National

Dalit girl thrown into fire by upper caste men

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Madhu Chandra
finicy[@]gmail.com

World woke up to the gruesome and spine-chilling story of Kamlesh, a six-year-old little girl from Dalit community in UP. She was tossed into the burning fire by members of an upper caste community in her village three years ago. Her crime: she walked by the house of an upper caste family early in the morning to go to the open field, the only space the Dalit community has to heed the nature’s call.

She was thrown into burning fire. Her pregnant mother Manju tried to rescue her from the flames but she was stopped by the culprits who stood there to prevent any rescue attempt. They thrashed and beat her up severely. She collapsed watching flames burning her daughter to death, and fell unconscious for a short while. Soon she regained consciousness and managed to pull her daughter out of the fire. But by then the little girl had suffered more than 80% burns and was at the brink of death.  

While little Kamlesh battled for her life, five critical hours were wasted at a government hospital. And after 36 hours she was moved to a bigger hospital before she was finally moved to the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. Lack of proper treatment at critical hours meant she wouldn’t make normal recovery. Three years later, her right hand is a piece of dead rubber having lost mobility and function. Her left hand and right leg burnt severely and she suffers from searing pain. The scars inside her are fearsome and permanent. A tender, innocent life has been violated and nipped in the bud. 

The incident so traumatized her mother, Manju, that she suffered a mental breakdown and could not recover to testify in the court against the culprits. None of the neighbours who witnessed the brutal act would come forward to testify against the culprits fearing culprits’ muscle power, influence, money and connections in high places. Many were forced to compromise and others were intimidated into silence. Kamlesh’s father Saudan says, “Names of four culprits were registered with police. But names of three were removed and only one was arrested. We were forced to withdraw the complaint.”

Justice was not only delayed but denied and subverted. It was made to serve the criminals. No fair investigation and no protection for the witnesses meant the case would fall apart and justice would never be served.

A fact-finding team led by Dr. John Dayal (member of the National Integration Council), Madhu Chandra (Regional Secretary, All India Christian Council), Vidhya Bhushan Rawat (social activist) and Anil Chamadia, senior journalist and Dalit activist, visited the village two months ago. They were shocked to learn that the court had closed the case as there were no witnesses to testify against the culprits. Kamlesh’s mother Manju was so mentally unstable that she could not appear and testify in the court and so all the accused walked free. It was like rubbing salt into the wounds of Kamlesh’s family. No justice, no medical help, no future. Help from the state government was more a token gesture than real. The incident further deepened their bleak financial condition. They borrowed money from friends and money lenders to treat their daughter which plunged them into another crisis.

This is just an example of the discrimination and oppression millions of dalits suffer daily in India. They suffer in silence and submission. For them any form of challenging the system will be fatal and dangerous. Caste lines are not to be crossed or violated. A local Dalit activist and leader of All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations told the fact-finding team, “For years, Dalit community in the village has been on the receiving end of caste discrimination and neglect. This is the first instance where police have at least arrested the culprits.”

Kamlesh is now nine years old and future doesn’t hold much hope for her unless we step in and help. She needs proper medical treatment to regain the use of her hands and extensive plastic surgery to mend her scars before she can face the world.

A civil society delegation met National Commission for Scheduled Caste chairman Dr. P. L. Punia on April 11, 2011 and submitted a memorandum, seeking justice for young Kamlesh. Commission took serious note on lapses committed by law enforcing agencies of the district and ordered Uttar Pradesh government to appeal the case in the high court against the session court judgment acquainting the culprit without fair trial. The commission also ordered the government to provide medial care and police security to young Kamlesh and her family as they could be attacked for appealing to higher authorities.

Madhu Chandra is a social activist and research scholar based in New Delhi.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2011 on page no. 4

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