A Dalit family was allegedly beaten up by upper castes in the village of Malhar in Jammu’s Udhampur district on June 10 after women fetched water from a public well. According to members of the family, as there was no water supply in the area, the women of the house had stepped out to fetch water from the public well. It was where they were allegedly met with casteist slurs.
“My bhabhi and chachi had gone out to fetch water but they were not allowed to draw it up. The bucket was forcefully taken away from them,” said Pawan Kumar. According to Kumar, at around 11 pm in the night, 15 men with sticks barged into their house and started to hit everyone.
“Everyone was beaten up, including my nephew. My brothers and nephew survived grave injuries. They kept saying 'ab yeh ma**e (a casteist slur) ki himmat badd chuki hai (They feel very emboldened these days)',” Kumar added.
The victims were identified as Somraj (42), Devraj (28), Amit Kumar (22) and Pooran Chand (35). They were immediately hospitalised at the Government District Hospital in Udhampur. Days later, scores of people protested, demanding that the perpetrators be charged under The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA). However, a case has still not been registered.
After the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, all the central laws were extended to Jammu and Kashmir. The PoA had been enacted to prohibit discrimination and prevent atrocities and hate crimes against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It has been almost two years since the Act was extended to the UTs but it has not yet been implemented on the ground.
As per activists, they face a difficult time in getting crimes against Dalits registered under the PoA. There was no law that oversaw investigations into crimes against Dalits prior to the repeal of Article 370. Activists criticise successive governments' for the status quo.
“The authorities at the helm of affairs have not instructed police men to register caste atrocities. It is why the number of such cases is not coming down. Rather then registering a case, the police tries to settle 'disputes'. This is appalling,” said R.K. Kalsotra, state president, All India Confederation of SC/ST/OBC Organisations.
There is palpable anxiety among the residents of Malhar, which is home to nearly 25 Dalit families. One of the family's neighbours, Subash Chander, said that this was not the first time such an incident had occurred. “Dalits in the area are frequently abused. If a Dalit man is passing by someone would shout, 'oye m***e, bade ache kapde pehne hai (You're too well-turned out)',” he added.
According to the police an investigation is ongoing in the matter and once proved, the case will be registered under the PoA. “The investigation is still ongoing. We can’t register any case under the PoA unless we conduct a thorough probe. We are following the case. I will know tomorrow and if it appears to be a case of caste atrocity. We will file an FIR under the Act then,” said Indu Kanwal Chib, DC Udhampur.
However, activists said that the police would not have acted if voices had not been raised. “We protested, raised our voices and posted about it on social media. It resulted in authorities deciding to thoroughly investigate the case,” said Satish Vidrohi, president of the Ambedkar Yuva Sanghthan.
The Udhampur incident has once again raised questions about the disrimination against Dalits in Jammu. Kalsotra believes that 'no crimes against Dalits in Jammu and Kashmir' is a false notion. “Crimes against Dalits are committed in Jammu. I can name several such offences. However, not all crimes are reported under the Act,” he said.