“Beaten Like Footballs”

On the Dalit killing in police custody in Kanpur

I have seen it all. The British built me in the 19th century out of stone quarried by condemned convicts. The crush of naked bodies kept me warm in the Kanpur winters. Only the cadavers were more dead than the holocaust museum of horrors that I am. I was stuffed to the gills with fearless fighters for India’s independence. Humans who sang in rhapsody of a free future and chanted slogans that still rings through my ears a century later. How times have changed. India got its independence and I lost the dreaded Union Jack. Up came the tricolour and my walls that were festooned with a monarch that lived thousands of miles away were stripped bare. I was adorned with a framed photo of a well-groomed man who wrote free India’s constitution and gave my possessors powers to police. His name read Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and everyone who entered my precincts as an accused seemed to promptly know his face. I was their home away from home with police captors for parents.

The police ran me like a brothel. They would bring anyone from anywhere as long as they were dark skinned, Dalit, Muslim and innocent. The prompt salaam at the man in the photo, their hero helped me identify Dalits who formed the bulk of my cursed inhabitants. I knew that I would soon hear defiant screams of Jaibhim as the police went to work on their captured Dalit prize. Elsewhere in the world, rape is used a weapon of war but India uses rape as a weapon of caste. We don’t have war but we don’t need one when we have thousands of years of caste genocide under our belt. Everyone knows that wars are tragic but genocides are worse as they can go on slowly, silently, enjoying religious patronage and turning someone’s death into society’s spectacle. If you want to know how the police take this spectacle to the everest of macabre then let me introduce you to Kamal Valmiki, my fleeting guest for a night.

The youth was brought in like the usual suspects that grace my corridors. He was Dalit as he stared at Ambedkar’s portrait on my wall and was charged with the usual offence he didn’t commit. I saw the usual protestations of his innocence and wish I could tell him the truth. This is not about the crime you didn’t commit. This is not about the law that Ambedkar wrote. This is a different law. This is Manu’s law. Welcome to Vedic justice. The police are Manu’s executors, the Manusmriti the police’s handbook and you are their beast to savage. You are the latest casualty of your caste’s genocide. Why are you so surprised? This land is hungry for your abuse. This society is screaming for your blood. Why are you thwarting their celebrations? You think they painted my walls and floors red? It’s your predecessors’ lifeblood that’s draped me and they will bathe me in yours tonight.

The police go to town on Kamal. His terror stricken eyes convey his suffering that even I find hard to look past. His caste’s horrors play like a film projected through his eyes on my walls. Casteism, condemnation, humiliation, destitution all scream in unison as the Police chain him, strip him and choose the iron rod for their spectacle. This is not like the freedom fighters. They sang when they were hit. They smirked when they were abused. They revolted when they were smothered. That was the battle for independence from a foreign master ruling for a few hundred years. What do you do when a scheming elite invents a religion thousands of years ago to enslave you for eternity? Ambedkar detonated their monstrosity by ditching the religion of his birth. They hang his photo on my walls but carry Manu in their heart. It is a battle between letter and spirit and as long as their caste filled spirit stays alive, you don’t stand a chance. It is spirit that enlivens the letter and a social revolution to electrify the Constitution.

Kamal is nearly lifeless as the Police take breaks from their exhaustive torture. It’s hard work breaking someone’s bones all night. Who knew a body could house so many bones but its easy to see which ones you’ve broken and which ones you’ve missed on an emaciated Dalit’s body. What are we to do with this Dalit? Might as well end him, now that we’ve come this far, they muse. Make it look like suicide, I don’t want a Dalit’s defiled blood on my hands, they laugh. They source a good rope from their torture chamber and expertly loop a knot over the railings of an empty cell and hoist the noose. I remember this; this same movement was carried out on India’s independence day. The raising of the tricolour was pulled with the same downwards pull of the ropes to raise the flag. They are now hoisting the noose like they hoisted the flag. Let’s get rid of these Dalits. Let’s remedy the accident of Ambedkar’s rise by hanging one of his own. Let’s do it in front of his portrait, in the same police station meant to uphold the rules of the constitution he wrote. Let us show the world that the law of Manu is the real law of this land. Our religion is our lawmaker and we are executioners in Police uniform.

Kamal is pulled by his neck upwards as the noose simultaneously strangles him and lifts him off the floor. Life tries to twitch even when every bone is broken and every breath is spent. The Dalit committed suicide, of course, goes the story the next morning. How did he find the rope to hang himself? How did he die when there were so many police present?Start the barrage of probing questions. But before the families, crowds and press start gathering, the police send Kamal’s corpse off for post-mortem. But why lose an opportunity to redress another embarrassment? Cue Raju Mistry, the notorious jailbreak who for the rest of the world is still incarcerated within my walls. Who is now being passed off as dead in Kamal Valmiki’s body but is actually the only one to transcended my walls and his fate. Raju was made of stealth, still Dalit of course but a scrambler. It helped that the Police didn’t lynch him in his cell. I don’t even know what he was in custody for as they often made it up as they went along. Why dignify Dalits by indicting them with a heroic crime?

I do remember his beatings though. He differed from the rest, as he didn’t scream when greeted with the old iron rod. He shouted Jaibhim with each strike with eyes transfixed on the Ambedkar portrait and his roar deafening my aged ears. The howl of the caste holocaust was older and deeper than I had heard any mortal utter. They were shocked that they couldn’t break him so they left him, starved him and shunned him. Anyone would’ve crumbled under this tyranny of ostracism but not Raju. He was used to rejection. As a Dalit living on the outskirts of society, he had mastered the art of living under caste’s hateful gaze. His solitude was to be his freedom. Little by little he examined me in the dark until he knew every nook and crevice in my decaying walls. Gnawing at my mortar with his fingernails and teeth, he found a weakness and attacked it with the ferocity of a tiger. A recluse by day and a rabid digger by night brought him his reward. My weakness opened him to the chamber that housed the Police’s instruments of Dalit torture. His eyes converged on the longest and strongest rope with the noose still intact, fresh from a Dalit execution. He slipped into my labyrinthian corridors past the dozing policemen and into an unlit corner of my perimeter wall. He flung the rope until the noose caught the end of the metal that propped up the razor wire. He scaled my wall like a gecko and sliced himself through the twisted metal. He jumped the 20 feet on the other side and slipped into the darkness to his freedom.

This dead body is Raju Mistry’s corpse was the bewildering claim by the Police, which was then quickly corrected, to the right Dalit, Kamal Valmiki. The plan backfired and Police were now asked to produce Raju Mistry from my depths. All 15 policemen of my outpost have been suspended. One has been accused of murder. A few are on the run. But what difference does it make? The fascists are in Government and they have the judiciary in their pocket. Indict with impunity but your caste clout will guarantee your acquittal. Raju Mistry will return but not empty-handed. He has thrived as an outlaw after his escape. He has heard about Kamal Valmiki’s murder. He has rounded up the fleeing policemen. Only gangsters can catch the police that the police can’t catch.

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Saunvedan Aparanti Written by:

I am a human rights activist based in London with a special interest in fighting against caste based discrimination. I have an MA in Human Rights from UCL and currently studying Law. I am also a trained actor.

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