Cops Claim Dalits Staged ‘Moustache Attack’ but Facts Don’t Add Up
Gujarat Poice claim it’s all a conspiracy by Dalits to blame upper castes. However, their version is full of holes.
Digant Maheriya, a 16-year-old Dalit resident of Limbodara village in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar, was allegedly attacked on 3 October by upper caste assailants. On 25 September, his cousin Piyush Parmar had been assaulted by local Rajputs, allegedly for sporting a moustache.
But in a sensational statement on Friday, Gandhinagar superintendent of police Virendra Singh claimed that the attack on Digant Maheriya was staged by the Dalits themselves. This, even as Dalits across the state continued their protest against the violence by flooding social media with pictures of their moustaches.
The police argued that a forensic team had found no blade at the spot and neither could the investigators trace any attackers or their vehicles. The cops further stated that the owner of a local pan shop had also told them that he saw no such crime.
The Quint visited Limbodara village to get to the bottom of the matter.
Holes in Police Version of Events
The police’s version of events raises several questions.
First, is finding no blade at the spot an indication that the incident itself did not occur?
Second, the cops say that Digant’s friends confessed to slashing him on his back, and that it was all done on Digant’s insistence.
But Dalits of the village, including Digant’s family, told The Quint that their silence was born out of fear.
Digant’s mother Chandrikaben tells us, “I do not want to speak to the media because I have to continue staying in this village. If I speak up loudly against the injustice being meted out to us, it will only come back to hurt me in the future. Please understand, I am saying this as a mother, for the safety of my family.”
Digant’s 24-year-old cousin Piyush, who was attacked allegedly for sporting a moustache, gives us a similar response.
I don’t want to come in your video. If I do, I will be in danger in this village. We do not want to stretch this matter any further.Piyush
Thirdly, the local pan shop owner Mahendra Sinh Vaghela, whose testimony the police is relying on, is a Rajput himself. And he hides neither his partisanship in this conflict nor his contempt for Dalits.
Speaking to The Quint, Mahendra scoffs, “These Dalits are causing such a fuss because they have started earning a bit more than they did before. But their lies have now been exposed. This is no caste discrimination, it is a publicity stunt by the Dalits.”
Thoda zyada paisa aa gaya unke paas, toh ab media mein chadhna chahte hai (They have a bit more money now, so they want to be in the media).Mahendra Sinh Vaghela
Curiosly, the attack is claimed to have occurred while Digant was walking home from school. Mahendra’s shop does not even fall on that route. From where his shop is located, Mahendra does not even have a view of the stretch of the road from PPR Shah High School to Digant’s house.
So why is Mahendra’s statement that he did not see any such crime of any significance whatsoever?
Is the Gujarat Police naïve enough to be taking all of this at face value or are they attempting to put an abrupt end to a case that has garnered significant media attention?
Calling for the Gujarat home minister’s resignation, Dalit rights activist Jignesh Mevani says, “The silence of the BJP government in the state is only fuelling further violence against Dalits. The government’s inaction is emboldening those who wish to assault Dalits.”
Are the Dalits Silent out of Fear or Guilt of Conspiracy?
Officials of the State Reserve Police force are sitting guard outside Digant Maheriya’s house in Limbodara.
The upper castes of the village live a couple of hundred metres away from the homes of the Dalits. There are some police officials stationed there as well.
Digant shares his birthday with another man from Gujarat, known the world over for championing non-violence. Digant turned 16 on 2 October. The following day, his life took a violent turn.
“It was Tuesday, the day my exams began. I finished my Economics exam and was returning home from school.”
It was around 5 pm, neighbour Praveen Maheriya tells us.
The gashes on Digant’s back are deep. But he stops short when I ask him about the violence.
I don’t want to speak to the media about this. If I do, videos of what I say will be circulated in the village and it’ll only mean more trouble for me.Digant Maheriya
His sister chimes in, “Don’t write anything, please. We know how it is like in the village.”
The moustache on Digant’s face is only as prominent as you’d expect on a sixteen-year-old. But that, and his presence alongside his cousin on the day Piyush was attacked, has brought his life to a standstill for now.
“I have missed two papers since then. There are five exams left, and it looks like I’ll miss all of them. I don’t even know when I’ll return to school.”
When the Victim 'Confesses' to the Crime
After leaving his house, I speak to a police official stationed outside. The cop reiterates that this is a conspiracy by the Dalit community.
I walk back into Digant’s house, and ask him, “Was it really a conspiracy, Digant? The police are saying so.”
That Digant wants to end the conversation is writ large on his face. He nods.
Taken aback, I ask again, “So you’re saying that you and your friends did this?”
Digant nods again and walks away.
Is his admission and his family’s silence due to the fear they say they are living in? Are there other pressures at play? Or is it just as the police, and now Digant too, says – a case of deliberate self-harm to implicate the Rajputs of the village?
Schoolmates Divided By Caste
Seventeen-year-old Harshraj Sinh Vaghela studies in the same PPR Shah High School. The 12th standard student is one year senior to Digant.
“If we Rajputs wanted to retaliate, we would have already done it. The Dalits have different versions of their own fabricated story. Of course they are lying.”
Another Rajput youngster nearby shows us a regional news channel’s report and says, “See, even the news people are saying it – the Dalits have been lying.”
When asked about the apparent divide between the communities though, they promptly respond, in unison, “No, no, there is no divide on the basis of caste.”
If only reality did not betray that belief.
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