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Spurned by the State, how Dalits turn scoundrels into Sant Rampals

Deep Halder
Deep HalderNov 20, 2014 | 16:49

Spurned by the State, how Dalits turn scoundrels into Sant Rampals

It is one thing to be poor in India. Quite another to be a casteless poor. Ask Bant Singh. When his minor daughter was raped by upper caste men in 2000 in Jhabhar village in Mansa district of Punjab, he dared to take them to court, a rather bold step for a Dalit back then. The trial led to life sentences for three culprits in 2004. It was one of the earliest instances of a Dalit from the region complaining against upper-caste violence and managing to secure a conviction.

Such cases have been filed before. But justice had always been a far cry as even judges displayed caste bias. Take the case of Bhanwari Devi. On 22 September 1992, in front of her husband, this grassroots worker was gang-raped for obstructing a child marriage. The trial judge acquitted the accused saying ‘rape is usually committed by teenagers, and since the accused are middle aged and therefore respectable, they could not have committed the crime.’ If that wasn’t enough, he went on to say: ‘An upper-caste man could not have defiled himself by raping a lower-caste woman.’  

So Bant Singh’s case could have been a reason for cheer. But on the evening of 7 January 2006 when he was returning home through wheat fields after campaigning for a national agricultural labour rally, he was attacked by a gang, sent by the same men who had earlier raped his daughter, and had links with the Congress party. Bant Singh was beaten to pulp and left for dead. But he somehow managed to survive after both his lower arms and one leg were amputated since gangrene had set in as the doctors at the hospital he was taken to had ignored his case. The doctor was later suspended and Singh became a singer and campaigner for Dalit rights.

Like Singh, spurned by the state, ignored by caste leaders and left to fend for themselves, India’s casteless millions turn to self-styled godmen like Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and Sant Rampal. Ram Rahim wears many hats. A wiki search shows him to be a social reformer, a preacher, a spiritual leader and the head of the “socio-spiritual organisation” Dera Sacha Sauda. His followers, who call him Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, are mostly lower caste Sikhs who have embraced Sikhism to escape the curse of caste. But even after a change of faith, they weren’t able to get social acceptance. In despair, they turned to Ram Rahim who gave them new hope.  

In 2002, Ram Rahim and his Dera came under the glare of law in connection with charges of sexual exploitation of female followers of the sect, and the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chatrapati. After his support to the BJP in last month’s Haryana polls, these cases are not being talked about, but Ram Rahim remains a controversial figure.

Like Ram Rahim, Sant Rampal endeared many by reportedly making derogatory comments about Swami Dayanand Saraswati that infuriated Arya Samaj followers who are mostly upper castes. But beneath the garb of a saint who fights caste is a fugitive from justice wanted for murder charges. As the bodies pile up outside his Hisar ashram as the State’s full might takes on his devoted followers, Manu, the progenitor of caste, laughs a quiet laugh.

Last updated: November 20, 2014 | 16:49
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