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Dear upper caste Indians, Hathras is not another Nirbhaya. It is a Khairlanji

From Kilvenmani massacre in 1968 to the Chunduru massacre in 1991 to the Khairlanji atrocity in 2006, Dalits have been vainly hoping to access legal justice in India.

The victim's pyre burns amid heavy police presence in her village, Boolgarhi | Manisha Mondal | ThePrintIndia
The Hathras Dalit victim's pyre burns amid heavy police presence in her village, Boolgarhi | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Dalits in India live like Jews in Holocaust Germany and Black slaves in pre-capitalist America. Yet, the world knows nothing about their pain. Dalits live in this country without any respect and recognition for their right to life and human dignity, which are the fundamental aspects of human rights. Dalits haven’t had access to legal justice in the “world’s largest democracy” from its inception.

From the first reported incident of caste violence in Independent India — known as Kilvenmani massacre (Tamil Nadu) where 44 Dalits were burnt alive by the dominant caste landlords in 1968 for demanding hike in wages — to Chunduru (Andhra Pradesh) massacre of 13 Dalits in 1991 and Khairlanji atrocity in 2006, Dalits have been vainly hoping to access legal justice. 

Rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, is only the tip of the iceberg of endemic caste violence against Dalit women in India. From Khairlanji to Hathras, what Dalits have witnessed is the manipulation of witnesses, faulty judiciary process to cover up the crimes, and distorted reportage by the Brahminical media.

Caste is the most pertinent and compelling factor in understanding sexual violence in India. In December 2012, a young middle class educated woman Nirbhaya was gang-raped, tortured and murdered in the capital city of Delhi. The gruesome incident shocked the nation. Nationwide protests erupted against the State’s failure to protect women’s honour and bodily integrity. Media coverage highlighted the candlelight marches and protests of middle classes across the country. 

Was the rape of Nirbhaya the first of its kind that took place in India? Why was the response of the middle class/upper castes so intense in Nirbhaya case? During the Nirbhaya protests, Dalits scholars have repeatedly questioned and lamented the lack of similar response from the general public against Khairlanji atrocity.  


Also read: Can we get swift justice too, Dalits ask after Kopardi rape death sentence


A few years before Nirbhaya, on 29 September 2006, a mob of dominant-caste men and women attacked a Dalit woman, Surekha Bhotmange, and her three children in Maharashtra’s Khairlanji village. Surekha Bhotmange had been fighting for her land rights against the dominant castes who had encroached on her small piece of agricultural land. Enraged by a Dalit woman’s assertiveness, dominant castes dragged Surekha Bhotmange, her daughter and two sons out of their home, paraded them naked, raped and lynched them. Burnt charcoals were inserted into the private parts of Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter Priyanka. Their dead bodies were dumped at the outskirts of the village. The participation of caste-Hindu women in the rape and lynching of a Dalit woman and her children shocks the very human conscience. However, such a gruesome incident did not shock the nation. 

It took more than a week for the news of Khairlanji massacre to appear in the print media. There was candlelight march nor did the media change the victims’ names to protect their identity. In fact, the Brahminical media distorted the case by reporting that Surekha Bhotmange had an extramarital affair with her cousin and thence justified the atrocity. The police and the politicians operated according to the interest of the dominant castes. While Nirbhaya was constructed as an “innocent” and “pure victim”, Surekha, a Dalit woman, was constructed as sexually impure by the same Indian media.

Sexual purity/caste purity determines the value of a woman in Brahminical society. Brahminical society constructs Brahmin and caste-Hindu women as sexually pure as well as aims to protect/control their sexual purity. Dalit women are constructed outside the normative framework of caste purity and sexual purity as the caste system sanctions the upper-caste man’s access to Dalit woman’s sexuality, body and labour. Endemic caste-based sexual violence against Dalit women is condoned and considered normal. Dalit women are sexually exploited (casual sexual access) in the agriculture fields or construction sites where they toil for livelihoods. They are also raped, paraded naked and/or lynched by dominant castes when they want to teach a lesson to Dalit caste groups for transgressing the caste order. Any act of transgression ranging from Dalits inadvertently entering the sacred spaces such as temples to fighting for a hike in wages leads to violence against Dalits.


Also read: Abuses Ambedkar Caravan founder faces every day: Clean my toilet, you belong to gutter


Police, politicians, judiciary and the media protected the interests of the dominant caste perpetrators in every case of caste atrocity so far. Hathras is not another Nirbhaya but another Surekha. The government’s inclination to protect the interest of the dominant castes is evident in Hathras’s case since the police seem to have already tampered with evidence.

While the significant positions in judiciary, politics, media and bureaucracy are occupied largely by Brahmins and dominant castes, Dalits are living in poverty and inhuman conditions in Indian society. Dr B.R. Ambedkar had said, “Rights are protected not by law but by the social and moral conscience of society.” Such rise of the moral conscience of the middle class/upper castes was evident in the nationwide protests in case of Nirbhaya. 

Caste hierarchies have proved that women are not a monolithic category. These hierarchies determine the value of a woman, her dignity and even her right to life. There is still a question over whether the middle class/upper castes can rise up to such a moral state to fight for all women’s security irrespective of caste location of the victim. As long as the responsibility of fighting against caste-based atrocities lies solely on Dalits in India, and the judiciary, politics, media and the general public (middle class/upper castes) do not shed their casteism to stand up for Dalit human rights, Dalits’ access to legal justice is not possible.

Sowjanya Tamalapakula teaches at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Hyderabad. Views are personal.

This article was first published by Velivada, an anti-caste platform.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Very biased article, brahmins are not even 2% of the society and you blame everything on them. I really don’t understand usage of word brahaminical traditions in this article.
    A caste hierarchy among the scheduled caste has developed and one is trying to rule or oppress the other.
    Focus on the real problem instead of blaming 2% of population who have nothing to do with such atrocities.

  2. Dalits have no spine to name real oppresser so in frustration they target brahmins.All this activism is targetted at the weak and to justify their hate for brahmins.You are just same as bullies who succumb to bigger bullies and do their chamchagiri.Infact you shamelessly want to ally with them as they powerful not because you belive in a cause.When it comes to islam dont generalise when it comes to brahmins generalise them and abuse them.
    You blame brahmins for your inadequacy and you dont want to name the real perpetrator as its uncomfortable and shows your cowardice.You can be proud about your dalit identity other caste are not supposed to proud about their identity and culture.You get angry when people are unapologetic about their identity and you get butthurt like tyrants do.What a hypocrate you want to be proud of your caste but you want annihilation of other caste that would be the correct tagline

  3. It is no use explaining and sharing these thick headed so called upper caste people about casteism and atrocities Dalits face in India or abroad. It is better to migrate to some other countries.

    • Yeah obc are innocent and brahmins are evil what a stupid argument.You are basically saying obc dont have ability to reason what is right and wrong.Dalits have no spine to name real oppresser so in frustration they target brahmins.All this activism is targetted at the weak and to justify their hate for brahmins.You are just same as bullies who succumb to bigger bullies and do their chamchagiri.Infact you shamelessly want to ally with them as they powerful not because you belive in a cause

      When it comes to islam dont generalise when it comes to brahmins generalise them and abuse them.
      Only stupid people generalise just like muslims are not responsible for mughals kings action as well as terrorism how are only brahmins responsible for caste atrocity.
      You blame brahmins for your inadequacy and you dont want to name the real perpetrator as its uncomfortable and shows your cowardice.You can be proud about your dalit identity other caste are not supposed to proud about their identity and culture.You get angry when people are unapologetic about their identity and you get butthurt like tyrants do.What a hypocrate you want to be proud of your caste but you want annihilation of other caste that would be the correct tagline

  4. This article is flawed to the core. In fact it is flawed at an extremely basic, primitive level. It is shameful that thePrint allowed such a terrible manuscript to pass. First and foremost the perpetrators of the Khairlanji massacre were members of the Kunbi community, which falls in the OBC category, and a very politically dominant community. The author’s selective and factually incorrect targetting of Brahmins is shameful and racist. Second, the author compares the situation of dalits in India to Jews in Nazi Germany. There is no basis for such a claim and it indeed does complete disservice to their cause. Jews in Nazi Germany were forbidden from attending schools and colleges, participating in cultural events or occuping any posts in the government, army, education, medicine, etc. On the other hand, India has several Dalit politicians and Dalits being successful in every walk of life. I am not saying that caste issues are not an important problem in India, but the article’s claims are slanderous and misleading, and above all, quite dishonest.

  5. Please check the writer. Shows how much poisonous is he…dalits committed such a crime and he say dalit waitng for justice…

  6. This journalist is so baised, I think kind of journalism you practice is harm to the society.
    Have the guts to speak the truth, be it anyone who involved the crime. Crime is a crime, be it done by anyone irrespective of caste. Don’t just blame somebody for the sake for blaming.
    Let the truth prevail.

  7. “Rights are not protected by law but by social and moral conscience of society.” That is the crux of the matter .History has been witness to despicable behavior of the vast majority sanctioned by social mores instances being , HINDU CASTE SYSTEM , HOLOCAUST , APARTHEID , BUTCHERING OF HUMAN BEINGS BY ISLAMIC JIHADISTS and there must be many more . Hindu caste system here is unique in the sense that very few of the perpetrators or their descendants feel any sense of shame for their pathetic behavior . It is time that , Hindu upper caste , like germans , white south africans and the post war japanese apologise for their misdemeanors .

    • Let them for a start discredit their ancestors for the verses in Vedas and other books or myths that mandate the caste system and holiness of upper castes.

      It will be good if they can bring themselves to do it. A society that truly progresses is one in which the ruling class acknowledges it’s past mistakes, heals wounds and moves on.

  8. Why blame Maharashtrian Brahmin Community for Khairlanji? Brahmins had nothing to do with Kharlanji crimes. Maharashtrian Brahmins are now an urbanized community and only a microscopic minority of them live in villages. They constitute just 3.5 per cent of the total population of Maharashtra. In the pre-independence era they were at the forefront of the independence movement and social reforms and demanded social justice for Dalits. Subsequently, after independence, very few of them participate in political activities. But the much maligned community is often considered considered as a soft target and blamed for anything bad that happens in Maharashtra. The BJP in its previous avatar as Janasangh was considered as a party of Bhataji (Brahmins) and Shetji (Traders). Thereafter, the BJP strived hard to change this perception and assimilated and promoted many leaders from the OBC / non-Brahmin communities. BJP has now become a party of all castes. Unfortunately, after its electoral victory in 2014 assembly elections it chose a Brahmin politician, Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, as Chief Minister. It was a contentious decision with inherent political risks. Fadnavis was quite aware of this risk and during his entire tenure consciously downplayed his Brahmin origin. But the damage was done. The Brahmin identity of Fadnavis proved to be a major hurdle that obstructed BJP retaining power in Maharashtra. The majority of the Maharashtrian Brahmins understand this political reality and try remain aloof from the state level politics. In fact, many of the young generation Brahmins prefer to migrate to USA or Europe.

  9. The caste system has wrecked havoc in our Indian society in general. The dalits and the tribals are always at the receiving end. This must end, for the sake of humanity.

  10. A few years before Nirbhaya, on 5 December 2006, a mob of dominant-caste men and women attacked a Dalit woman, Surekha Bhotmange, and her three children in Maharashtra’s Khairlanji village.

    Didn’t activists Teesta Setalvad do anything about it? Or she is tigress only in Gujarat but a proverbial Mia ki mindadi [ Mia’s cat] in Maharashtra?

  11. Yes. Dalits are suffering. More so under the present rulers, who are uper cast supremacist just like white supremacist! This cruel discrimination can only be counterey by following Ambedkarite thought of “Educate, unite, struggle”

  12. Another naxalbari article , trying to go mainstream. This is a naxal trick to make communities go berserk and then become leaders by talking their way through people who cannot think on their own.

  13. Yuval Noah Harari, historian, philosopher and best-selling author, says that the only truth is suffering. All other feelings and emotions are passe’. It is clear that the only criterion for a satisfied life is to keep the suffering away – the answer therefore is providing for Food – clothes and abode (roti-kapda-makan).
    With special status based on caste and religion in the constitution and existing Government policies that discriminate based on caste and religion, how can India be a secular state.
    Discrimination and special provisions based on anything other than economic status will NOT solve problems -sentiments, caste, religion et al are only a distraction. What is required is are efforts in society for more equitable distribution of wealth and reduce suffering.
    Note: A Q by the courts to authorities in the Hathar’s case sums up the problem: (paraphrased) “Will this (“midnight cremation” ), have happened if the victim was from a rich family?” Economic status is a more compelling reason for all personal crimes in India rather than caste.
    Disclaimer: In my family, extended family and close friends circle there are many inter caste and inter religious successful marriages

    • The Reservation policy is not a Poverty alleviation program, at the most it can provide some remedy for the poor representation of Dalits and other backward people in the governance.

      • I wonder. Just look around. What is the economic status of those Dalits etc.. who hold prominent positions in politics?
        Just asking. The hypocrisy there is very evident.

    • You are urbanised. You are taking personally from an urban context. I am not sure if any of your relatives
      or friends married a Dalit. But I would not be suprised if it happened because urbanisation and education removes notions of social hierarchy.

      This is a rural problem.
      In urban areas power is economic. Money can buy power.
      In rural areas power is maintained by social mores and traditions. Also owning land is power. The lowest castes are mostly landless.

      • Thanks Sagara for your input.
        But in the ultimate even in Rural areas, it is economic consideration – land? Even in India thee were states wher redisrribution of land has taken lace.
        Jut saying. Stay safe

  14. Dont understand how ‘brahmnical media’s comes in this article. The writer is biased by not criticizing the so called upper castes who have perpetrated these crimes – can she name the community behind the kelvenmani tragedy ? Are these Brahmins who conducted this massacre ?? What nonsense …. Having said that – Dalits have been oppressed for centuries in this country – it’s time they are treated as equals with respect. Proper urbanization and education are the remedy. But until politics is dominated by upper castes, this may not crystallize.

  15. The issue highlighted is a significant one.Atrocities against dalit should be stopped.
    But wording of headline is onesided. Because it says, “dear upper castes” and in common language word “upper castes” denotes people in general category like Thakurs, Brahmins. But main accused in Khairlanji and Kilvenmani belonged to obc category.
    Want to highlight this

  16. I agree with the author that not everything is good at the rural level when it comes to caste equations. But I also have to admit that the author and many like her are still busy targeting the Brahmin community who hardly has any presence in rural areas anymore. They are AFRAID to name the OBC or the Other Open castes who are predominantly doing the atrocities. They are still happy targeting a community which by far has moved away from these evils. Take the case of khairlanji, the atrocities were carried out by OBC caste but the author does not have guts to mention it. Even the movie article 15 showed Brahmins as the culprits while the actual incidence has another OBC caste doing the atrocity. the same Dalits will always be happy to tie up with these dominant castes to bash Brahmins but forget that , Brahmins are no more the ones who are oppressing them. Till the time they show spine to name the real culprits,you won’t achieve the social consciousness they so desire.

    • Completely agree. The intent of the article is to create divide in Hindu Society that Modi is trying to consolidate. In Nirbhaya, Udaipur or Balrampur the perpetrators have been Muslims. I have never read any news where Dalits have raped muslim women.

      This article sucks…

    • The OBC’s have been manipulated in Hinduism to perpetuate the caste system because they have been brainwashed by it’s myths and stories. They can’t think by themselves.

      If Brahminism had focused on liberating people of all castes below them with true knowledge of self-realization, self-esteem and positive outlook rather than looking at those castes as objects of control we would not have the situation of the lowest castes being subjugated for centuries like this article points out.

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