Behenji is fighting temperament and history in UP, from a fortress built on fear and arrogance. Tracking the status of women, Dalits and the police, Revati Laul & Brijesh Pandey report on why this is not a feel-good story
TWO HANGINGS and the heat of an election year have finally formed a noose around Mayawati’s neck. The first — 10 June, 14-year-old Dalit girl Sonam. Found dead, hanging inside the Nighasan Police Station in Lakhimpur-Kheri district. By now, the facts are familiar. But the question for Mayawati was this: under the watch of a Dalit woman chief minister, why did the girl’s distraught mother have to desperately and repeatedly press the media button and women’s groups, journalists, opposition parties and finally the National Human Rights Commission to expose the police cover-up, and to even have the case declared as murder and attempted rape?
The second — 22 June. UP’s deputy Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr YS Sachan. Found hanging inside the Lucknow District Jail. Once again, if the jail authorities and initial statements of the UP administration were to be believed, Dr Sachan lacerated himself in eight places, then hung himself. But the media frenzy, Opposition cacophony and post-mortem report showed that he had died of the lacerations. The hanging came after he was already dead. The stench of yet another cover-up led all the way back to three murders. And a massive scam in medical procurements under the whopping Rs 3,100 crore a year National Rural Health Mission grant, aided and abetted, it’s believed, by at least one BSP MP, a former minister and a clutch of their party associates.
If the two hangings were isolated cases, the voices baying for Mayawati’s blood would have gone the way of most rhetoric. Buried in the next day’s big story, the fresh catch. But the Lakhimpur-Kheri incident was followed by eight brutal rapes in just 48 hours.
And Dr Sachan’s killing came in the wake of other big scams in Mayawati’s state. The furore over land acquisitions at unfair prices at Bhatta-Parsaul. And cascading land scams in Noida that led a Supreme Court Bench to tell the UP government: “We don’t want more Nandigrams in all states.”
Rapes. Murders. Conflicts. Corruption. And most recently, an assault on a journalist. Why can’t Mayawati stop the bad news erupting across her state in the run-up to a crucial election year? What has the Dalit woman chief minister been doing for her electorate? What has happened to UP under Mayawati’s watch over the past four years? What came of her thundering promise to be different from Mulayam Singh’s ‘goonda raj’?
The answers lie in a strange paradox. In a curious twist, Mayawati seems to have become a prisoner of her own success. In a state that had no stable government for 17 years, she won a brute majority of 206 seats out of 402 in 2007. But Mayawati seems to have done almost nothing with that advantage. She has sealed herself off from the common man, her party, her administration and the media in a dangerous mix of paranoia, arrogance and brazenness.
Mayawati trusts almost no one. She has kept a staggering 36 ministerial portfolios with herself, including home and industrial development. Naseemuddin Siddiqui, widely considered her key money man, holds another 12. Apart from this, the only other men who have her ear are party general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra, Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh, Principal Secretary Navneet Sehgal, Home Secretary Fateh Bahadur Singh and her brother Anand, known as “Anand bhaiya” by bureaucrats and contractors, considered Mayawati’s “eyes and ears” in the cashrich regions of Noida and Ghaziabad. Once a Class 1V employee, he allegedly now orders most suspensions and transfers in the region. But even he does not have any jurisdiction beyond his stipulated turf.
Meanwhile, riding high on her immunity as the “Dalit ki beti” and sure of her captive vote, far from being the people’s CM, Mayawati holds no public durbars and almost no public rallies. She hardly ever goes out on field visits and meets district-level party officials only once in four months. The CM’s residence in Lucknow has security to match 7, Race Course Road. Though this is unverified, sources say she has bought or got vacated many houses in the surrounding neighbourhood to sanitise the area. “I have never seen such overwhelming security concerns during my career for any chief minister,” says former State DGP IC Diwedi. “Her paranoia is so overpowering, some bureaucrats have become more powerful by default,” says a senior party aide.
Partially at least, all of this snakes back to the infamous 1995 Lucknow State Guest House incident, and character traits that were forged on that cruelly hot June day, 16 years ago. Mayawati’s first tryst with power had just ended. She broke from the highly unstable alliance with the Samajwadi Party, bringing down the coalition government, and started an alliance with the BJP. The day after she walked out, Mayawati summoned her party legislators to the guest house to discuss the way forward. A mob of around 200 activists and legislators from the Samajwadi Party surrounded and attacked the guest house. They beat some of the BSP MLAs brutally and pounded on the suite where Mayawati was staying, hurling abuse: “Drag the Chamar out of her hole”, “We have to teach them a lesson!”
The incident gave birth to a bolder, stronger, politically more savvy Mayawati. But it also seeded a lasting, debilitating insecurity. This, melded with the imagined immunities of her success, yielded nothing but continuing despair for the state.
In recent days, Mayawati has moved swiftly to checkmate every arrow flying her way: she has changed the terms of land acquisition; she has said rape cases needed to be fast-tracked and closed within six months; and she has suspended jail and police officials in the CMO case.
But the stark failures of her tenure as CM — and the root causes behind the recent epidemic of ugly cases in UP — also show up most visibly when assessed through these same prisms. The three perennial and crucial UP woes: the depredations of the police force; the status of Dalits and women; and pervasive corruption.
IN A sense, the first two are umbilically connected. The police in UP have always been notorious. Just one statistic tells the larger story. In 2010, there was an RTI application to the NHRC on how many false encounter deaths there had been in India since 1995. The answer was 1,258. Out of this, UP Police accounted for 700. Bihar, which came second, accounted for 78.
Things, in fact, were so bad with the force, it drove late high court judge AN Mulla to pronounce in despair that the “UP Police is the most organised form of a criminal gang.” (Read The Ugly Arm of the Law by Brijesh Pandey on www.tehelka.com)
When Mayawati came to power in 2007, she reversed Mulayam Singh Yadav’s infamous police recruitment drive. People saw a ray of hope. But that is roughly where it ended.
“UP Police officers carry a political stamp on their head. One group belongs to Mulayam, the other to Mayawati and then there are officers who are on the fringes,” reveals a high-ranking officer. “In UP, it is impossible to be politically neutral and survive. When one government comes, we know beforehand which group of officers are going to run the administration and which lot will sit silently through the tenure. The rest either seek deputation to the Centre or tumble through a series of inconsequential postings, watching their career wither away.”
Former DGP KL Gupta agrees, “The UP Police is in very bad shape. It is working with archaic laws and machinery. What compounds the misery are unrealistic expectations of crime control. This CM says ‘Reduce crime by 15 percent.’ How do you do that? The police don’t have a magic wand. So they take the shortcut of fake encounters.”
Or, what is even worse, they start under- reporting crime. Or refuse to file FIRs. In fact, there is an unwritten code in UP now that crimes under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Act should be brought down to a minimum. Of the 21 offences listed under the SC/STAct, it is tacitly understood that only murder and rape can be reported; the other 19 kinds of atrocities such as grievous hurt, taking away of property, kidnapping, etc., should not be reported as caste crimes as this would make Mayawati’s regime look bad. Given that very little has changed in the brutally feudal psychoscape of the state, this only leads to a fresh and cruel paradox: in the era of their supreme leader, Dalits find it even more difficult to get their voice heard.
This might explain why on the surface, UP looks pretty good on crime statistics, especially against Dalits and women. The National Crime Record Bureau data, last updated in 2009, show that UP actually ranks 28th out of 35 states and Union Territories in rape cases. According to IG (Intelligence) GP Sharma, there’s another interesting statistic. Crimes against women in the state have come down by 6 percent from 2009 to 2010 and crimes against SCs and STs have come down by 16 percent in the same year.
Off the record, though, many police officers admit these statistics do not reflect cold facts. Former IPS officer and human rights activist SR Darapuri is one of few who boldly lists what other officers only hint at. “The police’s response to the public is selective and party politics dominates even here,” says Darapuri. “Is the complainant connected with the ruling party or the Opposition? That’s the deciding factor in reporting crimes.” It’s a practice he admits began much earlier, in the regime of Mulayam, but has been perfected under Mayawati.
As vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Darapuri actively helps Dalits and women register cases that the police refuse to take on. He cites a case in Shahjahanpur district in 2007, the year Mayawati won her thumping majority, to back his statement. An SCwoman from the Jatav community was abducted by an upper caste Thakur man, and typically, the case wasn’t being registered. “I spoke to the SP, Shahjahanpur,” claims Darapuri. “But in spite of all my efforts, no case was registered. The woman is probably still in the custody of those Thakurs.”
Mayawati’s defenders could dismiss Darapuri as a man with an agenda. But other police officers tell TEHELKA the same thing, in the strictest confidence. One officer recalls how a Dalit, and a low-ranking BSP member at that, had to come to Lucknow all the way from Meerut — that’s 450 km — asking for help to register a case that the local police was refusing to do.
Similar cases about the difficulty or impossibility of getting crimes registered are piled mountain high at the Dalit Resource Centre (DRC) in Allahabad’s GB Pant Institute. Most of these describe women being molested on their way to the public facility or bathing. There are also Dalits being scared into leaving their land, and cases of verbal and physical abuse — commonplace in a state where caste still dictates everything.
Chinta, an activist with the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) affiliated to the CPM, recounts her struggle in getting crimes against women registered in Mirzapur, the area she operates from.
“Mayawati’s regime is worse than Mulayam’s,” says Chinta. In July 2009, a 12-year-old girl was molested in Mirzapur district, away from the gaze of the media and Opposition parties. “We stayed in the Chunar Police Station all night to try and get the case registered,” recalls Chinta. Eventually, the girl was taken to the jungle where she had been molested and a medical examination was done first before the police agreed to register an FIR.
She has sealed herself off from the common man, her party, her administation and the media in a mix of paranoia, arrogance and brazenness
But this is not the only way that the police force is subverted. Disappointingly, many of the other evils of the Mulayam Singh years have persisted, if not amplified under Mayawati.
Prime among these is the political weapon of arbitrary transfers. It is used to such deadly effect that even the most recalcitrant officers succumb after some time. Sample this. From mid-2007 to mid- 2009, more than 95 IPS officers were transferred five to 11 times.
Between just 2007 and 2009, Bareilly saw 12 SSPs. In Noida, SPs are transferred so frequently that the only time anyone is surprised is when an SP lasts for almost six months. The situation is so bad that Union Home Secretary GK Pillai admitted in an interview that the “average tenure of an SP in UP is almost two months”.
“There is no official data on suspensions and transfers,” says a senior serving bureaucrat, “but there have been roughly 300 suspensions and 800 transfers at senior official levels in the past four years.”
If the landscape is so bleak at the top, lower down, it’s really dark. An IGP rank officer says sarcastically, “The thing which a sub-inspector or an ASI or a head constable hears most during every posting is: Do this, otherwise I will get you transferred.”
Officer Shailendra Singh recalls an illustrative incident. “I got a tip-off that two persons were carrying Rs 10.5 lakh illegally. During interrogation, they admitted they were carrying this money on the instructions of Ramesh Kumar, a BSP MLA from Jhansi, and the money was going through then Education Minister Ram Achal Rajbhar to the party coffers. I got a call from Ramesh Kumar, who said “You are committing a mistake by doing this.” When the news reached the police headquarters, there was panic from IG level downwards. They blasted my inspector but did not speak to me directly. Mayawati was not in the country at the time. But I was transferred five times in one week.”
Stories like this make for a flood in UP. An SO posted in the Bareilly zone said that whenever he tried to follow the rule of law in a case involving the rich and powerful, he was immediately shunted out. He was so fed up with his transfers that after a while he started looking the other way. “To whom will I complain?” he asks. “The press is not interested and my senior officer is busy saving his own job. It’s either their way or the highway. And now I am happy following their way. Who cares about right or wrong?”
“The shots of Mayawati eating cake out of the hands of the then DGP Vikram Singh in 2008 is the most potent photographic record of what is wrong with the police force,” remarks a senior UP Police officer. “It is a realisation that the DGP, the symbol of the police force, is on all fours, genuflecting to the political master. If the DGP is doing that, do you really think the lowest rung constable will have the guts to disobey the local-level politician?”
TEHELKA spoke to about 50 constables across the state for an answer to that question and the picture that emerged was brutal and demoralising. At a police station in Lucknow questioning constables about their working conditions and whether Mayawati’s regime had brought any relief from the excesses of Mulayam Singh, has chalsome unexpected surprises. “Aristotle said that man is a social animal,” rues Ramesh (name changed) from his corner of the dismal station, “I am glad that he never met UP constables otherwise he would have said, “The UP constable is only an animal.”
Aristotle? In a UP police station? Ramesh turns out to be a philosophy graduate from Allahabad University. It takes a while before he opens up about his experience in the force. “You tell this to my boss and hell will get one level worse,” he says.
Ramesh understandably is an extremely bitter man. “Listen to this. In a posh locality in Lucknow, there were four youths drinking openly. When I objected, one of them got out of the car and slapped me. I called for reinforcements but I was shocked to find that my SO knew them and instead of taking action against them, I was asked to be careful in the future. I’ve been a dead man walking since that day and the only reason I haven’t committed suicide is because I have a 12-year-old daughter. Now, if anybody breaks the law in front of me, I am least bothered. I am a robot who operates when my boss asks me to. Righteousness and the whole world can go to hell.”
Ramesh then takes us to the ‘pigsty’ where his family stays. It is a small overcrowded room full of cots and articles of daily use. The air inside is filled with frustration. “Every evening, seven of us take out our cots and sleep in the open. Jails have more space than our home, but who the hell cares?”
Others have painfully similar tales to tell. “When you are unmarried you can still think of honesty. Once you have kids, there is no choice but to take bribes,” says a constable posted in Noida. “There are very few who can survive without it. The work environment is very bad. To make it worse, the behavior of officers is disgusting.”
Add to this another phenomenon: if they have political protection, the juniormost police constable can parade gross insubordination against senior police officers. This is not new to Mayawati’s raj, but under her, it has taken a new twist. As a former DGP tells TEHELKA, “She wants to be a tough administrator. But in wanting to be that, she has centralised all the power in her own hand. At first, the transfer of even senior officers like IGs was in the hands of the DGP. Hence, lower officers were wary of any complaints going up that would result in proceedings against them. But it’s no longer like that. The DGP does not even have the authority to transfer or remove even a district-level police official. Only officials favoured by the government get to have a say in transfers. This has skewed the whole system even more.”
If the police force has been gnawed from within like this, how can it enforce the rule of law? Some of this, then, might explain the recent spate of crimes in UP and why the state police never seems to have the will or skill to crack any case, and worse, seems implicated in some of them.
THE QUESTIONS still persists, though. Why has only the reporting of crime gone down in Mayawati’s raj, rather than the actual crime itself? Why has the lot of the police constable not changed for the better? Why isn’t governance better? Why don’t women or Dalits feel exponentially safer under her?
It has to be said in Mayawati’s defence that she has inherited a badland and a termite- eaten polity, perhaps unparalleled in the rest of India for its sheer casteist, brutal and corrupt nature. But there is much that can be done with a brute majority in a democracy. And despite the impossible complexities of being a Dalit woman governing and managing a state like UP, a clear message from the top always has a miraculous way of travelling to the ground.
In a sense then, the failures of Mayawati’s regime also lie in the genesis of the BSP itself. French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, who has studied the BSP from its inception, has an understanding of the party that explains the way Mayawati’s administration functions today. According to Jaffrelot, the original objective of the BSPwas not to cause a social revolution by challenging the Brahminical order, but by replacing it.
JNU political scientist Sudha Pai, writer of numerous books on dalits, including the BSP in UP, adds to this. According to her, BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s approach to the party was as a ‘trade unionist’ not a social revolutionary. The party was set up with a conservative, statist approach to politics, aiming to replace the power elite, not challenge its very fabric as the Naxals and revolutionary Left has aimed at. Therefore, she writes, even in the beginning, the BSP had “an informal and highly personalised structure built around the authoritarian personality of Kanshi Ram.”
‘Now, if anybody breaks the law in front of me, I am least bothered. I am a robot who operates when my boss asks me to’, says a UP Police constable
If news can penetrate her fortress then — shielded off as it is by the double moats of paranoia and arrogance — the highly personalised machinery of justice kicks in and Mayawati is quick to act. As she has done over the past few days, if the scale of crime reaches a proportion that can seriously dent her image or cannot be further suppressed, Mayawati comes down like a tonne of bricks.
As she has done on her own MLAs in the rape case reported in Muzaffarnagar last week. Against both police and medical officials in the murder of Sonam at Lakhimpur-Kheri.
Against her own ministers and MPs over the course of these four years. In the Dr Sachan murder case too, all the concerned jail officials have been suspended. (Though, of course, the real men behind the scam and the murder still walk free.)
Also, contrary to Chinta, the AIDWA activist in Mirzapur, another activist in Lucknow, Madhu Garg, says once the hurdle of getting a case registered is crossed, action is taken much quicker on Mayawati’s watch than in previous regimes.
Former DGP Vikram Singh — widely acknowledged as a Mayawati favourite — cites some reverse statistics: 555 police personnel have been dismissed on corruption charges in June 2007-September 2009.
In her bid to improve the system, Mayawati also issued an order in 2010 stipulating that rape should be regarded as a special report case, which means all rape cases had to be investigated by a highranking police officer of DIG or IG rank, instead of it being seen as an ordinary crime monitored only by a circle officer. She also enforced the 23 percent reservation for SC candidates at police stations.
The third prism — the issue of pervasive and brazen corruption — is a separate story, material for another TEHELKA cover.
But, for the moment, in the run-up to a crucial election, the big question is, what do Mayawati’s voters think of her?
THERE IS a third moat that protects Mayawati’s fortress: for the moment. The oppression of centuries — and the symbolic corrective Mayawati stands for
The story of Chunni Lal, a Dalit daily wager in Bisanda village in Banda district, is totemic. “We have got nothing out of the Mayawati administration,” he admits. This is echoed by his entire family and other Harijans in his village. They are still waiting for their BPL cards, ration cards and pension certificates. Not to speak of that highly coveted commodity: electricity.
But the fact that Mayawati is chief minister has made an unmistakable difference to their profiles. Moti Lal says it’s because of Mayawati that he can go freely into the commons in his village and cut grass. Earlier, this was unthinkable for a Dalit like him. Yet other villagers talk of how they were insulted, abused and made to clean the animal dump of the upper castes in their villages. Now, they can refuse.
Barely two feet away, a woman in a sari bathes in full public view. “Of course it’s not safe,” says a Dalit woman in the group. “But we can’t help it.” “There are no bathing spaces, no toilets, no drainage. We have no choice,” Moti Lal adds.
But every one of them says they will still vote Mayawati for lack of an alternative. Just then, a Thakur passes by. “Oh, this party of Chamars!” he says with ugly scorn.
There is a third moat that protects Maya’s fortress. The oppression of centuries and the symbolic corrective she stands for
The group looks on stoically. This entire tableau is what Mayawati counts on: the vicarious redemption, the first experience of human dignity. Dalits emboldened, no matter how marginally, because Behenji is in power. It makes her voters forgiving of all her lapses, omissions and excesses.
But she should beware. Lalu Prasad counted on this story too. Unfortunately, a decade beyond its sell-by date. There comes a time when people look up from their misery and say: It’s great that we can walk on the road or drink at the well fearlessly. But what next?
The general elections of 2009 brought the first tidings of this waiting story. The BSP got 20 seats; the SP 23 and the Congress 21. Unless Mayawati is more careful, the 2012 state election is likely to add at least a paragraph to that narrative.
Airakake Mau is a village about 60 km from Lucknow in Hardoi district. The pradhan had siphoned off about 7 lakh of NREGA funds, which belonged to Dalit labourers. The SDM found a prima facie case against the pradhan but no FIR was filed under the SC/ST Act. The pradhan apparently had links with BSP leaders. The villagers are starting to get restless.
Cheddi Passi, who lives in an Ambedkar village called Chutkaideh in Sirsiya block neighbouring Nepal, is another cautionary tale. On a table in his house, Passi keeps a photograph he values most. It features Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi with him along with other village folk. Passi is the first Dalit Rahul visited in Uttar Pradesh in September 2009. Passi doesn’t miss a chance to flash the photograph to any visitor. He also has a little tourist attraction: the charpoy where Rahul Gandhi slept in his house.
There’s an unwritten code in the state. Of the 21 offences listed under the SC/ST Act, it is tacitly understood that only murder and rape can be reported
Passi, who is a traditional BSP voter, has not yet switched allegiance, but it would take only a small push. One of five brothers, Passi works as a labourer at a brick kiln run by upper-caste Kurmis, as and when he gets a job. “On several occasions, the Kurmis did not pay us our dues. They abused and beat us,” he says. “But the police never registered a case under the SC/ST Act.” Despairing of Behenji, Passi had hoped Rahul Gandhi would help, “but neither he nor his men came back to help us,” he finishes despondently.
But the chink has opened in the armour for those who wish to move in.
Predictably, Mayawati is not perturbed as yet. She is certain her flock is not moving away as yet. “She understands that food is politics, and these days, money is politics for our cash-starved people,” says a senior bureaucrat. “While several states are still experimenting with cash transfers to those who live below the poverty line, she has already announced and implemented a pension of 300 for all poor people, old people, widows and the physically handicapped. She may not visit them personally, but these cash transfer schemes will get her votes,” he says.
On 15 January, her birthday, Mayawati increased this pension from 300 to 400. “Mayawatiji has constructed one lakh houses for BPL people free. She has given 20,000 cycles to school-going girls besides monetary help for their marriages,” says Naveen Sehgal, principal secretary.
Clearly, they believe this will do the trick. Perhaps it will. Political pundits point to statistics that show the BSP support base has never been confined to the Dalits. It’s a combined vote base of SCs, lower castes like the Chamars, Passis and others that threw their enormous weight behind Behenji in 2007. Four years later, though, the unkept promises and dead men and women are starting to stack up.
In the badlands of UP, Mayawati knows that even Dalits have voted for other parties in the past. Now that they have tasted power and acquired some courage to speak, there is no stopping the turning of the page. Fear and the memories of upper caste loathing may have got her a unanimous verdict once. But that was a long time and some murders ago.
With inputs from JP Tripathi and Sanjay Dubey in UP
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.