Saturday, July 19, 2003

CM Shinde humbled but Dalit colony pays the price

MANJU MEHTA

AURANGABAD, JULY 18: As night falls in the Dalit colony of Ambedkar Nagar in Aurangabad, the tension among its 10,000-odd population is palpable. This settlement has seen 18 arrests in the last 24 hours - all young men in the age group of 15-25. Any knock on the door raises the same question: Whose son will it be tonight?

The murder of three minor Dalit girls from the locality within a month has snowballed into something more. Caste tension, which residents say was not there earlier, has reared its ugly head. The latest incident, the murder of 11-year-old Mangal Dabadhe, sparked off rioting by an angry Dalit mob in the upper-caste CIDCO colony on Tuesday leading to the subsequent rounding up of Dalit youths by police.

Ambedkar Nagar and CIDCO colony - two settlements separated by caste, class and the 60-ft-wide Jalgaon road. One is a clutch of rented 60 sq ft chawls filled with large families of daily wage Dalit labourers. The other, with more affluent pucca structures, has upper-caste Hindu and Jain residents. The only time these two connected was on Tuesday. Police and CIDCO residents say it was the Dalit boys. Dalits insist the mob consisted mainly of rickshaw drivers who were on strike on Wednesday. And in the ensuing blame game, the murders take a backseat.

The victims, Mangal Dabhade (11), Asmita Hanumante (8) and Ratnamala Shelke (9), are all Dalit minor girls from Ambedkar Nagar who had been kidnapped. While Mangal's body was found on Monday, the other two were found dead on June 16 in Vaijapur, 70 kms from the Dalit colony. Police have arrested a 35-year-old Dalit woman, Padmabai Jadhav, for the crimes. ''She has confessed to all three murders,'' says Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Parushuram Pawar. Her reported motive being black magic.

Padmabai, who was Mangal's neighbour, became the suspect after she informed the Dabhade family about their missing daughter. Says 30-year-old Kailash Dabhade, Mangal's father: ''On the day my child disappeared, she said she saw Mangal leaving in a rickshaw with her uncle. But when Mangal did not return by 10 pm, we filed a complaint.'' The next day Padmabai was arrested.

Through all this, no finger of suspicion was pointed at the upper castes. ''All those things have a political angle. We don't have the kind of caste conflict that is present in rural areas,'' says Dabhade. But Tuesday changed all that. For the first time, pent-up emotions were released as Dalit boys, outraged by the murder of three children, targeted those living on the other side. A few hours before Mangal funeral, 500-600 boys went on a rampage in CIDCO area. Although no loss of life was reported, there was considerable damage to property.

''It was a fallout of the third murder. We don't expect more incidents of the kind here,'' says ACP Pawar. ''Three boys were arrested. Some of them were identified from the photographs carried in local papers the next day,'' he adds.

As for the rest, they are being picked up at random. The Express team which was in Ambedkar Nagar on Wednesday at 9.30 pm was witness to this. When policemen got hold of 18-year-old Ram Bangde, Dr Sunil Takayade rushed to intervene. He said the youth, who had been ill for the last few days, had come to his dispensary and hence was innocent. However, another 18-year-old, Ravi Kale, was not so lucky as there was no such intervention. His mother Raibai says her son was having lunch at home when the rioting took place. ''At 2 am, police came and took him away. We are waiting for him to come back.''

It has been a trying week for all. While Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde offered to resign, the state government announced it would invoke provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to deal with such incidents. Minister of State for Home Rajendra Darda went on a tour of the area on Wednesday, when an all-party bandh was being observed. Assurances and promises flew thick, but woes re-visit Ambedkar Nagar after dusk as midnight knocks are heard.

Source: The Indian Express, July 19, 2003

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