Varanasi: Caste-based Siege on Dalits and Marginalised Communities, People Live in Fear

On July 13, Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati, a resident of Kerkatpur village in Banaras, was murdered by men from Bhumihar caste.

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Image: Vananchal Express

It was the morning of July 13 when the cheerful life of Maya Prajapati, a resident of Kerkatpur village in Banaras, suddenly turned into mourning. Her husband Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati from potter caste was shot dead by criminals. She was so traumatised by this murder that even after a week, she could barely say, ‘give me a gun…murders have killed my Kanhaiya.’

Twenty-eight-year-old Maya Prajapati has two children – Rudra Pratap and Rishi Pratap. Rudra Pratap is four years old while Rishi is eight months old and is still learning how to sit still. He does not even know that his father is no more in this world. What will become of the future of Maya Prajapati and her children?  This thought keeps everyone worried.

A plumber by profession, Kanhaiya did not own any land nor did his family members. His family doesn’t even own a ration card. The deceased Kanhaiya lived with his parents along with the three brothers and their families in the ancestral house built in areas of 32 X 45 square feet. There are now a total of 16 members left in his 19-member family. His two sisters are married and live in his in-laws’ house.

Poor Families Struggling to Survive

His elder brother Dilip Prajapati has a family of five. Of the four brothers and their parents, only Dileep’s family has a ration card. He and his family work as weavers making saree on wages and with immense difficulty manage the expenses of his family. He says that the electricity bill for the last five months has not been deposited and he has been having trouble procuring raw material for saree making.

Kanhaiya’s younger brother Sarvan has a total of four members in his family. Sarvan and his family also contribute to the weaving work but that rarely helps the family in meeting their expenses forcing him to look for work outside. Kanhaiya’s youngest brother Saurabh Prajapati is currently studying. He lives with his parents. Neither Sarvan’s family nor his parents have ration cards.

Excerpt from the FIR of the incident in July last year

His seventy-year-old father Shyam Narayan Prajapati says, ‘Ten years ago, his ration card was made, but when Pushpa Devi became the village head, she cut his ration card connection. He tried a lot to get a new ration card but has not been able to do so till now.’ He also told that even Kanhaiya did not have a ration card.

When Kanhaiya’s father was telling this, his helplessness was clearly visible on his face. The village head Pushpa Devi he was referring to is the incumbent village head. Her husband Pramod Singh is accused of Kanhaiya’s murder case and is absconding. When asked whether he gets an old-age pension? He clearly said that he or his wife does not get any pension. Kanhaiya’s mother sitting nearby was crying bitterly. On being asked, she says that ‘my son’s family is ruined. The entire family is shattered and worried. Who will be our breadwinner now?’

For the pitiable condition of Maya Prajapati and her family, a history-sheeter Akhilesh Singh of the Bhumihar caste is allegedly responsible. He is listed in the history sheeters of group ‘A’ on the wall of the local Lohta police station, but according to the victims, his free life was never banned. He used to intimidate and threaten people every day.

Is the local police working hand in glove with the accused?

Last year, on July 5, he had assaulted Manish Prajapati, a resident of Kerkatpur village, and others. Among them was the deceased Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati. In this case, the police station in-charge and sub-inspector Vishwanath Pratap Singh did not register an FIR on the complaint of the victims. On the contrary, he had registered an FIR only against those who gave Tahrir.

The victims had to approach the court to register an FIR against the money-lending history-sheeter Akhilesh Singh and his brothers Kamlesh Singh and Brijesh Singh. Following the court’s order, an FIR was registered against the three at the Lohta police station on November 19.

The police station in-charge Vishwanath Pratap Singh did not stop there. He handed over the investigation of the case to Akhilesh Kumar Rai, the sub-inspector belonging to the same caste group as the accused. On the day Kanhaiya was murdered, Abhishek Kumar Rai was the in-charge. At present, Superintendent of Police (Rural) Amit Verma has suspended him with immediate effect.

Police station in-charge Vishwanath Pratap Singh claims that in this case a charge-sheet has been filed against history-sheeter Akhilesh Singh in the court. The police have registered more than five cases of assault and intimidation against the accused and were also prohibited to enter the district. Now the question arises that when the accused was involved in so many crimes then how was he roaming free? It was due to this that he could commit a heinous crime like murder.

The local police are responsible for monitoring the history sheeters listed in the police station, but instead of fulfilling this responsibility, the Lohta police were committing malpractices with them. The proof of this is the incident that happened in July last year in which the deceased Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati was the victim and as well as a witness.

The police station in-charge, Vishwanath Pratap Singh did not even register the FIR of the victims against the history-sheeter Akhilesh Singh in that case. On the contrary, FIR was registered against the victims. Were the local Thana Police and in-charge then not discriminating against the marginalized sections on the basis of caste?

Why do the murder committed in broad daylight and the subsequent escape of the history-sheeter not raise questions on police surveillance? Why does the surrender of the main accused in court in an old case by dodging the police four days later not raise questions about the working style of the police? Even today, not all the accused people in the case have been arrested. Sub-Inspector Vishwanath Pratap Singh continues to be the station in-charge, which also puts the role of the police administration under suspicion.

Have Criminals Become More Fearless under Yogi Regime?

The killing of plumber Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati by firing in broad daylight, about four hours before the arrival of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, clearly indicates that the history-sheeter Akhilesh Singh and his associates had no fear of the police administration.

The program of the Chief Minister’s convoy was also just two kilometers away from the spot. Despite this, a history-sheeter in his caste conceit kills a man from the potter community in broad daylight and easily escapes from the spot. Kanhaiya’s partner Ilihas also gets injured in the incident. Ilihas, a resident of Barora Bazar of Jansa police station area, is fine after undergoing treatment at the Trauma Center but remains in a state of fright. He is the only witness in the murder case.

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Villagers and police gathered at the house of the deceased Kanhaiya

Shyam Narayan Prajapati, the father of the deceased Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati, clearly alleges that his son was murdered by history-sheeter Akhilesh Singh and his associates. He says that Singh, a resident of Kerakat village, used to give money to the boys of the village on interest without informing their parents and extorted money from them. He used to recover four to five thousand rupees from them at the interval of one day by giving five hundred rupees. He had beaten up his son for interfering in one such case and killed him today.

However, in the FIR lodged by his elder son Dilip Prajapati at the Lohta police station, a total of five people, including Singh and his brothers, have been named. These include Pramod Singh, the village head’s husband. Apart from these, there is also an unknown person. All are charged with conspiracy, attempt to murder, and committing murder.

Questioning the local police administration, he tells Deputy District Magistrate (Sadar) Nand Kishore Kalal, ‘Yesterday at 9 o’clock the boy was shot. The administration came and went after seeing it. The bullet remains untouched. Only when we will give a complaint in writing, then the police will catch the accused. Last time, the murderer had come with them in their car only.’

The Caste Makeup of the Area

If we look at the landscape of Indian society trapped in the clutches of the Caste system, then the Kerkatpur village of Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is Bhumihar dominated. In this village with a population of about three thousand, half the population is of Bhumihars.

As per Census-2011, the total population of 467 families in the village was 2851. Among them, there four hundred six years old children, who have now reached adolescence. At that time the population of women in the village was 1363. If we talk about Dalits and Adivasis in the village, then ten years ago their population was close to seven hundred. About a dozen of them were tribals. Their population was about 24 percent of the population of the village.

The settlement of Dalits and backwards settled on the banks of the pond

If we talk about the settlement of the deprived sections on the other end of the pond, there are about 25 houses of potters in it. Dilip Prajapati, brother of the deceased Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati, tells that there are about 20 families from the washermen community (Dhobi) in the settlement. About 15 houses belong to the people of Kurmi community. People of Ahir community also have four houses in the basti. Only one house in the basti belongs to the people of Koiri community. Most of the people of the settlement are working as labourers or are earning their living by opening a shop on the Varanasi-Bhadohi road.

Backward-Dalit settlements are surrounded on all sides by the houses of Bhumihars. They have about 70 houses in the village. In Kerakatpur village with an area of ​​about 88 hectares, most of the land belongs to Bhumihars. Moti Prajapati of the village says that most of the vacant land lying in the village belongs to the Bhumihars and they only sell their land to Bhumihars. Therefore, the population of Bhumihars is increasing in the village, and the murder of Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati in broad daylight has scared us once again of caste violence.

A History of Violent Caste Oppression by Bhumihars

Fifty-five years old Moti Prajapati is the son of Ghasi Prajapati, the former head of the village. About 27 years ago today, his father was shot by Bhumihar Bachchan Singh but he managed to survive. The trial went on for 14 years in the case. Bachchan Singh was sentenced to three and a half years by the trial court but got bail in appeal. He’s out now. He tells that his father died about 10 years ago. Now the same matter is pending.

Moti Prajapati, son of Ghasi Prajapati, former head of Kerakatpur village

Talking about the hooliganism of the Bhumihars in the village, thirty-six years old Hira Lal Prajapati says that the land that has been marked by the government for Holika Dahan in the village remains captured by Bhumihars. To date, we have not been able to perform Holika Dahan there. We are compelled to celebrate Holika Dahan on the road itself. He further adds that there will be about 75 families of potters here but not even a single piece of land has been provided to the potters in the village to extract the soil.

This is the condition of Kerakatpur village when Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has given clear instructions to the Revenue Department that potters should be leased in every village of the state for extracting soil.

Houses of families from Dhobi community in the settlement of Dalits and backward surrounded by Bhumihars

If we look at the statements of the villagers and the circumstances of the murder of Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati, then we will realise that gradually a ground for caste violence is being prepared in Kerakatpur village of Rohaniya assembly constituency. In this, the role of the local employees of the administration is also coming to the fore. After all, what was the reason that led to the appointment of a Bhumihar caste sub-inspector as the Halka in-charge of this village?

What was the compulsion with the police station in-charge Vishwanath Pratap Singh that despite the FIR being registered on the order of the court in the incident of violence a year ago, the investigation of the case was handed over to an officer which belonged to the same caste as the accused?

The caste affiliation and its impact on a policeman or an officer or a person cannot be denied in the Indian society entrenched in caste constraints. These things often come to the fore in the investigation and proceedings of the cases. In such a situation, Abhishek Kumar Rai’s continuation at being the in charge and the murder of plumber Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati by a history-sheeter from Rai’s caste also puts the Lohta police station under the scanner.

No compensation by the government

Currently, on behalf of Varanasi district administration, Deputy District Magistrate (Sadar) Nand Kishore Kalal leased 0.018 hectares of residential land in the name of Maya Prajapati, wife of the deceased Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati, in village Khasra number-153 on July 16. However, the villagers say that this land is fallow and deserted on the banks of the drain at the end of the village.

The exact status of the land will be known only after the administration gets possession. Regional accountant Reshmina Parveen and police station in-charge Vishwanath Pratap Singh jointly handed over the land allotment letter to Maya Prajapati on Sunday.

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Lekhpal Reshmina Parveen and Lohta station in-charge handing over the land allotment letter to Maya Prajapati.

Before the last rites of the deceased Kanhaiya Lal Prajapati, the assurance given by the Deputy District Magistrate (Sadar) Nand Kishore Kalal of providing five lakh rupees to the victim’s family under the ‘Mukhyamantri Krishak Accident Welfare Scheme’ has not been fulfilled yet.

At the same time, on behalf of Prajapati Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (PS4), Shalindri Chaudhary presented financial assistance of Rs 16,000 to the victim Maya Prajapati. Along with this, PS4 chief Chhedi Lal Nirala assured them that he will bear the cost of education of the children till class 12.

During this, Engineer Ramesh Chaudhary, Engineer Chekhur Prajapati, Rajesh Prajapati, VK Vijay, Rakesh Prajapati, Shiv Prasad Prajapati, Ghanshyam Prajapati, Chandra Prakash Prajapati, Vinod Prajapati, Banarasi Patel, Ramesh Chakradhar etc. were present.

The author is a Varanasi based freelance journalist. This report and images were originally published by Vananchal Express. It has been translated into English by Aparna Sanjay. 

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