. Before their son was born, Benku Das used to harass Jamuni Devi about having only girl children. He used to grow angry and say to her, “Why are you only able to produce girls? I will remarry! I need a son!” Jamuni Devi tolerated this sort of verbal harassment from her husband on a regular basis. When Jamuni became pregnant with her fourth child, her husband threatened her, saying, “If it’s a not a boy this time, it will not be good. I will definitely marry someone else!”
Jamuni’s fourth child turned out to be a boy. Her husband’s behaviour toward her improved and Jamuni Devi felt hugely relieved. “It was as though I had passed a terrible exam,” she said. They named their son Kaila Das. Benku Das worked in a coal mine some distance from the village. He often remained away from the village for weeks at a time, and sent money from his wages home. He and Jamuni Devi also owned a small plot of land, about 1 acre in size. As she was raising her children, Jamuni Devi cultivated this land for her livelihood. She and her children lived in a mud hut. Not far from Jamuni Devi’s home lives a Chamar man named Kaleshwar Das. Kaleshwar Das is a respected village elder in the Chamar community. Among the Chamars, he is relatively economically secure; he owns a car, a tractor, and a plot of land that he cultivates for his livelihood. He also maintains close ties with the dominant castes in the village, notably the Yadavs and Telis (both BCs). Three dominant caste Teli men – Rajender Sahu, Raman Sahu and Govind Sahu – regularly use Kaleshwar Das’s tractor for a fee. Kaleshwar Das has a son named Shobhan Das (32 years) who formerly drove a tractor for his livelihood, but now works as a schoolteacher. One day in June 1998, Jamuni Devi’s children were playing with the children of Kaleshwar Das. The next day, Kaleshwar’s daughter Buchiya fell ill. She contracted dysentery and her condition rapidly worsened. Kaleshwar took his ill daughter to an ojha (witch doctor/sorcerer) named Jan Guru (ST Santhal) from Pipda, a village 10 km away from Dhanve. Jan Guru declared that Buchiya was suffering because of the activities of a witch. One month after the ojha’s declaration, having not received proper medical treatment, Buchiya died.
Since her marriage, Jamuni Devi’s in-laws had often spoken lightly that she must be a witch, since things that she said or predicted often seemed to come true. After his daughter died of dysentery, Kaleshwar Das picked up this thread and made it a serious accusation. On the day immediately following his daughter’s death, Kaleshwar Das stopped Jamuni Devi’s husband Benku Das on the village road and said, “Your wife is a witch. She is the one who killed my daughter.” Kaleshwar Das began to speak openly of Jamuni Devi’s witchcraft in the village. Over time, the idea spread throughout the village that Jamuni Devi was a witch. Both in the Dalit colony and in the non-Dalit (Yadav and Teli) quarters of the village, people began to believe that Jamuni Devi was responsible for the deaths of Kaleshwar Das’s daughter and other children who died of illnesses periodically in the village.
One Tuesday near the festival of Dusshera in October 1998, Kaleshwar Das’s wife Rajia Devi died of an illness. Again, Kaleshwar loudly and publicly accused Jamuni Devi of having killed his wife. In public spaces, he shouted, “Father fucker! Cunt fucker, you ate up [that is, killed] my daughter and my wife!” Six months after Kaleshwar Das’s wife’s death, one day in the spring of 1999, an informal panchayat was called in the village. It was not an official meeting of the elected panchayat, but a “caste panchayat” meeting of the Chamars, at which Yadavs and Telis of the village were also present. Kaleshwar Das called for the panchayat, and village elder Dorik Das (Chamar) organised it. The meeting was held at about 4:00 p.m. in a place 10 km outside the village. The location, called Kali Mod Devisthan, is considered sacred to the goddess Kali. Along with the members of the village, Kaleshwar and Dorik Das invited the ojha Jan Guru to this meeting.
Jamuni Devi was called to the “panchayat”, where she had to sit before the assembled crowd while the ojha performed rituals with paan leaves to discern whether or not she was a witch. Ultimately, the ojha declared Jamuni Devi a witch, and the panchayat asked her to leave the village. Jamuni Devi, however, did not want to leave the village because her land and livelihood were all there. Another dominant caste friend of Kaleshwar Das in the village is the landowner Nageshwar Yadav (BC Ahir), whose young son has a reputation as a “bad character” and a goonda. Nageshwar’s son is known for both groping and verbally harassing Dalit girls in the village. Around the time of the “panchayat”, Nageshwar Yadav was searching for a bride for his son. One day, Jamuni Devi was performing agricultural labour with several other Dalit women when she casually commented, “Who would marry that Nageshwar Yadav’s son? Who would marry their daughter to a goonda type like that? I doubt anyone will agree to that marriage.”
Soon thereafter, a prospective marriage alliance that Nageshwar Yadav was pursuing for his son broke off for one reason or another. When Nageshwar learned from village rumour mongers that Jamuni Devi had spoken unfavourably about his son’s prospective marriage, he understood this to mean that she – being a witch – had actually cursed the son, foiling his marriage prospects. One day in the last week of June 1999, Kaleshwar Das and his son Shobhan Das invited Jamuni Devi’s husband Benku Das to their home in the afternoon. Understanding it to be a friendly invitation, Benku Das came to their home, where Kaleshwar and Shobhan brought him into a room and then locked it from the outside, trapping him inside. The same day in the evening, Jamuni Devi was at home with her youngest daughter Basanti (then 4 years) and baby Kaila Das. She did not know where her husband had gone. At about 8:00 p.m. a group of men – Nageshwar Yadav and Kaleshwar Das, accompanied by Shobhan Das, Kolho Das and Brahmdev Das (all Chamars) – arrived at her hut. From outside her door, Nageshwar Yadav shouted to Jamuni Devi, “Come out of the house, cunt fucker! Get out here, whore! I am going to beat you to death!”
The men then forcibly entered Jamuni Devi’s home, violently seized hold of her and dragged her out into the street. As they dragged her outside, the men shouted, “Witch! We will shove a bamboo pole up your cunt! We will beat your ass until it is red and swollen! We will slice you up, illegitimate cunt!” Jamuni Devi was terrified and began to weep. Her children, too, cried as their mother was dragged out of the hut. Outside of her home, a hostile crowd of Chamars and Yadavs had congregated, at the instigation of Kaleshwar Das and Nageshwar Yadav. In the midst of that crowd, Kolho and Shobhan Das beat her, kicked her, and threw her violently onto the ground. Kaleshwar Das and Nageshwar Yadav also assaulted her with their fists, with kicks, and with wooden rods. Jamuni Devi attempted to defend herself, but there was little she could do.
As the beating continued, Shobhan Das and some others went away for a short time and returned with a mug containing human excrement. Shobhan then forcibly pinned down Jamuni Devi, holding her legs and arms in place, while Nageshwar Yadav brought the mug to her face and began to pour the excreta into her mouth. Jamuni Devi, seeing what was happening, closed her mouth and clenched her teeth. To force her mouth open, Kaleshwar Das beat her face with a broken brick. Despite the pain, Jamuni Devi managed to keep her mouth shut. The excrement poured all over her lips and face, and some entered her nose as well. Jamuni Devi lost consciousness. After the attack, the perpetrators released Jamuni’s husband from the locked room in Kaleshwar Das’s home, and informed him that they had fed his wife human excrement. “If she is in fact a witch,” they said, “she will either die or go insane as a result of eating human waste. If she is not a witch, though, she will recover and be fine.” Benku Das rushed to the spot and took his wife, unconscious, to a nearby private hospital, Rupa Nursing Home. There the doctors present, Abhay Kumar Singh and Rup Singh (both dominant caste) revived Jamuni Devi and induced vomiting. At the doctors’ recommendation, Jamuni Devi remained there for a full week to treat her injuries and trauma.
Rajender Sahu, Raman Sahu and Govind Sahu – the Teli men of the village who rent Kaleshwar Das’s tractor – visited Jamuni Devi and her husband, recommended that they pursue a legal case against the perpetrators, and offered to help. Jamuni Devi gave Rajender Sahu Rs.500/- to arrange for the filing of a formal police complaint, as she and her husband knew nothing of legal matters and were, in any case, illiterate. Rajender engaged advocate Dheeraj Mandal (BC Koiri) to file a case on Jamuni Devi’s behalf at the Jammui District Court. Rajender Sahu and Dheeraj Mandal, however, altered the story considerably in their complaint, ignoring many elements, inventing a false incident of robbery, and altering the list of accused. This is because Rajender, Raman and Govind Sahu were hoping to benefit from the legal dispute between Jamuni Devi and Kaleshwar Das; that is, in the hope of taking full possession of Kaleshwar’s tractor one way or the other, the Teli men supported both sides in the legal conflict. In the semi-fabricated FIR, Kaleshwar Das, Kaelu Das, Shobhan Das, Pooran Das, Madhu Das, and Mahadev Das (all SC Chamar) were named as the accused. Ram Phali and Jugal Das s/o. Videshi Das (also SC Chamar) were named as witnesses. Nageshwar Yadav was left out of the FIR completely, and the conflict was depicted as purely within the Chamar community. Three months after the FIR was registered, an arrest warrant was issued, but no arrests were made. The police visited the village, scolded some of the perpetrators, took Shobhan Das into the police station for a few hours and then released him.
Meanwhile, Jamuni Devi felt that she should leave Dhanve village. She went to her mother’s house in Asodha village, Chandan block, Jammui district. From there, her brother Ravi Das took her to a private hospital in Katoria, a nearby village. Here she received ongoing treatment for the violence she had suffered. She remained in her mother’s village for six months, after which her brother took her back to her husband’s village. In Dhanve, she did not live in her old home, but in a tiny hut that she erected on the outskirts of the village. While the tension in the village had cooled somewhat, Jamuni Devi still lived in fear of another attack. In November 2002, Jamuni Devi’s husband Benku Das died of tuberculosis. She says, “After my husband’s death, no one in the village even talks to me.” She returned to the Chamar village proper, and lives there quietly with her son. In 2005, with the imposition of ‘President’s Rule’ in Bihar, the governor of the state ordered the police to clear pending cases. Because of this, on 19 March 2005 Chandra Mandi police station Sub-Inspector Surender Paswan (SC Dusadh) came to Jamuni Devi’s home in Dhanve accompanied by the local village guard (chowkidar) Nuneshwar Yadav (BC Ahir). When Jamuni Devi saw the police officer approaching, she feared that he might be coming to investigate her recent occupation of distilling illicit country liquor. Afraid, she fled from her home by another exit. The same morning, though, when the police officer made enquiries and asked to see her, Jamuni Devi relented and came to meet him. The Sub-Inspector told her that he had come in connection with the long pending case of violence against her. He said, “Why do you want to fight among yourselves?” and pressurised her to agree to a “compromise” and finish the case.
Still afraid of him, Jamuni Devi replied, “Anything you say, I will listen. I have to live in the village, so I will listen to what you have to say.” The Sub-Inspector communicated her willingness to accept arbitration, and a little over two weeks later, on 4 April 2005, a panchayat (elected panchayat, not a “caste panchayat”) was convened in Dhanve, presided over by Panchayat Ward Member Brahmdev Das (one of the perpetrators of the attack). In the panchayat, a verbal “compromise” was reached in which Jamuni Devi would be allowed to live in the village so long as she dropped all charges against the perpetrators. One of the perpetrators, Shobhan Das, had been arrested in the intervening years in connection with some other criminal case. He is currently in Jammui jail.