Dewas Adivasi family massacre: There’s more to it than a failed ‘love affair’

Bahujan activist and Bhim Army member Suraj Kumar Baudh, spoke exclusively to SabrangIndia’s Karuna John on the way the massacre is being projected now


It is the Dalit and Ambedkarite community social media channels such as Dalit Voice (@ambedkariteIND) and Mission Ambedkar (@MissionAmbedkar), which seem to be the few trying to keep the horrific murder of a tribal family in Madhya Pradesh’s Dewas district in the spotlight. Days after the bodies of five people of the same tribal family, including minors, were found almost reduced to skeletons in a pit, there seems to be little outrage over the massacre. The dead had been reportedly missing since May 13. They had been strangled, stripped, buried 10 feet deep with urea and salt added to accelerate decomposition. 

The deceased were identified as Mamta Kaste, husband Mohanlal Kaste (45), daughters Rupali (21), Divya (14), nephews Pawan Oswal (14) and Pooja Oswal Kaste (15), all residents of Nemavar. Their remains had been exhumed from a field on Tuesday evening. According to news reports quoting the local police, the pits their bodies had been dumped in were dug in advance, and each victim had been buried in separate graves. According to police the victims’ landlord “was in a relationship with one of the victims”, and that nearly half a dozen of his accomplices were behind the murder. The main accused, Surendra Rajput, and six other suspects have been arrested. 

Dewas police officer Shiv Dayal Singh told mediapersons, “Six people, including Surendra Chouhan, have been arrested. While Chouhan planned and executed the murders, the five others helped him in digging the pits in which the victims were buried.” According to news reports, while the victims’ kin lodged a missing person complaint the accused allegedly “tried to mislead the police by posting messages on social media sites through the ID of the woman’s [Mamta] elder daughter [Rupali]”. The messages reportedly claimed that Rupali had “married according to her wishes and that her younger sister, two cousins and her mother were with her, and were safe.”

The police investigation

Police tracked Rupali’s mobile phone and concluded that she was in constant touch with their landlord who was then questioned by the police. Police investigations led them to the field where the bodies had been buried. And thus, one of the most horrific crimes reported from Madhya Pradesh was unearthed. However, most reportage is still based on police information that the accused, Chouhan, was allegedly in a relationship with Rupali, one of the victims, but “was planning to marry another woman”. Reports stated that when Rupali realised this she “posted a picture of the man’s fiance on a social media site, along with her number” and this enraged him enough to plan the massacre of the entire family.

The love affair gone wrong ‘angle’

The ‘angle’ of the reportage of this massacre needs to be questioned. It is not merely a crime arising out of a failed love affair as it were, it is also a caste-based crime. The accused is an upper caste man, and all the victims are from a tribal community. This is not a mere ‘lovers fight’ escalating into a horrific crime. Police have been quoted in news reports stating that the victim Rupali had even “made some objectionable posts against Chauhan and his fiancée on Instagram. Upset over this, Surendra decided to kill her.” After Rupali was killed, her entire family was also killed. Apart from Surendra and his brother Virendra the remaining accused were identified as Vivek Tiwari, Rajkumar Korku, Manoj Korku, Karan Korku and Rakesh Nimor. 

Breaking the silence

Bahujan activist , Suraj Kumar Baudh, who is a prominent member of the Bhim Army as well, and the man behind the social media handles raising awareness on this massacre as a caste-based crime, spoke exclusively to SabrangIndia on the way the massacre is being projected now.

Q) This is reported as a murder related to a ‘love affair’, but you say it is a caste-based crime?

A) I say this is not another angle, it is the only angle to this crime. The mainstream media is what we call ‘Manu media’, and I believe that whenever there is an atrocity against women and children from our community, I have not seen a single case where they have not reported a ‘love affair’ involving the victim. Remember the Hathras case, the Unnao case? Here too, in the guise of a love affair minors, their parents, and a young woman have been killed. Only one child who had gone to work somewhere was saved. There is a caste angle because the man [accused] proudly calls himself a Rajput and a national leader of an organisation called the Hindu Kesaria Sangh. The graves had been dug eight days before the murders, and after the killing the salt, urea used to dissolve the bodies. This is a caste massacre. 

Q) How will it affect the dominant caste the accused belong to?

A) People from the self-proclaimed “upper” caste commit atrocities to prove their caste dominance. They want to show the society that ‘we can do this’, the ‘media is ours’ and will give it an angle, the ‘law is ours’, and the government will just label it as ‘just a crime.’ Where does this courage and confidence come from? I have never read any scheduled caste person have such confidence. This is the caste dominance attitude that gives them the power. Not just now, but for thousands of years. They know this is their ‘right’ and feel we are ‘insects’. They feel they are superior and they will only respect figures who adjust… like Sabari… but when you try to be an Eklavya your thumb will be amputated. If you try to be a Rohith Vemula you will be forced into a situation that will drive you to suicide.

Q) In the Dewas case, why have even Dalit leaders not raised the issue?

A) The Bhim Army and Jai Adivasi Yuva Sangathan have protested. On Thursday there was a day long protest at the Dewas collectorate. We do not have a big platform [to spread the news], ‘big’ journalists do not call us, we are insects for them. SabrangIndia called and was the first to address this caste angle. Why is mainstream media not doing that?

Q) Why is the political leadership also silent?

A) You know, when I share such news on my own social media handle, I am told ‘you are creating communal violence’ or hatred. All I am saying is that you [accused] belong to this Hindutva organisation and you have murdered our sister. The media reports on the victim’s caste. That is way to both humiliate and appropriate, they are telling us, “You are ostracised and we will fight for you.” I am saying if you do not name the caste of the accused then do not name the caste of the victim. Caste identity of the victim when made public has a disturbing effect on the community who are then made to feel they are weak. And the accused’s fellow community members feel like empowered strongmen who can get away with such crimes.

Q) The accused have now been arrested.

A) Yes, and I want to know how such people are not charged under the National Security Act (NSA)? They will be charged under the SC/ST Act’s clauses. We are saying this is caste hatred, communal hatred, this is a threat to national security. Such people weaken the national unity and fabric. This is not a murder, this is a massacare and they should be charged under the NSA. Just take Madhya Pradesh, the Shivraj Government is all about ‘show’. On December 28-29, 2020 a labourer was burnt to death in Datiya district, because his boss did not like the taste of the food he had cooked. Earlier that month on December 9 a SC man was killed in Chattarpur area because he had ‘touched’ the food meant for ‘upper caste’ people. In June this year, a [Dalit] youth in Jabalpur was tonsured and made to lick saliva because he had fallen in love with a girl from another caste. I always say, “The target is already set, crime will be invested later”, when it comes to caste-based violence.

Q) You say such cases are rampant in Madhya Pradesh?

A) Yes. Our team is collecting data of such atrocities. In Una, a man was killed when he asked for a matchbox, in Rewa a woman’s last rites were stopped [due to caste]. It is often the victims who have been slapped with FIRs. In the Unnao case, an FIR was lodged against me for raising the issue. I came to politics after completing my LLM and know I ‘escape’ their atrocities [due to education].

Q) So, Madhya Pradesh news of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis does not get amplified, like the recent allegedly communal case of Kashmir’s Sikh marriage did?

A) That is why we are raising awareness teams in the villages, so people know. Chandrashekhar Azadji has asked us to create 30 [youth leaders] from each booth. We do not even get time. There are so many atrocities reported each day. 

Q) Then there are ‘celebrities’ who use caste slurs so casually?

A) Just think. Actors can use them [caste identities] as cuss words and say they did not know using such words was verbally abusive. I ask if they know the various breeds of dogs, but they are not aware of this. I laugh at myself sometimes that what a country we are that they do not know it was abusive.

Q) But such things make big news, and the murder of an Adivasi family is local news?

A) If it had happened with a Brahmin, it would have been national news. When Arnab Goswami is arrested, ministers tweet, and here [there is] nothing. So far, we are making all social media platforms as our tools. The silence is dangerous. If other communities also raise their voices, then we will feel that they consider us as siblings. Silence is more dangerous than the atrocities themselves. It makes us wonder who is there for us? In the case of crimes against religious minorities, people do speak up, because ‘Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Issai apas mein bai bhai…’ But there is silence in caste-based crimes. The way communal violence is wrong, caste-based violence is wrong. If we want to make India strong. we need to know this.

Q) In India most religions have castes too.

A) In all religions. This is why the Mission Ambedkar forum is aimed at taking international communities which know racism should know this and come together in solidarity. 


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