“This law became a bone of contention for Hindu nationalists and they made attempts to get rid of it,” he said mentioning that it was wiped out in 2018. On Thursday, he spoke at the India International Centre for the book launch.
The history of caste-based mob violence in India is examined in a new book by journalist and author Manoj Mitta in the context of pre- and post-independence socio-legal reforms.
The book “Caste Pride,” written by Westland and officially issued on Friday in honour of Ambedkar Jayanti, explores the “endurance and violence of the Hindu caste system through the lens of the law.”
Originally intended to be the third book in a trilogy on mass violence in India, “Caste Pride” evolved over the course of seven years into a more in-depth discussion about the impunity for Dalit atrocities, which involved investigators, prosecutors, and the judiciary as a whole, despite a special law on caste-based violence being passed in 1989.
Previous works by Mitta include “When a Tree Shook Delhi,” a book on the 1984 Sikh massacre, and “Modi and Godhra: The Fiction of Fact-Finding,” a book about the 2002 killings of Muslims at Godhra.
“As I delved deeper into Dalit massacre cases, I began to realise the need to go beyond this manifest violence to understand how different functionaries of the Indian state —investigators, prosecutors, trial judges and appellate judges —could get away with blatant displays of caste prejudice, over and over again,” Mitta writes in his new book.
The author continues by saying that in order to understand the roots of that bias, he searched up “the legislative debates on caste-related enactments in independent India, whether civil or criminal, as papers related to the abolition of untouchability in the Constituent Assembly”.
According to the book, “the unresolved battes within Hindu society of the colonial period” prevented caste changes from being implemented after the political upheaval of 1947.
“It dawned on me that the surge in the violence against Dalits, and the general impunity for it despite the caste reforms after Independence, was the result of unresolved battles within the Hindu society of the colonial period,” Mitta said.
In five sections and 18 chapters, the author’s “paradigm-shifting history of caste” delves into the legislative and judicial records of the struggles for equality.
According to Mitta, the British employed this tactic to “capture the hearts and minds of privileged sections of the Hindus” by enacting colonial laws in Madras Presidency as early as 1816 that were specifically designed to punish lower castes.
The book examines cases of violence and homicide against lower castes while tracing historical dialogues and monuments on caste prejudice in post-Independence India’s legal and legislative setting.
It examines the Belchhi killings of 1977, in which 11 individuals, including eight members of lower castes, were slaughtered by a mob, as well as the first known instance of mob violence against Harijans in 1968 in Tamil Nadu’s Kilvenmani hamlet, where 42 people, including women and children, were burned alive.
As the primary culprit received a death sentence, the Belchhi case also became “the first and only recorded instance” of a murderer of Harijans being put to death by a court in India.
The book also documents a number of mass murders of Muslims and Dalits that were ordered by Ranvir Sena, a militia group from Bihar founded by landlords.
“Even where justice was done, as in the case of the 2006 Khairlanji massacre in Maharashtra, courts have betrayed a reluctance to admit the caste angle. If legal safeguards have proved to be dysfunctional, it is evidently because violence has remained intrinsic to the inequality bred by caste,” Mitta writes.
According to Mitta, the reformers Vithalbhai Patel, Maneckji Dadabhoy, BV Narasimha Ayyar, Kalicharan Nandagaoli, Hari Singh Gour, MR Jayakar, and MC Rajah were “mostly unsung heroes” who made significant contributions.
“Of the several reasons they did not get their due in history, one was that these caste reformers either did not belong to the Indian National Congress, or if they did, had swum against its mainstream consensus,” the author notes in the book.
On the other hand, Mitta claims that some prominent Congress leaders including T Madhava Rao, MG Ranade, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Motilal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Surendra Nath Banerjea and C Rajagopalachari “pushed back against caste reforms at different times even as they positioned themselves as reformers”.
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