17 years since Khairlanji massacre, Modi govt has a Dalit opportunity
Remembering Khairlanji is important because nations aren’t just remembered by their economic prowess but by their commitment to the welfare of their most vulnerable.
Deelip Mhaske, (Edited by Anurag Chaubey)
29 September 2006 will forever be etched in our memories as a stark reminder of the horrors that took place in Khairlanji. A date that stands testament to the deep-seated caste prejudices that mar our society even 76 years after India’s Independence.
Seventeen years ago, the Dalit massacre that saw four of a family killed by a mob in the Maharashtra village shook India and reverberated in the corridors of power. But did it halt or even slow down the culture of violence that runs deep in the country? The case was a reminder of the ugly nexus that operates, breeds and corrupts even the most local administrative and policing structure meant to protect the weak.
In the aftermath, the media’s reluctance to address the true nature of this crime was palpable. What should have been immediately identified as a glaring symptom of caste hatred was instead mischaracterised as personal vendetta and ‘moral disputes.’ This deliberate obfuscation not only undermined the gravity of the caste-based violence but further victimised the Bhotmange family after their killing.
Modi has an opportunity
Remembering Khairlanji massacre is important because in the annals of history, nations aren’t just remembered by their economic prowess or military might, but by their commitment to justice, equality, and the welfare of their most vulnerable. One of the piercing reasons Ambedkarites found themselves conspicuously absent from Modi’s international events such as President Biden’s State Dinner for the Indian PM, and even G20, is their fierce, undying commitment to seeking justice in atrocity cases like Khairlanji. Leaders like Modi have the unique opportunity to script this legacy, ensuring that India isn’t just known as a global powerhouse but also as a beacon of justice and equality.
Under Modi and BJP ruled states, atrocities against Dalits has increased, and Modi government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process on November 10 2022. Most importantly, a visible representation must be given to committed Dalit intellectual leaders in key ministries of Home and Law. The UN Human Rights Council’s recommendations cover a range of key concerns including the protection of minority communities and vulnerable groups, tackling gender-based violence, upholding civil society freedoms, protecting human rights defenders, and ending torture in custody.
The chilling echoes
Bound by raw emotions, my heartstrings are tightly knotted with Khairlanji. The chilling echoes of its past were the reasons I felt the compelling urge to step away from India, just few weeks after the incidence in 2006. The lingering shadows of the village and the muted screams of the oppressed became a heavy burden I could no longer bear. Mine and journalist Sabrina Buckwalter’s clandestine rendezvous with Bhotmange transcended beyond a mere interview. It was a sacred communion between souls marred by an unimaginable horror. As I stood before Bhotmange, I was not just looking into his eyes, but the weary souls of countless Dalits who, like him, felt lost, yearning for the comfort of a homeland that seemed forever out of reach. Together with Buckwalter, the young American reporter, we kindled a fierce determination to shed light on this abyss of injustice. Buckwalter’s Just Another Rape Story? in the Times of India wasn’t just words on a page for us; it was our fervent outcry, an echo that would resonate in the hallowed halls of the UN Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and even office of the India’s Prime Minister.
Our odyssey was a test of courage and resilience. The cold, piercing glares in Bhandara district, the aloof brush-offs by the Police Head labeling the massacre merely a “Naxalite issue” tried to deter us. But amid these formidable barriers, we uncovered pivotal documents. The mere act of sharing this narrative had us on the police radar, with looming threats to paint us as Naxalites. It’s a manipulative game; a tactic often deployed by the authorities to silence defiant Dalit activists and social warriors standing against brutalities.
Unmasking the truth demanded a hefty price. Buckwalter found herself on the verge of exile after her visa was denied, while shadows of menace loomed over me every waking moment. Yet, fueled by an indomitable spirit, as president of Foundation For Human Horizon, I took my protest to Geneva’s United Nation headquarter in 2006. My hunger strike became a beacon, compelling even India’s Prime Minister to finally acknowledge the dark specters of Khairlanji.
As Buckwalter and this author’s revelations reverberated across borders, the gravity of Dalit atrocities came to the forefront, shaking the collective conscience of the global community. The narrative wasn’t just about Kherlanji anymore; it became a mirror to the myriad suppressed stories of the oppressed, underscoring the vital role of international English-speaking media. Their unbiased lenses and vast outreach could no longer remain mere observers but needed to transform into catalysts of change.
The global attention, on one hand, highlighted the power of international solidarity. When atrocities occur in any corner of our interconnected world, there is a moral obligation for global citizens to decry them. Khairlanji exemplifies this, as international pressure, including from esteemed platforms made a difference. And on the other hand, it exposed darker side of India.
Khairlanji is not just history
Today, as we reflect upon the Khairlanji massacre, it serves not as a mere historical reference, but as a poignant reflection of India’s present-day challenges. As a nation, we have soared to great heights, but episodes like Khairlanji ground us, reminding us of the arduous journey still ahead.
The Bhotmange family epitomised the dreams and aspirations of countless Dalits. While their dreams met a tragic end, their legacy remains undeterred. They symbolise hope, resistance, and the indomitable spirit that envisions an India unfettered by caste chains.
As the haunting memories of Khairlanji resurface, our hearts don’t merely sigh in anguish; they thunder with a call to arms. This isn’t mere nostalgia; it’s an impassioned plea to rise, to act, and to transform. We make a sacred pledge to cast such dark episodes deep into oblivion, ensuring they never tarnish our present or future. For, justice delayed is, in essence, justice negated. A nation that ignores the aspirations of its disenfranchised citizens loses its soul.
We must envision an India where every ambition, be it humble or grandiose, is valued, safeguarded, and celebrated. While the G20’s grandeur lasted but two days, costing over Rs 4,100 crore, the price of ensuring no more massacres like Khairlanji is comparatively insignificant. Yet, its ripple effect would touch and uplift billions. Central to this vision is the unwavering commitment of our leaders, especially the unwavering focus of our Prime Minister.
The author is the president of Foundation for Human Horizon, a UN-affiliated NGO that’s leading the Anti-Caste legislation movement in the USA and an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Scholar at Johns Hopkins University. Views are personal.
Courtesy : The Print
Note: This news piece was originally published in theprint.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right