A 22-year-old Dalit man, Vinod Bamnia, was beaten to death following a row over a poster of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar posted outside his house in Rajasthan’s Kakraliya village. The police say that on May 24, Anil Sihag and Rakesh Sihag tore the poster of Dr. Ambedkar displayed outside his home. “Recently, some men including Anil Sihag and Rakesh Sihag, who also live in our village, had torn the banners of Babasaheb Ambedkar, which were put up outside our home since Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14.
After we identified them, we complained to their families”, Bamnia’s cousin Manoj reportedly told the media. After Bamnia and his family members raised objections to the incident and locals intervened, the family of the accused apologized on their behalf before the village panchayat. The accused along with 4 others, all said to belong to an OBC community, attacked Bamnia on June 5 seeking revenge. The assault left him critically injured. He was admitted to a private hospital in Sri Ganganagar, where he yielded to his injuries two days later on June 7.
Mukesh, who is, an eyewitness of the assault, recounts: “The actual culprits wanted to take revenge. On June 5, Vinod and I, were on our way to our fields in the village. We were attacked by Rakesh, Anil, and others, who were waiting for us with sticks. I managed to escape with minor injuries. But they beat up Vinod with hockey sticks about 20-30 times. He was taken to Rawatsar and referred to hospitals in Hanumangarh and Sriganganagar, where he subsequently succumbed to his injuries.” The accused Anil Sihag, and Rakesh Sihag, have been arrested with two of their accomplices Saksham and Haider Ali. The other two remaining assaulters are absconding, with police on the lookout.
The FIR filed by Bamnia’s family states that the attackers shouted casteist slurs during the assault. “Aaj tumhe tumhara Ambedkarvad Yaad dilvayenge (We will make you remember your Ambedkarite ideology today),” they are reported to have said. Initially, the FIR was registered by the police under IPC sections 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 307 (attempt to murder), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), and 143 (disciplining for unlawful assembly) along with sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Following Vinod’s death, 307 (murder attempt), was changed to murder under section 302.
Bamnia was also a member of the Bhim army. The Dalits right organization staged a protest alleging police inaction after the day of the attack. According to Satyavan Indasar, Bhim Army state president, Bamnia was an active member of the group and frequently raised and reported issues of caste discrimination. He cited casteism to be the reason behind the murder and believes that had timely action been taken by the police, Vinod might have been alive.
In addition to demanding action against police officials, he also observed that “We protested yesterday until Vinod’s family got a favourable response from the administration about their demands, including compensation”. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan is expected to meet the victim’s family, according to Indaasar. In response to the charges against the police, Hanumangarh Superintendent Preeti Jain said, “It is wrong to say there was police inaction as the arrests were made promptly after the incident”. She also defended the police saying, that nobody had contacted the police after the poster tearing incident. An FIR was filed only after the assault.
The police have also provided details of past FIRs filed by Bamnia and indicate a history of intimidation faced by him and his family. The first complaint was made after Bamnia received threat calls, with casteist slurs after he had objected to the distribution of Hanuman Chalisa at a school in Soneri village, Hanumangarh. In the FIR lodged under sections of the IPC and the SC/ST act, he had called the distribution “unconstitutional”. He had also lodged another FIR at Rawatsar station on May 25 naming, ten people from the village who had blocked a road and attacked his family and him when they tried to pass through. In the second incident, the other side had registered a counter FIR on several charges, including an attempt to murder.
Bhim Army has also alleged that had necessary action been taken on these previous attempts at intimidation, the recent incident could have been prevented by showing that the law would not tolerate such tactics. Commenting on previous FIRs lodged by the victim’s family, however, SP Jain has pointed out in police’s defence that “The FIR about the assault on the fields was because of a land dispute in which both sides sustained injuries and lodged cross FIRs. As for the FIR, on the threat calls, it was found to be that of abuse. Which is a non-cognizable offence.”
Prior complaints by Bamnia’s family suggest that the incident is indeed motivated by casteism. Furthermore, his active participation in caste-related issues could have moved certain people against him. This incident of caste violence, like many others, reveals that as a society, we still have a long way to go. While there are legal safeguards in place to protect Dalits, societal consciousness continues to lag far behind.
Babasaheb Ambedkar was the father of the Indian constitution and a committed figure in the Dalit rights movement. The irrelevant impulse against him is seen as an effort by casteist forces to prevent Dalit emancipation and erase Ambedkar’s legacy. In March this year, reports of vandalism on Ambedkar’s statues also emerged from UP’s Ballia District village. The occurrence was the second of its kind in four months. In addition, instances of institutional abuses are also worrying in this regard; the Hathras gang-rape and murder last year and its handling by the UP government point to the social and institutional violence Dalit communities continue to face. Unless there is a significant shift in public consciousness towards caste, honest progress towards social harmony will continue to be a challenge.
Photo: Vinod Bamnia’s Funeral, Source: @HimanshuValmi13
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