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‘How dare you, Dalit’ — Morbi assault case for ‘demanding salary’ highlights state’s ‘cultural disaster’

Morbi, Gujarat: Nilesh Dalsaniya thought he was going to die. His pupils dilated, tears forming at the corner of his eyes. He was finding it hard to breathe as his former employer Vibhuti Patel forced her sandal in his mouth. His fault was to seek payment of his pending dues of around Rs 5,000.

At that moment, Dalsaniya recalled, all his senses left him — except for hearing. “How dare you, Datte (Dalit)?” He could hear Vibhuti yelling at him. “That’s good, Datte. That’s the fear I want to see in your eyes.”

When Vibhuti took the sandal out, Dalsaniya said, he leaned forward to gather his breath. His senses came back, and so did all the pain.

Dalsaniya claimed that he was beaten black and blue by at least 15 people, including his former employers — the owners of Morbi-based ceramics company Raniba — on 22 November. Bruises from the beating were visible all over his body.

Bruises all over the back of Dalsaniya which he claims was from whipping by belts | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint
Bruises all over the back of Dalsaniya which he claims was from whipping by belts | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint

Vibhuti, her brother Om Patel, and their associates thrashed him for demanding his salary for the work done from 2 October to 18 October. Ever since he quit because of unsatisfactory pay, the 22-year-old from Gujarat’s Morbi was asking for his dues.

Vibhuti’s lawyer Jaydip Patel refused to comment about the case. “When Miss Patel is out of police custody, she’ll herself tell her side of the story,” he told ThePrint over the phone.

Representatives of Raniba weren’t present at their office when ThePrint reached 25 November.

The Dalit man filed a complaint on 23 November following which an FIR was registered against five people. The accused were booked under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intent to provoke breach of peace), 506 (2) (criminal intimidation), 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 149 (prosecution  of common object) of IPC and relevant sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

On 24 November, the five accused had applied for anticipatory bail, which was rejected by a court in Morbi. They will stay in police remand till 1 December.

The assault took place at the commercial building, Capital Market, where the ruling BJP’s Morbi district headquarters is located.  It has put Gujarat under the scanner for caste-based crimes where conviction rate is abysmally low.

Dalsaniya, meanwhile, complained that no government representative had met him.

“On one hand, there’s Gujarat’s so-called infrastructural development and, on the other, there’s this evident cultural disaster where a shoe is stuffed into a Dalit’s mouth just for demanding salary. The Gujarati society and the government feel no shame about it,” Independent MLA and Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch convenor Jignesh Mevani said.

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Requests fell on deaf ears

“I had accepted a job (at Raniba) at Rs 12,000 because I didn’t know better. I later learnt that the starting salary for my role is Rs 20,000-25,000. So I decided to leave,” Dalsaniya told ThePrint at Civil Hospital.

After quitting, the injured man said, he had been urging Vibhuti to clear his salary of 16 days. “A day after Diwali when I called, her brother Om picked up and started abusing me, and asked me to back off. I handed the phone to my elder brother to calm him down. That’s when he asked me to come on 22 November and collect my money,” he said.

The Dalit man was asked to come at Capital Market where the office of his ex-employer is located in Gujarat's Morbi city | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint
The Dalit man was asked to come at Capital Market where the office of his ex-employer is located in Gujarat’s Morbi city | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint

At 7:30 pm, Dalsaniya along with his elder brother Bhawesh and friend Mehul Bhai reached the building and contacted Om Patel.

Dalsaniya and Mehul alleged that after half an hour, Om and Vibhuti showed up with at least 20 other people and roughed up the trio. Bhawesh and Mehul somehow escaped while Dalsaniya was allegedly caught and shoved inside a lift where he was thrashed with shoes and hit on the head. He was then allegedly taken to the roof and beaten on his back with belts.

Vibhuti is said to have then shown up and demanded an apology. Dalsaniya also alleged that Vibhuti abused him with casteist slurs. “She said that people like me shouldn’t be employed at all.”

Telling him that he doesn’t have the right to wear a good watch, they allegedly snatched it and took away a Rs 500 note from him.

Vibhuti’s lawyer refused to comment on the allegations, while the deputy superintendent (SC/ST Cell) said the police were probing the matter.

‘Fighting so that this never repeats’ 

“I felt defeated. I felt enraged,” Mehul recalled after he and Bhawesh rescued Dalsaniya and took him to the hospital.

As the news spread across Morbi district, representatives from Dalit organisations mobilised support to aid Dalsaniya. They reached the hospital and tracked health updates. On 24 November, a group reached the district collector’s office to urge prompt investigation.

Morbi District Dalit Society president Rajesh bhai Kalyanjibhai Chauhan alleged untouchability is rampant in villages of Saurashtra. “Feudalism sits heavy on our community. Savarna communities don’t rent houses. It’s difficult to avail money on loan. There are villages like Gorkhi Jediya where Dalits weren’t given ration, rent, water, milk… anything,” he said. “At Kalika Nagar village, barbers refuse to trim our hair or shave our beards. Their service is reserved only for the upper castes.”

Naresh Vakela, a trader, alleged the Dalits are thrashed even if they use ‘Jai Bhim’ stickers on their vehicles. “There’s fear among Dalits of Saurashtra. We don’t have anyone who would listen to us or highlight our plight.”

Chauhan alleged that he has observed that district administrators choose to meet the upper caste folks before they listen to the Dalits. “They see who’s sitting outside through CCTV, or ask us to send in our names. If they see the surname Solanki, Parmar, or Chauhan, they make us wait.”

There were several complaints that the Dalits face difficulties in even getting their FIRs registered, a fact which Inspector General, Rajkot Range, Manoj Yadav conceded.  “SC/ ST atrocities cases were not being given the right response earlier. For it, we’ve introduced the orange register, monitored by SPs of various districts, where life threats against Dalits are recorded and relevant action is taken,” he said.

The Dalit community dismissed the orange register as a ‘naatak’ (drama) to calm tempers. “I have sent 10 complaints to the orange register myself, but nothing has come of them,” Chauhan claimed.

ThePrint sought details about the orange register to the Rajkot IG, but he didn’t have information to share immediately.

Abysmal conviction rate 

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Gujarat recorded 1,201 cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes in 2021, down from 1,326 in 2020 and 1,416 in 2019.  The chargesheet rate in 2021 was 96.3 percent, higher than 80.4 percent across other states.

But the scenario is different when it comes to conviction rate in SC/ST cases. Gujarat’s conviction rate is among the lowest in the country at 5.8 per cent in 2021, according to the NCRB. In contrast, it is 53 percent and 42 percent in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, whereas the national conviction rate is 33 percent.

“The state should have the political will to stop atrocities against the Dalits. There has been no state monitoring meeting on caste crimes in the past 2 and a half years. Government has admitted to this in a question I asked in the Vidhan Sabha. In absence of such meetings, there’s no way to determine if state machinery is working properly to prevent caste atrocities or not,” said Mevani, a Dalit leader.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

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Source: The Print

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