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Jai Bhim to Jai Sri Ram: Why Nagaraju Murder Should Be Called a Caste Crime

An anti-caste narrative was slowly drowned in a Bharatiya Janata Party campaign against Hyderabad murder.

Updated
Opinion
8 min read
Jai Bhim to Jai Sri Ram: Why Nagaraju Murder Should Be Called a Caste Crime
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In Billipuram Nagaraju’s village Marpally, which is about a 100 kilometers from Hyderabad, there is a little-known organisation called Ambedkar Youth. Consisting of about 50 youngsters, the association and its volunteers keep a low profile. It was this collective which sounded the first Jai Bhim, a salute to Dr B R Ambedkar considered an expression of solidarity, on the night of 4 May, soon after the Dalit youth was murdered at Saroornagar in Hyderabad.

Nagaraju, a Hindu, was murdered allegedly for marrying a Muslim woman Syed Ashrin Sultana. Her brother, Syed Mobin Ahmed and relative Mohammed Masood Ahmed, allegedly committed the murder in full public view at a busy traffic junction in Saroornagar.

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The Ambedkar Youth came together to help Nagaraju's distraught parents B Srinivas and Anasuya. At the time, no political party leader had reached Marpally. The village was near silent except for the commotion at Nagaraju’s two-room home. Many at the village were just processing the news; they had just heard for the first time that Nagaraju got married secretly at an Arya Samaj temple, and that he was brutally killed.

The elders of Ambedkar colony, where Nagaraju’s home stands, then started towards Hyderabad to help bring the deceased’s body home. Some volunteers of Ambedkar Youth joined them.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>A poster hung by the BJP.</p></div>

A poster hung by the BJP.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Meanwhile, at Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad, where Nagaraju was brought dead, a small group of Bharatiya Janata Party workers were gathering. Why? Calls were already made to Akula Srivani Anjan, a BJP leader who is the corporator of Saroornagar where the murder took place. Nagaraju, a Hindu by religion was allegedly killed by two Muslims. Anjan, too, was quick to act.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>BJP corporator Akula Srivani Anjan</p></div>

BJP corporator Akula Srivani Anjan

(Photo: Facebook)

As the Ambedkar Youth and the village elders reached the sprawling premises of the hospital, they were greeted by the BJP corporator’s people. She herself led the protest demanding #JusticeforNagaraju.

Jai Bhim was soon drowned in the Jai Sri Ram slogans. Here’s how Nagaraju’s caste identity got pushed to the background, even as the Ambedkar Youth members continue to be the ones helping the family.

Viral Communal Messages Over the Village’s Version

On 4 May, several WhatsApp messages were sent from right-wing groups to extend support to Nagaraju’s family. In one such message, which was forwarded many times on WhatsApp, a youngster said, “Jai Sri Ram...At Saroornagar near HUDA complex our Hindu youth was killed…by his wife’s Muslim brothers. If we (Hindus) were to do this (murder) to a Muslim who married a Hindu woman, then secular (people) would have created a fuss. Please come here.”

The large turnout at the hospital was the result of this local level saffron mobilisation that the BJP ensured, and then capitalised on.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>BJP leaders  at a protest meet for Nagaraju.</p></div>

BJP leaders at a protest meet for Nagaraju.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

However, by then Nagaraju’s wife, Ashrin Sultana, had given a statement to the Hyderabad police that her family was averse to Nagaraju’s caste and religion. Nagaraju belonged to the Mala caste classified under Scheduled Castes.

The family later kept the police at bay. A relative of Nagaraju said, “The police personnel offered us money for the funeral. I outright refused because they had not shown us the culprits despite the arrest.” The BJP campaign by then was demanding that the accused be handed over to the mob outside the hospital.

Meanwhile, when The Quint spoke to residents of Marpally on 5 May, a majority confirmed that they believed it was a caste crime. Ashrin Sultana herself referred to Nagaraju’s caste being discussed at her home. The Quint also gathered that the accused had visited Marapally to find out more about Nagaraju, and had ascertained his caste at the time. Yet, within two days of the crime, Jai Bhim became but an occasional shout at Marpally.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A protest led by the BJP affiliated organisations.</p></div>

A protest led by the BJP affiliated organisations.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The Ambedkar Youth, however, helped arrange Nagaraju's funeral on 5 May. The next day they helped the family open bank accounts to receive donations. They focused on the practical support needed by Nagaraju's family in the face of adversity.

Nagaraju’s caste no longer seemed a talking point, as the BJP was considered “a help” by several people in the village, especially because two Muslims were accused of murder. In contrast, in 2018 when Pranay Perumalla, a Dalit Christian youth, was allegedly murdered for having married Amrutha, a Vaishya (dominant caste) Hindu woman, the protests were against the caste atrocity. Why the difference?

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Pranay Perumalla and Amrutha</p></div>

Pranay Perumalla and Amrutha

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Lacking a Language for Protest

Nagaraju’s family was aware of the interfaith marriage as the couple kept in touch with his relatives. In fact, Nagaraju and Sultana were travelling from a relative’s home to their rented apartment when he was murdered. The family was not caught unawares by the marriage and the related complications.

However, unlike in the case of Pranay Perumalla, a strong language of protest against the caste atrocity failed to come from Marpally for mainly two reasons.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>BJP leaders protest as media gathered at Gandhi Hospital.</p></div>

BJP leaders protest as media gathered at Gandhi Hospital.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

One, the family lacked the support of anti-caste organisations from the very start. Among political outfits, only the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) relayed its solidarity and Mala Mahanadu condemned the incident. The ground presence of Ambedkarite organisations was minimal. The Ambedkar Youth were small in number, and focused on work the family needed done. Hence, it was easy for the BJP and its saffron affiliates to gain traction.

Secondly, the debate got centered around an unusual question: ‘Did the accused know about Nagaraju’s caste?’
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Nagaraju's mother Anasuya with a BJP leader.</p></div>

Nagaraju's mother Anasuya with a BJP leader.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

In a country riddled by caste fault lines, the question could be considered redundant. Besides, an atrocity (under section 34 of IPC) committed against a Scheduled Caste person is considered a caste atrocity, punishable under Prevention of (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Atrocities Act-1989.

However, as the accused are Muslims, and because the BJP has been foregrounding the religious difference between Nagaraju and Ashrin Sultana over their caste difference, the question got debated more than usual. This, despite Ashrin Sultana’s family having the title Syed which, going by just administrative classification, falls under Other Castes (OC) or dominant castes among Muslims in Telangana.

Contrast Between Pranay and Nagaraju Cases

Contrary to this, in Pranay Perumalla’s case, talk about marriage between the Christian husband and the Hindu wife took a backseat soon. The crime was clearly identified as a caste atrocity.

Perumalla's wife Amrutha and the deceased’s family had the support of several lesser-known anti-caste and Dalit organisations in the state. Their home was aflutter with blue flags, and slogans against caste atrocities echoed in the locality for hours together. Most importantly, Pranay's family was better placed financially to deal with the situation. They kept a distance from most political parties.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Protest against Pranay's murder led by anti-caste groups.</p></div>

Protest against Pranay's murder led by anti-caste groups.

(Image: Twitter)

Besides, unlike a traumatised Ashrin Sultana who is still grappling to understand the caste reality of Nagaraju’s abruptly ended life, Amrutha was well aware of the complexity of her husband’s caste location. She held firm that caste killed her husband, also because a strong protest against the caste killing was already in place.

Sultana's life is now amid Jai Sri Ram slogans, which deny her the chance to understand the importance of an anti-caste standpoint. This, when solidarity and understanding between different caste groups do not develop naturally but have to be painstakingly cultivated.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Ashrin Sultana posing for a campaign on Nagaraju.</p></div>

Ashrin Sultana posing for a campaign on Nagaraju.

(Photo: Nikhila Henry/The Quint)

When a large majority of right-wing visitors at Nagaraju’s home keep foregrounding their religious difference to demonise Muslims in general, how can Sultana hold firm? The Saroornagar BJP corporator Akula Srivani Anjan’s professed agenda, as per her website is, “Bringing the far-right to the mainstream.” The BJP State President Bandi Sanjay has been by the family’s side since 4 May.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Ashrin Sultana with Nagaraju's relatives.</p></div>

Ashrin Sultana with Nagaraju's relatives.

(Photo: Nikhila Henry/The Quint)

Ashrin Sultana and Nagaraju’s family, however, have been demanding justice from all who go to meet them. Also, from the Marpally youth, several of whom are Nagaraju’s distant relatives, the demand is to award a government job to one member of the family. Nagaraju’s family was dependent on his income as a car showroom executive.

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which is in power in the state, could help the family, which is being wooed by the BJP. The Congress, which currently is in power in the Marpally panchayat, could also help.

But what can justice be without acknowledgement of the role of caste in the killing?

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Why Caste Should Be Acknowledged to Ensure Justice

If anyone wants to remedy a situation, it is necessary for that situation to be acknowledged in the first place. An atrocity can be righted only if all the factors that led to the atrocity get considered. Justice should not be partial or piecemeal.

But, will political players who slant towards the secular side, consider the premise of the Prevention of Atrocities case?
<div class="paragraphs"><p>BJP leaders inspecting the spot where Nagaraju's murder took place</p></div>

BJP leaders inspecting the spot where Nagaraju's murder took place

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Shouldn't the fact that the police, at first, acknowledge a caste crime be considered crucial? Denial of this reality would be to sidestep an atrocity.

Moreover, shouldn't there be an effort to mobilise an anti-caste front that cuts across party affiliation? The Ambedkar Youth, even though an informal collective, may need support. AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been supporting Dalit-Muslim unity has condemned the crime. Would he speak of the underlying caste atrocity?

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A Jai Bhim bracelet on Nagaraju's relative's hand.</p></div>

A Jai Bhim bracelet on Nagaraju's relative's hand.

(Photo: Nikhila Henry/The Quint)

Justice could be arrived at only if the union of Nagaraju and Sulana gets acknowledged as not just an interfaith marriage but also an inter-caste marriage.

Won't the ruling TRS government, which has incentivised inter-caste marriages, extend political support to the family? Replying to a tweet request sent to TRS working president, K T Rama Rao, he said that he would meet Ashrin Sultana to reassure her. While the meeting is yet to happen, it is important to acknowledge that supporting Sultana also means extending support for inter-caste and interfaith marriages.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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