Comrade Jeera Bharti is a leader of the CPI(ML) and All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) in Mirzapur, district, Uttar Pradesh. Hailing from the Dalit community, she organizes agricultural labourers – most of whom are women and men from oppressed castes – for their wages, dignity and rights. Comrade Jeera Bharti was the CPI(ML) candidate in the 2014 Parliamentary elections and enjoys great respect in the area as a strong defender of the rights of workers, women, Dalits and the poor. She led a recent movement for wages of agricultural labourers due to which daily wages were increased to Rs 100. This movement enraged the feudal landlords in the area.
On the night of 3 July, she was returning from the CPI(ML)’s Mirzapur Block Office to her village (Riksha Khurd) on her bicycle, with her 14-year-old son. When she reached her village, her way was blocked by Santu Patel, a local landlord from the dominant Kurmi community, and his family members. He abused her, grabbed her hair and threw her on the ground. When her son rushed up to his mother’s rescue he too was beaten up. Santu Patel and his family members including some female members of his family together thrashed Comrade Jeera and disrobed her – in the presence of several other people from the local dominant castes. Comrade Jeera dialed the police helpline, but the police took an hour and a half to arrive on the scene.
On 4 July, Comrade Jeera Bharti recorded her FIR at the police station. But BJP MLA from Marihan, Rama Shankar Patel, himself from the dominant Kurmi community, also came to the police station accompanied by a large number of his supporters. Under this political pressure, the police refused to invoke the relevant Sections from the law against violence on women and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act pertaining to disrobing and assaulting a Dalit woman. It is shameful but not surprising that a MLA from India’s ruling party should himself demonstrate at a police station to defend people who committed gender and anti-Dalit violence.
Note that Rama Shankar Patel himself has pending criminal complaints against him of violence against a woman, and his nephew and supporters have pending complaints against them of violence against women and minorities (see http://www.patrika.com/)
After the FIR filed by Comrade Jeera, the accused party themselves filed an FIR of sexual harassment against her 14 year-old son and her husband. That this allegation is completely fabricated is proved in many ways. It boggles the imagination that a Dalit child and his father would enter a dominant caste Patel settlement in the dark and assault women there. But if this is true, why did no one from the Patel settlement make a call to the police that night – why did Comrade Jeera herself, instead, call the police? To institute “false, malicious or vexatious suit or criminal or other legal proceedings against a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe” is itself an atrocity and a crime under the PoA Act - Section 3 (p).
This attack on Comrade Jeera is symptomatic of the manner in which dominant caste and feudal elements feel emboldened by the Yogi regime to launch violent attacks on activists and people from the Dalit community. The attack on Dalits at Saharanpur followed by arrest of the Bhim Army leader; the manner in which people from the Musahar community of Kushinagar were demeaned by giving them soap to ‘clean themselves’ in preparation for Yogi’s visit; preventing Dalit activists from Gujarat from entering Uttar Pradesh because they were preparing to present Yogi with a 125 kg soap cake in response to his act of demeaning the Musahars; and arrest of well-known Dalit activists for holding a press conference has now been followed by the assault on Comrade Jeera Bharti.
AIPWA held demonstrations all over the country on 6th and 7th July, demanding that the assailants of Comrade Jeera Bharti be booked under the relevant sections of the SC/ST (PoA) Act and Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013.