‘It’s A Fashion Among Some Upper Caste Men To Bully Us, Make The Video Viral,’ Says Dalit Man Beaten Up For Selling Biryani
On 13 December, a poor man who was selling biryani in his pushcart was bullied by a few men and assaulted.
While a case has been filed with the police, the perpetrators are absconding.
And now, everyone is worked up as they fear the long arm of the law.
Late Friday evening (13 December), Rinku Bharti was eating dinner when he received a video on WhatsApp. It showed his uncle, Lokesh Kumar, being slapped and abused with casteist slurs.
“Chamatta, tu yahan biryani bekega. Haath jod (you, from Chamar caste, how dare you sell biryani here. Fold your hands),” the attackers, not visible in the video, were telling Lokesh in the video.
Watch the video here:
Rinku confronted Lokesh, who had not revealed anything to anyone in the family so far. Lokesh told him he was assaulted by three Thakur men from the nearby Mohammadabad village around 5 pm. The men damaged his hand cart, threw away his utensils and took away whatever the cash he had on him.
Lokesh, 35, sells biryani for a living. A resident of Rabupura village in Jewar block of Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district, Lokesh takes his cart up to four-five kilometres away daily. On Friday afternoon, he was in Mohammadabad.
The next day, his brothers and cousins accompanied him to Rabupura police station. The police filed a First Information Report (FIR) — number 0434 — and booked three men under IPC sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation) and section 3(2)(v-a) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which is punishable with 10 years of jail.
Lokesh’s statement in the FIR says that after selling his “vegetarian biryani” in Mohammadabad, he parked his cart under the Yamuna Expressway. He was waiting for customers when three men — Anand, Sonu and Kamman’s son — arrived in a car and started thrashing him.
They abused him with casteist slurs and asked him why he sold biryani. They vandalised his cart, pointed a pistol to his head and told him he should never be seen there again.
A policeman told this correspondent that Kamman’s son has been identified as Sandeep, and arrests are likely to be made on Monday after preliminary investigation.
On Sunday, when this correspondent visited Lokesh, he said he was so scared that he had not gone out for work since the incident. He said he did not know when he would gather the courage to take his cart out again.
Lokesh lost his father many years ago. He has a wife and five daughters, and lives a hand-to-mouth existence. He has two brothers, who live in adjoining houses and are as deprived as he is.
Lokesh said he is familiar with the three men as he visits Mohammadabad often, and because Kamman has a shop in his village, Rabupura. In fact, the three men used to be classmates of his younger brother Mukesh.
Mukesh said he and the trio studied together till class 12 in a government school named Vidya Balan Niketan located in Rabupura.
He said that Jaatav students like him don’t interact with the Thakur boys much. After school, there was no question of any interaction anyway, he said.
Why did the men assault Lokesh?
“Bas, dabangai (nothing but bullying),” said Lokesh.
“They drink alcohol and create a ruckus. That’s what they do every evening,” he said.
Mukesh said it’s become a fashion among some upper-caste men to go around bullying and harassing the poor, record the act on their phones and humiliate them further by circulating the videos.
Lokesh and Mukesh use simple mobile phones that don’t have features like WhatsApp. All their nephews have seen the video, said Lokesh.
“They [upper-caste men] do it because it’s their idea of fun and because they believe they can get away with this,” said Suresh, a cousin of Lokesh.
The men, however, said that both Rabupura and Mohammadabad are “peaceful” villages where caste conflicts are unheard of. “Isse pehli aisi ghatna hi samjho (take it as the first-of-its-kind case),” said Rinku.
“He has been selling biryani for three-four years now. It has never happened in the past,” he said.
Mohammadabad is an almost all upper-caste village full of Thakurs and Brahmins. Rabupura, around four kilometres away, is a Muslim-majority village with a substantial population of Jaatavs (Chamar caste), the men said.
Rabupura is the more developed of the two; students and traders from Mohammadabad come to Rabupura to study and do business, they said.
“Akela tha to peet diya. Warna itni himmat to unki bhi nahi hai (it happened because our brother was alone. Otherwise, they don’t have the guts),” said Suresh.
“It was raining heavily that day. It had become quite dark by five. They probably took advantage of the dark,” he said.
Asked if the police got his medical examination done, Lokesh said that there were no signs of assault. “I won’t lie. They slapped me and they abused me. There are no wounds,” he said.
So far, the group was speaking on the camera. Three men, who introduced themselves as cousins and neighbours of Lokesh, now stepped aside from the crowd and requested this correspondent to hear them in private.
One of them said the matter is more complex. “Try to go to the root of the problem, please. What has happened is not a one-off incident. Upper caste men bully lower castes all the time,” he said.
He said that lower castes are expected to stick to labour work or their traditional menial occupations. If they deflect, upper castes don’t take it well, especially when the lower castes step into their domain — food. “They don’t like Jaatavs selling food. Come in the evening and ask the thela-wallahs what caste they belong to. Almost everyone will turn out to be a non-Jaatav,” he said.
On Sunday afternoon, the site of the assault was deserted. The men said it’s quite vibrant in the evenings thanks to a number of food carts.
In Mohammadabad, residents criticised the incident and rued that it had brought a bad name to the village. Tarachand, a Brahmin, said that what happened was wrong and the villagers were spitting on the three men. “Poora gaon un par thook raha hai,” he said.
“If you don’t want to eat someone’s biryani, then don’t eat. Why beat him up?” he said.
Momraj, who is from the backward Kumhar caste, said the accused men are heavily into drinking and are known ruffians.
All three are absconding, he said.
When asked for directions to the accused’s side, a Thakur man, who did not give his name, said, “Maamla ucchalo mat. Maamla dabaane ki baat karo (don’t hype it. Rather, play it down).”
“They have slapped harijan Act on the boys. The boys are rascals, I agree. But would you send them behind prison for such a small matter? Their lives will be ruined,” the man said.
Another resident, Ashok Singh, said that the men attacked Lokesh once again that evening, around half-a-kilometre from the site of the first attack. “I intervened and freed Lokesh from the men. I abused them and ordered them to leave,” he said.
”I was furious. They were needlessly making a poor man their target,” he said.
No villager that this correspondent talked to, including Ashok, approved of law taking its course. “It’s an internal matter of two villagers. There was no need to go to the police,” said Ashok.
“The accused should apologise to the thela-wallah and the matter should end,” Praveen Singh, another villager, said.
“It’s not a good thing to harass the poor,” he added.
At Sonu’s house, four cops were questioning the family about his whereabouts. A woman, who introduced herself as Sonu’s sister-in-law, said that Sonu went somewhere on Saturday and his phone has been switched off since then.
There was no one at home besides her and a few children.
Asked if the matter was likely to be settled through talks, a sub-inspector, who requested not to mention his name as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the matter was not in the villagers’ hands anymore. “The law will take its course,” he said.
A neighbour of Sonu, who was standing as a spectator, cut in, saying “Taali ek haath se nahi bajti (it takes two to make a quarrel).”
The cop turned to him, “So you will go around beating up the poor, will you? Do you want to go to jail too?”
The man went away.
The cop told this correspondent, “All three will be arrested in a day or two.”
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