In yet another instance of caste violence, a dalit advocate in Gujarat’s Kutch district was killed, allegedly for his social media posts against Brahmins.
Devji Maheshwari, 50, was murdered in broad daylight in Rapar taluka of Kutch district, Gujarat, on September 26. He was a senior activist associated with All India Backward and Minority Communities (BAMCEF) and member of Indian Legal Professionals Associations and was involved in various struggles, including for land rights for dalits.
The Kutch police claimed that Maheshwari was killed for his social media posts against Brahmins, but the advocate’s wife has alleged that there was more to it than meets the eye as he was involved in fighting for land and property rights of dalits.
Bharat Raval, a 22-year-old resident of Malad, Mumbai and native of Rapar, Kutch, belonging to brahmin community, was arrested by the local police in less than 24 hours of Maheshwari’s murder after he was identified from a CCTV footage. In the footage, Raval is seen waiting outside Maheshwari’s office, follows him inside and runs out minutes later. Maheshwari is seen coming out after Raval, with his shirt soaked in blood, reportedly from multiple stab wounds. He succumbed to his injuries before he could be taken to a hospital.
In accordance with local police, Raval confessed that, “he could not take Maheshwari’s anti-Hindu and anti-brahmin Facebook posts anymore.”
Reportedly, Maheshwari and Raval had a spat repeatedly over the past one month. Rava had warned Maheshwari to not create trouble as they hailed from same village. He had also threatened Maheshwari in his office once.
The last Facebook post by Maheshwari was a video of Waman Meshram, National President of BAMCEF, saying that people belonging to Schedule Castes, Scheduled tribes and Other Backward Classes are not Hindus.
Mumbai Police, who arrested Raval and handed him over to Gujarat police, said he travelled on September 23 with an intention to kill Maheshwari. He was arrested under various sections of Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocity) Act, charges of murder and criminal conspiracy.
Notably, Minaxiben Maheshwari, wife of the deceased advocate, has alleged that the murder was part of larger conspiracy than a spat over social media post.
The FIR which was registered based on complaint by Minaxiben Maheshwari stated, “Devji Maheshwari left his residence at around 7.30 am on the day in a private vehicle for Bhuj for a legal matter in connection with a property case that involved Luhar Community Hall (a land dispute between two communities). He returned at around 3.30 left for his office. No lawyer was ready to take the case of the community hall and my husband did. He used to keep the papers related to the case with and tried in vain to lodge a FIR in the matter. The rival party had threatened to kill my husband several times as he was in possession of those papers. It is my suspicion that they hired Bharat Raval to kill him.”
Gujarat police has also named eight others in the FIR, of which five have been arrested so far.
Noticeably, dalits from Rapar and neighbouring areas erupted in protest and refused to accept the body until accused are arrested. The protestors blocked highways and burnt tyres as a mark of protest. Maheshwari’s body that was kept in a government hospital was accepted later by the family.
History of Caste violence in Gujarat
In January this year, a dalit girl was found hanging from a tree in Sabarkantha district. While family alleged that she was raped and killed by upper caste men of the village, an SIT formed to investigate the case declared victim was neither raped nor murdered.
In July, a 27 year old dalit youth was kidnapped and killed by upper caste men of his village for suspicion of theft. He was the sole earner of his family.
In 2019, a data compiled by Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe Cell Gandhinagar, revealed that 568 cases of caste atrocity were registered till May of which 16 murder cases, 30 were of grievously hurt and 36 rape cases.
In May 2019, Rajesh Sondarva son of a dalit RTI activist was thrashed to death near Rajkot by men accused of killing his father two years ago. The accused were out on bail.
In June 2019, Piyush Sarvaiya, brother Lalji Sarvaiya who was burnt alive by an upper caste mob in 2012, was attacked by one of the convicts accused of killing his brother. The accused who attacked Sarvaiya was out on parole at the time. The same month, Manjibhai Solanki, a 55-year-old deputy Sarpanch was attacked with pipes and rods by upper caste men of his village. Solanki who had reportedly irked the upper caste men as he had helped dalits of the village to lodge cases of atrocity against them, succumbed to his injuries on way to hospital.
The third incident of caste atrocity in the state in June 2019 was the murder of 34-year-old Prakash Parmar. Parmar’s brother had lodged a complaint against the men belonging to Darbar (Kshatriya) community who attacked him.
On July 8, Haresh Solanki, 22-year-old dalit man was hacked to death allegedly by his wife’s family members who belong to upper caste community. Solanki was attempting to meet his pregnant wife at her parent’s house near Ahmedabad.
Between the years 2016 and 2018, dalits have been killed in Gujarat for riding a horse, watching Garba, a traditional Gujarati dance during months of Navratri festival, marrying an upper caste man or woman, raising voice against upper caste men in villages for civil rights. Dalits have been thrashed for wearing mojri, a traditional Indian footwear, sporting a moustache, sporting a photo of Shivaji on his vehicle and riding a horse in one’s own wedding. Dalits have been socially boycotted for attempting to drink water from the only water-well in the village as they are considered ‘untouchables’ by the local villagers.